Monterey Herald Column: A Walk About Town: Looking for the Perfect Dress

cherry blossomsMore than once in my life I’ve gone out walking along a city’s streets in search of the perfect dress. When I was young, upon occasion, a bit of extra money would fall from the sky into my pocket, and lest it spend itself on the mounting bills, and since I am forever my mother’s daughter, I’d go looking for a dress—be it at a thrift shop or a boutique.

One time, I walked excitedly, but unhurriedly, down Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, hoping to slip into the black cotton lace dress I’d seen in a shop window. Lucky for me, it was still on the rack, now that I had the cash making it possible to wear the dress home. With its open neck and drop-waist, wide skirt, many years later, that dress remains a favorite.

The amount of joy we receive from anticipation varies, I suppose, on how often our anticipation is met with satisfaction. For me, not only when I’m taking a walk in nature is the destination rarely the point, but often in life—from traveling to shopping to going to work. There’s so much to wonder about: Who might I encounter? What surprise, large or small, may greet me around the next corner?

Light and ShadowThe most recent walk that I took on behalf of a dress had nothing to do with wanting to purchase something to wear. The dress I had my eye on wasn’t for sale. You might be thinking, why bother, and ordinarily I’d agree, but in this case, you’d be wrong, and here’s why.

For one thing, this dress had been talked about and I’d been listening. Would it be as lovely as I’d heard, and as unusual? Might it really be an unique pairing of photography and fashion? There was only one way to find out.

The feeling of spring, newly in the air, had gotten under my skin. In downtown Monterey, albeit early, spring was everywhere and that season is nothing if not anticipation and promised inspiration. Having parked my car near the post office where the cherry blossoms greeted. So as to prolong the anticipation I proceeded slowly to Bella Brancato’s second storey sewing studio. As I walked down Calle Principal, turning right onto Franklin Street, spring was budding out on many bushes; it was climbing up a building wall in the form of light and shadow; it rose skyward via a ladder propped in an open doorway; it dazzled from a storefront sign.

Shopfront SignWhen you live in a place for a long time, you see not only what is before and around you, but what was there in the past, what is no more. I’d looked forward to the window of the florist’s on Franklin, the florist from which someone had once sent me two-dozen yellow roses as an apology. Sadly, that shop is gone and though the flowers were beautiful, the apology wasn’t worth much.

At 140 Franklin Street the elevator button points down though the elevator only goes up; it deposited me steps away from the dress I wanted to see. And suddenly not only was spring outside, but inside Bella’s studio. The dress was spring herself—in addition to being an article of clothing the dress is also a garden. Bella had photographs by landscape architect Bernard Trainor printed onto fabric. Inspired by the images and the young woman who would wear the dress, Bella designed and, in only two days, sewed a form-fitting, floor-length mermaid gown!

The dress was created for the Monterey Youth Arts Collective autumn event called ARTable, a celebratory evening devoted to the concept of metamorphosis. Local pastry chefs created desserts that were as beautiful as they were delicious. Models wore dresses designed by 12 local designers, Bella’s being one. This expansive reverie was presented to raise money for YAC, a local program that supports and mentors youth in developing their nascent, artistic selves.

Dress Close-upThough the dress was worn only once, its allure was hardly meant for a single evening. Bella’s is a leaf and twig, flower and sky dress; it’s mostly green but there are bits of pink and brown and blue and white, a touch of yellow, too. Nearly hidden from view, as often in real life, there was an Anna’s hummingbird, taking nectar from a flower.

Outdoors the mood was celebratory; buds popping up and out; the hues of the colors brighter than the day before. Inside too. Spring’s on her way; it’s indisputable.

Dress Close-up Hummingbird

Patrice Vecchione




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