Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Books I Love: Two Essential New Books on Versailles to Collect for a Lifetime of Pleasure and Inspiration

Fashion and Versailles’ and ‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ speak volumes about French influences, French ideas, interior design, fashion, décor, architecture, and our eternal fascination with French history, culture and style.

This week, I invite you to take a closer look at ‘Fashion and Versailles’ by Laurence Benaïm (published this month by Flammarion) a superbly illustrated book that traces two centuries of style and design influence from the courts of Versailles.

It details the kings and queens and courtiers. It’s fascinating to see how royal fashions, obsessions, portraits, furniture, fabrics, décor are still vividly influencing fashion, movies, makeup, hairstyles, shoes, eveningwear and even contemporary trends and fashions today.

And let’s inspect ‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ which at 320 pages is an impressive book, indeed. It’s endlessly fascinating—with rooms and furniture up-close, and dazzling details of art, gardens, vistas and architecture. 

‘Fashion and Versailles’

The palace of Versailles—a hub of power and seduction, and the most legendary royal residence of all—is undisputedly the birthplace of fashion, for both men and women.

The world’s first dress codes were established at Versailles under Louis XIV. Entwined with the whims and humors of queens and royal mistresses—from Madame de Montespan’s “innocent″ dress that was adept at concealing pregnancies, to Marie Antoinette’s extravagant wigs, to bejeweled courtesan slippers—the world’s eyes stayed riveted on fashion trends as they evolved at the French château. 

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Sketch by Christian Lacroix, c.1990.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Marie Antoinette with a Rose, painted by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun in 1783,hanging in the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

Why I admire ‘Fashion and Versailles’

Sartorial style at Versailles remains a vast source of inspiration for fashion designers, photographers, interior decorators, and film directors today.

From haute couture’s current Sun King, Karl Lagerfeld, to cinema princess Sofia Coppola, to the golden hues of Dior’s perfume campaigns, Versailles offers endless ideas and inspirations and wit, and color and decoration takes center stage.

A selection of images from historical documents, fashion house archives, and the latest runway shows and fashion exhibitions accompanies the excellent text.

The spirit of Versailles continues to thrive in contemporary fashion inspiring passions and vocations in a new generation.

“Versailles is where fashion finds new beginnings, always, etche in the footsteps of the lovely ghosts that spark the dreams of couturiers,” says Catherine Pégard in her introduction.

This book brings together cultural and social history and fashion at their very best all set against the dramatic background of the most spectacular palace in the world.

A must for Francophiles.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Doutzen Kroes modeling a dress in the Christian Dior haute couture Fall/Winter2007–8 collection by John Galliano, presented at Versailles.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Sketch by Karl Lagerfeld, a new year’s greeting for 2006 to Laurence Benaïm; Collection Stiletto, Paris.

About the Author, Laurence Benaïm

Laurence Benaïm, a journalist and writer, has written authoritative biographies of Yves Saint Laurent, Marie Laure de Noailles, and Jean-Michel Frank (Grasset, 2017) in her native French. 

A fashion expert, she has published many books, including Women in Dior: Portraits of Elegance (Rizzoli, 2016), Lancel: Parisian Maison since 1876 (Flammarion, 2016), and Christian Dior in the South of France: The Château de la Colle Noire (Rizzoli, 2017). She is the editorial advisor for Almaviva, the lifestyle supplement of the French newspaper Le Figaro.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Decorative detail from Marie Antoinette’s Belvedere Pavilion in the gardens at Versailles. Built between 1778 and 1781, the Belvedere Pavilion was used as a music room by the queen; according to the Prince de Ligne, its decorations were “the height of perfection, taste, and craftsmanship.”

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’

The largest château in the world has been a source of interest and amazement and inexhaustible beauty since the reign of Louis XIV. 

A portion of the palace and its grounds has remained inaccessible to the public.
‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ takes the reader through unknown and unseen and recently refurbished regions of the famous palace and its gardens on a private tour, noting each detail.

Photographer Francis Hammond was given carte blanche to the entire property and this volume includes previously unseen images of the newly restored Cabinet de la Meridienne, Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, and the Salon d’Aurore, as well as rare objects that are not on public display. He has detailed them superbly.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — Spiral staircase seen from the northern tribune (or gallery) of the second floor of the chapel.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The Hall of Mirrors seen from the War Room.  

From the Royal Opera to the Grand Trianon, and the Orangerie to the Queen’s Hamlet, this volume features hundreds of photographs of the entire domain. Close-ups of ornamentation and artwork are also included, drawing attention to artistry in such details such as exterior walls, door bolts, ceilings, parquet, carving, fabrics, marquetry, and more.

By examining the history of the palace, the history of France is also explored. The secrets of the royal families who lived in the palace and the mysteries of the great nation are revealed in quotations from true accounts of life at the palace in the eighteenth century, extracts from Marie Antoinette’s personal letters, historical memoirs, and references to the château in classical literature.

The text is multi-layered and full of details that will enrich a later visit to Versailles.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — Marie-Antoinette’s Cabinet Doré—or Gold Room.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — View of the Gallery of Battles from the central colonnade.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The Royal Opera  

About the Author and Photographer

Guillaume Picon is a historian and specialist on the kings of France. He is the author of A Day at Château de Fontainebleau (Flammarion, 2015). Francis Hammond’s photographs have been published in A Day with Claude Monet in Giverny (2017), Empire Style (2016), Private Houses of France (2014), and Historic Houses of Paris (2010), all published by Flammarion.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The interior of the Belvedere.    



By Laurence Benaïm
Foreword by Catherine Pégard
Published by Flammarion


By Guillaume Picon
Photography by Francis Hammond

Published by Flammarion


Monday, January 29, 2018

I Love San Francisco Ballet: Dazzling New 2018 Season

After the joyful SF Ballet opening night gala (I covered it on C SOCIALFRONT last week), the new season began this week with a fabulous presentation of The Sleeping Beauty.

The 2018 season is exciting, creative, daring, fearless, and a tribute to the classical and modern history of ballet, always inventive.

The season, which runs through May, includes magnificent full-length ballets, as well as programs of two or four or more modern pieces.

I can’t wait to see Helgi’s tribute to Jerome Robbins, his ode to Bernstein, and this year’s Balanchine program. I’m impatient to watch the
Unbound season…with new, unseen, inventive and futuristic new ballets and challenges to dancers (and perhaps audiences) each evening.

Bravo to San Francisco Ballet. I look forward to watching the season unfold—and seeing this year’s new dancers making their debut. Exciting.

Sasha De Sola and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Maria Kochetkova in Bournonville's La Sylphide. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Moving Through the Season

The 2018 repertory Season consists of ten programs, through May 6.

The Season will culminate with a previously announced festival entitled Unbound: A Festival of New Works, conceived and planned by SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.

The Unbound festival will take place from April 20-May 6, 2018 and will showcase 12 new works by 12 renowned choreographers.

Sasha De Sola and Sean Orza in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Sasha De Sola and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Angelo Greco in Petipa's Le Corsaire. (© Erik Tomasson)

Sasha De Sola and Angelo Greco in Petipa's Le Corsaire. (© Erik Tomasson)

Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Robbins' In the Night. (© Erik Tomasson)

Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno in Liang's Letting Go. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet Announces Program Details for Unbound: A Festival of New Works

Unbound, an unprecedented festival of new works, celebrates San Francisco’s spirit of curiosity and experimentation.

Over 17 performances, Unbound will include 12 world premieres by 12 international artists including: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Dwight Rhoden, Myles Thatcher, Stanton Welch, and Christopher Wheeldon.

The festival, comprised of four programs of three works each, will make San Francisco the epicenter of the dance world this spring.

Unbound programming is as follows:

Program A opens on Friday, April 20 and will feature new works by Alonzo King (entitled The Collective Agreement), Christopher Wheeldon (entitled Bound©), and Justin Peck (entitled Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming).

Program B opens on Saturday, April 21 and features new works by Myles Thatcher, Cathy Marston (entitled Snowblind), and David Dawson (entitled Anima Animus).

Program C opens on Tuesday, April 24 and will feature new works by Stanton Welch (entitled Bespoke), Trey McIntyre (entitled Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem), and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (entitled Guernica).

Program D opens Thursday, April 26 and includes new works by Edwaard Liang (entitled The Infinite Ocean), Dwight Rhoden, and Arthur Pita (entiled Björk Ballet). 

San Francisco Ballet School Students in Tomasson's Little Waltz. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes. (© Erik Tomasson)

Special Season Events

“Meet the Artist” interviews and “Pointes of View” Lecture Series

SF Ballet will continue to present the entertaining and informative “Meet the Artist” series at Friday evening and Sunday Matinee performances.

The 30-minute interviews with company artists, management, and guests of SF Ballet begin one hour prior to performance; all ticket holders are invited to attend free of charge. In addition, SF Ballet will present “Pointes of View” lectures on Wednesdays during the season, which are free and open to the public. For more information about these and other education programs, visit sfballet.org.

Ana Sophia Scheller and Vitor Luiz in Balanchine's Stars And Stripes. (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

Ana Sophia Scheller in Balanchine's Stars And Stripes. (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

Dores André and Wei Wang in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. (© Erik Tomasson)

Maria Kochetkova and Ulrik Birkkjaer in Bournonville's La Sylphide. (© Erik Tomasson)

About San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet, has enjoyed a long and rich tradition of artistic “firsts” since its founding in 1933, including performing the first American productions of Swan Lake and Nutcracker, as well as the first 20th-century American Coppélia.

SF Ballet is one of the three largest ballet companies in the United States and currently presents more than 100 performances annually, both locally and internationally.

SF Ballet shares the joy of dance with the widest possible audience—in its community and worldwide—and provides the highest caliber of dance training in its School.

Under the direction of Helgi Tomasson, the Company has achieved an international reputation as one of the preeminent ballet companies in the world. 

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House — photo by Joel Puliatti.

Information and Tickets

SF Ballet programs are presented in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.

For information call Ticket Services at 415.865.2000 or visit sfballet.org. Phone hours are Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Travels with The Style Saloniste: The Lowell Hotel, New York

The Lowell, in the heart of New York’s Upper East Side, was recently updated by designer Michael S. Smith. And there’s a chic new restaurant, Majorelle, and a popular new bar, Jacques. The Lowell’s location makes if a favorite of cosmopolitan travelers and transcontinental business leaders. 

This week I spoke to designer Michael S. Smith exclusively about the design of The Lowell hotel. 

Positioned perfectly and conveniently on East 63rd Street at Madison Avenue, The Lowell hotel, is considered a second home for many guests, who take up residence for weeks or even months at a time.

Dina de Luca Chartouni , the co-owner and design director of The Lowell has a vision for the hotel that is rich in both comfort and style, and she sets the residential tone. She is the quintessential New York woman, born and raised in the city and a graduate of Barnard, and dedicated to creating an environment in which guests instantly relax.

Built as a luxury apartment house in the 1920s, The Lowell is a rare small private New York hotel with just 74 rooms and suites.

The seventeen-floor hotel was recently updated and renovated by Los Angeles/New York designer Michael S. Smith who carefully built on the residential feeling with individual décor for penthouses, as well as for all suites. His approach was to curate painting and photography collections, and to arrange furniture in a practical, residential style. Antiques and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces enhance the ultra-private rooms.

Frequent guests of the hotel (some take up residence for spring and summer, others for the fall cultural season) often have special requests for ideal furniture arrangements.

Sixty percent of the hotel is dedicated to spacious suites that are ideal for family visits. Many have terraces and kitchens as well as wood-burning fireplaces that are unusual amenities among hotels in New York. Several suites have outdoor terraces from which Central Park may be viewed.

Like a film director, Chartouni has assembled a dream team including general manager Heiko Kuenstle, restaurateur Charles Masson, interior designer Michael Smith, and architect Mark Pinney. Together they made a statement that is design-driven in the guest rooms as well as in a new culinary universe anchored by a restaurant called Majorelle with a bar, Jacques, and a guests-only Club Room as well as an outdoor dining terrace.

When the recent renovation was completed, I spoke to California designer Michael S. Smith to learn more about his philosophy of design for The Lowell.

DDS: What was the feeling you wanted to create for the hotel?

Michael S. Smith:
I wanted to orchestrate an instant classic. People who know The Lowell love it. It has a loyal, very European following, with charm and a real sense of tradition – very classic. I wanted to do something that in your mind’s eye looks like it’s always been there. I was also inspired by apartments that Maison Jansen designed in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. A universal, classic, timeless and elegant look.

DDS: The color palette?

Michael S. Smith:
Natural materials – limestone, marble and stucco – dominate the color palette. The owners of The Lowell love a pale blue, green palette, which is great because that is one of my favorites as well. I used those colors to give the space a very soft, clean and fresh look. The design and palette are neoclassical, inspired by the idea of a classic New York City apartment.

DDS: Inspirations?

Michael S. Smith:
I love the classic idea of a celebratory hotel – a place for special occasions like a proposal, a birthday or a chic Saturday night dinner. I see The Lowell as a dream urban hotel, inspired by many French elements. I did not want to make it too theatrical because some guests are there often.

DDS: What are your favorite design ‘moments’ at the hotel?

Michael S. Smith:
I love the new paneled rooms – they are magical. It’s almost as if you couldn’t imagine them not being there before. They feel solid and built into the building. I also love the inlaid floors, especially the ones based on a classic Jansen design from the 1960s. The mirrors in the dining room were etched by Nancy Lorenz in her ‘Fireworks’ pattern. Intellectually your brain knows how mirrors work, but mirrors feel magical and other-worldly.

DDS: Michael, thank you. It has been a great pleasure.

Note: Diane Dorrans Saeks collaborated with the designer to create, “Michael S. Smith Elements of Style’ published by Rizzoli in 2004. The book has been a best-seller, and went into nine printings. Designers today tell me that this is a book they refer to most frequently.

Flowers of The Lowell

Guests who arrive early in the morning may be fortunate to meet Yasmin Kantakis, the artist who creates the very lavish flowers in the lobby at The Lowell. 

Yasmin has been creating beautiful seasonal floral displays at The Lowell for over twenty years. Recently she combined majestic and fragrant Casablanca lilies and tiger lilies, with peonies in a pastel palette, and guests lingered to admire the flowers and capture images.

Charles Masson does all of the flowers for Majorelle – it is his passion and he is known for his lavish arrangements. He selects the most beautiful seasonal flowers—and arranges them generously, colorfully, and with great branches and leaves and fronds to add texture and height. Glorious.

Majorelle at The Lowell

Charles Masson, after forty years of service at La Grenouille, opened Majorelle at The Lowell.

The restaurant is beloved by locals, who drop in often, sometimes more than once a day.

The entry is framed by Botticino and Carrara marble columns, and features a custom patterned gray and ivory marble floor, vaulted wood arched ceilings, and deep blue hues of silk velvet on the chairs and banquettes. 

Jacques Bar at The Lowell

The adjacent Jacques bar is an intimate space with French oak wood paneling, an antiqued mirrored ceiling, and a marble bar.

The Club Room, which features a library of art books, has French oak parquet floors, hand-painted paneling, a wood burning fireplace, dedicated bar, and handcrafted crown moldings, all by Smith.

“It’s a new era for The Lowell, one that adds to the level of luxury, comfort and elegance that defines us,” said Chartouni. “This excellence is and always will be my passion and our ultimate mission.”

Designer Michael S. Smith

Images published here courtesy of The Lowell, New York, used with express permission.