Sunday, April 28, 2013

Oh, Nicky, You’re So Fine, You Blow My Mind, Hey Nicky!

Nicky Haslam is an in-demand author, incisive lecturer, nascent nightclub singer, daring video artist and artful biographer and writer.

He has been an interior designer of note for four decades—and there is not a thing about chic English country style that he does not know. John Fowler, eat your heart out.

Now he has a lively, witty, and inspiring new book—and everyone who loves ultra-relaxed English country interiors (the kind that look as if dogs sleep on the sofas and chairs and floor, all day)…with great charm, comfort and happiness. 

Nicholas Haslam has been and continues to be a fixture—a handsome one—of the London social and decorating and antiques worlds since he left Eaton. Even today, at the handsome age of 73, he is in and out of the gossip pages, attending parties too divine to mention, writing books, dropping names, setting trends, and inspiring his clients and friends with his bons mots

Now he has published ‘Nicky Haslam’s Folly de Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House’, with superb photography by Simon Upton. Rizzoli published his book in the US.

It’s the best new book on authentic, relaxed and charming English country style. 

Nicky Haslam spends weekends in an exquisite Tudor hunting lodge. Its petite dimensions are decorated with deft and unerring style.

“The rooms you see in this book are a culmination of a lifetime’s passion for refinement and embellishment. And the house’s soul doesn’t seem to object to the hodgepodge,” notes Haslam.

The book covers five centuries of the house, living with its history, as well as the traditional garden, the furnishings, the comfort, versatility and ease of every corner.

Ever page and each image is a design lesson—from vignettes showing how to make sofas comfortable, to creating tableaux, classical elements, hallways, evening cocktails (his bar is inspiring), and entertaining with panache. 

It’s clear that Haslam is wildly in love with this 1720 house. He is seduced by its quirky Jacobean façade, pleached yews, espaliered apple trees, topiaries, chintzes, and the miniature scale of the interiors. 

Nicholas Haslam offers floor plans and diagrams, and splashes the pages with delcious images of the house through the seasons, and details of the conservatory, picnics, lunches, menus, and his prescriptions for orderly chaos.

There are ‘hand-held’ detailed images of his year’s of collecting, endearing flea market finds, treasures from boot sales, and lots of what he calls ‘soft furnishings’ meaning pillow designs, simple upholstery, curtains, chair backs, improvised lampshades and acres of slipcovers. 

Who is Nicky Haslam?

Nicky wrote ‘Redeeming Features’, a witty memoir, and now pens features for T magazine (New York Times) edited by the brilliant Deborah Needleman, as well as Vanity Fair, and UK House & Garden. He’s insightful, outspoken, highly erudite, and just a bit naughty. Refreshing! 

With Rizzoli’s publication of his new book, Nicky is out and about in Toronto and New York and London, signing with purple ink, greeting great long-time friends like Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, and earning plaudits and irony in all the London papers.

Readers will get more out of the book—which is in essence the most elegant ‘how to’ book—if they get to know him more. I’ve selected a kind of a Nicky Haslam Anthology for your entertainment and erudition. 

Here are two recent profiles on Nicky that I love. They have his same droll tone and knowing style.
This first one originally ran in the Daily Mail. It’s a very English insider’s view of Nicholas Haslam and ‘his crowd’:

“There can't be a gay icon of the last century that he failed to meet. He revived Mae West's career by running snaps of the old gal in Show Magazine, when he was art director.

He met Dietrich, photographed Zsa Zsa Gabor, watched Dorothy Parker get drunk, and saw Greta Garbo try - and fail - to dodge the train fare to Salisbury.

Joan Crawford took him as her date to the premiere of Cleopatra. And at lunch at a friend's house: 'I was astonished to find that the woman with wildly mascaraed eyes, rather loose teeth, and a flamboyant purple satin turban ... was Gloria Swanson.'

Nicky knew Mick Jagger when he was a builder; hired the sculptor and artist Anish Kapoor when he was an art student; had his hair cut by Vidal Sassoon himself; befriended the weird little illustrator who turned into Andy Warhol; happened to have as a downstairs neighbor a little-known comic called Woody Allen. (He complimented Allen on being a quiet neighbor. 'I only play Marcel Marceau records,' Allen said.)

When London was first Swinging in the Sixties, Haslam was there - hanging out with photographer David Bailey and model Jean Shrimpton.

When New York was in its Sixties pomp, Haslam was there, introducing 'the English look', art-directing Vogue under Diana Vreeland, discovering photographer Diane Arbus, yattering with Truman Capote.

When the canyons above LA were the place to be, Haslam was there, too.

--Sam Leith in the Daily Mail (UK) Nov 19 2009 when ‘Redeeming Features’ was published.

Nicky on Nicky 

From The Observer, London UK, by Stuart Husband, Nov 7 2003.

My personal style?
Either thrift shop, Topman, or Anderson & Sheppard. Most people dress appallingly, but if you go to Topman on a Friday lunchtime, the boys just look astonishing.

I don't smoke.
I gave up 10 years ago. But I love the smell. So I light up and just wave the smoke up my nose.

My hard and fast rule of decorating is:
Always listen to the room. It speaks to you.

I'll take hypnotism over therapy.
I adore being hypnotized – I went to Paul McKenna to stop smoking. With the best hypnotists, you don't even know you've been under. As far as therapy goes, I'm so dopey I don't think I'm complicated enough to make it worth the analyst's while. 

Some Recent Haslam Hits:

Now—in addition to singing (well, speaking lyrics in a dusty voice with orchestral accompaniment) in louche boites and nightclubs, Nicky Haslam is a very in-demand writer, profiler, and commentator. He writes with compassion and a little bite—and one of his best pieces was a recent essay on Lee Radziwill. It was the divine editor, Deborah Needleman who chose him to write this piece, and here is one of my favorite passages—Haslam at his best. 

LEE RADZIWILL PROFILE IN T MAGAZINE, NEW YORK TIMES (find the whole story in the archive.

Typical quote:
“The haunting voice and the almost ethereal figure are Lee Radziwill’s, and they have been a lifelong part of her enduring identity. But those characteristics are not nearly the whole picture. I am confronted by a subtly strong presence and personality, part wreathed in the glamour of the past, part intensely modern in outlook and awareness. Not for her any all-too-easy reminiscences of “those days.” She is, quite clearly, herself.”

--Nicholas Haslam, T magazine, New York Times in a superb cover story on Lee Radziwill, which includes an extraordinary video interview with Radziwill by Sofia Coppola. Must view! Must read!

And of course there is his recent best-selling biography, ‘Redeeming Features A Memoir’ (Knopf 2009).

All images from FOLLY DE GRANDEUR (RIZZOLI) used with permission from Rizzoli.

For more information on Nicholas Haslam and his blog and design firm, 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sparkle, Sparkle: The Allure of Rare Jewels

The brilliant Paris-based jewelry designer Marie-Hélène de Taillac sets up a chic new salon on New York’s Upper East Side—and introduces new jewelry designs made in Jaipur, India. This is her third salon—the others are in Paris and Tokyo. 

The New York salon, the décor:

Inspired by Marie-Antoinette’s small theater in Versailles and designed by Marie-Hélène de Taillac, the Manhattan salon is a paragon of French refinement and wit.

Fabric-covered walls in signature Marie-Hélène de Taillac powder blue set a calm tone. Walls are ornamented with exquisite Baguès-style wall lamps ornamented with rock crystal parrots. 

The champagne hand-knotted wool carpet was created by Madeline Weinrib, a longtime friend of Marie-Hélène, and a friend of mine. I’ve written about Madeline on THE STYLE SALONISTE. Find her in the archive.

Marie-Hélène also created a jewelbox atmosphere using a juxtaposition of mirrors, not forgetting those of the Jansen table, and the silver-coated ceiling. It’s a lavish but intimate showcase.

The private consultation salon: One floor above the salon, Marie-Hélène has a hushed, private salon, also in powder blue, where she meets clients to discuss custom designs and special orders—a wedding ring, perhaps. 

Marie-Hélène is a long-time friend of mine. She lives in Paris with her young son, Edmond, travels to India several times a year, and sells her jewels at Barney’s New York around the US. The Los Angeles Barney’s New York store always has a particularly glorious selection of her designs in its sunlit jewel salon. It’s my favorite display of her magical creations. 

I’ve known and admired Marie-Hélène de Taillac for ages—ever since I visited the great Munnu Kasliwal in his Gem Palace private studio years ago, and by chance and good fortune I encountered Marie- Hélène there seated at a work-table on the floor, sorting hundreds of sparkling cut gems.

She was a memorable sight—a dark-haired French beauty of great style wearing a white linen tunic, simple white pants, silver sandals, red toe nails, and a striking hand-made 22k gold bracelet of her own design, very simple.

On the table in front of her was arrayed a Maharajah’s treasure of precious spinels, iolite stones, rubellites, amethysts, glimmering moonstones, tourmalines (pink and green), peridots, rubies, garnets, morganites, pink crystals, cloudy aquamarines, citrines, diamonds, chalcedony, fire opals, and onyx, all of them ready to be made into her exclusive colorful swivel rings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, pretty flower rings, rainbow necklaces, and an array of brooches and belts.

The dazzle and vivid colors of scattered rings lit by the afternoon sun spilling through an adjacent window, instantly created a kind of over-stimulation of beauty and an instant desire to wear them all, to adorn the body with them. Beauty is my eternal search. 

I’ve written about Marie-Hélène on THE STYLE SALONISTE before, with great pleasure.

A couple of summers ago, she had a fabulous exhibition at Le Bon Marché in Paris, and I wrote about that.

Her handcrafted gold and precious-stone jewels are simple and modern and ultra-feminine. At the same time the fine traditional craftsmanship gives them a timeless air, a feeling that they could have been made for a grand Medici prince or a Renaissance princess of France, for a chic contemporary artist, or a pretty mother with a young baby. Her designs have universal appeal. 

I wish Marie-Hélène continued joy and good fortune in the New York aerie—and can’t wait to see her in India soon, at her Gem Palace headquarters.

It’s there in that private and creative place that she offers me delicious cold fresh lime drinks made by her cook, and lunches of healthy salads and dhal and vegetarian delights from her home kitchen.

And it is in Jaipur, an eons-old center of gem-cutting and generations of fine crafting that her jewelry is made by specialized craftsmen using traditional tools, centuries-old methods. Each piece is individually crafted, so that the hand of the jeweler is evident. Each is exquisite. 

All About Marie-Hélène de Taillac:

When Marie-Hélène de Taillac launched her first collection of delicate, colorful jewels in 1996, she sparked a revolution in the classic world of high-end jewelry. Her creations—made in India in 22k gold and often with a satin/matt finish—used vibrant faceted stones to ravishing effect. Not for her fussy designs or bling-bling gold or over-the-top diamonds. Instead, the concept is very feminine, very pretty, very seductive.

They are jewels for personal pleasure more than gems-to-impress. Certainly they are also flat-out sexy—but not with a va-va-voom flash. I love them. They are a secret pleasure.

In Paris, I often stay at a friend’s apartment on rue de Tournon that’s just a few steps from Marie-Hélene’s boutique at 8, rue de Tournon. Imagine, every day, there is the anticipation of walking part her vitrines as I head off on a Left Bank rendezvous. In her window: moonstone rings, perhaps, or delicate little elephant-shaped pendants, or a rainbow briolette necklace of colored stones. It’s a thrilling way to start the morning. 

Her lifelong love of vivid color, her enduring fascination with fashion and travel, led de Taillac (pronounced ‘de-tai-ac') to produce a collection that brought real, precious jewelry into the everyday lives of modern women.

Her first collections of ‘cabochon’ rings, and swivel rings were an instant hit, and sold immediately to high-end stores worldwide: Barneys New York, Browns in London, and Colette in Paris.

When she first started using vibrant stones, colored stones were hardly in fashion. They were still called ‘semi-precious’ which is now a rather dated description.

I once met Hans Stern, the founder of venerable H. Stern, in Rio and he said to me, “I dismiss this expression ‘semi-precious’. For me, there are only precious stones. Turquoise stones are precious. Spinels are precious. Topazes are precious. Tourmalines are beautiful and they are precious. They are all precious.” 

Marie-Hélène follows the same utmost belief in the beauty, power and precious attributes of all of her handpicked stones. At the start, she initiated using the briolette cut, a stone-cutting technique traditionally reserved for diamonds, for unexpected gems such as multi-colored tourmalines or bright orange fire opals.

She experimented with unusual combinations of gemstones—black onyx inset with blue sapphire, for example. Her signature is vibrant color. She is passionate about it, and via color has managed to banish the precious/semi-precious edicts that used to exist concerning fine jewelry. 

Three seasons of jewels as seen by Marie-Hélène de Taillac

Snow falls over Paris...

In memory of a private visit to Marie-Antoinette’s winter garden at Versailles, Marie-Hélène dreamed up snow flowers. They are iced daisies in rock crystal and frosty pink and blue sapphires, to be worn as a necklace, earrings or rings. A soothing combination. 

Spring is a time of enchantment at the Queen’s Hamlet: Marie-Hélène’s delicate "Clochettes de Muguet" – gold and iridescent moonstone earrings inspired by lily-of-the-valley – chime brightly. 

The Venus grotto at the Linderhof Palace, that otherworldly refuge favored by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, finds its echo in Marie-Hélène’s ‘Baroque minimalist’ shell earrings.

Summer is clad in pastel and sorbet colors: sapphire "Mosaïque of Gems" earrings vacillate between light blue and mauve. 

Sumptuously colored gemstones, set invisibly in earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings. All MHT jewelry is handmade in gold and precious stones.

Earrings from $550 – $25,000
Rings from $1,200 – $100,000
Pendants from $70 – $4,000
Necklaces from $3,500 – $200,000
Prices may vary

Where to find: 

20 East 69th Street
New York, NY 10021
Tel.  212 249 0371

8, rue de Tournon, 
75006 Paris
Tel. +33 (0)1 44 27 07 07 / 08

3-7-9 Kita-Aoyama,
Minato-Ku Tokyo, 107-0061

Tel. +81 (0)3 5468 2703


Portrait by Paolo Roversi, used with express permission. 

Illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme 

Jewelry images courtesy of Marie-Hélène de Taillac, used with kind and express permission. 

Images of the New York salon by Jeremy Liebman, used with express permission of Marie-Hélène de Taillac.