Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Savoir Faire in New York

I see that even smoking could have been stylish when perched atop Rockerfeller Plaza in New York at night coutesy of BOAC. Works even better if you have been drawn by a graphic artist who can capture the moment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sling Time In Singapore

As a lot of you already know, I am a gin man, with gin and tonic being a favourite drink along with the recently discovered gin based Negroni. If the Negroni was the drink of la dolce vita, the Gin Sling (or Singapore Sling) was the drink of the era of colonialism while sitting at the Long Bar in Raffles. I remember my first Singapore Sling at the oh so terribly adult age of 16, sitting down for cocktails before dinner on the roof of the Singapore Hilton around the swimming pool with the lights of Singapore spread out below. I felt so grown up and sophisticated, thinking that this was one of the most divine things I had ever drunk.

The original Singapore Sling was created sometime between 1910 and 1915 in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, that fabled outpost of the Empire in Singapore. Even today a trip to Singapore must include a visit to Raffles. Again I remember, this time when I was around 14, and not alowed to partake so to speak, my parents sitting down in Palm Court of Raffles having a Singapore Sling. The guest list of Raffles reads like a who’s who of famous people, with Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling crossing its famous lobby. Set in tropical gardens, the hotel was a British oasis in an all too unfamiliar Asian world.
Unfortunately the original recipe was lost in the 1920,s however here is what I consider the best.
1 1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Herring
1/4 ounce Cointreau

1/4 ounce Benedictine

4 ounce pineapple juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/3 ounce grenadine

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Garnish: Cherry and slice of pineapple
Shake with ice. Strain into an ice filled Collins glass.

So, now you don’t have to trek all the way to Raffles to have one ( however I urge you to), you can create one at home, sit underneath or next to the potted palm on the terrace or patio, and think of England!

PS. Fly Singapore Airlines where the drink is available free in all classes, even in Row55!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marquesa Luisa Casati

I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario the other day, and had forgotten that they possessed a portrait of the fabled Marquesa Luisa Casati, by Augustus John.

At the beginning of the twentieth century right through until the late 1930’s, she was one of the most recognizable and exotic creatures in European society. Like a whirling dervish she rushed headlong into society, inspiring and maybe even frightening all of whom she came into contact with, whether it be couturiers such as Schiaparelli, authors like Proust or artists like Augustus John.

Maybe it was her appearance that left all she encountered quivering in her wake? Tall and thin, with an almost deathlike pallor to her skin, which was topped off with the reddest hair that anyone had ever seen. Large green eyes that bewitched were crowned with immense false eyelashes and the thickest lines of kohl ever seen since Cleopatra. It was even said that she added belladonna to these so that they glittered like emeralds, so that they were even more enticing.
Asked to dine with her and you could have been seated next to a bizarre wax mannequin, said to contain the ashes of a past love, while you were waited upon by nude servants only attired in gold leaf. Animals were an accessory to be worn and paraded around like the panthers and cheetahs she parade around Paris on diamond studded leads, or the live snakes she wore as jewellery.

Like Madame Rubinstein, she is perhaps one of the most artistically represented women of the twentieth century. Painted by artists such as August John, Kees Van Dongen and countless others. If you were a photographer you also didn’t escape her clutches, as Man Ray and Cecil Beaton found out! Today she still inspires the same groups of people sh e did in her lifetime. John Galliano for Dior devoted a whole collection to her.

Unfortunately with all this excess she went from being one of the richest women in Europe to dying in relative obscurity and poverty in London in 1957. It was even said that right up to the end she was sometimes spotted rummaging through garbage bins in search of feathers for her hair.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Calling All Gentlemen!

Gentleman, here are two fragrances that epitomize the art of being a gentleman, something that seems to be lost in this modern day and age. Wear both of these and seriously strangers will stop you in the street and ask you what you are wearing. However there is some good and bad news. Try and find a bottle of Yardley Gentleman eau de toilette and you might as well start searching for the Holy Grail while you are at it. Givenchy Gentleman on the other hand while readily available is a shadow of its original self originally launched in 1975.
Yardley Gentleman is one of the finest, most under-rated fragrances around. It has been unfairly maligned and is not for everyone. However if you can try it you will have an almost religious experience Apply lightly, maybe two spritzes administered as a mist from almost arms-length. It is just slightly "old world" reflecting the charm of Yardley which has been in business for over 300 years. It is a wonderful mixture of Grapefruit, Cinnamon, Bergamot, Cloves, Cederwood, Sandalwood and Vetiver.

This is a hidden classic, blatantly British, not worn by many others, that is going to be loved by those in close proximity to you, and strangers alike.
Givenchy Gentleman is timeless, determined, sophisticated and will be an instant hit with your adoring public. People will stop you with this one and ask “What are you wearing?” Like a true gentleman you will tell them. However if you don’t like patchouli stay away!

It is very complex with notes of Tarragon, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Vetiver, Russian Leather and Civet. Don’t be put off as to the civet content, as this it what makes it so wonderful. Did I say complex? This is one of the most interesting fragrances around, and there is always something in it which you can never put your finger on.
Who says being a Gentleman is passé? Wear these two and you will be one!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

a la Lambada

Ever wanted to know how the jet-set lives or what they are up to these days. Some say that the phenomena of the jet-set as a culture faded with the advent of cheap airline travel back in the early seventies. Wrong! It lives on in the art of Jordi Lambada of Spain.

Wallpaper which is one of my favourite magazines, can (I believe) be responsible for Jordi’s big break. I think one of the reasons why I only bought the magazine was for his illustrations within, which invariably included a full page as the very last thing in the magazine.

Through his illustrations we have a glimpse in to what the “bright young things” are doing these days, where they are going and what they are wearing. There is a definite retro flair in his work, which combines elements of sexual ambiguity, politics, cheekiness and savoir faire.

Hip bars, embassy parties, streetscenes, exotic pool side locations are all illustrated in a sophisticated style. Bright young things are seen in bars and restaurants enjoying the good life and society matrons (perhaps left over from the real jet set) are seen also, glasses of champagne in hand, being the life of the party.

Sexual ambiguity runs rife, which leaves us guessing to the character’s sexual orientation.

Occassionally a political undertone creeps in, such as the guard with a machine gun outside a gate, which is by no means threatening, but treated with a sense of playful flirting.

One of my favourite commercial artists, so get inspired, raise a glass of champagne, imagine yourself a la Lambada enjoying the good life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Aqua Mirabilis

We have all seen it, heard about it and maybe even smelt it, but do we really appreciate this elixir of life, this magic potion all wrapped up in the ubiquitous gold and blue bottle which it was said Napoleon doused himself in a bottle every day!

Long before eau de cologne became a plethora of anything in a bottle that was weaker than eau de toilette, there was 4711! This is a scent like none other that includes various elements of a man of God, Royalty, Popes and pop stars.

Legend has it that a Carthusian monk who because of persecution had taken refuge with one of Cologne’s wealthiest families (the Mulheses) and as a token of gratitude gave their son a wedding gift of a parchment scroll inscribed with the recipe for an elixir known as Aqua Mirabilis because of its healing powers. And miracle water it is! Thanks to the French occupation of Cologne in 1794 and a new street numbering system we now have 4711.

Napoleon was not the only one was aware of this miracle water; Goethe, Wagner and Dostoyevsky were avid wearers. It won awards from Moscow to Melbourne, and the bottle has been de rigueur on dressing tables ever since.

In an era when we have seen the rise and fall of everything from Brut 33 to Old Spice this one is a stayer. This could be due to fact that not only is it a perfume but a refresher. Feeling wan? A few drops on a handkerchief will instantly revive you. Hot summer’s day outside a few spritzes of this and you can face the world. Need an antiseptic in a hurry? You guessed it, 4711. Each year I participate in a bike rally that cycles 600kms between Toronto to Montreal, and you guessed it! In my repair kit with my spanners, tubes and pump is a bottle of 4711! A couple of sprays and instant refreshment takes over!

The ingredients are still top secret over 200 years later, but I can tell you that Bergamot, Lemon, Neroli, Orange, Petigrain, Rosemary, Rose and Musk all play a part. Read any herb book and most of these are known for their healing and refreshing properties.

So all stock up summer is on its way! Don’t leave it on your dressing table or bathroom shelf! Carry it with you, spritz frequently and know that you and Napoleon have something in common!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Savoir Faire with Pluck

Early one morning 1964, three burglars entered Madame Helena Rubinstein’s Manhattan apartment while she was still in bed and demanded her jewelry collection, which was reputed to be valued at over one million dollars. First of all the intruders would have been amazed at Madame Rubinstein’s lucite furnitured bedroom. Long before Philip Stark made the ghost chair famous, Rubinstein had a whole room of the stuff. This included an illuminated bed specially made that would fit her short frame. Over ninety years old, Rubinstein refused, saying they could shoot her. Unnerved, the robbers left with only $200 in cash, which one of them had found in her handbag. With her quick wit and just plain courage she told two of the burglars that they had better make sure that they got their share of the $200.

Three hours later Madame, emerged from the building immaculately attired in Balenciaga, a Hermes scarf tied around the handle of her handbag and one of her signature bowler hats on her head and headed off for a day at the office. Mind you this was only after driving around the block in her limousine to compose herself. Still you have to admire her courage and her savoir faire as any other 93 year old would have probably died of fright when confronted with 3 gun wielding intruders or emerged still clad in their housecoat, too upset to do anything let alone spend a day at the office! Though I have no photo of this, below is an example of how she would have been dressed

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tehran - Au go go

One of my favourite restaurants here in Toronto is Banu on Queen Street West. To most people, tell them you are going to an Iranian restaurant for dinner and they will probably beg you not to ask them to accompany you. Images of shwarma and dona kebabs are probably flashing through their minds while their throats are becoming parched with the thought of not being able to indulge in an alcoholic beverage of some sort. However tell them that you are going to Banu and they will beg to be taken along.

They call themselves Banu – Iranian Kabob Vodka Bar and it does not disappoint. Walk in to this average sized restaurant and all your preconceived notions of what an Iranian restaurant should look like, might as well be left in the trash can on the street. Here is a sleek modern interior that gives you a feel of what a hip nightclub/restaurant would have been like in pre-revolutionary Tehran. There is definitely a retro 70’s vibe to the place. Dark hardwood floors highlight the low white leather chairs and banquettes that are used for seating. They are islands floating in space surrounding wonderful turquoise tilled top tables. The walls decorated with wonderful teal blue arabesques similar to what I have seen in the coffee shop at the Nile Hilton in Cairo.

The menu doesn’t disappoint either. Who would have thought that a normal kabob could taste so good with melt in your mouth organic meats and the freshest flavours that you have ever experienced. After taking your first bite of several menu items accompanied with the fresh basil and mint that are provided, you are in culinary heaven. Don’t let the inclusion of several items from dubious parts of an animal’s body put you off, as I believe they are an integral part of the cuisine and have been sometimes unavailable attesting to their popularity.

Again think Iranian restaurant and you would be forgiven that it is going to be a dry evening with nothing but juices or water to indulge in. Wrong again! Twenty-five different vodkas on offer! Not being a vodka drinker, I am sure that the vodka aficionado has probably thought that they have died and gone to heaven after reading the list. However, don’t despair if you don’t drink vodka, there is a small but comprehensive wine list that pairs perfectly with the menu.

So if someone asks you to Banu, GO! Raise your glass and eat your kabob and feel part of the jet set!

Friday, April 3, 2009

La Dolce Vita in a Glass

Ok, I am over all the hype that Martinis have garnered over the last couple of years with Martini Bars springing up in all the world capitals and then being bastardized so that the drink is no longer recognizable. I am a purist at heart and like my martinis pure. Lots of ice-cold gin, just a sniff of vermouth and a twist of lemon.

I am a gin and tonic man, so was rather intrigued when reading ‘The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone’ by Tennessee Williams that all were drinking Negronis which I had not heard of. So after a bit of research I find that the cocktail combines all my favourites in a tantalizing concoction that will take you right back to the ‘la dolce vita’ of Rome in the 50’s

According to the most popular story, the Negroni was invented in Florence in 1919, at Caffè Casoni, It was named for Count Camillo Negroni, the man who invented it by asking a bartender to add gin to the Americano, his favorite drink.

So here is the recipe
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth

Combine all ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Shake until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a burnt orange. To make a burnt orange, cut about a 1 1/2 inch by 1 inch peel off a ripe navel orange. Be sure to get just the skin and as little of the pith as possible. Holding the orange peel between thumb and index fingers with skin facing out, hold a lit match over the glass and with the orange peel about an inch away from the flame squeeze the peel quickly and firmly between your fingers. When done correctly, a burst of flame will come from the oils being released from the peel leaving an aroma and adding a note of orange to the cocktail. Simply drop the twist in the drink.

So lets drink to summer with a negroni in hand and ‘la dolce vita’ on our minds!

Some Style we Cannot do Without!

Bronwen Pugh, top model of the late 1950’s, the daughter of a Knight of the Realm, the muse of Pierre Balmain here was a girl who just reeked savoir faire!

Once described as "that Welsh girl who slinks along the runway with a fur over her shoulder looking as though she's just killed it and is taking it home to her mate" she gave it all up in 1960 to become Lady Astor. Enough said!

Take Me to The Hilton

The Hilton please, of course Sir! When arriving at Cairo’s International Airport in the 60’s and 70’s, hop into a taxi and ask for the Hilton and there would be no question as to where you wanted to go. Of course there were other hotels in Cairo, just as famous but anyone who was anybody stayed at the Nile Hilton. Shepheards had burnt to the ground previously and the new Shepheards was struggling to regain its former glory. The Semiramis was looking old and tired around the edges and The Mena House was in a different class of its own.

What Cairo needed was an American style mega hotel and Conrad Hilton was just the person to deliver it. The new hotel was dominant in its location on the banks of the Nile, scale, whiteness and extraordinary in its modernity. The site was prime real estate in Cairo. The front of the building facing the Nile on the Corniche and the back of the building overlooking Freedom Square and the Egyptian Museum. The façade facing the Nile was a gleaming edifice of white, with an unbroken grid like pattern that was formed by the balconies of each room overlooking the Nile. The back of the hotel’s façade was similar to the front however this time we had the grid pattern interrupted by service stairs and elevator shafts. Surrounding the hotel was a wonderful multicoloured glass mosaic (now obscured by an ugly conference centre), representing the symbols of Ancient Egypt, in colours that would make Tutankhamen jealous. This was a building of stark modernity that contrasted heavily with the belle époque and Moorish style buildings that predominated Cairo. To cap it all off on the top of the building a sign proclaiming Hilton’s ownership, that has now become an icon.

Interior wise Ancient Egypt came to life with a modern glamorous twist. The lobby was dominated with a huge stone bas relief displaying an ancient hunting scene that was cast from an original in the Egyptian Museum. Small replicas adorned the walls of each guest room. A stylized lotus pattern was used on the fabrics that adorned the rooms and were represented in the main coffee shop painted on the walls in a fabulous teal colour. A friend of mine who stayed in the late 60’s can remember shag pile so deep you could lose a shoe in it.

This was an era of stark contrasts. Guests displayed themselves on the open balconies above a city in which the normal populous would remain behind closed doors. You could sit on one’s balcony after an excursion out to the pyramids and then marvel at where you had just been, while being attended to by an Arab waiter.

Sadly this is the end of an era. The Hilton has now closed and Ritz Carlton has taken over the management contract, and will completely refurbish the hotel. This could and probably will go horribly wrong. I just hope that Ritz Carlton will maintain the integrity of the original building and all it stands for.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ralph Rucci - Haute Couture American Style

Fashion Television can be a bit hit and miss, similar to H&M. Occasionally a real gem will pop up and you are not sure how you had previously done without it. Some of the time it seems that there are reports on everything else except fashion!

The other day I discovered a real gem; Chado Ralph Rucci, designed by Ralph Rucci, with the name chado coming from the Japanese word for tea ceremony, translating to an attention to detail and simplicity. After doing a bit of research, I also discovered that Ralph Rucci has been the first American since Mainbocher in the 1930’s invited to Paris to the Haute Couture shows.

Judging by his last ready to wear collection for Fall/Winter 2009, the invitation to the haute couture showings in Paris is justified. Models paraded down the catwalk in exquisitely cut clothes, that were not only easy to wear, but stunning in their conception. Although a rather somber collection, devoid of colour except for a few exceptions, the clothes were beautiful. They had a hard geometric edge, which was disconcerting at first, but then taken into context on the model’s body, the outfits metamorpasized
into feminine outfits without the frills and the bows that other designers rely on for femininity.

Techniques used were brilliant. The seamless transitions from hard wools to transparent chiffons as in the dress below, left one wondering how they were achieved by mere mortals.

Some outfits had an almost Balenciaga feel about them, from a time when Balenciaga himself ruled Paris fashion in the 50’s and 60’s. The barrel shaped jacket on the suit below although looking deceptively simple, would have taken hours of calculation to get just right.

Evening wear flowed and moved with the wearer creating a wonderful picture of pattern and texture. Flowing chiffons were screen printed with sculpture from the ancient world that came to life when the model walked down the catwalk.

All in all a fabulous collection, with very few outfits that I didn’t like, that crosses the bridge between pret a porter and haute couture, with very little effort.

The Art of Perfume Advertising

Nowadays when we see an advertisement for a perfume or cologne it is invariably a photograph using sex as the main tool to sell the fragrance. ‘Photograph’ being the key word here, shows how advertising has evolved and changed through the decades. It was once common practice for the fragrance houses and couturiers to employ leading artists such as Dali and Cocteau to illustrate their advertising campaigns for the fragrances they wished to sell. Some artists who might otherwise have remained unknown gained their fame through this form of exposure.

Photographs and fragrance advertisements go hand in hand today as the main means of getting the maker’s message across. However nowadays there are no longer the nuances of a particular artist’s style that we can recognize and immediately associate with a particular fragrance or fragrance house. An advertisement for Davidoff could just as well be promoting Calvin Klein and the only way we can differentiate is with the written word that appears on the copy, or sometimes a picture of the fragrance itself. This is not to say that photographic advertising is a bad thing. There have been some truly memorable and brilliant ad campaigns created that have stood out and have proved marketing goldmines for the companies involved. Our tastes and markets have changed over the years. The demographics have become younger with a more disposable income and fragrance is more accessible than what it was in our mother’s day, hence a more generic approach in getting the message across.

On the other hand see a Vertes drawing in a magazine and we immediately associated it with Schiaparelli, Gruau with Dior and Cassandre for Lelong. There are a lot of unknown artists who were employed, whose names we do not know, but we can instantly recognize the campaigns.

Artists didn’t use sex to represent the perfume, the ads themselves were sexy! Rene Gruau for Dior was a master of this. One of the first ads for Miss Dior shows an elegant woman’s hand resting on a leopard’s paw and that was it! Sexy in the fact that that is all we see and who knows what was deduced from this? Wear Miss Dior and you can beat the savage beast into submission? And then there are his men in the Eau Sauvage ads also for Dior. We see a man from behind naked shaving in a mirror; we see his face and half a buttock. He is slim and lithe (not the current beefcake represented today) and boy does he look sexy! Also Gruau’s afro coiffed man for another Eau Sauvage ad in the 70’s, sexy in the fact that this man is indicative to the era he was conceived in.

Gruau was rather prolific and also created successful ad campaigns for Lucien Lelong and Pierre Balmain. He was constantly changing his approach although his style was always recognizable. There is a span of almost 30 years between the Lelong and Balmain ads below, however they both convey different messages but we can still recognize them as coming from the same hand.

Vertes’ illustrations for the Schiaparelli perfumes are also instantly recognizable and we immediately associate the two names together. A sailor sitting on a park bench embracing a bottle of the perfume shaped like a woman’s torso, gives us a lighthearted flippant approach with surrealist undertones.

Another series for Lelong by Cassandre used two distinct methods in the same drawing to promote the perfume house. Ads were composed of a line drawing of a female head and then a detailed botanical study of various plants. Even though done over 50 years ago they remain fresh and relevant today.
The ads for Le Galion for their different fragrances over the years were instantly recogniseable as coming from Le Galion.

If we were to buy one of Lanvin’s perfumes in the 50’s based on the advertising we were buying a part of Paris itself as the artist used everyday street scenes of the era to get the message across.
Are the ads better? Well that is a matter of opinion. In my opinion they are. Only a few times have I come across an ad using a photograph that has made an impression.
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