When I was a little girl I loved paper dolls. I had them in all shapes and sizes. My most favorites were the Brenda Starr paper dolls that appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Comics, very glamorous. I would carefully cut them out with my tiny sewing scissors and then create new garments for them. Brenda and her wardrobe lived in their special golden box. The beginning of my love of anything fashion, perhaps!!! Why am I’m telling you this, because my friend, Randy Bryan Bigham (see his Profile on nenasnotes on January 8, 2018) who is THE authority on all things Lucile Duff Gordon, the Couturier, (see January 12th post) has given us a wonderful insight into the clothes worn on the Titanic. By now we are all very familiar with the fact and fiction of this ill-fated voyage. By seeing some of the garments, worn by 6 of the women, of different stages of society, as illustrated by the renowned artist, Norma Lu Meehan, makes them even more ”real” to us. Randy has provided a thumbnail sketch of each of these women.
I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the book when it is published on April 27th, (you can pre-order on Amazon or Paper Studio Press right now!) I will actually need two, one to treasure and make it’s home in my fashion library, the other to cut up and ”play” dress up with like I did as a child. There are many ”celebrity” paper doll books but trust me this has the authenticity of being championed by one who knows what he is talking about! I believe this will start a new trend in paper doll book collecting, move over coloring books!!!
While we are thinking England, yes, that is what we are thinking, let’s talk tea, shall we! The next book I wanted to discuss today isn’t set in England at all but it is all about tea. The 19th in Laura Childs Tea Shop Cozy Mystery series, Plum Tea Crazy, reunites us with our heroine, Theodosia Browning and her ”crew”. As always, in this series, the murder occurs at the very beginning and Theo is pulled into solving ”who done it”. Set in Historical Charleston, insightful details about the charming homes, neighborhoods, traditions are always woven into the plot along with a multitude of characters, many are in each volume, along with new shop owners, visitors, business and cultural leaders, etc. Our protagonist owns a tea shop, the Indigo Teahouse, where she hosts many themed special teas with her debonair tea sommelier, Drayton Conneley and chef, Haley, who creates magic in her teeny kitchen. The murder isn’t all it seems to be, a fall, but rather death by an antique crossbow and arrow. Many suspects, many encounters and consultations with the head of Homicide, Detective Tidwell, a romantic attachment to the handsome, charming, Detective Pete Riley. This story involves us in guns and other weapons, rather interesting given all the important issues regarding gun control we are contemplating now. It goes into jealousy, fraud, money laundering, I didn’t suspect the murderer right away, and lots of talk about what tea to serve with each course (you will want to check the appendix for tea purveyors, there are many) and as always in Childs’ books, recipes….yay, you know I love recipes!!!!! What’s not to love about a Cozy Mystery, and when they are by Laura Childs, you become enchanted with her characters, her locations, her enthusiasm for giving her readers a thoughtful feel good reading experience (besides the murder, of course!!!!!!!) Thanks to Penguin Random House for giving me the opportunity to read the book, it is out now for you to enjoy.
I have always loved maps and globes, the two maps you see in the above photo hung in my Father’s art studio for many years. This space had either charcoal gray or bitter chocolate brown walls with drapery and Paul McCobb furniture covered in Ben Rose Mid-Century modern textiles. They now hang in the “smoking” room in a Michigan country estate.
In today’s age of GPS (and recalculating), waze, GOOGLE maps, images of Earth and other planets from outer space we have lost the joy of just getting lost on our own to discover new adventures while trying to figure out a paper map sitting on our laps while playing navigator.
Globes and maps, in my opinion, make superb collections and you will find many examples at the Randolph Street Market this weekend, February 24 and 25 from 10 to 5. Check their website for the 2017 schedule.
Here are some pieces I have captured at past markets.
There are so many books and atlases to be studied on the subject which has fascinated humanity since Antiquity. Maps done with mysterious sea creatures or showing vast emptiness or the Earth being flat, which, believe it or not, is still being discussed today! Here are a few that look interesting to me and I have put on my to be read list. Here are some more globes and maps I found on Pinterest photo credits unknown.
I am obsessed with Instagram….admit it you are too….and follow at least a zillion fascinating posts. I have made “friends” with other “grammars” and often ask if I can use their images. Below you will see an example of a vignette using small souvenir globes courtesy of Renee Lafontaine of 21st Century Flea Market. Follow her you won’t be sorry….One of the first bloggers I met, back in the day, was Nikia Jefferson she, along with her amazing husband, have exposed their young son, Melvin Jefferson III aka “MJ” to the world of collectibles. This genius child can name all the countries on this map on his newly decorated bedroom. It is actually a decal, love it!!! You can view MJ on YouTube www.youtube.com/.channel/.UCTG1yB2VOGRcolWkfYxreoQ (since I am now blogging on my iPad some of the links I am giving you don’t go directly to the link. Sorry.)
Join this “Super Cool Dude” as he learns more about the world we live in. Share his pride in joy of experiencing new adventures.
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.
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!
All 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.
The necklaces in different pairings, I would wear them all together.
Her amber ring collection on my finger……
Some of my pieces almost always worn together, some from Barbara and others collected, over the 15 years of its existence, at Randolph Street Market
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!
My 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.
Aren’t they stunning!!!!
Here is a necklace I would love as well, wouldn’t you…..The three photos are from Pinterest photo credit unknown.
A 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.”
Made 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.
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.
Isn’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.
I have wanted to do a story on Lucile’s time in Chicago and have researched it for years, when I met Randy Bryan Bigham (see his Profile on nenasnotes on Monday, January 8, 2018) on Facebook I hit paydirt. Randy is the reigning expert on all things Lucile and he has helped me find more information on Lucile Ltd. in Chicago.
The story of Lucile Ltd. begins in London in 1890 and continued until the early 1920’s when she left the company (reluctantly!) She was the first to do many, many things that we now take for granted in the world of fashion…the first to release women from corsets (along with Poiret and others of the time) the first to create her own fragrance (note “French Novelties” in the advertisement above, that was how her fragrances were promoted!), exquisite lingerie and most interesting, to me, did the first “fashion parades” (fashion shows) using live mannequins. She gave her garments provocative names and was a HUGE success in London, then New York and Paris. If you GOOGLE Lucile Duff Gordon you will probably be taken to the Titanic site, she and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon sailed on the ill-fated crossing and were survivors of the sinking of the ship. Randy’s insight….”Yes it was awful but Lucile came through that bad spell and went on to become even greater. It has been said she was tainted by the scandal but I have not found that to be true. The press defended her and her publicity value only increased. So, while we may think of the Titanic today as the thing she’s most known for, that was absolutely NOT the case in her own day. She was hugely famous as a designer and public personality, and she continued to be celebrated well into the 1920s. It was a horrible tragedy to have witnessed, and the aftermath was very hurtful to her and her husband personally, but it was a blip on the screen of her life. At least that’s how I see it, and my research shows it was her fashions that kept her in the public eye and her amusing personality was also very entertaining. The Titanic was something to forget and the press seemed to feel that way too.”
Lady Lucile Duff Gordon.
That is an entirely different story and one that has been told. The new bit of information, to me, that Randy thought would interest me was two other passengers on board are part of my fashion history (many degrees of separation!) From Randy… “You may be aware of this already but Leila Saks Meyer, the daughter of Andrew Saks, one of the founders of Saks, was on board the Titanic with her husband, Edgar Meyer. In fact, Lucile talked with the couple in the lounge on the fateful night the ship hit the iceberg. Leila Meyer survived in Molly Brown’s lifeboat, but Edgar was drowned with so many others in that terrible disaster.”
A page from Lucile’s memoir Discretions and Indiscretions.
Sensing there was a market in the Midwest, especially Chicago, she sought a site where her clients lived, Lake Shore Drive, in a mansion that was directly across the street from the Potter Palmer Mansion which put her in contact with Bertha Honore Palmer and the rest of Chicago society. In addition, she did a collection for the Sears Roebuck catalog to bring her vision to the “masses”!
The doorman at the entrance of Lucile Ltd. in Chicago, the townhouse of Colonel Franklin McVeagh at 1400 Lake Shore Drive.
The Rose Room in the Chicago Salon. The images above graciously shared by Randy Bryan Bigham.From Pinterest photo credit University of Michigan. Designers such as Bill Blass. who did the Lincoln Mark VII cars from 1979 to 1983, continued this tradition. Again Lucile was one of the first! Chalmers, like the Maxwell, is now owned by Chrysler
She came to Chicago in 1914 and in 1916 hired an unknown young man to work for her (he later traveled with her to New York, served in World War l returned to work for Lucile in Paris and other Parisian designers and then….Hollywood!) That young man was Howard Greer who worked at Paramount Studios and also has his own couture and ready-to-wear collections into the 1950’s. He was placed at Paramount Studios by a woman we all know, Edith Head! Again a story unto itself. Find out more about his time with Lucile Ltd. in his autobiography, Designing Male. His description of the interior of the Salon… “Its paneled walls and inlaid floors remained as he (McVeagh) had left them. Thick purple rugs lay on the showroom floors. Curtains of gray satin draped the windows. Gray taffeta upholstered the divans and chairs. Glittering chandeliers hung like stalactites from the ceilings. Until now I had known only the culture of and refinement of bird’s-eye maple and hand-painted china propped upon a plate rail and I spent most of my time ogling all this dazzling splendor from the vintage point of a doorway. The people, too, were in no way reminiscent of my friends at home. Mannequins, like haughty duchessses out of a Graustark novel, emerged from the little stage that was framed and clouded with gray chiffon curtains. the saleswomen and their assistants wore rustling gray taffeta bouffants, and were patronizing and superior.”
Howard Greer around the time of his tenure with Lucile Ltd.A photograph and sketch from a film in the late 1920’s looks like a Lucile garment. Both images from Pinterest photo credit unknown.
The images below were graciously given to me by Jessica Pushor, Costume Collections Manager, Chicago History Museum
This dress was donated by Mrs. Irene Castle Enzinger in 1953; it was created for her by Lucile when she appeared in Irving Berlin’s Watch Your Step, circa 1914.
Dress, wedding-style, of off-white satin. Bodice trimmed with pleated self-fabric, white organdy, Chantilly lace, and sprays of satin flowers. Square neckline; elbow sleeves. Light blue satin sash at natural waist. Full-length skirt of white organdy trimmed with Valenciennes lace insertion and edge stiffened with whale bone. White satin overskirt lined with light blue satin. Petticoat of Pussy Willow silk (stamped on selvage “Genuine pussy willow”) with crepe chiffon ruffle.Worn by Katherine Keith at her marriage to David Adler on June 1, 1916.
Dress wedding-style, of white silk satin. Bodice has low, square, lace-trimmed neckline in front. White satin flowers attached at proper left front corner of collar. Long fitted sleeves. Back satin buckle closure. Slim-fitting skirt; floor-length. Train of white satin with silk-thread embroidery of floral bouquet at base. Worn by Ginevra King for her marriage to William H. Mitchell on September 4, 1918.
Coat of black satin embroidered with multicolored chinoiserie pattern and ribbons. Wide sable collar. Fingertip-length sleeves with sable trim. Falls below the knee. Black and blue velvet lining. Worn by Margaret Harwood Stevens. Lucile was known for its use of exotic motifs and silhouettes. This coat from the Paris branch reflects the taste for chinoiserie in French fashions around 1923.
Randy Bryan Bigham with his book, Lucile-Her Life by Design
I am extremely excited to share a profile on a very special individual I met on Facebook, Randy Bryan Bigham. I became totally intrigued by his scholarship and dedication to Lucile Duff Gordon, a designer I have long admired and whose story is a unique and fascinating part of fashion history. I asked Randy for some advice on Lucile’s venture in Chicago (you will read more about that in this week’s Friday Fashion Flashback) and we became “off Facebook friends” via correspondance (he follows nenasnotes much to my delight) and I asked him if he would be one of my “profiles” and he said yes! His answers to my questions along with his biography and photos are very personal and I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to such a humble scholar. I know you will feel you have found a new friend just like I have!
Randy Bryan Bigham is an independent fashion history scholar whose research has been featured in a number of books, including Lucile Ltd (2009) by Valerie D. Mendes and Amy de la Haye; Hollywood Before Glamour (2013) by Michelle Tolini Finamore; and London Society Fashion (2015) by Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister and Lou Taylor.
The author of Lucile – Her Life by Design (2012), the first full-scale biography of Edwardian couturiere and Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, Randy has contributed to TV documentaries for the BBC, the Sundance Channel and the National Geographic Channel. His journalism has appeared in Women’s Wear Daily, the Sunday Times Magazine and The Lady. He’s also the author of Finding Dorothy, a biography of silent screen star Dorothy Gibson (2012), and of Life’s Décor, a biography of Helen Churchill Candee that was included in the 2008 reissue of Candee’s 1924 travelogue Angkor the Magnificent.
Randy was a consultant for the 2016 exhibition Lucile – Fashion. Titanic. Scandal at the Guelph Civic Museum in Canada, and coming up in 2018 his own private collection of Lucile garments and memorabilia will be spotlighted in an exhibition at the Titanic Museums in the USA.
Randy (on the right) with Edwardian era and Titanic historian Hugh Brewster who worked together on the 2016 Canadian exhibition Lucile: Fashion. Titanic. Scandal.
Since 2015, with friend and research colleague Inger Sheil, he’s been an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.
With Inger Sheil, a friend and colleague of 15 years, Randy is an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers 1800-1950. This 1919 cover of Les Modes features an evening gown by Paris couturier Jenny (Jeanne Sacerdote), whom Randy has researched.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB
Do you mean my first job as a writer? Or do you mean my very first job? If you mean the latter, it was mowing lawns at about age 13! It was for an old lady, a Mrs. McClain, whom I used to ply with questions about her memory of the fashions of her youth. She was born in 1902, and could recall the dresses of the Edwardian era, which I was already fascinated by. Mrs. McClain said she remembered lawn parties where the women’s gowns trailed the grass, and I just loved that visual. Talking to her was fun. The long hours of hard work, mowing her huge front yard — not so much!
As to my first proper writing job, it was for the small daily paper in my hometown. I had worked freelance, writing for big papers, doing art and book reviews, but no editor would hire me on staff until the tiny newspaper in Ennis, Texas took me on. That started my evolution as a writer, learning to pare down sentences, to edit, to get the best quotes, to tell the story so simply that readers are — hopefully — moved. The human interest feature story always mattered to me. I was a horrible news reporter. I must have driven my first editor mad! Hard news and politics weren’t for me. I still hate all that, and I’m sure I’d die of boredom if I had to write about it!
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION
I write freelance – locally and nationally, and I work as a consultant on various projects, some having nothing to do with fashion history. One thing that’s come along fairly recently is my working as a consultant for Paper Studio Press, which publishes beautiful paper doll books. I’ve worked on three titles so far, all of them on fashions of the 1910s, my favorite era. And I just did an interesting section on the history of the fashion show for a Bloomsbury textbook that will be out in 2018. Really, I just have fun. I don’t make a lot of money, but you don’t need a lot to be happy. Some of the research and writing I do is for free. Helping other writers out with material for magazine articles, assisting curators with info on garments for exhibitions, etc., are some of the things I do. Not so interesting to some but it amuses me.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR TALENT
I’m not sure that it’s talent. I think it is more luck than anything, and a lot of determination. If you love something you just have to do it. There isn’t much of a choice. It’s in you or it’s not. You’re led to do what you do through passion and tenacity. But going back to talent: I knew I could write reasonably well, and I had that gift in elementary school. Teachers noticed it and asked me to read my stories to the class. I can’t recall now what the stories were about, and how I had the nerve to get up in front of the class, I don’t know. I’m in my 40s now, and should be past being shy, but I’m petrified of speaking in public, and can only do it impromptu. I cannot prepare for it. I would be too nervous.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT” EXPLAIN
I don’t think I have made it yet! I’m just a fashion history nut who’s been lucky to find ways to express my love for the subject. I have contributed to important projects – books on the Titanic, which started my interest in some of the famous women aboard, books on fashion history, exhibitions. But all those projects just sort of happened. The accomplishment I’m most proud of is writing Lucile’s biography. That’s been such a driving force for me, and the research has opened doors. I’m very grateful to the people who saw my work as important and helped me along the way. There were a few naysayers but you can’t listen to people like that.
HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW
My original passion was Lucile. When I first found out about her I was intrigued but didn’t think I would find very much. I was really surprised she was so celebrated and influential and, to tell you the truth, a little shocked she was not better remembered. Back in the late ‘80s, when I first went to school at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, almost no one was interested in her. People would ask “Who?” And it used to irritate me. I felt I had to justify myself all the time. Now it seems everybody is an expert on Lucile! (Nena’s note…no one does it as well as Randy, without question!)
Randy was first drawn to the work of Lucile, seen here with a model in her New York studio in 1916, when he was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s.
The library at FIT has the scrapbooks and photo albums kept by the staff of the New York branch of Lucile Ltd, so I became fascinated and immediately thought I should do a book. That was just a dream then. I had to earn a living, so I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it, and that’s why it stretched on until 2009 when I finished the final draft. Publishers were interested along the way, including a university press that wanted to cut it down and to not use very many color images. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled with offers like that, so I finally published it myself five years ago. I was excited and am still happy to see how it’s been taken up and cited in various major studies on the history of dress. There’s so much drivel about how one can’t hope to have a success with a self-published title, and while that might be true in most cases, if you’ve got a special subject, the right people will be drawn to it. And I probably have made as much money from it as have authors who’ve gone the traditional route.
- Lucile, among her achievements, is responsible for launching the first modern fashion parades, using a stage, music, lights and all the accoutrement of show.
WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE
I don’t think I could have done anything else well. I went to FIT to be a designer and I was hopeless. You should have seen me trying to draft a pattern. I don’t have a natural perseverance with anything but writing and editing. Nothing else seems worth it. If I had the talent, I would have loved being a designer. I have the creativity, I think, just not the technical skill.
YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, LIST THE FOLLOWING,IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE…THEATER (LEGIT, MUSICALS), BALLET, OPERA, SYMPHONY, TYPE OF MUSIC YOU LIKE TO LISTEN TO, LOCAL RESTAURANT
I read mostly fashion history and biographies. I don’t care for fiction, although I quite enjoyed E.M. Forster a few years back, but that’s mainly because I’ve seen the films that have been made of them. One of the dress history writers I enjoy most is Caroline Evans, whose book The Mechanical Smile I was honored to contribute research to. She was one of the first scholars to embrace my work and to make me feel what I had done mattered. I also love to read Christopher Breward. His books are all excellent. He is excellent. So is Alistair O’Neill.
Randy with fashion historian Marlis Schweitzer, author of When Broadway was the Runway and other titles featuring her own research on Lucile.
As to theatre, I don’t have modern favorites as far as plays. I so love researching early 20th century musical theater. While learning about the Ziegfeld Follies, when I was working on Lucile (she designed for the Follies in the 1910s and early ‘20s), I got hooked. And I’m crazy for silent film history, particularly the costumes of the early female stars. I’ve written an article on Theda Bara’s influence on fashion in the ‘teens for a scholarly journal, and I hope it sees the light of day. And you know the first paper doll book I helped with for Paper Studio Press was on Theda.
Regarding modern film, I like some foreign titles, particularly French and Italian. I’m crazy for Anna Magnani! And, believe it or not, I like a few horror flicks. I know that doesn’t fit much into the rest of my personality but I can’t help it. I’m a fan of The Blair Witch Project and of the first Friday the 13th, if you can imagine that. I’ve even become friends with Adrienne King, the star of that first film, and the only really good one in the series, if you ask me. I interviewed her a couple years ago. She’s a dear, sweet person, so real and supportive.
Although Randy loves romantic period films, he’s a fan of the horror classic Friday the 13th, and has become friends with its star, Adrienne King, with whom he’s seen here in Dallas in 2016.
As for TV shows, I watch CNN, “The Golden Girls” reruns and I haven’t missed a season of “Survivor.” And, you’ll probably laugh at this, but I like the “Finding Bigfoot” series on Animal Planet. I’m not really a believer but I like the mystery of it.
Randy loves history but isn’t above enjoying pop culture reality shows like CBS’s “Survivor” and The Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot.” This card, signed by the cast, was sent him by a friend, Linda Plochocki, for Christmas last year.
I don’t have a favorite restaurant but I do love Italian food. I’m not hard to please in that area, and my expanding waistline is proof of it.
I love taking country drives and snapping photos of nature. I’m not a gifted photographer but I like being out and about on a beautiful day and recording what I see.
A pastime for Randy is taking photos along the country roads in and near his hometown of Ennis, the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.
I used to enjoy hiking but my injury has so far prevented my resuming that. Someday, I hope to get back to it. I lost my right leg from the knee down back in 2013 due to an infection that came on suddenly. It was a huge adjustment. To say it changed my life is an understatement. It just about did me in, but I think if you keep focused on what matters, you can come through anything. It has taken the four years since I lost my leg to have a firm philosophy about it. The bottom line for me now, when it comes to being disabled, is it doesn’t matter. And I don’t feel disabled. I am still me. I haven’t changed in the essentials. But I don’t walk as fast, and I can’t run anymore. I used to love to run. That’s the only thing I get emotional about. I hate that I will probably never run again. But in general I’m still happy with life; whatever good it has in store for me, I welcome it. The bad stuff nobody wants, of course, and you just learn to work around it.Randy lost his right leg at the knee in 2013, after surviving a serious infection. The setback only strengthened him, he says, and made him more determined to enjoy life.
This shot of Randy was taken in a field of bluebonnets near Ennis during the town’s Bluebonnet Trails Festival.
HOME….MODERN, TRADITIONAL, ANTIQUES (WHAT ERA) ECLECTIC DESCRIBE
I love anything Elsie de Wolfe would have approved of. I adore Louis Seize antiques, mirrors, chintz, old wicker, green and white stripes. I’m a huge Elsie fan. I think with certain tweaks that take into account changes in modern life, her ideas are still in good taste.
Elsie de Wolfe’s early 1900s interiors featured design elements Randy appreciates.
WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE
I would invite Zandra Rhodes, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington (I love old jazz), Cecil Beaton, the cast from Finding Bigfoot and Bigfoot! And I would add you to the list because we could compare notes afterwards! I’m not a gourmet so I have no idea what I’d serve but I’d hire someone to do it all up perfectly.
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON YOUR GO TO LIST
I fell in love with Versailles when I first visited the Palace and Petit Trianon in 1997. I’ve gone back twice, and would love to go again. It really is a spiritual experience for me, having researched Marie Antoinette and Rose Bertin.
One of Randy’s favorite places in the world is Versailles, where this picture of him at age 28 was taken in 1997.
That reminds me: I do have a favorite book! Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. It’s stellar. Get it. You’ll love it.
One of Randy’s favorite books on fashion history is Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell’s Fashion Victims
FAVORITE WORK OF ART
I really appreciate Corot’s landscapes, especially Souvenir de Mortefontaine. I know it’s one of his most famous, so it may be expected that I would like it, but I never tire of it. It warms the soul. And that’s what great art is supposed to do. I have a copy framed on the wall by my bed. It’s been there for over 20 years.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED
Just as someone who loved history and who got a kick out of sharing it with others. I hope I’ve had a hand in shedding light on the work of great designers in history like Lucile who are in fact artists deserving of admiration and respect for the beauty they gave the world in their time. That’s what we try to celebrate in the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.
A FAVORITE RECIPE
I’m not a cook. I do make a mean pimento cheese but that’s probably too simple to brag about. I eat salads when I can, and that certainly saves on calories, but I’m not going to lie — on busy days it’s a McDonald’s cheeseburger! And believe me, if I could eat pasta every day and not gain weight, I’d do it. A family friend who’s an incredible cook, and is surrounded by other gourmets, shared a recipe recently and he gave me permission to include it here. Kevin Graves is his name and he collaborated with his friend Robin Dailey to come up with this delicious recipe. Kevin calls the dish Palm Beach Chicken because that’s where they were when they conceived it. It is garlic infused sautéed chicken breasts served on a bed of cooked asparagus with a creamy sauce and topped with green onion and chopped fresh tomato.
Palm Peach Chicken, a recipe by Kevin Graves and Robin Dailey, is delicious and beautiful.
Palm Beach Chicken with Asparagus and Tomatoes
2 lbs. Aldi Boneless Chicken Strips
3 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
1 stick Butter
4 Tbsp. Avocado Oil
6 Green Onions Chopped (divided)
1 medium vine-ripened Tomato, chopped, drained
6 oz. Whipped Cream Cheese room temp
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tsp. natural tenderizer with no MSG
1 Tsp. Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tsp. Onion powder
1 Tsp. Dried Cilantro
1 Tsp. Dried Parsley
¾ Cup fresh Shredded Parmesan (divided)
½ Cup Grated Parmesan and Romano
Dash of Lemon Pepper
1 Tbsp. Powdered Chicken Bouillon
Tsp. Corn Starch
Melt butter in pan on ned-low, add avocado oil, 5 chopped green onions, sprinkle tenderizer into mixture, add chicken. After it’s been sautéing and has been turned a few times add garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, paprika and dried seasonings. Add a few more shakes of tenderizer, keep turning, then let simmer on low.
Rinse, snap, rub 2 lbs of asparagus with avocado oil and a few dashes of garlic powder and salt and steam in the microwave for 3.5 minutes.
Tomato: Chop, drain, add 1 chopped green onion and a dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder, sit to the side in small colander
Take a long oval tray and spread vertical to the length of the oval tray (imagine the tray is horizontal so lay asparagus spears in opposite direction and place chicken pieces in the middle.
Keep the chicken drippings simmering on low, add the heavy whipping cream and cream cheese, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and cornstarch and whisk. Pour a few ladles over the chicken and put the rest in a pourable cup. Keep it warm or it will break and separate. After adding the sauce sprinkle the tomato mixture and top with remaining shredded Parmesan and serve.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM
Some links Randy has shared with us….
I do love a great bottle of champagne and when better to have it than New Year’s Eve (I say any day, but that is just me!). I thought it might be a bit of fun to look at its beginnings and how it is served. As with any alcohol drink responsibly….
Of course, there are many ways to serve it, I really prefer a coupe but others swear by a flute and there are so many new shapes of glasses that can make your bubbly even more special. I think when having a large crowd which is what I will be with this year, flutes are the answer unless you have wait staff to pass on gleaming silver trays! I found a great selection today on one of the blog posts I follow Remodelista.
Champagne is both a region and a wine. Only sparkling wine produced in Champagne can be called Champagne. Other sparkling wine produced elsewhere in France or around the world cannot legally be called Champagne. They are sparkling wines. The Romans planted vines in the region in 57BC according to the World Food and Wine website (a fabulous resource for all things food and wine!) After the French, the English were one of the first to embrace the wine and are still one of the largest consumers. We think of the monk Dom Perignon as the first to develop champagne…rather he tried to perfect it in the 1660’s trying to eliminate the bubbles which were, at the time, thought to be a flaw in the production.A photo from Pinterest of some of the top brands…..we are having Veuve at this year’s celebration, and plenty of it I might add!!!! My favorite of all time is Cristal followed by Krug and Dom Perignon. A good Preseco is also a great choice. Let me tell you about my first experience with Cristal…I was honored to be one of a small group of the Chicago History Museum Costume Council members (I was acquisition chairman at the time) to be selected to be photographed by the world-famous photographer, Victor Skrebneski, for a spread in Town and Country (many years ago)….that is a story unto itself…another time! After all of us were photographed we were invited to dinner at Les Nomades (one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Chicago) very glamorous and beyond delicious…we were all, of course, dressed to the nines and had a sensational time. A few days later a bottle of champagne arrived at my home. I put it aside and was having a small dinner party several weeks later, nothing special just a mid-week event for four. I thought I have this bottle of champagne put it on ice and have it. At the time I was unaware of the brand and found it quite charming in its packaging and clear bottle.
We all enjoyed it very much and I decided to get a couple of bottles to have on hand. When I went to my local liquor store I almost fainted at the price…no wonder it was delicious. The cost, by the way, should never dictate your choice and as with any wine, it can go off. It is still my favorite and a rare treat. Another shocker was on a trip to the UK I was asked to pick up a bottle of Krug (I hadn’t had it before) and said not a problem…again being naive I wasn’t thinking price and again was stunned when I made my purchase and upon researching both these brands found them to be two of the most expensive. Well, I have never questioned my taste in food and wine I do, however, find that the treats are limited to special occasions. There are, of course, various vintages in champagne as in wine.
I found a couple of books that you might like to add to your library for more detailed information.
I found so many variations on champagne cocktails on so many blog posts that I became mind boggled…..I like mine either “straight” or a classic champagne cocktail which is very simple soak a sugar cube in bitters drop into your glass and fill with champagne….yum, yum, yum! A sprig of rosemary seems overkill to me but to each his own.
And then there is the tower, it seems to be the fashion this year!I’d like you to meet my escort for New Year’s Eve (we constantly live in hope!!!!!)
Enjoy your celebration and let’s all look forward to a New Year of health, happiness, and peace!
Saks Fifth Avenue has reason to celebrate the New Year and raise a glass or two of champagne as they welcome their new Vice President/General Manager, Matt Brown. They have shared his information with me to share with you. I met Matt yesterday and I know he would love to meet all of you, you will find him charmingly down to earth. Do drop by the store and say hello.
Chicago – Dec. 21, 2017— Saks Fifth Avenue is proud to welcome Matt Brown as the new Vice President, General Manager of Saks Chicago at 700 N. Michigan Avenue. Matt joins Saks Chicago in this position with nearly 15 years of experience in the retail and spa and wellness industries and will manage the day-to-day operations of the 180,000-square-foot, multi-floor retail destination.
“I am looking forward to taking this next step in my career as Vice President, General Manager at Saks Chicago. It is an exciting time for retail in Chicago, as the city thrives, and I couldn’t be any more proud to manage such a prestigious retail destination,” stated Brown.
Brown spent the past seven years of his career at Saks, holding positions of increasing responsibility in store leadership, most recently acting as Vice President, General Manager of Saks Philadelphia. Prior to joining Saks, He held various management roles in the spa and wellness industry.
When I was a little girl I wanted to either be a ballerina or a figure skater. I took lessons in both and loved every minute of them. Today let’s talk about figure skating.
I think one of the things I liked most of all about skating was wearing the incredible costumes Mom made for me. Totally adorable, little skirts of felt or velvet with tops and little bonnets to match and, of course, I could wear colored tights long before we wore tights. the only time you wore tights in those days was either for ballet or figure skating, lucky me I got to do both! I thought I was totally cool!
Each Saturday, during the winter, Mom and I would take the El/Subway from Howard Street (we lived in Rogers Park in Chicago at the time) to the Grand Avenue station where we got the Grand Avenue bus East to Fairbanks and walked a couple of blocks to the Arena (which became the CBS Chicago headquarters). Daddy would often go with us and stop off at work and meet us or go with us to watch me skate. The figure skating classes were taught by professional skaters and I was crazy about mine. The classes were small and we had the entire rink to ourselves…the ice smooth as glass (I always had difficulty skating on outside ice, especially when used for hockey games, fairly rough compared to figure skating ice, yes there is a difference!) But the most fun of all was when The Ice Follies were in town and we got to skate on their ice which had exquisite colored patterns in the ice. We felt like we were The Ice Follies…and then we got to watch them perform at the Saturday Matinee….it was magical! We, of course also had The Ice Capades, but The Follies were my favorites especially since they shared their ice with me! I have searched and searched for a photo of the Arena’s rink to no avail, but did find a couple of fun illustrations from The Ice Follies.
A couple of programs I found on Pinterest.
I have never heard of this film, now a must-see on my list…..and she skated in it….amazing!
Often after class, we would go to The Hilton to the Boulevard Room for their ice show, I could have watched for hours. I would have what I thought was a grown-up cocktail, we didn’t call them Shirley Temples…Mom and Daddy, of course, had “real” ones and with a wink from Daddy to the waiter, mine was the “same” (these were the days of Old Fashioneds, Whisky Sours, Manhattans…each served in the proper glass!). From the book Vintage Cocktails Assouline
How in the world they skated on so tiny an area is still a puzzlement to me. It was truly amazing and wonderful, so glamorous!
Now, of course, we watch the Winter Olympics with the incredible skills of the skaters (by the way a new movie, I, Tonya, is now in release, mixed reviews but for all accounts an interesting film!) and are able to take advantage of the extraordinary outdoor skating opportunities our fabulous City offers us. Here are some that are worth a visit.
The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park (you can, of course, rent skates) It is wonderful any time of the day but what can be more fairytale-like than at night!
Also in Millennium Park in Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon, to be enjoyed by all, again the views are part of the experience. An ariel view of the rink.
The newest kid on the block The Rink at Wrigley, how fun is this!
Skate at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm in the Zoo, remember this spectacular Zoo is one of the few in the world that is free! Yet another exquisite view of the skyline of our City!
Have you been to Navy Pier lately, if not you are in for a major treat it just keeps getting better and better. I love going in the Winter it has an almost magical charm, its calm, and totally beautiful with views of the City that you can only get if you are out on the Lake. For a special treat, you can skate indoors in their Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest….
And this hidden gem at The Peninsula Chicago, complete with its own Chalet, for its guests to enjoy, could this be any more enchanting, I think not!Could there be a more romantic spot…no, there couldn’t!
Of course, there are many other ice skating venues in the City and indoor rinks to polish your hockey skills along with your pair dancing and singles savvy. Just grab your skates and enjoy!
The last three photos I took with my iPhone all others from Pinterest photo credits unknown.
Ready for Hot Buttered Rum…..
For 4 drinks from epicurious:
2 cups water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup dark rum
Bring all ingredients except the rum to a boil in a 1 1/2-to 2-quart saucepan over moderately high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. remove from heat and stir in rum. Serve hot.
By 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.
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!
I 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.
Christmas 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.
I found this advertisement quite delightful.
Start now and you will be all set for Christmas 2018!
Covers of the boxes
Of course, a book recommendation for further research and enjoyment!
And another one for fun!
I 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
I have been a fan of Susan Elia MacNeal since her first novel featuring our heroine, Maggie Hope, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. The 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.