Welcome to the guest post of my great friend Jean Rafferty, Paris City Editor of the late -- and greatly regretted -- Metropolitan Home, and regular contributor to Art + Auction, Town & Country and Veranda. I know I've been promising you a visit from her for some time now. . . So as my final gift of the year here follows her wonderful dreamscape of what she imagines would be the perfect setting to step into a new decade of what we all hope will be full of peace and promise.
By Jean Rafferty
The art of the dinner party? Nobody does it better. French hostesses –and hosts – dress their tables with the same panache as they dress their fashionable selves. And the New Year’s Réveillon liberates decorative imaginations. Some of my most memorable souvenirs of Réveillons Past might offer up ingredients for a Réveillon Present.
Snow and ice with glints of gold and silver: This scenario is inspired by the most exquisite tablecloth I’ve ever dined upon – a white organdy dream by Noêl with a lily and thistle motif picked out in ice blue and gold thread and set over a white linen batiste underskirt. My friend Marie-Charles, a consummate French hostess, owns this jewel along with twelve napkins - almost too beautiful to put your lips to -- that were hand-embroidered by her mother, a zingy vicomtesse. The good news for the needle and thread-challenged (moi-même) is that Noël will custom do it for you in your own choice of pattern and threads.
No such gem in your armoire? Pas de problème, Gallic resourcefulness comes into play. A beautiful pure white tablecloth, a lovely embroidered vintage linen sheet or a pristine white piqué bedcover that you can mix with blue napkins will do the trick.
THE TABLE SETTINGS
We’re in the country where à la mode is not about ice cream on your pie, but leaping ahead like a true locomotive of fast forward French fashion. Today’s tables are all about The Mix.
What could be better than the Porcelain Manufactory Nymphenburg’s Pearl Symphony Blue, an elegant twelve-sided plate with wide ice blue rim trimmed in tiny white porcelain pearls (and it's dishwasher-proof!).
One can mix it with Mille Nuits midnight blue fluted crystal dessert plates by French designer Mathias for Baccarat.
As place card holders these tiny silver and blue enamel picture frames from Asprey add another touch of glamor.
CRYSTAL AND GLASS
Clear crystal St. Remy goblets by Baccarat (or their distant glass cousins from the Conran Shop); Lalique’s crystal flutes with tiny snowball bases; blue and white-striped Murano water tumblers.
Puiforcat’s Art Deco Nantes service is as modern today as when it was designed by Jean Puiforcat himself in the 1930s.
Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance calls for candlelight. Crystal ice block candlesticks by Arik Levy for Baccarat -- they come in one to five stacked crystal cubes -- are perfect, all with white tapers.
Haute couture blooms come from couturier florists. For my snow scape, I’d choose a bank of Avalanche white roses from Parisian florist Eric Chauvin (a fashion-insider’s favorite) arranged in my low boat-shaped Lalique vase, but a clear glass fishbowl might even be more fun, sprayed in a design of white and silver and nestled into mounds of glistening faux snow.
(And if you have room, nothing could be more enchanting than a crystal polar bear or two or three gamboling in the neige.)
For more intimate floral touches à la Parisienne, floral star Marianne Robic sets every place with a silver timbale of blue forget-me-nots, mini white roses and snowdrops.
THEN. . . Take a photo (like a friend of mine who has her maid snap her before every grand event) and remove anything that is TOO MUCH. Less is more.
If you’re brave enough, go for all white food to match the theme. The late Comtesse Hélène de Mortemart who was as charming and fun as she was elegant introduced me to this idea decades ago. Suggestions include translucent oysters (so good for your health, but only if you know your guests are aficionados), risotto with white Alba truffles, Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops), Poulet Chaud-Froid or line-caught grilled Sea Bass for the main dish with a special dessert from my new friend Yann, whose culinary blog You Are What You Eat is a trove of scoop about French restaurants and recipes. Despite its name, he says, “Omelette Norvegienne" is a classical French dish of vanilla ice cream on a sponge cake layer,rounded with Italian meringue. You stick it in the oven for a few minutes, and then flame it with Grand Marnier. “ (For details click above.)
A crisp, white Sancerre goes wonderfully with the fish dishes and Prince Robert of Luxembourg's new Super Premium, Clarendelle Amberwine, blended at his American Dillon family's famed Château Haut-Brion is an intriguing choice with dessert.
WHEN MIDNIGHT STRIKES. . .
Walk from white into the Technicolor world of Lyonnais glass artist Vincent Breed to Champagne toast the New Year with his tipsy and reversible wine glass/vase collection called "Bouquet."
One end is a round goblet; the other a raspberry red, orange, lemon, lime or violet flute. Giving them as guest favors would mark a delightful start to the New Year.
(Picture of Breed glasses from France Today.)