Effortless Effort: What is Style?

While browsing through photos of the pre-fall collections the other day, several looks from Michael Kors jumped out at me. They looked so familiar and for a moment I couldn’t place them. Then it me: something in the slouchy chic of Kors’ classic pea coat and bright red tuxedo pants or the simplicity of a black suit instantly recalled the crisp, clean, all-American style of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. But more than just the clothes themselves, it was the attitude in these images that reminded me of the late style icon. The writer Dani Shapiro wrote a blog post recently about this kind of attitude as it relates to writing and creativity and, well, life. Shapiro quoted Buddhist thought when she identified this attitude as the effortless effort, this idea of serendipity or risk or an openness to life’s possibilities. It’s a definition you could apply to style too, particularly this brand of seemingly effortless style.

A Prima Ballerina’s final bow

Wendy Whelan, the prima ballerina and arguably the greatest ballerina of her generation, retired last night from the New York City Ballet. I wish I had seen her farewell performance, but I feel lucky to have seen her dance on so many other occasions. Most memorably in a rehearsal I was invited to watch back in 2004 when I served on a fund-raising committee at the NYCB. I remember being stunned by the beauty and perfection of Whelan’s dancing. Even in rehearsal, when other dancers simply “mark” steps, Whelan was so present and precise. Her timing was incredible and her performance–it was a performance more than a rehearsal–was sharp and crystalline. She was astounding to watch. I had once been an aspiring dancer so I had seen many great ballerinas perform–Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley, Natalia Makarova. But this was different. There was something so unique about Whelan’s style and discipline. I rushed home and told my husband, who writes for the New York Times Magazine, that he had to write about Whelan. I couldn’t remember reading an in-depth piece on Whelan in any national magazine. (Here’s the link to my husband’s story) Whelan has retired from the New York City Ballet, but she’ll keep dancing. I’m excited to see what she does next.