Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bon Voyage!

Hope you all have a great holiday weekend no matter where you are going or how you get there!

Slim Aarons' Wonderful Life

I'm sure most everyone has seen the Slim Aarons photo of CZ Guest pictured above but how many of you know the story about the man behind the camera. I posted this photo about a month ago along with a recent photo from H&G that reminded me of the Slim Aarons photo and wondered if the photographer has meant it to look like an Aaron's photo or if it was just a coincidence.

Well, shortly after I ran that post, I got a comment from none other than Slim Aarons' daughter, Mary Aarons! How amazing! She mentioned that magazines like to refer it it as "paying homage". Aren't they nice? I asked Mary to email me and not only did she email me but she invited me to the upcoming retrospective in New York being organized by Hearst Magazines and Getty Images. She also agreed to a little interview!

All the biography and background information about your father starts with him joining the army at 18 (my dad was born in 1916 and enlisted in 1939. I have his honorable discharge paperwork...and after looking at it recently realized that the dates mean he was 23 (not 18) when he enlisted.) and becoming the official photographer for the US Military Academy at West Point and then a combat photographer. None of this could have happened overnight but yet no story has told how he learned to take photographs. I feel like at that time, photography wasn't as easy to learn or as inexpensive as it is today with digital cameras. I'm curious if you know the rest of the story and how he learned photography.
My father did not enjoy talking about his early years. He considered the army to be his education and after a pretty sad childhood it was the beginning of the good years for him! Only recently I've learned from an elderly relative that when he was a young boy living in the NYC area he used to go to Broadway and wait outside stage doors to take pix of actors and actresses. He would apparently send them the pix and ask for autographs which they'd send back. I'm not sure if this is totally true...but it's family lore. I know his first camera was a "Brownie"...sort of the precursor to the "Kodak Instamatic". I will send you the link to an interview that explains a bit more. I do know that while serving in the Army's press corps he had the opportunity to meet and work with many of the men and women who would go on to become famous photographers and journalists. His years in the Army were his education in photography and his entree to a world beyond NY and New England.

Do you know if any of his war photos have survived or are ever exhibited? I always thought they'd make a wonderful book to benefit Veterans.
Yank Magazine archives and other military archives. Many of them have appeared in various books about the War. Check out the Life Magazine dated 9/21/42 if you'd like to see a very funny article in which my Dad was used as the "model" in a story regarding American servicemen in Britain!

I know he was asked to cover the Korean war and declined. That's news to me! I don't blame him. Then he and his friend Bill Mauldin drove out to Hollywood where he started photographing celebrities. The Kings of Hollywood photo of Clark Gable, Van Helfin, Gary Cooper, and James Stewart taken at Romanoff's in Beverly Hills on New Year's Eve 1957 is probably one of his most famous photos and is said to be the one that really put him on the map. It's so appropriate that it's on the invitation to the retrospective. I've heard that perhaps the men were enjoying a joke at your father's expense. Did he ever explain what they were laughing about or how he came to take that photo?
My Dad had a bit part in a movie starring Sophia Loren and Clark Gable called It Started in Naples which IMDB says was released in 1960. It must have been shot a few years prior. My dad and Clark Gable were in a scene together at the very very end of the movie. My dad's role was one notch up from "extra" and he plays a loud mouthed American. He was telling the "Kings" of Hollywood the story about the many many "takes" that were necessary. And in fact they ended up dubbing my dad's voice! What a great story!

I think the best story is how he was asked by Leland Hayward to take photos of apartment buildings in which he thought a writer for Life magazine might live. He took a few shots downtown, midtown and uptown in wide angle, normal and telephoto. He said you could see into one of the apartments that just happened to have been his in the telephoto shot and Alfred Hitchcock liked them and decided to change the character Jimmy Stewart plays in Rear Window from a writer to a photojournalist and based the set on your father's apartment. Do you ever watch the movie and get a kick out that?
The Leland Hayward part is news to me, although I know he was a friend/colleague. I've seen the movie many times (I love Hitchcock!) and indeed the furniture/layout in Jimmy Stewart's apt is very much like the furniture in my parents' early apt (I have some pix.) How fabulous! There is also a video on the web that was taken of Slim Aarons after Getty aquired the rights to his photos discussing this story.

Your father shot for Life, Town and Country and Holiday and Travel & Leisure and Venture and a few stories for other magazines here and there, and seemed to travel the globe quite a lot. Did you and your mother ever travel with him? Did you ever get to meet the beautiful people and celebrities he documented?
We both traveled with him a mom before I was born...the both of us with him a few times, and me several times while in boarding school and college. My mom met lots of exciting people including Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda and the list goes on. She has some fun stories (putting sunscreen or after tan lotion on Henry Fonda, a holiday dinner with Bette Davis, the offer of a car to borrow from Marilyn Monroe etc.) I was given a bottle of perfume by Roman Polanski and Robert Evans while in Rome when I was a young teen on a story with my dad. I helped the Princess of Lichtenstein (sp?) pick out a dress to wear for a shoot (when my dad rejected her first choice), I met Richard Nixon at Le Cirque one Christmas-time lunch when he came by to say hello to my Dad who he had met years prior. Joan Fontaine recommended Elizabeth Arden skincare lotions and potions to me when we ran into her (a former girlfriend of my father's) in Vienna while we were there working on a story the weekend of my 21st birthday. I spent one summer doing captions for him in Greece while doing a story on shipping magnates (lots of tough tough names to spell!)...and more!

The most striking thing about your father's photographs is that they are relaxed and informal. There was no stylist or makeup artist. He prided himself in that! It would infuriate him if someone went to the hairdresser in anticipation of being shot. He wanted natural, unfussy, unposed etc. --and in homes...casual clothes...not formal ones (back to the princess in Lichtenstein mentioned above!) He only (not true) used the natural light (he used cameras with flash/strobes sometimes but not elaborate lighting...I'm not up on my precise camera/lighting terms but he used simple handheld equipment as necessary.) and shot his subjects in their own environments, not a studio or in front of a set. True. I swear everyone in his photos looks more beautiful than models and celebrities shot today and airbrushed to death. Do you ever notice that too? Do you think he ever noticed it? Certainly! Certainly! Photographers and art directors working today often pay "homage" to his work through "imitation" as you've noted! As a child he used to take me to museums to look at the work of the masters...i.e. Mona Lisa etc. "It's all in the eyes", he would say. He learned about lighting, poses , expression, settings etc. from these great paintings.

I'm sure so many people are thankful that the association with Getty Images has resulted to the release of Once Upon a Time in 2003 and A Place in the Sun in 2005 and now Poolside with Slim Aarons due out in November 2007. Do you know if there will be more books down the line?
There likely will be but I don't know any details.

What do you think about A Wonderful Life becoming such a collector's item and selling for thousands of dollars? Was your father aware it was selling for so much?
He loved to have people update him on the going price at Amazon/Alibris etc. He was extremely flattered and amazed!!! He had a few friends with books and he loved to compare "selling prices" with them!

I know this upcoming retrospective must be somewhat bittersweet for you since your father is not here to celebrate with you but it must give you some comfort to know that he really did live a long and wonderful life.
My dad lived a wonderful life and in fact those were his final words to us a few days before he died. About six months before he died Smithsonian magazine did a story on him and he was him that meant he'd become an American legend and he was so proud and excited by that. He was very humble and not boastful but for a young "Huck Finn" type kid he knew he'd done pretty darn well! My family and I are looking forward to the retrospective. There are so many pictures no one's seen for years and years and years...and it will be great seeing them again! The folks at Hearst have worked really hard digging into the archives so that the show will feature lots of these seldom seen pix.

I want to thank Mary Aarons for taking the time to give us the real story behind some of her father's most famous photographs and clearing up a few of the inaccuracies. It's such a treat to hear her wonderful stories and get a glimpse of the man behind the wonderful photographs who really did lead a wonderful life!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Habitually Chic Hotel: JK Place

I have travel on the brain this week. I think it's because I wish I was going somewhere exotic for Labor Day weekend instead of Pennsylvania, which is where I am actually going. I was also originally going to tell you about another hotel in Florence but it's small and actually very reasonably priced and I don't want it too be all booked up before I make a reservation so I'll tell you about that one some other time. Right now, I am going to sing the interior design praises of the JK Place Hotel in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, in the heart of Florence that is a quiet refuge in the middle of a tourist storm. Isn't it beautiful? But then again, what's not beautiful in Florence.

I love their website where they describe themselves as "Exquisitely masculine, British hints, rarefied décor, an understated display, calm and luxurious. There are only 20 rooms. It is immediately clear that this place could never be ordinary, as the sounds of the city fade away and a slower, more thoughtful rhythm prevails."

Ahhh...Firenze...don't you just wish you were there right now? Sigh.

Monday, August 27, 2007

To the Manor Born

I've wanted to travel to Kenya ever since I first saw the movie Out of Africa so I've been saving magazine articles and tear sheets for a very long time. Most relate to safaris and fabulous 5 star accommodations since staying in a tent is not my idea of a vacation but a very special hotel in Nairobi has been catching my eye lately.

Giraffe Manor was built in 1932 by a Scottish lord and was modeled on a Scottish hunting lodge. In 1974, the grandson of a Scots Earl, Jock Leslie Melville and his American wife Betty bought the Manor as their home and soon after moved two highly endangered Rothschild giraffe onto the estate where their future generations have thrived and live today.

"Jock and Betty founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW). The Giraffe Centre (AFEW Kenya) was built on the property so that Kenyan school children could learn conservation/ecology and feed giraffe eyeball to eyeball! Visitors touring Nairobi have a chance to visit and pay an entrance to the Giraffe Centre. Profits go to various projects in Kenya. Betty's son Rick has led AFEW USA and AFEW Kenya since 1983."

When Jock died in 1984, Betty returned to the USA and opened her house, now called The Giraffe Manor, to visitors where it is run by Rick and his wife Bryony.

Isn't this the most fabulous place ever?! Ok, I'll admit it's slightly scary to have giraffes poking their heads into the window even if they are cute, just take a look at some of the other photos on their website, but I love any place that has a mission and a purpose. Plus, it's actually not that expensive! But that only matters if you can actually secure a reservation. Apparently, Giraffe Manor is as popular with the tourists as it is with the giraffes!

J'adore J.Crew!

I was in love with the J.Crew catalog last month because it was shot in my old neighborhood of Beacon Hill in Boston but this time they are Paris. Now I'm really impressed! Tres chic J.Crew!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Charlotte Moss Townhouse - Part III

So, I failed to mention earlier what I was doing with the rest of my Friday. Well, this morning I was touring the Charlotte Moss Townhouse with none other than Charlotte Moss herself and her wonderful assistant Cathy! Go ahead. Take a moment to hate me. I know you want to. I would hate me too. But let me tell you how it happened anyway.

I got home last Saturday after a day of shopping in the city to find an email from, I almost fell off my chair, Charlotte Moss. I had to look at it a few times to make sure no one was playing a trick on me but apparently, Ms. Moss had learned about the wonderful world of blogs! She was so gracious and flattered that I had included the shop on my blog and wanted to meet me! Me! Crazy! So we planned a little interview and meeting!

I thought I would be too nervous to ask questions and write down all the answers legibly and comprehensively at the townhouse so Ms. Moss was kind of enough to answer a few questions ahead of time with the help of her very sweet assistant Cathy. After the interview section, I'll get to the tour!

I mentioned to someone else I interviewed recently that creative types either know from the time they are little that they want to be an artist or designer or get sidetracked completely and end up working in finance or law until they can't take it anymore and finally make the switch. It seems to have been the latter in your case since I know you had a successful career on Wall Street before becoming an interior designer. I'd love to know if you were creative growing up and how you made the decision to finally open your own interior design business.
Yes, I was creative as a child but got sidetracked to Wall Street. In college, I wanted to major in interior design but was too intimidated to complete the portfolio required because I couldn't draw. So instead, I majored in English and took all my minor credits in art history... and as the story always goes on Wall Street...mergers. When the firm I worked for was acquired by a larger one, it was the perfect time for assessing the future. It just seemed like the right time to get a business plan together, take the bonus and go buy a container.

You had a shop on Lexington Avenue from about the time you started your business until it closed in 1996. What made you decide that now was the right time to open another shop, especially one on such a grand scale?
When I started the business in 1985 it was done with a concept similar to an English decorating shop which was foreign in the US. A couple of years ago, I started to get the retail pang again because I felt that something was missing in the shopping experience. As an interior designer and after having done 13 decorator showhouses in my career, I've heard the oooos and aaaahhs from visitors to those rooms - hence I know the value of the finished product. The finished product more often than not isn’t only about the contents but about the atmosphere. I wanted to again create my own retail atmosphere as if I were inviting people in to my own home.

The one thing that everyone seemed to notice right away from the photos online was that the actual facade of the townhouse seems a bit more clean and modern than the rendering. Can you explain to everyone what happened?
Very simple - the restrictions imposed by being in a historic district as well as what the city of New York and the landmarks commission will and will not let you do - it's as simple as that.

I know you love to read, especially biographies about women. I'd love to know which is your favorite book and what are you reading now?
I couldn't possibly name a favorite book! I have 3 libraries so it would be like naming which is my favorite library. I've read too many books to only name one but let me just say if someone gave me a day off I would spend it locked in my library. I have 3 books I'm working right now, Hermoine Lee's biography on Edith Wharton; Istanbul and Deluxe by Dana Thomas. I usually read 3 or 4 books at the same time - all very different. I do that too but my problem is that I never finish half of them!

I think it's important to give back in this world and I know you are very philanthropically inclined. What are the causes that are most important to you?
Child welfare, literacy, immunological research…Unicef, Operation Smile, The Leukemia Society.

We all know now from Joni over at Cote de Texas that you recently sold your Aspen house otherwise known as Winter House and bought a new house. Will we see another book? Perhaps, A New Winter House?
Maybe sometime in the future (first I have to decorate the next Winterhouse - but that's after I merchandise the store for Christmas) but before that you will see "A Flair for Living", a lifestyle book being published by Assouline for Spring 2008. You heard it here first folks!

I've joked to friends that the Charlotte Moss Townhouse is like Mecca for Southerners. I've overheard mothers and daughters on Madison Avenue talking about going over there and the day I visited, there was another big group of Southern ladies shopping. Did you ever have any idea that the new Townhouse would be so well received and talked about online?
My previous store, lectures and books have always had a strong Southern following - after that all you can do is pray.

And finally, what can we expect from you next? What other fabulously chic ideas do you have up your sleeve? After the Townhouse, I can only imagine!
Well of course we won't let the whole cat out of the bag - BUT - as I mentioned above, my next book "A Flair for Living" will be published by Assouline next spring. We'll have a new fragrance at the same time and depending upon how much energy I have a great CD as well. We also have two new collections of bedding to launch in February, two new china patterns this fall, and of course lots of Christmas goodies so please come shopping! We’re going to have a great article in the October issue of O Home hitting the newsstand soon – check it out. We are soooo excited! And so are all of us!!!

I have to say, meeting Charlotte Moss today and having her show me around the shop was such a treat. She pointed out so many details that I would have otherwise missed and was so passionate about everything. She was very eager to point out that the shop was specifically designed to have a diverse array of points, not just so everyone can find something for their price range but because "that's the way we live". We now live in a culture that mixes their Manolos and vintage YSL with current J.Crew, just the way she does!

Charlotte Moss has so much going on, that I cannot understand how she is not exhausted! She is so passionate about the items she has chosen for her shop and she very much appreciates the craftspeople who continue traditions that are slowly dying out, it's hard not to get excited too. There is so much forward momentum with her that you get the feeling she must wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for her next project!

I was very honored that she would take the time out of her obviously busy day to take a little blogger like me on a personal tour. I think that speaks volumes about the graciousness of Charlotte Moss. She also assured me that I am welcome back any time and there will be no need to sneak around taking photos! So sweet! I definitely look forward to reporting back on what I can only imagine will be some spectacular holiday decorations and accessories! Many thanks to Charlotte and Cathy for such a special and memorable tour!

Oh, one piece of advice, if you want to buy anything online or in the shop at Charlotte Moss, I'd do it soon because you know the minute Oprah's O at Home magazine comes out, there will probably be a mad dash to buy up every fabulous item...but if that happens, I have a feeling Charlotte Moss already has a few new tricks up her haute couture sleeve to keep us coming back for more!

Orange You Glad It's Friday?!

Oh, here I go again with two of my favorite things, the color orange and vintage cars, all wrapped into one adorable package. Tina Turner is sitting in one the cutest little cars ever made, a Fiat 500 Jolly. I LOVE these cars and when I'm rich enough to afford a villa in the South of France like Tina, I'm gonna buy one too!

Until then, I'm going to enjoy my glorious day off today and pretend I'm a lady who lunches while getting my hair done. Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Highland Fling

It's a grey day in New York today and everything I thought about posting seemed too cheerful after Andree Putman and Chateau Les Merles so I thought I would post a photographic essay of a modernist castle on the moors of Scotland instead. Created by one of the world's leading architects, Moshe Safdie, the brawny yet graceful stone and glass towers of Corrour Lodge marry the past to the present. The photographs by Martyn Thompson are so breathtaking that I am going to let them do all the talking. If you want more information, it can be found in the February 2006 issue of House & Garden. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Absolutely Beautiful Hotel: Chateau Les Merles

Recently, Anna over at Absolutely Beautiful Things profiled the most gorgeous hotel in France, Chateau Les Merles, that I am absolutely drooling over. I'm sure all of you saw her post but the hotel's website has so many more beautiful photos online that I just had to share some of them. I hope Anna doesn't mind. I also thought it would a perfect follow up to Andree Putman.

As you have probably realized by now, I'm a total sucker for period details mixed with modern furnishings and Chateau Les Merles with the help of Dutch designer Joris van Grinsven more than delivers. It is now completely and utterly alone at the top of my must visit list!

I LOVE the hand door knocker above and the punch of color on the chairs below. The photographer wasn't credited on the Chateau's website but he should be because he or she has a great eye for composition!

The white slip covers lend a casual relaxed atmosphere to what could have been a very austere room and the light wood colored armoire softens up the black and white palette.

I love the chalk board labels in the wine storage room below, as well as the graphic pattern of the square bins and round bottles.

I was surprised to learn that the Chateau had a golf course, which I think would make a fun couples trip. Of course, I'd be laying out by the pool and drinking some of that wine while everyone else was out chasing a little white ball. You didn't really think I played sports did you?

Life with Andrée

I'm not a huge fan of black and white or neutral interiors but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate them when I see them done well. Such is the case of the Paris townhouse designed by the uber-fabulous French interior designer Andrée Putman. She's so chic she frankly scares me a little bit! I picture her scowling and yelling in raspy French to her workmen while a Gitanes dangles precariously from her lips.

But, I love the way she mixes the modern furnishings, including furniture from her six easy pieces line for Ralph Pucci, with the 19th century interior full of period moldings and hardware. Even though I love color, I feel like I could easily live her it's so serene and relaxing. I think I might need to have multiple homes to accommodate all of my different design personalities.

I've seen her do this type of vertical garden in the courtyard pictured above at the Perhing Hall Hotel in Paris and I hear she has plans to install one at the Morgans Hotel in New York that she originally designed 20 years ago and is currently in the process of redesigning.

I think part of the reason that the home doesn't look too cold or stark is the use of so many curved lines. From the circular staircase above to the custom furniture with curved edges and tables with big round ball feet, everything is soft and seems to flow. She even continues the curves in the kitchen and bathroom not shown.

I think modern gets a bad wrap sometimes but Andrée Putman actually manages to make it look pretty and inviting. I just hope she didn't get any cigarette ashes on the white carpet!

Photos by François Halard

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To My Shagreen

I happened to be looking around blogland today and stumbled upon Studio Annetta's lovely blog to find that she had just profiled one of my favorite design firms, Augousti. Owners Ria and Yiouri are pictured above. You have probably seen their shagreen and snakeskin bags around, as many stores carry them but their furniture is exclusive to Barney's and it is amazing!

It just so happens that I was at Barney's recently and had photographed their shagreen desk and matching chair. It was not only beautiful but was so well crafted and thought out. The little doors on each side open to reveal storage areas, one hidden by a lid and the other for hanging folders.

The desk alone was $4,000 so I didn't even bother to check how much the chair was because if you have to ask, you can't afford it and I definitely don't think I could have afforded it, much to my chagrin. I may have to make due with one of their little clutches. They seem to be a bit more in my price range.

Give Me Libertine or Give Me Death!

I thought about calling this post Johnson Hartig's All Grown Up and I'll explain why in a minute. As many of you probably know by know, Libertine designers Cindy Greene and Johnson Hartig pictured above are profiled in the September 2007 issue of Domino. But what few of you probably remember is that Johnson Hartig was also profiled in the September 2002 issue of House Beautiful below! I know this because I have the tear sheets to prove it! I thought it would be fun to look back and see how his style has changed in the past five years. I think it definitely looks like he grew up and refined his decorating style while still retaining his penchant for collecting.

Hartig above from five years ago working on his then burgeoning clothing line in the red workroom. Glad to his dog Pocket is still around too!

The photo above is of Hartig's new living room in his house in LA which is dominated by a giant Damien Hirst spin painting. I remember making this type of art when I was little. I might have to ask my parents to find them since they're back in vogue! Hirst was also a recent collaborator on a recent Libertine collection. Hence the skulls as well.
The walls in the new house mostly all white a departure from his previous LA penthouse living room that was full of color above. The new white walls are the perfect blank canvas for his colorful collection of art but also work well with his antiques and modern furniture.

Everything seems cleaner and more streamlined in the new house above as compared to the old penthouse below which was a bit cluttered. An English Regency dresser is flanked by 18th-century chairs and topped off with a Lucite and chrome flea market lamp.

Hartig did keep his British flag motif but instead of a rug like in the old penthouse above, he now has a pillow on the couch. A self professed Anglophile, now mixes his Anglo antiques along side Lucite, modern art and memento mori that all seems to work.

I think it's amusing that the new house has white walls in every room but the bedroom above while the old penthouse had colorful painted walls in every room but the bedroom. I love how his style has changed and evolved and it's so nice to know that the company he was running out of his penthouse is still in business. Libertine has grown up and it looks as if Johnson Hartig has too! Oh, and a line for Target ain't too shabby!

Photos by Paul Costello and Fernando Bengoechea