Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Pose, Old School Style

I was looking through a book on Old Master portraiture the other day and found myself completely fascinated by the way everybody posed back then. Their body language, their relationship with the person painting them (and by extension, the viewer) -- every detail was choreographed to reveal as much as possible about their personality. I wondered, were there standard "go-to" poses that still hold true today?

Why yes. There are. :)

1. The School of Superiority

(1580. King James I by Arnold Van Brounckhorst.)

Overall Attitude:
"Don't even."

Works Best if:
You are extremely confident.

To make both the photographer and the viewer feel that they're not worthy.

Chief Characteristics:
Stony gaze. Arched eyebrows.
Angled hand draws attention to minuteness of waist.

(2012. Via The Sartorialist.)

2. The School of Vulnerability
(1626-1627. Rembrandt, "A Bust of a Man in a Gorget and Cap.")

Overall Attitude:
"Don't look at me. No, look at me."

Works Best If:
You want to project strength with a side of vulnerability.

To present a conflicting duality of character, both a reluctance to be
the subject and at the same time satisfy a desire for attention.

Defining Characteristics:
Body in profile, but head turned forward to engage viewer. Gaze is direct but wary.
(2011. Daphne Guinness by Saga Sig, via here.)

3. The School of Lust

(Artist unknown.)

Overall Attitude:
"I think you know what I want."

Works Best If:
You are slightly drunk.

To telegraph your core message: I. Want. You. Now.

Defining Characteristics:
Head slightly tilted. Lips apart. Direct gaze.
Wide-brimmed hat throws features into shadow.

(2011. Photo by Saga Sig, via here.)

4. The School of Vermeer
(1669. "The Geographer" by Vermeer.)

Overall Attitude:
"Now where was I...?"

Works Best If:
You are being cajoled into posing for a picture.

To make the subject appear deep/lost in thought.

Chief Characteristics:
Always near a window so face can be lit by half-light. Deep contemplation.
Seemingly oblivious to photographer.

(2011. Kate Spade via The Selby.)

(2012. David Netto by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)

5. The School of Reluctance

(c. 1600. Portrait of King James I. Artist unknown.)

Overall Attitude:
"How long do I have to sit here?"

Works Best If:
You have a nation to rule/bicycle to ride.

To convey impatience.
"You said this wouldn't take long."

Defining Characteristics:
Head propped up by hand. World-weary attitude.
The moodier the background, the better. Facial hair a plus.

(2012. Piero by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)

Creative Exercise: Why not try to recreate one of the following poses on your own?

(1743. Jacques Louis David. Portrait of Monsieur Lavoisier and his wife.)

(1791. Jacques-Louis David. "Portrait of Madame Trudaine.")

(1609. Peter Paul Rubens. "The Artist and his Wife".)

(1630. Franz Hals. Portrait of Willem Van Heythuysen.)

(1842. Ingres, "Cherubimi.")

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Tea with David Netto

(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

"Stop by the house this weekend," I told him. "I'll whip up some cardamom scones, I'll ask you a few questions, it'll be fun."

I can talk to him like this because for the last two months, David Netto (acclaimed interior and furniture designer, contributing design editor of the Wall Street Journal and all-around 21st century bon vivant) and I have been working on a design project together.

Yes. You heard that correctly.

(Okay, actually it was art-directing a tribute book for our childrens' annual school fundraiser, but can you believe I got to work with David Netto?!)

Guess what? He's just as smart and stylish and crazy talented as you think he is. So when our project wrapped last week, I thought I'd invite him over for a Q and A so you all could get to know him too.

(NEWS FLASH: If you would like to hear David in person (along with one of my other favorite bloggers, Gaye Tapp of Little Augury), come to the Westweek 2012 panel discussion this Thursday, March 22nd at 10am called "Take Five: Four Designers Talk about Influence, Fantasy and How to Stay Inspired." It's open to the public, so click on the link and I'll see you there.)

Back to the tea. Here's how it all went down.
(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Okay, Netto, level with me. Every time I see you at school dropoff, you are a vision of sartorial elegance. What's your secret?

I think you have to be disciplined about dressing well if you're out of your twenties. For instance, I just recently started wearing pocket squares. I wanted to have something that was sartorial and cosmopolitan but I didn't want to wear a collared shirt and tie every day because I live in LA and that would be ridiculous. People like Gay Talese can do that because they have New York behind them.
(Gay Talese via here)

Well, you're modern with a classic edge. Or classic with a modern edge. Whatever. It works.

I'm big on respect for yourself. Putting a tie on most days at home to write does make me take life more seriously. I don't view that as an inconvenience. I'm inspired by the abstract painter Robert Ryman who gets up every day, puts on a suit, rides the subway to his studio and gets to work painting white squares.
(Robert Ryman via here)

You know who else inspires me? Shaquille O'Neal. Did you know he has a doctorate in business economics? And George Foreman. He said you have to learn to respect every dollar before you can learn to own your own success.

Okay, you know I'm itching to ask you some design questions. I wrote a couple down so here goes. What are the elements of a successful room?

A successful room has to have an honest relationship with the person who lives in it. This has nothing to do with aesthetics, it has to do with the vibe. For instance, the simple pressed linens on the bed of a humble surf camp in Tulum, Mexico have just as much authenticity and charm as the ones in Valentino's chateau. Valentino's may be ironed twice (once in the pressing room and then again on the bed) but that's true to him. You have to admire that, the hairspray and the six pugs. They're all legitimate extensions of who he is.

A successful room has a story behind it. One of my first jobs was working for Bunny Williams on Ted Forstmann's apartment. I had to style a bookcase before he came home from work to make it look like his family had lived there for thirty years. I ran out and bought things like Grand Tour souvenirs and marble tazzes and arranged them into convincing little vignettes along with various books and things I found in his closets. He was so happy with it that he ate his dinner in the living room that night. "At last," he said, "I feel like I have a real home."

What advice do you have for people just starting out on their style journey?

Watch Stanley Donen movies.

Do you have any design heroes?

Georges Geffroy. Go check out the house he designed for Christian Dior. Interior design was never braver and more interesting than in 1930's-1960's France.
(Photo via here)

What types of rooms are you liking these days?

I am very into the idea of a black-upholstered room with lots of Louis XV furniture, like the one Architectural Digest featured a few months ago of designer James Galanos' house in Beverly Hills.

(Above photos via here)

How would you say your style has changed since you've had children?

One of the reasons I got out of decorating was that to do it the right way it would have been hard to be a normal person and live that life. So I decided to dismantle that identity and take another course which was to become a father. I moved out to Los Angeles so that I would be able to pick my daughter up from school four times a week and help her with her homework.

I don't live on a large scale. My family lives in a four-room house in Silverlake designed by Richard Neutra that's all about happy-making modernism. It's taught me about the importance of designed space versus volumes of space. And it's the ultimate reason that anyone should move to Los Angeles because Neutra houses are all about the fantasy of living outdoors.
(Photo via here)

Describe your typical morning.

[My wife] Liz and I don't make an elaborate breakfast but we do make tea and coffee in Christofle thermoses. On a silver tray with a linen insert. Every day. And some mornings we add a flower in a shot glass. From the moment we wake up, there's a commitment to a certain standard.
(Photo by François Halard)

And when I make scrambled eggs for my daughters, I cook them in these little copper vessels with lids on them. And handles. And I serve them just like that on a plate. Because it's fun and they love it.

What are your necessities?

I like the signifiers of an orderly life, none of which my wife Liz is the least bit interested in. It's important for me to have lightbulbs in the house. And postage stamps. And pens and pads of paper. One of the nicest things she did for me recently was to go out and buy a whole mess of the exact same kind of pen -- Papermate Flair felt tip -- and put them in a big cup for me.

When I was twenty, I had this awesome Sarah Lawrence slob roommate.We lived in a tenement in the East Village in the same apartment where Larry Clark filmed "Kids." I was in architecture school in Cambridge so I was only there about a week a month and I said to her, "Look, I'll pay for 2/3 of the rent and I'll hire a maid twice a week. In return, I would like to you to do one thing for me. Get my mail and stack it on this silver tray so it's all oriented the same way. That's it."

And? Did she?

She did. And that detail was the difference between squalor and chic.

Your name has been all over the press lately (here, here and here) due to a certain shady bankruptcy filing by your former employer MacLaren. Anything you want to say regarding that?

Life is full of surprises. Make lemonade. We have every expectation that the bankruptcy will be invalidated. It's a lot more exciting this way than if I had to design three more cribs and just wait until the clock ran out.

Quick, three words that define your approach to style.

Disdain, mixed with affection.

What's style to you?

Well, if you're going to make me define it in a sentence, it's not going to be "Every room needs to have a little light blue in it." It's going to be an attitude. Do you know the Strauss opera "Der Rosenkavalier"?

(embarrassed) Umm. No.

Hugo von Hoffmannsthal was the librettist. I love the way he describes the field marshall's wife, the Marschallin: "Mischief in one eye, and compassion in the other."

Final thought?

If you're a slob, don't do any of this stuff. Because maintenance is something you have to like doing -- otherwise, don't start. As Diana Vreeland said, "Millions of people have no style at all. They are happy."
(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Thank you so much, David! See you on the playground. :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Are Here

(Early morning writing session.)

Someone asked me recently how I come up with ideas for blog posts.

The answer's easy.

I think of you.

When you leave a comment on my blog, I become the reader and you become the writer. Suddenly you and I have switched places and I become the one who is learning from you. And my world opens up. Bigtime.

I can't tell you the number of books I've read thanks to your recommendations.
(I read "The Wind in the Willows" this weekend, Lily, and underlined half the book. Other tomes that pop into my head are "Miss Hargreaves", "The Tangier Diaries", "London Belongs to Me" and "The Englishman's Room", all discovered via your comments.)

Or the insider tips you've given me when I travel. (When I went to Marrakech, someone told me I should meet Maryam. And I did. And she was one of the most amazing people ever. Now I'm off to London soon and can't wait to finally visit Dennis Severs' House -- again, recommended by one of you.)

Or the expert style advice I sometimes get from readers who seriously know their stuff. (Architect Design, you were so right when you told me to paint the ceiling the same dark blue as the walls in my office. It made all the difference.)

In 2008, when I wrote my first post, I shot a message out into the endless ether, hoping against hope that chance or fate or sheer luck would connect me to a like-minded soul.

Somehow, miraculously, you started trickling in and now, in 2012, there's a whole tribe of us, a collection of virtual friends on a journey we were going to take anyway, but now we're taking it together.

We read, we discover, we comment, we link, we share.

We are different and yet the same.
(All photos by LBG.)

So thank you. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for the captivating conversation (four years and counting). Thank you for your honesty, your passion and your effervescent enthusiasm. You -- yes, you -- are the heroes of this blog, not me.


P.S. Gratitude also to Apartment Therapy and photographer Marcia Prentice.
(Reason revealed HERE.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

In Praise of Practically Nothing

It was one of those weekends that by its very ordinariness became special.

Piero made Jamie Oliver's shepherd's pie (from HERE) on Saturday and we invited a few friends over to enjoy it.
(All photos by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

The next morning, we enjoyed the luxury of unfurling on our own schedules (Luca had slept over at a friend's house so there was no need to be at our posts by 7am) and when we came downstairs, the light from the sun threw commonplace objects into sharp relief.

Things seemed to shine with a luminous beauty.

The flowering branches I'd bought the day before seemed to be actually growing out of the wallpaper.

Piero whipped together an omelet with avocado and fine herbes...

...while I sat at the kitchen table and leafed through cookbooks.

I ended up making the raspberry, almond and cardamom cake from Scandilicious and it couldn't have been easier or tastier. (This is what it looked like just out of the oven, before powdered sugar and fresh berries.)
The day unfolded in the same uneventful way. Luca arrived home that afternoon a combination of happy/cranky, having played Legos since 4 am. For dinner, we ate leftover shepherd's pie and the cardamom cake and all went to bed early.

It was an average day.
Nothing momentous happened.
Life ticked on.

And yet when thinking about it now, it seems suffused with an enchanted charm. Now this may be just the poetry of memory and if it is, well, then all the better. Because it's worth remembering that it's us who create meaning in our lives and that sometimes the warm glow comes from us and not just the outside sun.


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