Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Off tomorrow for the sand, sea, and surf of sunny Florida.
I leave you with a bit of spring:
A happy daffodil

A bunch of tulips midday

late afternoon

night time, with Rose on the chair opposite

I was sitting here last night with a soupcon of red wine, looking at my new book called The Impressionists at Home and listening to Wagner's opera Lohengrin and falling asleep.

Cheerio, mes amis.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aristocrat O'Donnells

The review in The New York Times for a play called Aristocrats by Brian Friel at the Irish Repertory Theater began: "The O'Donnell family is on its last legs."

Well, I had to see that. For I am an O'Donnell.

My maternal great grandfather Dan O'Donnell came from Sligo, Ireland, to New York on September 6, 1881. He made his way up to Herkimer, New York, and was a railroad engineer on the line from Herkimer to the Adirondacks. In 1886 he married Bessie Crinion and they lived in a big Victorian house at 611 West German Street and raised in style eleven children -- my grandmother, great aunts and great uncles.

Although for thousands of years the O'Donnells were a royal family in Ireland, my great grandfather was not an aristocrat; in fact he had to leave Ireland because he was caught poaching fish. However he poached from a Protestant land owner so there was the attendant justice of poaching from a Protestant who had come in and usurped the Irish land. On his day in court his name was called: "Daniel O'Donnell?"
Someone stood up in the back and said, "He's gone to America!"

Last night TD and I went up to the Irish Repertory Theater on 22nd Street, only seven blocks away, to see Aristrocrats, a play by Brian Friel. Small theater, intimate setting, a lot of white Irish heads in the crowd including my own. I have seen two plays by Irish playwright Brian Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa and Faith Healer. I remember the joyous jig of Dancing at Lughnasa, and the terrible tragedy of Faith Healer.

Aristocrats tells the story of four adult siblings of the O'Donnell family of Ballybeg in Donegal who have gathered together in their crumbling hilltop homestead for a wedding. The once grand family is now plagued by depression, alchoholism, and a leaky roof. Their mother suffered from "down periods" before she committed suicide. Their aging father "was adept at stifling things" and squelched the dreams of his children who are in various stages of unhappiness. Anecdotes about the past are told, including how the family knew William Butler Yeats and Frederic Chopin. The truthfulness of the tales is questioned, and then we are in the Irish bog of things not said, questions not answered, stories changed. However at the end with a turn of the plot it seems that the children will be free to pursue their lives without the burden that they have borne.

At the curtain call the cast took their bows in a straight line, these O'Donnells of Ballybeg. For a moment I imagined my O'Donnells on the stage, my great aunts, my grandmother, my great uncle Fred who was a lawyer upstate – and then there was an O'Donnell tear.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alessandro Twombly

At Christie's last week, I met Elana Rubinfeld, a charming young woman who is the director at Fred Torres Collaborations, a new art gallery in Chelsea. She invited me to see an exhibition at the gallery of work by artist Alessandro Twombly.

I hoofed it up to West 29th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, a block I had not been down before. The gallery is on the third floor, and sunlight glowed through windows covered with white shades. The art work, in shades of pink, floated on white walls creating a festive party atmosphere.

Alessandro Twombly is the only child of Cy Twombly, who at 81 is one of the greatest artists living today. Cy Twombly inherited his name from his father who was named after Cy Young, the renowned pitcher. The American artist settled in a Roman palazzo with his wife Tatiana Franchetti (the sister of modern art patron and collector Barone Giorgio Franchetti) and their son Alessandro, and went on to create his famously poetic, cryptic, abstract paintings and drawings.

Son Alessandro has always worked as an artist too. He is married to couture fashion designer Soledad Twombly and they have two children. The family lives in Rome and in a house outside of Rome, where his mother Tatiana lives as well. Alessandro's work is not as abstract as his father's -- he is often inspired by flowers.
By poppies in Afghanistan:

Pink flowers in his Italian garden:

Red flowers in his Brazilian garden:

The work is spirited, lively, rich. The joyful colors and organic shapes have a happy exuberance.

Cy Twombly's life in Rome has interested me since I came across in the F.I.T. library a Vogue story from 1966 about the Twombly Roman palazzo, photographed by Horst and written by his partner Valentine Lawford. In the story the interiors of the elegant palazzo are pale grey and white -- the perfect combination of classical furnishings and Cy Twombly's abstract art.
A bedroom, below, featured Mongolian fox, Empire furniture and art by Cy Twombly. Today when you see Julian Schnabel's style of decorating, I think this is where it comes from: Twombly's mix of Baroque, grand furniture with oversized abstract art.

Here is Cy Twombly from that shoot at the palazzo in his 1928 Alfa Romeo wearing a World War I leather greatcoat.

Like father, like son: coincidentally Alessandro Twombly's house outside of Rome is published in the current issue of Elle Decor. Photographs of the interiors feature the sculpture and paintings now on view in Chelsea: life as art/art as life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Ode to the Cardigan

Michael Kors, Spring 2008

Recently, Mr. Peacock interviewed me on his blog and asked me what my favorite article of clothing was. Later I thought, I should have mentioned the cardigan, the sweater that buttons up the front.
I love cardigans, and I always have:

That's me, age two or three, in a scan of a xerox of a photo, but you get the idea. Cardigan sweater, white shirt, wool trousers; that is what I am still wearing today.

Named after the English Lieutenant General James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797 – 1868), who made the knitted waistcoat fashionable, the cardigan is a classic that has recently come back into style again and I'm glad of it because I've been wearing them for years.

When I first moved to New York City I worked as a chauffeur for Mr. Perry Ellis, but that's another story. Though I will say that's where I first met friend Richard Haines who has a great blog, What I Saw Today. After that job I worked as a communications assistant at CBS Magazines and one day I was in the elevator with Ellen Levine, who was then the editor in chief of Woman's Day magazine. She pulled her glasses down to the tip of her nose and eyed my navy blue cardigan -- hand knit with a ship's wheel logo and shiny gold buttons.
"Paul Stuart?" she said.
"Perry Ellis," I said. I was a young assistant wearing designer clothes that I had bought at a sample sale. I still have that sweater. Let's see if I can pull it out of the hope chest that my great aunt Kay gave me...
Yes, here it is:

I am keeping this sweater, unless Harold Koda wants it for the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute.

While I was in the chest I came across this cardigan which has a Fair Isle pattern and silver metal buttons.

I love this sweater which belonged to my uncle Brian, who is a lawyer in Albany and has wonderful style. He gave it to me and I wore it when I was in law school, but that's really another story.

At CBS Magazines, I also had a pale pink linen and silk Perry Ellis sweater, pictured below -- a summer version of a cardigan. I kept this one too. I don't hold on to a lot of clothes, but I have my Perry Ellis sweaters.

This is me working at Hearst New Media where I was the online style editor in the 90's. Cardigan sweater plus Hermes scarf.

With their buttons, cardigans are kind of like a jacket, but more comfortable and fluid than a jacket. Cardigans can be buttoned or unbuttoned depending on the temperature so they are more versatile than crew neck or v-neck sweaters. And they have more polish than a zip up sweater. You can tuck a short scarf into cardigan, and wear them with everything from jeans to a suit jacket. Cardigans are best when they are in a fine fabric like merino wool, and fit close to the body. If they are too big and bulky it can look like Mr. Rogers. Worn with a French cuff shirt and horn rim glasses, they have a slightly professorial air which I like too.

Here is actor Hugh Dancy in chic Gucci clothes in GQ magazine; photo by Nathaniel Goldberg.

We're back to a cardigan sweater, white shirt, wool trousers. He reminds me of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley, very 50's. Cardigans are casual sweaters but the deep v-neck and the drape of the buttons give them an elegant aspect; they're kind of Chanel-ish. Simple and soigne at the same time, they are open and easy and conducive to personal style. Fashion legend Polly Mellen told me that when she was a girl at Miss Porter's School in Connecticut she had a Brooks Brothers cardigan. But she wore hers backwards.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Future of Arts Journalism

I walked up Fifth Avenue the other night to Christie's at Rockefeller Center. My friend Toby Usnik, Christie's International Head of Corporate Communications, invited me to a panel discussion which he organized on the future of arts journalism. The big meeting room was crowded with writers, editors and influencers, and beautiful art work lined the walls.

The moderator of the panel was Stee Sreenivasan, a technology reporter and the Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Sitting on the panel were Marian Godfrey, the Senior Director of Culture Initiatives of the The Pew Charitable Trusts; Sam Sifton, Cultural News Editor of The New York Times; and Alisa Soloman, Director of the Arts & Culture concentration in the Master of Arts Program at the Columbia School of Journalism. Here they are, left to right, before the discussion began:

A compelling conversation ensued about the changes in arts journalism, and journalism in general. With the demise of so many city newspapers, how will local arts be covered? It, and a lot of journalism in general, will move on to the internet. Blogging, of course, came up. Sam Sifton said something like, "I don't really care what Elmo in his underpants blogging in Queens thinks," and I thought to myself, well I always wear pants...

Sam Sifton talked about how The Times is no longer just a newspaper -- its web site NYTimes.com functions as a news service for breaking stories. That is true -- NYTimes.com is the site I go to during the day to see what is happening in the world. The newspaper, he said, features deeper analysis of the news, and I thought that was a discerning differentiation. He reported that there were one hundred people working in the arts and culture department at The Times; I had no idea his department was so big. Alisa Soloman cleverly observed that with the short, terse statements on Twitter, we are back to the format of telegraphs.

For this discussion of how technology is affecting arts journalism, it was possible to send questions to the moderator by email, by text message or on Twitter. The moderator then repeated the questions to the panel. Though the moderator did take a few questions from the crowd assembled in the room, the majority of his questions came from his lap top. Technology shaped the event itself.

Afterwards there was a wine reception, and I met some interesting people -- more about that later. With the event, Toby successfully initiated a timely discussion as media changes before our very eyes. And, Christie's -- what a beautiful place to spend your days. A new Asian exhibition has just been installed so there were art works and antiques everywhere.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Here's a Thought

This is a great song from Rent.
Measure your life in love:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lanvin Fall 2009

I am quite taken with the pictures of the Lanvin Fall 2009 collection, just shown in Paris and designed by Alber Elbaz. This collection looks very beautiful, romantic, wearable, French. Cathy Horyn at The Times writes about it here, and you can see the collection here.

Lanvin is the oldest French fashion house. Known for her fluid shapes, floral colors and intricate beading, Jeanne Lanvin was one of the great designers in Paris in the 1920's and 30's. Her perfume Lanvin Arpege is still popular today. Here is Jeanne Lanvin at work in her office, painted by Edouard Vuillard in 1933:

Jeanne Lanvin had a daughter Marguerite who married Comte Jean de Polignac, from one of the oldest and grandest families in France. Below is Marguerite, Comtesse de Polignac, at home in her apartment in Paris, also painted by Vuillard. It's one of my favorite paintings of an interior. I love the airy proportions of the rooms, the floral wallpaper, the leggy furniture, the leafy trees through the window. She looks contented and relaxed at home.

Since 2001, Israeli-born Alber Elbaz has been the creative director at Lanvin which is now also popular for its menswear. The Fall 2009 collection is very glamorous, with clothes cut close to the body on the bias. Draped and fitted, the pieces are like sculpture that flatter the figure. Very structured, very chic, and easy to put together -- just toss on a fur shrug, and voila, out the door!

Feathers on a headband offer a touch of mystique.

Rectangular sunglasses evoke Peggy Guggenheim.

Long black leather gloves accentuate the slender line.

A slim envelope is the opposite of a ginormous "It" bag.

Fur, silk, leather, chic.

Monsieur Elbaz takes a well-deserved bow.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Trip to the West Side

My friend Debbie Harris who I met at W magazine now works for the Armory Art Show and she invited TD and I to attend the opening night party this week. We hoofed it up to Pier 92 at the end of West 54th Street on the Hudson River.

Quelle scene! I had no idea that this was such a big event. Mobs of people. Chic too. We crossed the West Side Highway with groups of impossibly tall girls in black teetering in impossibly tall high heels.

The Armory Show is named after the famous 1913 New York art exhibition that introduced modern European art -- Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso -- to astonished Americans. The annual New York Armory Show started again in 1994 and now it's an important contemporary art exhibition. The 2009 edition covers Pier 92, where 70 dealers offer modern masters, and Pier 94 which includes 154 international galleries showing newer art.

We started on Pier 92. The show was huge. The art was excellent, and it just went on and on. It was hard to take it all in. We ran into some friends and got a glass of beer. I think you really would need a day to see everything. Admission: $30.

Here is The Divers, the famous iconic photograph by George Hoyningen-Huene. For sale for $14,000, I think.

A gorgeous happy painting by English artist Howard Hodgkins. I love the joyful, glowing jewel-tone colors of Howard Hodgkins. I believe that he and Tina Brown dated back in the day.

Big, beautiful, serene painting by Alex Katz. This looks to me like the beach in Guilford, Connecticut, where my parents live.

Pier 94 was below, and we had to wait in line to go down the stairs because the stairs were "fragile." Ok! Pier 94 was filled with newer art and packed with younger people. A total scene. Beautiful people plus art is sexy because it means presumably that the beautiful people are smart too and that's a cool combination. I've lived in New York City for many years but it still staggers me to see the energy and excitement and style of the city right before my very eyes. It's almost like New York City itself becomes a character. We walked and walked looking at things until we could walk no more.

Towards the end the chic mobs swelled out of the piers in waves back across the West Side Highway, and everyone hustled to find a cab. We finally commandeered one and made it home where we had some left over roast chicken.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Trip Uptown

I don't get uptown much these days but popped into Bergdorf Goodman last night. They are showing an array of colorful clothes, which I think is great. I saw in the March fashion magazines a lot of beige clothes, a lot of black clothes, and I guess that those are safe and saleable, but especially in the spring, and especially this year, I think people want/need a blast of joyful color.
Before that I had stopped into the Rizzoli bookstore on 57th Street which is one of my very favorite places in New York. Housed in a Beaux Arts building, it features a beautiful selection of literary books, European magazines, and international music. Rizzoli represents to me a life of culture.

On to the Core Club on East 55th Street where I met TD for an event which our friend James LaForce was hosting. James is a partner in the big fashion pr firm LaForce + Stevens which I did some work for recently. I've known James a long time, since he toiled for the fashion pr doyenne Eleanor Lambert. Many years ago we pitched together to do publicity for a woman who had written a book -- James probably remembers the details better than I do. I was going to write it up and he was going to do the publicity. We didn't get the job but she did invite us to her book party in a big Upper East Side townhouse and there I met Joan Juliet Buck.

Last night his event was for Shanghai Tang, the luxury Chinese retailer which has a store in New York on Madison Avenue. James introduced us to the Executive Chairman Raphael le Masne de Chermont who was in town from Hong Kong to talk about the Mandarin Collar Society, a slightly cheeky initiative to get men to forgo ties in favor of a mandarin collar. I personally like mandarin collars, the short stand-up collars based on Manchurian dress. Like the American band collar, they're kind of old-fashioned and romantic but also clean and modern at the same time.

Raphael was sleek and polished in his minimal mandarin collar shirt and jacket, grey wool eye-and-hook closure trousers with no belt, and elegant brown shoes. He told me the shoes were from Weston. At the event we also met Kirk and Derrick Miller, the brothers behind Barker Black, the English bench made shoes sold in their Nolita shop. Grey wool trousers with brown leather shoes was the uniform. Always put your best foot forward: Here is, right to left, Raphael, me, James LaForce and Kirk Miller.

Later we shared a cab with James down Fifth Avenue. In the car, he was recommending Mexico City which is cheap and beautiful. Hola!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pink Jewels

I love how these pink tulips are opening up, especially since it's 20 degrees out.
That's Rose in the back, making a rare appearance. She does not play to the camera.

Unlike Miss Thing.

Later in the afternoon as the sun moved across the room the tulips seemed to glow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dinner with Friends

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. TD roasted a chicken and along with it roasted some potatoes, beets, carrots and a fennel. We had a salad, and for dessert, cupcakes from Billy's Bakery and a spot of port. It was nice on a cold night, and great to see our friends. I put some little flowers around the candle holder I bought recently. I like some flowers on the table, but low so you can talk over them. They're loose and casual in little bud vases as if just snipped from the garden. I personally don't like things too formal or rigid. I like flowers, food, clothes, to have a sense of ease, a grace, a naturalness. Plus I think when entertaining that if you are rigid and uncomfortable, your guests will be rigid and uncomfortable too.

We lit a lot of candles.

Bell says good night.