Monday, 28 February 2011

Purpose in life?

“Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not.”
Oscar Wilde

The top frocks from the Oscars 2011 red carpet, in my opinion:

1. The best dress of them all has to be this simply stunning number by Elie Saab, worn by Mila Kunis:

2. A close runner-up is this gorgeous little number by (British fashion house) Marchesa, sported by the ever-stylish Halle Berry:

3. I particularly love this vintage Charles James frock, sported by Marisa Tomei:

4. Hilary Swank looked wonderful in this ostrich feather-trimmed Gucci number:

5. And last, but by no means least, Sandra Bullock wore this Vera Wang gown particularly well...

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ah, der schwans...

It is Oscars Night tonight, and as usual there is absolutely nothing to entice me to stay up till the wee small hours just to see Anne Hathaway simpering, or Amy Adams crying...

However, if there is an Oscar for Best Movie Poster, there is indeed only one winner:

Friday, 25 February 2011

Irresistible urges

To conclude this mini-roundup of the camp joys of London Fashion week, it has to be the master of fashion madness - Mr John Galliano!

“Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.”
Rene Konig

Pink and yellow

...there's always something a bit eye-catching in a Meadham Kirchoff collection!

Their Spring/Summer 2011 collection at London Fashion Week:

“We do not to have a signature but rather a handwriting. We like to tell stories in different ways.”

Meadham Kirchoff catwalk gallery

The dark side of fashion

It appears that vampire chic continues its inexorable rise.

Julien MacDonald's Autumn/Winter 2011 collection at London Fashion Week:

"There is a little bit of vampire instinct in every woman."
Theda Bara

More on Fashion Gone Rogue blog

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A remarkable Madame

“I’m an enemy of the average” was a favourite saying of one of the most fascinating social-climbers of the 20th century Madame Ganna Walska. Average she certainly wasn’t!

Born Hanna Puacz on June 26, 1887 in Brest-Litovsk, Poland, she began her long journey towards fortune and fame (well, fortune, certainly!) as a teenager when she eloped with the Russian Count Arcadie d’ Einghorn, and by the age of nineteen she had been chosen by the Czar himself to have her portrait painted as “the most beautiful woman at a royal ball.”

Tiring of the Count's excesses, she fled to Western Europe and with a combination of being "exotic" (to be Russian was to be the epitome of style in belle epoque Paris) and alluring to rich men, she continued to make a comfortable lifestyle for herself. Over the years her passion for jewellery and costumes were to exceed even her wildest dreams - Erté even designed gowns for her. But war was looming, and to the ever-ambitious Ganna the freedom and even greater wealth of America soon beckoned.

"More is better" was another favourite phrase.

True to form, despite marrying the wealthy New York endocrinologist Dr Joseph Fraenkel, Ganna soon "befriended" the billionaire industrialist Harold McCormick (married at the time to a Rockerfeller heiress) who supported her ambitions to become a leading opera singer (henceforth she would be known as "Madame").

After the death of Dr Fraenkel however, while on a luxury liner back to Paris Madame the Widow landed an even more tempting prize in Alexander Cochran, then known as “the richest bachelor in the world.” They married (eventually), and divorced (with a substantial settlement in Ganna's favour, naturally) after two years.

And so to the smitten Mr McCormick she returned, who, now divorced, soon made a happy (and wealthy) fourth husband for Madame. So devoted was he that he even purchased the Theatre de Champs-Elysees in Paris just so she could keep on singing her beloved opera, deluding herself she was a true star. So devoted was she that she refused to move to Chicago to live with him. He divorced her after nine years. She settled handsomely.

Of her singing, one writer says:

"While she was never in the same league of vocal terrorism as the notoriously pitch-averse Florence Foster Jenkins, the name Ganna Walska in a programme was never the hallmark of a good night out. Reviewing a Paris production of Rigoletto in 1923, Time commented that Walska had a voice “good enough for small parlour singing,” but no more. It further reported that the audience laughed openly at the squawks which formed her upper register. The curt headline said it all: Beautiful, Wealthy, She Has No Voice."
Most unusual of Madame's marriages was to Harry Grindell-Matthews, inventor of the Death Ray – an “experimental device that could disable car engines by remote control”. A bizarre choice indeed, given the imbalance of wealth between he and she - during her marriage to Harold McCormick, the luggage she was transporting from Europe to the US on one trip alone was estimated at a value of $2.5 million dollars by Customs! It was inevitably doomed to failure - she left for America as WW2 began, and he died of a folorn heart attack in 1941.

One would almost think that the (by now) independently wealthy Ganna would have given up on husbands! After all, her huge collection of jewels included a 95 carat yellow diamond, and among her properties she owned a French chateau. But she had another passion (apart from money and opera) yet to satisfy - he love of spirituality. And so it came to pass that she fell for and married her yoga instructor Theos Bernard, twenty years her junior. Lucky boy!

But it is Mr Bernard's influence (albeit brief; they divorced after four years) we have to thank for the longest-lasting legacy of the great Madame Walska - for he encouraged her to purchase a rambling estate in California in the 1940s, and to create a beautiful garden in its grounds. That garden - "Lotusland" - which Ganna tended for the rest of her life until she died (aged ninety-seven) in 1984, is renowned today as one of America's masterpieces.

And so we salute the camp fabulosity that surrounds the complex and fascinating life of Madame Ganna Walska! RIP a unique socialite...

"More is better", she said, and where traditionally one or two plants would do, Madame, in signature profusion, would place a hundred of the same species. She loved minerals. She adorned herself with jewels and her garden with amethyst crystals, lava rocks and seashells. Her sense of romance (it's hard to imagine being married six times without having some sense of the romantic) comes alive in her unique Blue Garden, which shimmers under a full moon.
Sean K. MacPherson

Ganna Walska's Garden of Dreams

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Rich, Rich, Rich

I recently came across this article from the glittering 1980s, and had to share it...

Rich, Rich, Rich: Eight Hundred People, Plus Nancy, Rub Moneyed Elbows For New York`s Bash Of The Year.
April 01, 1987, by Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune.

There may have been a few grander occasions this century - Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, for example, or perhaps Cornelia Guest’s 27th coming-out party. But certainly there’s been no grander occasion in New York this year than the modest little dinner for 800 that the Fun Apple’s Metropolitan Opera threw last week for First Lady Nancy Reagan and several hundred square yards of some of the richest people in America.

This was not merely one of those tacky hotel ballroom dinners, where they serve parsley that looks like it had also visited last night’s tacky hotel dinner.

Among other things, all 800 swells and ladies were seated and tabled on the actual Metropolitan Opera stage. We’re talking about a full infantry battalion of rich people, and there was still room for Michael Carney’s entire society orchestra and a dance floor large enough for mass tangos.

Mrs. Reagan was radiant and sublimely elegant in an emerald-green, floor-length Carolina Herrera gown (one can’t wear a mere Adolfo to the Fun Apple, where Herrera is hot, hot, hot).

But even Nancy the Glorious was overwhelmed by all the sumptuous splendour.

The stage was decorated with the huge and brightly hued Chagall hangings used for the stage setting of the Met’s production of The Magic Flute - which, a propros de rien, was Mozart’s peculiar operatic ode to the Masons.

Nibbles and sips
There were 12 candles and I think six dozen roses on every table, for which patrons had to pony up as much as 25 grand. There was pasta with lobster and asparagus, roast loin of veal, sugar snap peas and wild rice with chestnuts and cranberries. There was Simi Chardonnay 1984, Simi Cabernet 1982, Chandon Blanc de Noirs and an X.O. cognac that no Christian Brother ever got near.

But mostly there was money, money, money, money, money, money. True, they do throw elegant affairs to benefit provincial outfits like Chicago’s Lyric Opera, but someone from the Plumbers Union always turns up.

Here there were no plumbers. Or Masons, And certainly no politicians such as are always underfoot at Washington galas.

All right, Gloria Steinem got on the list, as did the dreadfully fashionable First Friend Jerome Zipkin and that syndicated name-dropper Suzy. And Your Humble Servant was many miles out of his tax bracket.

But most of the names were stratospherically haut monde. David and Laurance Rockefeller, Bus Mosbacher. Nancy Kissinger. Oscar de la Renta. Mrs. John Hay Whitney. Sao Schlumberger (pronounced, please, Sow Shlumbairzhay). Carolyn Roehm. And the late Shah’s little darling, Princess Sarvenaz Pahlavi. Of course, the $1,000 or more a plate was just loose change. Weighing in with the really big bucks were entire corporations. I don’t mean Mr. Donut, either. I mean AT&T (although Cliff Robertson couldn’t make it), American Express, Bristol-Meyers, Chase Manhattan, Coca-Cola, First Boston, Johnson & Johnson, Manufacturers Hanover, Merrill Lynch (happily for Mrs. Reagan, former Lyncher Don Regan didn’t make it either).

Soprano Marilyn Horne entertained, singing among other things, Rossini’s Di tanti palpiti, which I think was also the name of the pasta-and-lobster salad.

Unfortunately, New Yorkers have a way of imbuing even the most tasteful occasion (Mrs. Reagan received an award designed by Harry Winston for her contribution to the arts) with that Fun Apple touche de glitz.

Spotting the swells
One couple sweeping up the stairs to the mezzanine for the pre-dinner champagne swill made a beeline for the railing overlooking the entrance.

He (a short, square person who despite black tie looked like he once worked at the Sands as a pit boss): “This is a nice position. You can see all the action. Check the names for me.”
She (a towering brunette with cleavage like the federal deficit): “Gimme some champagne.”

Another woman was overheard talking about her new country house: “We’re not high enough to see rolling. We see woods.”

And I just loved Martha Redfield Wallace when she waved vaguely at the Opera balconies and said, “I own a box up there - somewhere.”

I fear there was almost a tasteless scene when, caught up in the romance of the moment, Your Humble Servant was almost decked by a banker for kissing his wife’s hand. But Yr.Hbl.Svt. also kissed the hand of one of Mrs. Reagan’s associates and the Secret Service only smiled.

Class, as they say, will out.