Monday, March 28, 2011

Bravo Balenciaga!

The dazzling Cristobal Balenciaga exhibit opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this week.

I’m inviting you to come with me to the grand opening gala (see exclusive pictures of Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Marissa Mayer, Maria Belo, Vanessa and Billy Getty, Gwyneth Paltrow and all their glam pals and entourages). Very insider.

I’ll show you swoon-inducing classic fashion images of highlights of this superb show, curated by the great Hamish Bowles.

Pour a glass of wine, put on your Balenciaga cocktail hat, and join me for a special preview and party pix, exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE.

Cocktail hat of ivory silk satin, 1953. Originally published in Vogue, October 15, 1953. Photo: John Rawlings.

Kiss! Kiss! Darling!

It was the Balenciaga exhibit’s elegant opening gala last Thursday night at the de Young.

In the crush: Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow, Google VP Marissa Mayer, Orlando Bloom, Balthazar Getty, Vanessa and Billy Getty, Becca Cason Thrash, Ali Pincus, Samantha Traina, Juicy Couture founders Pamela Skaist Levy and Gila Nash, Vanessa Carlton, and fabulous talents and stars and philanthropists too glamorous to mention.

Guests nibbled caviar and watched Flamenco dancers, then dashed upstairs to see the divine Balenciaga dresses.

Many of the women—Marissa Mayer and Maria Bello notably—wore vintage Balenciaga. Swellegant.

Anna Wintour in a re-edition of a 1957 Balenciaga gown. With her: John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Hamish Bowles, guest curator, left. “I’m so impressed with the show,” said Wintour. “Hamish is so knowledgeable, so brilliant.”

Hamish Bowles, with his authentic matador cape.

Billy and Vanessa Getty. Vanessa is wearing sixties Mme. Gres gown from Decades, Los Angeles.

Denise Hale in Ralph Rucci.

Alison Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane, in Nina Ricci.

Gwyneth Paltrow with best friend, Kleiner Perkins partner Juliet de Baubigny, wearing Andrew Gn couture.
Maria Bello in a pink silk faille Balenciaga gown from 1950. Note her ‘restyled’ Cartier watch, leather-bound and 2011 chic.

Becca Cason Thrash flew up from Houston. The great Becca, social queen of Houston and creative locomotive behind the American Friends of the Louvre, was wearing a red silk skirt by Tom Ford for Gucci, with a Naeem Khan beaded blouse.

Google V.P. (and eighth hire) Marissa Mayer in a pale aqua silver-beaded 1957 Balenciaga gown from Decades, Los Angeles. (Thanks, Cameron Silver, Decades founder, for this insider scoop.) Google was one of the show’s patrons.

Gila Nash and Pamela Skaist-Levy, founders of Juicy Couture. Insider scoop: they were both in a tuberose scented cloud of Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower perfume. Delightfully witty and iconoclastic designers. Loved seeing them.

Doris Fisher, art and AIDS philanthropist and Gap cofounder with her grandaughter, Emma, and daughter-in-law, Randi Fisher. Randi's vintage hat, trimmed with matador-jacket bobbles, and black passementerie belt, were chosen in in homage to Balenciaga. Chicer than chic.

The Genius of Cristobal Balenciaga
'Balenciaga and Spain' at the de Young Museum features 120 fabulous gowns (think Pauline de Rothschild, Doris Duke, the Queen of Belgium) and millinery (cocktail hats, delightful) from international institutions and private collections, many never seen, and some of which have not been publicly exhibited in decades. 

Hamish Bowles, European editor at large of Vogue, serves as guest curator.

For an earlier Balenciaga exhibit I wrote about, click here. (Balenciaga, Givenchy, Venet at the Chateau de Haroue, France).

Cristobal Balenciaga. Evening ensemble of black silk gazar and wool, ca. 1951.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Gift of Elise Haas.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Evening ensemble with dress of black zibeline and bolero of pink gazar, summer 1968.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Day dress of black silk bengaline and velvet, winter 1947. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. Eloise Heidland.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of  San Francisco.

The Balenciaga show—which presents eye-watering beading, embroidery, and exquisite woven silks, displays day dresses and ultra-simple tunics and pared-down cocktail frocks. It includes nineteen dresses, hats, and gowns from Hamish Bowles’ own couture collection.
Bowles is the European editor at large for the American edition of Vogue. He joined Vogue in 1992. Bowles is author and co-author of several books including Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens, People; Philip Treacy: “When I Met Isabella”; and Carolina Herrera: Portrait of a Fashion Icon. 

He also served as curator for the landmark exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung and black lace with black silk satin ribbons, summer 1966. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

There are some wonderful lessons to learn as we gaze and admire and swoon over Balenciaga’s grand creations.

I love the simplicity of his silhouettes. Nothing fussed over or tragically silly. There is logic—and mad, crazy, divine femininity and flattery in everything he did.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Day suit of olive wool, winter 1962. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Suit of mustard-yellow linen, summer 1950. Collection of Hamish Bowles.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

To take away from studying Balenciaga:
Classicism rules.

Style is consistency.

I adore his custom-made fabrics—and for him the textiles dictate the shapes and lines.

Note the ultra-feminine cocktail hats. They are so flirty and silly—and make you wish for the return of cocktail hats and cocktail dresses to wear with them.

And chic obviously means no pattern! No prints at all. Nothing trendy or over-the-top or too ‘now’. And again I say—no prints, ever.

Elegance is refusal, said Diane Vreeland. Balenciaga refused.

Cristobal Balenciaga.  Studio drawing of ball gown of black tulle, silk-satin ribbons and silk fringe tassels, winter 1957.
Courtesy Balenciaga Archives.

Sketch of Balenciaga "Infanta" evening dress; from Vogue Magazine (September 15, 1939).
Carl Erickson/Conde Nast Archive; © Conde Nast.

Balenciaga aimed for a kind of fashion purity and flattery and simplicity that has influenced every fashion designer since (notably Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, John Galliano, Narciso Rodriguez and Calvin Klein).

In every fashion designer working today—Balenciaga lives.

Bravo to Balenciaga. I can’t wait to return and see the show, again and again.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Cocktail dress of rose peau de soie and black lace, winter 1948. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. C. H. Russell.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

‘Balenciaga and Spain’
New Rizzoli book on Balenciaga:

And if you can’t attend the San Francisco exhibit, there is the supreme consolation of an exceptionally beautiful new Rizzoli book, Balenciaga and Spain. This entrancing and highly original volume documents all of the designer’s greatest gowns—and the Spanish court dress, fisherman sweaters, ecclesiastical outfits, and traditional Spanish folkloric costumes that influenced his life’s work.

The book is at once a rare insight into Balenciaga’s refined looks—and an historical survey of Spanish art, architecture, textiles, religious life, and color. Highly recommended.

Hamish Bowles produced the book, and commentary throughout is exemplary.

Cristóbal Balenciaga (circa 1952).
© Bettmann/CORBIS

All party pictures were shot by Drew Altizer, the great social photographer of San Francisco.
To acquire copies and more images visit

Special thanks and appreciation to Jami Witek.


The de Young Museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and located in Golden Gate Park, is the fourth most visited art museum in North America. The museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.

BALENCIAGA EXHIBIT: Through July 4, 2011.

Note: check on the museum’s website for the online Balenciaga symposium. Four Balenciaga and costume scholars speak in detail of the influences on his design and his Spanish roots.

Visit for more information.

Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 am–5:15 pm
Friday: 9:30 am–8:45 pm
Closed on Monday

Monday, March 21, 2011

Architect I Love: California’s Brilliant Juancarlos Fernandez

This much-admired young talent recently completed a dramatic new house in the Napa Valley. Photos below.

Now Fernandez is making his next move, founding his own firm, Juan Carlos Fernandez Studio, and bringing his distinct voice to the Napa Valley architecture scene.

After eight years working at Lail Design Group in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, Juancarlos Fernandez has founded his own practice in the Napa Valley.

Fernandez said, “ I am deeply grateful to Jon Lail for the gift of encouraging me to explore my craft in my own way and for his invaluable guidance in winery design. I will miss daily contact with my friends at LDG but am excited to continue work with you through this new venture.”

Quintessentially practical, with a poet’s belief in the power of art, Fernandez creates surprisingly simple, open, understated buildings that provoke the senses. Combining an engineer’s precision with an intrepid passion for difference, he crafts signature houses and wineries as individual as their owners.

Fernandez placed two large openings high in the 50 feet x 16 feet blue wall, partly to break up the massive scale, but also to offer glimpses of blue sky through the wall. “I also wanted these two ‘windows’ to be symbolic of the two owners of the house, two souls,” said the architect.

The blue wall’s surface is stucco with gravel in the mix to create a rough- textured surface. The wall was painted with coats of blue paint. The dramatic hue was custom-designed by Fernandez, who closely guards the secret of his special color palette.

After two decades designing in his native Mexico, in Japan, Canada, Europe and across the United States, Fernandez crafts architecture that defies cultural limitations. He has a love of clean modernity, enlivening it with the clarity of glass, steel and concrete and with fervent accents of color. It’s evocative of the pioneering Mexican architect, Luis Barragán, and in bright contrast to Napa Valley’s usual stone and wood.

Fernandez advocates for progress in architecture, constantly researching the science of architecture. He seeks unexpected ideas, favors renewable materials, and orients design, siting, and materials toward future generations.

The house was designed to be almost transparent, with natural light and fresh air. An elongated blue stucco wall punctuates the low-slung residence. A concrete path leads to a pivoting glass front door. To the left of the wall is the garage. Construction: Grassi and Associates, Napa.

Juancarlos Fernandez grew up in Guadalajara admiring the highly influential modernist architect Luis Barragan, who made structures of vivid shocking pink, indigo, yellow and orange a beloved and essential element for the Mexican design vocabulary.

Barragan’s blocks of color—green, pastel pink, terra cotta—insistently signified joy and vibrant life and changed the Mexican built landscape forever.

It was inevitable that Fernandez would bestow a dramatic and exuberant blue stucco wall on his newest work, a house high above the Napa Valley.

‘‘Even before I started my architecture studies I was very aware of Luis Barragan’s purist ideals and love of modernism, and his bold and fearless use of color.” — Juancarlos Fernandez

Fernandez brought exuberance and a sun-struck palette to a dramatic new house he designed for John and Diane Livingston, founders of Livingston Winery in St. Helena.

Their house, with its clear and superbly delineated lines has a freestanding wall the color of the California sky. Homage to Barragan.

“Even before I began my architecture studies, I was very aware of Barragan’s modernist houses with splashes of color as his signature,” said Fernandez. “I admired the way he used free-standing walls to create outdoor spaces. That was my inspiration for the blue wall of the Livingstons’ house, Casa Cielo Azul.”

Barragan traveled to Paris in the 1920s and his subsequent work was highly influenced by Le Corbusier, the master of Modernism.

“Barragan brought emotion and Mexican sensuality to the International style,” noted Fernandez. “He was a master of filling a house with light and air. His concepts have been highly influential on my work.”

“Beauty, inspiration, magic, enchantment as well as the concepts of serenity, silence, intimacy and amazement have never ceased to be my guiding light.” —Mexican architect Luis Barragan (1902-1988)

The new house designed by Juancarlos Fernandez stands on a five-acre property that crowns a hilltop verdant with pine trees and Douglas firs. Views of the valley are framed by Howell Mountain. San Francisco is visible, far to the south, on a clear day.

“My goal was to keep the house very understated, but with great warmth and emotion,” said Fernandez. “The Livingstons were intrigued by my idea of an open house.”

St. Helena-based Leslie Wilks Design orchestrated the interior décor, including custom sofas in the living room. The French club-style occasional chairs and coffee table were also designed by Leslie Wilks. The wrought iron console table base was designed by Ron Mann and finished with a hand-selected marble top.

Fernandez, who studied architecture in Mexico and Japan and traveled throughout Europe to study classical as well as contemporary architecture, designed an almost see-through house, all-glass to the north and the south.

“I took a very minimalist approach, paying attention to even the simplest details,” Fernandez noted. This purity has a very cool, calm effect on each room. Natural light plays on the plaster walls. Cross breezes keep the rooms comfortable all year.

As his ideas progressed, Fernandez came up with the idea of a monumental wall to give the house stature, presence and its inherent character.

Adjacent to the living room is a thirty foot-wide terrace, which overlooks the pool and the valley. The pool surround is ipe wood, a sustainable hardwood that is ideal for outdoor use. The veranda furniture is by Janus et Cie: Sofa and side chairs with Sunbrella upholstery. The dining table, chairs and benches: Soho. The small stool is from I.A.P. in San Francisco. Terrace décor by Leslie Wilkes Design.

Fernandez said he worked very closely with his clients to tailor each detail to their requirements. But this residence transcends the personal to become a powerful presence in the growing list of important new architecture in Northern California. 

“Every time I visit the house, I see a confirmation of the calm power of minimalism.” Said Fernandez. “The blue wall is a powerful presence. It reminds me of the importance of contrast and surprise in architecture It gives me great pleasure.”

Casa Cielo Azul
· Designer: Juancarlos Fernandez
· Contractor: Grassi & Associates, Napa
· 3,500 square foot residence, which includes a 1,000 square foot covered terrace.
· Exterior materials: Veneer plaster, corrugated metal roof in the central structure, cool-roof rest of house. Fleetwood aluminum doors and windows. Concrete floors. White oak stained finish on all interior doors and cabinets. Natural steel plates on fireplace, custom-designed by Fernandez.
· Exterior Blue wall is 65’ long by 15’ high.
· Solar panels on roof.
· The house is energy efficient. Clerestory windows are remote controlled in kitchen and living room for natural light and ventilation. (Air conditioning was installed and owners seldom turn it on.)

Juancarlos Fernandez:

All photography by California photographer, Adrian Gregorutti, published here with express permission.  Photographer Adrian Gregorutti lives in the Napa Valley, and his distinctive and dramatic photography of wineries, residences and antique barns have captured attention of connoisseurs and clients. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dreaming of France

Exclusively on THE STYLE SALONISTE:   Come and visit Château L’Hermitage with me and meet the highly creative Carole and Jean Barbier. I’ll take you on an insider visit to an unknown region of France that few know…and give you a taste of the Barbiers’ delicacies. And you’ll see their chic, authentic, and seductive interiors.

The eternal elegance and private beauty and mystery of a French chateau linger on at an ineffably romantic hidden property in Izon, just thirty miles northeast of Bordeaux on the Dordogne River.

There former Parisians Carole and Jean Barbier have revived their ancient chateau property—and now create and sell precious heritage recipes and dishes that exemplify the best of French regional culinary traditions.

Château de l’Hermitage is a neo-Palladian country house, flanked by two large wings made up of wine storehouses and outbuildings. It was built on the right bank of the river between Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion during the eighteenth century.

It was originally intended for wine growing. In the eighteenth century, French architects all included this house on their ‘Grand Tour’ as they headed toward Italy.

It was for this exceptional mini chateau and fifty riverside acres that Carole and Jean Barbier and their two children gave up their Paris life in 2004. Here in South West France, they grow grapes, cultivate a summer garden, and have taken up the ancient craft of catching and preserving pears and lamprey!

Lamprey, you ask! Read on, and learn how the Barbiers are keeping French heritage alive.

Magnificent two-hundred-year-old magnolia grandiflora trees spread their protective shadow on the south facade. A grand double staircase leads to a peristyle and the entrance of the residential floor.

The roof is covered with terra cotta tiles. The flight of stairs has balustrades in the Italian style.

Inherited from the classical period, double staircases were very appreciated in the eighteenth century. Typically, residences around Bordeaux were built with a first level of wine-storages with the residence above.

The name of the chateau’s architect has long disappeared in the mists of time. But L’Hermitage remains, an elegant archetype of the classic rural estates of Bordeaux.

The Barbiers’ marshlands, which today cover about fifty acres, are enriched by silt from the river.

Vines produce the best grapes when they have to struggle for life on arid, harsh soils. But this is not the case with this heavy soil, which as the farmers say is ‘amorous in winter’ as it cling lovingly to their boots. This soil stimulates the vine into explosive growth and produces enormous yields.

Over time these marshland wines became absolutely essential for the Bordeaux wine trade. The region’s rich, powerful wines from the lowlands of the Gironde are best suited to long distance export by sea. These wines traveled better than others and were sold on the most remote islands and the furthest continents.

And now…about the lamprey.

Carole and Jean Barbier at Chateau l’Hermitage are the top producers of canned lamprey in Bordeaux wines.

Jean Barbier explains:
“Lamprey is very juicy and smooth in the mouth, with no bones. The skin is thin and edible; the color is a bit pinkish. It's something that needs to be somehow "initiated" to really enjoy it, like old vintage wines.”

The first time he ate it, said Barbier, he liked it and little by little, he enjoyed it more. The subtlety and smoothness of the flavor are revealed.”

Barbier said that lamprey is much more of a rarity than caviar or fois-gras.

“It’s a kind of insider secret,” said Barbier. “No one knows about it. Even French people living away from the Southwest have forgotten about it. But in earlier times, French kings and royalty considered it a delicacy and treat.”

Wealthy families from Bordeaux chateaux have their workers make a few dozen cans every year for the family.

The Barbiers’ lamprey:
Lampreys are fished in the Dordogne river, directly in front of the property. Leeks are selected and hand picked in the Blayais. The wine is a very fine Saint-Emilion, which is supplied by the Maison Malet Roquefort.

Description: Only the most beautiful pieces of lamprey are included. Its flesh is firm, flavorful and full of juice.

Tasting suggestion by Carole Barbier:  "When it is served as a first course, we place lamprey on roasted croutons elegantly sprinkled with chopped chives. When it is the main course, local people serve it with steamed potatoes. Lamprey is also excellent with risotto, made with Aquarello or Carnaroli rice, for example. The dark sauce contrasts nicely with the rice which I turn out of a small ramekin."

“Lamprey for us is a ritual. We save it, eat it after ten years or so. It's very private, and traditionally, people in the region never eat with ‘strangers, said Jean Barbier. “For several years now, chefs in Bordeaux area, fishermen’s wives, and our ‘river bank grandmothers’, have been our greatest advisers.”

The honor of your appreciation:
 “If you are a guest and your host invites you to eat lamprey, it means that he wants to honor you and has a high opinion of you,” said Carole Barbier. “If you’re offered vintage lamprey, it means your host or hostess thinks that you "deserve" it and are able to appreciate the real value of it.”

L’Hermitage is a growing enterprise. The family is also canning sturgeon, as well as cod and game, and more recipes to come.

Pears au Saint-Emilion and Apricots au Sauternes are also recipes from old times in the Bordeaux area. They are rare and sophisticated. Apricots with vanilla ice-cream and Sauternes syrup is gorgeous. The pears are delicious with whipped cream, savored with fork and knife.

All photography by Jean Barbier, exclusively for THE STYLE SALONISTE.

To order Millesimes Château l’Hermitage vintage lamprey or pears in Bordeaux wines and other delights, please contact Products can be acquired via PayPal and shipped anywhere in the world.