BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: ISLAND OF THE MAD

18A73FF8-4061-4705-8C45-1CA1180C42CFOne of my go to authors, Laurie King, never disappoints and she hasn’t with her new book Island of the Mad the lastest in her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes adventures. This is the fourteenth in the series beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I was given the opportunity, by NetGallery, to preview the book, thanks to them I throughly enjoyed this story which primarily takes place in Venice. I have read most of the series, and as usual, if you are new to Russell and Holmes, I would suggest you begin at the beginning, after that you don’t need to read them in order, but not a bad idea…I do love a good series, don’t you!!!

Mary Russell takes center stage in this story, of course Sherlock is very much in the picture but it is pretty much Russell’s tale to tell and she does it really, really well. The story involves a friend of Mary’s missing aunt who has spent most of her adult life in asylums.  She seems to be improving but has disappeared from an outing with her nurse.  Russell and, the reluctant, Holmes trace them to Venice and so the real intrigue begins.

It is a tightly woven mystery, involving family fortunes (not new in English mysteries, but handled interestingly here), escaping family secrets in dramatic fashion (asylums to be exact!). A mystery, absolutely, but also a look at Venice after WWI (almost a sightseeing guide, loved that!), the beginning of the rise of fascism, the fascination of the followers of Benito Mussolini, International celebrities such as Cole Porter and his socialite wife, Linda, Elsa Maxwell, entertaining everyone around the Lido cabarets (I must read her biography by Sam Staggs Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World as well as the many Maxwell wrote herself!). I found that LGBTQ was openingly discussed at that time period a not expected story line that King, in my opinion, handled perfectly. An appropriate tone for Pride Month.  Of course, I loved the in-depth descriptions of all the interiors and clothing of the period, as well as the romantic pull of Venice, it’s citizens and the celebrities who intensified the glamour of this mysterious city.

Definitely a good read, as is the series….hope you enjoy it, do let me know your thoughts

You know I always recommend using your Independent Bookseller, FYI I am partnering with The Book Stallfor nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club.

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BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: RITZ & ESCOFFIER

TODAY’S POST IS UNDERWRITTEN BY AN ANONYMOUS SPONSOR

 

868F2B3E-5259-4876-AD6E-29933FF56059You know I love a great historical novel, probably my favorite genre, and here we have real history that reads like the plot of a novel. And if that isn’t reason enough to grab this fascinating tale then just look at the cover (in this case, you can definitely tell the book by its cover), putting on the Ritz or Ritzy come to mind, both in todays vernacular. 

13B00D37-B0FC-4765-BEF8-3A04D86E809DCesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier

The innovations these genius’s brought to the hospitality industry set the standard, in the late 19th Century, that are followed by today’s Grand Hotels and fine restaurants world-wide.  They weren’t afraid of doing whatever it took to give their esteemed clientele the best and newest of everything in food, service, accommodations, and, of course, the best staffs in each property.  Ritz was known for  only wanting the best and had no problem spending money to achieve his high standards often to the chagrin of his partners and shareholders.  Think bathrooms in each guest room and suite, electricity throughout the properties, elevators, special meals for unaccompanied ladies to be in the hotels restaurants without male escorts and on and on.

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I remember my first trip to London going to The Savoy for cocktails before the theater, I don’t remember what we saw that night, but do remember a feeling of nostalgia for a time long ago when I got out of the car and saw that amazing SAVOY  sign….wow!

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Cesar Ritz came to The Savoy in London at the request of the owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte (think Gilbert and Sullivan, that D’Oyly Carte!).  He already had made a name for himself managing several properties on The Continent where he made each prosperous and unique.  He turned The Savoy into THE place to go with the partnering of Auguste Escoffier, who had already established himself in the world of haute cuisine as an ingenious creator as well as his streamlined working ofvhiskitchens. Both gentlemen knew how to “work the room” and charmed their ever growing clientele, which included all of high society from around the world and, of course, had the blessing and attendance of the Prince of Wales, at the eleborate meals Escoffier invented and prepared in his perfectly orchestrated kitchen. All went beyond expectations until scandal breaks out (no spoilers from me!) and forces the men to Paris and The Ritz…..

6A185713-EB35-42D5-BFCD-B89BF6C199D3The Ritz, Paris

1639B5D4-3038-4794-9CAF-A2243DE9376AGabrielle Chanel in her apartment at The Ritz, Paris

I can go on and on about how much I enjoyed this book, the history of the hospitality and food industry and the men and women (their wives, who wore gowns from the Couture Houses of Charles Frederick Worth and Jacques Doucet, played a huge part in the story as do the celebrities of the day, Nellie Melba…think Peach Melba and Melba Toast, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde….all came to The Savoy). I not only learned so much but did so in a most entertaining way, Luke Barr has written a book (get it you will truly enjoy the story on so many levels) that I will refer to often and wish, yet again, that I could transport myself back into that creative time of the Belle Époque, of course with all the modern amenities we have now, in addition, of course, to those Ritz provided, elevators, bathrooms, individual service, exquisite food…..well maybe I don’t need to be that modern and can be extremely comfortable without today’s tech devices!!!!!  And you………..

Two more for your library, they are going into mine.

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One of my favorite Escoffier recipes, there are so many i couldn’t possibly mention them all including Melba toast…love making it from my French Brioche loaf, is  Baked Alaska, which he called “eggs and ice” and served to great acclaim. I have always loved this photo from the original Betty Crocker (yes, even Betty Crocker bows at the Escoffier throne!) cookbook I gave my mother when it was first published (I still have the book and use it all the time, its spine is held together with masking tape!). I have never made it but isn’t it the most fabulous photo ever….the styling, even back then, is perfection. Maybe, just maybe this summer with homemade raspberry ice cream…..just saying….

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: A NECESSARY EVIL

17126C6B-5355-4A14-A66E-3357186082A7I had read about this book on many of the book blogs I follow and was eager to put it on my TBR list. I hadn’t read Abir Mukherjee’s first book in the series, A Rising Man, but found it wasn’t necessary (I will, however, put it on my list), his main characters, our protagonist, Captain Sam Wyndham and his Sergeant ’Surrender-Not’ Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force are clearly drawn in this installment

From the flyleaf ”India, 1920, Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee….investigate the assassination of a Maharajah’s son…..As they desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules….”  Why wouldn’t you want to read this book!!  It certainly got me.

The murder of the heir takes place in Calcutta in front of Wyndham and Banerjee at the beginning of our story.  We then follow them to the wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore (Sambalpur), the wealth is diamonds and coal.  See the map of India below for the ”real” location of our story.

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Here we learn of the Maharajah’s three wives, the middle wife, the mother of the two adult sons has died, the first a contemporary of the aging Maharajah and the third a young beauty with a young prince. The intrigue of Palace politics is explained when we meet members of the inner circle both Indian and English as well as the ”harem” guarded by eunuchs.  We are taken into the world of opium, Indian religious traditions, and ceremonies. We go on glamorous trains (better than the Orient Express), attend formal dinner parties (everyone, of course, dresses for dinner, but then they dress for every occasion! Why can’t we still do that?!) we even learn how to hunt on top of elephants. The Raj is still in effect but times are changing and the power (read money) is the main focus of the time and the novel. Times are changing…wealth and influence are changing as well, while human nature and traditions remain the same.

F8992C77-E53F-4555-B2AD-5136B7B1DAD6An image of a Maharajah with rows and rows of diamonds and other precious stones. Iris….eat your heart out!  Photo from Pinterest credit unknown.

Our story takes many twists and turns. We have a love interest (no sex here my friends, implied, perhaps!), a bit of violence and lots and lots of intrigue and information on a time I was eager to learn more about. I must admit I was taken by surprise by the reveal of the assassin (no spoilers here), you have to read almost to the very end to find out ”who did it”!  I thoroughly enjoyed Mukherjee’s writing, his detail of the time was informational and makes me want to further explore this subject while I wait for the next adventures of Captain Wyndham and Sargeant Banerjee.

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The author, Abir Mukherjee, photo by Nick Tucker.

Would I recommend the novel, absolutely and you know I always recommend patronizing your local Independent Bookseller.

Mukherjee recommends Ann Morrow’s HIGHNESS The Maharajahs of India for further research….on my list for sure.

9EFAE5C6-6702-4783-AC34-4499C04EC42622E8FD27-111E-44BF-ADB6-2D3CB2C64516I am recommending The Great Courses, A History of India, also on my list

COLLECTIONS: ENGLISH IRONSTONE

E8A9FA8C-B041-4D64-8492-A0B752BD9189I’ve been anticipating doing this post forever…..if you are like me, I think of Ironstone as white….well silly me.  The stunning platters are just the beginning of  a connoisseurs major collections. Photo by me on my iPhone. This is my favorite pattern from the several groups in this treasure trove of Vintage Ironstone. Foolishly I didn’t match the makers stamp to the patterns but many of the items in this collection are Mason, the father of English Ironstone. You knew I would find a book or two for your reference!

The company was started by Miles Mason in 1796 and continued to 1856 by his sons most notably his third son, Charles who was married to Sarah Spode the granddaughter of Josiah Spode the founder of the famous potting dynasty. For a concise history of Mason I recommend you to go to Janice Paull

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The shelving on the right is in an antique store, notice the platter on the top shelf in the middle it is the same pattern (Pinterest) the image on the right is a display in a private collection, bottom photo a close up of one of the serving platters with dinner plates on either side. Both those photos were taken by me.

If you are looking for Ironstone to add to your collection or to start one remember this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29, from 10 to 5 each day, is the not to be missed monthly Randolph Street Market

Some examples I found on Pinterest that interested me, no other reason. Photo credits unknown.

Makers marks….I photographed them and at the time knew which went with each of the many patterns in this connoisseur’s carefully curated collections I didn’t take notes bad move on my part….sorry!  But here they are, quite impressive.

Another set….

And more….

All photos taken on my iPhone unless otherwise noted.

The excitement of the hunt can be one piece or an entire collection….what is it all about, well I’ll tell you, when you see it buy it….don’t walk away and have regret. Make friends with the dealers, learn from their expertise, read books, catalogs, go to websites enjoy the pursuit of your treasures and no better place to do exactly that than Randolph Street Market

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: VINTAGE FASHION PAPER DOLLS AND A TEA COZY

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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.

BAF1C28C-4912-4338-9CB3-8EB3035309B3I 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!!!

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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.

COLLECTIONS: GLOBES AND MAPS

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.

COLLECTIONS: AMBER

image_538528506180605Raw amber

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

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

image_538528781187146All three photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

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

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

image_538528721822936Her amber ring collection on my finger……

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

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

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

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

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Aren’t they stunning!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

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

image_538528633270362A necklace from the talented hands of Margaret Buckman

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

FASHION FLASHBACK: LUCILE DUFF GORDON

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imageI 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.

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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.”

imageLady 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.”

imageA page from Lucile’s memoir Discretions and Indiscretions.

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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”!

imageThe doorman at the entrance of Lucile Ltd. in Chicago, the townhouse of Colonel Franklin McVeagh at 1400 Lake Shore Drive.

imageimage The Rose Room in the Chicago Salon. The images above graciously shared by Randy Bryan Bigham.imageFrom 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.”

imageHoward Greer around the time of his tenure with Lucile Ltd.imageA 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 

imageimageimage 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.

imageimageDress, 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.

imageimageDress 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.

imageimageCoat 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.

Updated information from Randy Bryan Bigham…
“It’s important to know the coat post-dates Lady Duff Gordon’s association with the label. She left the year before the coat was made. Since a few of her designs were used in the house’s first collection after her departure (spring 1923), it’s possible the print or fabric was her choice, but the overall design may not have been. There had been disagreements about the aesthetic direction of the Lucile houses for several seasons, and she was decidedly on the outs with the company by that time, so all her ideas were not being adhered to, and sadly she was very much disrespected by the new director by 1922, when she was sacked as chief designer.”
You knew there would have to be a book (I gave you Randy’s superb monograph on Lucile in his profile….be sure to order it, it is a MUST have for any fashion library!)  And the author I am now presenting to you references Randy and his book along with other publications she researched.
Here is a novel by Karen Harper that I think you might enjoy, I did. What wouldn’t I like about a story set in Edwardian times (a bit before and a bit after) a historical novel, you know I love them, and not only about a designer I have always admired but her sister Elinor Glyn, the notorious author (at least at the time…her scandalous novel, Three Weeks, has been re-released, it was the Fifty Shades of Grey of it’s time).  It is a romance to be sure, the Sutherland sister’s love lives read like a romance novel but all based on fact and not always happy or successful. I was particularly taken by the affair between Elinor and Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, fascinating and tragic…. Of course, the book discusses the sinking of the Titanic but does not make it the defining moment of Lucile’s life. The book gives us glimpses of the people of the time from the Royals and the American women who married into English society (they had the money, the husbands had the titles…think Downton Abbey!) Hollywood stars, Broadway (Lucile designed for the Ziefeld Follies), and all the names of the time…The Duke of Windsor, Lillie Langtry, Elsie de Wolfe, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow (supposedly Elinor gave her the title The IT Girl!) and on and on.  But it so much more than that it is the story of two independant women, way ahead of their time, knowing what they wanted to do with their lives and doing it their way. They were definitely The It Girls of their generation!  A good read.
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 A surprise…….
imageThis stunning sketch is from Rosemary Fanti from her Facebook page and she has given me permission to use it….the copy reads:  “Thank you, dear Nena Ivon, for piquing my interest with your fascinating blog on early 20th Century fashion designer #LucileDuffGordon.  Here’s my take on a thoroughly-modern-Lucile dressing gown design.”  Rosemary is one of Chicago’s treasures and an amazingly unique talent.  Do you think I can have her do a sketch of me…now that could be a very interesting post!

PROFILE: RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM

imageRandy 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.

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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.

imageRandy (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.

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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!)

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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.

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  1. 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.

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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.

imageAlthough 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.

imageRandy 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.

HOBBIES….

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.

imageA 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.

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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.

imageElsie 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.

imageOne 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.

imageOne 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.

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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.

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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.

imagePalm 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

Directions:
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.

Asparagus:
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….

Lucile – Her Life by Design by Randy Bryan Bigham, currently only available via lulu.com, can be ordered here:
“Ontario Today” CBC Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Rita Celli
 
“Beautiful and damned” by Randy Bryan Bigham in The Lady
 
“A beautiful, devilishly gorgeous career” by Randy Bigham for Urbanette
 
“The Pioneering Fashions of Lady Duff Gordon.” An interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by James Blake Wiener for Fair Observer
 
“Lucy Duff Gordon.” Entry by Randy Bryan Bigham and Leslie Midkiff DeBauche in Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project.
 
PastFashion, Randy Bryan Bigham’s fashion history blog.
 
“Pop Culture Tonight ” Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Patrick Phillips