Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

I recently toddled over to the Angelika Theater on Houston Street to see Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, the wonderful documentary made about the style icon by her granddaughter-in-law Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who published a book by the same name last year and is married to Vreeland's grand son Alexander. This movie is a terrifically entertaining closeup look at one of the great fashion figures of the twentieth century.

Readers of this blog surely know about Diana Vreeland who was the legendary fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, then the editor-in-chief at Vogue during the Sixties, and when she was fired from Vogue, created at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the Costume Institute as we know it today with her blockbuster exhibits.

What stands out in the documentary is her great drive and work ethic coupled with her imagination and creativity. Growing up, her mother told her she was ugly. In New York City, she lasted at the Brearley School for three months. She was not a great beauty nor was she formerly educated, but she created great beauty and educated herself and thus encouraged her readers and viewers to dream and live more beautiful lives.
She met her handsome husband Reed Vreeland in 1929. Here they are pictured at a cocktail party with the always chic Slim Keith on the left.
Vreeland's great curiosity made her passionate for a wide range of subjects – from the French eighteenth century, Russia, and horses to Diaghilev, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. Angelica Huston in the movie notes that before Vreeland, women's magazines were focused on "how to fit in with your husband and how to make a pie. But who cares about pies...when you have Russia!"

The editor began her job at the Met when she was 70 ("What was I going to do? Retire?") As a boy visiting New York City from upstate I remember a couple of her Costume Exhibit shows, including the Hollywood one, which were astounding displays of fantasy and beauty. Vreeland was a storyteller, this movie says, and she was presenting her version of the way the world could be. "I believe in the dream," she says. "There is only one really good life and that is the life you know you want and you make it yourself." At the end she states, "I shall die very young. Whether I am 70 or 80 or 90, I shall die very young."

What a great inspiration she is. See this movie if you can. Here is the trailer:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Carolyne Roehm's Party for Nathan Turner

The scene inside Carolyne Roehm's stunning apartment with the city lights beyond.
Decorator Nathan Turner has a new book out called Nathan Turner's American Style, and TD and I were recently invited to a party at Carolyne Roehm's beautiful apartment to celebrate its publication. You remember Carolyne Roehm's beautiful apartment; TD and I spend an afternoon there when Carolyne herself was publishing a book, and made a video (or two). That post about Carolyne is the third most popular post of all time on the blog, followed only by Coco Chanel and Marella Agnelli. And we have a new treat featuring Carolyne coming up soon on the blog.

I admired Nathan Turner's work from what I had seen on the tv reality show Million Dollar Decorator; it looked enticing and inviting and not over the top. On the way into the party, we passed Kyle Maclachlan and his wife Desiree Gruber who were leaving. Our hostess Carolyne looked glamorous and gave a warm toast to the author. The soaring two-story living room was illuminated with candles. We chatted with people and turned around to see Sarah Jessica Parker who was talking excitedly with friends. It was fun to see her there. Not tall, messy pony tail, dark smokey eye makeup. It looked like she was wearing a white Oscar de la Renta dress with gun metal grey sequins, with black bra straps showing underneath, and towering tall black what-looked-like Manolo Blahnik pumps. She was a wonderful combination of high and low style, elegance and ease.

Which brings us to Nathan Turner. I found the author in a corner, wearing a tweed suit and an affable smile. I asked him about his American style. "I feel like I am very American," he said. "I grew up in northern California and my mother's family had a ranch. I drive a Ford pick-up truck. We Americans are a bit laid back. It's a barefoot, fuss-free style." 
Nathan's book celebrates his decorating projects in the city, in the country, and at the beach. His work is colorful and casual, and he has a good eye for mixing different elements together to create rooms that are sophisticated yet comfortable, which is the hallmark of American design. His interiors have an ease and a natural quality which make them friendly and appealing. In his book he writes,"My approach to decorating and entertaining is all about finding new ways to live and celebrate with low effort and high style." I like his thinking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Candles on the mantle shed some light in the dark.
We were sitting in front of the tv eating pasta and watching Fashion Police on the dvr (guilty pleasure that makes us laugh) and the lights started to seriously flicker. Superstorm Sandy was roaring into town. "Please don't go out, lights!" we said, and boom. Total darkness and quiet. Blackout in NYC.

In all my years in New York, I have lived through only one other blackout which was in 2003, I think, in the summertime. At first everyone thought it was another terrorist attack, but the electric grid had gone down on the east coast due to the heat and high electric usage. My brother Thom was in town then, and my mother was in New York that day at a museum, and we all converged safely on Jane Street where TD and I were living. It was a warm and summery night, and we hung out on the stoops with our neighbors, and then crowds of people walked over to the Hudson River Park and sat on the green grass lawn and laughed because we could see the lights on across the river in New Jersey. The power went on the next day.

This time, we were not so lucky. At first, we hoped that Con Edison had turned off the power preemptively, and that they would be able to turn it back on. But we learned that a big explosion at a Con Ed station on 14th Street had taken out the power on lower Manhattan, and that it would take three of four days to restore. Besides power, we had no heat, but we were lucky because we had water, and the hot water worked.

Below 25th Street, everything was dark and cold. Above 25th Street, life went on as normal. It did remind me of 9/11 when downtown was completely locked down but midtown bustled as usual. Fortunately, my office on 36th Street was open so I could go to work, but TD's graphic design studio on 14th Street was out of commission. Every day, he walked up to my office to plug in his phone.

At nights, we would leave the apartment for a walk, because, honestly, there is nothing to do in a dark and cold apartment. The streets were pitch black dark. People carried flash lights. I did feel unsafe on the dark side streets, so we stuck to the wide avenues which headed north. As we walked uptown, we could see the red traffic lights and Times Square lights blazing brightly ahead. It was like walking toward Emerald City. Heading back home, we entered the complete black darkness again. It was the strangest experience.

At home after dinner we would sit in bed with the cats and read, holding flashlights aloft. I had the good fortune to have at hand Patti Smith's book Just Kids, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Patti Smith is a wonderful writer, a poet. Her story is really about two young artists, she and Mapplethorpe, and how they worked and struggled and tried all the angles before they became successful and fufilled. And it really makes the reader nostalgic for the New York City of their era, which is long gone. I haven't finished it yet, and gotten to the end when Mapplethorpe dies... But I highly recommend the book.

After four nights, going on five, the power came back on Friday night. Glad tidings! And we were lucky because so many people suffered so much loss from the storm. It made me grateful though, most chiefly for TD, who is a joy and great jolly company through all of life's adventures no matter what comes. And it made me grateful to walk into the bathroom and turn on a light.