The history of things.

I hate new things. I love things with a history attached. Fragrances, for instance. Bois des Iles is from 1926, the year The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, Agatha Christie’s first ‘whodunnit’ story featuring Hercule Poirot, her Belgian detective, and reformulated or not, it still smells like Coco Chanel, au petit jour in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce, wrapped in her sable coat, on her way home from a delightful sexual encounter with some of these men way out of her league, socially speaking, they were all of such noble birth, rich as hell or nouveau pauvre – très nouveau, très pauvre, but in fact, they all were out of hers, they just had names, names they were just born with, she had made herself a name, a name worth millions then and now, she chose her lovers like others chose jewelry, and was hated for it, envied at least, but to hell, she was no bourgeoise, she just dressed them. The dresser it stands on is from the same time, by the way. It belonged to a pharmacist, so the antique dealer I bought it from told me, considering it’s art deco, it wasn’t even new when he bought it. Inherited, maybe. Or a pharmacist who was into art deco, sounds like an interesting man, somebody who had looked out for something special, who wanted to enjoy opening his sock drawer, suavely, pulling it open with the gentlemanly grip burl wood demands. On the other hand, he might have hated it. Too many memories attached. It might have belonged to his wife who left him for another man. A younger one. Although he was only 36 when she left. He waited all his life for her to come back. Didn’t touch her personal things, her silk stockings, kept them as if she would come back for them, or him – as if, she’d reply – maybe it was just one of those things, he kept telling himself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just way out of her league.

Big bucks at Chanel.

While you wait for your bee brooch from the Croisière collection to be wrapped up, you wonder why you resisted that glass of champagne you were offered and had water instead. Water? Who has water? What were you thinking? They might have served you a glass of Dom Pérignon here, you’re at Chanel’s, for heaven’s sake. In order to let go and regain your peace of mind, you let your eyes take a turn and then you start wondering again: who would buy that fluffy coat for 10,840.00 Deutsche Mark? I know, it’s 2017 and so it’s only €5,420.00, but they cannot fool me. You see, I still haven’t accepted the euro as a currency. In Deutsche Mark, everything sounds like so much more money, everything is literally twice as expensive, whereas the euro-halving provides the illusion of saving money, bargains on a daily basis, the price tags are playing a dirty trick on us, I fall for it all the time, to be quite exact, I’ve fallen for it since January, 2002. Obviously, my mind doesn’t adapt easily, you might respond, in an alarming way even, very alarming, but truth be told, otherwise I would never have bought that bee brooch.

Hamburg coffee splendour.

One day in Hamburg, I couldn’t wait for lunchbreak, couldn’t wait to leave my desk at DDB Hamburg, that is Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency famous for their work for Volkswagen’s beetle in the 1960s, Lemon, they shouted, Think Small, they advised, and by this they made it to eternity, advertising as it should be, whereas I, well, I hope it wasn’t too bad what I did on this day in 2012, anyway, I digress, I couldn’t wait to leave my desk, a desk with a fabulous view on Hamburg’s Speicherstadt and the Elbphilharmonie that was still being constructed, splendid architecture by Herzog & de Meuron consuming 866 million euros, but I digress again, anyway, I couldn’t wait to get the cup I had fallen in love with the other day, after hours of course, leaving me to wait for it a most inappropriately long amount of time, like Prince Bolkonsky had to wait for Natasha, a day or a year, where’s the difference, my Meissen coffee cup was even more alluring than Tolstoy’s Natasha, it had a green dragon on it, green being a favourite colour of mine, spitting little orange flames, embodying riches, chinoiserie at its best, as ornate as a cup could ever be, and most importantly, it was on sale at John Montag on Ballindamm, a store that had to shut down some time later after it had burned down, anyway, being on sale meant that it was still way too expensive but it made me think I was about to get a bargain, and so I did, in this lunchbreak in 2012, my concentration at work was way better in the afternoon, I can assure you, there’s nothing better than saving money during luchbreak.

Living on Memory Lane.

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There are a few pics I keep posting and re-posting on Instagram: a certain photo of Coco Chanel, taken in the 1930s at La Pausa by Roger Schall, Mademoiselle wearing trousers and a ravishing custom-fit little nothing of a cashmere sweater, very près du corps, some paintings, Vermeer, Franz Kline and a certain Picasso, with Marie-Thérèse Walter on it, you surely know it, it’s very popular, my Royal Copenhagen china, and then there’s a photo of my mother, taken by my father in 1977, in the little front garden of our townhouse in Luxembourg, at a place I dearly loved, we spent nothing but happy times there, my mother’s wearing Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche on it, you can see the prêt-à-porter after-effects of his iconic Russian haute couture collection from 1976, on the other side of the street is the house of my friends Laurence and Françoise, you can’t see it, but I know it’s there, just opposite, on the right you would see an apartment building, a big brutal concrete cube, with another cube inside as an entrance hall, this one in posh marble, that’s where Anne and Bob lived, Bob had his room painted in dark blue, with white furniture as a contrast, I loved that, and we had the same shirt, checked, in different sizes though as he was way younger than I, two or three years, when you’re nine years old that matters a lot, my best friend Daniel lived on the same street, too, but a bit off, more to the side of avenue du X septembre, we lived closer to avenue Guillaume. Our house doesn’t exist anymore, after we moved out it was torn down, together with most of our direct neighbours’ houses, to make room for some résidence, some of those apartment buildings named after Napoleon or whoever they thought appropriate, so sad, it was so lovely, the balcony on the first floor was all covered with wine, the grapes were edible but tiny and very sour, loved them anyway, the wallpaper in the hall and all up the staircase to the second floor was black, with huge white roses, not totally white, some of the petals were pale pink, the leaves and stalks were celadon green, a very Marie-Antoinette-ish colour combination, the tiles on the floor were beautiful, a typical Belle Époque pattern, the house was built in the 1910s, the banisters were somewhat gothic, some dark wood, can’t quite recall it, at least not exactly, nobody ever took a photo of the stairs, not of these details, but I somehow captured them in my mind, I must haven taken thousands of mental pictures, it’s all there in my mind, all of it, although I couldn’t quite make a sketch of it. As you might have guessed by now, this photo does not only show my beautifully dressed mother, it represents the happiest years of my childhood, it triggers all kind of happy memories, and I will post it over and over again when I feel like it. I hope you won’t mind.

Elle, Gabrielle.

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Over the years, I bought a great many books on Coco Chanel. Not only because I’m into fashion, her achievements in fashion are more than just outstanding, she was the designer of the century, there was no competition to question that, Balenciaga surely was an artist, carefully designed perfection-to-wear, he was born to give Mona von Bismarck her raison d’être, and Dior gave the world the New Look, a look so very old now, so very démodé, visited today by millions in a museum in Paris, next to the Mona Lisa, a woman whose mysterious smile has turned into a grimace when it had become that liveless cliché it is today, a smile so rarely if ever smiled back at, merely admired, like moth balled haute couture on mannequins, but Chanel’s iconic inventions live on, they are out, on the streets, they breathe and move, they were born free, copied, reinterpreted, updated, backdated, timeless, but all of that, all these hats, buttons, pearls, fake and real, all these two-tone shoes, suits and little black dresses, all that comfy beige tweed and that refined soft lace, these numbers 5, 19 and 22, olfactory revolutions, all of it bears the same genes. Style galore. We owe it to the little black-haired girl from humble beginnings whose genius outlived it all: the Belle Époque, the wars, the Roaring Twenties, the rise and fall of countries, people and fashions, she met and loved Dukes and Grand Dukes, Englishmen and Russians, she encountered Picasso, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Reverdy, Diaghilev, basically le tout Paris of the last century. Two books by Isabelle Fiemeyer, published by Flammarion in English and French, introduce us to some of the traces such a life left behind, we are allowed a glimpse, however long, of private belongings, on letters and jewels, on golden artifacts and worn clothes – these intimate details are treasures not to be missed.

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Summertime and the shopping is easy.

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The living is easy in summer, so sings Ella Fitzgerald so very inspirational, and although no fish are jumping in Berlin, nor is any cotton high, but my daddy’s (almost) rich and my ma is definitely good looking, so I am in the good mood I’m supposed to be in. And what do (almost) rich father’s sons do on such a day in Berlin? They go shopping on Kurfürstendamm. There is no better time to shop in summer than in the morning, when the temperatures are still low, when the morning dew has just disappeared, leaving the air soft, when hopes are still high (just like that Southern cotton) that this day may turn out just fantastic. Kurfürstendamm is just a short walk from my place in Charlottenburg, and so I strolled through streets that Christopher Isherwood might have taken too when he lived here in the 1920s, enjoying the architecture, watching people on their way to the office and goods being delivered, and decided to have a long coffee first, as I was very well aware that no fancy store opens before 10 a.m. I was the only one who took a seat at Reinhard’s at Berlin’s Hotel Kempinski, the one that Romy Schneider was staying in when she visited the town, I still wonder why, why would you miss all the delights of this time of day in the city, the plays of light and shadow, enchanting patterns on the facades, the volatile splendour of reflections on Saint Laurent’s logo, it will be long gone in afternoon, carpe diem, folks, I want to call out – but the only guy who seems to enjoy this place at this hour was the postman at Chanel. Oh well. They have no clients, but at least they’ve got mail.

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Life saving chicken soup.

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My mother believes in chicken soup to cure anything. Anything that makes you cough and feel like la dame aux camélias at least, even if your name is neither Marguerite nor Violetta and you have never worn a single camellia in your entire life. Not even in your lapels on Coco Chanel’s birthday. Anyway, in my case, tragically a less romantic one, my mother came to kill the germs that caused my pneumonia – which quite boringly I did not get by kissing a guy while becoming acquainted with enough of his germs to catch such a disease, as Dionne Warwick keeps suggesting, and even more boringly so it’s just a severe case of pneumonia and not tubercolosis, so I still won’t make it to the Magic Mountain (prosaically known as Davos-Dorf) and be able to feel like one of Thomas Mann’s tragically coughing heroes.

But I’ve been digressing, let’s get to the point: my mother came with pigeons that appeared to have led a happy life from her weekly market instead of chickens as she deeply disapproved of the chickens the supermarket had in stock and remembered that the Buddenbrooks always had “Täubchen” when they needed some strengthening, you see my family and I refer a great deal to Thomas Mann’s literary outcomes, one could say on a daily basis, anyway, along with the pigeons she brought multicoloured organic vegetables, green, orange and red for colour and vitamins, in other words red peppers, carrots and leek, she also brought chillies, the ones that set your tongue and throat on fire, bayleaves, olive oil, the slightly bitter one as only bitter olive oil is to be trusted, the rest might be useful to fry French fries in, alright, at McDonald’s or what ever they call these places nowadays, you see, my mother wildly disapproves of junk food, but you might have guessed that by now, anyway, she also brought organic pepper, black and white, to be crushed in absurd quantities into the soup, and vast amounts of French garlic, it’s very important that it is from France, please forget all about the one from China.

I ate it all up. It was very yummy. And indeed, I feel a little better. Just my tongue’s still on fire.

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Schiaparelli.

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In 1982, I was 14 years old and we got our first cat, a black beauty that I named Schiaparelli, although, truth be told, no alternative facts here, I pronounced it German, not Italian. Not at all Italian. At the time I only spoke German and French, and some Luxembourgish if you consider that a language. Still, I was a huge fan of Elsa Schiaparelli although I can’t recall when I first heard about her, she wasn’t in fashion at all then, I suppose it was an article in some smart magazine, for instance, I was deeply fond of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazine at that time, I cut out a photo of a young, barely dressed, or probably naked Jean Marais from it, photographed by Horst. Years later, as a student at university, I had it on my kitchen wall, still fond of the young Marais. Anyway, Schiaparelli was the loveliest cat ever. Utterly elegant. And believe it or not, she always – always! – smelled like my mother’s loose Christian Dior powder, I think it’s been discontinued, 600 Plus Qu’Invisible, at the time still sold in these pink old school boxes, completely old fashioned even at that time, we all wondered how she did it, she would come in after extended walks in the neighbourhood, after days sometimes, she was quite a tramp, from rain or snow, her paws covered in mud and dirt, but she always smelled like Dior. But don’t judge her by that alone. She was quite destructive. She mocked the craftsmanship of my mother’s antique prie dieu, a kneeler from the 1850s whose original upholstery she made look as if Jeanne d’Arc had left it behind in battle, but we left it that way, she seemed to enjoy her iconoclasm, it was only restored after her death, in black silk cotton, in a neverending mourning period style. I think Elsa would have liked her, Coco Chanel maybe not so much.

Peter Pan syndrome.

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Today, I was confronted with my life’s awful truth. I have not grown up. Not at all. My mind is not yet of that certain age I am. Not at all. I still relate to Le petit Nicolas when I am re- and re-reading Goscinny’s stories, much more than I relate to these heroes of my own age, say Julien Sorel, Prince Bolkonsky or Tom Ripley, all these grown up people with their grown up problems, I still don’t tidy up my room, and for some ironic reasons I now have many more rooms to tidy up, even a kitchen and a bathroom, and I still get lectured by my mother about that mess I make each time she visits, I still eat way too many cookies while watching TV, always the whole box, and then I feel sick and want somebody to bring me some herbal tea, my mother or at least Antoine, the valet de chambre I’ve had as an imaginary servant ever since I was twelve or so, I was reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories at the time, and I was so impressed with his valet, to have someone to draw your bath and serve you tea in bed and tidy up your wardrobe, because, really, one cannot expect me to arrange the sock department of my drawer all by myself, can one? I still hate to go to school, meaning to work, I am still counting the days until the holidays and I still wonder what I shall play with my friends after school and that test in arithmetic, meaning which bar to go to and which drink to have after that meeting with the account management. There’s only one thing that offers some hope that I might finally grow up one day. Lately, I started buying vases and flowers. Now, that’s a very grown up and responsible thing to do, isn’t it?

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