“Bianca had always known that she would be a writer, and her wardrobe tells the story of her journey from Julian Schnabel’s assistant to published author. Just like Louise – the character she fabricated – Bianca’s own journey began in a vintage shop.“
“The Time-Traveling Fashionista” is the kind of series that my younger self would have loved to read. Being a child of the eighties, the stories at my disposal were about Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly, the first generation of the “American Girl” franchise. I still remember the illustrations, which not only informed the individual personality of each girl, but the time period in which she lived. Bianca Turetsky might be treading similar terrain, with her fashion-centric historical narratives, but her unique blend of time travel and culturally engendered style, has its own potential for longevity.
The central character in “The Time-Traveling Fashionista” is a twelve year old girl named Louise. Even her name, which is not so common among young girls today, is reminiscent of the past. It was handed down to the protagonist from the author’s own grandmother, who inspired Bianca with the clothing she preserved. While the books explore history through the lens of fashion, they also deal with the universal struggle between blossoming individuality and the desire to be accepted by one’s peers. Bianca successfully captures the essence of what it feels like to be in middle school, the wayward years between childhood and adolescence. The author, who has been drawn to vintage for as long as she can remember, has also tapped into the female predisposition towards playing dress-up. Despite our long history of sexual warfare, which women have typically been on the losing end, fashion has remained constant as the external expression of our inward selves. In our current age of gender equality, this has not changed. Bianca had always known that she would be a writer, and her wardrobe tells the story of her journey from Julian Schnabel’s assistant to published author. Just like Louise – the character she fabricated – Bianca’s own journey began in a vintage shop.
“[Louise] was boy-skinny, with disproportionately broad swimmer shoulders, and basically felt that her body was doing its best to annoy her in every way. The only thing she felt she had any control over was what she wore… Shopping, researching, and scouring thrift stores for vintage finds was her obsession… Since no one else at her school seemed to share her passion, a lot of her quirkier pieces were reserved for dancing around in her bedroom alone.” – excerpt from “Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile”
There is something about sorting through the sartorial relics of time’s past that carries the potential for self-discovery. Unlike the dictator stance of current trends, vintage is a sort of Rorschach test for the fashion tribe. The garment that calls to you says something about who you are, or the person you would like to become. For Bianca, that meant channeling the easy glamour of the seventies for her prom.
The black, floor-length halter gown, has clean lines and a timeless appeal, and yet it differentiated her from the contemporary dresses worn by her classmates. More than a decade later, this dress still looks relevant, with nothing to marry it to the nineties fashion that was prevalent at the time.
Unlike non-creative professionals, good writers are defined as much by their skill, as the quality of the life experience they have to draw upon. Bianca had the foresight to major in English Literature at Tufts University, but after a few months of interning at Rolling Stones and Paper Magazine, she stepped away from the publishing world. She landed the coveted job of Julian Schnabel’s assistant, though the title does not begin to cover the breadth of what it meant to shadow one of the most prolific artists of our time. During the eleven years that she worked for him, she also developed a friendship with Olatz Schnabel, the artist’s former spouse. Olatz’s style is heavily infused with vintage finds, including this blue green floral dress from the fifties, which was one of her gifts to Bianca.
One of the caveats of shopping vintage, is that you never know what you might find, so it is almost impossible to look for something specific. Instead, Bianca is drawn to pieces that fit the life that she is striving for, a trait she also bestowed upon Louise.
“She felt as if life would catch up with her one day, and she would have just the place to wear a flapper dress from the Roaring Twenties with its matching sequined headband.”
The idea for the first book came to Bianca five years ago when she was visiting one of her favorite vintage shops, “Fashionista Vintage & Variety” in New Haven, CT. She tried on clothes that had belonged to a Mrs. Baxter and started to imagining what her life might have been like. They had an “aspirational” quality about them, much like this champagne colored ball skirt that is one of Bianca’s purchases from the store.
Bianca’s concept opened up a whole world of potential exploration, as every moment in time has its own sartorial imprint. She was also free to explore different cultures, and the period that she decided to start off with was 1912, and the cross-Atlantic maiden voyage of the Titanic. The exact catalyst for the time-travel excursion varies depending on the adventure, but it is always an item that Louise tries on at the “Traveling Fashionista Vintage Sale.” Bianca began writing in the spare moments between Schnabel’s studio and the sets of the critically acclaimed films “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Miral.” By his living example, Schnabel demonstrated that it was possible to not only earn a living, but to realize success from one’s creative pursuits. His mediums might be painting and film, but seeing firsthand the ability that art has to transform the human experience, was invaluable.
By the time Bianca felt comfortable enough to share her manuscript, a friend had passed along the business card of an agent. Months passed without any response, and then without warning, Elisabeth Weed requested a meeting. It was the perfect opportunity for Bianca to finally wear the black dress with ivory trim that had been one of her passion purchases. The meeting was successful and Weed assisted Bianca with some early revisions, before finding a home for the series with Poppy, the young adult division of Little Brown.
It took another year of editing before the first book was ready for publication. One of the more casual outfits that she wore often during this process is a neutral colored silk top that is trimmed in white piping. The “pajama” inspired button-down is another indication of Schnabel’s influence. The artist is known for his matching ensembles of silk loungewear and at one point, Olatz began designing them herself. The top shown below, is from her women’s collection.
While many of Bianca’s friends were planning for the weddings they had been imagining for years, the budding writer had the same enthusiasm about her book release party. Held at “Once Upon a Tart,” she wore a the yellow Fendi dress that she had discovered at Ina, a designer consignment shop in Soho.
Bianca had always conceived of her first book as part of an ongoing series and so she followed up “On Board the Titanic” with “At the Palace of Marie Antoinette.” In order to write the second installment, she took a month long vacation. She and her grandmother spent ten days in Paris, where they visited Versaille, and then traveled to San Sebastian in Spain. Olatz had offered up her house and so Bianca used the time off to delve into her version of eighteenth-century France. Given that vintage treasure is how this writer documents her travels, the cream colored dress with scalloped hem was her souvenir from this particular trip. The design looks deceptively simple, but it was a joint effort getting her into it, which is a throwback to when getting dressed required helping hands.
Bianca continued to work for Schnabel through the release of her first two books, and left only this past September to pursue her literary career full time. The third and latest installment has just been released, and Louise Lambert’s latest adventure is with Cleopatra. Her journey begins on the set of the 1963 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, and then to ancient Egypt, where she meets the actual pharaoh herself.
But writing is only part of Bianca’s job. She actively cultivates her audience and frequently travels to meet loyal readers at their local bookstore.
Now that Bianca is a published author, which has also enabled her to begin writing the story of her own life, I asked her what “aspirational” means to her now. After all, doesn’t time travel work both ways? She replied without hesitation, “I would love to see my books made into films or a television series,” and she can also imagine wearing this white vintage dress (shown below) to the premiere. This piece epitomizes Bianca’s style: classic with unique details and reminiscent of a previous era, though lacking the kind of time-stamp that often leads to over exposure, and a quick demise. Good design may not always be on-trend, but will never completely go out of style either and this easy silhouette with peek-a-boo midriff, could just as easily be sold in department stores today.
Given her chosen genre, there is a lot of potential for her books to live on. Even though her current readers will eventually grow up and move on to more adult literature, there will always be another batch of twelve year old girls, looking to define themselves beyond braces and confusing hormones. So while Bianca is busy plotting the future for both herself and Louise – as their stories are intertwined – she will continue to write, travel, promote her books, and enjoy the life that was foretold by the wardrobe she has spent years cultivating.
“The Time-Traveling Fashionista” is available at all major book sellers.
Author : Ashley Rabin