Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jane Birkin, Meet Rupert Birkin

When is a classic white shirt more than a classic white shirt? When it dates from the 19th century, evokes the rustic/sexy sensibility of both D. H. Lawrence and a gap-toothed French style icon and promises to just keep getting better and better over time.
Click HERE to read my latest column in W and become a woman (or man) in love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Armor Amour

(Mail byrnie, c. 12th century, Museum of Bayeux)

I have a long-standing fixation with medieval armor. Chain mail, to be specific. It's difficult to pinpoint the source of my fascination. Perhaps, in a previous life, I was a footsoldier in Boadicea's all-woman army.

Or perhaps my brain is still haunted by gripping visions of Dark Age tumult and turmoil from this much-loved book.

Or perhaps this by-now-iconic image of Alexander McQueen and the late, great Isabella Blow from a 1996 Vogue spread stoked my passion to uncontrollable heights.
(Photograph by David LaChapelle)

Yes, I realize there's no actual chain mail in the photo, but I suppose all the elements present cause my mind to make the connection anyway: "Castle + fire + damsel in distress + mayhem equals....ah, yes...chain mail."

Look at this ceremonial shirt from the 16th century. Over five hundred years old and it still feels modern. Even the decorative fastenings and jeweled brooches are in style. What would it feel like to wear? Heavy, certainly. But I can't help but think you would feel protected not only physically but emotionally.
(Image via

I can envision the product description: "Elegant, slim fit. Offers 100% impermeability in the battlefield (arrows, swords) and in court (betrayals, backstabbings, snarkiness). Dry clean only."

I've always thought of chain mail in terms of fashion, so I was rendered temporarily mute when I visited my friend Maria on Saturday and saw this stunning four-legged creature.
(Burlap and chain mail chair. Design by Maria Sarno.)

"Wha....?" I tried again. "Hwaaah...?" She took pity on me. "It's just a salvaged chair," she said. "I need to have it recovered. But do you like the chain mail I attached to the head rest?"
(Chain mail chair, detail)

Umm, yes. I love everything about it. I love the threadbare linen, the tattered seams and the way you've transformed it into the anthropomorphic embodiment of a medieval knight.

If fashion is considered the armor we clothe ourselves in, then surely we can upholster ourselves in it, too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pour Moi, Le Deluge

On Saturday, the torrential rains finally stopped...and I'm not altogether happy about it.
(Sunset over Hollywood, 1/22/10)

For six days, we had taken blissful refuge at home and reveled in the exotic weather.
Soups simmered.
Scones were baked.
Books were devoured.
Blazing fires went head-to-head with the fierce crescendo of midday thunderstorms.

Life became infinitely simple.

I knew at some point the sun would come out and we would all have to go outside and enjoy it, but until then, we remained happily indoors. Cooking was pure pleasure. During mealtimes, we lit candles and cranked open the kitchen windows to let the smell of fresh rain mix with the aromas being stirred to life on the Aga.

If there was a recurring theme to our meals, it was that they be largely composed of steaming liquids. One particular seafood stew called "Cioppino" made so many repeat appearances at our house this past week that I was almost afraid it would start asking for royalties. (This is Hollywood, after all). We served it at a dinner party last week, ate the leftovers the following day and I still can't get enough of it. Hearty, fresh and not heavy at all, it's my new favorite winter meal.*

Saturday night's rendition was ladled generously into big bowls, each serving plentiful with of chunks of fresh cod, mussels and scallops. For a grace note, we sprinkled it with fresh chopped parsley. Earth meets sea.
(Cioppino stew, Saturday, 1/23/10)

Sunday morning, Piero caught glimpse of the fresh snowy peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains and decided it was going to be a ski day. For breakfast, he added some linguini to the cioppino and transformed it into a stick-to-your-ribs mountaineering meal. Suitably fortified, he and Luca were out the door 25 minutes later.
(Cioppino and pasta, 1/24/10)

Now the house is quiet, the tea is brewing and I have time to write, sew and think. If it was just raining outside, it would be a perfect day.

P.S. My friend Maryam from "My Marrakech" is a finalist in the Bloggies for "Best African Blog." If you've ever been on her site, then you know how deserving she is of the award. Her stirring prose and soulful photos not only transport her readers to the furthest reaches of the globe, they are a poetic sanctuary from hectic times. Please click HERE to vote for her (and scroll to the right to see the categories). Thank you.

*Note: Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe for the cioppino because Piero is an improvisateur and never writes anything down. But I'll ask him again....

Friday, January 22, 2010

W Magazine, Revisited

To my great delight, I've been asked to do another guest stint for W Magazine. The first post is up today and subsequent ones will run every Friday (there will be five in all).

Today's topic deals with organization or, as it's usually referred to in my house, "turning shambolic into sexy."

Click HERE and find out why my pick below will save you on those mornings when not even your hair is on your side.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Blame it on Bonhams

My name is Lisa and I think I'm an auctionaholic.

Stage One: Exposure
It began last October when I met my friends Sherri and Kathy at Bonhams and Butterfields auction house for a preview sale. Walking into the venerated Sunset Boulevard building was exciting, but being surrounded by such gorgeous paintings, rugs, furniture and decorative arts sent my heartrate into overdrive. My whole life I had assumed I shouldn't ever set foot in those places because the prices would be ruinous, but I was dead wrong.

I became so alarmed by my unmufflered giddiness that I consciously refrained from placing any bids. There will be other auctions, I told myself. This is just a "research trip." (What, what, what was I thinking?)

This lovely Old Master-ish portrait called "Lady in Blue" would have looked wonderful in my foyer. Her serene gaze would have calmed me on crazy carpool mornings, I just know it.
(English school, 18th century, oil on canvas.
Sold for $610 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09.)

This full-lipped fellow would have added some fiery intensity to the upstairs hall. I'm a sucker for disheveled glamour, especially at that price.
(English school, 19th century, oil on canvas.
Sold for $366 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09.)

On my way out, I spotted this Napoleonic chaise from Hollywood at Home. I had been salivating over it for months in the shop. Why I didn't bid on it will haunt me to my dying day, considering it sold for a fraction of the retail cost.
(French campaign folding chaise lounge.
Sold for $793 inclusive of buyer's premium, 10/25/09)

Stage Two: Intoxication
This past weekend, there was another sale. This time, I went to the auction determined not to repeat my previous mistakes.

After receiving my paddle, I took a seat in the main gallery. The auctioneer took charge like a nobleman in combat, controlling the audience with a fierce elegance. Some items provoked intense paddle battles and sold for large sums, but other hammer prices were insanely -- and reassuringly -- low.

My friend Sherri had fallen in love with this Kathryn Ireland-ish set of antique chairs for her "imaginary house in Santa Barbara." I should have bought them for her as the price was imaginary as well.
(Four painted wood and rush armchairs.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyer's premium, 1/17/10.)

This stunning 19th century trunk went for a steal...
(English mahogany brass bound campaign trunk.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyers premium, 1/17/10.) did this tole chandelier with a fabled Hollywood history -- it used to hang at Falconcrest, home of Rudolph Valentino.

(Large Rococo style painted tole chandelier.
Sold for $122 inclusive of buyer's premium, 1/17/10.)

These incredible bargains were killing me, but I whispered to myself, "Save your money for what you're here for."

At long last, my tall, curvy George IV style wingback chair on wheels came up for bid.
With a pre-sale estimate of $250-$350, I hoped it wouldn't go for too much more.

We've received a few telephone bids on this item, so we're starting the bidding at $350. Do I have $350?

Up went my lone paddle.

Auctioneer (glancing at me):
I have $350.

My Inner Voice:
This chair is so mine.

Do I have $400?

There was a pause and then -- I swear to you -- every paddle in the room shot up. Within moments, the bids were flying north of $600, $700, $800 and climbing. It was bedlam. I think my mouth must have fallen open. The hammer finally slammed down at $1600 ($1952 with the buyer's premium).

So here's why I think I'm addicted...

Because not winning the chair didn't even matter.

Just sitting there in the midst of all that auction action was crazy exciting. I loved knowing that at any moment I could thrust my paddle into the air and "be in the game." I knew there would be another chaise, another Old Master painting, another campaign chest. And I knew that victory would be all the sweeter if the price was right for my budget. So I would do my research, I would keep coming back and one day, I would win.

Stage Three: Obsession
There's an auction in San Francisco this weekend and I've done a little poring through the online catalog...

And so it grows....

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Marriage Toast

The divine Emily Evans Eerdmans has gotten hitched and a chorus of best wishes is resounding through the blogosphere. Just look at this photo...could they be any cuter? I think not.
(Emily Evans Eerdmans and Andrew McKeon)

Were I asked to wax poetic, I would borrow the words of George Eliot who wrote so beautifully about marriage in "Words on Feeling Safe":

Oh the comfort of feeling safe
with a person;
having neither to weigh thoughts,
nor measure words,
but to pour them all out
just as they are,
chaff and grain together,
certain that a faithful hand
will take and sift them,
keeping what is worth keeping
and with a breath of kindness,
blow the rest away.

Otherwise, I would quote Rita Rudner:

I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.

Congratulations, Emily and Andrew!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The London/Marrakech Express, Part Seven

For five days, the mountains had been beckoning. With infinite patience, they waited for the travellers to arrive. There was no hurry. Sooner or later, the travellers always came.
(Daybreak in Marrakech, 12/31/2009)

We headed east on the empty highway. The hot sun rose over the jagged peaks, sucking the color out of the landscape and transforming it into a black and white photograph.

We drove on. As we approached the foothills, we could make out the thread of a narrow road tracing a route back and forth across the slopes.
(Atlas Mountains)

Higher and higher we climbed. Our driver raced enthusiastically around the hairpin turns, dodging donkey carts and schoolchildren with the zeal of a man who has made peace with his life.

A road marker announced we were entering the land of the Berbers.

Imlil was our destination, a tiny village tucked into a small cleavage of bedrock in the High Atlas mountains.

We left the driver to smoke cheroots at a roadside café and set out to explore on foot.

All the long red carpets everywhere reminded me of Hollywood, except that here, instead of being stepped upon by stars, they pointed the way up toward them.

A fruit stand displayed a vintage set of scales and weights. As life has been, so it continues to be.

So many fossils, so little time.

Everywhere, one is confronted by a brutal beauty which at first shocks and then settles into a deep understanding.

Eight year old boys have no such adjustment issues.

As Piero and Luca wandered ahead...

...I spotted something that made me stop in my tracks: a horse wearing a Technicolor dreamcoat. I needed an immediate communion with that saddle.

A closer look revealed the remnants of brightly colored rugs, tassels and worn yellow leather fashioned into a patchwork masterpiece. It was equestrian couture, a la Dries Van Noten.

Unfortunately, the saddle was not for sale, but this traditional Berber-style necklace was. An assemblage of glass and ceramic beads, old coins and shells, I loved it at first sight.

On the way down the mountain, we realized we were hungry. Piero remembered seeing a pink wall with an especially ornate set of wooden doors set into it. As we rounded a bend, we saw it and gestured our driver to stop.

The doors were open now...

...and up a cobblestoned drive, we spied a pink castle. Was it a private home? A hotel? Would we be allowed in?

Piero saw the brass plaque first. He grabbed my elbow and pointed to it. "You're not going to believe this."

We walked up the main path, through a cool dark entrance hall...

...into a courtyard, through another archway...

...and came face-to-face with this view.

In true Bransonian fashion, Sir Richard purchased the property in 1998 when he spotted it during one of his famous balloon expeditions.

The handsome waiter (all the staff are hired from local villages) recommended an Atlas Breeze -- mint tea, juice, herbs, sugar. All I can say is Berber knows best.

It would have been nice if my son could have put down the menu for a moment, but even in Paradise, you can't have everything.
Unwilling to think about the fact that in twenty-four hours we would be going home, we deemed the subject verboten and discussed how delicious our tagines and cheeseburger (you-know-who) were instead.

Morning of departure
Rain dotted the cobblestones for the first time since our arrival. Luca didn't want to leave and tried to persuade us that he'd be fine on his own by giving us his best street-savvy look.

Like all great journeys, it ended too quickly.

But inshallah ("God willing"), we'll be back.

Hotel Details:
La Sultana Hotel, Marrakech
Rue de la Kasbah,
Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Tel: 024 38 80 08

Avenue Bab Jdid, Marrakech
Tel: 024 38 86 43

Kasbah Tamadot, Asni, Atlas Mountains
Tel: 024 36 82 00


Blog Widget by LinkWithin