As I write this, I can feel summer at my back.
I can feel it blazing outside my window, the oppressive heat crackling on the concrete streets below, scorching the greenery, browning the skin, and leaving a hint of the earth burning in the air. It is a relentless season, one of reverie, sweat, fantasy, and adventure; best experienced with an open calendar and spirit, I believe.
And as much as I love to revel in the season, I am always drumming up creative ways to flee the weather’s unflinching grip. It is in this way that I always find myself near a body of water, soaking up its cooling and calming agents, at last breathing in fresh air. I take to the edges and banks of this city with a real urgency, and most recently came to love the East River Piers in Williamsburg.
I often puppysit my “nephew”, Leo, and his adventurous spirit always seems to lead us on amazing tours of his neighborhood. One morning in particular we wandered across the rows of sky-high apartment buildings, abandoned warehouses, and nascent businesses that line the streets, to find ourselves walking along the wooden planks of the pier. Leo quickly found a place under a park bench, he eschewing the sun’s rays, while I peered across the unobstructed skyline in awe.
Manhattan, in its silhouette form, seemed so solid, straightforward, uncomplicated.
I coaxed Leo out of his resting place and we walked further, I thinking that a construct such as a pier seems like a vestige from another time. Summer carnivals, big band showcases, war-time fanfare seem so much associated with the docks and ports of America; a mid-century relic that we’ve clearly abandoned over time but has never seemed any less romantic to me.
Reimagined within the landscape of trendy South Williamsburg, the pier takes on new meaning, of course. It the backdrop to faddish Brooklyn fleas and the literal backyard to tony high-rise condos, but I wanted to somehow pay homage to its original essence. Immediately images of Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, and Bunny Yeager popped into my mind, they the original ladies of summer: the very women who indoctrinated the idea of “seaside beauty” in all its splendor.
Bedecked in charming rompers, one piece full-bottomed suits, and cheeky two-pieces, these women took to the piers and coasts, and infused a soft balance of sweetness and sensuality into their looks that often escapes modern womenswear. When I fell upon this plaid romper at Edith Machinist, a genuine find from the 1950s, I immediately grasped the allure of that era’s female form.
A simple, streamlined silhouette, the romper is all about playing with proportions and in turn the perception it gives off. Buttoned to the top, with small keyhole arm holes, the focus is really placed on my arms, shoulder, and waist. Where the kick of this piece emerges is, of course, in the cut and length of the bottom.
Hemmed just-so and round in cut, the shorts reveal plenty of leg, without giving away the entire mystery. The fabric, a soft but starched cotton, hardly wrinkles which in turn keeps the piece from riding up and helps maintain its shape. Smattered in plaid, the romper really winks at you, hardly aggressive in its intent.
I cinched the waist and flung on my Chloë platform sandals, which have such a great retro edge to them, and grabbed for my new wide-brim straw hat.
I saw this beaut in Texas and immediately plucked it from its stand where it rested in a small boutique within the Bishop Arts district in Dallas. I’ve actually never worn too many hats, but this one conjured up a Southern simplicity to me that was unavoidable. As I sat this topper upon my ‘fro, I saw The Color Purple’s, Shug Avery, walking along the dirt pathways of rural Georgia, fighting off the merciless heat under its curved contours. I had to have it.
Paired with the romper, the look spoke of the easiness of summer dressing, and the shapes it all formed were reminiscent of photographer Irving Penn’s work with bergére hats. Penn worked almost exclusively with Vogue from the 1940s through the 1960s capturing the architectural potential of women’s accessories. By exploring the curve and slope of a hat, the lensman could prompt mystery, glamour, and sophistication within a single article that did not readily emerge. I felt like my own straw hat certainly provided shade, but also drummed up some of this drama Penn so elegantly had put to gelatin.
Of course, Cleon reinterpreted this all within a modern context, shooting me in a whole new light: natural, free, fearless. Perched high on the jagged rocks of the East River’s banks, summer was upon us, and I, one of its ladies. //
Scroll through the remaining images of “LADY OF SUMMER”, below, and be sure to check out the East River Piers and Park, off of Kent Ave in Williamsburg.
Vintage romper, Edith Machinist x Vintage belt x Sandals by Chloë x Hat, brand unknown
All photography courtesy of Layonbone’s, Cleon Grey
**A special thanks to my creative partner, Cleon Grey. His work simply shines and grows with each project we complete. This man is ahead of his time.**