Tuesday, June 30, 2009

21st Century Savoir Faire

Should I be waxing lyrical about a strikingly modern interior that seems devoid of any sort of ornamentation when it is located in a highly ornate Victorian shopping arcade? YES!

Sydney’s Strand Arcade is a veritable institution of all that is Victorian. It is a wonderful place of high Victorian ambiance in a very modern Sydney. Once Sydney’s downtown core offered a profusion of this style of arcade, however sadly all are gone except The Strand. You can walk through and escape to another era, while feasting upon a wonderful array of retailers.

One retailer stands alone in the Strand and that is Aesop’s new flagship boutique. This is an incredibly stark modern space; however it goes far beyond that. Walk in from the highly ornate space that is the Strand, right into the 21st Century. However this is the 21st century with intimacy. You have to look beyond the overall design to see the subtle details that make this a warm and inviting place, which fits in perfectly with Aesop’s design aesthetic.

Forgoing decoration of any sort, the product itself is the decoration. Line upon line of product on curved shelves creates a piece of art which is constantly changing when product is removed or added by customers and employees. The wall of product has rhythmic quality that although very linear draws the eye in. The subdued lighting softens the hard white porcelain of the sinks and makes them extremely personal.

So next time I am back in Sydney, I know where I am headed, for a visit.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some Friday Savoir Faire

For those of you that might be jetting off to somwhere glamorous this weekend, do it in style with at least one of the airlines below.

Fragrant Savoir Faire

Not long ago I blogged on my top twelve men’s fragrances. Now fragrance/perfume is such a fickle thing, with something being in vogue one year and then out the next. Sadly some of the perfume masterpieces of the last 50 years or so, which continued to top the best selling lists, are just shadows of their former selves or no longer available. These were masterpieces and classics. It is a fine line branding something a classic as the boundaries are always changing. These days, is something judged a classic because it sells or do we look further than that into the product itself dissecting it and then judging whether it is a classic or not.

Savoir Faire promotes finding one’s individual style and going with it. Setting yourself apart from the crowd with your own individual signature, and so should fragrance be a signature. One of my girlfriends used to raid my colognes and after shaves and a bottle of Monsieur Lanvin would disappear in the blink of an eye. She was incredibly feminine and once she sprayed herself with the said Lanvin, she would have men falling at her feet.

So not only is the following list for the ladies, it is also for you gentleman. I wear or have worn all of the following at some stage or another, and love them. Don’t be put off by the fact these are ‘women’s’ perfumes as ‘men’s’ colognes are perfumes with just different notes than women’s.

Here are some of my top perfumes which I think translate and work quite well on a man, taking on entirely different characteristics than if they were worn by a lady. As usual with the classics of yesteryear not all readily available, but out there!

Vivre by Molyneux
Shocking by Schiaparelli
Chanel No 19 by Chanel

Miss Dior by Christian Dior

Ma Griffe by Carven

L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci

Je Reviens by Worth

Givenchy III by Givenchy

Diorella by Christian Dior

Cabochard by Gres

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Savoir Faire With a Conscience

You can be forgiven at times for thinking that going green, volunteering, or buying Fair Trade does not enter the realms of Savoir Faire, and that a sacrifice of style is necessary if we are to follow any of these practices. Fear not style mavericks it is not so!

Each week I volunteer at one of the Ten Thousand Villages locations here in Toronto and have been doing so for close on 5 years. For those of you that don’t know Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit fair trade organization that markets handcrafted products made by disadvantaged artisans from more than 120 artisan groups in 35 countries.

So now to the crunch! Ok, so a lot of the stuff that they do stock is not to my taste, however a few gems can be found if you want some savoir faire with a conscience.

For that summer cocktail that deserves a low ball while sitting outside on your terrace, glass-blowing, basketry, and innovative recycling have come together by way of Bangladesh.

Two salad items that I can’ live without are below, come to us by way of Vietnam. Salad Servers are reclaimed buffalo horn (I know what you are thinking, however nothing has died to make these)

Then to go with your salad servers the below bamboo bowl again fro Vietnam. Doubles as salad bowl or fruit bowl, who would have guessed, two uses for the price of one!

For the girls there is the fabulous cuff bracelet below from India, worn with the right frock this oozes jet set glamour.

For Ambience on the terrace at night, I just love these metalwork candle holders also from India.

Also now that we have to pay 5 cents for plastic bags here in Toronto from our favourite purveyors, be green and stylish at the same time with the below jute bag from Bangladesh.

So visit a store and I am sure you will find something you will like, only if it is a pack of the best coffee ever!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interior Savoir Faire from Down Under

A few of you have probably heard the name Marion Hall Best (1905 – 1988) and I am sure the majority of you haven’t. However here is a woman who ranks among the greats of interior design of the mid 1960’s. Dare say I put her in the same class as the late great David Hicks? Yes I do, as I can see that maybe they had both influenced each other over the decade, borrowing ideas from each other to create dazzling interiors that had a lot of simililarty. She was even called “the High Priestess of the Avant-Garde”.

Born in Dubbo of all places, (I grew up not far from Dubbo. Dubbo is a mid sized country city in Australia, however in 1905 it was one step up from being a backwater) in 1905 she went on to become the founder of Australian Interior design, and the local arbiter of the latest style the world had to offer in the 1960’s, as well as promoting home grown talent. Her Sydney shop became internationally famous as one of the places where one could go and be immersed in the latest interior design trends. She stocked fabrics from Marimekko, glassware from Kosta Boda, wallpapers from Nobilis and Follot, furniture from Saarinen, Bertoia and Eames, giving the Australian public (who could afford it) a virtual Aladdin’s cave of great design and international savoir faire.
She despised the drab, post war world of safe beiges and subdued colours, instead creating interiors that were dazzling in their use of colour and execution. Vivid yellows, blues and greens competed with shocking pink glazes and white modernist furniture. Her creative use of colour and innovative designs were not to the taste of everyone, with her design for the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Sydney being redone by another designer within 18 months of her original commission. She herself wrote: “I used to cry about it… they said ‘Marion puts spinach in the paint’. I was terribly hurt, but never doubted what I was doing”. I am glad she didn’t doubt it, however very few of her interiors exist today. She was also commissioned by Hyatt to design the interiors of the new Hyatt Kingsgate in Sydney in 1969. I remember my father taking my brother and I to dinner there in 1976, and remember the lobby as being a wonderfully intimate space, of deep dark reds and browns with a vividly patterned carpet. (Who would have known, that I would one day work in the Hyatt in Front Office, however unfortunately after they had refurbished).

Again not to the taste of everyone, however a definite inclusion into the annals of savoir faire.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Milan Savoir Faire 2010

Ok I profess not to be some 20 year old something with drop dead model good looks and a body too die for, so when I hear of the latest menswear collections from Milan or Paris, I kind of cringe on the outside while my inner self is thinking, mmmmm I would love to wear that!

Of course when we see a runway show, we see the beefed up version of a look and how the designer would like the whole lot to look like, before it filters down to a somewhat diluted version on the high street. As with most things I am a classicist and believe that good cut and quality make up for a lot of sins. I also say that one good piece will negate several bad ones. When in London I go crazy on Jermyn Street buying shirts from Hawes and Curtis, every day staples from Austin Reed, and then something a bit out there which I will wear probably once form some designer.

Milan this year seemed to be playing it safe in a lot of areas especially where cut and gimmicks were concerned. Given the economic crisis, designers are not experimenting with avant-garde clothing, but sticking to easy to understand, familiar styles from the classic suit to sporty shorts. The subdued summer palette makes the difference. These are not bright in your face colours, but colours that have been paired down with ease to make them wearable by all.

Gucci designer Frida Giannini, who showed her latest collection on Sunday, used pristine white to express optimism. But the silhouette was slim and tailored, offering what the designer said was "an effortless approach to luxury''. For evening, deep blue replaces black, and the stiffness of a tuxedo jacket is relaxed by Milan Savoir Faire 2010

Armani was Armani with classic suits albeit a bit slimmer than previous seasons taking the catwalk in a rather interesting colour pallet. The expensive simplicity of the line makes these clothes classics in their severity.

Resort wear was casual with a touch or formality which didn’t make it too stiff and would be totally at home on the terrace of The Mena House in Cairo while discussing the day’s sightseeing.

All in all not too bad, so if your budget isn’t going to stretch to a new Armani suit this season, wear last season’s with pride and savoir faire, knowing that true classics never go out of style.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Savoir Faire on the High Seas!

Normandie! The holy grail of ocean liners! The art deco masterpiece that the French created in the 1930’s. The epitome of savoir faire, chic and glamour. Every detail of this fabulous liner was thought out in great detail with no expense spared. Crossing the Atlantic, you were cocooned in a sumptuous environment, lavish dining rooms and monumental social spaces.

Dining was a whole new experience with the best of everything, Lalique and Daum, glassware, Sevres and Limoges porcelain and Christofle silverware. Even though the designs themselves were deceptively simple, the quality was unsurpassed. Of course each piece carried the highly stylised logo of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, and it seems that each piece was designed around this. The overall form of the piece with the combination of the logo is in perfect harmony with each other.

Christofle created 45,000 pieces of silverware for the liner of varying quality, from solid silver to silver plate to be used in the various dining rooms and accommodations. This was of an extremely refined and elegant design that had little variation form 1st class to 3rd. It was only the quality that differed, for example the same design of ice bucket was used across all three classes.

Lalique and Daum created over 100,000 pieces of glassware ranging from ashtrays to wineglasses that were also used across all three classes. Just because you were stuck in third class, didn’t mean that you were excluded from enjoying your vin du table out of an exquisite glass.

Unfortunately these objects are now the domain of serious collectors. It will be a while before my dining table is graced with this ultimate in savoir faire!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Savoir Gres!

In fashion today, there are the big names, which are on everyone’s lips, if not for commercial value only. If a designer can sell and sell a lot, he or she is as good as gold. Then there are the old names that have been around before a lot of us were even born who are undergoing a renaissance based on the name alone. However can anyone really master the sway that the great Balenciaga or the shocking Schiaparelli had? One woman, whose design aesthetic and technique will never be reproduced, is the nearly forgotten name of Alix Gres.

Madame Gres, contemporary and rival of Lanvin, Vionnet, Chanel, and Schiaparelli has virtually faded away into history and mystery. Even in death she was clouded in mystery, with her daughter supposedly suppressing the event, so that nobody knew for sure whether she was dead or not. Nobody even knew what her real name was. Born Germaine Emile Krebs, she then for a while was known as Alix Barton and then Madame Gres.

She formally trained as a sculptress, and that is how the haute couture that came out of her house took on an artistic fluidity that has only been rivaled by the great Vionnet. Her signature was cutouts on gowns that made exposed skin part of the design. From her original training you gain a sense of how the ideals of classicism influenced her. Evening gowns followed and sculpted the human form, using techniques practiced only by herself, a specialist skill known as draping, quite distinct from tailoring When looking at her clothes one is not only impressed with the design, but of their sheer timelessness and sophistication. Where fashion today can be a ridiculous parody of itself, Gres designs never were and never will be.

She dressed the rich and the famous, including the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolores del Rio. Some even say that she was more Garbo than Garbo herself.
Even after WWII when most of the pre-war designers were struggling with the bombshell that Dior had launched and later on the swinging sixties, Madame could hold her own. Her style evolved with the times because it was more like art than fashion and was timeless.

However through changing tastes and moods even she could not keep her finger on the pulse that was fashion. The house started to loose money and like a lot of other houses was only being propped up by the perfume side of things, but soon even that was not enough. The company at 1, Rue de la Paix, was liquidated in 1987, during her own lifetime. She died in November 1993, but her death was not announced. With its disclosure in Le Monde, on December 14th 1994, Anne, her daughter, finally agreed to talk: "first of all, I wanted to protect her. All these people who took advantage of her would have found a way to shine again at her expense...It's a love secret.” Madame Grès left us just as she had lived: very discreetly.

Of course like most of the couturiers that time forgets the name lives on in a Perfume business. You can still buy her most famous perfume, Cabochard (even though changed through time), which I wear myself from time to time. Of course it smells of a bygone era, but I like it like that.

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