Rediscovering India

I don’t think you fully know color until you go to India. On a recent sojourn, I rediscovered the impact of the bold colors that wash over everyday life there. From the goldenrod, emerald, vermilion, and cobalt array of sari fabrics with their intricate metallic embroidery, to the mounds of ripened fruits and vegetables in the markets, to the stark contrast of the desert sand and azure sky, the saturation of color is intoxicating.

Submersing in the local culture is, to me, the greatest benefit of travel. When I am in another country, I want to wear their clothes (maybe it’s my connection to the fashion world, but when I go to Salzburg, I buy a dirndl), see their art, listen to their music and shop where the locals shop, and of course eat their food. I will try just about any food, except eel (bad memories from watching “The Tin Drum” years ago). I have been fortunate to travel all over the world and taste many strange foods along the way. Ironically, the only place I’ve ever gotten food poisoning is in Aspen.

India is one of the most exotic countries, and diving into its rich culture is like soul food for the artist and designer in me. When you love something, be it a piece of art or music, a delicious treat, or a place, you want to share it with those you love. Such is the case with India. This trip was dreamed up to show Simon and my dear friends Katherine and Annette.

Traveling to India with companions who had never been was a special treat and a big responsibility. It was up to me to take the lead and show them some favorite discoveries I’d made on four previous trips to the country of color. Hiring a good guide proved indispensable when it came time to plan outings throughout the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. A jaunt to Jaipur, the Pink City, for jewelry shopping, a colonial cocktail hour and camel ride on the lunar landscape near the Pakistan border, and a day at the Taj Mahal were among the highlights.

Simon was out-numbered by three women who love to shop and he was the best of sports as we scoured the markets for sari fabrics, exotic foods, and other Indian treasures. On this particular trip, I fell in love with many gorgeous, handmade Indian papers that are seen throughout my gift wrap collections.

Being a gardener and flower lover, I missed the boats full of flowers and the floating gardens that I had experienced on earlier trips to Kashmir, which was not open to Western tourists at the time of this trip. But our days were full of staggering beauty and history and we all returned home refreshed and full of wonder and new inspiration.

Offbeat Christmas

I love tradition and all that comes with the holiday season, but sometimes thinking outside of the box is in order.

In these photos I feature a different motif for holiday decorating and entertaining. Red and green take a backseat as accent colors to a stunning black and white theme.

The idea to deck the halls in unexpected hues came to me several months ago when I was planning a pink tablescape to complement a breast cancer fundraiser for the PBS show, “The Holiday Table.” As I was searching for a playful pink Christmas tree, I came upon these wonderful black conifers. I immediately thought of the Baccarat Zenith chandelier designed by Philippe Starck, which set off a design trend that’s been cropping up in both fashion and interiors.

Whether you have a contemporary or traditional décor, these black and white pieces work because the lines and patterns are classic while the  color scheme has a modern flair. Maintaining the continuity of your aesthetic is more important than adhering to a strict style or color theme, especially for temporary adornments. Additionally, seasonal decorating is a fun way to try out new ideas without committing to major changes.

Even if you’re not ready to give up the old red and green entirely this year, consider switching themes for a special lunch gathering or cocktail party. Your guests are sure to love a fresh take on the Yuletide celebration.

Spooky Soirée

I have always loved Halloween. I suppose it is natural for a fashion designer to gravitate to this holiday. Given all the opportunities it presents to let the imagination fly. My love of costume design was seeded in those first Halloween costumes I made as a little girl. When my French goddaughter and her mother proposed a trip to the United States near the end of October, I though, “Aha!” Here was an opportunity to show them a fun, quintessentially American tradition.

Instead of making this a black and orange color scheme, I worked with a palette of silver, gray, and black and wanted my party table to resemble Miss Havisham’s decaying banquet room in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Cobwebs, fog, and a look of disheveled splendor became the theme.

The party was held in my studio, a simple, clean space with high ceilings that is an ideal place to create another world. The pair of chandeliers that light it was my starting point: I stretched what seemed like miles of artificial cobwebs from the chandeliers to every corner, then enhanced the gauzy ethereal look by adding bits of dried Spanish moss. I dyed mounds of cheesecloth in varying shades of gray to cover the dinner and buffet tables and create oversized ghosts that hung on the porch and throughout the room. The heads were draped with the gauzy cheesecloth and adorned with sad faces cut from black felt.

Anchored at each end of the dining table were barren artificial trees draped in faux spiderwebs and moss and filled with faux bats, black crows, and a large stuffed owl. Dilapidated candelabra with black candles, rubber snakes, spiders, and silver pumpkins made up the tableau. Sinister hosts–creepy skeletons rented from New York City’s Abracadabra costume shop presided and were so realistic they were truly frightening to some. Each child had his or her fortune told by “Madame Rosa” (who works with me). With some advance help from a mom or dad, she was able to impress the children with her insider knowledge of their hobbies, school life, and friendships.

For food, we had genuine kids’ fare, but the adults seemed to love the food every bit as much! On the menu were homemade Sesame Chicken Fingers with Peach Honey Sauce, Cookie Cutter French Fries, (recipes for these are in A Passion for Parties) macaroni and cheese, baby hamburgers and hot dogs, salad, and treats–homemade popcorn balls, ice cream, and individual black widow spider cakes mounted on caramelized sugar webs. Guests received the obligatory trick-or-treat candy to take home. No one refused the goody bag!

Fall Flowers at Weatherstone

While I admit that my very favorite flowers bloom in late spring and early summer, I can honestly say I love just about every flower. As I have said repeatedly, there are no “bad flowers,” only people who do them badly! So while I might swoon over a tree peony or a garden rose, I still love those big old mums (which we wore as corsages to homecoming games in my day), and I adore dahlias and coxcomb. The wonderful textures from seedpods, rose hips, and the bountiful autumn berries and fruits help create subtle texture in bouquets and decorations. A stroll down a country road (or a quick trip to the flower market) can yield enough interesting foliage, pods, and berries to create a wonderful bouquet with out a single flower!  But mixed with a few choice blooms, these seasonal additions create especially wonderful decorations for autumn parties and holidays.
My favorite foliage and fruits include rose hips, viburnum berries, grasses, bittersweet, crabapples, hypericum…. All are wonderful textural elements.

Of Fashion And Fabric

When I began working for Oscar de La Renta more years ago than I’d like to count, I made myself indispensable by learning everything I could about textiles. To many, sifting through piles and piles of fabric was a tiresome task, but I didn’t see it–or feel it–that way. I loved to move each piece between my thumb and fingers comparing textures, colors, drape and other details. I was fascinated by the different ways the fabrics were made and how they could be manipulated. What seemed like pesky minutiae to some was exciting to me. Luckily my enthusiasm for all things fabric had a higher purpose than just appealing to my senses–I became Oscar’s textile editor, a coveted position on the team.

Although I eventually left the fashion world to pursue other forms of design, I did not leave behind my love for textiles. I find that they continue to inform much of what I do artistically.

Throughout this last year, I have been consumed with the completion of Westbury, my retreat in the mountains of Colorado. These past few months in particular, I’ve been swimming in upholstery and other interior fabrics as we finalize the decorating. Simultaneously, I was in the midst of planning my Autumn Collection. At some point, long after decisions were made for both Westbury and the Collection, it became obvious that the two endeavors were intrinsically linked without my conscious intention. It’s as if by osmosis that the papers and ribbons I chose belong in the rooms of Westbury.

In a sense they do, I suppose. I am always driven by the seasons and had long ago decided to give Westbury an autumnal feel. I love the rich palette of reds and browns and greens and oranges. Additionally, I am tactile by nature, so things with a lot of texture always appeal to me. Call it an obsession with fabrics or just a coincidence, but either way, textiles have yet again proven a huge boon to my creative process.

And now again as I start a new project, the restoration of the house in Charleston I bought in June—over the so many elements of the designing process I am still the most inspired by beautiful textiles. I shall share some of the beauties I find as the designing process procedes.

Vintage Flowers

When I was a girl in the 1950s, both of my grandmothers wore hats. I always admired the gorgeous, fabric flowers that often embellished their showy picture and petal versions inspired, no doubt, by Elizabeth Taylor. The flowers looked so real that my young heart’s desire was to pluck them right off! (But of course I didn’t). One of my grandmothers was a great collector of beautiful things and I often accompanied her to estate sales looking for silk flowers and other treasures.

Later, as a designer in the fashion industry, I was fascinated with Coco Chanel’s trademark white, silk camellias, which were a mark of distinction in the 1930s and ’40s. While in Paris, I pored over the archives of La Mariè, Chanel’s manufacturer, and studied the delicate construction of the wearable works of art. Another prominent fashion bloom I find captivating is Christian Dior’s lily of the valley, also made by La Mariè. It is an endearing favorite of mine, in part, because it is my birth flower.

As I began planning my gift-wrap collections, I naturally gravitated to the fashion world–rather than the craft world–when seeking out flowers. I knew it was there that I would find the very highest quality and most realistic of blooms.

I was lucky enough to come upon a stash of vintage flowers from a German man whose family was in the silk flower trade. These pre- and post-war antique flowers were made in Eastern Europe, some in occupied countries. They are dazzling in detail. Though they are made of cotton, silk, velvet, organdy and other fabrics, they are so subtle and beautiful that you almost feel as though you can smell their fragrance. Many of them were individually shaped and starched over metal forms and tinted by careful hands.

The handmade blossom is a dying art that one hates to see go. They are so fitting with sumptuous papers and ribbons but also capable of making a statement solo. I love the idea of pinning one to the bulletin board or placing it in a vase on the bedside table. They are that beautiful.

Big Day, Big Dreams

Many brides have envisioned their wedding day for years, yet still, combining all of the elements to make it perfect is a daunting task that can leave anyone overwrought with all of the decisions.

Weddings have always been immensely appealing to me. They encompass so many of my passions: clothing, entertaining, flowers, gift giving and tradition. And each is on a grand scale. When you think of it, most women are likely to be surrounded by more flowers on her wedding day than any other time in her life. And her gown is probably the most splendid dress she will ever wear.

With the Presentations Wedding Collection, I focused on the various design elements that make up what should be a magical day. I sorted through the clutter to offer a thoughtfully edited assortment of the most beautiful, stylish and timeless pieces.

And beyond planning the big event, this is a time when couples are embarking on the task of setting up a home. Creating your own look and style encompasses much more than the decorations you choose. The flowers you use, how you set a table, how comfortable you make a guest room, how you decorate for special occasions and the importance you place on details of beauty and comfort all establish your personal style.

Some items are selected for their timeless elegance and classic style, others for the quality of make and design, and some because of their whimsy or possession of what the French call “un certain je ne sais quoi.” Some of the items are a real investment that you will use forever and others are small additions that give a new “look” or a creative twist to a room or table that do not break the bank. Whether you are planning the big day, a new home, or adding to an existing collection, know that here I have strived to offer items—both large and small—that share an intrinsic style and beauty.

Sailing the Fabled Cape Horn II

Simon and I received an exciting invitation to join some English friends on a sailing trip through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, and if the winds permitted, the rounding of Cape Horn. I did not know the significance of this voyage from either an historical perspective or the standpoint of seamanship; it merely sounded like an adventure.

Simon as an Australian, a sailor, and someone who has always loved the romanticism of the sea, introduced me to stories of lost ships and sailors and the journey of Charles Darwin through the Beagle Channel.

Arriving in Santiago, Chile, at the height of summer and traveling on to Punta Arenas, I was not prepared for the change in temperature that we would experience as we set out to sea. This was a far cry from sailing gently in the Caribbean on placid, warm turquoise waters! I had expected the beautiful blue glaciers, as I had climbed some of them on a previous trip to Chile, but instead of walking in hiking shorts with just a camera in hand, I now was dressed in fleece, long johns, and heavy-duty marine gear, looking and feeling a bit less than glamorous.

As we sailed through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, we listened to Simon’s tales of the those hearty explorers burdened in their great coats and other 19th century garb, and of the Fuegans, the indigenous inhabitants of this severe world, who in snow and ice wore no clothes at all except an animal draped over their shoulders. One really wonders how these intrepid people survived!

I, dressed in layers of high tech winter clothing, was freezing to death if I stayed out on deck too long when we were under sail (and to think this was summer here—what on earth must winter be like?) But of course this was merely the calm (or cold) before the storm. When the skipper determined that we would attempt to go around the Horn, I had no idea what 50 mile an hour winds with sleet and rain would feel like. Also, I never thought to inquire what they really meant by that word “attempt”.

I should have asked if we could turn around if the going got too rough, or if we would just be another casualty of Cape Horn that one hears about in all of those sad sea ballads. I have never been afraid of challenging situations, whether jumping horses, rigorous sailing, extreme skiing or going to questionable places, so fear was not a factor for me. Perhaps it is just a reflection of the old adage “ignorance is bliss,” but I do not scare easily.

What did get me, however, was the cold, and seasickness. We were informed by the captain that under no circumstances could we be on deck without being tethered to the boat and dressed in full life preserver gear. Even the very experienced crew was required to follow these extreme dress regulations. As the waves washed up over the deck of the boat, the captain (wearing ski goggles so he could avoid his vision being impaired by the pelting sleet) explained that if any of us went into the water we would have 3 to 4 minutes before the freezing water would kill us. With that thought in mind I drank another cup of hot soup, but a hot toddy would probably have been a saner choice given the circumstances!

As a student of Shakespeare I can say he certainly got it correct when he said “All’s well that ends well”, but… while I am grateful to have experienced this challenging sea adventure, I must say I am more than happy to be back on land with my feet and spade planted firmly in the garden and my mind turned to more carefree thoughts of daffodils, tulips, and the planting of a new rose and perennial garden.