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?
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. None other than Petit Pierre approached us, ever so elegantly, just like in the book, wearing a fine double-breasted suit despite the Caribbean summer heat, his perfectly knotted tie seemed to be mocking the indolent temperatures, 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, as I at the age of 12 was not that familiar with Graham Greene’s work, the Haitian journalist and columnist that 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, totally ignoring me, leaving me to sip my icy lemonades for ever and ever. And so, before he took us to his gallery with Haitian naive paintings, in a black limousine steered by one of his sons, I started to write one of the hotel postcards to my best friend Daniel in Luxembourg. For some reasons, I never sent it off but took it home with me, as a souvenir maybe, just like my mother took one of the ashtrays. Looking at it now, it makes me smile that while somebody taken out of a famous novel was sitting at my very 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 – the pool situation was gorgeous indeed. I must return soon, this time with the book…