Monday, October 31, 2011

Cecil Beaton in New York

The Marquesa de Casa Maury on a field of Beaton roses.
You may remember that I wrote in the October issue of Elle Decor magazine about the new "Cecil Beaton: The New York Years" exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York and its accompanying catalogue book published by Rizzoli. (Read the story here.) Last week TD and I headed up to the museum on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street for the opening night reception for the show. From the '20s through the '60s the imaginative, influential English photographer and designer often worked in New York City, and his photographs, paintings, set designs and costumer designs are on view in the exhibit. "With his European sensibility, Beaton helped make New York City a cultural center between the wars," curator and author Donald Albrecht told me.

We ran into friend Mario Buatta who helped sponsor the evening, and proceeded in. At the entrance of the exhibit are some stunning black and white photographs from the '20s mounted on a very dramatic black and white Cecil Beaton rose pattern wallpaper. We met at the reception Roger Bernard and Andrew Ginger from the Cecil Beaton Fabric Collection, who was over from England for business and for the opening. They reported that the Beaton Rose pattern is available in a number of color ways. I said I thought the big black and white pattern would look great in a small powder room. So luxe.
Here is a closer look at Paula Gellibrand, Marquesa de Casa Maury, photographed by Beaton in 1928. I love her shimmering dress and background. Her long oval face reminded me of my grandmother, Florence Mumford.

I admired this woman's similar shimmering dress...

and read the identifying card to learn that it is Beaton himself! In drag for a Cambridge University production. Those were the days.
Inside the exhibition was this delicate watercolor of Tallulah Bankhead from 1932. I like the colorblocked dress, which is a big trend in fashion this fall too.

Posted throughout were provocative quotes from Mr. Beaton:

The Englishman designed this costume for Birgit Nilsson for the 1961 Metropolitan Opera production of Turandot.

Perhaps Beaton is best known for his iconic, Edwardian black and white costumes for the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady. He had this to say:

Here is Cecil Beaton in top hat with Truman Capote. Can you imagine the conversations?

This is a photograph of Diana Vreeland that I had not seen before. The great editor pictured at home surrounded by her bibelot is charming.

One wall in the exhibition room was covered by a red version of the Beaton Rose wallpaper. Here it is over "The Art of Self-Promotion" which he was quite adept at.

And a final word from Cecil Beaton:

The show is at the Museum of the City of New York until February 20, 2012; admission is $10.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Wonderful World of Muriel Brandolini

With the decorator at Barneys 
Last week I was invited to Barneys New York to celebrate the publication of the new book The World of Muriel Brandolini (Rizzoli) by the well-known international decorator. Barneys is also featuring right now an 800-square-foot pop-up store which sells Brandolini's limited-edition home collection produced exclusively for the store. And this past Friday, Phillips de Pury & Company auctioned 120 pieces of her personal collection including furniture, photography and decorative objects. So right now it really is the world of Muriel Brandolini.
The decorator grew up in Vietnam "during the 1960s, the height of the Vietnam War, when shelling and soldiers were part of daily life," she writes in the book. Her family moved to Martinique and then she lived in Paris before moving on to New York City where she met her husband-to-be financier Nuno Brandolini, a Count in the aristocratic Italian Brandolini family. The couple have a son and a daughter.

In lush photography, principally shot by Pieter Estersohn, the book celebrates Brandolini's decorating work as it has developed over her career. Her global background expresses itself with bright colors, luxe fabrics, a fearless mix of periods, and combining Eastern and Western styles together for a cohesive whole that is the signature Brandolini look.
Photo by Fernando Bengoechea
In her own New York City dining room on the Upper East Side, below, Brandolini covered the walls with purple hand-blocked fabric from her own collection and placed a Chinese red-laquer opium bed for lounging. It's all pretty delicious.
Photo by Fernando Bengoechea
The party at Barneys was a swanky affair – a lot of stylish Europeans speaking Italian. A woman wore a simple black dress with a white evening coat over it, and black sling-backs. It had that Italian polished nonchalance and reminded me of Tom Ford Gucci. Oh, and Uma Thurman was there. I didn't recognize her because she was dressed casually but when I heard her low, distinctive voice, my head snapped around. I wanted to tell her that she was in one of my favorite beautiful movies of all time – The Golden Bowl.

When I got off the elevator to enter the event the first thing I noticed was that the party smelled good. That's because bespoke jeweler and Brandolini pal James Givenchy produced a small collection of scented candles for Taffin available at Barneys ($65 each), and one of the three scents – Fleur d'Oranger – was wafting through the party. The combination of lily of the valley and orange flower is Muriel's favorite, and scents her home.

I received one as a gift and lit it on our mantelpiece. I am not really a scented candle guy but I like this one very much. It's not too strong, and the fragrant blend of orange and flower creates a sophisticated mood that is both European and exotic, just like Muriel Brandolini.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fortuny at Bergdorf Goodman

Fortuny tableware luxuriously displayed at Bergdorf Goodman
I recently got to see the beautiful new Fortuny collection that Bergdorf Goodman is carrying in its home department on the seventh floor. Mariano Fortuny – the name is kind of magical. The artist who lived and worked in Venice around the turn of the last century was a stage and lighting designer, photographer, and painter. He is best known though for designing silk pleated dresses, called the Delphos gown, which could be rolled up into a ball and looked like something women wore in ancient Greece. Lauren Hutton told me once that she collects Fortuny gowns, and when I visited Curator-in-Charge Harold Koda in the archives at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, he opened a sleek white drawer to reveal balled up Fortuny gowns in vivid colors like knotted jewels. Fortuny also is remembered for his timeless handblocked velvet and silk prints that epitomize Venice whose sea explorers linked the exotic East with Western Europe.
Mariano Fortuny:

Fortuny was born in Spain in 1871 and his family moved to Venice in 1889. He later purchased the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfie, a palace built in the fifteen century, which became his home and his atelier. Today it is the Fortuny Museum which is open to visitors. TD and I have been to Venice once, and I loved it so much – city as a work of art. I hope to return some day and to visit the Fortuny Museum:

Fortuny died in 1949 but the Fortuny company carries on in Venice, selling fabrics, furniture, glass and pillows. Now it has teamed up with L'OBJET, which has produced a collection of fine tableware, home accessories and gifts based on Fortuny designs; prices are from $75 - $1,200. For the seventh floor display at Bergdorf Goodman, opulent tables are set and walls are lined with Fortuny fabric. You know that I love things that go back in time, and this collection really hits the spot.
There are golden lanterns

and striking plates for the table to be layered and mixed.
This three tier server in contrasting prints is striking.

Boxes are made of real Fortuny fabrics.

Romantic, no?

While working on this collection, Nicholas Manville, Vice President of Decorative Home at Bergdorf Goodman, went to see the Fortuny archives in Venice. "It was a magical day," said Nicholas. "Most times a gate is unlocked for you in Venice, an incredible experience follows. I began to appreciate that Fortuny designs could only ever be created in Venice. It is clear how the designs are informed by the light, water, color, architecture, and secretive drama of the city." This nook on Bergdorf's seventh floor displays Fortuny fabric curtains, furniture, accessories and hanging lamps. I felt like I was in a Henry James novel.

The collection is available through the holidays and makes wonderful gifts. It inspired me – I went home and listened to Vivaldi and lit some candles as if I was in Fortuny's Venice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


A friend recently emailed to say, "I need a Jane hit on the blog," and I replied, "Me too." It is always fun for me to see my niece and my nephews. Jane is now almost 14; when I started this blog she was 10 so she is growing up in photos. Jane likes art and fashion too so I met her at the Daphne Guinness show at F.I.T. at West 27th Street. I really enjoyed being there again. What struck me on this visit is the styling of the show; I think almost every outfit is accessorized with a bit of velvet ribbon, an old heirloom"diamond" brooch. Daphne wears very modern clothes but the way she styles them with her ribbons and diamonds make the clothes look romantic and timeless. In the dandy tailored section of the show, I noticed Daphne's quote, "There is a lot of cross-dressing in Shakespeare. I'm inspired by that." At the press preview, she had said she is most inspired by literature, and what the characters would be wearing.
Jane and I stopped for a bagel and then proceeded on to the Flea Market Garage on West 25th Street.
We strolled around the two floors of flea market vendors. One vendor was selling an old rotary telephone. Jane picked it up and said, "How does this work?" As we were leaving the second floor, Jane spotted some suede zip-up moccasins with fringe around the ankles. They fit her perfectly

so I bought them for her birthday. She has a good eye.
Then we schlepped down to West 17th Street to some more of my vintage store haunts – Pippin Vintage Home, Angel Street Thrift Shop, and Housing Works. At Pippin Vintage Home I ran into some friends, and also ran into a friend at F.I.T. It reminded me of when I was young and my uncle Brian, my mother's brother, took me on trips and excursions. He always ran into someone he knew, which was fun, whether it was at the Albany museum or on a bus in a snow storm or at the Utica Club Brewery. Brian, who is an attorney in the Albany area, often took my brother Thom and I on adventures – there were outings to the local fire department in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and the offices of the Albany newspaper. He was the first person to take me on an airplane trip. A great uncle. He is my model in this department.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York Documentary

I took this photo of Bill Cunningham at a party in his honor at Bergdorf Goodman in 2008.
This we file under "What Happened to the Summer?" The documentary Bill Cunningham New York came out in theaters earlier this year and our friends were raving about it and TD and I meant to see it over the summer, but we just didn't make it there. Luckily it is now on pay-per-view so we recently caught it on tv. Be sure to see it if you haven't already.

Bill Cunningham, as I said here on the blog when he attended a party in his honor, is the extremely influential, much beloved New York Times street fashion photographer who shoots the "On the Street" page and the "Nightlife" page of the Sunday Styles section. Everyone in New York wants to be photographed by Cunningham, and he shapes fashion by the trends he covers and those that he doesn't. "We all get dressed for Bill," Anna Wintour says in this movie. Yours truly has been pictured on his page once and TD has made numerous appearances. The photographer is famously adverse to interviews or publicity and it took documentarian Richard Press eight years to get Cunningham to agree to be the subject of this movie.

Though Cunningham has since moved to a new place, he is shown in his small apartment where lived forever in Carnegie Hall which is packed with filing cabinets and a small bed. "Who the hell wants a kitchen or a bathroom!" he exclaims. At age 83, he still travels around town on a bicycle, and the film shows many examples of him traversing testy city traffic. Cunningham always wears a simple blue jacket (see above) which he says costs $20 and is like what street sweepers wear. His is a very ascetic and humble lifestyle.

The photographer is extremely private so not much is revealed about his personal life though he says he goes to church every week and has had no romantic relationships. Wikipedia says that Cunningham dropped out of Harvard, but that is not mentioned in this movie. What does come through clearly is his love of fashion. "The best fashion show is always on the street," he says. "You have to stay on the street and let it tell you what the news is." The movie observes that he uses a camera like a pen to take notes. Peddling uptown and downtown to photograph glamorous girls in gorgeous dresses, Cunningham truly is an original, and New York is richer for his presence.
He is the monk of fashion, an artist on a bicycle.
"He who seeks beauty will find it," says Bill Cunningham.

Bill Cunningham New York trailer:

Bill Cunningham New York Trailer from Gavin McWait on Vimeo.