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The Rose Garden May27

The Rose Garden

Over the years, the White House Rose Garden has played host to a number of distinguished guests and important events. From news conferences to weddings, it has functioned as a beautiful outdoor sanctuary for both the public, and private lives of the First Family. And because it sits on the West Wing, just outside of the Oval Office, it is often a private escape for the President. The garden was first established in 1913 (during Woodrow Wilson’s administration), but was most notably re-designed by Bunny Mellon – during the Kennedy years. I’ve been slowly making my way through Katharine Graham’s autobiography, and just came across a fun anecdote regarding Bunny Mellon and the re-design of the garden. In 1961, while summering on Cape Cod, Mellon hosted the Grahams, and President and Mrs. Kennedy to a picnic lunch on the beach. When they were out on their boat, according to Bunny, the Kennedys always lunched on “awful thick sandwiches and canned clam chowder,” so she felt that steamed clams and champagne would be more appropriate. …At lunch, we all sat around at small tables. The President and Bunny were alone at one, and it was then that he asked her, whose skill at landscape gardening was legendary, if she would redesign the garden outside his office window, complaining that people called the place a rose garden but there wasn’t a rose to be seen – that, in fact, there was nothing but crabgrass. Sometime later, when nothing had happened with the garden and Bunny was going through a receiving line at the White House, the President asked, “Where are the plans for my garden?” “Oh, Mr. President, I’ve been busy and I’ve been traveling. They are in my head but I haven’t had time to...

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Christian Louboutin Mar29

Christian Louboutin

Last week’s issue of The New Yorker has a fun profile on designer Christian Louboutin, his rapidly expanding empire, and those oh so ubiquitous red-soled shoes. In what could only have been a dream assignment, the author visited the designer in his home base of Paris, and was personally chauffeured around the city – on the back of his Vespa, no less. From opening his first store in 1991, to his current roster of four hundred twenty employees, and thirty-five stores in sixteen countries, Louboutin has always imbued his designs with a playfulness and humor. According to Hamish Bowles, the European editor-at-large for Vogue, “There’s the promise of something wicked in Christian’s shoes. They’re a little dangerous, and there’s a sense of teetering on the precipice between avoiding dreary conventional good taste and tumbling into something far more outrageous.” Christian Louboutin sells more than half a million pairs of shoes each year, and for prices ranging from three hundred and ninety-five to six thousand dollars. One of the company’s bigger sales in 2011, came from a woman at the Madison Avenue boutique – who spent fifty-five thousand dollars in less than thirty minutes! Then there are the private clients for whom he designs custom shoes – at a base price of four thousand dollars. Of course, the sky is the limit. At the request of a client in Hong Kong, Christian designed a pair with ruby encrusted soles. “Instead of working under armed protection, as the client wanted him to, Louboutin paved the soles in zircons and shipped them to Hong Kong, where the decoys were replaced with real gems.” While each of Christian Louboutin’s shoes is beautifully designed, and fashioned from the very best of materials – what is universal among them, and...

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The New Yorker Mar11

The New Yorker

When I was reading my New Yorker earlier this week, I came across a fabulously comical little anecdote – which is apropos, considering the subject of my previous post on Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels. Now, I don’t intend to employ said technique, but I do applaud the ingenuity! Paris, France, sometime in the nineteen-fifties. A woman walks into Van Cleef & Arpels and falls in love with a diamond necklace. It’s expensive – say, four hundred thousand francs. “Listen,” she tells the jeweller, “tomorrow I’m going to come with my husband. Tell him the price is half that. I promise I’ll pay in full.” The next day, she comes in with her husband and announces that she’s looking for a diamond necklace. The jeweller brings out the one she had picked. She pretends to fall in love with it for the first time, and the husband hands over a check for two hundred thousand francs. A few hours later, she returns the necklace. The following day, she comes back – this time with her lover. Same routine: she exults over the necklace; the jeweller sells it to the lover for two hundred thousand francs. The customer leaves with the necklace fully paid for. Everybody wins. Love...

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Amazing Grace Mar03

Amazing Grace

Over the years, I have amassed a rather impressive collection of design books (both vintage and new). One book that had managed to escape me, was the now infamous Grace Coddington tome – Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue. Only a limited number of books were printed, and over the years, copies had become more and more scarce. With the release of The September Issue a couple of years ago, Grace, the fabulously flame-haired Creative Director of Vogue, emerged as the star and hero of the documentary – gaining her even more of a cult following. A 2009 article in The New York Observer suggested that the London based publisher, Steidl, would issue a reprint – but nearly 18 months later, the publishing house has yet to release any information. Just recently, I managed to snag a nearly pristine copy of the book – and I will count it among my favorites! Grace started her Vogue career as a model, later becoming an Editor at British Vogue – and was brought to American Vogue in 1988 by Anna Wintour. Her thirty years at Vogue have now surpassed forty – and what a legend she is. Here’s a slideshow of Ms. Coddington – from her modeling days to the present....

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Apollo’s Angels Feb24

Apollo’s Angels

I’ve always been a one book at a time kind of guy, but lately I’ve been switching back and forth between several. The one about which I’ve been most excited, is Jennifer Homan’s “Apollo’s Angels – A History of Ballet” – which The New York Times Book Review named one of the 10 best books of 2010. I first heard about this book when the author appeared on Charlie Rose last December – in an engaging interview that was chock full of interesting tidbits. To my surprise, this is really the first book on the history of ballet – and even if you’re not a huge fan of dance, the history is fascinating. While the origins of the art form date back to 15th century Italy, ballet, as we know it, really began in France – in the court of Louis XIV. Apollo’s Angels The Sun King (Le Roi Soleil), as he was known, was positively fixated on etiquette – and thus, ballet was born as an aristocratic, social dance – performed by kings and noblemen. It was in his court that the basic steps (the 5 positions) were first codified. According to Homans, the same symmetry and formal aesthetic that can be found in the gardens at Versailles, were imprinted in the dances at court. So while an aristocratic form of expression, early ballet was also strictly a male art. Louis XIV, himself, performed a now famous dance, known as The Ballet of the Night in 1653 – where he portrayed the Sun King, Apollo. Louis XIV as Apollo In essence, ballet, at this time, was a political art – part of the garish spectacle of the French state. Somehow it managed to survive the French Revolution – but in doing so, was reborn as a...