Friday, May 20, 2011

Jumping on the Wallpaper Bandwagon

Ian's Vivienne Westwood wallpaper post really got my juices flowing this morning. Wallpaper is my drug of choice -as is tile but let's do this one finish at a time, shall we? This isn't the Studio 54 of the design world...but I'm sure it could be given Ian's couture wardrobe. (Fellas: it's to die for...) Moving on. Ian alluded to the fact that the VW wallpaper line was an anomaly in the design world; a walk on the wild side from the ho-hum offerings of today. But I disagree. I feel that wallpaper today offers far more choices and reaches a much broader group of people than ever before. There's something for everyone now. And as the ubiquitous saying goes: this is not your grandmother's wallpaper.

But in spite of all the options, I often get the sense that wallpaper for some people is like getting a tattoo: the commitment is simply too big. But that doesn't have to be the case. Get your feet wet with a powder room. This is where wallpaper can make a huge impact without breaking the bank. The small size of this type of space also allows for one to make a bold statement without being overpowering or off-putting.  My friend Risa -architect and designer from Portland, OR, installed this lovely Madison & Grow wallpaper called Michelle in "Smoked Bluefish Pate" in her powder room. And when I say installed I mean she did herself. Nicely done girlfriend! (See more of Risa's beautiful design sense and architecture on her website: 

Now I'm not advocating that one turns their house into the Kat VonDee of the neighborhood but a wall here and there or a small room would be a great way to have a little fun. And besides, this stuff is way easier to take off than laser surgery.  So whip out your glue and brushes and take a chance. There's something for everyone.


Here's a little peak of the possibilities:

"Flamenco" by Neisha Crosland
"Nevermore" by Palacepapers
"Aarni" by Marimeko
"Peridot At Night" by Madison & Grow
"Hexagono" by Tres Tintas
"Bramble" by Catherine Hammerton (yes, it's 3D, isn't everything these days?)

Anglomania - Vivienne Westwood Wallcoverings

'Dresses' and hats made of Westwood's wall coverings.
Union Jack, Cut-out Lace, Squiggle.
I know I'm a little late getting to this, but I am so excited I'm going to write about it anyway.  I was at Lee Jofa sourcing wall paper for a job and was stopped in my tracks by a wonderful sight: Vivienne Westwood wall coverings.  The Brit Designer has partnered with the equally reputable Brit company of Cole & Sons to produce a collection based on Dame Viv's iconic style.  Overcome with excitement, I ripped the book from the shelf and dove in.  You may think this sounds over dramatic, but I like what I do, and I'd a bit of a label whore, and I'm an Anglophile.

Westwood is one of my favorite designers (I rank her with genius of La Croix and Gaultier); her wit and eccentricity translates the familiar and historic into the irreverent and sly.  She honors heritage with a wink and a nod and remixes it for a new generation more than happy to dwell on the past.  Her vocabulary of pattern and color as well as her penchant for British iconography translates into the realm of home design flawlessly. 

Vivienne Westwood, resplendent in
cardboard earrings with pen and ink
'jewels'.  The accessories from this
collection inspired the 'Paper Jewels'
pattern of wall covering.
Her collection is above all else graphic; a mix patterns based on men's shirting and hounds tooth, bias plaids (which I j'adore), and delicate jeweled florals.  She gleefully experiments with computer enhanced images, creating patterns that replicate antique lace, an aged Union Jack, and a dynamic wall mural that appears to be made of ruched tartan taffeta.

In a market clotted with safe selections, haggard over used motifs and some just plain ugly things, it's great to see something for the individual with a degree of taste.  If I see one more Fornasetti woman winking or one more Trellage dining room I'm going to climb a bell tower and throw bricks at people.

You won't see Westwood's paper is every home, hotel or restaurant; it's for the person with the most cultivated of tastes, who doesn't rely on the decrees of design dictators to make the decisions for them.  A person who wants to strike out against the masses in a beautiful, poetic way.  It would seem that Viv is selling her own gumption by the roll, readying you for your own fashion revolution.  I'll get the paste and the drop cloth. 
- Ian

Insects was inspired by details found on the wardrobe
of Queen Elizabeth I.

Trompe L'oeil Drape simulates a wall of ruched Tartan.
The pattern is an homage to Westwood's draping technique.
The drapery used is copied from a Tartan wedding dress from
Westwood's Fall/Winter 39/94 Anglomania collection. 

A Westwood gown reinterprets a historic form.

The Squiggle pattern brings to mind decorative braid.
It dates from Westwood's Fall/Winter 81/82 Pirate Collection.
Magnolia, Squiggle & Cut-out Lace.

Absense of Rose, Insects, Vivienne's Lace.

Absense of Roses brings to mind Edwardian paper silhouettes.
The addition of gold ink 'studs' add definition and dimension.

Paper Jewels has French appeal, with flowers formed from
jewelers illustrations and pear cut stones acting as dew drops.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Little Black Book of Taste - Fortuny Lamps

The Samaekanda with it's broad collar, stenciled in an
almost Nouveau style of floral imagery.
For those of you who have been keeping up, I just wrote a  thorough, if not lengthy, post on Fortuny, the man, the myth, the legend.  In it, I included just about everything he did that we would consider significant, save for one thing; his chandeliers.

I fell for Fortuny's light the first time I saw his chandelier in a showroom.  It was huge, like a bronze flying saucer, a paisley pattered pierced metal ring orbiting a fluted glass shade suspended by silk cords and Murano glass beads.  The light diffused through the hand painted amber glass as shadows were cast on the ceiling.  It was at once heavenly, exotic, and surreal.  Truly like no other item in the showroom, and considering they were made in the very early 20th century, unlike any item found in Fortuny's time as well. 

Fortuny's fantastic lighting was a byproduct of his experiences with theatrical lighting design and his dabbling in the fashion trade.  In his theatrical work, he learned the ways of manipulating the new electric light, and pushed the boundaries of convention in doing so.  In fashion, he applied exotic patterns on delicate silks.  In both he created fantasy and excitement, not just through ingenuity and machinery, but also through triggering a reaction in the mind and psyche; creating an illusion that his audience wanted to be a part of.

The Scudo Saraceno.  Silk stenciled in a Turkish pattern.

The Grand Salon of Fortuny's Palazzo.
Note how the fixtures unique simplicty seems at
home in the interior, even though they are
radically modern for the period.
Perhaps what is most staggering about Fortuny's lights is that they were never intended for use outside his own Palazzo in Venice.  Of course today we love them and they can be seen in numerous shelter magazines and fine home, but to think of a product being made without a thought towards turning a profit seems almost unheard of.  Yet Fortuny was above all else an artist, and as with his art and his lack of desire to exhibit it, beauty was it's own reward. 

Photo's of his 13th Century Palazzo show Bohemian Renaissance interiors, scattered with exotic objet and oriental carpets.  Paintings hung over Fortuny's own fabric climb the walls to a beamed ceiling.  Light streams in through leaded glass windows.  A counter point is struck by his alien chandeliers. 

I love the wonderfully, slightly decrepit, floor lamp made from a silk shaded pendant. 
So magical and charming.  The scattered pillows give a Turkish flavor.

Fortuny's Library with industrial pendants
draped in silk gauze.
Dropping from carved and polychrome ceilings, his umbrella like creations of stenciled silk stretched over sinuous wire frames are excruciatingly modern and far ahead of their own time.  The streamlined pieces are accentuated with ribbon like tassels, Murano glass beads, braided silk cords; the stenciling shows roots in Islamic and other Eastern designs.  In function, they could not be more ingenious.  The silk diffuses the light, letting it softly stream down below, simultaneously, the trumpet or bowl shape of the shade blasts the light up, illuminating the ceiling surface.  Considering he practiced during the Belle Epoche / Art Nouveau / Victorian Era where fashion and taste dictated cut crystal on multi-armed chandeliers, these understated pendants are a thumbed nose at the establishment.

Fortuny's lighting is just as fresh today, yet we have the benefit of knowing Fortuny's story and character, and that only enhances the allure of these decadent pieces.  Hang one in your foyer or dining room for moody and unexpected drama, or suspend a smaller style in a powder or bathroom for an irreverent touch of the exotic.  There are even wall sconces that will give the most incredible impact in the smallest of spaces. 

- Ian


The Scheherazade is multi tiered with floral stenciling.

The Concubina, with painted silk panels in wood frames.

Vintage Fortuny fixtures.  They remind me of something
seen on a Gypsy wagon.  Such fantasy and imagination.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

$2700/mo. 2bdr 1ba cozy "charmer"; termite poop incld.

Well, after an exhaustive rental search we have found a little pied-a-terre here in the lovely Bay Area, Unincorporated Menlo Park to be exact. The search wasn't a pretty one. I could have written a novel on the offensiveness of it all. Droves of desperate middle-aged people clawing at each other over the privilege of paying exorbitant rent for places with "features" such as: stained, cracked, and pealing "like-new" linoleum flooring, 30 year-old carpeting, freezers (where appliances were actually included) that hadn't been de-iced in a century, bathroom vanities in hallways, broken windows, broken-into door locks, holes in doors, city-condemned detached-garages, pealing paint (probably lead-based), moss growing on soon-to-be-caved-in roofs, mold, and my person favorite: a mound of termite poop in a bath tub. The kicker of this bonus feature was that we had to explain to the owner what the termite poop was. She thought it was dust.

Needless to say the market here is once again tight. And when you're living in a temporary housing (a hotel room) with your husband, dog, and 10-month-old son while spending all of your time on Craigslist and going from crap-hole to crap-hole praying to the God you now hope really does exist that the "next one" will be "the one", your cheery disposition can take a beating... So any down time I have had has been spent staring into space whimpering with exhaustion and dismay rather than writing.  Yes, I do realize that is childish. Thankfully my better blogger half writes like Hemingway with a sense of humor so my lack of contribution to our little blog has clearly gone unnoticed. There are days when I feel I really should quit and start managing Ian like a good stage mommy rather than trying to keep up. I know I am the Andrew Ridgeley to his George Michael. The Tubbs to his Crockett. The Ike to his Tina. The Pepsi to his Coke...but I digress.

Soon we will be unpacking our boxes and making the best of yet another rental. And this one has a garden window in the kitchen. Who needs southern exposure and architectural charm when one has a garden window with shelving to collect one's clutter?

But this rental will be our last. I am pleased to announce that we are officially starting our house hunt. This hunt will no doubt be quite an undertaking as fund raising will take some time --much more time than an average PBS pledge drive, and without the classy tote bags and member support.

In the interim I am looking forward to discovering (and rediscovering) what this area has to offer. I think I will start with the Eichlers. I'd do anything to own one of these -I'd even overlook the termite poop.


So Marie Antoinette Walks into a Bar...

The long nights journey into day.
I have had my antique Oriental carpet pulled out from under me.  I am undone.  I have come to the realization that one of my favorite cocktail party stories has been a web of lies.  How many people have I told this story to who have been delighted by it and thus wooed by me and my exquisite wit?  I shudder to think.  Thank goodness they all turned out to be one night stands.  I don't think I could face them in the morning now.

The now disgraced tale goes as follows - Marie Antoinette, ill fated Queen of France by way of Austria, was such a notorious party girl and narcissist, that she had the Coupe Champagne glass created from casts of her breast so that sycophantic courtiers could drink to her health from them. 

Marie with the Coupe in question.

Charming, hedonistic, and a little naughty.  What's not to like?  Surely something as irreverent as this must be true; why else would the story live on?  Being the thorough person that I am, I set out to research this historic moment to see if there were any other amusing facts I could use to my advantage.  I found fact upon fact, but I was not amused.

To begin, this story has been around the block almost as many times as the women it's attached to.  Marie's bosom buddies in this farce include Madame du Pompadour (1721-1764) , Madame du Barry (1743-1793), Empress Josephine (1763-1814), Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), and even Helen of Troy.

Madame du Pompadour.
Madame du Barry.

Madame du Pompadour & Madame du Barry shared more than the benefits of being Louis XV's Mistresses; both women allegedly had the glasses crafted from molds of their breasts for their Royal paramour who dreamed of being able to drink champagne from them.

Empress Josephine, a notorious gambler and party girl in her own right, counted outrageous Champagne bills to her credit, and Napoleon's outrage; it's little wonder how this tale would be attached to her.

Diane de Poitiers, Mistress of Henri II of France, was though to have commissioned a glass blower at their chateau to create the stemware as a gift for the King, while another story maintains that Henri thought the idea up, and used only her left breast as a model.

As for Helen of Troy, it is said that Paris made wax molds of her breasts and used the molds to fashion drinking glasses. 

Much to my chagrin, not one of these women could possibly be attached to this tale of mammary madness.  Champagne was invented in the 17th Century by two Benedictine Monks, Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639 – 1715) and Frère Jean Oudart (1654 – 1742) in a lush region of France called Champagne. The region’s climate, with its short and cool growing season, along with a process that involved a secondary fermentation period, resulted in the creation of those signature bubbles.

Champagne Saucers by Marc Jacobs.  So elegant, and
great for desserts as well.
The Coupe itself was made in England especially for Champagne around 1663, a timeline that rules out du Barry, du Pompadour, Josephine, and Marie; all of whom were born long after the coupe came into existence.  As for de Poitiers, she kicked off a century before either the glass or the beverage was invented.  And Helen, if she even existed at all, predates the Champagne and the glass by at least 2 millennium.

The origins of this rumor are a mystery, but you have to figure that if you get enough Frenchmen together who happen to be drunk off Champagne served in a Coupe by a comely lass, an allusion between the shape of the glass and the shape of the lass could be made.

Shot theories aside, the Coupe, however beautiful it may be, and I do find it to be a beautiful piece of stemware, is not the best way to serve Champagne.  Experts maintain that the best glass to imbibe from is the Flute, which is designed to concentrate the bubbles and the bouquet, heightening the champagne experience. 

The broad surface area of the Coupe allows champagne to lose its carbonation more quickly, making it less suitable for the current taste for very dry champagnes, compared to the sweeter champagnes that were popular historically.  Coupes were all the rage in the States from the 1930's through the 1960's where hot spots like the Stork Club were patronized by movie stars and other glitterati who elegantly sipped, rather than swilled, their libations.  Now we most often find them used in gaudy Champagne towers at weddings, sort of a come down if you ask me.

I am enlightened and betrayed by this little parlor trick of alcohol and innuendo.  To compensate for heartbreak, I have included an image of some Louboutin's inspired by Marie, to keep the fantasy alive in some way.  That's her little head on the strap, complete with elaborate coiffure embellished with a ship.  Now to just come up with a new party story...I wonder what Mamie Eisenhower got up to when Dwight was away?  Was it Jello shots in the reflecting pool, or body shots in the Lincoln Bedroom????

- Ian 

Dita understands the elegance of the Champagne Coupe.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Little Black Book of Taste - Fortuny

The Odalisque by Mariano Fortuny y Marsal.  1861.
A little while back, one of my friends told me that I should write down what I know that pertains to good taste, so people like him can have something to fall back on when they encounter people like me.  My friend is brilliant and wonderfully outdoors-y; he pops tents, owns snow chains, willingly gets cold and wet, but never fails to give me a questioning look when I bring up a historic character or a style that has influenced art or design.  I'm perfectly accepting of our two worlds; conversations are never dull, always something new to learn, etc.  He genuinely wants to know what I am talking about, but sometimes there is a Helen Keller / Anne Sullivan moment at the water pump and I need to sign extra slow in the palm of his hand. 

A self portrait of Fortuny.
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, a Spaniard by birth and Renaissance Man by reputation, is most widely known for his handmade textiles, but the ties of art and design run far beyond that one hallmark.  Born in Granada, Fortuny was the child of an artistic and influential family; his father Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, was one of the most important painters in Spain at the time, and his mother, a Spanish beauty, used her own power and wealth to endow the Prado Museum in Madrid.  When Fortuny's father died in 1847 at the young age of 36, his widow left Spain and moved first to France, where young Mariano immersed himself in Old Master paintings and studied art until he was 18.  The family then moved to watery Venice where Mariano, who was allergic to horses, could breathe more freely.

In Venice he continued to grow as an artist, spending time in Renaissance galleries and churches and successfully experimenting with photography, print making, fresco, and painting (he made his own pigments using Renaissance techniques).  Save for the Venice Bienale, Mariano never exhibited his works.  Money was not a concern, and for him, beauty was it's own reward.

In the 1890's, he moved to his own palazzo, the 13th Century Palazzo Orfei, which remains open to the public, if not sporadically.  He became a devotee of composer Richard Wagner and worked with new technology - electricity - hoping to enhance operatic production.  Fortuny revolutionized theatrical lighting by creating a system that diffused electric light and reflected it off a specially constructed fabric or plaster dome making bulky 'sky' backdrops obsolete.  A technician could control the intensity and color of stage lighting with the turn of a dial, painting the sky any color he chose.  In doing this, Fortuny had also invented the first dimmer switch.  He didn't stop with theatrical lighting, he plunged headlong into theatrical design and created sets and costumes, a foray that would lead him to his next venture, fashion design.  

Palazzo Orfei, Venice.

The Grand Salon at Palazzo Orfei.
So Renaissance, and
note the signature chandeliers.
Fortuny paints his studio at Palazzo Orfei.  Strewn with
Oriental carpets and draped with textiles.
A 1920's green silk Fortuny
gown with tunic styling.
Photo from the Met.
In 1909, he patented the famous 'Delphos Robe', named for a Delphic sculpture circa 475 BCE.  The Delphos gown, as it was more commonly known, was a simple and understated sheath; a column of finely pleated silk that fell from the shoulders to the feet, luminescent with rich color produced by dipping silk repeatedly into handmade dyes.  Hand blown Murano glass beads acted as ornamentation and weights, keeping the dress close to the body.

The Charioteer of Delphi
circa 475 BCE.  Bronze.
The exact process used to create the Fortuny pleat remains a secret to this day.  Silk is notoriously resistant to permanent pleating, yet his pleats stayed true.  It is suggested that wet silk was finger pleated; the pleats held in place by basting stitches.  Once the fabric was secure, it was run through a machine with heated tubes that would set the pleats and the basting threads could be removed.  The pleats were not infallible; they did loosen with wear in the seat or if they were exposed to moisture.  As a sign of good faith, Fortuny offered to reset the pleats in his Venice studio for free should his clients ever be in need.  He also encouraged his patrons to store their gowns twisted into a ball and stored in a Fortuny hatbox.  This preserved the pleats and ensured the delicate fabric would not be damaged by the light or moisture.

A very rare Fortuny gown of
printed velvet with pleated
silk inserts.
Gown detail showing the Fortuny
pleats almost bursting from the lacing.
Laces held in place by Murano beads.

Fortuny's gowns were scandalous in their simplicity.  Designed to show the natural beauty of the female form, the corset was not part of their vocabulary.  While this surely sent shock waves through most of the female population who could not fathom being naked under their clothes, the freedom was appealing to the more Bohemian mind set.  Fortuny's clients would include Ethel Barrymore, Isadora Duncan, Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo, as well as eccentric socialites like Marchesa Luisa Casati.  The dresses were also one size fits all; a novelty then and now.  A concealed cord in the bateau neckline adjusted the decollete, and the addition of a decorative sash emphasized the waistline.  It should be noted that Fortuny

A Black Delphi gown with silk velvet jacked and matching sash
printed with gold and silver pigments.  Details below.

A 1920's printed silk gauze wrap trimmed
with coral Murano glass beads.

To accessorize his understated gowns, Fortuny created fantastic cloaks, wraps and jackets printed in what would become the signature of Fortuny style.  His designs were imaginative reinterpretations of Renaissance, Persian, Asian, Moroccan and other classical motifs.  He also shared a common interest with his father, the collection of Islamic art and artifacts, no doubt another influence on his work.  Patterns were applied with specially created stencils and engraved wood blocks using rich, sometimes metallic, pigments.  He even patented a machine that printed through the use of an engraved barrel roller, the first of its kind.  Like his pleating, the recipes and processes for the dyes were proprietary and remain so to this day.  Designs were further enriched with a roller or brush so that the fabric’s surface became a dappled spectrum of color and pattern; in some examples, up to 10 colors were used to create a single pattern.

A printed velvet Doublet is romantic fantasy.

A printed velvet cloak of blue green
with gold pigment.  Perfect for a
Venetian masked ball.

A printed silk dressing gown with exaggerated
slashed sleeves brings to mind an
Opium Den.  The printing is North African
in inspiration.
Photo from the Met.

A coat of printed velvet with fur trim.

Fortuny's printed velvet reveals incredible
depth of color and intricate detail.
In the wake of World War I, a growing middle class clamored for his designs, and he agreed to produce a line of cotton prints fore the interior design market.  In 1919, Fortuny opened a factory in a former convent on Giudecca Island, where it remains today.  He opened shops in Paris and Milan, and in 1927 gave Elsie McNeill (later to become Countess Elsie Gozzi when she married her second husband) a young American decorator, exclusive rights to represent him in the US market.  Under McNeill’s guidance, a shop opened on Madison Avenue and the company survived the Depression, World War II, and Fortuny’s death in 1949.  Elsie would take over the company at the request of Fortuny’s widow and she ran it for the next 30 years as it continued to grow and collect new Decorator devotees like Rose Cummings, Sister Parrish and Billy Haines.

Fortuny's prints were grounded in history
and numerous cultural influences.
Fortuny fabric is still available today, and his influence is still seen.  Contemporary designers like John Saladine, Alexa Hamption and Victoria Hagan continue to use his textiles in their interiors and there is also a collectors market for vintage textiles and gowns.  Like all great ideas, there has also been a trickle down effect; you can purchase textiles that aren't Fortuny originals, but bare a striking resemblance just the same.  I recently installed 4 windows of 'fortuny-esque' drapery from in iridescent teal taffeta screen printed in antique gold from Fabricut and it looks amazing.  It's my little homage to Fortuny, on a budget.

- Ian

As far as modern inspiration, we can not help
but see a little bit of Fortuny in this dress
by Issey Miyake from 1990.

The same is true for this Mary McFadden
'Marii' pleated gown with Japanese embroidery.