October 21, 2014

The Art of You

Wearable art lets you transform your body into a gallery in motion, displaying exceptional works in fabric, fiber, metal and precious gems-and helping you look good in the bargain. Feeling like a blank canvas? Here are some favorite places that will brighten any palette.

There's a good reason why so many frocks fly out of Glad Rags Too on Fifth Avenue in Naples. Lilly Pulitzer clothes are wearable art, and fashion connoisseurs collect them with a passion. Just ask manager Martha Jones, who wears Lilly every day and, like all Lilly lovers, enjoys hunting for the famous Lilly signature hidden on every piece of fabric designed. New prints are introduced several times each year and the previous ones are retired, never to be duplicated.

"Recently, a woman about 40 came into the store, looked around and quickly began pulling things off the racks," explains Jones. "She was from Little Rock, Arkansas, and was getting everything she didn't already own. Told me she has a room full of Lilly things and always checks out stores when she's traveling."

Jones keeps a list of loyal customers who want to be notified the minute the new boxes arrive and then dash in to grab clothes in their sizes before it's too late.

The Lilly Pulitzer fashion look-happy-preppie-summery-feminine frocks in bright colors-was wildly popular in the 1960s, then faded when Lilly Pulitzer retired in the early 1980s. Now, it's back. Younger women are discovering Lilly while their moms are feeling like indulging again. The look is quintessential Palm Beach-Naples; and, truly, the appeal of Lilly never went out of style in these two cities and other Southern chic resort towns.

The eponymous Lilly is also known as Mrs. Peter Pulitzer. While living in Palm Beach in the 1960s, Lilly, a well-bred Connecticut girl, opened a series of juice stands (her husband owned some orange groves). She designed a brightly patterned cotton shift for her employees to wear. The dress was cool, and the wild pattern hid juice spatters. Pretty soon, customers were asking if the dress was for sale, and a clothing empire was born. Lilly's company lasted for 20 years until she retired. Then, in the early '90s, three fashion industry veterans acquired the licensing agreement and revived the label. Today, Lilly Pulitzer still lives in Palm Beach and helps promote the line of clothing and accessories.

The clothes have traditionally been made of 100 percent cotton. But lately, a little Spandex has been added to slacks for a snug fit, and some of the holiday fashions come in silk. Jones notices that young girls want skimpy halter-top dresses, two-piece bathing suits and sexy slip dresses. Older girls gravitate toward T-shirts, skirts and novelty sweaters.

All ages seem to adore the shoes, which are Italian calfskin and dyed to match the new prints. Flats and heels (which are cut on the narrow side) are $130 to about $150. Skirts start at $100. Tote bags are $48 for the small and $95 for the large. Dresses average $160. If there's anything more you need to know about Lilly Pulitzer wearable art, you just ask Jones. She's the expert, and you'll find her at Glad Rags Too, 757 Fifth Ave. S. in Naples. Jones is a trim size two, but you can't hate her for that. And wearing all that Lilly makes her one of the most cheerful people in town.

When he was growing up in barcelona, Spain, Jose Aragon drew all the time. He had a particular love for the fluid, organic designs of Art Nouveau, but eventually realized that painting was not his medium. "I liked to work on three-dimensional pieces," Aragon remembers. "And over the years I began to work on smaller and smaller pieces in metal. Soon I was concentrating on jewelry design."

Aragon moved to Naples in 1968 and worked for another jeweler for 16 years before he and his wife, Diana, opened Jose Aragon Inc. on 13th Avenue South in Naples. In this little jewel box of a gallery he displays his own unique creations. There are also designs by Masriera, a Barcelona artist, and a collection from Carrera & Carrera, also from Spain. Aragon returns frequently to Spain to soak up inspiration and discover new talent for his jewelry gallery.

Every pin, pair of earrings and pendant is a piece of refined and highly detailed miniature sculpture. One of his most famous designs is a lion's head doorknocker-style pair of earrings. They range in price from $3,500 to $4,500, depending upon the size and number of diamonds used. "These earrings are my favorite," reveals Diana Aragon, "and I wear them often. So many people have come up to me and asked about them and then bought a pair that there's a whole group of women in town who call themselves the lion's head club." To see Jose Aragon's signed collection is to tour a museum of wearable art. Find him at 395 13th Ave. S. in Naples. And be sure to notice what Diana is wearing.

All the jewelry at trader rick's ("for the artful woman," says the business card) on Sanibel Island is handcrafted by artists, most of them working in Florida. Your eye will be drawn to the unusual earrings, bracelets, even eyeglass holders made by Audrey Quetier, who works with strand beads and hand-blown glass. Her jewelry has an iridescent hue; some of it looks like beach glass. Prices start at $26. Leslie Malzan works in sterling and lamp glass, achieving unique shapes and luscious tropical colors in her one-of-a-kind wearable art jewelry. A Malzan piece starts at $40 for earrings. Necklaces start at $220 and escalate. If shopping on Sanibel Island is inconvenient, there is a Trader Rick's at Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, too.

If you have to wear a necktie to work or to an event, why not turn heads by turning it into art? The designers at Tommy Bahama have figured this out and have introduced a smashing line of ties that invoke the spirit of Gauguin and other artists who fell in love with paradise islands. One of the best places to see an impressive array of these T.B. ties ($55) is Caribbean Coast on Periwinkle Way on Sanibel. Manager Shawn Smith says the brighter and bolder the design the faster it sells. "My husband is in the wine business and he goes to a lot of restaurant meetings and he has to wear a tie," she relates. "I bought him a Tommy tie that has martini glasses and robust ladies from the '30s on it. Everyone in that meeting asked my husband about his tie and wanted one." Smith says another hugely popular T.B. tie is a beach scene that starts with a background of yellow and blue stripes. The foreground is a boat dragged up on the sand with a woman's leg and a bikini top just visible. The boat's name is Relax. "Honestly, we can't keep these ties in the store. They sell out the week they arrive."

Reading glasses can also be wearable art. If you want jazzy contemporary shapes with eye-catching colorful frames, try on several from the Peepers collection at Why Knot on Sanibel Island. These glasses will make you smile, and at $20 a pair, they are so reasonably priced you will be tempted to take several home to match different outfits. When you're paying for your new glasses, notice the painted four-legged stool near the cash register. Decorated with various objects of retail desire, it offers good advice to those of us who love the hunt for artful merchandise. The inscription says: "When I get tired of shopping, I sit down and try on shoes."

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