Friday, January 28, 2011
Most of you know Savoir Faire’s obsession with the great ocean liners. Now, I don’t mean the travesties that are taking to the seas these days in the guise of cruise ships. These are big monstrous affairs with all the trappings of a Las Vegas world on water. Even the latest from Cunard, are not any match for the once grand ships of state that crossed the Atlantic up until the mid 1970’s. The death knell for these liners came swiftly with rising fuel costs and the advent of the Boeing 747. One of the Holy Grails of Savoir Faire’s obsessions is Compagnie Generale Transatlantique's (CGT, or French Line) SS. France of 1962. I recently bought a book on the liner by a very well known maritime historian, who panned the interiors of this magnificent ship. Needless to say I was disappointed with said historian’s critique, who seemed to prefer the liner’s later incarnation as the SS. Norway which if I may say so were the forerunner to the tacky interiors of cruise ships today. In my opinion the interiors were a tour de force in modern French design. These interiors were for refined palettes who could look beyond the whole effect and appreciate each individual aspect of the décor for the superb design aesthetic contained within. The décor of the rooms was regarded itself as art, with many notable French designers and artists commissioned to create the most striking spaces at sea. To compliment this, many pieces of artwork were especially ordered from leading artists to adorn the walls of the public spaces and passenger accommodations. Even though the product of different designers the main objective here was to depart from the heavy stodgy interiors of liners that prevailed at the time. Grand vistas and double deck height rooms were a thing of the past due to new fire regulations at the time, so designers had to make the most use of space to give the illusion of space and height. As of consequence furniture makes the most of use of line and is very streamlined in approach. Aboard no other ship was Gallic Magic more evident. Bon Voyage bouquets were elaborate, bottles of champagne more abundant and there was always just the slightest scent of perfume in the air. In place of this stodginess were thousands of meters of decorated plexiglass and hand-woven abstract tapestries. By night anodized walls took on a warm glow, modern tapestries shimmered with jewel like magnificence and due to the special lighting women’s shoulders gleamed like alabaster. I am going to indulge myself (isn’t that what blogging is about?) and do a whole week’s worth of postings on the fabulous interiors of this liner, in spite of said maritime historian’s opinions. I would also like my readers to think outside the box of interior design for public spaces as it appears nowadays and how design was used on a national scale to promote the best a country had to offer. Hopefully I might convert a few of Savoir Faire’s followers! Each day will be concentrating on a particular room or series of rooms, so let our tour begin! One of the main showpieces of the First Class salons was the Smoking Room (Salon Riviera). Two stories high, with a raised section in the centre flanked by large columns, and double-height windows to port and starboard, the room was one of the most imposing aboard the ship. The overall interior and furniture was designed by Andre Arbus one of France’s leading designers (The Rhulmann of his time) who had worked previously on other French Line liners. Typical Arbus furniture was constructed out of lightweight metals making the most of the shape of the room and upholstered in fine leathers. Done in muted greys and solid blacks with highlights of bronze and silver, the furniture was custom made to fit shapes of walls and bulkheads. Within the Salon Riviera a tapestry by Jean Picart le Doux, "Les Phases du Temps" dominated the entire forward wall. Again this was representative of the artist’s style. Two paintings by Roger Chapelain-Midy, "Nature Morte au Heron" and "Nature Morte au Faisan" occupied niches in opposite corners to the aft, next to the doors leading to an outdoor terrace. Overall the room was a tour de force of modern French design, which shone by day in brilliant sunlight and shimmered by night. Over the next couple of days we will be exploring some of the other fabulous salons of this fabulous ship.