Tuesday, March 29, 2011

English Dandies

In the world of men's fashion, Savile Row is the holy patch of land in London where tailoring is an art form. On that street, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English tailors perfected their craft so that suiting cloth could be "molded" to the body, creating for a man big shoulders and a broad back and a small waist, even if he did not possess those things. Bespoke: The Men's Style of Savile Row authored by James Sherwood, with a foreword by Tom Ford, and published by Rizzoli, celebrates the past and present of this quintessentially English institution.

This luxuriously sumptuous book covers eighteen Savile Row tailoring firms including Anderson & Sheppard, Gieves & Hawks, Huntsman, and the very handsome Hardy Amies. Then interspersed throughout are chapters on subjects like royal dandies and Hollywood stars and gorgeously decorated military uniforms. Though they are not available for use here, the book features striking photographs including the young Duke of Windsor, who had a natural gift for style, King George IV pictured with his nearly identical cousin Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the nine kings of Europe gathered at the funeral of England's King Edward VII in 1910. Elegant, I'll tell you that. In our casual world of jeans and cardigans and sneakers, this book makes one want to put on a spiffy blazer and some polished shoes. And though one may not shop on Savile Row, the tome is a reminder of the importance of a good tailor and clothes that have a proper fit.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth the Great

Yesterday came the sad news that Elizabeth Taylor had died at age 79 of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. Although of course she hasn't been in the public eye for a long time it felt like the world had lost a bright light. A bright star, for sure.
Over the years I've enjoyed so much watching her movies, mostly from the '50s and '60s, on tv. She starred in movies from the age of 12, with National Velvet, and accomplished the rare feat of growing from a child actor into a major adult movie star. Though she was born in London and had in English accent, her parents were American, with roots in Kansas.
I think she was at her most beautiful in The V.I.P.s, made in 1963.
She stars with her husband Richard Burton, and the clothes are by Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Cardin.

In it she wears a plain beige poplin rain coat out of which emerges a matching mink hood, the ultimate combination of simplicity and luxury. It's finished with camel-color suede gloves. Very Michael Kors indeed.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams from 1958 she stars opposite Paul Newman who plays her alcoholic and apparently gay husband. She looks sweet in a white dress designed by Helen Rose which has a flattering neckline and tiny waist but it hides the steely spine of Maggie the Cat.

Was anyone ever been more beautiful wearing just a slip?

She bares her acting chops, fighting to keep her husband and their portion of the family inheritance.

Not pictured here but also quite fierce is her performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) by Edward Albee, and also starring Richard Burton, in which the couple pummel each other verbally and physically in the marriage from hell. Taylor put on twenty pounds for the role and won an Oscar, her second, the first one having been received for BUtterfield 8 (1960).

And then of course there was the great hooha, Cleopatra from 1963.

One year at Christmastime as I unpacked Christmas ornaments, I watched this movie on tv. Though it's long and not great and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox, it is a visual treat. Every time I looked up there was a different costume, different hair, different makeup.

This movie is a dazzling Christmas present itself which keeps on giving.

Taylor changed costumes 65 times for this movie, a Guinness Book of World record, and an Oscar went to its three designers, Irene Sharaff, Vittorio Nino Novarese, and Renie. On the set, Taylor met Burton, whom she married, twice. They were the quintessentially glamorous movie star couple.

Here they are at the Academy Awards in 1970, she wearing the famous Taylor-Burton diamond necklace which he bought for her at Cartier. Edith Head designed the lavender dress to match her eyes and highlight the necklace. Wow.

The marriage(s) suffered from his alcoholism, and Burton died when he was 59. After Elizabeth Taylor's good friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1985, she tirelessly committed herself to raising money for AIDS research when it was a risky and unpopular thing to do, thus proving she had class both onscreen and off.

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor, who gave pleasure to millions for many years.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Art of Japan in New York

Interior of the Joan Mirviss gallery.
Today is the beginning of Asia Week in New York, the annual Asian art and antiques festival, which this year includes five auction houses, 18 museums and cultural institutions. and more than 30 dealers. Early last week I had the pleasure of having some tea with Joan Mirviss, a leading dealer in Japanese art and ceramics, and viewing her current exhibition of Japanese artists. Then of course at the end of the week calamity of unimaginable proportion struck the island of Japan, and the danger is still unfolding.

"We are incredibly relieved to report that none of our friends, artists or colleagues were hurt or severely affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami," reports Joan this week. "However, some members of their families who resided in the Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima regions are suffering or have yet to be located. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the tens of thousands of people and their families who have been devastated by these events."

Joan recommends that in order to help, go to the Japan Society which has set up a fund for immediate relief to those affected by the disasters. 100% of your tax-deductible contribution will go to organizations that directly help victims.

Joan Mirviss has been an expert in Japanese art and antiques for 35 years, and was particularly inspired in 1983 by an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute on contemporary Japanese ceramics. She was first a private dealer, working out of her home on Central Park West, until three years ago when she moved into this gallery on East 78th Street which was designed for her by Jane Sachs of HS2 Architecture.

Natural recycled wood, metal, and glass make up the interior which is modern and serene at the same time. I loved this metal and wood shelving for art – wouldn't something like it look great in a residential loft?

For Asia Week Joan has mounted an exhibition called "Birds of Dawn" which highlights three pioneers of Japan's contemporary ceramic movement – Suzuki Osamu, Yagi Kazuo and Yamada Hikaru. "This exhibit was been 25 years in the making." says Joan, who has lived in Japan, speaks Japanese, and visits there two or three times a year, collecting pieces and searching out new artists.

Joan Mirviss
These three featured artists, now all deceased, created an original art form by applying ancient Asian firing techniques to modern shapes inspired by Brancusi and Picasso. This piece called "Horse Figure" by Suzuki is sleek and hard-edged, yet it's red textured surface looks weathered and timeless.

This large "Horse" by Suzuki is covered with a similar red glaze and ash slip for a primitive finish. Priced at $25-30,000, Joan sells these pieces to art museums, and finds that private collectors are now interested in art works of clay, a material that had previously been considered craft.

Japan in New York: Art displayed with a view down to Madison Avenue and Central Park beyond.

Rough-hewn recycled wood sets the stage for modern stoneware sculptures by Suzuki.

These dishes by Suzuki would be great for Friday night sushi, no?

In an alcove, "Flamboyant Bird" by Suzuki has landed beneath a silk banner by Seisei Kiitsu who painted these irises in the rain in 1838. The old and the new placed together creates a striking composition.

The past, present and future of Japan are captured in this gallery, as the people of the world send care and concern to that island nation.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Dinner for a Legend

The dining room of the Metropolitan Club on Wednesday night.
Well, it's unofficially been Mario Buatta week here in New York City. Along with my video interview with the great decorator, there has been coverage of him here, here, here, and here, all based on his recognition this week by the New York School of Interior Design, who honored him on Wednesday night with a gala dinner at the Metropolitan Club and renamed its library the Mario Buatta Materials Atelier.
What a dinner it was. The evening started with the opening preview of the Avenue Antiques & Art at the Armory Show. After that, hundreds of friends, clients, decorators and editors streamed through the gates of the Metropolitan Club, on Fifth Avenue at 60th Street, which was built at the turn of the last century when J. P. Morgan was its first president. For the dinner honoring Mario, more than 30 designers each created a unique table top scheme. The total effect in the carefully-lit golden dining room was pretty spectacular.

As I checked in and got my table seating assignment I ran into decorator Bunny Williams. "Mario is the Prince of Chintz but he's no bed of roses!" she said to me. "He's one of my dearest friends. The whole design community turned out for this because they have such respect for him. He's a mentor of many people."
Michael Boodro, the editor-in-chief of Elle Decor, was arriving too. "Mario has been totally under-appreciated," he told me. "The breadth of his work is amazing, and he is a master colorist. He's so self-deprecating that people don't fully understand him." The new April issue of Elle Decor includes a feature on Mario.
In the dining room I admired this table designed by Amy Lau for 1stdibs, its white French tulips bowing gracefully in the candlelight.

I found my way to my table which was designed by decorator Ilene Wetson who centered scarlet ranunculuses on a table covering made of textured African mats which she had sewn together. About as far away as you can get from chintz, and very striking indeed.

Guests sat down to a dinner of filet mignon followed by some jolly entertainment including a poem about Mario by client/financier Wilbur Ross ("The sticker price was such a shock I had to sell a lot of stock"), and a witty song sang by Christopher Mason. Louis Frumkes, husband of my dinner partner Alana Frumkes, noted that Mario is "uniquely gifted in the art of living," and introduced the man of the hour. "I have a few notes here," deadpanned Mario as he took the microphone and unfurled a long scroll of paper that rolled down and off of the stage.
After a standing ovation, the dinner dispersed and guests lingered. Decorator Charlotte Moss, looking very chic in a black Yves Saint Laurent pant suit, said to me, "Mario is a force of nature, one-of-a-kind. He has a delivery that is totally unique, and he lives and breathes the decorating business. There is only one Mario, no last name required. He's like Madonna."

Bravo Mario.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Video Chat with Mario Buatta

On Wednesday night the New York School of Interior Design will be toasting my friend decorator Mario Buatta at a gala dinner and honoring him by renaming the school's library and student work space the Mario Buatta Materials Atelier. Mario, you know, is the great decorator who famously Americanized the English country house style and became known as the Prince of Chintz. He has created aeries for a slew of high profile clients including Barbara Walters, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, and Hilary Geary Ross, and, along with Mark Hampton, redecorated the 119-room Blair House, the official White House Guest House in Washington, D.C.

Mario loves color, comfort, flowers, and light. His decorated rooms have a glow – nothing seems to stick out, and everything works together. He achieves this by adding and subtracting hues, fabrics, textures, furniture and accessories – combining and removing, until the whole has a painterly effect, like an Impressionist painting.

Living room from a past Kips Bay Showhouse.
Combine his creative talent with a wicked sense of humor and you have a New York original. Readers already know about his cockroach gag. Years ago he arrived at a party in our apartment and casually handed me a carefully wrapped gift box which slipped out of my fingers and fell to the floor with the crash of its smashed contents. My heart stopped. "It was a family heirloom!" cried Mario, before he smiled.
It wasn't an heirloom, it was a trick. The box was filled with shards of glass.

A bedroom from a past Kips Bay Showhouse.
Mario recently celebrated his 75th birthday, and still works tirelessly creating his signature beauty, these days aided by a cane after a summer of medical challenges. Recently he agreed to sit for a video blog interview.
We met not in his apartment but in a sprawling pied-à-terre which he decorated for a client in the Sherry-Netherland. The apartment, which has been published in Architectural Digest and stretches along both Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, gleamed with Mario's signature blend of elegance and ease.
Mario made some business calls before our appointment.

For the interview, we would sit in the corner couch. Yes, sweeties, out the windows Bergdorf Goodman is on the left and the Plaza Hotel is on the right. Quite a spot.

The view down Fifth Avenue.

We sat down in this luxuriously comfortable perch

and had a chat.
Click to watch:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Preview of The Spring Show NYC

With Mario Buatta at Doubles (photo by Ann Watt)
Your loyal correspondent was invited last week to a luncheon at Doubles, the private club at the bottom of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. On my way in I ran into my friend decorator Mario Buatta and we headed down to the small, intimate club which has a bar and two dining rooms. The occasion of the luncheon was a preview of The Spring Show NYC, a brand new antiques show mounted by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America which will be running April 28-May 2 at the Park Avenue Armory.

After a drink at the bar, guests sat down to tuck into lunch and hear a little bit about the upcoming antiques show which will be sponsored by 1stdibs.com. Geared for a young, new audience, sixty dealers will present furniture, accessories, and art from around the world. Our friend Lars Bolander will design the fresh and bright mise-en-scene, which to you and me means the visual look of the show.

After the brief run-down and a couple of questions, table conversation resumed when suddenly the woman sitting next to Mario Buatta let out a shriek and jumped out of her seat. Mario, who is known for his funny high jinx, had wound up a big, black, plastic cockroach and sent it whizzing past her plate.

The opening night preview of The Spring Show, to be held on April 27th at the Park Avenue Armory, will benefit the ASPCA and have, fittingly, an animal theme. The honorary co-chairs of the Connoisseur Committee are the glittery Manhattan couple Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Get out your spring finery.