Goodbye, Mr. Smiley, and thank you.

by Erin on September 22, 2006


green satin dinner suit

Julia N. sent me a link to this, which is part of an auction being held in late October. An auction which includes, among other things, Jim Smiley's collection.

I guess I thought Mr. Smiley would always be there, and one day when I had some mad money, or achieved that twenty-six-inch waist, or otherwise reached some never-never moment of unattainable perfection, I would venture back to his shop and choose one perfect, lovely dress. Not that he only had one, mind you — he had plenty. But I suppose I delayed making my choice too long, and now it's too late, as he's retiring, closing his store, and auctioning his collection. (Yes, I know I could do phone or online bidding, but it's not the same as being in his shop.)

I never made it to his New York shop, although it seemed to me that I was always walking past his windows late at night, standing in the street making tissue-paper resolutions to visit on my next trip. I did manage to visit the store he had in New Orleans, back in 1999. I was just an (embargoed, need-to-know-only) eleven weeks pregnant at the time; it was hot and humid and August and I had run out of excuses (other than "generalized bitchiness") as to why I was sleeping so much and why I needed cold drinks every seven minutes, on average. Considering my crankiness was at Defcon Three, possibly Two, my traveling companions considered a quick trip to a vintage store a minor and easily-made appeasement.

Given that I could have spent several hours there, standing with my eyes closed just BREATHING DEEPLY in that atmosphere of dress heaven, the forty-five minutes or so I managed to grab was on the "quick" side. I didn't buy a Dior, or a Ceil Chapman, or a Claire McCardell, or anything like that — I bought two 1950s maternity smocks, from the decidedly un-couture house of Sears, in red bandanna and blue plaid. But I loved them and I wore them constantly, and they were some of the only maternity clothes I could look upon without revulsion after my forty-TWO weeks of pregancy were over.

Who knows — maybe someday the planets could have aligned and I would have gone in and bought something very like this, or maybe I would have the same paralysis I have had on every trip to (Smiley's polar opposite) Topshop, where I always end up wandering around aimlessly trying to find the One Perfect Thing and walk out empty-handed, or (worse) with a white plastic headband, or a yellow patent belt, or something similarly totemic and unwearable. Now we'll never know. But the next time I think "someday …" I'll stop and ask myself, "why not today?"

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 22, 2006 at 7:24 am

What a shame it isn’t ‘Smiley and Sons’ or ‘Smiley and Daughters’ – someone to carry on the business.Am recovering from an op, and have been told to ‘rest for a week’. (I’m a mum – how do I do that?) I now have a legitimate excuse to sit here with a cup of tea and dip into ADAD. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks. Esther A.

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Anonymous September 22, 2006 at 11:09 am

Esther and all,Here’s a link to the on-line photo gallery for the entire auction. Additional photos yet to be posted. This will provide an opportunity to sip many a cup of tea.http://www.whitakerauction.com/Oct_2006_auction.htmCMC

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La BellaDonna September 22, 2006 at 12:04 pm

I started going onto the auction site, and had to leave, I was so distraught. Tasha Tudor’s collection is going on the block! Tasha Tudor herself is still healthy, thank God, but still … so many emotions knowing that such wonderful historical pieces were going to be going up for actual sale, not tucked away behind museum glass! They would be almost available!Almost, that is, because although I live in Philadelphia, it’s a long walk to New Hope. And even if I knew anyone going to the auction … let me see … Nope, haven’t won the lottery today. There are going to be some serious collectors at that, and the probability that I could afford so much as a lace collar is very likely under one percent. It’s the same likelihood of my buying one of the fabulous Smiley dresses; the illusion of availability is even more painful than going to a museum all nose-on-glass, knowing that ordinary folks don’t have much chance of owning those kinds of things in this lifetime. The belief that if things were just a little bit different, I could bring home a treasure or two to cherish – that’s an actual visceral pain.Sometimes you just do need to do it “today” rather than “some day.” As long as it won’t bankrupt you, or hurt somebody, go with “today,” since, sometimes, “some day” never comes.

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msbelle September 22, 2006 at 1:06 pm

OMG! I am going after work TO-day to see if the Smiley store is even still open. If so I will go in (for the first time) and if I can find anything I will buy myself a treat.

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ambika September 22, 2006 at 2:47 pm

*Gorgeous* dress. And can I just say that your site has made me want a sewing machine more than any other?

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Ang September 22, 2006 at 4:44 pm

Ooooh….I’ve been drooling over the Whitaker auction pages a while now. All I have to add is that I also had a splendid (read NIGHTMARISH) 42 week pregnancy including bedrest & much weight gain, which ultimately resulted in my inability to really EVER wear a dress like the ones on the site (or, that taunt me from racks in my home. People often ask how I can SELL the things I find? Easy. C-section & raising a toddler alone w/ toddler’s food in the house, and more stress than you can shake a cheese stick at). I did however find 2 McCardells last weekend in healthy sizes, which have tempted me!!! Instead……bills & a super-dull lifestyle say sell. Maybe I should have contacted Whitaker before I listed them……….Ang

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Floridaprincess September 23, 2006 at 3:42 am

Oh No!!! When I finaly made it to New Orleans Jim Smiley had moved to New York. I went all the way out Magazine St to find his place. Drove my dh nuts of course. I looked him up in New York and called him and talked to him. This was 2 yrs ago. He told me he missed this area. He could not make a living down here so chose to go up to New York. He also told me his web address. I had plans to be able to go up to his shop one day. Well this aint never goanna happen. I turned 44 2 days ago now you tell me this. Im not having a good week. I have been wanting to go to his shop for years now.

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Meredith September 25, 2006 at 2:45 pm

I was able to visit Jim’s shop several times in New York, and I adored it. I bought a cashmere sweater and an incredible purple and white gingham dress with matching bolero, both of which fit like they were made for me. I will always love those pieces! I was just as sad as you to hear he was packing up and retiring. I’m afraid I won’t be bidding on any of the remaining dresses, but I’ll always remember his lovely little shop.

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Meredith September 25, 2006 at 2:45 pm

Oh and P.S. to all New Yorkers — the shop closed about 3 weeks ago.

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La BellaDonna October 13, 2006 at 8:07 pm

Well, as a followup to my earlier, feeling-sorry-for-myself post, I’m attaching a (clumsy) link to an article about the auction. Which I did not attend.http://216.109.125.130/search/cache?p=Callot+Soeurs+court+gown&prssweb=Search&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-500&x=wrt&u=www.antiquesandthearts.com/AW-2006-06-06-10-45-14p1&w=callot+soeurs+court+gown&d=MvbJJSQ8NmFy&icp=1&.intl=usAnd now I AM going to sit on the floor and feel sorry for myself. Yes, it’s true, I don’t live in a third world country without plumbing or heat (at least not any more), but … neither do a heck of a lot of other people. Who, unlike me, were able to go to the auction and buy treasures.And now, please pardon me; I’m going out for a bit. La BellaDonna wanders sadly out into the garden to eat worms.

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