WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

imageBy now you are well aware that I am a major Anglophile and I become totally English at Christmas (it is in my DNA, my Mom was English and German), I adore all the tradition of an English Christmas and had the opportunity, several years, ago to spend Christmas with a family in the English countryside.  It was a glorious week….roasts every day and major celebrations with presents and extraordinary meals for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

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I remember sitting in the parlor one evening and said out loud that the perfect end for that day would be a glass of port and Stilton….out of nowhere in came my hostess with a whole wheel of Stilton, the proper silver scoop server, crystal port glasses, and a decanter of vintage port…..talk about hospitality!!!!!   My hostess adored Christmas Crackers and we had them for all three days.  They were quite elaborate and, of course, we all sat around with our paper crowns and read aloud our silly messages housed inside. I don’t remember all the tokens inside but they were very special.  I know she got at least one set from Harrod’s. Years later back home in the States I was entertaining for Christmas Day with the traditional standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, etc. and wanted to do Crackers for my guests (and me!) and thought I would order them from Harrod’s, you can’t get much more authentic than that….well they started around £200 at the time and went up from there….needless to say I found some locally!

imageI found these last year, obviously for the ladies in attendance got others for the gentlemen.

In past years I spent time with friends for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and I always brought the Crackers and have found many locally, ones that I adored were from Burberry with super gifts inside, I got a beautiful red leather tape measure in mine one year.  I have also found stunning ones at Costco (they are actually Tom Smith’s Crackers!!!)…yes, you heard correctly as well as by mailorder from  Olde English Crackers where you can even create your own.  Probably too late this year but you might try the Costco route, who knows.  You might even get lucky at Randolph Street Market Holiday Event this Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5 and find some vintage ones, wouldn’t that be perfection.  You know you will find things for yourself and for gifts as well as some vintage Victorian ephemera.

imageChristmas Crackers covered in Liberty of London prints, charming.

You knew, of course, that I would give you a bit of background on when and where this tradition began, it is an interesting story.  In  mid-19th Century Victorian England,  Tom Smith, who was a candy maker and baker, discovered while in Paris a version of an early Cracker, a sugared almond wrapped in decorated paper twisted at each end.  He decided to wrap his sweets at home in the same way.  The trend didn’t catch on.  Being an entrepreneur he decided to include a trinket.  The idea of the snap came from fireworks and in 1961 Smith presented this version to the public and shall we say the company has never looked back.  The legacy of “Bangs of Expectations” was carried on by Tom’s sons, Thomas, Henry, and Walter.  In 1906, Tom Smith’s company was granted the Royal Warrant by the Prince of Wales, which entitled the company to become a member of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

imageI found this advertisement quite delightful.

imageStart now and you will be all set for Christmas 2018!image

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imageCovers of the boxes

imageOf course, a book recommendation for further research and enjoyment!

imageAnd another one for fun!

imageI know there isn’t time to make your own plum pudding (I do have a super recipe that I will share next year in plenty of time!) you can get really good ones from Crosse and Blackwell or you can make a mincemeat pie (my most favorite, I can eat an entire one myself, not all at one sitting….well maybe!) and serve the following hard sauce (which, by the way goes beautifully with poached pears or just by the spoonful!!! Bad Nena!) It is by far the best hard sauce ever, it was given to me by one of my Saks Store Managers, Bob Pike, along with the Plum Pudding recipe.  Enjoy!!!!

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

BOB PIKE’S HARD SAUCE

2/3 cup soften butter

3 cups confectioners sugar

1/4 cup Calvados (or a bit more like I add)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

Place butter (in pieces) with sugar in a food processor add Calvados and vanilla.  Process until creamy.  Chill.  (I use a hand mixer, I no longer have a food processor and you can lick the blades!)

 

All photos are from Pinterest no photo credit available

 

 

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: HOLIDAY READING

imageIf you are this far along with your Holiday plans it’s time to sit by the fire with a glass of “real” eggnog, a slice of the fruitcake, I gave you the recipe for last week, or some of the cookies that I am featuring at the end of this post, and a Christmas Story or two….here are some thoughts for you and, of course, for gifts.

A couple of new ones this year by two of my favorite authors who by the way, have new books coming out early 2018…can’t wait!!

imageThis is a charming mystery with one of my most favorite detectives, Charles Lenox.  He is almost my favorite but I’m afraid Armand Gamache still has the biggest part of my heart!!!  But I must say Charles Lenox is very close….You can get this on your Kindle for a major bargain.  An easy read and one I know you will enjoy….the mystery had me guessing until the end but not so Lenox, the smartie!!

imageI am crazy for all of Rhys Bowen’s stories and have followed Molly Murphy since the series began.  Yet another mystery but set in the US, you know I am a bit partial to an English mystery as you shall see.  Read for your pleasure and give as a party gift or a perfect grab bag present.

imageA charming bit of fluff and why not.  If you are addicted to all the Christmas films on The Hallmark Channels…this is for you.  I’m more a White Christmas (I cry every year!), kind of gal!

imageimageOf course, a couple of Christie’s in the mix…definitely in the English spirit of the Holidays and a bit of murder thrown in, oh my!

imageA beautiful vintage A Christmas Carol, nothing more classic and again a perfect gift…I’m mad for this hand tooled leather volume.

imageNew this year and the basis for the film in theaters now…looks fabulous and both are on my to-do list before the end of the year.  And, of course, an annual must-see is the Goodman Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol, I never miss it. It runs through December 31st.

imageAnd speaking of a must-see have you gotten yourself and everyone you know to The Joffrey Ballet’s exquisite version, you have until December 30….hurry, you don’t want to miss it, if you have gone I suggest you go again the details are so intricate you need to see it more than once, that is a given!  How about a doubleheader with both The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, treat yourself to a couple of days in our beautiful City with a stay at one of my favorite hotels, The Peninsula,  The Ritz Carlton or any one of our fabulous boutique hotels with a special dinner….it is the holidays after all!  So much to do and it is already the middle of December, oh dear!

imageA charmingly nostalgic short story made into a vintage 1966 TV piece, you can watch on YouTube, with Geraldine Page. Capote narrates it.  Talk about a tearjerker!!!!  It is my chum Tom Mantel’s favorite and The Toms and I watch it every year while doing our holiday marathon baking weekend.  The strangest thing happened last week, I was going to bed and turned on WFMT-FM, my favorite station, and heard a familiar voice, no it wasn’t one of the hosts, it was Truman Capote reading A Christmas Memory, karma, I think so!

imageA beautifully written book and one I read every Christmas Eve when I was commuting from Evanston to work, I still read it every Christmas Eve day.

imageA lovely book on the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah which begins on December 13th.

These are just a few of the Holiday books that are available, each of your Independent Booksellers have tables full of more suggestions, not to mention all the cookbooks, children’s books and on and on and………..As you are well aware nothing pleases me more than a book at any time of the year.  Enjoy!

imageThis charming scene is actually a pop-up book, well not really it is a record album cover in The Tom’s magnificently decorated home.  I took this photo all others are from Pinterest photo credits unknown.

Remember the last Randolph Street Market is Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17.  You will be able to complete your Christmas list, enjoy a glass or two of spirits along with some goodies.  A perfect place to fill those holes in your list or grab last minute items for stocking stuffing (Mom and I always got special goodies in the toes of our stockings, no coal for us…thanks, Daddy!), grab bags or to take to those many holiday parties on your horizon.

I’m leaving you with one of my most favorite cookie recipes that I have made since I could stand on a chair and help with the baking (and cooking), so for a verrrrrry long time.  I don’t remember if I shared it with you last year, I think not, but in any case, worth having in your recipe box.  The cookies just get better with age in their cookie tin.  You won’t be able to eat only one!

From Nena’s Recipe Box

Russian Teacakes

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Heat oven to 400º. Mix thoroughly butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Work in flour, salt, and nuts until dough holds together.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes until set but not brown.  Watch carefully so as not to burn.  While warm, roll in addition confectioners’ sugar.  Cool and roll in sugar again.  I use quite a bit of sugar.  Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.  (I can eat all 4 dozen in one seating, don’t but can!!!)

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: FASHION FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Rather than doing a review this week, I wanted to give you some recommendations on outstanding fashion books that have come out this year along with a couple other book thoughts for gift giving for your fashion friends and, of course, for yourself.  2017 has been an extremely good year for fashion titles and I am listing them in no particular order….here goes…..

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imageimageThe first three volumes in the series of designers for the House of Dior, the first, of course, Christian Dior.  Absolutely magnificent and our very own Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum is represented!

imageI have been an admirer of Siriano’s work since he appeared on Project Runway!  His “fierce” style has just gotten better and better.  It was my pleasure to welcome him to Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago on November 13, 2009, with one of his first Collections and I interviewed him later for a President’s Club event at Columbia College Chicago.  He was my last personal appearance at Saks, that is the day I retired!  When I have seen him over the years, he always says, “I was your last designer!”

imageBy now you probably know I am obsessed with anything Dries Van Noten…here a two-volume set of his collections, it must be brilliant! Can’t wait to add them to my library.

imageOne of several books that accompanied museum exhibitions…this one at the Met, as always exquisitely done!

imageThe book that accompanies the exhibition that is currently at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Several of my friends have seen it and say it is a superb exhibition.  I can’t find it on Amazon, only on the Museum’s website if you are interested in it.

imageFrom the Museum of Modern Art in New York featuring their first fashion exhibition (I swear I have seen fashion exhibits there in years gone by, I guess not!)

imageA wonderful anthology on the long-running Bazaar.

imageThis looks amazing…a must add to your fashion library….

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And speaking of fashion photography…one of the first was Cecil Beaton and this book accompanies the film by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who gave us The Eye Has To Travel about her grandmother-in-law, Diana Vreeland.  You know that I am mad for anything Beaton does…anxious to read this and see the documentary.

imageimageAnd speaking of DV, the man who worked with her at Bazaar and Vogue and who we immediately think of when we think fashion photography…Richard Avedon, he, of course, did much more than fashion (as did most of the “fashion” photographers) and the second book, Avedon Something Personal, goes deep into his life.  There was a fascinating review in last week’s weekend Wall Street Journal…does not paint a pretty picture, well let’s judge for ourselves, shall we!

imageThere has been so much type re this scathing “diary” that it has put it on the New York Times Best Seller List and every other book list out there. Brown, known for not pulling punches, has done it again and it is another I can’t wait to get my hands on.  Probably shouldn’t be on my fashion book list, but most certainly a book that chronicles social mores.

imageAnother one out in left field but sounds fascinating….

As usual, do let me know what you have read, your thoughts on which, if any, appeal to you and then we can compare notes.  Happy reading!

 

 

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.

 

 

FASHION FLASHBACK/FASHION NOW: CAROLINA HERRERA

imageAs you know I have had the incredible pleasure of working with many, many designers and lifestyle personalities over my many years at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago.  Among my favorites was (and is!) Carolina Herrera.  Not only an extremely talented designer but probably, even more importantly, one off the nicest people you can meet in or out of the world of fashion!  I had the privilege of working with her on several occasions over the 36 years of her career (the House of Herrera celebrated their 35th Anniversary in 2016). The photos above were a part of my desinger wall in my office they are now housed in the Nena Ivon Collection in the Archives and Special Collections at Columbia College Chicago.  Two weren’t glazed so you see a vintage look to them which I find charming.  I have never seen a bad photo of Carolina.  She would sign a new one each time she visited. She is a photographers dream and has been shot by the best including our own genius Victor Skrebneski, the remarkable Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol to name a few.  Every artist has used her as their muse and one of my personal favorites is David Downton’s piece he did for her SCAD exhibition. I really want a portrait by him…follow his Instagram posts… I would show them to you but I would probably be sued for copyright violations so please go online and enjoy them for yourself.

imageHad to do this…the truly exquisite Carolina Herrera in front of the iconic Warhol piece.

Carolina was “discovered” by Diana Vreeland who admired her personal style (Carolina was on the Best Dressed List long before she started her business and she and her husband, Reinaldo, were/are in the heart of the International social scene)  and encouraged her to start designing, again Diana was correct with her discriminating eye and we all have been able to enjoy and wear the glamour and excitement of Carolina Herrera since 1981.

imageimageimageDiana Vreeland and Carolina in the top photo and two pieces from her first collection…I was there and it was amazingly beautiful.  Her evening gowns were and are the elegant way to look at any formal occasion and her day pieces are timeless as well.

imageimageTwo Monographs, you know me and books especially on fashion….the top title published in 2016 to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Carolina Herrera. 

imageAt her perfume launch

imageI know I have posted this photo before but why not again….four of our visiting designers at the Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago Place opening party September 1990.  Left to right, Adolfo, Carolina, Pauline Trigère and Bob Mackie.  I’m on the left and Beverly Blettner, the event chair, is pictured on the right. I have another version of this photo (which I can’t locate, sorry) that has Adolfo and Carolina laughing…the photographer had asked if they were married, don’t know why the question was asked but it broke up all the designers!

imageAt the Fashion Group International Chicago www.chicago.fgi.org Gala when Carolina was presented with their Night of Stars Designer of the Year Award 2004.  It was at the Ritz Carlton Chicago.  At that event, she asked me how long have we worked together, both our responses were, “since the beginning”!  Her latest award from all her Chicago admirers was this Spring when she received the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum’s www.chicagohistory.org Designer of Excellence Award.  I must add we have lovely representation of the House of Herrera in the Costume Collection. The above three photos are from the Nena Ivon Collection in the College Archives and Special Collections at Columbia College Chicago  wwwdigitalcommons@colum.edu

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I featured a couple of pieces from the Carolina Herrera Spring 2018 Collection in my posts on New York Fashion Week….let’s look at a couple more that were my favorites.  The Collection was shown in the Museum of Modern Art’s Garden a first for MOMA and for Herrera and it won’t be the last they plan on showing there for the next few seasons, the Collections have been shown at The Frick Museum the past few seasons.

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And here is your personal invitation to see the Resort and Spring 2018 Collections…I would suggest you take advantage of this opportunity to see these treasures in person and find something special to add to your wardrobe.image

imageCarolina today in her signature white shirt, let’s look forward to many more years with this creator’s truly glorious garments!

In closing I want to direct you to the Carolina Herrera website, www.carolinaherrera.com it is extraordinary and you will learn much more about this unique talent that I have had the great privileged to have had in my fashion life!

ALL PHOTOS UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED ARE FROM PINTEREST PHOTO CREDIT UNKNOWN

TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS, AS ALWAYS ALL THOUGHTS ARE MINE AND I AM NOT COMPENSATED BY THE BRANDS I AM CURRENTLY DISCUSSING.

IN YESTERDAY’S HALLOWEEN POST STEPHANIE LAKE’S WEBSITE WAS NOT CLEAR THE CORRECT INFORMATION IS www.stephanielakedesign.com MY APOLOGIES TO STEPHANIE!!

 

COLLECTIONS: HALLOWEEN

PLEASE CORRECT STEPHANINE LAKE’S WEBSITE THE CORRECT INFORMATION IS www.stephanielakedesign.com MY APOLOGIES FOR THE ERROR!

 

imageGrab your candy corn this is going to be a long post and I hope a fun one, we all love Halloween don’t we!!!!  It seems that everyone now decorates for this spooky holiday and spend over 9 million dollars on it, oh my, that is scary!!!! I wonder how much of that is spent on Pumpkin Spice items…..or maybe that would be another several million!!!

CORRECTION SHOULD READ 9 BILLION $$$$$$$$

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The holiday began in ancient times, the Celtics had the festival of Samhain to celebrate their New Year began on November 1. All Hallows Eve became Halloween sometime in the late 1800’s a time to go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins, get dressed up in costumes and all in all come to the end of a season and get ready for winter.  There is so much to learn about ALL the traditions that I encourage you to do a bit of research on your own and, of course, be sure to watch the Giant Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, a yearly tradition…he will appear one of these years!

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Let’s begin with pumpkins…having a very talented artist as a Father I had amazingly glorious carved pumpkins and I could carve my own acorn squash, I don’t remember having the charming small pumpkins and other decorative gourds back in the day.  We always had several, one was never enough and I got to help scoop out the pulp and seeds anytime I could spend with my Daddy I did so and I very happy to say he always had lots of time for me…only great memories.  I now see painted pumpkins, glittered pumpkins, gilded pumpkins, and on and on…love them all.  Here are some photos of some of the thousands you can find on Pinterest and Instagram…enjoy…

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Do come to Randolph Street Market www.randolphstreetmarket.com this weekend, October 28 and 29 from 10 to 5 where you will find lots of vintage Halloween items. I had a huge Halloween party every year from grade school through high school.  Everyone, of course, came in costume, mine, for several years, was a white fringed cowgirl outfit that Mom fashioned each year worn with handtooled white leather boots that we got each year when we spent the summer in Midland, Texas (yes, you heard that correctly!), cowgirl hat and gloves….I thought I was Dale Evans (I was crazy about Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, what can I say!) Mom decorated every inch of our homes with crepe paper and traditional Halloween paper goods (see what you can find at RSM, I can assure you lots….)  We always had a sit down meal also themed as well as games.  We went trick-or-treating on Beggar’s Night as well as Halloween alternating different neighborhoods…it was the best time ever!

A couple of books on collecting Halloween items….

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Here are some of the decorations we had when I was a child….

imageI had all of these…aren’t they super and now very collectible, see what RSM has…

imageimageimageWe would often have these to go trick-or-treating….hard to find now but great fun to fill with goodies.

imageAbsolutely love this, I want to go to this party…a great way to display all the collectibles you will find at Randolph Street Market.

imageWhen you are in the South Bend area please make a stop at Council Oak Antiques at 50981 S.R. 933 N. as you can see the vendors are ready not only for Halloween but for the rest of the Fall celebrations.  They are open daily and I am mad for the Owner’s Instagram account patricia_mcmahon_smith, do check it out. Photo courtesy of Council Oak Antiques.

There are a zillion haunted houses to visit, parties to go to or host your own, my favorites are at The Peninsula Chicago, hurry home from the Randolph Street Market on Saturday don you costume and attend this year’s extragranza…here are the details…image

And for the children, the party is Saturday morning, also at The Peninsula Chicago www.chicago.peninsula.com….Party invitation graphics courtesy of The Peninsula Chicago.

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Here is our precious Odette modeling her butterfly costume exclusively for nenasnotes photo by Stephanie Lake….

imageimageimageJust perfection…..

imageWorking on Halloween Haunted House….

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TheFinished Halloween House…scary!!!!

imageimageThe above seven photos courtesy of Stephaine Lake, www.lake@stephanielakedesign.com  go to the nenasnotes archives for the week of December 12th for the series of profiles I did on Stephanie…you wont’t be disappointed!!!

imageAfter the festivities I am ready for my treats…and you!!!!!

imageOn my way home…….

 

 

All photos from Pinterest, credits unknown, unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: THE DESIGNER

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I thought The Designer would be a perfect read for the end of Paris Fashion Week(s) and I wasn’t wrong.  The designer in the title is Christian Dior before he became “Christian Dior”!  Our protagonist is Copper Reilly, an American newlywed, who arrives in Paris just after the liberation.  Realizing she has made a mistake in her marriage she immediately demands a separation, alone she finds a new friend in a designer who is working with a well-established couturier, Lucien Lelong, that gentle man is Christian Dior.  Copper begins to photograph and write about what she sees happening to the female collaborators, takes photos of them and sends her story off to Harper’s Bazaar and the then editor, Carmel Snow, accepts it and prints it.  This illustrious editor has her French contact, a Russian Count, get in touch with Copper to sign a contract, Copper would rather freelance and so begins her journey.  They (Copper and the older Count) meet each week for dinner at the Ritz and Copper becomes independent as well as a respected photojournalist.  Of course, there is a romance or two, many interesting characters, all rather bohemian, and perhaps a bit predictable but fun. As she progresses so does Dior and the book takes us to the monumental fashion world changing 1947 debut of the House of Dior!

What I particularly liked was our author’s authenticity about the rise of Dior and the other characters of the fashion world immediately following WW II.  I really loved all the detail about one of my favorite pieces of fashion history the Théâtre de la Mode.  I did a nenasnotes post on it several months ago, on March 31, 2017, to be exact. Other than the film that was made about it (you can view it on YouTube) and the book on it I haven’t seen any other documentation and was thrilled to see it incorporated into a novel.

By now you know I love a novel that combines fact with fiction and this one does it extremely well.  Is it major literature, most certainly not but an enjoyable read none the less.  I haven’t read any of Marius Gabriel’s other works (and he writes under several pseudonyms) but I plan on doing so.  Would I recommend it, indeed I would, especially if you are into fashion, what was happening in the industry after the War, and the beginnings of one of the most important of all the fashion houses, Christian Dior!

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: FASHION IN FICTION

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Since I am in the midst of reviewing the four major fashion markets in my posts I thought it might be amusing to look at some of the novels that have fashion and/or fashion designers as their theme…when I looked at my fashion book library I found I had many…some new some not so much!  I do keep all my fashion books (or should I say it is a work in progress) on LibraryThing, www.librarything.com it is a wonderful site to catalog all your books, I have chosen just do my Fashion Book Library, I’m about halfway through listing them.  You can tag them and find them easily, (for example all my Chanel books are tagged as well as being together on shelves in my Library) that is where I researched my fictional fashion books.  I’m sure there are many more titles out there as well as more or mine…do share your favorites.

Here then is a sampling and is by no means complete and is not in any order….

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Probably my most favorite….the story of a love for Dior….it is amazing!

imageAnother favorite and one I reviewed in nenasnotes….Oscar de la Renta plays a starring role.

imageimageI enjoyed both of these about Mlle. Chanel.

imageAnother take on Mademoiselle.

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Showing the not so nice side of fashion, in the author’s opinions, over the years…yes, even Judith Krantz and Danielle Steele have written about fashion! Probably the only Steele I have read…I must confess to having read all of Krantz back in the day!

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imageBoth about stores…. James Patterson has also done a book called The Store which was published in August….haven’t read it as yet….comments if you have!

imageimageBoth new on my TBR list reviews forthcoming.

imageOne I can’t wait to read, to be published October 24th, the fictionalized story of the Sutherland sisters who became the incredible designer, Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, and the infamous author, Elinor Glyn.  I will, most certainly, do a review on it as soon as it is published!

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: THE ADDRESS

imageI have been waiting for this book to come out for months, having enjoyed Fiona Davis’ first book The Dollhouse and anticipated a good read, I wasn’t disappointed!  I usually don’t like plots that go from one time to another, this one begins in 1884 and then travels to 1985, this is done in different chapters.  In this case, it works extremely well and brings the story to contemporary times.

We begin at a luxury hotel in England where our protagonist, Sara Smythe, is head housekeeper and sees a little girl balancing on a window ledge, rushes to save her (which she does), the father of the little girl, Theodore Camden, is so grateful he offers Sara a position at the soon to be opened Dakota, in New York where he is one of the architects and project manager.  She thinks the offer is not sincere but because she saved his daughter.  Shortly after Camden, his wife and children return to New York, Sara receives a ticket and travel expenses to join them.  Without much hesitation, she boards her ship and sails for New York and her new life….by the way, all this is in the first few pages of the book!

When she arrives at the Dakota she is stunned by the size, the beauty of the structure and the location, in the middle of nowhere, remember this is 1884.  Sara finds herself as managerette (don’t you love this title!) and totally in charge of basically everything.  She is very much up to the task and the new apartment dwelling opens beautifully.  Naturally, she lives in the building as does Theo and his family.

We then meet our other protagonist, Bailey Camden, a modern young woman who is an interior decorator and has just been released from rehab where she was treated for alcoholism and drug addiction.  Her boss has taken care of her rehab expenses and promptly fires her.  Her “cousin” (are they really cousins!!!!???) and friend Melinda, is rehabbing an apartment in the Dakota with the idea of making it very modern much to Bailey’s chagrin.  As part of their agreement, Melinda allows Bailey to live in the apartment during the renovation along with the promise of her fee when Melinda turns 30 in a few weeks and receives her substantial inheritance. If you have ever been in the building you know it is tradition personified and still considered a prestigious building, it is a stunner.

Both stories have lives of their own but, of course, mesh together as well. We meet many characters along the way, learn about New York as it begins to become the City we all know and love by learning about its architecture, go inside an insane asylum (not my favorite part of the story, I felt it was a bit long), the glamour of the Gilded Age and the excess of the 1980’s New York scene.  My take away was how talented women, in any age, with the drive, the know how, skills and willingness to succeed do so.  A feminist story, perhaps, but more one of human nature, self-worth and lots and lots of intrigue along the way, romance, yes that too!.  Did I like the book, yes, indeed I did!

From the last paragraph on the fly leaf of the book….”A century apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted and struggled against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the nightlife’s free-flowing drinks and cocaine—and take refuge in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress.”