Monday, December 26, 2011

Designers Guild is Absolutely Fabulous, Sweetie.

Eddy and Pats are at it again, in beautifully appointed digs.
Today, through the magic of the Internet, I was able to see the first episode of the highly anticipated return of Absolutely Fabulous.  The new season is set to air on BBC America January 8th, but who wants to wait that long?!  As expected, the show that lampoons, and harpoons, fashion and pop culture did not disappoint.  Fashion faux pas abound, cigarettes are perpetually lit, morally questionable situations arise, but I will not spoil it for those who have yet to see.  What I will be spoiling for you, however, is the interior design of Eddy's Holland Park townhouse. 

As usual, Eddy (played by Jennifer Saunders, who also writes the show) is our fashion victim while Patsy (Joanna Lumley) is the chic fashion editor of indeterminate age who has more vices than fingers to count them on, but Eddy's home, for the first time, is ridiculously chic and incredibly refined.  It's bold, feminine, and glamorous, but not one bit out of sync with good taste (atleast not to me).  This is a first for Eddy, who regularly redecorates to keep up with trends, but who always seems to fall short of something this undeniably elegant.

I had to watch the new episode a second time through just for the interiors.  The design was flawless, but I had seen parts of it before; something about it was incredibly familiar.  When I thought about it, it looked very much like the work of Designers Guild, the English firm established by Trisha Guild in 1970 known for bold color and riffs on historic patterns.  Think exploded florals and damasks in maroon, lime green, turquoise or pink.  I hopped over to and was able to find every wallpaper used in Eddie's townhouse, with the exception of daughter Saffron's bedroom, and even Eddy's gorgeous bedding (which is now on sale!!).

So, have a look around Eddy's new place and if you have any questions, you know who to call.  And if you don't know who to call, call me.  ;)

- Ian

Our first room on view is Eddie's bedroom, covered in Designers Guild/Christian La Croix 'Arles' fabric and 'Oxbridge' stripe wallpaper.  As usual, Eddy's bed floats in the room, meaning it does not touch any one wall but rather acts as an island.  The bed is a black lacquer four poster style, flanked with black acrylic Kartel Bourgie lamps.  The bedding is 'Darly' by Designers Guild, a printed cotton sateen with feather-y French scrolls and painterly floral motifs.  Above the Victorian fire place hangs a Japanese screen depicting a gnarled tree on a gold leaf background; a nice foil to the rest of the wall composition.  Also, it should be known that one of the earliest fashion obsession for Eddy was La Croix, so it's very fitting that her boudoir is covered in his patterns. 

'Darly' bedding from Designers Guild.

Behind Eddy's bed is a wall mural called 'Forum', also by Designers Guild/La Croix.  I love how dark and sexy Eddy's bedroom has become.  Earlier incarnations were gauzy and monastically white.  There's a new maturity to Eddy's interiors now.

Eddy's kitchen also got an over haul, but no wallpaper.  As with most homes, the kitchen is where all the action takes place, so hers is a large open space with a garden view sink, a large table, and split height island (an idea I love) and a large range.  Logistically, having the range so far from the sink and fridge doesn't make sense, but for looks it's marvelous.  I j'adore the horizontal pine wall cladding, and that green-gray paint used on the cabinetry.

Looking toward the range in the kitchen.  Love that double height island and the way the pine has spread to become part of the range hood.  The kitchen is below street level; the stairs lead to foyer.

Looking toward the sink wall.  I like the floating shelf over the subway time wall, and how the tile runs all the way to the ceiling.  It's a very old style treatment for tile, if we think back historically to great service kitchens found in hotels and country houses.  Also like the idea of the missmatched enamel metal chairs. 

Behind Eddy is an open, free standing armoire, painted in the same green as the built in cabinets.  Behind that is a service hall lined with three frosted wine coolers, each packed with champagne.  This hall also led to Eddy's ill fated panic room.  To the right of the coolers is the door to the back garden.

The next room featured is the foyer, a double height space papered with more 'Oxbridge' stripe and also a grayscale floral called 'Mehsama'.  In earlier seasons this room was a hectic catch all of ethnic artifacts and furniture. Now it's a restrained nearly Georgian space, minimally furnished with emphasis on architectural detail.  I love the black doors with white trim, as well as the silver cast iron railings; so elegant and dramatic. I also like how they have split the paper patterns, with the stripe continuing down the stairs and the floral on the wall.

Down stairs, the walls return to white with dark floors, light carpeting and a stunning theatrical floral arrangement.  This profile will be seen again in Eddie's living room, and it's not especially subtle.  You can also make out an Art Deco style console beneath the upper stair run.  I am absolutely mad for this foyer!  It's really some wonderful to behold.

The final room we are re-introduced to is Eddy's Living Room, decorated in bold red and black with white walls.  The classical urns are placed before an other wall mural by Designers Guild, this time it's 'Ornamental Garden', which depicts Old Master style florals in urns on a black ground.  In previous seasons, the location was home to Saddam Hussein's feet, remnants of the fallen statue that was a by product of his demise.  The airplane wing desk is a hold over from a past series, first used in the Living Room when Eddy had to downsize her PR company.  It's an incredible piece.  Also a very nice use of slat blinds, they reinforce the architecture of the room without having an overbearing presence.

The Living Room, looking toward the over-sized Georgian fireplace. I am crazy for this feature!  I love that it's matte black, to match the doors throughout, and I also like how they have inserted a gas burning chrome cube to act as the 'fire' (if you look, you can see Eddy's shoes reflected in it).  The scale of the installation is marvelous.  You can also see the button tufted stain screen, which is a very feminine touch and also a nice contrast to the visual weight of the mantle.  I'm also a fan of the over sized candle sticks and lamps, and the minimal number of accessories.  There's plenty to look at, but it's not a load of twiddly little things.  All the accessories are high impact and large, reducing the visual clutter in the interior.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

He Who Smelt It, Delt It - Further Elaborations of Perfume and What to do with It.

I think I might have an olfactory obsession, as this is my second post on fragrance, and I didn't think I'd ever really be writing about this subject.  But, rather than telling you how and what to buy, I'm going to tell you all the kinky and creative ways people scented themselves in days gone by.  Some methods are quite romantic, others, well, let's just say you'll never look at bacon fat the same way again. 

A Tomb painting depicting maids with perfumed cones
atop their wigs.  Also popular was the Blue Lotus, but
it was prizes for its narcotic properties rather than
it's perfume alone.
Neanderthals were known to adorn themselves with flowers to surround themselves with pleasant aromas, but our first ingenious deodorizing diatribe takes us to Ancient Egypt.  To combat the arid environment, the Egyptians (men and women a like) shaved themselves from head to toe.  For formal ceremonies, both sexes donned ornamental wigs (thus negating the effects of the previously mentioned full body wax) and if they were feeling frisky, false beards. To scent the air around them, Egyptians donned scented cones that sat on top of their wigs.  The cones were made of solid animal fat (tallow) fragranced with myrrh and would melt in the desert heat.  I'm not sure if this was also some sort of moisturizing treatment or round-about sunscreen protection, know, when in Rome.    

Gloves dating to 1603 from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Trimmed with silver lace, pearls and spangles, scenting
them was gilding the Lily.
Zooming forward in time we find ourselves in the Renaissance, when, despite being condemned by the clergy (no doubt because of it's association with prostitution and an all around good time), the perfume trade flourished during the Renaissance, so much so that Perfumers developed their own guild.  During this period, it was thought that the putrid scents which filled the air from plague, pollution, and general illness also carried contagious disease.  As a result, personal accessories began to be designed with compartments to house solid perfumes that would cancel out the foul smells and protect against infection.  Doctors walking sticks were made with decorative heads or handles that emitted a fragrance through perforated metal which masked the odors found in slums, hospitals, and mortuaries.  A solid perfume scented with herbs was contained within the hollow handle.

Gold, enamel and pearl pomander circa 1620-1640.
Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the 16th Century, the Marquis do Frangipani was the first to perfume kidskin gloves as other Nobles of Venice and Florence adorned garments and gloves with spherical scented buttons designed to be filled with a fragrant potpourri or solid perfume; its scent emitted though a filigree fretwork of silver.  Also popular during the Renaissance, and well beyond for that matter, was the Pomander.  A spherical charm worn suspended on a chain from the waist, when unlocked it opens into wedged segments like an orange, with each wedge compartment housing a different scented solid perfume.  As a note, while marvelously long-lasting, solid perfumes were historically made from Ambergris; a wax-like substance coveted by the cosmetic industry used not only for perfume but also pomades, powders, and cough drops. The fact that it is derived from Whale vomit or feces (either would do) was gleefully overlooked by the buying public.  We of course have synthetics for today's market.

A partial gilt silver pomander dating to 1350 from the Victoria
and Albert Museum.  A pin screw holds the hinged segments

This may have been a love token, which a woman would wear
hanging from a chain at her waist.
The segments refer to the Judgement of Paris,
when he had to decide which of the goddesses Juno, Venus and Minerva
was the most beautiful. Paris chose Venus, here given the words:
"Venus is the loveliest, her claim is clearly just".
A 1778 painting of Marie Antoinette in a riding costume
with her scented gloves in hand.  Antoine Vestier.
Private Collection.
Galloping forward another 200 years, we land in pre-revolutionary France in the Court of Louis XVI and his number one schnitzel, Marie Antoinette.  Contrary to our notions about the French and their bathing habits, Marie, an Austrian by birth, reveled in her beauty regime and bathed daily.  Her baths were scented with floating sachets filled with blanched almonds, pine nuts, linseed, lily, and herbs.  Other sachets included bran, used as an exfoliant.  She scented her water with essence of Lavender and Lemon, and also used these oils to purify the air in her apartment at Versailles.  Marie adored her cosmetics and creams, and adorned herself with custom curated fragrances by court perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon containing rose, violet, jonquil, tuberose, musk, and amber.  Fargeon also provided her with scented kidskin riding gloves treated with almond oil, white wax and eau de rose.  They were laid on a fresh bed of roses to dry after treatments, and kept her hands moisturized and smelling, well, like a bed of roses.  She was known to wear these when not riding as well.  Scented gloves and fans were the rage at court, not just because Marie wore them, but because of their practical use in warding of the remnants of whiffy Frenchmen in drafty palace halls. 
- Ian

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Men's Cologne and Other Disasters

One of many fragrance counters at Nordstrom.
Last Christmas, I was at Nordstrom, standing in line to purchase a pair of driving gloves (I admit, they were for me.  Charity starts at home.) and while I waited my turn, I watched as a casual inquiry at the men's fragrance counter degenerated into a desperate transaction between buyer and salesperson.  From the look of it, an IRS audit would have been a more pleasant and beneficial experience.

From what I could infer, and I love to infer, a woman had stopped in to pick up something for her brother/father/grandfather (I'm assuming it was for a family member.  Usually, if it's for a boyfriend or husband, the decision on just how they should smell is rarely put to debate.) and things were not going well.  The woman was dumbstruck by variety and the salesman was being less than helpful by squirting strips of paper and passing them off to her like some sideshow card trick.  If he pulled a rabbit out of his pants I wouldn't have been surprised.  He did have a ponytail, after all. You know how ponytailed men are. 

Joan Crawford hawks 'Summer Rain' perfume to
Rosalind Russell in MGM's 1939 hit  The Woman.
The mushroom cloud of Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste and Armani generated by the eager man with the trigger finger soon made its way to me and I found myself somewhere between a contact high and a migraine.  The pile of scented paper grew as he wove between the displays and I assume he had sptrized every sample they had on the floor, and possibly dipped into the bathroom air freshener, yet still our young heroine had made no headway in whether to buy Ralph Lauren Black or Guilty by Gucci.  I yearned to intervene, and tell her to just buy something by Burberry because you can't go wrong with Burberry, but I was unwilling to sacrifice my spot in line and I didn't want to interrupt.  Out of desperation, she eventually purchased a gift set the salesman was pushing and left. 

This is just here for Reference.  This is the
Perfume Hall at the old Bullock's Wilshire.
Look at all that floor space!  You can actually
walk in a straight line!
As a general rule, I never buy fragrance for others.  Scent is one of the most personal aspects of our identity, so unless I have a direct request to drag home a 5 piece gift set of Viva La Juicy, I'm not going to consider buying anyone anything that smells.  My primary reason for this is body chemistry; everyone is different, so just because it smells good in the bottle or on the salesgirl, it doesn't mean it will smell good on your loved one.  There's also allergies to consider, as well as personal taste; I have a good friend who just flat out doesn't like perfume, and on the flip side of the coin, I have a box on my Bathroom vanity that is crammed with cologne, because I love scent and how it can shape or reflect you mood.  So, maybe save yourself a headache and heartbreak and opt for a nice gift card.

Should you opt to go against my advice and insist on buying fragrance even though i told you not to, here's how to avoid the pitfalls.  Don't go in blind; know what your giftee already wears.  Steal the bottle or spray some on a card and bring it in with you.  Either buy more of the same (they can always return it or add it to the stockpile) or if you're feeling frisky, ask the salesperson what is similar to it and they should be able to find something along the same lines.  If even that fails you, then just ask the salesperson what is popular and safe and buy what smells the most conservative.  Gift giving should be a pleasure, not a terrifying experience or a Sisyphean task that will make you take up smoking again.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Holidays en Fuego

Laura Mercier's Warm Roasted Chestnut Candle
is heavenly with Vanilla, Clove, & Spiced Berries.

I am a candle junkie.  I have ones I have yet to light, from last years after Christmas sales (Ralph Lauren's Holiday candles!!!), and yet I have also purchased new ones in new scents for this season (Bath and Body Works Fall Candles!!!).  I may have an issue, then again I may be a genius; who am I to judge?  I have tried to cut back, and really I think I have, but how can I resist the temptation of beautiful scented candles that promise to make my home smell like I cook all day and don't have dogs on the sofa?

The new Laura Mercier Holiday candles are not going to help my situation.  I just got an ad from Neiman's in my inbox advertising her new holiday gift collection.  I clicked it and up popped my old friends.  I first bought the Mercier candles, in all three scents, on sale from Nordstrom last Christmas.  I was not disappointed and while I secreted them away, I wanted to use them before the scent faded (a risk for candle hoarders; scents don't last forever).  Of course they're packaged as gifts; pretty metallic brown boxes with satin ribbons that open to reveal frosted glass cylinders the size of a Progresso can, but charity starts at home, right?

Creme Brulee is rich with Caramel, Vanilla Bean, and Sugar.

Mercier has two scents from last season, a Creme Brulee that is to die for, and a Roasted Chestnut that makes me was to drink the molten wax because it smells so good, and the new Tarte au Citron.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say it smells fantastic.  The unique scents are long lasting and just seasonal enough to convey that holiday feeling without bringing to mine disinfectant floor cleaner.  Frankly anything that doesn't smell like a cinnamon broom or scotch pine is perfect in my book. 

At $42.00 a crack, they make a classy hostess gift, a beautiful 'just because we're friends' gift, or maybe something for a frenemy you're trying to guilt or intimidate.  Personally, I'm going to wait until after Christmas when they'll be on sale, then indulge.  I'll be scouring the .com's to find them, and when I do, I'll pray for a happy new year, and free shipping.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Beach Blanket, Bingo!

I do not go to the beach.  I like the sea and the tingle-ly feeling it gives me when I smell the ocean air, but I won't go in something I can't drain.  I also don't like being wet.  It's not one of my better looks.  However, wonderful witty little trinkets like the beach towel I'm about to plotz over could change my mind and actually get me on the sand.

I was thumbing though the Neiman Marcus Gift Catalog and saw this adorable and quite generously size beach towel, shaped like a Zebra pelt and rendered in White with Navy stripes.  I almost can't stand it!  I love the little carry straps that it comes with, and I love that this doesn't just have to be at the beach.  How eye catching to drape it over your pool side chase in Palm Springs?  Or even the one in your own back yard?  Or use it for a pic-nic pr fun patio side table cloth.  So sexy and fun, and best of all, machine washable!

The towels are made by the Australian Maslin & Co (, and sold in the states through Neiman Marcus and Opening Ceremony.  Retails at $225.00.

- Ian

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Kenneth Salon : A Billy Baldwin Blowout

An artists rendering of Kenneth's Salon.
Exotic elegance.
Being a guy, my Salon experiences have been limited to waiting in the lobby of Marcia's Country Lady (the Salon my Mom went to) when I was 8 and doing my homework.  It was papered in a blue and white stripe with little flower garlands, the sofas were a matching Federal blue, and the occassional tables were oak with cabriole legs and leaded glass insets in the top.  There were prints of country cottages, Battenburg valances, and the receptionist operated out of an oak roll top desk.   It was very comfortable and homey, not especially striking or overwhelmingly dramatic, but it was memorable.  If anything, Salons have become all but anonymous today, with slick, severe, minimalist interiors and a concern for turn over rather than comfort or even glamour.  While they may provide a great cut or color, many leave something to be desired when it comes to high style.

An artist rendering of the Manicure and Hairdryer stations.
Campaigne stools!  Leopard covered Rattan!  Turkish footstools!
The chandelier and tented ceiling and walls, a Baldwin hallmark,
caps off the decadent fantasy.

Imagine, if you will, the smile that bloomed across my face when in my readings I happened upon the Kenneth Salon in New York, which was decorated by the incomprable Billy Baldwin; decorator to Babe Paley, Jackie O., and Diana Vreeland, to name a few.  Kenneth, hair dresser to Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe ( you can bet the bookings were carefully monitored there) opened his own salon in 1963 in a townhouse on 54th Street that was previously owned by the Vanderbilts, after winning the Coty award for his work in the industry.

Parquet flooring, an opulent tufted velvet pouf, bamboo chairs & vanities,
tasseled cornices, trellis papered walls and ceiling and some very modern
drum pendants creates an exotic oasis in the city.

Baldwin created a stunning Salon inspired by Brighton Pavillion, a Regency era confection.  Striped awnings, wrought iron doors, exotic furnishings, exuberant color, and pattern upon pattern filled the space.  To the devoted Kenneth clientele, this must have appeared as a temple of beauty, somewhere to spend an afternoon being pampered with your closest friends, somewhere you'd never want to leave.  Salons today should take note, and then call a Decorator.  Hint.  Hint.

- Ian 

Great Design is in the details.  Here we see the combinations
of patterns withBamboo trellis paper contrasting in scale and mood
with a scattered floral garland paper.  The vanities are also a masterpiece
of design done in ivory and orange lacquer with coordinating orange mirrors.
The buffet lamps in a Palm tree style are just plain elegant.

The building Kenneth occupied was Renaissance Revival, and it's
Calssical details are seen in this vestibule.  Roman arches, Corinthian Coumnls, etc.
I am in love with the opulence of those chairs.  Nestled up to the dome dryers,
they are infinitely more elegant than the typical Naugahyde chairs.  How could a person,
whether staff member or client, not feel like a million bucks in this interior?
Beautiful spaces really do shape our mood and mindset.

A sconce from the Salon.  How incredibly elegant!  I love the way the
Rococo arms compliment the curves in the Paisley wallpaper.
Baldwin was a huge advocate of wallpaper; Baldwin and his close friend Woodson Taulbee,
founded Woodson Wallpapers when Baldwin was dissatisfied with the papers
he was seeing in the market. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Allure of Couture - McQueen for Givenchy

McQueen for Givenchy, Autumn/Winter 1999.
In my youth, I wanted to be a Fashion Designer.  But I realized in time that it was a hard road to travel, filled with vampires and monsters that would bleed you dry and tear you to ribbons, leaving little guarantee of your dream becoming a reality.  In my eyes, a Fashion Designer needs to be a genius, straddling time and space, giving an audience what they crave, what they can not have, and what they hate.  In a way, it's a quest for immortality; your art, ideas and craft all having the potential to be preserved in any number of ways for generations to come.  I don't think I could ever be all of those things, or, depending on whom you ask, any of those things.

As an Interior Designer, I look to Fashion, with a capitol 'F', for inspiration, because nothing else continually reinvents itself with an almost manic need for currency, and little else is as close to the human condition as what we choose to armor ourselves in.  Among the pantheon of image makers, few inspire me more that McQueen, with his use of color, drama, sensuality, and history. 

A gold coin gown with belted fur stole.
Image of the presentation.

Kate Moss in McQueen's Givenchy.
I remember seeing this collection, which will come at the end of this ramble, when it was presented on a network television special hosted by Isabella Rossellini.  The title remains a blurred memory for me, but the purpose of the hour long program was to show the American audience the power, art, and history of Haute Couture in Paris. 

America has always been the home of Sportswear purchased from Department Stores, while Paris has been the proud home of Haute Couture and the Designers Atelier.  These worlds on opposite ends of the ocean couldn't be further apart in theory or execution.  Mass production versus hand craft, thousands of options in multiple sizes versus one piece of art made just for you.  It's a dichotomy that seems to call into question the exact benefits of democracy in fashion; it's great to have a level playing field, but do we really like to look like our neighbor?  Wouldn't we rather wear a bold plumage that is exclusively ours? 

A McQueen for Givenchy Haute Couture emsemble
as seen in InStyle Magazine.
When this program aired, the exclusive world of Couture was shrinking, much like it is today (recently, Valentino retired, LaCroix closed his house), but new blood was also being brought into the old houses.  McQueen took the reigns of Givenchy (with what I think were staggering results), and John Galliano took over Dior from Gianfranco Ferre.  Of course we know the tragic end of McQueen's tale, and the scandalous end of Galliano's, but we can't deny the artistry and legends that were created.

So, here is a three part video presentation of McQueen's collection for Givenchy Haute Couture for Autumn/Winter 1999, courtesy of the wonderful world of Youtube, to enjoy this first Sunday of October.  It's a wonderful use of a free half hour.

McQueen's reinterpretation of the past is amazing (part Tudor Court, part Knights of the Crusades, part Scottish Highlander, part Dandy), his textiles and tailoring jaw dropping, and his presentation concept is nothing short of genius.  Side stepping the traditional use of live models, he creates awe and drama with static mannequins that rise and descend through trap doors, their heads glowing like stars in the darkness until the lights come up, revealing the sort of decadent wares that built empires and made histories. 

- Ian  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Going Down to Chinatown : Ralph Lauren

The back of a an evening jacket done as a shawl collard
robe embroidered with Chinese motifs.  Detail, for me, is
everything.  This piece alone is worth not eating for a month.
As you know, I love a lot of things; my list is quite expansive and somewhat enviable.  One of the things that constantly gets my motor running is Chinoiserie; the West's interpretation of Chinese design as decorative elements.  Simplicity and opulence are hard notes to strike in tandem, but to me, that's Chinoiserie.  Imagine how tittered I became when I saw that for Fall 2011, Ralph Lauren showed a heavy dose of Chinoise with his Deco inspired collection.  As always, his sleek menswear inspired suiting and stunning frocks were present, but they were tempered with a nod to a different era ripe with streamlined elegance and exotic dreams of far away lands.  Have a look for yourself.

- Ian
Elegant simplicity in jade with a
plunging neckline.
The tiny bag done in calf hair with
carved stone embellishment.

Classic men's suiting for trousers with a cropped jacket.
I love the drama of the portrait collar and the femininity of
the charmeuse blouse underneath.

I was crazy for this look for one big reason,
the fur trimmed vest over the tweed jacket.
So unexpected and dramatic.

That beautiful embroidery just adds another
layer of texture and dimension.  And
I love the carved pendants too!

Is it wrong to want this printed dinner jacket to be made for men?
It makes me want to host an eclectic dinner party where
I bring guests back from the dead for one night of rousing conversation.

I'm crazy for this Bordeaux color, and
Laurens limited palette in general. 
The wholecollection was
as much about texture
as it was color.
Bordeaux again, fur trimmed. 
I'm a sucker for velvet,
and the silk variety plays
with light like no other. 

Lauren has started a line of semi-precious jewelry to compliment his
seasonal collections.  I love the organic simplicity of the Chinese
ornaments and the way they have been scaled to become these
showstopping earrings punctuated by faceted jet drops.

The sleeve of a one shouldered dress embellished with dragon embroidery.
So beautifully rendered and so thoughtful to create a Dolman sleeve so
the image would be uninterrupted.

A gown with a minimalist simplicity that transcends centuries and
remains ageless.

The illusion panel of a cocktail dress shows off sensuous
Asian embroidery.