In 1986, I fell helplessly in love with Inès de la Fressange. I don’t recall the exact date, but whatever Monday or Thursday it was, in May or in August, it brought thunder and lightning. I was struck, smitten and lost. As a matter of fact, I am still struck, smitten and lost, when I look at this advertisement for Chanel today, almost precisely thirty years later. I took it from my favourite newspaper supplement, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin, on the very day it appeared, regardless of the fact that my father hadn’t read it yet, and I have kept it safe between the pages of my beloved Georges Lepape monography by Claude Lepape and Thierry Defert ever since, next to another perfume advertisement by Lepape for Les Parfums de Rosine, protecting it from dust, sunlight, crinkling, and unworthy hands like a work of art. Taking that book from the shelves, opening it, and contemplating Inès de la Fressange’s utmost beauty and elegance, was like attending mass. I can’t find any excuses for such excessive worshipping hyperbole. Adoration is my thing, I guess.
In the fall of 1985, I crossed the Pont Neuf in Paris more than just once or twice. In fact, I crossed it, turned, and crossed it again. In that year, the bridge that calls itself new, actually looked really new to me, as well as to the rest of the world. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had just wrapped it. I couldn’t stop walking on the stunning fabric that covered not only the sides and vaults of the Pont Neuf’s twelve arches, but the sidewalks as well. I can recall my amazement that the street lamps on both sides of the bridge were wrapped, too, and how beautifully all this wrapping extravaganza was restrained by miles and miles of rope. And I also recall what I was wearing at least on one of these bridge crossing days – my favourite sweater from Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s Peanuts collection for Iceberg. A sweater with Linus van Pelt on it, my security blanket carrying childhood hero. To be quite frank, he is still my hero – as are Jean-Charles de Castelbajac for putting him on a pullover, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude for an art project that still takes my breath away.
In the summer of 1980, after having visited friends of my parents in New York and San Francisco, my mother and I sent my father back off to Europe and continued our journey to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where we stayed at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, a 19th-century Gothic gingerbread mansion, set in a lush tropical garden, a place once described as the darling of the theatre people, the literary set and newspaper men. And a literary place it was indeed. The moment we sat down on the Hotel’s beautiful porch to have a cold drink, we were directly transported into a novel, all of a sudden we were part of the set of Graham Greene’s The Comedians. Petit Pierre approached us, ever so elegantly, wearing a fine suit despite the Caribbean summer heat, his perfectly knotted tie seemed to be mocking the indolent temperatures, and a walking cane with a silver knob gave him even more grandezza, as he strutted from table to table, looking for some material for his columns. Of course it was not Petit Pierre, but Aubelin Jolicœur, so my mother explained to me, the Haitian journalist and columnist, who was the inspiration for Graham Greene’s character, who then took a place at our table, started chatting with my mother, even flirting a little bit, ignoring me, leaving me to sip my icy lemonades for ever and ever. And so I started to write this postcard to my best friend Daniel in Luxembourg, never sent it off though, and it makes me smile, that while somebody taken out of a novel was sitting at my table, I had no other things to tell him about than the beautiful hotel pool and its cool water. But I can somehow get my 12 year old me – this pool situation was gorgeous indeed.
When I search my drawers, I never find what I am looking for, chaos is my middle name, but I always discover little treasures, memories set in stone, porcelain or leather. These two findings speak of style in particular. Goethe’s bisquitted profile, made by Meissen’s artists, purchased years ago in Weimar, reminds me of a great man, author of “Faust”, whose lodgings in a park in Weimar were nothing but amazement to me, his “Gartenhaus”, a tiny cottage with a few modest rooms, yet perfectly furnished in early 18th century style, installed for weekends made of comfort and leisure, at a time when leisure included posture and poise. And I wonder if he would have liked my Hermès mouse pad, the one I don’t use anymore, it’s out of time, just like his rooms, I can easily picture it there, his hand pushing the mouse from left to right, up and down, according to the soft rhythm of my favourite poem, the one about Italy in late summer, do you know it, that land, where the lemons bloom so fair, the golden oranges from dark-green branches glare…
It was a page that I didn’t turn, the one in W. Somerset Maugham’s novel “On Razor’s Edge” that had his narrator guess who designed his hostess’ elegant dress this time, this time being an afternoon in late 1920s Paris. Lanvin or Chanel? The dress turned out to be by Jeanne Lanvin on the following page, but I had already drifted away, to a world where Coco Chanel was alive and kicking, where I, the 14 year old that I was, was strolling through Paris, from couture house to couture house, stopping at Cartier and Goyard, sniffing my way from Guerlain to Caron, not buying, just looking, with my coral cigarette holder, the one I knew from Saki’s unbearable Bassington, wearing one of the exquisite shirts I had borrowed from J. Gatsby, and with a best buddy next to me, some partner in crime, like Sebastian Flyte’s companion Aloysius, a teddy bear friend, serving as alter ego and advocatus diaboli at the same time.
F.Scott Fitzgerald, W.Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, and Saki – these were not only my favourite authors for their exquisite stories, but more importantly, these refined guys introduced me to style in such a convincingly romantic way, that I was changed for life. Mousey will confirm all of it.
My mother made me her fashion consultant when I was eight. When I wasn’t in school or out with my best friend Daniel, I would spend most of my time with her in Luxembourg’s boutiques. There was Maison Moderne on Grand’ Rue, owned by Mr Cohen, a charming, bearded guy, very slim and refined, always with a pipe in his mouth. The fifth floor of his department store was all mine, I picked out my cotton velvet jeans by Michel Bachoz there, I had them in various colours: in bordeaux, brown, navy and cognac. The third floor was my mother’s domaine. And I was completely fine with what Mr Cohen would pick out for my mother, like in 1977 this ensemble by Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, which showed the prêt-à-porter after effects of Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Russian haute couture collection from 1976. My father, very much in love with my mother, took a photo of her wearing it, in the little front garden of our town house on Rue Albert 1er. Happy Times.