Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Story on Cecil Beaton in the Oct. Elle Decor

Dear reader, you might enjoy my article in the October issue of Elle Decor. It's about the Cecil Beaton exhibition which is coming to the Museum of the City of New York this month, and its accompanying book from Rizzoli. I'm looking forward to seeing this show which opens on October 25. I've said here before on the blog that a big memory from my childhood was being taken for my seventh birthday to see My Fair Lady in a huge old movie theater in Philadelphia. I was completely entranced by the film, and the Cecil Beaton-designed Edwardian costumes and sets were a major part of the appeal (besides of course the Lerner and Lowe music and Audrey Hepburn herself). Yes, it was the beginning of beautiful things. So I'm happy to have the chance now to pay tribute to Cecil Beaton.
Pick up an issue of the magazine – it's the big fashion issue filled with delicious interiors including fashion designer Andrew Gn's sumptuous apartment in Paris which is something out of Proust. Editor in Chief Michael Boodro and his editors are doing a wonderful job – enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Visit With Antiques Expert Leigh Keno

BB with Leigh Keno
This week brought the opportunity to visit with American antiques expert Leigh Keno. I recognized Leigh from his appearances as an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. TD and I enjoy watching that show where typically some lady in Omaha will bring in an old vase that her next door neighbor gave her twenty years ago and it turns out to be a rare French find worth $50,000 and the woman just about faints.

But mostly I wanted to meet him because he is from Mohawk, New York, the town of approximately 2,000 people across the Erie Canal from Herkimer where my O'Donnell ancestors lived and not far from New Hartford where I grew up. My cousin Ginny got married and had her reception in Mohawk. Leigh told me that in fact his father was the art teacher at the Herkimer High School. He and his twin brother Leslie enjoyed fly-fishing in the Mohawk Creek. Both of Leigh's parents were also antiques dealers, and he and Leslie started buying and selling when they were twelve years old. Leigh went to Hamilton College in nearby Clinton and Leslie went to Williams College in Massachusetts. "We paid for college with the stoneware collection that we bought and sold," said Leigh.

With a passion for American antiques and paintings, Leigh went to work after college for the Doyle auction house in New York City, and Leslie went to Sotheby's where he still works. Leigh subsequently toiled at Christie's and then became an independent antiques dealer, helping private clients build personal collections. Leigh was been a regular on the Antiques Roadshow since 1997, and in 2000 the twins wrote a book, Hidden Treasures, Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture. This past summer they co-hosted a reality show called Buried Treasures.

And now comes Leigh's newest challenge. In 2009 he launched his own auction house, Keno Auctions. "With an auction house I get to handle a variety of things – from Danish modern to jewelry to contemporary prints," he says. The business is headquartered in a brick house on the upper east side, and Leigh reports that he lives upstairs with "my better half Jasmine" and their 13-year-old son. This coming up weekend on Saturday the 24th, Keno Auctions will be holding a sale of important paintings, furniture, decorative art and jewelry at the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. Check it out if you can; Leigh says that items are priced at conservative estimates which means you could get a deal!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Daphne Guinness Press Preview at F.I.T.

Daphne Guinness book cover, photo by Kevin Davies. Book available from Yale University Press in November.

I had the pleasure on Friday of attending the press preview for the Daphne Guinness exhibit which opened that day at the Fashion Institute of Technology at Seventh Avenue and 27th Street. You know Daphne Guinness – she is the fantastically creative style icon who inspires designers and brings their clothes to life, and also has forged her own signature look which is completely original. Daphne Guinness is an artist and her medium is clothes. This exhibition of her personal wardrobe was co-curated by Ms. Guinness and Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, and includes 100 garments and accessories from the icon's personal collection, plus films, videos and images of and by her. It's up until January 7, 2012 and admission is free.

Daphne Guinness was born in 1967 to Jonathan Guinness, 3rd Baron Moyne, and his second wife Suzanne Lisney. Jonathan himself is the son of Bryan Guinness and...wait for it...Diana Mitford of the renowned Mitford sisters. The Guinness family of Ireland of course is known for its accomplishments in banking, politics, and dark beer brewing. Daphne married Spyros Niarchos, son of Greek shipping billionaire Stavros Niarchos who was famously the business rival of Aristotle Onassis. Daphne and Spyros had three children and were divorced in 1999.

Since then she has become renowned in the world of fashion for her personal style and knowledge of fashion. She was great friends with English talents Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, who both have tragically committed suicide. Her extremely romantic and imaginative style is a joy to see and I was looking forward to the exhibition at FIT.

When I am attending a press preview, I tend to rush in and circle around to try to take in the whole thing at once. Gradually though I slow down and the clothes begin to speak. The museum gallery space down in the basement level was designed by Ken Nintzel and divided into sections and rooms inspired by Daphne's New York City apartment so this show looks very different from exhibitions in the past like the Ralph Rucci one, where the gallery was open and expansive.
The show is organized by themes. The fantastic feather cape is part of the "Sparkle" group.

I loved these very precise jackets inspired by the tailoring of Savile Row in London.

A strict black tailored jacket is decorated with lace, a velvet ribbon and sparkling jewelry for a wonderful combination of structure and a touch of whimsy.

In contrast to that black tailoring are these white ensembles decorated with glittering stones. On the left is a silk chiffon dress by Alexander McQueen with rhinestones, and on the right is an ivory silk faile Chanel jacket with embroidered stone trim.

There were some futuristic, avant garde, sculptural silver dresses but my favorite piece was this narrow black sheath decorated with jewels around the neck and fur around the armholes by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. I love the simplicity of the line embellished with a little extravagance.

A P.R. woman came around and said that Daphne was arriving upstairs with Valerie Steele to speak and answer questions. I went upstairs just in time to see Valerie and Daphne crossing the building lobby to a microphone. Daphne was wearing a black tailored jacket and a white shirt with the white cuffs extended and the collar turned up. Around the collar was tied a burgundy velvet ribbon which trailed down her shoulder, and a pin decorated the ribbon. She had on black tights and the high black shoes with no heel; I think those are by Alexander McQueen. So the top was very romantic and the bottom was very modern.

The first question she got was "Who inspires you?" and without a beat she said, "Diana Vreeland." She spoke with a lovely English accent with a little bit of an Irish accent at the end of a sentence. She said that Diana Vreeland really "inhabited her clothes." Daphne's inspiration also comes from reading a lot by books, as she imagines what the heroine would be wearing. She said, to laughter, that her own sense of style was "a series of mistakes."

I raised my hand with others and Valerie Steele pointed and said, "White hair." That was me. I said, "Daphne, your grandmother was Diana Mitford and I wonder if you could talk about her and how she influenced you." "My grandmother had very strict style," she replied. "She was tall and had a vertical line. She was a writer and not very into fashion. My great-aunts Nancy and Debo went to the fashion shows and that is how I met Mr. Givenchy. But I am always happy to return to the simple, neat, vertical style of my grandmother." I thought her answer was so interesting because that is exactly what I had admired in her black Givenchy gown downstairs.

Someone asked her if she was inspired by contemporary artists and she said she was more inspired by the Old Masters like the seventeenth century Spanish painter Zuburán, who Carolyne Roehm had also named as a favorite artist. "I go back in time," said Daphne.

When asked to name what she was wearing, she stated that it was an "old McQueen jacket" and a white shirt and leggings which she makes. "I always wanted to wear men's suits," she said. "When the cut is right, it's a default position." She talked about the role of clothing. "You can use it as a defense. Growing up you know your group by the way you dress. I was the anti-Sloane Ranger. Instead of a little skirt and a little sweater, I had leather studded belts and leggings and was very grumpy so no one would come near me."

"My style used to be a protective tool and now it's not," she said to more laughter since now her style is a subject of great interest. "Chic is a kind of armor that protects you against the world."

A big reason she agreed to do the show was so that students at FIT and others could view the clothes and look at how they are made. "It was the right thing to do," she said, "so that people would be able to see this." Don't miss this show. It's an inspiration and I plan to return.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Wonderful Wedding in the Woods

(click on photos to enlarge)
TD and I had the great pleasure of attending this past Sunday the wedding of our good friend Nicole Parker to her beau Chris King in the woods of New Hampshire. Well, we weren't exactly roughing it; the wedding was an exuberant celebration of style.
Nicole is a graphic designer and creative director and niece of our friend and neighbor Don Healy who climbed Mount Everest – you remember the Healys all. When a friend of Nicole's suggested she meet a mutual friend, Chris King, an Australian diplomat visiting New York, at Soho House, it was love at first sight. How could he resist Nicole's vivacious personality? They were soon a couple, traveling all over the world to meet. Now Chris is a diplomat with the Australian embassy in New Delhi, India, where the couple lives. And this past weekend they were officially married at the Healy compound in Stoddard, New Hampshire.
First, a spectacular invitation arrived in the mail. Seventy Australians were making the trip to the wedding in Stoddard which is just outside of Keene, so a map, a "boarding pass," and a "passport" were included.

TD and I drove up from Guilford, Connecticut, the day of the wedding and checked into the comfortable Lane Hotel in Keene. Then we headed up to the main event which was held at the Healys' Lakefalls Lodge. The lodge was conceived as a Great Camp in the Adirondack style, and its construction was begun by eccentric New York City divorcée Florence Brooks Aten in the 1920's until the Crash of '29 wiped out her wealth. Don Healy bought the property, which also includes a lake and smaller houses, in 1990.
We parked the car and walked up a gravel driveway. A wedding in New Hampshire should always begin with a gurgling brook and an old mill house, don't you think?

Up the road we passed the area where cocktails would be served after the ceremony. With its orange table clothes, it looked like a Christo installation.

The view from the lodge is out on to a lake and a hill opposite covered with trees. The fresh air was scented with pine and grass.

Rows of chairs were set up facing the lake and the hill beyond for a serene natural setting.

Hanging off the chairs were glass vases filled with orchids. So simple and so pretty. On each chair were red and orange streamers.

The ceremony started when the mother of the bride, Peggy Healy Parker, in a silky purple coat, came down the grassy aisle which had been strewn with red rose petals by three flower girls. Then eight bridesmaids and groomsmen emerged out of the lodge. The theme throughout was red as you can see from the vivid bridesmaids' dresses. Also in red was Andrea King, the celebrant and groom's mother.

And finally came Nicole on the arm of her uncle Don. Her dress was by Vera Wang and its skirt was layered with square silk organza petals with unfinished edges. That dress was beautiful from the front

and the back.

During the ceremony, Carrie Ashley Hill, the maid of honor, sang a poignant song to the couple.

And then they were husband and wife!

After cocktails on the lawn, we proceeded down the gravel road to a big white tent which was hung with buoyant red paper lanterns.

For dinner table assignments, guests were asked to pick up a post card which had their name and the name of a place which was important to the couple. We were seated at Santa Barbara.

The tables were decorated with a rich profusion of red roses.

As the night grew darker the tent glowed with red.

The paper lanterns created an exotic effect.

After dinner, a great rock and roll band from Boston took the stage. This crowd was really ready to party and the soon the joint was jumping. TD and I are not often in vicinity of a rock and roll band so we had fun dancing to one hit after another. Here are Nicole and Chris cutting up the dance floor –

When the reception ended, guests were invited to an after party back at the lodge. As we walked up the driveway we saw that the exterior rock walls of the lodge had been illuminated with red and orange lights. Small hamburgers were served and there was more music and dancing. Nicole arrived in her wedding dress, and I liked that she hadn't changed into a little frock for the after party. That Vera Wang wedding dress with its deconstructed edges was elaborate, but she looked very comfortable in it and made it her own which is a sign of style.
TD and I were ready to call it a night as the younger celebrants carried on. We walked down the driveway to the car and as I looked back over my shoulder past the colored stone walls through the tall French doors of the lodge I saw guests dancing wildly inside to Lady Gaga.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Trip to Cooperstown

This story first appeared on New York Social
After our rafting trip with the Divas on the Delaware, TD and I continued on upstate to Cooperstown, New York. I grew up outside of Utica in New Hartford, New York, so as a child I visited Cooperstown sites with my family, most notably the Baseball Hall of Fame. As an adult though I love the cultural offerings of the town and the preserved eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture of the village which is a national historic district and the home of the New York State Historical Association. We try to visit each summer.

Judge William Cooper purchased 10,000 acres of land on the shores of the scenic Otsego Lake in 1785, and the village of Cooperstown was established the following year. James Fenimore Cooper, the judge's son, was encouraged by his wife to write books set in the area, including The Leatherstocking Tales and The Last of the Mohicans, and he is now recognized as the first American novelist.

Later on, in the nineteenth century, members of the Clark family, whose fortune came from the Singer Sewing Machine company, moved to Cooperstown. In New York City the Clark family famously built the Dakota apartment building and funded the Museum of Modern Art, and in Cooperstown it was instrumental in the development of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Farmers' Museum, and the Fenimore Art Museum.

A little north of town further up the lake is Glimmerglass Opera which was our destination. Well, actually now it's called Glimmerglass Festival. This past year new artistic director Francesca Zambello took over Glimmerglass Opera and renamed it to include more kinds of productions including Broadway musicals. It is housed in the Alice Busch Opera Theater which is a welcoming, modern, airy design that holds more than 900 people. The theater was opened in 1987 and was the first American hall designed specifically for opera in 21 years.

On Sunday morning we drove up to Cooperstown from the Catskills where we had been visiting friends. We drove speedily to arrive at the opera on time. Once there we had a few minutes to order some sandwich wraps and eat lunch. No sooner had we sat down when a nicely dressed woman from a neighboring table approached us carrying a white box. We looked up at her mid-bite. She said, "Today is the first day that same-sex marriage in legal in New York state. It's been a long time coming, and my friends and I are celebrating with a picnic. Won't you have some pie?" She opened the box and cut two slices.
That choked us up.

Into the theater we went to see Deborah Voight in Annie Get Your Gun. Yes, you read that right. The great Wagnerian opera soprano was starring in the bubbly 1946 Broadway show written by Irving Berlin for Ethel Merman. How is that for a combo?

The theater is comfortable and delightful because of its open air walls.

When the show begins the walls slide closed.

It's like when the chandeliers go up at the beginning of the Metropolitan Opera.

Annie Get Your Gun is an entertaining romp about show business and the joke is that it's set in the Wild West in cowboy costumes. The score includes classics like "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," "I Got the Sun in the Morning," and the rousing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Judy Garland was famously fired off of the 1950 movie version and replaced by Betty Hutton. Deborah Voight is a memorable Annie and makes the role her own. Also in the show was our New York City friend tenor Jonathan Tuzo who is a Young Artist at Glimmerglass. Last summer we attended Jonathan's impressive recital in Cooperstown, and this coming winter he will be singing in the chorus at the Metropolitan Opera.

Many people in the theater were dressed casually in shorts. It was a hot day but I think one should make an effort to dress appropriately for the theater. Like the older woman who was wearing an extremely simple but flawlessly pressed beige linen dress. She carried a beige clutch and wore beige slingbacks, and a big jeweled bracelet jangled on her wrist. Her tan face was naturally lined and her short blondish pony tail was tied with a beige grosgrain ribbon. Her look was polished and refined but also comfortable and effortless. That to me is style.

After the performance, the dynamic Francesca Zambello hosted a question and answer period with other members of the cast and the conductor for the audience while the set was struck on the stage behind them. She said she chose this show because it was written "just 60 years after Carmen," which Glimmerglass is also presenting this summer. "That's not a very long time and it helps to connect the lineage. This show is as important as opera." She also noted that none of this show was electronically miked, which is unusual in the theater now.

We met our friend Jonathan after the performance and then headed back down to town to check in at the Inn at Cooperstown.

I've always wanted to stay here. The seventeen-room inn was designed in 1874 in the Second Empire style by Henry Hardenbergh who also designed the Dakota and the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In the dining room is this portrait of Lucy Cooke as a child, whose family owned the building and who lived in it for 70 years. I liked the cream wallpaper with the big black print.

The red entrance hall reminded me a lot of 611 West German Street, the Victorian house that my grandmother grew up in in Herkimer, New York, which is now the Bellinger Rose Bed and Breakfast.

A convivial porch stretches across the front of the inn.

There we had a glass of wine with Jonathan

and then walked down the street to the restaurant Alex and Ika for dinner.
The next morning we strolled around the village of Cooperstown. The houses are beautifully preserved and maintained.

A pretty back door garden –

Pale geraniums and hostas framed windows which revealed artfully chipped Chippendale chairs.

We made a stop at the Fenimore Art Musuem. It's home, called Fenimore House, was donated by the Clark family, and sits on the site of James Fenimore Cooper's early nineteenth century farmhouse.

Last summer I interviewed curator Dr. Paul D'Ambroiso when the museum hosted an exhibition of John Singer Sargent portraits. Over the past year, he was promoted to president of the museum, and he very kindly came out to say hello to us on Monday morning. He recommended that we walk to the lake to see a new area at the museum.
Down the sloping lawn we went. A kind of roof structure revealed itself in a dip in the land.

We followed the path around a bend and came upon a Mohawk Indian bark house. Growing up in Utica, we learned about the Mohawk and Iroquois Indians who had once inhabited the region. This reconstructed bark house is a fishing and hunting lodge which the Indians would build when traveling for food. Inside the house was Native American Mike Tarbell, an educator who told us more about how it was constructed from trees and bark.

When we came out, Otsego Lake was completely quiet and still. Not one boat was on it, which was surprising for a hot Monday in July. The peaceful transcendent scene was exactly as it would have been hundreds of years ago when Indians lived on its shore.

That is the magic of Cooperstown – wonderful culture and history in an untouched natural setting which inspire and connect the visitor with the past.