Monday, January 28, 2013

Andrée the Great: My Tribute

The acclaimed designer Andrée Putman died at her Left Bank apartment in Paris on January 19. She was 87. 

This is a tragic loss to the design and style and fashion worlds and to Andr
ée’s many friends, collaborators, clients, colleagues, and admirers around the world, and for her daughter, Olivia and son, Cyrille who continue to operate Studio Putman.

The universe of ideas and inspiration, design and style has lost an icon.

“Dreams lead you very far.” —Andrée Putman commented to me in an interview in 2002

Was Andr
ée the greatest and most cohesive and prolific designer of the late twentieth century? Very likely.

When you read my tribute today, and learn about and understand her extensive body of work over four decades, you’ll see her endless creativity, the astonishing international scope or her work, her philosophy, the endless invention, her rigorous perfection.

Few designers come close.

This is a super-long post—even by my standards. I think it’s the longest. No tweet.

I suggest that you pour a glass or two of very good French wine (chilled Montrachet, perhaps), or make a large cup of wonderful Bellocq tea, and settle in.

I’ve rounded up lists of Andr
ée’s recommended books, lots of images, her work, her humor, her ideas about design, her observations about life, my meetings with Andrée, and always her life. Come with me.

“"I ask myself, 'Are people going to be happy in my hotel rooms? Is it human? Does it make you smile when you are alone in the world? Does it drive you and inspire you?' Those are among my criteria-along with harmony, balance, elegance, simplicity." —Andrée Putman in an interview with me 1990

ée Putman finessed interiors, product from Baccarat to Christofle to jewelry, and her purview crisscrossed retail, residential, luxury, mass, accessories, commercial buildings, hotels, fabrics, carpets, graphics, even perfume.

She was one of the most versatile, witty and admired designers, and easily the most articulate. 

When your imagination is constrained, it’s very good for interior design,” she told me.

I met her at the time she was designing Morgan’s and interviewed her many times over the years.

This week: my heart-felt homage. 

I scrolled back into my extensive files on And
éee and found unpublished interviews with her, as well as pieces I wrote about her for PAPERCITY and other publications.

Among her designs are the Wasserturm hotel in Germany, scenography for “The Pillow Book” an erotic film by Peter Greenaway, tableware for Sasaki, a mannequin collection for Pucci, New York, and a seating collection for Domeau & Peres, Paris. Clients as diverse as the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, the BHV department store in Paris, Acme pens in Hawaii, the Hotel Pershing in Paris, Baldinger lamps, New York, and French L’Amy sunglasses have entrusted her to bring new products, museum exhibits, hotel decor and textiles to an impatient public. Her work is ethereal, often mysterious, and benefits from quiet reflection. 

EXCLUSIVE: This week see below unpublished, never seen Andr
ée Putman’s plans, drawings, fabric selections and other design notations for a New York penthouse commissioned by my friends Serge and Tatiana Sorokko, who live in Northern California. Serge is the noted art dealer and Tatiana is the well-known fashion and style expert and vintage fashion collector. 

The architect for the penthouse was the great Stanley Saitowitz.

Scroll down to see my exclusive report on this exceptional design by Mme. Putman.

“I put a lot of passion into my work. I would say my work is always rigorous—but it is whimsical, too. Design is a serious business, but it’s important to keep the spirit light.”–Andrée Putman in an interview with me 2005

I first met Andr
ée Putman somewhere in the early eighties, when she was working on Morgan’s hotel—the first of the chic boutique hotels and really the start of her international career.

“Think globally is my design mantra,” she told me. “And I work to create design that is almost absent--so that the design work is invisible, not too extreme or overbearing.”

At the time I first met this remarkable woman, she was also commissioned to create the interiors for an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in San Francisco. Bliss.

Over the years, I interviewed Andree many times, spent time with her in Paris, New York and San Francisco.

Her smoky voice, her droll wit, her gestural statements, and her broad range of references linger in my memory.

“Jean-Michel Frank has been a wonderful inspiration for me, for the modesty and elegance of his interiors and furniture.” –Andrée Putman, in an interview with me 1992

From my final interview: 2008

Even at an elegant 83 years old, Andrée Putman is considered one of the greatest French designers. Immersed in the world of design at the top level, she was named to head a new Design Committee of Paris, which addressed matters of aesthetics and beauty, and she introduced a line of sunglasses. Andrée Putman was honored with an exhibition, ‘Beyond Style, Andrée Putman’ curated by her son, Cyrille Putman, at the French Embassy in New York.

Instead of asking Andr
ée Putman about her newest clients, or begging to know her philosophy of design, perhaps one should cut to the chase and ask her the secret of her extraordinary life-long enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity—or beg her to reveal her tips for looking chic and fabulous despite running a design firm with 27 associates and traveling constantly to New York and Venice, Hong Kong and Berlin and Japan.

Morgan’s, the Manhattan hotel that first launched her in the US in the early eighties, recently received a complete Andree redo—though in fact she did not change the dramatic essential design elements, like the black and white bathrooms and the superbly controlled and paled-down gray/taupe color range.

Over the past twenty years, Andr
ée Putman has become internationally admired and praised for her refined and intellectually rigorous interiors, and for the subtle luxury of her furniture and product designs for an impressive international roster of luxury-goods clients.

It was not surprising that the House of Guerlain, the 177-year-old Paris-based fragrance house, approached Putman to redesign and update the historic Guerlain boutique, which had opened in 1914 at 68 avenue des Champs-Elysees.

“This was a marvelous assignment,” said Putman, admired among design insiders for her original designs for the interiors of the Concorde, for Bastide restaurant in Los Angeles, for Ebel watch stores. 

In a chat one day at the Café Deux-Magots opposite the Saint-Germain-des-Pres church, Andree told me of her ‘horrible’ childhood growing up on the Left Bank, on the rue des Grands-Augustins, with parents she considered charter members of the dreaded ‘haute-bourgeoisie’.

She recalled that as a young girl she went most summers to the Abbey at Fontenay, a magnificent Cistercian structure, which had at one time houses the Montgolfier brothers’ workshop. (The Montgolfiers, famed for their hot-air balloons, were ancestors of her mother’s.)

She spoke of the influence of spending time at the limestone abbey, and loving the austerity of its rigorous architecture. She said it influenced her with its pared-down architecture (you can see how she was drawn to it) and the effects of light, the repetitious arches, the simplicity, and the textures, richness and attraction of its ivory/grey/white/ non-colors. 

ée spoke to me of working on the re-design and re-direction of the Guerlain perfume boutique on the Champs-Elysees (worth a visit).

“It was especially challenging because the building and the interiors are on the Paris landmark list. The entire building, from the façade to the stairways and the furnishings, is considered an essential part of the architecture and design patrimony of France. We couldn’t even change a wall that was not even visible in the building. The codes were absolutely rigid and enforced by the Ministry of Culture. We could not alter a centimeter. I embraced this challenge with great enthusiasm.”

Putman worked with architect Maxime d’Angeac on the project. 

Situated in the heart of the chicest Paris neighborhood, and just a few moments’ walk from the iconic Arc de Triomphe, the Guerlain boutique had originally been built in 1914 in the Belle Epoque style by the architect, Charles Mewes. He was also responsible for the design of the glamorous Hotel Ritz overlooking the place Vendome.

The elegant perfume boutique, which was on the first floor of the Guerlain building, boasted hand-forged iron stair-rails, a Baccarat chandelier, and walls faced with Carrara marble in shades of yellow, pink, and green. The third and fourth floors were later converted to office space, with a beauty institute installed on the second floor in 1939.

It was the 1939 renovation and remodel that would provide d’Angeac and Putman with some of their most creative flights of fancy. In an astonishing and highly inspired move in 1939, Guerlain had hired the interior designer Jean-Michel Frank and his associate, Adolphe Chanaux to design the beauty institute on the second floor. The fashionable and talented pair, still admired today for

Guerlain also hired the artist/ theatrical set designer Christian Berard and sculptor Diego Giacometti to create lighting, a decorative niche, and other design flourishes.

Sadly, little was left of their design flights of fancy in 2005. The upper floors of the building were sadly neglected when Putman began the very lengthy project of restoring glamour to the building.

“I decided to use the complications and restrictions of the current building codes as an asset. When your imagination is constrained, it’s very good for interior design,” she told me. 

Meeting John Dickinson: Another Surprising Interview I Had with Andrée Putman 

This article is from a piece I wrote for PAPERCITY.

In the autumn of 1981, the late, great interior designer, John Dickinson, phoned me to say that Andr
ée Putman was in town to install her interior design for the new Yves Saint Laurent boutique on Sutter Street, in San Francisco. She was an insider’s designer at that time, hardly known in France, she told me, but admired by designers. 

John loved Mme Putman’s work—its rigorous editing, the subtle use of color, her lack of sentimentality, her deep understanding of design history, and her rejection of theme design—and hoped to meet her. 

He picked me up in his cane-sided black Jaguar (to fend off the San Francisco fog: camel-colored lap blankets with black leather piping) , and we cruised over. (John parked at fire hydrants.)

The boutique was aflutter with painters --and the regal Andr
ée Putman herself, awe-inspiring in a superbly tailored black suit, black stiletto heels, and bright red lipstick.

John was smitten, seduced by her Parisian allure, her baritone voice, her elegantly coltish legs, and her thoughtful and deliberate grace. The creamy interior, with its black lacquer fixtures and Eileen Gray “Transat” chairs in black leather, shone with sleek, timeless glamour.

ée, in turn, adored Dickinson’s monochrome décor, his ‘millimeters’ approach to perfection, his spiffy dress (Gap pants), breezy manner, and raucous humor, and we immediately made arrangements to have breakfast the following morning at John Dickinson’s famous Washington Street residence, a former firehouse.

ée, it turned out, had admired John’s work for years and felt an affinity with his superbly edited rooms, his palette, the sculptural quality of his furniture, and his uncompromising attention to detail.

I was working with John Dickinson on a book about his work—and Andr
ée agreed enthusiastically to write the introduction.

All too soon after this meeting, John died.

I received a beautiful letter from Andr
ée, written in her lyrical Italic script. We spoke often on the phone. She lit candles in his honor. She said prayers.

“I loved John,” she wrote to me, “He was the top of the top.”

I would say the same about Andr

Andrée Putman: An Overview of Her Work 

Written for PAPERCITY in 2006
ée Putman is widely recognized as the greatest living French designer, and travels the world for clients in Israel, Dallas, New York, Tokyo, Wolfsburg, Brussels, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

“I never stop,” said Mme Putman, talking on the telephone from her chic office in Paris. “I put a lot of passion in my work, and I love playing with changes.”

There is Putman work for mass production (tables, trays, chairs) and on infinitely refined designs for private enjoyment, reached at by her own process of wisdom, a search for quality.

Mme Putman said that one of the biggest misconceptions regarding her designs is that she dislikes color.

“I use millions of colors in my work, but I think that people don’t think of taupe and grey and ivory as colors--but, of course, they are, most decidedly,” she insisted.

“I now allow myself to play with odd colors,” she mused. “It seems right to experiment with a range of colors, and not be “Madame Noir et Blanc” any longer.” 

Works included private houses in Tel Aviv and Brussels and Tangier, a family mansion in Paris, a hotel in Chile, and the Hoffman Museum in Dallas, with architect Bill Booziotis.

For Putman, if it’s Tuesday there's the opening of a Ritz-Carlton hotel, co-owned by Volkswagen, in Germany. A hotel in the old American Legion building in Paris opened in 2001, there was the Pierre Herme patisserie in Tokyo. Other projects included a vast private pagoda in Tel Aviv to house a Swedish client's art collection, and a redesign of Cadillac dealerships in the United States.

The projects are steady and diverse, like one for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

"I am intrigued to be designing some little kiosks to be placed outside of the Guggenheim," she said excitedly. "They will be breaking new ground." 

Also on her roster, a chair she designed for the American firm Emeco, a line of sunglasses for RAC Paris, a collection of carpets for Toulemonde Bochart, a knife for Laguiole, as well as furniture for Fermob and Silvera. The Studio was also called upon to imagine the scenography for French singer Christophe’s concerts at the Olympia and at Versailles, and the Madeleine Vionnet exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. 

Inspring Volumes 

I asked Andrée Putman to send me a list of her favorite books: 

In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki 

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust 

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger 

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf 

My Dinner with Andrée

In 2008 I asked Andrée Putman 10 questions:

DDS: Is there anything you have not yet designed and are longing to work on?
A fantastic yacht

DDS: Current favorite inspirations for design?
Inspiration can come from many sources, for example a colorful street market full of outrageously beautiful objects that you cannot even exist in Paris, sold by merchants who don’t know the source of their wares. I think it is impossible to dissect the reasons of inspiration, because it is the result of one’s point of view, determined by all the aspects of one’s personality, both conscious and unconscious. All of the achieved work sounded as far away as a dream before they became reality.

DDS: What is on your iPod?
Philip Glass, Alban Berg, Billie Holiday

DDS: Books on your bedside table?
“La route des Flandres” from Claude Simon

DDS: Diana Vreeland said, "Style is consistency". How do you define style?
For me, style is relative concept. I am against design that can seem “too much” or attached to a concept of good taste. Style has nothing to do with money. It’s a question of freedom and harmony. Finally, what I care about most is the person, the individual, his or her needs and the way he or she expresses an individual personality.

DDS: Where do you travel to clear your head?
London and New York are the two cities where I am totally happy. I don’t have a residence anywhere else than France but my life is still a continuous big travel. I spent a lot of energy criticizing my own country but the great way of reconciliation has arrived. Small trips are very rewarding but be careful about leaving your country forever, I suggest.

DDS: You were been appointed the 'chef' of a new design committee for Paris. What is your burning desire and your first priority?
I am President of the first Paris design committee. Sometimes, courage is needed to make a decision which could shock some, but which turns out to be the right one. After all, it comes down to one simple idea: harmony. So we will try to bring new ideas to beautify the city.

DDS: What is your greatest contribution to design?
A nonconformist idea. I like the idea of being irreverent and free. I believe in eclecticism, mixing, by intuition and sincerity, images that include yesterday, today and sometimes tomorrow. I love objects totally pure from any effort of design and as well design that is free of arrogance and pretension.

DDS: Everything you have designed has been elegant, useful, practical, timeless and identifiably your design. How do you achieve this distinction? Is it a process of editing? You design with focus and rigor.
Places that survive time and age well, are full of attention and respect for people. They are opened to life, emotions, improvements. Conceptualize places, private or public, implies to listen carefully to other people, with attention and love. 

A Spritz of Style

A report I wrote in 2002, published in WWD

PARIS: Style fans went into olfactory overdrive recently when Andr
ée Putman, launched her signature perfume, Preparation Parfumee Andrée Putman.

Tantalizing hints of coriander leaves, waterlily, driftwood, cucumber, and grapefruit floated in the air as the French style icon introduced her first fragrance. The chic new Putman-designed hotel, Pershing Hall, was the setting for her glamorous fragrance fete.

Putman’s new scent, hints mysteriously of pepper, exotic fruits, jasmine, and even vodka and rainwater.

“I was inspired by the tropical forests of South-East Asia,” said Putman, who worked with top perfume “nose” Olivia Giacobetti on the concept. “I wanted to evoke a junk floating along a stream in a green tunnel of vegetation.”

Giacobetti, who calls perfume “the poetry of memory”, took Putman’s abstract idea, and created a provocative, personal and non-cloying scent, which is certain to become a cult classic.

An Impressive Body of Work

After working with various publicity agencies and designer groups from 1968 until the 1970s, she founded her own furnishings and interior design business, Écart, in 1978. Although she had turned her back on a career in music, her training informed her design practice—she reinterpreted the balance, harmony, and rhythm of musical composition in her designs through the restraint of simple lines, monochromatic colors, and unique combinations of materials. Through Écart, Putman reissued classic Modernist furnishings from 1930s designers such as Eileen Gray, Mariano Fortuny, and Pierre Chareau. She also began creating boutiques for well-known fashion designers such as Thierry Mugler, Yves Saint Laurent, and Karl Lagerfeld. 

Andree with Serge and Tatiana Sorokko and Donna Karan

Never published drawings and plans for a New York City penthouse

EXLUSIVE TO THE STYLE SALONISTE: Never published drawings, plans, fabric selections and designs for the Greene Street, New York City, penthouse for Serge and Tatiana Sorokko. It was under construction on September 11, 2001. When six inches of ash blanketed the terrace, the project was halted. It was never completed.

Below is the complete work, including all drawings, fabric swatches.

I interviewed Tatiana and Serge this week about the project. Below are notes from out conversations.

Thanks, Serge and Tatiana. I’m honored to present your beautiful penthouse on THE STYLE SALONISTE. 

DDS: How did it happen that you hired Andree
In the mid 90s our friend, the fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, introduced us to Andrée at a dinner at his loft in Paris. She appeared, to me, to be a rather striking figure, dressed in a structured Thierry Mugler suit and wearing her signature silver necklace – very imposing for a woman of her age – she was over 70 at the time.

I connected immediately with her strong personal style. After many years of visiting with her in Paris or New York, we realized that we shared very similar tastes in art, such as the work of Antoni Tapies and Jannis Kounellis, and minimalism in design.

Also, she introduced us to her favorite artist, whom she collected for years, the Dutch painter Bram van Velde. We even had the same breed of cat – Russian Blue. When Serge and I acquired a new apartment in SoHo in the late 90s, there was no question in our minds that Andrée would be the first choice for interior design. 

DDS: What was the project and what was she commissioned to do?

In early 2000, Andrée was tasked to do a complete interior design for our Greene Street penthouse, including over 2,000 square feet of rooftop terrace. Stanley Saitowitz was the architect. She proposed the French landscape designer Louis Benech whom we also engaged. 

DDS. How did it proceed?
Beginning in February 2000 we met at least once a month for a year and a half – she was often in New York, and we in Paris – to go over renderings and review samples of the most exquisite fabrics, as well as glass, stone and wood.

Every element had to be the absolute best quality. She was sourcing granite from quarries in Italy and limestone from quarries in Spain.

One of her remarkable suggestions was to carve the tub for our master bathroom out of a single piece of limestone. To have it installed, we had to block off the entire street for half a day, and have it lifted by a crane up to our fifth floor terrace.

Her design for our closet was just as decadent – everything from the floor to the ceiling was to be covered in luscious silver-grey felt. Another example of her inventive genius was a screening room suggestion.

We wanted to be able to entertain our friends and the space, though it was over 6,000 square feet, just did not render itself for a formal screening room. So Andrée came up with an idea to design a moveable folding screen that could be railed along a recess in the hardwood floor from a pocket on the inside of the apartment out onto the terrace, and have the furniture arranged to create an outdoor movie theater.

She also consulted Serge on the interior of his New York gallery. The idea she came up with was to create a viewing room in the form of a glass cube that would sit in the middle of the gallery floor. The glass would go from transparent to completely opaque when a client wished to view a painting inside the cube. 

DDS: What was most inspiring about working with her?

Every meeting with Andrée was a learning experience. Collaborating with a master of her stature was in itself an honor. But, most importantly, her inventiveness, and the abundance of it, was unprecedented.

Andrée was extremely precise and knew exactly what she liked and what she disliked. The apartment became her vision – which made working with her very easy. She was quick to say either yes or no, and every decision was deliberate. For a woman she had a rather masculine point of view as far as design was concerned – and at the time her sense of minimalism with touches of Deco made for a perfect combination. 

DDS: Why was it never photographer or published?
The penthouse was never photographed, as we were waiting until the project was done to document the space. We were nearing completion on the project and looking forward to moving in when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. We decided to sell the penthouse “as is” with Andrée’s work in progress.

DDS: Thank you, Serge and Tatiana. Such a pleasure. 

In 2009, Rizzoli published a superb volume, Andrée Putman Complete Works.

The book, which was edited by the highly esteemed Dung Ngo, has an introduction by Donald Albrecht and a charming preface by Jean Nouvel.

Her designs—from the very first—are presented with elegance and clarity. They are shown in chronological order; clear-eyed designers will perceive the development of her work. The images illustrate the scope, intelligence, linear purity, and understated chic of her work—and the humor she often applied to even the most serious projects.

ée felt that humor, wit and a little joke or two were essential to leaven the seriousness of design and architecture.

Andrée Putman Complete Works (edited by Dung Ngo) was published by Rizzoli. It’s an essential reference for interior designers, architects, product designers, hoteliers, museum curators, international real estate developers and restaurateurs. 

ée Putman was lauded at a service of memorial in the elegant modern chapel (very Andrée) at the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris, on January 22.

She is now at rest at Pere Lachaise cemetery, joining Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Jean Seberg, Colette, Jim Morrison, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre in a never-ending colloquium.

I will visit her on my next trip to Paris. I’ll pay my homage and respect, and of course like many will admire the style of her tomb and lay flowers there. White, of course.

Adieu, Andr


Images from ‘Andr
ée Putman Complete Works’ used with permission from Rizzoli. 

For more information:

Monday, January 21, 2013

‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco on Saturday. It’s going to be a blockbuster. Thrilling!

This is an exciting week in the arts in San Francisco. The City is alive with pirouettes, paintings, pianos, many a pas de deux, saxophones and flutes, and orchestral thrills. And I can’t wait to dash over to the de Young on Wednesday night for a private preview of the Dutch Masters exhibition. 

Vermeer’s iconic painting is the focal point of the provocative and surprising show. 

Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632–1675 Delft) 
Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665. 

On January 26, 2013, the de Young Museum will be the first North American venue to present ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis’, a selection of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

I’ve seen the ‘Girl’ painting at The Hague, but it seldom travels outside the Netherlands, so this is a rare opportunity to study the portrait up close once more.

I admire the balance and vividness of the composition—and its confident geometry and simplicity. The face and the quirky twirled head-dress stand in high relief against the dark, smudgy background.

Vermeer’s masterpiece, sometimes called the Dutch Mona Lisa, is one of only thirty-six known paintings by the artist. 

Rachel Ruysch (The Hague 1664–1750 Amsterdam) 
Vase of Flowers, 1700.
The de Young will host thirty five selected paintings from the Dutch collection, including the renowned Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, and four works by Rembrandt van Rijn. 

Rembrandt van Rijn (studio copy)  
Portrait of Rembrandt (1606–1669) with a Gorget, after ca. 1629. 

Highlighting the spectacular artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age, these works reflect the culture of artistic, economic, and technological innovation that allowed the Netherlands to prosper in the 17th century. 

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Violin Player, 1626.

Pieter de Hooch (Rotterdam 1629–1684 Amsterdam) 
A Man Smoking and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard, ca. 1658–1660. 

Though little is known about Vermeer’s life, the quiet grace and virtuoso technique evident in his paintings, and in particular his rendering of light, have placed him among the most important artists of the 17th century. The recent film of his life, also called ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ did not exactly inform, and as always, it fictionalized the artist’s life and art.

Many of the details of his technique can only be appreciated through close examination of the painting surface, such as the few tiny brushstrokes that indicate the reflection on the pearl, and the broader, more expressive painting of her ultramarine and yellow turban. 

Rembrandt van Rijn, (Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam) 
Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667. 
During the Dutch Golden Age, described one of the museum curators, a significant shift occurred in both the technique of painting and in subject matter, particularly as secular subjects began to replace religious themes.

Portraiture focused increasingly on ordinary people, like the man depicted in Rembrandt van Rijn’s portraits. The sitter seems not to be posed, but presented in a matter-of-fact way that differs from the idealized formality of traditional portraiture. 

Jan Steen 
(Leiden 1626–1679 Leiden) 
As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young, ca. 1668–1670. 

Abraham van Beyeren, Banquet Still Life, after 1655.

According to the Mauritshuis museum curator, the Dutch were proud of the commercial success and technological achievements that supported the Netherlands’ thriving economy during the 17th century, including the massive engineering projects that allowed the country to reclaim large areas of land from the sea. Landscapes like View of a Lake with Sailing Ships by Salomon van Ruysdael can be read as descriptions of the Dutch countryside, but they also often reference technological innovations. Here Ruysdael includes ships designed specifically to navigate the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, as well as the windmill and portage equipment in the distance. 

Jan van Goyen, View of the Rhine near Hochelten, 1653.

Jacob van Ruisdael (Haarlem 1628?–1682 Amsterdam) 
View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, ca. 1670–1675. 

Taken as a whole, this exhibition reflects the political, economic, technological and cultural accomplishments of an extraordinary society. The Fine Arts Museums are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to share these works from the Mauritshuis, paintings that exemplify the brilliant flowering of the Dutch school and continue to intrigue and delight to this day.

Jan Both, Italian Landscape, ca. 1645.

Willem Heda, Still Life with a Roemer and Watch, 1629.

The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis 

This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly 30 years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation and expansion that makes this opportunity possible. Following two stops at Japanese institutions, the exhibition debuts in the United States at the de Young Museum, then travels to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in the summer of 2013. A smaller selection will be on view at The Frick Collection in New York in October of 2013. Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis, comments, “We are delighted to have three excellent museums as partners for our U.S. tour. This agreement allows us to present our collection on both the west and east coasts of the United States, in large as well as more intimate venues.”

Housed in a magnificent 17th century city palace, the museum is celebrated for its masterpieces from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age, including paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen, Hals, and Rubens. The works on permanent display provide a magnificent panorama of Dutch and Flemish art of the 15th to 17th centuries; from Flemish primitives to sunlit landscapes, from biblical characters to meticulous still lifes, and from calm interiors to humorous genre scenes. The core holdings of the Mauritshuis were acquired by Stadholder William V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (1748–1806), whose son, King William I (1772–1843), presented them to the Dutch nation in 1816. Consisting of nearly 300 works in 1822, the holdings of the Mauritshuis have grown to approximately 800 paintings. 

Exhibition Catalogue  The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis’, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Mauritshuis, The Hague. The volume includes highlights of the museum’s magnificent collection and features 35 masterpieces of portraiture, landscape, genre painting, history painting, and still life, each accompanied by text illuminating its context and significance. Curatorial essays provide an overview of the extraordinary world of the 17th century Dutch Republic, explore the history and future of the Mauritshuis building and collection, offer an in-depth look at Girl with a Pearl Earring,144 pages. Hardcover $34.95. Available in the Museum Stores, or online at

Carel Fabritius (Middenbeemster 1622–1654 Delft) 
The Goldfinch, 1654. 

The de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Tickets can be purchased on site and in advance on the de Young’s website: 

Meindert Hobbema, Wooded Landscape with Cottages, ca. 1665.

Cultural Highs in San Francisco

On January 21, SFJAZZ opens its elegant modern jazz center just a hop from the San Francisco Opera house.

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Ballet’s glamorous opening night gala on January 24.

On January 23, SFJazz holds its opening night gala (sold out).

Art galleries like Modernism and Serge Sorokko and John Berggruen Gallery are opening new exhibits. Delicious, all. 

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young is housed in a copper-clad landmark building designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Oceania, Africa, and the Americas; a diverse collection of costumes and textiles; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor’s Beaux-Arts style building designed by George Applegarth is located on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its collections span 4,000 years and include European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West. 

Nicolaes Maes, The Old Lacemaker, ca. 1655.

Images of paintings in this exhibition courtesy the de Young Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Used here with express permission.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Return to Marrakech: The Dream of La Mamounia

It’s a Moroccan fantasy, the most seductive and luscious and exciting hotel in the world. 

Come with me for a visit and learn some secrets. We’ll also take a private tour of the mystical Jardin Majorelle and be invited for a privileged insider visit to Villa Oasis, the romantic private residence of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge’.

You know I love Morocco.

I especially adore Marrakech, the legendary city.

I was incredibly fortunate recently to spend a week there, researching the historic architecture, rare craftsmanship, and gardens. It was my great pleasure to return to the legendary La Mamounia hotel, the favorite winter digs of Winston Churchill.

La Mamounia is a kind of paradise, ultra-private, with walls of filigreed stucco, colors Matisse loved, hand-carved and gilded cedar doors and ceilings, and slightly decadent silken aromas that waft through the air.

From each terrace and doorway are sun-struck visions of orange blossom and flickering palm trees. Is this a dream, a mirage?

The hotel has certain perfection—every moment is bliss—and one has to thank genial Didier Picquot, who has been General Manager of La Mamounia since 2008 when he arrived to overse the extensive restoration of the hotel planned by the great Jacques Garcia.

M. Picquot (he counts The Ritz and The Lyford Cay Members’ Club in The Bahamas among his previous trophy properties) and his staff have everything under so control that guests enjoy calm, unruffled moments. Classic hotel service is anticipatory. A pair of La Mamounia Havaianas sandals, a perfect fit, appears seconds after the intention of spending time at the pool is voiced. Dusty medina-meandering shoes are cleaned overnight. Baggage comes and goes invisibly. Reservations are made. Cars, drivers and expert guides are at hand. 

Imagine a hotel suite designed by the great French decorator Jacques Garcia. It’s in legendary Marrakech, with rich centuries of history, French associations, migratory cultures, virtuoso craftsmanship, and intensely authentic life.

Garcia, his dreams at their most voluptuous, looked to Orientalist paintings to find red silk velvet Empire-style chairs and odalisque-ready sofas. He layered walls with wainscots of incantatory tiles, and then turned up the volume with carved plaster so intricate and endlessly serpentine that the effect is sheer magic, a solid material turned into light and vapor.

Arches frame the bed, honed white/pale grey marble is lavished on bathroom walls and floors, the shower is a luxe temple with domed ceiling and tiny pearlescent tiles. A clawfoot tub balances an array of loofahs and toiletries, from fragrant soaps to gels and potions and creams. Why ever leave? 

“Marrakech stands on the great fertile plain of Haouz, seventeen hundred feet above sea level. Some eight miles of timeworn ramparts enclose the thronging hive of people. Dynasty after dynasty of Sultans enriched Marrakech with the finest architecture of their epoch; it became a royal city, the capital of the South. And it became the market for camel caravans from all the remote oases of North Africa, with their walnuts and oranges, gold and silk and hides, spices, dates, and precious metals. And so it has been for centuries.”—Gavin Maxwell, Lords of the Atlas 

Green tiles glimmer as a border for a hand-woven wool carpet. Ceilings of carved and gilded cedar, utterly traditional, gleam and shimmer in the soft light of evening.

I am entranced. I never want to leave.

And then there is a knock on the door—and a handsome waiter arrives with mint tea and silver trays of macaroons of infinitely lovely floral flavors. Swoon. Swoon. And swoon.

“Morocco appears to exist in its very own light, a light of preternatural purity which gives a foretaste of mirage. It’s the light in which magic becomes real, and which helps to understand how, to people living in such an atmosphere, the boundary between fact and dream perpetually fluctuates.” — Edith Wharton, ‘In Morocco’ (1920)

La Mamounia: A Design Dream Fulfilled

There is always a moment when I’ve been out all day traversing the souks (turquoise suede slippers, a great find, an antique trade bead necklace, another) and silently walking through the Saadian tombs (breath-taking), and palaces –and I return to La Mamounia.

After refreshing and dressing for evening, I wander down to the Majorelle bar to people watch, make notes, read reference books, meet a friend, observe, send over requests to the musical trio (Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin) and then perhaps wander out into the candlelit garden.

Away in the distance, there’s a dusting of snow on the Atlas Mountains.

At Le Marocain restaurant, situated in a riad in the garden, guests dine on a sheltered terrace surrounding a lily pond. I requested a vegetable tagine, and nibbled on savory pastries and little spicy salads—but it was the hauntingly beautiful Andalusian/Moroccan music by a costumed quartet that was most enthralling. Lutes! Drums thrumming! Songs in intricate patterns and harmonies and sprung rhythms captured the beauty of the beloved. The effect was so lovely, so unique to Morocco. In the aura of penumbral light, the music seemed to float to the heavens. 

“In Marrakech the sky is a Wagnerian celebration: indigo with pinpricks of starlight, deep sapphire, cerulean, its colors are funneling down through the horizon in the wake of the setting sun. The vivid sounds of the medina are borne towards me, dramatic cried, metallic clashes. The fairy-tale buildings seem to float above the feathery tops of the palm trees in stark but serene radiance.” — Anthony Gladstone-Thompson, ‘Morocco in the 1960s”.

Dining at La Mamounia: Flavor and Seduction

Menu Traditionnel 

Harira Marrakchia aux Dattes 

Traditional Moroccan Harira soup with dates 


Petite dégustation de notre sélection de fines salades marocaines 

Assortment of fine Moroccan salads 


Dorade à la méthode de Fès 

Fes style baked sea bream 


Tagine d’agneau
aux petits pois et fonds d’artichauts 

Lamb tagine
with green peas and artichoke 

Couscous aux sept légumes 

Couscous with seven vegetables 


Salade d’orange à la cannelle, fleur d’oranger et son granité 

Cinnamon scented orange salad
with orange blossom water and orange sherbet 

Menu Contemporain 

Soupe de langoustine au céleri comme une harira 

Harira style langoustine soup with celery 


Tride au foie gras de canard concassé de dattes et coing 

Duck “foie gras” tride with dates and quince 


Tagine de lotte au safran et palourdes d’Agadir fondue de fenouil, pommes grenaille et olives rouges 

Saffron scented monkfish and clams tagine, fennel fondue, potato and red olives 


Mignon de bœuf en tagine,
concassé de blé et jus de pied de veau au pois chiches 

Beef loin tagine
with wheat and veal jus with chickpeas 


Tarte sablée à l’orange, coulis d’oranges confites, chantilly à la fleur d’oranger 

Orange tart, candied orange marmalade, orange blossom whipped cream 


Pastilla Wazzania au miel 

“Wazzania” pastilla with chicken, almond and honey 

Epaule d’agneau à la vapeur, accompagnée de petits légumes 

Steamed lamb shoulder with baby vegetables 

Méchoui d’agneau 

Oven baked lamb 

Jarret de bœuf entier à la terfesse et celeri vert 

Whole braised veal shank with Moroccan truffle and celery 

Daurade royale au four 

Oven roasted sea bream 

In Praise of Enchantment: Jardin Majorelle and the Legacy of Yves Saint Laurent

Just a few minutes drive from La Mamounia, the Jardin Majorelle is one of my favorite gardens in the world, and when I’m in Marrakech a visit is first on my agenda. 

It’s an eccentric and highly focused garden. Rare specimens of cactuses, handsome bamboo varieties, cycads, palm trees, and Moroccan native trees flourish here. For those whose idea of a ‘garden’ is a riot of color and flowers, this is not the place. Tones of green—from celadon to emerald and back—force the eye to see shadows, shapes, textures and patterns.

Fluttering palm fronds, twisting pathways, and shimmering bamboo leaves create a hyper-hallucinogenic atmosphere, especially on a hot summer afternoon. 

The original private garden was founded in 1924 by the French artist/designer Jacques Majorelle, and in 1947 it opened to the public.

Over the years until 1962 Majorelle created a rare and magical landscape of mysterious force and power.

Later, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge saved the garden from destruction. Twelve years ago they handed it over to the privately funded Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent, to ensure its careful management and continued beauty.

International visitors come to the garden to pay homage to Yves Saint Laurent who is commemorated by a broken column that stands discreetly in a peaceful bamboo grove. 

I was very fortunate to spend time at Jardin Majorelle with Madison Cox, one of the world’s most influential landscape designers. Originally from California, he is now the Garden Director.

Madison recently opened the Berber Museum in the grounds of the garden to showcase the arts and culture and costumes of Berber tribes.

Cox’s plan is to maintain the gardens to the highest quality, and especially to honor the genius and personal vision of Jacques Majorelle in perpetuity.

With Madison at the helm, the garden will continue to thrill. 

Villa Oasis

Madison invited me to visit the Villa Oasis, adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle. It’s the legendary residence where Yves Saint Laurent worked on his collections, and where he and Pierre Berge hosted the likes of Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Cautroux, members of the Hermes family, and French artists and writers and bright young things too fabulous even to imagine. 

Interiors were designed in homage to Moroccan style by Bill Willis and Jacques Grange. Photographs here by Oberto Gili capture the complexity of every surface, captivating color harmonies, and the mysterious and magical Moroccan traditional crafts, arts, materials and cultural agglomeration.

I walked silently through the house with one of the sweet family dogs, with just the sound of palm trees clicking in the wind high above. There are the sofas where Saint Laurent reclined, and here are the gold-framed Orientalist paintings Berge, with his attuned and expert eye, has collected over the decades. The bustle and jangle of Marrakech is far distant as I wander from room to room, mesmerized by the hand-smoothed green plaster walls, and kaleidoscopes of tile patterns on walls, floors, columns, and tables. 

Though the locked gate once more, I circled slowly through the Jardin Majorelle.
In the pond beside the museum, two turtles carrying their carapaces aloft, paddle among the magenta and shocking pink lilies.

In the gift shop vibrant necklaces of silk cord and jade by Loulou de la Falaise are displayed in vitrines.

I lurk in the bookshop, adding to my collection of Yves Saint Laurent books (already almost a bookcase full), and poking through a selection of post cards of vintage Moroccan portraits. 

Villa Oasis gardens

Villa Oasis gardens

Villa Oasis gardens

Villa Oasis gardens

Eventually I found my driver, and we headed back to La Mamounia in the late afternoon's golden haze.

We swept through the gates, very low-key, to be greeted by the retinue of doormen and staff in handsome traditional uniforms.

Riad living room

Riad bedroom

Riad bedroom

La Mamounia: I adore the hotel and everything in it. The air is a mysterious fragrance of roses and cedar and palm leaves. Soaps and toiletries, lavish, offer scents of mint and palm and dry desert air, designed by Olivia Giacobetti, Parisian perfumeur.

Elevators, with their low light, hand-tooled leather, and prismatic mirrored walls, offer a whiff of tobacco and a tantalizing hint of Scheherazade. Closets in suites overlooking the palms and the Koutoubia mosque are furnished with Hermes orange leather boxes and cabinets.

Twenty-four acres of historic gardens allow guests to wander in perfect peace.

Nothing interrupts the reverie.

Staff are chic and charming, worldly and witty.

Here all is luxe, calme et volupte.

I can’t wait to return. 

Riad pool

Hotel La Mamounia:
Avenue Bab Jdid

Design of La Mamounia:
Décoration Jacques Garcia
212, rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris – France
Tel. 33-(0)1 42 97 48 70
Fax 33-(0)1 42 97 48 10

Jardin Majorelle 
Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Avenue Yacoub El Mansour. 


Interiors of Villa Oasis by Oberto Gili.

Photography of Jardin Majorelle and Villa Oasis gardens by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

Photography of La Mamounia by Anson Smart, used with express permission.