Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jewels I Love: James de Givenchy Designs Modern Jewelry That’s Radiant with Distinctive Beauty and Sensuality

This week I’m celebrating a delicious new book about James de Givenchy and his ultra-insider jewelry collection, Taffin. It’s richly illustrated with over three hundred pieces of his glamorous designs, the rings, cufflinks, pins, pendants, and necklaces and adornments of desire. Each piece is custom-crafted, the designs never repeated.

‘Taffin, the Jewelry of James de Givenchy’, newly published by Rizzoli, is a slipcased volume, with 400 pages and the most superb art direction. The book includes an artful and emotive selection of family portraits, watercolors, landscapes, abstract paintings, vibrant quotes and charming pictures of James’s beloved uncle, Hubert de Givenchy.

Quick, come with me to lust over and love these imaginative, allusive, witty and utterly addictive designs. Oh, and to see who wears them.

San Francisco philanthropist and rancher, Denise Hale, is a long-time friend of James de Givenchy (and of his uncle, Hubert de Givenchy). She’s in the book.

Denise’s most recent Taffin acquisition is a dramatic brooch she often wears on the lapel of a Ralph Rucci black cashmere jacket.

Her diamond-encrusted Taffin brooch, bold and modern, is admired and ‘interpreted’ by friends and everyone who encounters it. ‘Is it a sea anemone?” ask some. Others guess it’s an octopus. No. Or an outstretched hand. No, not really. Sometimes it’s up, and sometimes it’s down. And it’s always alluring, worn with irony and a dash of drama.

Here, from the book, Denise is wearing the jewel with a Ralph Rucci top. On her ears: Diamond earrings she has worn since she was nineteen.

The artist: The elegant, timeless portrait of Denise is by her dear friend, the London-based fashion illustrator, David Downton. David captured Denise recently at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where she has been taking up residence since the sixties.

To see more of David’s portraits, visit Claridge’s in London, where he is the artist in residence. Or track down his recent book from publisher Laurence King, ‘David Downton, Portraits of the World’s Most Stylish Women’. Of course, Denise is featured. 

James de Givenchy

Since launching his own jewelry business in 1996, Taffin has been a global connoisseur of exotic gems and a designer who mixes old-world European traditions with new-world grace and simplicity. Among the women known to wear Taffin designs are Aerin Lauder and San Francisco/ St. Bart’s art collector, Frances Bowes. Of course, James does not discuss, ever, his clientele.

Glamour with pared-down modernity is the Taffin signature. Many are pieces to wear every day—a flower pin to clip on a linen blouse, millefiori cufflinks, a signature ring to wear to lunch, a deceptively simple clasp necklace to wear for a romantic dinner. They are seductive. Some designs and silhouettes are clearly a private message, very personal, from an ardent lover to the object of his desire.

De Givenchy’s stunning designs are refined, elegant, witty, chic, eclectic, sleek, romantic and whimsical. Using stones such as diamonds, multi-colored sapphires, green tourmalines, rock crystal, topaz, he designs custom, one-of-a-kind jewels in a symphony of colors, gems, and shapes.

The luxurious new volume offers insider access to Taffin’s world of inspiration, ideas, craftsmanship, collaborations, family, heritage, and rare materials.

In his delicious new volume, designer James de Givenchy (whose jewelry is all custom-produced in his New York workshop) shares his inspirational references, intimate photographs of his atelier. Hundreds of exquisite photographs capture his sumptuous and distinctive pieces.

They are sophisticated but lighthearted, extraordinary yet unpretentious. Some clients bring rare gems to inspire him. Others bring family heirlooms (a pair of cameos, a rare colored diamond) or a romantic message to communicate to a loved-one. Many pieces…a ‘flying’ sapphire, cherubs…touch the heart.

And he’ll dream up brushed gold, colorful ceramic, enamel, exotic woods.

Yes, I’ve worn Taffin. I first met James de Givenchy some time ago when he was visiting a private client here in San Francisco. I was invited to a dinner in James’s honor, at the Russian Hill apartment of Denise Hale.

Denise asked me to pick up James at the Huntington Hotel and drive him to her Green Street location.

James asked me if I’d like to borrow some Taffin jewelry for the evening—and proposed a pair of exquisite pale Persian turquoise dome-shaped earrings set in gold and studded with pale purple topaz gems. I was wearing a black Chanel tunic. Black silk Blahniks. Black silk clutch.

Everyone admired the earrings. I loved wearing them. When I dropped James back at the Huntington after a glorious evening, I returned them to their designer.

Thank you, James. Such a pleasure.

Taffin atelier

Taffin atelier

About James de Givenchy

James Taffin de Givenchy, French-born, was raised in northern France, in a small village near Beauvais, one of seven siblings. After completing his education he joined Christie’s in New York. His intention to design furniture was soon overshadowed by a six-year position in the Christie’s jewelry department.

His career evolved. His jewelry collection has flourished. Perhaps it is partly genetic. His uncle Hubert de Givenchy is an internationally renowned French couturier. But friends and clients who love James know it’s his eye, his spirit, his bold creativity, and his taste for simplicity and understatement (and his experimental and highly accomplished workshop) that are at the heart of Taffin’s success.

Image of ‘Taffin’ among books in my library by Diane Dorrans Saeks, December 16, 2016.

Images here from ‘Taffin’, used with express permission.

The Jewelry of James de Givenchy

By James Taffin de Givenchy
With Stephanie LaCava, a journalist and essayist based in New York.

Forewords by Tobias Meyer and Hamilton South, and contributions by Hubert de Givenchy and Timothy Pope.

Tobias Meyer is a German art auctioneer.

Hamilton South is a founding partner of HL Group.

Hardcover with slipcase.

$150.00 U.S. Published by Rizzoli New York, November 2016


James de Givenchy, Taffin

Monday, December 12, 2016

Spirit and Elegance: The Inspiring New Work of San Francisco Designer Benjamin Dhong

The fresh and witty interiors of my great friend Ben Dhong reflect the best of today’s design. Airy, unpretentious, welcoming and chic, his work has a light touch that’s very modern and classical.

Come with me this week to visit Ben’s newest work—and see highlights and favorites and his ‘greatest hits’.

To love: Ben’s highly refined color sense, his passion for glossy white, his warm and sensual textures, and his marked enthusiasm for variations on a theme. Bravo, Ben.

“There’s an elegant dialog between furnishings that requires a deft hand. I like my rooms to have good art and a bit of intellectual heft. Antiques and paintings give a sense of history and erudition but are never pompous.”—Benjamin Dhong

House Beautiful editors
Sophie Donelson and Loretta Sperduto loved Ben’s dining room at his Healdsburg country house that they featured it on a recent cover. The combination of chairs, painted white, and Wade Hoefer’s airborne painting, is mesmerizing and inspiring.

San Francisco interior designer Benjamin Dhong wields color judiciously. Clients love the tranquility and harmony of his décor. And some clients want high wattage, urging the designer to use color boldly and dramatically.

With a portfolio of clients from San Francisco to Woodside and Los Angeles, and further afield to Sonoma County and Manhattan, the versatile designer creates fine-tuned décor that is custom, functional and immensely pleasing to the eye. Just don’t limit his imagination.

His clients, who range from Silicon Valley tech families to worldly bachelors and cosmopolitan Realtors and artists and city philanthropists, all like working with him so much they acquire country retreats or city apartments and new houses so that they will continue their happy collaboration with the designer.

Dhong founded his firm, Benjamin Dhong Interiors, eleven years ago.

For a young Pacific Heights family, Dhong recently completed light-hearted décor with carefully calibrated neutral tones and just enough color punch of pale blues and greens to keep it fresh and modern.

“I love to start with interesting neutrals and will always use them. However a dash of color is as important to increase the level of emotion and energy. But sometimes just a jolt of color will do,” said the designer. 

“I never want to see what I call ‘color whiplash’ when an over-enthusiastic designer has painted every room a different color,” said Dhong. And lavish use of a favorite color like shocking pink or intense marine blue for the walls of a child’s room may be too intense over time. He proposes instead a dash of pink on a floral slipcover for a headboard (easily changed) or blue and white ticking striped curtains or pillows. 

Dhong is especially adept at mixing textures of antique fabrics, custom-crafted carpets, and tactile materials like oxidized bronze or statuary marble.

In an urban setting, for a study and bedroom, he orchestrated a moody mix of textures, including printed linen pillows on natural canvas upholstery, Egyptian cotton sheets, a zinc table, silk pillows, and Donald Kaufman wall paint, all in soft neutral tones.

“I love the contrast of the linearity of the Agnes Martin prints with the Gothic spire, and then the sleek and spiky modern Tizio lamp,” he said.

The zinc side table and bed frame were from Crate & Barrel. The versatile white desk and the curtains were from RH. Black and white photographs of architecture were by Christopher Flach Photography.

In a city apartment living room décor he included an antique silk taupe-toned Oushak carpet, smooth mohair upholstery, crisp linen pillows, and a cashmere herringbone throw, in subtle shades of beige, ivory and creams

The contrasting glimmer of gold picture frames, mercury glass vases, and a polished silver tray add sparkle but Dhong kept the effect quite restrained. Custom sofas and upholstered chairs add volume to the mix, and an antique ottoman, found on eBay, was reupholstered in zebra print linen. The starburst mirror from designer Candace Barnes added brilliance to the setting.

The handsome and atmospheric custom designed Indo-Chinese mural is by de Gournay, who are about to open a glamorous new studio/showroom/garden in San Francisco.

“I design ethereal and serene spaces but I introduced something unexpected, perhaps an eccentric ottoman, or a scenic antique wallpaper” said Dhong. “The tension of rough linen pillows and a rich velvet chair, or a distressed wood sculpture adjacent to a hand-hammered silver bowl is exhilarating.”

The artist in Dhong sees furniture as sculpture.

“The distinct dialog created between antique and modern can be exquisite. The modern pieces bring a new angle on an antique, and a vintage object can bring gravitas and soul into a sleek room. It’s a great marriage,” he said.

Dhong highlights the need for balance in design.

“I like a certain harmony and nothing that’s shouting, “look at me”,” said the interior designer “And, not everything is expensive or rare. I like pairing the precious with the humble.”

Dhong’s approach—his clients applaud—is that not every item in a room has to be virtuoso. Some pieces—a coffee table from RH, or a console from West Elm, perhaps a plain jute carpet, a bleached wood console table, a flea market treasure, a handcrafted basket, an ivory cashmere throw—can be quite understated. Simple pieces are functional and leave the glory to antiques, eccentric sculptures, or antique textiles.

“In particular, design should be true to the people who will live there. When designing homes, authenticity and soul are never far from my thoughts.”

“I have a modern sensibility. I revel in the theatrical. For years I couldn’t figure out if I’m a traditionalist that likes modern things or a modernist with a strong sense of history. Now I’m comfortable with dropping the labels. Beautiful design is timeless. It does not need a name.”—Benjamin Dhong

All photography by Lisa Romerein, used with express permission.

Special thanks to House Beautiful Interiors Editor, Doretta Sperduto, a long-time friend and a superb stylist, the best.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Books In My Library Now: A quick look with happy snaps, inspiration, favorite reading, new books…and my obsession with the new Cabana, issue 6

This week I’m taking you all on a quick voyage around a corner of my library with current favorites.

There’s the new ‘Capability Brown’ garden book from Rizzoli, which is fantastic. And the Metropolitan Museum’s magnum opus showing 5,000 years of art. I love the Ingres cover.

To discover are recent copies of Lodestar and Suitcase (check them out) and the new Chanel book from Flammarion.

Prominently displayed among favorite books old and new is my current obsession, Issue 6 of CABANA. It’s an interiors/style book/magazine published twice a year from London, masterminded by editor-in-chief Martina Mondadori Sartogo and her worldly team. Several versions of the newest issue (well, three versions) are propped up among my books. I was a little obsessed.

Issue 6 Cabana includes many pages of interiors (swoon) of the Tangier residences of the great and legendary London antiquaire/designer Chrissie Gibbs.

I was fortunate to stay at Chrissie's for a blissful week recently, pampered by two Moroccan sisters who are his housekeepers/cooks/and a lovely presence. I slept in an antique four-poster bed that Chrissie told me had previously been slept in by Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott and Marianne Faithful, though not all at the same time. Vignettes of this upstairs bedroom are shown, and its view of the Straits of Gibraltar, and the curtained doorway, but not the bed, sorry. Sweet dreams. There’s a romantic and ethereal house in Umbria. Any interiors photos will billowing curtains, I admire.

More ‘World of Interiors’ than World of Interiors, Cabana has a quirky country house in Aberdeenshire, and Persian and Indian miniatures.

Turn a page and there are eccentric and thrilling interiors in Tbilisi…dachas galore, and fabric swatches, and fascinating people and places. Read it in bed.

An invitation to fly. THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL.

I bought my three copies of the current Cabana (which has 8 different cover patterns by Schumacher) on 1stDibs. It’s available online at various prices. I propose: subscribe.

Also among my snaps is the ‘superluxe’ previous Cabana issue 5, sponsored by Gucci, with Gucci fabric on the cover. The box and the issue inside have serpents swirling and a shocking pink border. It’s a limited boxed edition with a special Rome interiors section added. Fantastic.

Last time I checked, the Rizzoli bookshop in New York (yes, my publisher) had a few boxed copies. Good luck. This new edition, like all previous ones, is a collector’s item. Essential for interior designers.

Thank you for joining me on this happy visit. 

See you next week with design and news and surprises. Happy Holidays and Happy Days.

All images shot on December 2, 2016 in San Francisco by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

Hand-held…as you can see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Newest Travels in India — Into the Pages of History and Myth: Chettinad Photo Portfolio. South India Style. Chettinad Chic.

This week, I’m taking you into remote Southern India. You will learn about the fascinating and eccentric architecture of this region with a South India portfolio of exclusive images by Paris-based photographer, Deidi von Schaewen who photographed there recently.

I’ve written about Chettinad in previous posts on The Style Saloniste, and friends have followed in my footsteps.

Recently I returned, and collaborated with Deidi von Schaewen on an exploration of the region’s architecture, and the neat-as-a-pin heritage style of The Bangala, and trips to local antique shops.

Deidi von Schaewen is acclaimed throughout Europe and India for her extraordinary exhibitions of tribal painted houses in India. Recently in India she has focused on creating a remarkable series of images of remote village shrines, sacred temples and holy trees hidden in forests, featuring terra cotta figures and spiritual animals. Thrilling.

Earlier she published ‘Inside Africa’ (Taschen) and ‘Indian Interiors’ (Taschen) and many books and films on mythical buildings, French gardens, and interiors in Egypt, India and Morocco and Paris.

This time, she turned her curious eye onto Chettinad and The Bangala.

Come with Deidi and me this week for an exclusive visit and exploration.

And imagine the silence of deserted mansions—and then the sibilant rustle of laughter and joy and then cooking pots clanging at The Bangala. Chettinad is, indeed, a marvelous discovery.

Chettinad is a wonderful mystery. The grand mansions of this distant region, full of Belgian and Czechoslovakian chandeliers and Bavarian mirrors, are a fable and a mystery.

Lavished with Birmingham steel columns and Victorian ornamentation and Burmese team columns, and stained glass windows and colonnades and banquet rooms, they stand deserted today. The owners and their families live in Silicon Valley, in Singapore, in London and New York, deeply involved in the financial world and the enterprises of their ancestors.

Hidden in a desert landscape far from the financial hubs and swirling population of Chennai and Mumbai and Delhi are more than one hundred Chettinad villages (all with dramatic temples) that seem to have been cut adrift.

I discovered Chettinad last year, and recently made a return visit to learn more.

I stayed once more at The Bangala, a private hotel run by a leading Chettiar family of the region. It’s in Karaikudi, a center of Chettinad culture.

These Tamil Nadu villages and their regal chandelier-filled mansions were founded five or six centuries ago by the Nattukottai Chettiars—a Hindu caste banished (or bestowed) to a hidden corner of India.

In the middle of nowhere, they became private bankers, traders, travelers, philanthropists, educators, pioneers and explorers.

Working closely with the East India Company, the Chettiars were intrinsic to the expansion of the British Empire throughout Africa and Sri Lanka and Burma and Malaysia and into Southeast Asia.

The Chettiars were even rumored to lend money to Napoleon and Spanish kings for early nineteenth-century skirmishes and battles in Europe.

The Bangala

I make The Bangala my home there because it is family owned, founded in the thirties, and now run superbly by the great matriarch and hotelier, Meenakshi Mayyappan.

With her fantastic staff—family chefs and majordomos of many decades—Mrs. Meyappan also rules the kitchen.

Families drive down from Chennai just to taste her legendary authentic spices and Chettiar recipes, inventive and colorful.

Running the front office are a charming group of women—cousins and family friends. Clad in traditional cotton saris that they wear with great style, are also expert guides and trip managers.

The Bangala—staying there is one of the great pleasures of southern India.

Mrs. Meyyappan has childrean grandchildren among the Chettiar diaspora—and they sometimes visit from the tech-y worlds of Silicon Valley, Manhattan, or London.

English is spoken and the welcome is warm.
Meenakshi Mayyappan and her ladies offer tips on the best jewelers in town, the favorite antique dealers. They deftly arrange access to private historic mansions.

First-time travelers in the region may wish to book a driving tour from Chennai or Madurai that takes in all the major temples. The blessing: you may be the only Western traveler entering temples and sacred sites, joining fervent pilgrims and families and schoolchildren. It’s a privilege and a rare insight.

At the end of an intense day, guests return to The Bangala for dinner alfresco and an evening cloaked in the velvet darkness of the area.

Chettinad Antiquaire

I went antiquing in Karaikudi with Deidi von Schaewen, the photographer, and our friend Shirin Jacob, a medical specialist living in Singapore.

Chettinad, with its crumbling mansions and deserted villages, is a focus for many Indian and international dealers who trawl estate sales for teak columns, bronze statuary, carved teak doors, European enamel kitchenware, crystal, brass water jars, ceramic storage urns, and quirky decorative objects. The enamelware and pottery are particularly appealing.

Logistics and credits

The Bangala Hotel, in the heart of Chettinad
Chettinad can also be accessed from Madurai, the temple city in South India, a two hours’ drive away. It is essential to have a car and driver. Some guests drive down from Chennai, stopping to view temples on the way. Another approach is from Pondicherry, the delightful former French colony carved oak door

All mansions of Chettinad are private
Meenakshi Meyyappan, the delightful and hospitable owner (with her family) of The Bangala hotel, will also open some of her own family residences for guests of the hotel. These residences, built in the late 1900s and 1920s, are superbly maintained.

And the hotel offers cooking classes.

The hotel is located in the heart of Chettinad in Karaikudi. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served for guests.

To note: the hotel has excellent high-speed wifi throughout the property.

A series of new suites, discreetly sited among trees, were recently added, bringing the total to thirty. Calls from nearby temples, the whirr of crows, and songs and chants drifting in the air all intensify the feeling of being in deepest India.

The Bangala also boasts a professional laundry facility. My white linen blouses have never looked better.

The Mayyappan family has a strong social awareness and environmental policy with all water solar heated; all kitchen and garden wasted composted; all paper recycled; purely organic local vegetable gardening; and they employ only local staff.

Most of the great Chettinad mansions are within a twenty-minute drive from the hotel.

When to go there: From October through February/ March are the best months. Summer is intensely hot. Winter is sunny and fresh and extremely pleasant.

To get there: fly from New Delhi or Mumbai to Chennai or Madurai, and drive into Chettinad.

The Bengala, Chettinad Heritage Hotels Pvt. Ltd.


Exciting New Books

‘The Mansions of Chettinad’
Photographer, Bharath Ramamrutham
Art Director, Fravishi Aga
Author, George Michel
With a foreword by Guy Trebay

The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad
by Sumeet Nair, Meenakshi Meyyappan and Jill Dosenfeld 
Photographer, Rohit Chawla 
Preface by Guy Trebay

Moments of The Bangala and Chettinad photographed by Diane Dorrans Saeks

Tourists (except for a few French and British groups who come and go) have not yet found Chettinad. Tamil Nadu is in the far south of the Indian sub-continent, and centuries away from the glamour and palaces of Rajasthan. 

The Bangala is the place to stay.

Here, nourished by fresh Chettinad cuisine by The Bangala’s highly trained chefs, guests may sunbathe all day,enjoy a massage, or head out into the villages nearby to discover the Mansions of Chettinad.

The Bangala arranges private guides and drivers—who gain entry to family mansions, historic temples. No-one is there but silent caretakers. Photography is permitted.

“I remember all the celebrations and family gatherings, weddings, parties and religious ceremonies with great pleasure,” noted Meenakshi Mayyappan. “For me the mansions are our heritage, reminders of a vanished way of life. The craftsmanship, the materials, and the architecture were magnificent. Our happiness lingers on.”

Note: special thanks to Shirin Jacob.

New and exclusive photography of the Mansions and The Bangala, and Chettinad Antiquaire by Deidi von Schaewen, based in Paris.

Photographer: Deidi von Schaewen