Genovese nuns taught my grandmother, Lydia, to sew at the age of five. I am not making this up. From then on she embroidered, knitted, crocheted. She created patterns, designed theatrical costumes, fashioned wedding gowns and produced what can only be described as couture teddy bears (mine wears taffeta and a real fox stole). She sewed drapes, curtains, slipcovers, evening gowns, coats, men's suits, women's suits, skirts, pants, prom dresses, tablecloths, aprons. I can think of nothing she did not know about fabrics, dress-making, linings, zippers, buttons and bows. She and my grandfather, John, were by no means rich, but growing up my mother had a matching coat for every dress. Often on special occasions Lydia sewed my mother into an outfit moments before Lorraine had to walk out the door. As little girls, my sister and I had the wardrobe of princesses--matching wool capes, long pink pleather raincoats and rain hats, faux fur jackets--in which to romp around Bayside, Queens.
Despite her ability to conjure magic from material, Lydia most often could be found wearing plain black pants, a zip-up sweatshirt and not a speck of makeup. And if you asked her about her greatest love she wouldn't say fashion, the stuff of which she lived and breathed every day. Or fabric, bolts of which filled rooms of her home from floor to ceiling. She would say family, which mattered to her more than anything in the world.
If that's not a style icon, I don't know what is.
"Use the good china for breakfast."