For Proust, a tea-soaked madeleine was the portal to memory, but for me it was the show “Vera Paints a Scarf” at Manhattan’s Museum of Art and Design. The show celebrates not only the scarves but also the tableware, clothing, posters, stationery, and paintings created by the eponymous designer. Back then, I didn’t even think to associate the name, scrawled in loose, jaunty script, with an actual person. It seemed like the name of a product, only slightly more resonant than Kleenex or Mattel, though I did like the little ladybug (more on that later) that was part of the logo.
Instead, I was captivated by the bright colors, the breezy, slightly insouciant style, the sheer joy of the designs, which were easy mix of natural elements like trees, flowers—lots of flowers—birds, insects (that ladybug again) fruits, and vegetables, along with more abstract patterns, some sinuous and lyrical like her paisleys, others more geometric or linear. Of the ladybug she said that it “means good luck in every language.” Both her palette and her aesthetic felt fresh and distinctly modern, the shifts and tunics designed for girls like me, or maybe the girl I aspired to be—think 1960s model Twiggy in one of those little dresses and a pair of go-go boots and you get the idea.
I don’t know how or when I lost track of Vera, though I do recall occasionally encountering the scarves in my perpetual second-hand-shmatte hunt, when such a discovery would be accompanied by a whiff of nostalgia and even melancholy. So walking into the show at MAD was a thrill that brought it all rushing back—color, the whimsy, the echo of the girl I was when I first discovered her.