Friday, August 31, 2012

An Object of Desire


Interior designer, Betty Lou Phillips long ago mastered the fine art of creating luxuriously welcoming interiors that are at the same time family friendly and elegant. She is as comfortable with opulence as she is with the practical  -- kitchens to swoon for, dreamy bedrooms, living rooms to live in, children's rooms to play in. . .

Though precious objects, rare finds, artistic details, intricate finishes, old-world craftsmanship, signature flourishes and magnificent materials make her designs beautifully distinctive, one never feels her rooms are pretentious.  She proves time and time again that the noble and the humble can coexist in perfect harmony -- sisal and silk,  pottery and crystal, cashmere and cotton.

A breakfast room  features a Louis Philippe bibliothèque, refitted and rejuvenated with fabric that matches the cushion on the chairs
In her latest book, The Allure of French and Italian Décor (Gibbs Smith), she shows us how it's possible, as she says: to layer "the conventional with the glamorous [which] makes stylish living look effortless."  Betty Lou Phillips does indeed make stylish living appear eminently easy and exceedingly desirable.
In a California home, unassuming sisal, sumptuous fabrics and a mantel from Reims, France
As one would expect, her book is stunning -- inside and out. It is most definitely an object of desire, one that deserves to sit upon a table along side other distinguished accessories.
In Italy, a wrought-iron bed with inset tapestries.
Of course one is seduced by the gorgeous cover, the photographs of the rooms and the outdoor spaces within, but I must admit, I love reading Betty Lou's books (this is her 11th). Not only do we come away with simple and/or sophisticated ideas we can incorporate into our homes, but also she gives us serious conversation material we can use at our next dinner party.
Here France and Italy live happily together. The walnut table is Italian (circa 1820) while the chandelier from the same period is French. The rock crystal candlesticks were discovered at Paris's famous Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen.
She is an extremely talented writer and she tells us stories, gives us history lessons the likes of which we wish we had in high school, and then she slides in cultural references so that the next time one travels to France or Italy we'll know what to do, or more importantly what not do.

Betty Lou's Fortuny napkin rings. How chic is that?
I can imagine sitting at table with her having the most fascinating conversation against a backdrop of sparkling crystal; flattering candlelight; crisp, embroidered linens (perhaps presented in her Fortuny napkin "rings"); gleaming heavy silver flatware; precious porcelain; exquisite floral arrangements -- at the proper height of course; all with a menu and wine that escapes my imagination.

It's always all about the details isn't it? Here a delicate layer of lace gives this pillow personality and presence.
Let me give you a few cadeaux from Betty Lou's book:
  • Supposedly, Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68) sent men trekking into the Alps for the expressed purpose of collecting snow for making flavored ice.
  • Catherine de Medici (1519-89) is credited with defining acceptable table manners at the French court. She also arrived from Italy with silver dinner forks in her luggage.
  • While we're on the subject of good manners at table: In Italy one does not twirl spaghetti on a tablespoon and in France one fills only one-third of a wine glass. (From my experience, an attentive host keeps the glass filled at that level most of the evening.)
  • The word "boudoir" comes from the French verb bouder, to sulk. Thus a boudoir is a room for sulking.
  • Louis XIV adored strawberries.
  • Louis XV's bathroom, legend has it, housed two copper soaking tubs. In one he would soap himself; in the other he would rinse off.
Another thing I love about perusing  Betty Lou's books, there is always something we can "take away." Aren't these sunflowers divine and the cluster of vases placed on a tray, in a tray a great idea? Details, details, details. . .
I'm simply teasing you with these references while, I hope, conveying the fact that The Allure of French and Italian Decor is a delightful melange of style and substance. We can learn something on every page from both the words and the pictures. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

THE RETURN: Episode V



Ed. Note: The brilliant, brilliant, brilliant Elizabeth L. Smith is back with the fifth chapter of her original -- just for us -- summer saga of love and intrigue. Obviously the story unfolds in Paris. If you have missed the first four installments, please click here, here, here and here. You really, really do not want to miss a word of her wonderful writing and what is evolving into a "sitting on the edge of our seats" story line. (I don't want it to end.)

The restaurant was so discrete that Caroline walked straight past the entrance and Alexis had to grab her arm to pull her towards the door.  She noticed navy blue gloss paint, polished brass plate and two beautifully manicured bay trees before being ushered into a sunny room where Alexis was clearly well known. 
They were shown to an impeccably snowy table, the waiters snapping open heavy linen napkins and conjuring two glasses of Kir Royale from thin air.  Caroline thought about that orange box, now stowed safely away by the emotionless maître d’, and decided to ask Alexis outright why he had summoned her.  She was too old for any games.  Even when she was younger, the unspoken courtly moves of relationships had left her bewildered.  And now here she was, feeling a little out of her depth and rather a lot confused. 
“OK, Alexis,” she began, the fortifying gulp of Kir Royale tickling her nose and throat, “why am I here and what’s happened to Annouk? How can I possibly be of assistance when I haven’t seen her in over quarter of a century?” 
Alexis looked at her gravely.  “Dear Caroline, always the practical one.  I had hoped to have this conversation after a good lunch, but clearly you need some answers.  It’s only fair.”  He took a deep breath.  “Do you remember Bastille Day?  The party we all went to that night?”
Was he joking?  Caroline looked at him steadily.  Did she remember?  That was the single most important night of her life, of course she remembered.  She nodded, frowning. 
Alexis shifted in his seat a little, and for the first time Caroline saw he was uncomfortable too.   He continued, “do you remember that Annouk left the party that night?  It was quite late and she had gone to a neighborhood I did not like.”
 Caroline didn’t really remember.  Annouk had always been a law unto herself, forever disappearing and turning up when she was ready.  She had reminded Caroline of a cat, twining seductively about to get what she wanted before darting off, untouchable and mysterious.  She took another belt of Kir.  “I don’t really remember Annouk leaving.  I certainly don’t know where she went that night.  It wasn’t the most important thing that happened.”  A prickle of embarrassment ran along the back of her neck.  She felt a little bit irritated that Alexis was harping on about something so irrelevant. 
            He took her hand briefly, his warm dry fingers clasping hers and squeezing briefly.   “We’ll get to that part in a moment.  The point is that I went after her and something very bad happened.  And now it has resurfaced and I need your help.”
 The waiter appeared and Alexis, distracted, shook his head and waved him away.  “Caroline, I need you to listen carefully and think very hard about that night.  I also lost touch with Annouk for a long, long time.  She was rebellious and I?”  He smiled ruefully.  “Well, au fond it appears I am as bourgeois as you are, ma chere Anglaise.  I went to the States and studied law.  I worked for the government and now I have a pretty successful practice in the financial sector.  And now,”  he closed his eyes briefly.  “I am invited at last before the nominating body and I want to become a judge.  First to serve my country and then, I hope, to Luxembourg, to the European Court of Justice.  You see?” 
Caroline shook her head.  “Not really.  How does Annouk figure in any of this?  Or me for that matter?”
“Because you have the power to save my life.  Dramatic, but true.  You see, Annouk contacted me from Morocco last month.  It’s been almost twenty years since I heard from her.  She has been there for years, she had some bad relationships, a couple of kids.”  He shrugged.  Caroline was intrigued.
 “So why did she contact you after all this time?”
 “Money.”  He suddenly looked very tired.  “She finally ran out of money and now she threatens to blackmail me.  It will be the end of my professional life.  Everything I worked for all those years.” 
“What could you possibly have done?”  Caroline leaned forward and lowered her voice.  “Blackmail is a very strong term.  Alexis, what did you do?”
He picked up the bread roll from his plate and pulled it to pieces with nervous fingers before finally meeting her eyes.  His voice was also low. 
“That night, Bastille Day, when I followed Annouk to les banlieues.  A terrible thing happened. I have tried not to think about it for many years.  My wife, my colleagues, my children, all of them are ignorant of this terrible thing I did.”
Caroline registered vaguely that he was married with children, but continued to look at him intently.  “Tell me.”

    “I killed a woman.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Packing: London/Paris



Who wouldn't want this Gucci dress in her closet -- sleeves and all. . .?
Ed. Note
: Another capsule to assuage our addiction. Janice is taking us from London to Paris or the reverse, in gray and beige -- season-less colors with her usual panache. For more high style, click here: The Vivienne Files.
Cardigan – 360 Sweater, pants – Jaeger, earrings – Pippa Small, Tee shirt – T by Alexander Wang, scarf – SUNO, grey bag – BCBG Max Azria, grey trench – Issey Miyake, flats – Vince Camuto

Sweater – Miu Miu, Silk blouse – Chloe, braceletBibi Bijoux, necklace – Kikke E KocciEarrings – Swarovski Elements, grey dress – Romwe, camel dress – Gucci, grey jeans – Paige Jeans, silver flats – Marc Jacobs, sunglasses – Stella McCartney, grey pumps – Salvatore Ferragamo




Monday, August 27, 2012

Apples and Oranges





Ed. Note: She has returned, my darling Marsi, with more value-added -- write down in a special notebook and save -- advice. When you get to the part about oranges, I can assure you it works. Must try the "apples" if I can find the ones she's talking about in France. . .

             You know me, devoted to bringing you the latest bits and bobs that have enriched my life, and hoping they might enrich yours as well. This week is no exception, with the bits and bobs coming at you in the form of apples and oranges.

First, your "apple."

Did you know you can clean suede without ruining it?

I have this beautiful little pair of Repetto ballet flats, fuchsia goat suede with a little black patent leather "mask" at the toe.

I'd worn them to death for about 18 solid months ... and then had to stop because they'd become too dirty for me to wear without embarrassing myself.

What does this have to do with apples? you're wondering.

Well, I'll tell you. Apple Brands (see? there it is!) makes a Suede and Nubuck Cleaner that completely lifted the schmutz from my delicate little shoes and left no stains or water marks behind.



As I laid out my shoes, cleaning cloths, sponge, a bowl of water, and this cleanser, I have to admit that I was nervous that I was about to ruin my very cutest shoes. On the other hand, they were too dirty to keep wearing, so what did I have to lose?

As it turned out, nothing! As I dabbed and blotted the diluted cleanser into the suede, I could see the dirt coming off, and when I woke up the next morning, the cleanser had dried without a trace. A quick brush lifted the nap, and I was good to go. What a wonderful discovery!

And now for your "orange" -- or I should say, orange blossom.



Victoria Frolova writes Bois de Jasmin, the best perfume blog on the Internet. She works in professional perfumery, which gives her an unparalleled technical background, and she has an evocative, haunting way of writing about fragrance that's a pleasure to read.

A couple of days ago, she wrote about Café Blanc, a beautiful Lebanese orange blossom drink I've been enjoying nightly ever since. It's so simple to make, and the taste and smell is gorgeous. According to Tish, orange blossom water has a soporific effect that, when taken at bedtime, will help you gear down and nod off.



One cup of hot water + 1 tablespoon orange blossom water.  
Add a touch of honey if you wish. 
Orange blossom water is very easy to find at Whole Foods (near the vanilla extract), Middle Eastern and Indian grocery shops, and some spice shops.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Next Week or La Semaine Prochaine



We have, thanks to more than a little help from my friends, a very exciting week ahead. I shall also be participating with a book review on the latest design tome of one of my very, very best friends, Betty Lou Phillips.

Also on the agenda:

1.) Another capsule wardrobe from Janice. I don't know about you, but I'm addicted.

2.) Episode Five -- the second to the last installment -- of our summer fiction series by Elizabeth Smith.

3.) A surprise post on an exceptionally talented French designer from an exceptionally talented blogger.  You'll see.

4.) My book review.

5.) And, another surprise. I have my fingers crossed, but I don't want to put too much pressure on her because she is planning a vacation to San Francisco. (You see, when she reads this she might feel guilty. . .) No, I would never do that to her. I love her too much.

And that's it my darling friends. I shall now get back to my chapters.

I hope you're having a lovely Sunday.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A French Country Weekend



Fresh figs.

This week my new fruit of the year 2012 and the same wish to accompany it, was lush, delicious and beautiful -- they were lovely to look at and scrumptious to eat -- fresh figs.

One large is 47 calories; one small is 30. I don't even know why I mention this. Who cares? According to various food sites they get a perfect grade "A" for all their nutritional benefits.

I spied several varieties of plums so they'll definitely go on my wish list.

Just finished making two bouquets of roses, one tone-on-tone salmons and corals; the other various nuances on yellow. It's time to do some serious dead-heading on the rose bushes.

Oh yes, also found two enormous zucchinis hidden beneath several gigantic leaves in the potager. I considered putting them next to Charlotte for a photo op to give you an idea of scale as in German shepherd versus zucchini, but she didn't quite understand my intention and wanted to get away from them as quickly as possible.

Weather report: windy, pleasantly warm, huge powder puff clouds against an azure sky -- just another beautiful day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Packing Paris/London


Black blouse – A.L.C., tee shirts – J. Crew, pearl jewelry – Kenneth Jay Lane, silk wrap skirt – Winter Kate, black & white loafers – Rachel Comey, pumps – Joan & David, beaded silk top – Theory, black dress – Wallis Fashion, black cardigan – Paul Smith, apricot silk blouse & pants – Chloe, scarves – Hermès, sunglasses – Oliver Peoples, ballet flats - Repetto









Ed. Note: In my haste, you will notice that I somehow messed up the layout. In a better late than never or, more to the point, I don't dare push too many buttons and loose this wonderful post from my divine friend Janice from, as you know, the magical Vivienne Files blog.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Romantic Weekend In Paris

A quirky blouse from Sonia Rykiel with the collar of the moment further establishing it's  fashion credentials.

Ed. Note: Another romantic weekend in Paris and another creative capsule wardrobe from the brilliant Janice of The Vivienne Files. She seems to have an infinite number of ideas and combinations. I'm constantly amazed, and, of course so very pleased to call her a friend.

Blouse – Matthew Williamson, earrings – 1928, suit – Alexander Wang, loafers – Rachel Comey, tote – Reed Krakoff

Dress – Vionnet, black cardigan/wrap – Rick Owens, bracelet – Mercedes Salazar, sandals – DKNY, robe – La Perla, lingerie – Stella McCartney

Blouse – Sonia Rykiel, earrings – Bloomingdales, suit – Alexander Wang, loafers – Rachel Comey, tote – Reed Krakoff

Monday, August 20, 2012

French Notes


The Marquise de Pompadour.
Ed. Note: Once again my darling Marsi is back. Today she is musing about France. She asks us what have we been doing lately that has us "in a French state of mind." Clearly, I'm living a French state of mind, but I thought I would answer her question more specifically. 

The other day I was talking with my brother-in-law, a curator at a major museum in the United States,  about paintings of Madame de Pompadour, thus the oeuvre above by François Boucher (ca. 1750) which hangs in the Louvre.

             Just sharing a few French things that've caught my eye this past week while summer winds down and we head into my favorite time of year ....

Farewell, My Queen


A behind-the-scenes look at the fall of Versailles, starring Diane Kruger as Queen Marie-Antoinette, Léa  Seydoux as her devoted servant Sidonie, and Virginie Ledoyen as her duchess friend Gabrielle de Polignac. Filmed on location at the Palace of Versailles, there's only one word to describe it: sumptuous.

Avibon


A precious friend supplied me with a tube of Avibon, a Vitamin A-rich ointment available in French pharmacies. Vitamin A is, of course, the skincare code word for "retinoid," which is used to treat everything from acne to wrinkles. Every night, I've been melting just the slightest dab of it between my fingertips, smiling in the mirror, and touching it gently to the outer corners of my eyes and into the smile lines that whisker toward my cheeks. It's super-moisturizing and feels so comfortable ... and yes, I think it's softening my lines.

Into a Paris Quartier


Two nights ago, I finished rereading Le Divorce, a favorite novel on the ways and means of Parisian society. Diane Johnson's vivid prose left me in awe. Now I'm moving onto one of her nonfiction works, Into a Paris Quartier: Reine Margot's Chapel and Other Haunts of St.-Germain. She brings the cobbled streets of St.-Germain to life through her enthralling research into its former habitués, such as d'Artagnan of the Three Musketeers and Queen Margot, among others. It stirs my imagination and makes me long to return to Paris (even more than usual).

Chanel Coromandel


Earlier this summer, I received a sample of Coromandel when I replenished my supply of Chanel No. 19 at the Chanel boutique in San Francisco ... and just fell tête over heels for its dark, sweet scrumptiousness. Coromandel's blend of incense, benzoin, and amber will be delicious for the cooler season right around the corner. I can't wait for the scent to haunt  my cashmere sweaters and wraps when I bundle up to keep winter's chill at bay.

I'd love to hear what you've been doing lately that's had you in a French state of mind. Tell me!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A French Country Weekend

Absolutely delicious fresh dates.
Wishing and hoping; hoping and wishing. . . My latest make-a-wish-upon-a-new-fruit choice was with fresh dates.

As you know, I've been told by French friends one should (must) make a wish on each new fruit we eat for the first time in a calendar year.
Dates, the way we normally see them (and many people eat them). Non, merci.
I really, really, really don't like dates. However, I really do like fresh dates. If you're not familiar with them, they're difficult to describe and I'm not even sure that the ones (three actually) I ate were ripe or not. They were hard, sweet, but not cloying, and didn't have that texture I find disagreeable in the super ripe dates that I can't bear to eat.

My wish is always the same.  I spied some luscious looking fresh figs for next week.

Weather report: Extremely hot, no air movement, lots of sun, drooping flowers, potager begging for water, just a normal August day.

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend, my darling amis.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If The Chaussure Fits. . .


Ed. Note: My great, great pal and brilliant writer, D.A. Wolf, is back today discussing, dissecting and appears also drooling over -- metaphorically speaking --  what can only be described as her shoe obsession. (She admits to it herself; it's an observation, not a judgement. I get it.) Do visit her chez elle, no matter what subject she addresses it's always with intelligence and great style. Please click here.


              I do not want a 12-step program. I do not need Shoe Shoppers Anonymous. I will admit to 50-some boxes of gorgeous shoes stacked in my closet, and yes, an assortment by the bookshelf, beneath the bed, and gathered around the living room sofa.  

My last few months? Stressful. My need for shoe therapy? Urgent! 

And no, these "Iron Fist" numbers are not shoes I would purchase. But they're cool, creative, and fun. Come on. Be honest. Doesn't their panache perk you right up?

So what if I melt for Manolos, languish over Louboutins, and ache for Angiolinis? When I’m down, I flip through Elle or Vogueand I gaze at shoes and feel better. If I can, I walk to the mall – and I try on shoes and feel better. Worst case? I open my closet door – and play dress up with my shoes - and you got it, I feel great!  

Now some may say I have a little problem. Others will never understand the Shoe Shopping Sisterhood. But I don't consider it anything unusual. After all, shoes - unlike clothes - always fit. And you know what they say... if the shoe fits, wear it! 

Autumn Preview 

My personal style? It's never been very "in your face." My whimsical tendencies are more likely to be expressed from the ankles down, with a preference for pumps and strappy stilettos. But I nonetheless appreciate shoe styles of all sorts, especially those that compliment a woman's foot as well as the shape of her legs. 

And now may I offer you Exhibit Number 1? In my search for therapeutic exploration, feast on this exquisite Kate Spade "Lisa" High Heel. It is flirty, girly, and with a hint of naughty. It has the perfectly pointed toe, sheer fabric sides, a coquettish bow... and when I tried these beauties on, quel plaisir. I felt as though I'd slipped my tootsies into fine lingerie, and the experience was sublime.


As for those harrowing heel heights that remain surprisingly prevalent (5” is no longer uncommon), even a footwear fashionista like myself rejects the prospects of a broken ankle. I wear everything from 2" to 3" routinely, 4" when I go out on the town, and I own only one pair of 5" platforms (surprisingly comfortable). I might also add that my true Achilles Heel is anything with graceful design that is well proportioned and easy to walk in.

Care to verify? Peek at these Kate Spade styles, and note the range of heels available. Good news for all of us, and I've noted this trend among many designers and price points.

Speaking of proportions, well-proportioned not only means the shoe, it means you. A tiny woman with gargantuan heels? Ridiculous. (That would be moi if I attempted anything clunky.) That means a No Go on the Monster Heels, but a taller or larger woman can carry off something more.

And now for Exhibit 2: These magnificent Stuart Weitzmans, and do pay attention to the colors.


Lest you think I don't realize that a 3" heel isn't workable for all women, I am delighted to report that my recent footwear forays offered every possible variation in height. I give you Exhibit 3 - Isaac Mizrahi's selection which is stylish but practical, with flats and chunky heels, houndstooth and animal prints, and touches of trims that will make you smile.


Exhibit 4 - Via Spiga is also showing remarkable variety in heel heights, from flats to 5" and more. Et les couleurs! The reds and blue-purples are fabulous!


And now I must digress. I was dumbstruck by these Brian Atwood metallic platform pumps, which an amicable sales person at Bloomingdale's most graciously agreed to model. This remarkable sparkling surface actually changes color in the light as you move - transforming from silver to gold and back again. Mesmerizing! Also, while the platform + heel yields 5.5" in height, these shoes are absolutely fantastic on a woman who is both tall enough and confident enough to carry them off. 

I give you Exhibit 5 - Brian Atwood's Platform Pump "Fontanne."

Goody Two Shoes

As you may have noticed, jewel tones pop at every turn - vibrant purples, cobalt and deep fuchsia, along with a range of reds, plum and burgundy, Bordeaux and oxblood, and delicious browns like espresso and chocolate.


Naturally, there are neutrals – black, gray, and luscious shades like cappuccino and cream - along with metallics for evening wear. Details continue to reflect our love affair with haute couture right down to our toes - and bows, bows, bows... and buttons, and lace.

I must give a nod to two bold beauties - Exhibit 6 (above) - Vince Camuto pumps in a deep blue-purple and Enzo Angiolini "Cimino" pumps in dark purple suede with an irresistible lacing detail on the heel. They're comfortable, stunning on the foot, and under $100. 

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Time for an educational tidbit?

I used to think that snazzy heels dated to the days of Marie Antoinette. (Poor girl. Don't want to be in her shoes.) But it turns out that Maria de Medici had a special pair of hauts talons designed for her in Florence in 1533, for her wedding to Henri II. Apparently, the trend took hold in France by 1580 - and no, I am not a Fine Footwear Historian. Not yet, anyway!

There she is, the gorgeous D.A. Wolf (left) with the lovely salesperson whom she told me was not only pretty, but also extremely sweet. I like her dress.
As is the case for millions of women - my best therapy is shoe therapy. I'm a happy camper when digging through the racks at Nordstrom's or, when I'm very lucky, managing to find myself in Paris in time for the summer soldes. And yes, of course, I delay gratification and shop those sales on both sides of the Atlantic!

But when I need to put my best foot forward - to look good and feel good - I make sure I'm in shoes that are comfortable and beautiful. I don't assume that the most fashionable options will be difficult to wear, nor too expensive for my budget. And I certainly don't worry about what others might find age appropriate.

After all, as with other fashion choices, isn't it all a matter of confidence?

A huge merci to Kim, Jeff, and the staff at Bloomingdale's who were extraordinarily gracious in assisting with this Shoe Therapy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Romantic Weekend In Paris

Diane Von Furstenberg, does it again.

Ed. Note: Janice, the genius behind The Vivienne Files, suggests we dabble in sunny yellow for a weekend in Paris. It's the last color I would think of, but as always she makes it irresistibly appealing.

Cross-body bag – Sam Edelman, tote bag – Debenhams, earrings – Irene Neuwirth, blazer - Stella McCartney, blouseRochas, pants – Michael Kors, ballet flats – Repetto

Dress – Diane Von Furstenberg, earrings – Coralia, wrap – Debenhams, pumps – Ralph Lauren, lingerie & robe – La Perla

Cross-body bag – Sam Edelman, tote bag – Debenhams, earrings & bracelet - 1928, blazer - Stella McCartney, blouse – Alice & Olivia, pants – Michael Kors, ballet flats – Repetto
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