A sometimes free-wheeling discussion on just about anything art, fashion, or the weather.
The Vivienne Files is a unique personal style blog with carefully-selected capsule wardrobes based on color palettes drawn from works of art, nature, and more. It helps women buy less clothing, and to love what they buy.
In this first of Is it Art or Fashion? post, I’m taking this opportunity to interview my friend and blogger extraordinaire, Janice Riggs, founder of The Vivienne Files.
Janice, a tiny, sprightly, fey woman, appeared in my life on a deep freeze of a day, at my first outdoor show. She introduced herself and started rifling through my inventory. Within 5 minutes, she had pulled out a scarf, Joss Sticks from A Daughter Returns series and said, “I’m highlighting this scarf in my blog on Monday. Please send me the image file.” The rest, well, is history.
ImageDiary: Janice, I met you in May 2015; how long had The Vivienne Files been in existence at that point?
Janice Riggs: The very first post on The Vivienne Files was on April 17th, 2011. I have, to date, written 1,953 posts…. (Holy Handbags, that’s a LOT of content…)
ID: Can you tell my readers (notice the plural) your impetus behind the blog?
JR: Back at the dawn of the internet – literally – I was a member of a chat group on Yahoo called “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” It’s that special “something” that you can’t put your finger on, but which distinguishes the French woman from all others. The group was a bunch of us who really love France, and who availed of the chance to talk about it all the time…
At the same time, I had a job which took me to Paris frequently. Like every 3 months frequently! I often stayed at the same hotel, where I met a staff member named… yep – Vivienne!
She and I discussed clothes and shopping and what distinguished an American woman from a French woman – all the kinds of topics that fascinated the members of JNSQ. So, the members of the group began to relay questions to me to ask Vivienne…
The chat group dissolved into acrimony and bitterness, as many things do on the Internet, but unbeknownst to me, someone had saved everything that I’d written about Vivienne, and stashed it all in a Word document that they named…. (second really obvious reveal!) The Vivienne Files…
Fast forward about 10 years, and I’m supposed to be doing something constructive on my computer, but I’m really blog surfing… When to my surprise, I start reading something that I HAD WRITTEN!!!! Yes, a quote from The Vivienne Files, for which I was indeed given full credit.
I realized at that moment that there was still a lot of value to thinking about and discussing the merits of a well-chosen and distinctive wardrobe, and so I grabbed the web domains, jumped into the world of blogging, and never looked back!
ID: What really intrigues me, now that I've gotten to know you, is your perspective on art and why you chose that as your focus for wardrobe styling?
JR: I use art as my inspiration much of the time because it condenses a lot of aesthetic choices into one relatively compact “piece.” You get colors, texture, rigidity or fluidity of line or image, degree of focus (or softness), and a mood from 1 painting. 2 paintings can include 3 or 4 of the identical main colors and still be as different as chalk and cheese! Also, I find that a lot of people already have a favorite painting, but they can’t really put their finger on why that piece speaks to them. Or it’s something around which they can’t decorate… Using the art as a wardrobe inspiration can be a way of incorporating the essentials of the art into one’s life without robbing a museum…
ID: I know you spend hours finding the exact right accessories for each wardrobe – where has this journey taken you? I recall one blog you did based on window shopping you had done in an Indian district in Paris?
JR: In person it’s taken me into a ton of obscurely located little stores in London, Paris, New York and Chicago (the cities that I visit the most…) but moreover, I’ve wandered down amazing black holes on the Internet where one can find small designers, or groups of designers, making beautiful things…
Probably my most successful adventures have been at craft shows – like where I met you! There might be a ton of uninteresting (to me) pieces, but I only need to find one designer with whom I really resonate, and the trip is worth it! Each show has someone who’s done something I’ve never seen before, and that always delights and amazes me.
ID: You feature many Hermes scarves on your blog. Do you have a favorite? Why?
JR: Easy question! My husband gave me a scarf named De Tout Coeur (With All My Heart) for my birthday 6 or 7 years ago – that would HAVE to be the 1 I would save in a mythical disaster that left me with only 1 scarf…
The scarf that I wear the most often is a more recent one named Collections Imperiales – it’s black and white, like most of my clothing. It’s easy for me to wear – it adds some pattern and texture to my outfit without making things too complicated!
ID: Who is your favorite artist that you’ve featured on your blog?
JR: Marie Laurencin (The Vivienne Files, May 27, 2011). She was a contemporary of Picasso and worked in a limited palette of pastels colors accented with black and grey. She did a ton of portraits of women – all of whom are enigmatic and very beautiful… Here’s a portrait that she did of Coco Chanel:
ID: Do you know how she dressed?
JR: Not a lot – I’ve not seen a lot of photographs of her! But she had a round face and soft, sweet features, a very rounded bobbed haircut, and some gorgeous pearls! I’ve seen her when she was… in her 60s maybe? – in a snappy suit and beret. I think she was probably very elegant…
ID: Do most of your readers think your stories are based on your life?
JR: Goodness – I hope not! I would have to have lived a dozen lives to have done all these things!
That said, I think that all my heroines share my need and desire for clarity, liberty, independence and a sense of freedom. That’s probably why I write so much about the revelatory feeling of traveling alone for the first time – it can truly be life-changing. Well, it was for me…
ID: Is your closet this organized?
JR: Yep, most of the time it’s like something out of a magazine! Right now, it’s NOT, because I’m in the middle of making a big change in how I store things – I’m going to bring my athletic clothes and gym togs to the front (metaphorically speaking) of my closet and send my dressier blouses, sweaters and trousers into the background…
Functionally, this means that a lot of my gym clothes (which I wear SEVEN DAYS A WEEK!!!) are going onto hangers, where I can easily find them, and the lovely things that I only wear 2 or 3 times a week are going to be folded down into drawers, or up onto shelves. Every day I find myself walking PAST cashmere sweaters and digging into a drawer for a pair of gym shorts and a tee shirt. My closet needs to reflect my life, and right now my life is focused on getting stronger and healthier. So, the sweaters go into the drawers, and the gym clothes come up front and enjoy the care and attention that they deserve. Just because I don’t wear them out of my building most of the time doesn’t mean that they’re not a worthy and important wardrobe segment.
Actually, I think I’ll blog about this project when I get the transformation completed… Right now, it’s slow going because of my recovery from the flu, and having THREE trips to Europe coming up in the next 3 months… Packing always gets me in a kerfluffle!
ID: Advice to your readers?
- Know thyself, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and dress accordingly.
- Learn to spot when someone is trying to sell you something, under the guise of being helpful, (which would be almost ALWAYS) and eschew their “advice” as nothing more than a sales pitch. This includes those insidious “10 Things You MUST Have for Spring” lists, and those “50 Items No Closet Should Be Without.” Horse-feathers…
- Don’t conform, but do try to feel comfortable in your skin, and your wardrobe.
- Treat yourself to something truly pretty – earrings are a great option, as are scarves. You don’t have to spend a bucket but find something you adore and wear the daylights out of it.
- Wear accessories fearlessly – there are really no rules.
- Think of what your signature might be…maybe a PILE of silver jewelry, and a long braid?
- Experiment – bad taste can be better than no taste at all, someone once said (Diana Vreeland?).
- Don’t own too much – it’s confusing and wasteful.
- Don’t take it all TOO seriously!