Some time ago, when going through my secretary’s drawers, looking for some stuff for my tax declaration, I found an old wallet of mine, made of Louis Vuitton’s nice Épi leather, in a yummy chocolate brown, I instantly had to eat some, luckily I always have some bars at home, but that’s not the interesting part of my find. Inside the empty wallet was a single note, issued in February 1962 in the Congo, shortly after it had become independent, after the Belgians had lost their colony, and many, many a year before Hergé’s comic book “Tintin au Congo” had become ever so politically incorrect. A friend of my mother’s gave the Congolese note to me after giving account of her African adventures when I once visited her in Munich. She had spent some time in the young country in the early sixties, and during dinner she had all these funny anecdotes to tell, all of them much to her husband’s disapproval, who was sitting next to her when she talked about her African years but wasn’t part of any of the stories, she had only met him many years later. Males must feel important. Anyway, I remember most vividly the one about her arrival: picture a very young woman, very stylish, very vain, very concerned about her looks, having left Europe in mid-winter, in a top notch red bouclé wool ensemble with matching coat, made of the same red bouclé wool that one, too, and finding herself all of sudden in the tropical heat of Leopoldville, on a gangway and an airfield ever so close to the equator, lost even more in perspiration than in translation. You have to dress destination appropriately when you travel, she told me with great gravity when she handed me that note as constant reminder of her wisdom. I wouldn’t know. You see, I’ve never been to the Congo.
When I felt like having some French goat cream cheese yesterday, I realized for the first time in my life how very white it is. I mean, it’s really white. Almost whiter than white. And that’s where it got tricky. When I put that ever so white cube on my white plate, plain white as white plates go, my eyes went blank, they had suddenly stopped transmitting any information, as if they were kind of snow-blinded. I would have needed sunglasses if hadn’t been already dark, we’re talking a late-night snack here… Anyway, I exchanged plates immediately and not only did I choose a very vivid pattern, hand-painted using a lot of turquoise ink, I also looked out for the red cheese cutlery I once bought in France. The morale of the story? It’s the boy scout’s motto: always be prepared.
It was not a typical day to be spent outside, the weather forecast for that day had insisted on us staying in, it was really rainy and windy, puddles all over the place, leaves everywhere, but we felt like catching some air in the garden, it was neither the perfect place to have crêpes, the table was ever so wet and quite dirty, too, nor the perfect time, it was way too close to dinner, we’ve had tea hours ago and so we were about to ruin our appetite, but however more of a hindrance than an invitation the moment did appear to us, we couldn’t help ourselves and have crêpes, drenched in sugary Cointreau, right that moment, right then and there… Boy, were they yummy!
In 1998, I was looking for a Christmas gift for my father, when, sometimes that happens, I ran out of ideas and, coincidentally and quite by chance, Hermès had just launched their Rocabar men’s cologne, a very elegant fragrance that seemed perfect for my father. All problems solved. I bought the entire range. My father was delighted and smelled fine for weeks and months.
Today, however, when looking for a new piece of soap at my parents’ place, I found one of these gifts still untouched: the matching soap, stuffed in a drawer, next to various cosmetic items like tooth brushes, dental floss, lotion tonique aux plantes, toothpaste (white, extra white, and diamond white), shampoo (dandruff, extra volume, extra body, and some arctic prunes elixir), and other little helpers that we can’t live without, it has been waiting for the last 21 years to be finally taken out of the box and into the shower. I guess, some things just seem to need the right moment…
I am a heavy drinker; of tea, that is. My afternoons are consumed by tea breaks, it starts with bringing water to the boil, counting the spoons, deciding whether it’s going to be tea from Assam or Darjeeling, Kusmi or Fortnum & Mason, pure or with some fancy aroma, Earl Grey or Queen Mary, with or without milk, there a thousands of questions to be answered with a every new brew. And then there’s the question of the cup, elegant or convenient, convenient meaning big enough not having to pour a new cup after every sip. My favourite convenient cup is actually a bouillon cup, a bouillon cup that lost one of its handles many a year ago, turning itself into a tea cup (I’m to blame for that—coincidence? I think not), it’s big enough for a bouillon spoon, Carson, the butler at Downton Abbey told us about these somewhat démodé items of cutlery, but more importantly, it’s big enough for a heavy drinker’s mouthfuls. I love that cup. And I think I’m having another pot of that organic grown Assam now. Milk in first.
Long before anybody talked about those wonderfully bleary colours from Farrow & Ball, there were those by Primrose Bordier, the colourist-in-chief of Descamps. If Descamps ever was regarded as a great brand, it was her doing, in a time when everything was brutally colourful, she did mauves, greys and beiges. In towels! Her bedlinens were of blurry non-colours, striped indistinction, never bright, always suavely elegant. My family’s obsession with Primrose Bordier started in the late 1970s in Luxembourg where a wonderful department store on Grand’ Rue, run by Mr Cohen and named Maison Moderne, had a beautiful home department offering Descamps’ entire range, it was also among the very first stores to present Giorgio Armani, when the black label was the master’s only label, but that’s another story, anyway, my mother went nuts with these towels in these amazing colours, all these washed out browns, khakis and even the maroon my mother chose was the mistiest maroon there had ever been, Männerfarben, men’s colours, thus called by a friend of my mother’s who hated everything overly feminine, flower prints especially, as you can guess she hated everything by Porthault, anyway, years and years ago in Hamburg, I bought this duvet cover and pillowcases by Descamps, one of the last before the company changed their identity completely, a greyish, mauve pattern showcasing an indifferent attempt to look like something colourful, a Shelley poem dedicated to a misty heathland morning in the moors…
Today, another fashion icon has left this earth for good: Marella Agnelli has passed away, so shortly after Lee Radziwill, all these beautiful swans, dressed in nothing but the hautest of haute couture and the finest of fine jewellery, living their lives of leisure and luxury, so much adored, beloved, cherished and dissected by Truman Capote, are no longer among us, all these women whose impeccable style made it into so many coffee table books, just like the one lying on my coffee table in Zurich, are all history now. Fine history, so to say. But as long as there are still macarons, life is still worth living.
The eye has to travel, so said Diana Vreeland once, and Gleb Derujinsky followed that instruction of hers quite literally. His fashion photography for Harper’s Bazaar did not take place in a studio, with perfect lighting, and a bar-tabac or a diner nearby that comfort zone, but outside in the world, in the streets, in the urban and not so urban jungle, his eyes travelled everywhere, and as much as we might know some of the locations, let’s face it, we’ve all strolled along the Seine and took shots on or under its bridges, some of Derujinsky’s destinations I have yet to discover myself, like the wine cellars of Maxim’s, I haven’t even ordered a steak au poivre there yet, nor have I been to the Nara Deer Park in Japan with its thousand-year-old trees. This photographer demanded a passport from his models and broke boundaries all over the world, he took them to nature, you’re born free, he seems to say, so act on it. Sometimes you can’t tell whether you’re looking at some exotic scenery in an old issue of National Geographic or at Lanvin-Castillo’s ideas for the next summer. With “Capturing Fashion”, Flammarion and Derujinsky’s daughter Andrea make our eyes travel over and over again, I just hope they won’t suffer from jet lag.
Some years ago, I ordered a pair of jeans on an haute couture house’s website: the fancy house of Balmain with its must-have-biker-jeans had caught my attention, and due to my disposition as a wannabe fashion victim, I was easily sold. I first wore them at the premiere of Borodin’s opera Prince Igor at Hamburg’s Staatsoper, with a matching dinner jacket—matching, because it was also designed by Olivier Rousteing (although I had ordered that one at Mr Porter). Anyway, when you order a pair of trousers online you can never be quite sure if they fit at all, and my 32-inches-waistline wasn’t met at all by Balmain’s idea of 32 inches, not in the very least, as a matter of fact, this pair of jeans almost dropped when I wore them that night. During intermission, I was forced to stand still at the bar, my facial expression frozen with fear they might turn me into an exhibitionist, and I really hate causing any kind of commotion. So, after their first night out, this pair of jeans was put into my wardrobe and since then, it has spent some years in the closet like any other misfit. This year, however, I kind of ran out of trousers as I had put on a little weight. And so, after all this time, I tried them on once again, still expecting a loose fit, of course, just not one loose enough to put me in distress—but that’s just what they did! They almost cut off my circulation! Obviously, I had put on much more weight than I ever expected. Horrid sensation! What a humiliation! The morale of the story? Beware of Balmain.
There’s a photographic error in this photo, the tea box should say Nuit à Versailles, too, not only 277, I mean what kind of information is that anyway, 277, just a stupid number, not even a nice one, but that damn Stelton cork-screw covers that tea’s much more evoking name of a night in Versailles. It’s a very tasty green tea, aromes of peaches, violets, kiwis, orange blossoms, and other yummy stuff that is to transport us to this magical place in France. Actually, just as it happens, I’ve never been to Versailles, however near to Paris, not once, so I’ve no idea whether there are any peach trees and violets in the palace’s gardens or not, kiwis are from New Zealand anyway, so I don’t really trust them, these fancy Dammann brothers. They just tell you n’importe quoi. Versailles, however, has a very culinary sound to me, my parents often visit, but rather the weekly market in the old town of Versailles than the palace itself, my mother always brings home artichokes, organic ones, of course, over the years it has become kind of a family thing to have our artichokes from Versailles, so whenever I see or eat an artichoke, I don’t think of the South of France where they grow but of Versailles, and I’m kind of disappointed that there aren’t any in this blend—but on the other hand, who wants a tea tasting and smelling of artichokes?