Gibson Girl (A Book Review. Sort Of.)

 

Liesl, wearing her Portfolio DressEvery holiday season, I host an eggnog party. Last year my invitation announced that dress would be "festive". This was meant to be loosely interpreted, which did not work out so well for my friend Kuan, who took it as a welcome opportunity to wear the authentic liederhosen that he had been conned into buying (you’ll wear it again!) at a bachelor party / Octoberfest weekend. He looked great in it, at least that’s what I hear from his wife, who was caught with him (but not also wearing leiderhosen) in a freak snowstorm on their way to my house. While we were wondering why they hadn’t arrived they were walking thirty three blocks uptown against freezing wind and driving snow, Kuan with his bare legs, trying to claw their way back home after being abandoned by their cabbie who wasn’t willing to go a block further with passengers. Why is it that a part of the world that can claim the most harshest of winters can also claim a national costume that includes short pants? I have to wonder.

Liesl Gibson, however, arrived exactly on time. She glided in out of the storm dressed in what the northeast could probably claim as a national holiday costume of it’s own, were we all so lucky to have the fashion sense, tailoring skills, and dressmakers figure that Ms. Gibson does. She was decked out in a perfectly... perfect bias cut wool plaid floor length (and by that I mean that it constantly hovered a fraction of a fraction of an inch above the floor as though it were in constant collusion dialogue with her shoes and hip bones) and a crisp white shirt with darts that matched her torso so exactly that it made me even more self conscious of my laced up dirndl, which I wear every season but was particularly suffocating this year. I was, in fact, exploding out of it in every direction, having run out of ribbon while lacing it up which meant that it was so tight that my hearing was affected. I could, however, still hear the seams straining when I breathed, so I was trying not to do a lot of that. Liesl was moving gracefully around the room with her enviable posture, always looking the picture of comfort and grace. I tried to make her drink more eggnog to even things out. Her outfit was pure Liesl: beautiful, perfectly proportioned, impeccably tailored, and extremely practical. Did I mention that her skirt concealed a pair of boots that, if necessary, could carry her home through the snow? I'm telling you, this woman put the sense back in "fashion sense".

Here’s the thing about Liesl. She understands, more than anyone I have ever known, how to make things fit properly. Its sort of an obsession, I think. Last summer we were hiking together through a beautiful lush forest in Vermont. I was wearing a sundress that didn’t fit me properly, and for a while she was walking just behind me. While I was lost in greenery and yammering on and on about something she was being silently tormented by the fact that the straps on my dress fell an inch beyond where they should have, landing on the wrong side of my shoulder blades. I could tell by her need to discuss this fact with me that this was very nearly ruining her afternoon. I had to admit, it had been driving me semi-consciously crazy, constantly repositioning those damned straps all day. But fix it? I don’t know. I’m super busy with..... stuff. 

For many of us, sewing and fashion are for fun. For Liesl, they are her profession and her passion. She has more technical training than many working designers today, having studied with some of the best New York City has to offer and worked for some of the biggest labels in town. She also has a head for business and an admirable work ethic and general industriousness that makes one of my “busy afternoons” look like a long lunch followed by a nap. Which sometimes is exactly what my afternoons involve, but still. Oh and in her free time? She actually makes her daughter’s clothing. She walks the talk, this one. 

I’ve had the honor of teaching alongside of Liesl now for several summers, and I can tell you what most of our Weekend Sewing Workshop students already know: if you want to learn to sew, cut, alter, or fit something in the most proper and correct way, ask Liesl to show you how. If you need to somehow fix something that you sewed backwards without being told that the only proper and correct thing to do is to carefully pull out the stitches one by one, ask Heather. She’s right over there, by the cookies.

Oh but I do go on. The point that I had hoped to make is that Liesl’s work is exceptional,  and that this spring has seen some really great new lines and products come out of the Liesl & Co. / Oliver + S studios that if you aren’t already aware of, you should be. Her first book,  Little Things to Sew, is fantastic. Her new line of women’s sewing patterns, released by Simplicity under her women’s brand Lisette along with a gorgeous line of apparel weight fabrics at Joanns, are modern and lovely and expertly drafted. Her new kids patterns are just as well written and well designed as the ones that came before them. 

I’m especially interested in attempting to make the adorable dress in the picture above, which I have actually seen in action and up close and love. Liesl’s lifestyle is a mix of hard work and motherhood and art and commuting around a hectic city via bicycle and scooter, all of which she can do in the clothing she designs. And really, if she can manage all of that in these outfits, I’m willing to try spending a busy afternoon in one of them.