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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My life as a Peanut.

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When you look at this picture, you might spot some iconic design work I decorated my home with: one of Marcel Breuer’s little Bauhaus tables from the late 1920s, the lampstand of Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s iconic work from 1924, also called the Bauhaus lamp, the Thonet chair right in the middle which happened to be Le Corbusier’s favourite chair, apart from his own designs, I guess, but still, he knew what he was talking about, and, well, far more ubiquitous, I’m afraid, but still perfect, that MacBook Air from Apple, but all of that is not what this post is about – it’s about the Snoopy mug. That mug is my favourite mug (and don’t get me started on my “Berlin” mug from KPM, so refined, so well designed, all that fine porcelain, but pardon my French, you just can’t sip from it), and however cheap it was, I cherish it because it shows my childhood companion whom I’ve loved since, well, ever. It doesn’t get more iconic, does it? I had Snoopy everwhere in my room, on everything. I wouldn’t eat or drink from anything that had no Peanuts character on it. My Snoopy mugs have always been most dear to me, I had several, the tiniest cup with Woodstock and some his friends flying around it, you might have called it an espresso cup, but in those days nobody north of Trieste had espressos at home, for some time I had my cornflakes in a plastic Snoopy dog bowl, in bright blue, my favourite colour, too, from which I remember a line, that beagle was quite pragmatic a philosopher: “I hate when it snows on my French toast”, I loved that bowl and it sure increased my Kellogg’s sugar intake by a great deal, but then a friend of my mother’s put an end to it. Not because of the carbs and the sugar, no, everybody was quite fine with sugar those days, but no one should eat from a dog bowl, so she said. My mother listened to her and from that day on, only the family cats were to eat from it, what can I say, they had cast pearls before swine!

All these mugs and dishes are gone, all of them broken. I miss them all. But apart from this very new mug with Snoopy on it that I found by chance in Lucerne, I still have a particular pair of shoes, once owned by my friend Miriam, shoes I was so very jealous of, the whole cast from the Peanuts is on their soles. She outgrew them fast and gave them to me, and since I’ve never outgrown my love for Charles M. Schulz’s iconic work, they still have a special place in my apartment.

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Balenciaga Black.

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80 % of my mother’s wardrobe is and always used to be black, so I am quite familiar with the sensation of being attracted by black (seize the Oedipus connotation), but when I went to see the Balenciaga exhibition in Paris at the Musée Bourdelle this week, I was stunned as if I had never seen a black dress before. “L’œuvre au noir” showed nothing but his black masterpieces, but whether it was a daytime suit, apparently inspired by the military, or an evening dress, the way the cloth was draped, stitched, sewn and adorned, the way the fabric floated as if it didn’t weigh a thing, yet perfectly in shape, a shape only Balenciaga could ever have come up with, lace and mink, wool and crêpe de chine, embroidered or pure and simple, all of it looked out of this world, this world of quickly put together pieces, from China or Malaysia or where ever work is cheap, made for fashion victims, nouveaux riches or just plain stupid people, who only care about the label but not about quality, those who do know what I mean, you feel completely duped when a 500 dollar shirt loses buttons after the first wash, and I’m talking handwash. Anyway, now I get why Mona von Bismarck refused to leave her bed for three whole days when Balenciaga decided to retire in 1968. A dark day, though not black at all.

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