Friday, January 28, 2011

Le Cafe Rive Gauche en Paquebot France

Continuing on our tour of the public spaces we are moving down to Tourist Class to the Tourist Class Smoking Room (Café Rive Gauche). Candidly Tourist Class on French Line Liners was referred to as the Rive Gauche or left bank. However travelling Tourist class did not mean that you were going to forsake any of the pleasures that were obtained by not travelling First. The fact that over 28 different designers were used for the interior spaces of the liner, it is debatable that one class (especially where the public salons are concerned) was more luxurious than the other.

A word of note here originally First and Tourist class public rooms were known as just that, First Class Salon, Tourist Class Salon etc. However after a cruise where the ship was converted to one class cruising the French Line were rather embarrassed when a lady passenger asked directions to the Dining Salon. The ever obliging and socially correct steward answered said passenger with the question “First or Tourist?” Said passenger was mortified as she was under the impression that the ship was a one class ship (all First). With true French diplomacy the French line changed all the names of the public spaces to the names mentioned from hereon to avoid any further confusion.

Remember my disappointment with a very well known maritime historian and his book on this wonderful ship? He practically did not even mention this wonderful room! He did enclose a photograph, however without a description, commenting that the interior looked like a movie set.

From a decorative point of view this was perhaps one of the most adventurous rooms on the liner. Taking on a rather hard utilitarian and mechanical feel to due to the nature of the furnishings it came to life with a wonderful colour pallet.

Designed overall by Micheline Wellemetz the decor consisted of aluminium sheets embossed with warm lacquering set around a dance floor. This was in total contrast to the First Class equivalent, Salon Riviera.

The room was quite large, just over 500 metres square, however was broken up into smaller areas by screens and furniture to encourage passengers to socialize in more intimate settings.

Whereas the Salon Riviera was done in cool shades of grey and muted other colours with highlights of black, the Café Rive Gauche had a much warmer pallet of browns and ochres, offset with furniture upholstered in total contrast with blues and greens.

As in the Salon Riviera and other public spaces on the France a huge tapestry by Jean-Denis Malcles entittled "les Arlequins, Peinture" dominated the room, this time being behind the bandstand and the dance floor. I am glad that the France was full of such tapestries as not only did they give the rooms a textural quality they were also meant to showcase one of the great handicrafts of France.

Once our passengers who were reduced so in circumstances to have travel in Tourist Class did the room come to life!

Don your dinner jackets gentlemen and ladies your evening dresses and jewelery as next stop on our tour will be the First Class Dining Salon, la Salle a Manger , Chambord!

Le Style Paquebot France

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.
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