BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: MISTRESS OF THE RITZ

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I was reluctant to read another book based on World War II, and there are so many, as well there should be, knowing we must never forget the horrors of war and especially WWII. The reason I didn’t want to read this was I needed something not as heavy but I succumbed to the pull of The Ritz Hotel and how it played a major roll in the Nazi occupation of Paris and actually served as its headquarters in Paris.  Being a historical novel written by the amazing story teller/historian, Melanie Benjamin it was a no brainer as I have enjoyed all her writings….and, a bonus, I was able to obtain an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) from NetGalley.  Having recently read and reviewed on my blog (see the Archives) Ritz and Escoffier, which I really loved, I was interested to learn more about how The Ritz survived this horrific period in history.

The story revolves around the Ritz French General Manager, Claude Auzello and his American wife, Blanche.  Beginning with their whirlwind courtship, and his advancement as a hotelier it then follows them through the intrigues of living with and serving the enemy in their Hotel.  Becoming an important part of the Resistance evolves and using historical facts Benjamin keeps the story moving with intrigue, love affairs, behind the scenes hotel stories as well as how everyday citizens respond to crisis in order to survive.

Obviously, wartime at the Ritz was one of the darker chapters in the hotel’s history. When they arrived in Paris, the Germans used the hotel as a swanky headquarters for high-ranking officers, Hermann Göring among them. The Nazis took over half the hotel, allowing the other half to remain open to guests. Gone were the halcyon days of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Porter and the romantic thoughts of Proust….instead the uniforms and boots of Nazi’s filled the lobby, bar and rooms of the legendary hotel.  The hotel staff ate well from the leftovers of the invaders and, of course Claude and Blanche lived on site.

I felt the story told us more of Blanches role as she became more independent of her husband in trying to find her way in a hostile environment, to help those in need, as well as a more self sufficient woman.

Having done extensive research on Paris Haute Couture, I do know quite a bit about how the French Couturiers survived, some are briefly mentioned, and of Hitler’s desire to move Couture to Berlin, not mentioned in the book but worth your while to research if you are interested, it is a fascinating story.  I did enjoy the encounter, in the book, between Blanche, who is wearing a Schiaparelli dress, and Mademoiselle Chanel’s comments to her.  Chanel and Schiaparelli were arch enemies and this sentence conveys this animosity perfectly.

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Chanel in her Suite at The Ritz

Gabrielle Chanel plays a minor role in this novel but her presence is definitely there and she makes an occasional appearance. It was while she was staying at the Ritz during the war years that she had a romantic liaison with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer and spy. She also took care of him in her home, Villa Pausa on the French Riviera, after the war.  There is much speculation about Chanel and the Nazi’s….was she a collaborator, was she a spy for the British…for more on this story I recommend reading Sleeping With The Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. 

I know you want to know if I recommend reading this book….by now you must know I don’t review books I don’t like so the answer is yes, read it….and guess what Ms. Benjamin will appear at my Independent Bookseller of choice The Book Stall in June, be sure to check it out, I hope to attend.

Melanie Benjamin, Author

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nenasnotes THE FASHION BOOK CLUB

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A portion of my fashion library.

I am almost giddy with excitement, why you ask….I am celebrating a year of nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club and what a year it has been. Meeting each month with bubbles and bites, door prizes, goodie bags and give away books with a great group of regular members, their guests and new attendees it has been something I look forward to.  Meeting in an elegant Private Club, in my opinion, just adds to this special series.  We spend a half hour mixing and mingling with each other, then an hour of discussion.  I’m working on taping the conversations so I can share them with all of you….stay tuned.

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Our signature bubbles…..

I thought it would be a bit of fun to review what we have read so far and what is on the calendar for the rest of this year, I’ve left some dates open to slot in new releases.  I have, so far, only done new releases as close to publication as possible and most months I am in conversation, via conference call, with the authors, leaving time, of course, for Q & A.  In addition, I always have the current book and the next month’s selection on site for purchase and work closely with my Independent Bookseller,  The Book Stall

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Some of us at one of the monthly nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club meetings.

Let’s take a look at what we read and a peek into the upcoming books that will be featured this year….

MAY 2018

A book I highly recommended…I recommend all of the books we have studied.  This is a highly researched, detailed account of Loulou de la Falaise and Yves Saint Laurent….great conversation with Christopher Petkanas and here is my Amazon review…

JUNE 2018
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Not a new release, in fact out of print, I thought a fun tie-in to the out-of-town preview of The Cher Show and I could talk a bit about my experiences working with the amazing Bob Mackie (fingers crossed that he wins the Tony award for best costumes….how could that not happened!!). A stunning book loaded with very glam photos and I love the typesetting…totally unique just like the designer.
AUGUST 2018
It is unimaginable that this is the first monograph on the quintessential designer, Norman Norell and it is glorious. Written by Jeffrey Banks, a designer himself and extraordinary author with many illustrations by the amazing Michael Vollbracht.  A must for your fashion library.  Jeffrey is a brilliant interview and gave us so many insights into Mr. Norell, I was so fortunate to have fine many shows with him.  And the cover of the book with the iconic Suzy Parker, probably my favorite of the first group of super models.  A profile of Jeffrey can be found in the nenasnotes Archives.
My Amazon review…
“I have approximately 1000 books on fashion. I must say this extraordinary first monograph on one of the most important fashion designers, Norman Norell, by the talented designer/author, Jeffrey Banks, now tops my list. Each page MUST be devoured slowly, each iconic photograph and each brilliant Michael Vollbracht drawing only add to the beauty of the book. I had the great pleasure of working with Mr. Norell and his exquisite 4 models, Claudia, Claire, Denise and Yvonne (along with four local, Chicago, look alike models) on several fashion shows. The book took me back to the days when everyone dressed magnificently and everyone (me included) coveted a Norell specially a sequin mermaid gown. His talent, his creativity, his humble personality are all emphasized in NORELL. I am beyond thrilled that two of my favorite world class designers have now been immortalized in their long over due books…first, a couple of years ago, Bonnie Cashin:Chic Is Where You Find It by Stephanie Lake and now Norell: Master Of American Fashion, both iconic designers who led the emergence of what we now know as American Fashion. Bravo Jeffrey Banks. I encourage all interested in design, beauty and the history of fashion to hit the buy button immediately!!”

SEPTEMBER 2018

Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It yet another long over due monograph written by the keeper of the Cashin Archives, Stephanie Lake (I have written several nenasnotes post on Stephanie check the archives to sample her lifestyle and that of her husband,  Cory and daughter Odette).  Stephanie sent charming take always and book plates for the attendees.  A fabulous in depth conversation that could have gone on for more that the allotted hour but that is true with all my authors.

OCTOBER 2018

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A brilliant book part Dior biography and part the story of his homes in collaboration with just as talented interior designers.  Loved this book unfortunately I could make the schedule work with author, Maureen Footer…she has promised to talk with us with her next book….let’s look forward to that in the near future.

Yet another of my Amazon reviews….I seem to dwell on my collection….ah well…

“I own over 1000 fashion books (my goal to own all published!), did I need to add another on Christian Dior, the answer is YES, when it is this extraordinarily researched and elegantly presented book by Maureen Footer. It is perfection and gives the reader a different slant of one of the most original and iconic of all fashion designers. Dior’s love for creativity in his fashion extends to his homes and salons and love of his gardens. Given the background of the elegant creators he worked with and Dior’s vision it becomes an intriguing story and the accompanying photographs are the icing on the cake. Adding to that icing an exquisite forward by another iconic influencer, Hamish Bowles. I do a monthly Fashion Book Club and this was a highlight of the series. Get this for yourself and for gifts, you will not be disappointed.”

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Door prize box of Dior goodies and a goodie bag for each attendees

NOVEMBER 2018

Another designer I had the pleasure of working with, Carolyne Roehm, who reinvented herself as a brilliant writer, I am obsessed with each of her books, they are glorious as is this one.  Look at this stunning cover, the photographer non other than our own uber talented, Victor Skrebneski!  You will find more of this geniuses work between the covers.  So much to say about this look at creativity at its very best.  Loved her designs, love her homes, love her floral talent and adore her books.

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DECEMBER 2018

i have admired Valerie Steele forever and have heard her speak on many occasions.  Her work as Director of the FIT Museum is exemplary and her books must reads and have in your library.  I was beyond excited that she immediately agreed to be in conversation, and, by the way, will be back with us later this year with yet another exhibition companion book.  We had a fabulous chat and the group was so enthralled that they didn’t make a sound, I had to ask them to say hi so she would know there were others in the room not just me!

Yes, another Amazon review….

“Book Review and other thoughts on pink in fashion and our lives: The book is brilliantly written, edited and illustrated. Giving us insights into a color that has been in fashion for centuries. I particularly like the layout of the book taking us from the courts of Europe when pink was worn by as many men as women through Haute Couture Collections to Punk to Red Carpets to Pussy Hats to Real Men Wear Pink to pink ribbons fighting breast cancer. We learn about the introduction of Shocking Pink by Elsa Schiaparelli to the iconic Yves Saint Laurent black gown with wide shocking pink bow, a garment, that Steele shared with us in conversation, that was a major exhibition coup and one she was especially excited to include. It is a MUST for your fashion library, but then all of Valerie Steele’s books are meant to be included there.

I have had the fabulous good fortune to have many brilliant authors join me in conversation for the monthly nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club and I must admit Valerie wasn’t an exception, we all learned so much! I hope she enjoyed the hour as much as I did and the attendees were in rapt attention, I might even say in awe with her at ease conversation in sharing her expertise which, in my opinion, knows no bounds. Bravo Valerie and thank you….here’s to the next book!”

FEBRUARY 2019

Another author who immediately agreed to be with us and sent me an autographed copy of her book right away….what a joy to talk with the brilliant yet very down to earth, Caroline Weber, who is working on a sequel and will join us again upon its publication.  While some might find M. Proust a bit of a challenge Caroline’s wit and wisdom and beyond extraordinary research discussing the women who influence his writings made all of us rethink delving into his works yet again.

MARCH 2019

I had to reschedule our January meeting due to inclement weather but was very anxious to talk with the amazing Hutton Wilkinson, I have worked with Hutton when he did his first book Tony Duquette as well as when he visited with his fine jewelry collection, also documented in a book…Dawnridge is as unique as both Duquette and Wilkinson are….nothing remotely like either gentleman nor their creativity exists to my mind’s eye….believe me when I say this conversation took on its own life….great fun.  You can find his profile in the nenasnotes archive.

A book review…here you go….

“The beginning of the book gives us a detailed understanding of Tony’s life, and, of course how Hutton became his creative partner. The book is then organized by the three main houses and the elaborate grounds. Hutton takes us through the painstaking process of repurchasing many of the “lost” treasures of the home, the detailed drama of “reinventing” the original concept and not only enhancing it but bringing the dream into the reality of the 21st Century with its modern technology while keeping the essence and tradition of the original rooms, buildings and grounds in their transformations. The photos of the original rooms and new ones of the reinvented spaces are masterworks. I would go so far as to say an exquisite Phoenix has risen from the “ashes”. I could live in any of the spaces since my motto is definitely more is more and my most favorite color is green, let alone all the Malachite, and the chandeliers, and the layering, and…………totally dreamy!”

APRIL 2019

It seemed fitting to end the first year of nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club as we began with a book on Yves Saint Laurent…another scholarly tome, heavy both in content and heft of the book and one not to be read casually (I do have two novels scheduled for this year, both with designers as their subjects!). It is the first on YSL written in English and not translated from French.  The research is extraordinary.  Yet another for your collection.

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MAY 2019

When we think of Vogue Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington immediately come to mind, well there was a third critical eye with Tonne Goodman whose vision complimented and completed the iconic magazine’s editorial content.  Balancing Coddington’s whimsy with more straight forward, yet visionary, photographs….and photography is what this book is all about.  And the photography is just beyond….I particularly loved the pages of Vogue covers.  Very little text but lots and lots and lots of fabulous photos by all the well known and not so well known photographers of our era….fabulous book!

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JUNE 2019

Another monograph, this time Dawn Mallo, the genius behind Bergdorf Goodman’s revamp and the discoverer of many designers…think Michael Kors and the force who brought Tom Ford to Gucci during her tenure there. John Tiffany brings his investigative reporting to this sensational book with much the same vigor he did with his book on the doyenne of fashion Eleanor Lambert…can’t wait to have John in conversation….it will be awesome.

 

JULY 2019

Our first novel and it’s about Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli….wow, should be  fabulous.  Can’t wait to hear what author, Jeanne Mackin has to tell us about her research.  It is my favorite type of novel, one based on fact…yes, historical fiction..love it!

 

OCTOBER 2019

Who knew one of my favorite male models (actually mad for all my male and for that matter female models….but) Marcellas Reynolds has written his first book and what a book it looks to be…and I’m hoping he will actually be with us in person, he is a Chicago guy…fingers crossed.

 

It’s been quite a year and lots more to come….I’ll, of course, keep you updated and let you know when I can share the nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club conversations with you…we just have to figure out logistics and get the author’s permission to tape them….stay tuned!!  In the meantime you can read along with us, I post here and on Instagram upcoming selections.

More of my fashion library….

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BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN

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By now you know I am obsessed with historical fiction especially when the book concerns “real” people.  When this exceptionally written book came into my consciousness I knew it would be one I would not only enjoy but would devour and, of course, would want to share with you. I was correct in that assumption.  (As usual, I recommend The Book Stall my Independent Bookseller, as your source when purchasing your books.)

The protagonist is none other than Alva Vanderbilt who married into one of the wealthiest, if not THE wealthiest at the time, American dynasties.  Wealth was new to Alva and the story tells us of a world known to very few.  The Astor’s ruled New York Society, especially their Matriarch, Caroline.  Snubbed by Mrs. Astor, Alva was determined to make her place, along with her husband, William, and the rest of the Vanderbilt family to reach the top of the Gilded Age social scene.  And not only did she do exactly that but did it with grace and class  Fowler takes us into this rarified world via, their exquisite homes, think Marble House (The Biltmore is briefly mentioned), the many homes in New York City.  I particularly enjoyed Alva’s forays into every detail of her many homes and her participation with the noted architect, Richard Hunt, in planning the architecture and each and every phase of the construction of the mansions and the interiors from paint colors, fabrics, to furniture….everything!  Having literally millions to spend she thought out every possible item in her homes and became the personification of elegance of her era.

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Alva Vanderbilt

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William Vanderbilt

Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island

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A couple of the interiors …

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Living in a strained marriage, (I’m not doing spoilers here, if you know the background of the era you know of the scandals) Alva made herself a pilar of New York, Newport, Paris and London society in lifestyle including her Charles Frederick Worth wardrobe (you know I enjoyed those descriptions!), the exquisite entertaining….balls, formal dinners…highlighting the developing of the Arts in New York City, making sure her children were exposed to the best of educations, associating with the “right” people (including Oliver Belmont) while respecting everyone no matter their social status…which I greatly admired.  She was always a philanthropist and became very involved in women’s suffrage.  In many ways she reminds me of our own Bertha Palmer as well as others of her time. It gives us details of the women (or The woman, Alva) behind the wealth which was always in the hands of their husbands, fathers, guardians. Fowler’s eye for detail parallels that of Alva’s…her research is impeccable.  Read it you will be transfixed!

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A couple of books to give you thoughts on the food of the time…

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I’m including a recipe for Beef Wellington, which happens to a favorite of mine to serve at special dinner parties.  This recipe is from Epicurious.com

 

BEEF WELLINGTON

FROM EPICURIOUS.COM

INGREDIENTS

    • a 3 1/2-pound fillet of beef tied with thin sheets of larding fat at room temperature
    • 3/4 pound mushrooms, chopped fine
    • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1/2 pound pâté de foie gras (available at specialty foods shops) at room temperature
    • 1 pound puff paste or thawed frozen puff pastry plus additional for garnish if desired
    • N/A frozen puff pastry
    • 1 large egg white beaten
    • an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water
    • 1/2 cup Sercial Madeira
    • 2 teaspoons arrowroot dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
    • 1 teaspoon water
    • 1/2 cup beef broth
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped black truffles (available at specialty food shops) if desired
    • watercress for garnish if desired

PREPARATION

    1. In a roasting pan roast the beef in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the thermometer registers 120°F. Let the fillet cool completely and discard the larding fat and the strings. Skim the fat from the pan juices and reserve the pan juices.
    2. In a heavy skillet cook the mushrooms in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until all the liquid they give off is evaporated and the mixture is dry, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cool completely. Spread the fillet evenly with the pâté de foie gras, covering the top and sides, and spread the mushrooms evenly over the pâté de foie gras. On a floured surface roll 1 pound of the puff paste into a rectangle about 20- by 12- inches, or large enough to enclose the fillet completely, invert the coated fillet carefully under the middle of the dough, and fold up the long sides of the dough to enclose the fillet brushing the edges of the dough with some of the egg white to seal them. Fold ends of the dough over the fillet and seal them with the remaining egg white. Transfer the fillet, seam side down to a jelly-roll pan or shallow roasting pan and brush the dough with some of the egg wash. Roll out the additional dough and cut the shapes with decorative cutters. Arrange the cutouts on the dough decoratively, brush them with the remaining egg wash, and chill the fillet for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Bake the fillet in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°, and bake the fillet for 5 to 10 minutes more, or until the meat thermometer registers 130°F. for medium-rare meat and the pastry is cooked through. Let the fillet stand for 15 minutes.
    3. In a saucepan boil the reserved pan juices and the Madeira until the mixture is reduced by one fourth. Add the arrowroot mixture, the broth, the truffles, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the sauce over moderate heat, stirring, being careful not to let it boil, for 5 minutes, or until it is thickened. Loosen the fillet from the jelly-roll pan, transfer it with two spatulas to a heated platter, and garnish it with watercress. Serve the fillet, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices, with the sauce.

Serves 8.

THE nenasnotes BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS POSTS ARE MADE POSSIBLE BY AN ANONYMOUS SPONSOR.  PLEASE CONTACT ME AT nenasnotes1@gmail.com FOR SPONSORSHIP INFORMATION 

Photos are from Pinterest credits unknown. 

BOOKNOTES: THE MASTERPIECE

THIS REVIEW IS POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 11th A DAY WE MUST NEVER FORGET. I DEDICATE IT TO THOSE WHO PERISHED, THE FIRST RESPONDERS AND THOSE OF US WHO REMAIN TO HONOR THEIR MEMORY.  WE ARE A VERY STRONG COUNTRY AND WE KNOW WE ARE SURVIVORS, NEW YORK CITY IS OUR BEACON OF LIGHT AND THIS STORY TELLS THE REBIRTH, OF TIME LONG GONE, OF AN EXQUISITE STRUCTURE THAT HAS SURVIVED DESPITE ALL ODDS, JUST LIKE ALL OF US!

563325A4-17ED-4593-B696-30915C471F00CB4C5E58-A3BF-4823-BD84-BA887661BA67                               Fiona Davis photograph by Kristen Jensen.

Having read The Dollhouse and The Address, both of which I absolutely loved, I didn’t want them to end, I waited with baited breath for Fiona Davis’ next book, The Masterpiece, to arrive.  I most certainly wasn’t disappointed  This time, like both of her other books, the story takes place in a landmark building in New York, the Grand Central Terminal.

It is the story, told in two time periods (seems to a trend in many of the novels I have been reading, wasn’t a fan, but am adjusting to them…this one definitely works!), of the art school housed in the Grand Central Terminal in New York, one of my favorite NYC structures.  You know how much I love historical fiction…this is a fascinating little known story.

Our two protagonists, Clara Darden, a noted illustrator, artist and teacher of the period, whose history has been lost to time, and Virginia Clay, recently divorced who has taken a job in the Information Booth at the dilapidated Terminal, tell stories of their different eras, one the late 1920’s and the other the 1970’s. While the stories are years apart, the way women were (are still?) treated in the workplace and in life in general isn’t much different.  Their stories intertwine with the downturn of their work place, the once glamorous GCT, and to my mind’s eye it is a tale of the arts during the Depression, how they survived, their decline in the ‘70’s and the promise of a light at “the end of the tunnel”, telling us that things can, indeed, get better, that beauty and confidence can be restored whether it is a building or a person and how our two women survive.  We follow them through love affairs, betrayed trust, found and lost friendships, power struggles (no matter your social class!), in other words, the real world.  We find the determination of one to find more about the other…the story we want to continue.  Ms. Davis is a master of mixing periods, giving us a story of architecture, New York City’s history and making the past come alive through the structures we come to admire and love

Relationships come and go, grow or die, new jobs, new directions, the promise of talent in many guises, so many life lessons in one work of fiction…I really enjoyed the book…I can’t wait to see what’s next in Ms. Davis’ oeuvre!!!

42nd Street entrance

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A cross section rendering of the building….love this and it relates perfectly to our story

The Great Hall and it’s restored constellations painted vaulted ceiling, it has always been one of my favorite places in NYC.

I try to go to the legendary Oyster Bar as often as I can, love the ambiance, the decor, the delicious good food…..oysters, of course!!!!

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Many a time I walked down this passageway to my train, The Twentieth Century…legendary, what train travel should be!! Oh my, another post…..why not!!!!

Commuting Ramp
Grand Central Station, Manhattan, New York

The catalogue for the Grand Central School of Art, one of the art instructors in the studio.  Opened in 1922 and closed in 1944 reported to have enrolled up to 900 students the year before it closed according to the author’s notes

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The restoration and rededication in 1998 was led by architecture firm Breyer Blinder Platt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and brought the derelict building back to its glory, preserving it for the ages. This looks like yet another book I need to add to my collection.  I am mad for nostalgia, but you know that!!!

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And then there is this….Sir Paul McCarthy impromptu performance at Grand Central Terminal last week!!!!

All photos from Pinterest photo credits unknown.

THIS POST GENEROUSLY UNDERWRITTEN BY AN ANONYMOUS DONOR. CONTACT ME FOR SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES. 

BOOKNOTES: SEPTEMBER TO BE READ LIST

16342407-F683-4D48-9B49-0F5DD55F4751I thought I’d give you a preview of some of the books I will be reviewing this month.I have SO many on my TBR list that it was difficult to choose just a few…but here goes…

I am currently reading The Masterpiece by one of my favorite authors, Fiona Davis. So far it doesn’t disappoint.  It is the story, told in two time periods (seems to a trend in many of the novels I have been reading, wasn’t a fan, but am adjusting to them…this one definitely works!), of the art school housed in the Grand Central Terminal in New York, one of my favorite NYC structures.  You know how much I love historical fiction…this is a fascinating little known story…..I’ll post the review next week.

Next up, I’ll probably review a long over due non-fiction work by another of my favorites, Julia Reed, South Toward Home. I always love her books and her other writings….informative, funny, and very, very well written I never want to finish her books and that is a compliment….I think we are in for a good read. 1CBA0F19-D464-40C9-A7EC-151F444932BF

Torn by which of these titles to read next….maybe The Dinner List, intriguing to me and hopefully to you since that is one of the questions I ask each of my nenasnotes Profile guests to answer…”who would you have, living or dead, to your dinner party?”  Should be a fun read

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Or maybe I’ll switch gears and go with another author whose works I enjoy, Natasha Solomon’s and her House of Gold.  Another historical piece set in Austria and England during the World War I era.  You know I love any story set in England and that time period….we shall see!  61A9BA18-7F9F-4A8B-B80E-227AD207A6AA

Of course I need to re-read Bonnie Cashin Chic Is Where You Find It by the Uber talented, Stephanie Lake, who is joining this month’s nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club and then read what looks like a stunning addition to the Christian Dior oeuvre Dior and His Decorators by Maureen Footer, this is the October selection for nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club.

 

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Stay tuned for my reviews on each (go to the nenasnotes Archives for my review on the Bonnie Cadhin book).  As the song says….the beat goes on, or should I say the books go on and on and on…..

This post is underwritten by an anonymous sponsor.  Contact me for sponsorship opportunities. 

PROFILE: JEFFREY BANKS–GENTLEMAN CREATOR

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The exciting world of Social Media brought me to Jeffrey Banks.  I have, of course, admired his work forever, first and still as a designer and then and now as an author. I got to Jeffrey through Facebook accounts from our mutual friend, the multi-talented, Michael Vollbracht who I did have the pleasure of knowing and working with…I did a blog post recently just following his untimely death.  I am posting this Profile of Jeffrey, who graciously agree to do my nenasnotes questionnaire, on the day of Michael’s Memorial Service in New York.

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Michael Vollbracht’s delightful work as a student at Parson’s where he won the Norman Norell Award, Mr. Norell was not able to present the award instead it was presented by Bill Blass who became a lifelong friend of Michael’s and who designed the Blass Collection after Mr. Blass’ death.  I bet they are now very busy designing the robes for the angels!

Last week Jeffrey delighted my nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club group, via conference call, with reminiscences of the unsurpassed designer Norman Norell as recounted in Jeffrey’s exquisite book NORELL: Master of American Design. Jeffrey’s books are as well done as his design work, all perfection.

Thank you, Jeffrey Banks, for joining my blogging adventure and for sharing your insight into the world of fashion via your exceptional books…you can be sure I will call upon you to chat again in the very near future to discuss another of your books….let’s see which one shall be next….stay tuned!!

Want to hear more about this unique creator…read on in Jeffrey’s own words……

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WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB
My first job was at age 15 selling Men’s clothing at Britches of Georgetown . I loved it and on my very first day sold more than any of the seasoned professional salesman did combined.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR MOST RECENT OCCUPATION
Unfortunately, it seems to be planning memorial services for friends.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOUR TALENT
I always loved to draw, and at a very young age thought that I might become an artist. That was until I found out that most of the artists that I admired did not achieve success or fame during their lifetimes, so at the tender age of 10 I decided to become a designer. The reasoning being that I would know rather instantly whether the things that I designed had struck a cord with the public….or not!
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WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT” 
I think it was the day after the night I won my first Coty Award and I was with my Mother at Bergdorf’s on the up escalator and two guys were going down on the down escalator and I heard them say as we sailed passed …” Oh look, there’s designer, Jeffrey Banks!”
Coty Awards 1982
                                                         Coty Award winner 1982
Mom and I at the Coty Awards September 23rd, 1982
Coty Awards 1982 Cover Invite
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HOW YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BROUGHT YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW
I feel so lucky that my original passion for fashion has allowed me to make a living, branch out to books, go on television, teach, and meet so many of the people I most admired in the world. I feel very fortunate.
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All in Norman Norell…..Lynn Revson one of the biggest collectors of Norell.
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WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE
There really wasn’t an alternate choice at the time. But, as I love photography so much, I would have to say, Art Director.
YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, THEATER (LEGIT, MUSICALS), BALLET, OPERA, SYMPHONY, TYPE OF MUSIC YOU LIKE TO LISTEN TO, LOCAL RESTAURANT
Favorite Book : A Private View by Irene Mayer Selznick  ( a great read on early Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer’s daughter )
Favorite Movie: Funny Face ( it’s got it all : Fashion, Paris, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Givenchy, Gershwin, Avedon)…who could ask for anything more ? 
Theater: Anything Sondheim !
Ballet: Anything Balanchine !
Opera: Anything Directed by Bartlett Sher
I love show tunes , Streisand, and Adele
My favorite restaurant is Union Square Cafe 
HOME….MODERN, TRADITIONAL, ANTIQUES (WHAT ERA) ECLECTIC
Mostly modern, clean white with some antiques in bleached pine. I work with color all day long so I need an absence of color at home,
WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE 
Fred Astaire, George Gershwin, Michelle and Barack Obama, Audrey Hepburn and Rob Wolders, Hubert de Givenchy, Bruce Weber, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Jeffrey Banks, Diahann Carroll would be the guests. 
I would serve my Risotto with Carmelized Onions and Figs with a side salad of Heirloom Tomatoes with a Shallot, Dijon Mustard, and Honey Vinaigrette (see recipe below). For Starters: Baked Brie with Honey, Brandy and Walnuts. For dessert, Assorted Gelatos

FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON YOUR GO TO LIST 
London, is my favorite city after NY and I love Italy, especially Florence, Tuscany and Venice. Love to discover (and re-discover) great museums and try new restaurants.In London, Theater and Shopping is everything for me! 
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING MOST IN YOUR FREE TIME? FAVORITE WORK  OF PUBLIC ART
I LOVE to read (books and magazines ) especially biographies. I love going through The Metropolitan Museum and The Frick Collection here in NY. 

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED
As a kind person, loyal to his friends.
                               THANK YOU AND BRAVO JEFFREY BANKS, BRAVO!
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEFFREY BANKS WITH EXCEPTION OF THE BOOK COVERS, TAKEN FROM GOOGLE PHOTOS.
                                              ELEANOR BANKS’ MEATLOAF

Ingredients:

 

1 lb Ground Chuck

1/2 lb Pork Sausage

1 Medium Small Onion (chopped finely)

1/2 Green Pepper  (chopped finely)

2-3 Spines of Celery (chopped finely)

3/4 cup Bread Crumbs

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Celery Salt

2 Cans Hunts Tomato Sauce

Combine all ingredients mix very well with 1 can of tomato sauce.  Shape loaf in lightly greased Pyrex pan.  Take other can of tomato sauce and mix with 1/2 can water and set aside.  Place loaf in pre-heated oven set at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.  After 1/2 hour reduce heat to 325 and bake loaf for additional 40 minutes.  Pour off excess fat and baste with tomato sauce that was set aside.

              JEFFREY BANKS’ HONEY, SHALLOT, DIJON MUSTARD  VINAIGRETTE

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

 



 

FASHION BOOKS: NORELL

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I have been waiting forever for someone to write a monograph on Norman Norell, well it is finally here and the book is beyond brilliant!!!!  Jeffrey Banks, who obviously, is not only in awe of this extraordinary designer and individual, but also recognizes the important contributions Norell made to the world of fashion, has written the perfect salute to one of the best fashion designers ever!

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Jeffrey Banks at the opening of the Norell retrospective exhibition at FIT which he guest curated

The cover, pretty much says it all (not quite you need to read every word and look at each photo and drawing….many by the extraordinarily talented Michael Vollbracht, (lucky me, I worked with Michael on several occasions as well as having had the privilege of doing many shows with Mr. Norell, huge regret that I did not have the experience of working with Jeffrey Banks but we have become friends on Facebook and I have many of his other books in my fashion library.) Putting red on a redhead, the incomparable Suzy Parker in a 1952 photograph by Milton Greene, was very forward for the time, and here she is in one of Norell signature all over sequin gowns and enveloped in a cage of red tulle….glorious glamour.

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One of Vollbracht’s immaculate drawings of an iconic mermaid gown

NORELL Master of American Fashion opens with an outstanding forward by Ralph Rucci and then broken down into brilliant chapters such as The Clothes, The History, The Leading Ladies and The Legacy, etc. The Afterword, Collecting Norell is by Kenneth Pool the renowned collector of Norell.  The end papers are closeups of the handsewn sequins. So many incredible photos, one of my favorites is on page 26 which is described as “Norell’s smart theater suit” (don’t we wish everyone dressed up when going to dinner, the theater or at all!!!) it is a camel hair jacket lined in gold pailettes over a gold pailetted dress….stunningly beautiful. You have to hold your breath as you turn each page when you discover yet another miracle of design.

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The sailor dress a look you saw in some form or another in most of Norell’s collections.

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The iconic Life Magazine photo of Mr. Norell with his four models in mermaid gowns

Pass go and go directly to your nearest independent bookseller and get this book it is one of THE best ever…I’m afraid mine will become tattered from all the use it will get, we won’t even discuss the drolling over the images and tears of remembrance of days gone by but that can be relived in Jeffrey’s perfect book and also know that if we have a Norell in our wardrobe (I still live in hope all these years later…..) that it will never go out of style  NORMAN NORELL lives on!

May I direct you to my blog post on Norman Norell from November 11, 2016 Norman Norell

COLLECTIONS: AMBER

image_538528506180605Raw amber

I have always been a huge fan of Amber jewelry I guess it is in my DNA…unfortunatly I only have one piece from my Father’s mother, the only thing I have of her and I never met any of my grandparents, so naturally, I treasure it.  I’ll show it to you in the post.

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These three photos show you some versions of raw amber some polished a bit some just the raw stones.  Amber is fossilized tree resin and has been prized through the ages.  It is found primarily in the Baltic countries but is seen elsewhere in the world. You can find many sites on Google.  Today’s post is primarily on jewelry and one spectacular room and, of course, a couple of books for good measure!

image_538528781187146All three photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

My friend, Barbara Varro, collected her pieces in Poland and was kind enough to bring me several pieces throughout the years.  Here is her collection, I took the photos when I was visiting last summer in anticipation of this post.

image_538528734270966image_53852869420752image_538528705838352The necklaces in different pairings, I would wear them all together.

image_538528721822936Her amber ring collection on my finger……

image_538528468394693Some of my pieces almost always worn together, some from Barbara and others collected, over the 15 years of its existence, at Randolph Street Market

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Some of the pieces I collected (wish I had gotten more for myself, I did get more pieces as gifts) on my fantastic trip to Russia in 2002.  I promise I will do a post on the trip when I can find my photos.  The top piece is lightly polished raw amber, love it, the center piece is white amber and the bottom piece is polished and probably Victorian…got that one at an antique fair in Moscow (which, by the way, was amazing!) I usually wear these as a grouping.  A Nena’s Note…each morning in Moscow we would go to a different specialty shop, one of which was all amber….extraordinary.  Each day and this was early morning for shopping, say 8ish, we were greeted by trays of small shot glasses of ice-cold vodka…8 AM…I don’t drink vodka, I know, you are saying isn’t she of Russian heritage, and yes she is!  But I don’t drink vodka, certainly not neat and at 8 AM!  Well, guess what I had to shoot the offered nectar or I would be offending our hosts, I most certainly didn’t want to cause an International incident!  Still, don’t like vodka!

image_538528976697779My faceted collection, the top piece is my Grandmother’s piece, the middle is multi-colored from St. Petersburg and the bottom piece one of my Randolph Street Market finds. I usually wear them together.

I have had a difficult time trying to find earrings that don’t have silver mountings…I do have one pair again from RSM that is multicolor dropped stones and a pair of hoops that go with my amber but are faux! Here are a couple of earrings that I would love to have.

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Aren’t they stunning!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a necklace I would love as well, wouldn’t you…..image_538528577106783The three photos are from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

image_538528633270362A necklace from the talented hands of Margaret Buckman

Information from Margaret (who was one of my first profiles, go to my archives to learn all about this talented lady!) “This piece is natural shaped beads of Tibetan amber, inset with turquoise mosaics and coral pieces.  Each side of the bead has a Chinese coin silver zodiac character, the entire bead is inlaid with silver and inset with biwa pearls.”

image_538528485931445Made especially for me by Margaret Buckman several years ago, it includes many of my broken necklaces pieces along with some from the designer.  It is a huge statement piece and I wear it often usually with my embroidered jacket from my Moscow trip.  It is one of my most favorite necklaces.

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Now on to an amazing treasure, The Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace outside of St. Petersburg.  It was just being reconstructed when I was there.  The Room had been “lost” during World War II and there are many stories of what happened to it.  Most of the stories said the keepers of the Palace removed the pieces and hid them from capture from the invading Nazi’s.

image_538528762711932image_538528585061127image_538528594167856Isn’t it glorious….when I find my Russian trip photos I’ll show you it being restored. Photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

I have suggested two books for you, one non-fiction and one fiction, both exciting tales.  This is the book that got me into reading Steve Berry, one of my favorite authors.image_538528515077854image_538528524145195

 

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: THE PARIS SPY

imageI have been a fan of Susan Elia MacNeal since her first novel featuring our heroine, Maggie Hope, Mr. Churchill’s SecretaryThe Paris Spy was a bit heavier than her previous books and perhaps this wasn’t the time for me to read it.  It has been very gloomy in Chicago the past couple of weeks and this did not lift my mood.  That being said, it is well written, the research extensive and I greatly appreciated the addition of the books MacNeal consulted and has listed for us, for my TBR list.

We find Maggie in Paris waiting to start her assignment, as an undercover agent, from the British.  We are in the midst of the Nazi occupation of France.  Maggie has gone to France to find an operative, who hasn’t been heard from, and her half-sister, having bought her way out of a concentration camp, has gone missing.  She, of course, is on assignment to gather as much intelligence as possible and report back to London.  Her cover is that of an Irish socialite (Ireland was neutral during WWII) in Paris for her trousseau for her upcoming wedding and when “her” Louis Vuitton trunk arrives, at her safe house, she changes into her Chanel Couture (of course she does!) and goes to the Ritz, which, as we all know, is a Nazi stronghold. As she is registering at the Hotel she encounters none other than Gabrielle, Coco, Chanel who takes her under her wing.  (It seems that the last few books I have read and reviewed have referenced either Christian Dior or Chanel.)  Chanel takes Maggie, aka Paige Kelly, under her wing and actually to the ballet that evening where two of Maggie’s friends, Hugh, a former lover and his new amour, Sabine, are performing.  After the performance, they go to Maxim’s and the plot thickens. During the evening Chanel discusses her feeling for the Nazis among other things, quite shocking (read Sleeping with The Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan and come to your own conclusions!)  I am making it sound very glamorous, it is anything but.  The story is brutal not only in the devastating occupation of France and the humiliation of the Parisians but in the actual brutality of the captors with their “guests” thankfully we are spared the worst of it, but still hard to read.

Will Maggie/Paige find who she is looking for, will we learn who the double agent is (he sides with the Germans because he “prefers Fascism to Communism” what a choice, who would want either!!!!)  The heroes of the story are the women who see things are not what they seem in transcriptions and report them only to be ignored…seriously…and they are very strong women to be sure, some things don’t change do they!.

Two passages I wanted to comment on…the first is Chanel’s remarks on page 204 Maggie has attended the Nina Ricci Couture show and encounters Chanel as both are coming back to the Ritz.  Chanel asks Maggie how she enjoyed the presentation to which Maggie responds: “I liked the red especially, but someone with my coloring (she is a redhead) really can’t wear that color.”  Chanel: “Yes, I heard there was a lot of red—and sable.  And the wedding dress?”  Maggie:  “Beautiful.  But it might be a bit much for me.  Perhaps an ivory silk suit might be better for these times.”  Chanel:  “Nonsense! We must embrace excess—especially these days!  We’re dancing on the edge of a volcano, after all…..”   Interesting ñ’est pas!

The second refers to using actors, decorators, and designer, all in the US Army, to build “fake” tanks and other equipment to fool the Nazis into thinking the Allies were where they weren’t…see pages 206-207.  This is what Bill Blass did during the war. He told me about it and said it was a great pleasure to be able to divert the German army by creating “stage sets”.  See his autobiography Bare Blass for further details on this operation.

This book gave me more information on the British spy system used during WWII than I knew or suspected and I must say I definitely didn’t expect the ending…obviously there is more to Maggie’s story to be told!  Let’s see what MacNeal has in store in book 8, I for one will be eagerly awaiting it.

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: THE ESSENCE OF MALICE

imageI am a sucker for a glamorous couple involved in a mystery, aren’t you….as another of my favorite authors, Deborah Crombie, says on this books cover “Amory Ames and her rakish husband, Milo, might just be the new Nick and Nora Charles.”  One lives in hope.

I have enjoyed the first of this series of books and this one not only didn’t disappoint but gave me a bit of a respite from all the craziness of the anxious world we now live in!  Take me to Lake Como, where our story begins, or more importantly to Paris (at any time, please!!!) I always listen to music when I am reading (always have even when I was doing school homework, I must have sound at all times!!!)  I put on some of my Jazz along with some of my dear Stanley Paul’s www.stanleypaul.com playlist, which always soothes me, and read the entire book in short time.  Today I am posting listening to our treasured WFMT-FM www.WFMT.com what would we do without this station.  They are currently doing their Fall Membership Drive, do subscribe, donate, get involved with them or we shall lose our only Classical Music station, that would be horrendous….(not a paid announcement just from my heart).  Oops, I got off track, what a surprise!

While staying in Lake Como on an extended trip to the Continent, Milo receives word from his former nanny, Madame Nanette, (we get the backstory of his childhood throughout the book, much of it news to Amory) requesting his help in Paris.  Her employer, the powerful owner of a major company, dies suddenly and so the mystery begins.  Madame Nanette is certain that he has been murdered and that the murderer is in the household or perhaps one of his rivals.  Amory always loves an intrigue and this one appeals to both her and her charmer of a husband who often leaves her alone to attend gambling halls as well as nightclubs.  Amory often goes along to the clubs but gives Milo space, which in this story takes on a life of its own!  We are, of course, drawn into the intrigue until the conclusion (I must admit I thought it was someone else, as did Amory…Milo set both of us straight…).  I don’t want to do spoilers….it is definitely a fun read (can a murder mystery be “fun”, on dear!) with some twists and turns.

Why did I enjoy The Essence of Murder, I’ve mentioned a few reasons already but what I haven’t told you is that the Belanger empire at stake is the most important French perfumery and the launch of its new fragrance is imminent.  Who will inherit the company?  The daughter is the likely person, she is the logical choice since she is the only one of the three children (two boys and Cecile) who creates scents and is interested in perfume.  She has worked at her father’s side since she was a little girl.  The oldest son, Anton, a bitter young man, is the business end of the company and the younger brother, Michel, a scoundrel (I’ve always wanted use that description and in this case apt!). Helios Belanger was now married to a much younger English woman, with whom he has a young daughter, how are they involved?  Getting back to why I enjoyed the book….the story of perfume, descriptions of the fashions of the mid to late twenties, the interiors of the grand houses and grounds, parties of the time, the manners…loved it all.  In addition, I seem to be reading a lot about strong women at times that being strong and independant was a challenge, I guess one can say it is always a challenge but when we think where we are now compared to the beginning of the last century we have come a lonnnnng way but still have a long way to go, baby!

I look forward to more from Ashley Weaver www.ashleyweaver.com as she lets our heroine and rakish husband pursue other mysteries in an entertaining, elegant, stylish manner…bring it on!  Pick up the book at your Independent Bookseller pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine or cup of afternoon tea and enjoy this debonaire couple and their adventures.  Do let me know your thoughts.