Quentin Crisp had a flair for the peculiar, he was an attention enthusiast & a constant contrarian. He was a household name in England, but is not well-known in the US mainstream even though he took up residence in New York where he would go to lunch with anyone who paid for his meal. One of my few regrets is that I didn’t take Quentin to lunch while he was alive!
(Quentin was very punk rock for his day & without a doubt a pioneer for gay and lesbian equality)
As a writer & raconteur his published works & lectures were composed of evocative accounts of his life as a self-proclaimed Naked Civil Servant. Crisp documented the troubles he faced due to his refusal to hide his homosexuality & to play down his flamboyant lifestyle. He paraded around London in full make-up, painted nails & heels at a time when gay sex was illegal in the United Kingdom.
(The Naked Civil Servant)
Despite his high-profile, Crisp always allowed his phone number to be listed in the directory as he felt tasked to converse with any person who called & a duty to accept dinner invitations from nearly anyone. He was the epitome of a one-man show, constantly stirring up controversy & confusion, referring to homosexuality as a “terrible disease” or to Princess Diana as “trash” commenting that it was her “fast & shallow” lifestyle that led to her death…but all joking aside he was an advocate of change, a hero to difference & much admired for his intellect, humanity & courage.
(An extra from the Naked Civil Servant DVD, Quentin Crisp on American & British Culture)
The word perfume comes to us from the Latin words “per fumum” meaning “through smoke”, referring to the ancient Egyptian practice of burning resin & creating intense fragrances, connecting heaven to earth.
It is said that Cleopatra used fragrance so liberally on herself & on the sails of her barges, that you could smell the scent of her naval fleet coming downstream from miles away.
Cleopatra’s fragrant vessel
It wasn’t until the 11th century that the famous Arab philosopher & physician Avicenna perfected the process of distillation, resulting in aromatic rose oils. This is why fragrant finger bowls are so popular in the Middle East, even today.
When Catherine de Medici married Henri the II of France in 1533, she brought her personal perfumer with her, Rene le Florentin. He discovered many of the wonderful ingredients in the region of Grasse, making it the perfume center of the world. Rene also conceptualized scented gloves, which the King and Queen adopted with gusto. Soon this development became de riguer, establishing the ageless association of fragrance & fashion.
Rene Le Florentin Perfumist
Modern fragrance started in 1904 with Francois Coty and his introduction of 2 wildly popular scents L’Origan & Ambre Antique. By 1907, Coty established a partnership with Rene Lalique who transitioned perfume bottling into an art.
L’Origan & Ambre Antique
Perfumes are divided into roughly 5 categories: Florals, Orientals, Woods Cyphers and Citruses. I personally enjoy florals with woody or oriental undertones. The best scents in my opinion are complex but not convoluted. Similar to a Major Triad, the notes of perfume must have a strong root, a slightly dissonant third, topped with a perfectly consonant fifth.
I have a tendency to stay away from “mass marketed” perfumes, and even though I do not subscribe to one particular scent, I do tend to wear scents from the same family; fragrances that have rose, neroli, jasmine mixed in with myrrh, ambergris, musk, and sandalwood.
Oud is a resin found in India and is very popular in the Middle East. I buy it in the form of Attar from the bazaars of the Arab world. Oud is non-floral, deep & sexy, and I have never found its equivalent in the French perfume world.
Nevertheless, my favorite perfumery in the world is the Roja Dove Haute Perfumerie from Harrods in London, which carries the most exquisite and sophisticated palette of perfumes displayed in the most bejeweled setting. It is truly the leading emporium of scent in the world.
Roja Dove Haute Perfumerie, Harrods in London
Women must choose their signature scents very wisely. Some women love & identify with the scent of their mothers and grandmothers, yet do what they can to define themselves by wearing more fashionable and trendier scents. However, I love to smell like my mother, my grandmother, and tend to defy trends in fragrances. I love the old fashioned fragrances like Joy and the classics by Guerlain.
There is plenty of room in the world of fragrance to be evocative of the women we love in our life, while also bringing an element of something new & undiscovered.
Hotel Shangrila frequently receives compliments on its unique & sublime architecture, but I think its fair to say that Los Angeles as a whole has made a very worthy contribution to the universally-popular Art Deco style. Here’s a few of my favorites I would like to share with you!
Southern California Edison Company Building (1931), now known as One Bunker Hill.
The Title Guarantee & Trust Building (1930) boasts art deco beauty, as does Los Angeles City Hall (1928) & Bullocks Wilshire (1929), the first Los Angeles based luxury department store. All three structures were designed by John & Donald Parkinson.
Title Guarantee & Trust Building, (1930)
Los Angeles City Hall, (1928)
Bullocks Wilshire, (1929)
The Biltmore Hotel (1923), classically known as “The Host of the Coast,” is truly an inspiring site & an iconic pre-cursor & blend between Art Deco and Beaux-arts. It was the first hotel commissioned for the newly founded architecture firm, Schultze & Weaver, who then went on to envision & design grand hotels such as The Pierre (1930) & Waldorf Astoria (1931).
The Biltmore Hotel, (1923)
The Eastern Columbia Building (1930) was designed by Claud Beelman, became the headquarters of the Eastern & Columbia Outfitting companies, & is absolutely stunning. The building’s alcoves & recessed spandrels heighten the vertical emphasis and the four-sided clock tower.
The Eastern Columbia Building (1930)
The Oviatt Building (1928) was the headquarters for one of the most prestigious haberdasheries in Los Angeles, Alexander & Oviatt. Oviatt attened the Paris World Fair, 1925, & decidedly commissioned the building to reflect the new Art Deco style.
The Oviatt Building (1928)
Robert V. Derrah’s Coca-Cola Company Bottling headquarters (1936) is a stunning expression of Streamline Modern style, a later branch of the Art Deco movement, featuring curving forms, long horizontal lines, & nautical influence.
Coca-Cola Company Bottling Building, (1936)
The Miracle Mile strip was developed by A.W. Ross; his intent being to attract car traffic through scale, form, & facade. The May Co. Building, now LACMA West, is a great example of Ross’ vision and a unique example of late Art Deco.
The Georgian Hotel (1933) maintains Art Deco features put forth by visionary Mrs. Borde. In an industry dominated by men Mrs. Borde was revered & seen as a progressive marketer & entrepreneur.
Inspired by the aforementioned Art Deco deities the Hotel Shangrila, designed by William Foster, has been overlooking the Pacific since 1939. The Shangrila is a striking beacon of Art Deco elegance, a chronicle of Old-Hollywood glamour, and a convergence of culture and sensuality.
London has so many cultural and shopping options that even though I am a foodie, I don’t always get the time to checkout the newest and hottest restaurant openings between meeting friends, going to parks, shopping and enjoying nightlife. This time my friends insisted that I check out Heston Blumenthal’s eponymously named restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge.
toast & foie gras w/ chicken liver parfait
Roast Scallops at Heston Blumenthal’s
For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Blumenthal, he is a self-taught molecular gastronomist, food-historian, and has been seriously cooking since the mid-90′s. He has helped pioneer the contemporary slow cooking process; a combination of a slow cook time and very low temperatures. When employing this process, often times, the fat may not melt enough to make gravies and sauces, but Blumenthal’s underlying principle is that sauces are not needed since the slow-cooking process allows for the meat to be so tender and moist.
the Roast Marrowbone w parsley, anchovy, mace, and pickled vegetables circa 1720
The other interesting concept about Blumenthal’s food is that he does historical British recipes from the 1500s on, although they taste so good that I am sure he’s added modern spices and herbs to make it delicious for the modern palate. The menu in itself is a walk down history lane from the 1500s to the present. The food is delightfully luscious, from the Roast Marrowbone with parsley, anchovy, mace, and pickled vegetables circa 1720, to the Cod in Cider with Chard and fired mussels circa 1940 to the Sirloin of Black Angus with Mushroom Ketchup, Red Wine juice, and of course Triple Cooked Chips, circa 1830.
Cod In Cider w/ Chard and fired mussels circa 1940
The service was interesting, in the sense that there was no one waiter serving us, instead, there was a group of about 10 people who came to serve us intermittently, which led to a lack of consistency and some miscommunication. On the whole, I would recommend visiting Heston Blumenthal for the food and the incredibly creative food concept that he has pioneered both with his science and his thorough research of history.
While in London, I also decided to eat at the classic British institution Claridges in the dining room, not to be confused with Gordon Ramsey at Claridges. I found it to be extremely pleasant with lots of delightful food and drink options enclosed within the most gorgeous art deco surroundings. Even the ladies powder room was divine. The food was certainly delicious and comfortable and I simply loved the way they served tea.
The grand staircase at Claridge’s
The Powder Room at Claridges
Dining room at Claridge’s
The last restaurant I visited was the recently opened Spice Market in the brand spanking new W Hotel in Soho. The Spice Market has conceptualized a Pan Asian dining experience featuring smaller plates and smaller prices. The Spice Market in New York has become exhausted and dated while in Soho the service was friendly and efficient and the food hit the spot so precisely that there was no need to over order. Their Nonya Laksa (Singapore) and a Vegetable Green Curry (Thai) were amazing, both of which were not overly spicy, and with very well balanced flavors. My only suggestion was to add a touch more salt. To top it off the tea service was delightful and so well presented.
Tea at The Spice Market
Ovaltine kulfi, caramelized banana and spiced milk chocolate sauce at Spice Market
Warm rice pudding w/ passion fruit sorbet at The Spice Market
The commonality between all these restaurants is that they were all in major hotels, which really shows the shift in the world of dining. People are becoming less intimidated by dining in hotel restaurants; in fact they are becoming the most popular places and the hottest tickets in town. Their service and menus are usually superior; they have clean powder rooms, and stunning environments.
Cliveden is an Italianate mansion in Buckinghamshire, about 20 minutes from Heathrow and set on the River Thames. Cliveden features an idyllic setting, with gorgeous gardens, architecture, furnishings, and natural beauty.
Front of Cliveden
outdoor pool /Japanese Hot Tubs
the Thames meandering by Cliveden
The estate was home to many important families including the Dukes of Buckingham, the Prince of Wales, and the Astors who sumptuously and lavishly entertained the Cliveden set, a group of prominent political and cultural influencers during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Cliveden was also the site of the notorious Profumo affair, which brought down the British government in the 60s.
Down the stairs to the wild and beautiiful hiking grounds
Today Cliveden is owned by the National Trust and is operated as a hotel by the Von Essen collection. Cliveden has a gorgeous dining room library with a gigantic fireplace.
The Great Room
Scones & Tea Time
Another gorgeous view from Cliveden
The Great Room boasts a painting by Sargent of Nancy Astor, amongst many others, amazing period furnishings and a fireplace by which you can imbibe drinks or indulge in teatime and snacks.
Another picture of the Great Room set up for Tea time with Tulips
Clivden also hosts indoor and outdoor pools with Japanese style hot tubs.
Indoor pool and Jacuzzi in the Spa pavillion
I enjoyed a stay at Cliveden for the weekend and it was the perfect place to reconnect with nature and myself in a luxury setting.
Jackie DeShannon is one of the great American icons of female empowerment of the mid-20th century.
Born to a farming family in Kentucky, by 1960 Eddie Cochran shipped Jackie out to California to begin her songwriting career. Jackie’s first big hit (which she wrote, sung & performed) was When You Walk In The Room, which was later covered by everyone from The Searchers to Bruce Springsteen.
Both Elvis and Jimmy Page succumbed to Jackie’s feminine charms in the 1960′s, both of whom she had relationships with.
Somewhat of a feminist trailblazer, Jackie wrote many hits throughout the sixties including “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”
She also co-wrote international hit “Bette Davis Eyes” which was famously used for a 7UP commercial featuring Pacman.
Jackie was unusual in that few female performers wrote their own songs. You could argue that Jackie paved the way for future female songwriter/performers such as Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde & Siouxsie Sioux.
Perhaps what I love most about Jackie is her joie de vivre. In the video for “When You Walk In The Room,” Jackie dances in a sexy yet innocent manner, holding eye contact with the camera. She is self-assured, content, and empowered. She is well dressed and beautiful. And, Jackie is damn good at owning her womanliness in the patriarchal man’s world that was the sixties music business.
Jackie’s soulful lilting voice, superb delivery and irresistible femininity make her unique as a songwriter and performer.
I grew up to “When You Walk In The Room,” which was released in 1964, the year I was born. Looking back now, I can see beyond the intense nostalgia and emotional pull the song has for me and see that women like Jackie pushed backed social boundaries and helped propel the social revolution of the sixties from which we have all benefited.
After the Oscars I am most impressed to see how well The King’s Speech performed and the recognition it garnered.
Just why exactly, I wondered, does the film resonate so soundly with us? I’ve come to the following conclusions, please be sure to share yours.
It is a movie about trying your best and overcoming horrendous obstacles.
It is about doing your duty even though others have shirked theirs.
It is about being seen and heard.
It is about having a significant other who stands by you and truly understands you.
It is about a film being slow and gracious: not hectic and action packed like so many of today.
It is about perfect and thoughtful acting.
It is a period drama, yet so close in history. The princess in the movie is still the Queen of England.
It is about being historical yet relevant.
And finally, the Kings Speech had some of the most creative talent behind it ,and in it, so even the acceptance speeches for the Oscars and BAFTA were charming, humorous, mildly self deprecating and touching!
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette explored female sexuality in her works and in her own life, wrote prose, hung out with Cocteau, performed on stage at the Moulin Rouge, had publicized lesbian affairs, lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, had married 3 different men, and is by far one of the most interesting writers of all time.
Colette’s talent was exploited simply because she was a woman (her first husband took credit for much of her early writings,) therefore most of her work focuses on Male/Female binaries.
In my favorite book of hers, “Cheri” she turns the tables on male/female stereotypes.
Cheri explores the end of a relationship between an aging courtesan, Lea and her younger lover, Cheri. Cheri is the one who is obsessed with Lea and wears her pearls and her silk pajamas and it is Cheri who is the weaker sex. The sequel to the book Le Fin de Cheri explores his decline and demise while the aging Lea copes with typical female strengths.
The are few places in the world more relaxing than the Farmhouse Inn & Spa in Sonoma County. I’m a lover of nature, foodie and a firm believer in the California Redwoods restorative qualities, so talk of the Farmhouse’s Michelin starred restaurant and nearby Redwood forest was all I needed to hear when my good friend Ellen suggested a weekend getaway.
The Farmhouse’s rustic barn-style design pays homage to one of the worlds oldest and most beloved indigenous architectural styles while delivering comfort, warmth & utility,
and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit to being completely seduced by the best of creature comforts and the wholesomely delicious farm-to-table gourmet food.
Our “Gifts from the Vine” organic spa treatments felt more like ‘Gift from the Gods’ as I was pummeled, wrapped and kneaded into compliance and complete bliss!
A world-class gourmet dinner followed at the delightful Cyrus, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Healdsburg.
Breakfast consisted of fresh baked scones and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon before our late morning jaunt in Armstrong Woods, an old growth Redwood Grove. It was a beautiful warm day in the mid-80s, and it always amazes me how the Redwoods have their own microclimates, the air inside the grove was cool, clean, refreshing, and healing.
After our leisurely hike, my soothed and cleansed spirit and I took a few minutes to meditate and touch these amazing ancient living creatures. I instantly felt their healing energy and was reconnected to all the ancient souls, especially with my father who passed away 5 years ago.
We then drove to Iron Horse Winery, which is one of the more pastoral wineries (as opposed to commercial) specializing in dry white and rose wines. I bought their Wedding Cuvee as a gift for a friend, which is a crisp and fruity yet dry wine.
Back to the Farmhouse to get kneaded and massaged again, this time with a focus on my scalp and feet, which was courtesy of the phenomenally talented Pam!
And then, of course, the piece de resistance, the dinner at the Farmhouse! The food was unpretentious, flavorful and beautifully presented. The Farmhouse even has a sommelier and a huge collection of wines in its cellars for all you wine aficionados! I love the wine country experience: nature, great food, friendly people, lots of beautiful open space and the starry sky!
I highly recommend the 18-room Farmhouse’s intimate service, fresh organic food, superb spa services, hiking trails and access to the picturesque vineyards, it really does feel like your very own country estate. All of this is made possible thanks to the taste and creativity of the owners, brother and sister team, Joe & Catherine Bartolomei, who I had the pleasure of meeting over breakfast before heading home.
The funny thing about visiting a place where time slows down is that sometimes you never want to leave!
Isabella Blow broke onto the scene in 1984 when, as a result of an introduction that she had received via Bryan Ferry a few years prior, Anna Wintour at American Vogue hired her. Breathing new life into the phenomenon of exuberance and style Isabella single-handedly developed and nurtured the careers of fashion moguls Philip Treacy, Alexander McQueen, as well as world famous models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl.
During her tenure at Vogue the Conde Nast offices there became the headquarters for all things cool. Basquiat and Warhol were often seen with hanging out with Isabella there. While at Tatler and Vogue, it became apparent that Isabella would never take the safe route in fashion or in life. When it came time to choose a designer for her wedding she sought out Philip Treacy, at the time a relative unknown, to commission her elaborate and decadent headpieces. Isabella, when speaking of Philip, has said, ”he is like a cosmetic surgeon for your face. Your face has a different personality for each hat you are wearing”. If only us women resorted to hats rather then plastic surgery, there is no doubt in my mind that we would be much happier.
There is an undeniable sense of playfulness and drama about her, and an irreverence towards life and taking things too seriously. I adore her outlook and understanding of what makes a hat beautiful and fun, that they are there ”to prevent air kissing amongst all and sundry,” or to “provide something to be removed during the act of lovemaking.”
She was absolutely instrumental in Alexander McQueen’s career, showed true belief in his work by buying his entire graduating collection, and facilitated the adoption of McQueen by Gucci (through Tom Ford).
I love that she was such a true genius but never took herself too seriously, until, tragically her depression got the better of her. After countless attempts at suicide, in the grandest of manners, she finally succeeded in ending her life. Isabella Blow was grossly under appreciated and her many talents remained unsung while she was alive. Even more upsetting is the fact that the accolades she received only came to her after her untimely death.
I have just finished perusing the book Isabella Blow by Martina Rink and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in discovering the woman who “used her influence to start nurturing those that inspired and influenced her.”