One of life’s small pleasures for me is beautifully engraved stationery and I love monograms. So browsing auction catalogues featuring old letters is a real pleasure because one inevitably comes across some beautiful examples of the stationery engraver’s art, such as these Russian Imperial monograms (Christie’s Russian Works of Art, New York 15th April 2013) where literally no expense has been spared in their production, using multiple colours (each colour requires the paper to be stamped with a different die or a masked die – it is a very difficult and specialised skill when done by hand) and exquisite composition of the letters.
I thought posting some Russian examples was fairly apt given the famous Imperial tradition of giving a jewelled Easter Egg made by Faberge around this time of year.
I saw this interesting variant on Edward VII’s cipher, applied as a gold and enamel mount on a cigarette box coming up at Christies on the 9th December. ‘Harewood – The Attic Sale’ is at Christies in South Kensington and there are some really lovely lots, including another presentation cigarette box featuring Edward VII’s son’s cipher when Prince of Wales – the letter E surrounded by a garter with the familiar ostrich feather plumes.
Of course of particular interest for me is that this cigarette box was given by the chap who abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. I wonder if they themselves ever took a cigarette from this box at Harewood House… Somehow I doubt such chic persons ever smoked anything other than their own tobacco blends and had a stash with them at all times carried in the most elegant of accessories, as a cigarette case by Faberge owned by King Edward VII personally and enamelled in his racing colours sold today (also from Harewood House) for £313,250.
Very few brands could pull off such an engaging and creative marketing coup. Hermes, the French luxury house known the world over for its exquisite goods nestled in orange boxes has curated a fabulous exhibition behind the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.
Ascending the staircase, past a customised Citroen CV motor car, one’s eye is drawn up to a classical Greek marble statue with a white Kelly bag hung cheekily and irreverently over her arm. Once inside, the House takes you on a journey through its long history, with vintage pieces from their archive lending weight and provenance to the assertion which is clearly being made; we are so successful because our products are the very best. The noteworthy clientele is highlighted by such items as a sporran and a document case commissioned and owned by Edward VIII, and a driving hat worn by his consort Wallis Simpson. Early in the exhibition one enters a room in which two master craftspeople from the factory sit and make the individual elements of one of the iconic house bags, working leather with heated tools and making the difficult task look like simplicity itself.
The absolute highlight for me is a light installation, created around a desk, upon which sit items familiar to all…. a diary, clock, photograph frame, pencil case. The light plays upon the desk, projecting writing onto the diary as if written by an invisible hand, drawing swirls and motifs and dancing. The light highlights individual objects in turn, bringing them to life and reminding the viewer that there is beauty in everyday objects and magic in those of such exceptional and exquisite quality. This really highlights for me the idea of buying little but buying well – the diary that lasts for decades of daily use, or the pencil case you could use for a lifetime and then gift to an artistic child to be used for another lifetime.
Hermes is powerful proof if such were needed of the value of craftsmanship and quality. Christies for example is holding a sale entitled Elegance; Handbags on 30th May in South Kensington, a sale almost exclusively of Hermes bags from the 1950s to the present day. Hermes is notoriously expensive, but how many luxury items can be resold in this way after a lifetime of enjoyment and use? That is surely the very definition of value for money.
After visiting the exhibition I made a beeline for the bar at Cecconi’s just across the street from Burlington House, where one can take in the buzz of Mayfair’s dealmakers, fashion shoppers and ladies-who-lunch over a glass of prosecco. The spring salad of quails’ eggs, artichokes and salmon with some braised octopus on the side was the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed perusal of the latest Hermes house magazine and a luxury daydream. The bread should come with a warning; the selection of three different types is so delicious I ate the entire basket and dish of olive oil without shame. Heaven.
Liberty & Co patented the design for their Thebes stool in 1884 which is much earlier than I understood the Egyptian revival to be in vogue… it was on sale in the store until around 1919 which was three years before the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun so my understanding of the whole early twentieth century design period has been totally revolutionised by learning about this one object. This stool is considered to be very much an Arts & Crafts period piece, therefore the Egyptian aesthetic was influencing design long before Art Deco. I am perhaps the only person in the world to not know this, but there we are. They do come up every now and then at Christies, ranging in price from around £600 to over £5,000 depending on the type (there are many variations).
Another utterly divine piece I should love to (but probably won’t) ever own is a Cartier pin such as this one which is currently at Bentley & Skinner in Piccadilly. Coral, onyx, rock crystal and diamonds are absolutely typical for Cartier designs of this period and here the fan-shaped terminals and rod-shaped coral beads just scream Egyptian inspiration. This piece is signed and dates to around 1930. The price is excruciating and I can’t put it down in black and white as it is too depressingly expensive.
I am reading and very much enjoying Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding which I picked up at Hatchards a short while ago. One of the main characters, Paul Fotheringay (an author) makes the following hilarious observation which I find particularly apt for my current state:
“Personally, I have always thought that as a rule it is people of more imagination than intellect who feel drawn to Egypt”
Oh Ms. Mitford, how true that probably is.
My poor reader must have thought a calamity had befallen me as it has been so long since my last musings appeared… however I’m delighted to be back and penning a new post. You’ll be delighted to hear that I haven’t been living under a rock for the last couple of months (just lots of work on abroad) but I have missed posting about some of the really fabulous things which are happening in the world so its time to catch up on what we’ve missed…
First and foremost I have to congratulate Cartier on their astonishing mini-movie, L’Odyssee de Cartier, which I have to say I absolutely love. What could be better than a three-and-a-half minutes journey of bejewelled fantasy, taking in key iconic moments in the history of the house, and animating some of their most precious and important animal jewels, including the masterpiece snake necklace and baby crocodiles made for the Mexican actress Maria Felix in the 60’s and 70’s. The star (s) of the film other than the jewels are the three young leopards who bring to life the preeminent motif of the Cartier universe. It really is gorgeous to watch (although the ending is perhaps a bit of a cliche and they could have done something much more wonderful as a finale with Paris as the infinitely chic backdrop).
It pains me to say that the Cecil Beaton exhibition at the V&A is disappointingly underwhelming, which is a real shame as the museum is a true treasure house and could not be more praiseworthy. These images of our Sovereign are among the defining images of decades of Her reign, but the exhibition is presented in a sadly two-dimensional, poorly lit and unimaginative manner which does not do the portraits justice. Where are the gowns, the jewels, the backdrops… the objects that would bring these masterpiece photographic portraits to life? The best the exhibition can muster by way of actual objects (aside from the beautifully evocative silver gelatin prints) is a handwritten journal in Sir Cecil’s own hand and a Coronation issue of Vogue. Sadly, if you skipped this one you wouldn’t be missing much. Go anyway, to see for yourself, and afterwards make time to visit the stunning jewellery gallery on the first floor, a must for anyone who loves the jeweller’s art. You won’t find a better collection anywhere in the world.
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton runs at the V&A in London until 22nd April 2012.
My birthday falls in August and one of my favourite gifts this birthday was a silk pocket square from one of my all-time favourite outfitters, Turnbull & Asser. Beautifully wrapped in their signature patterned box, the gift came with a flyer for an event taking place on Jermyn Street on 10th September. From noon, the street will be closed to traffic and the retailers will get together to host a garden party…
“The Art of Being British: St James’s At Your Service will celebrate everything that is quintessentially British. There will be a retailers stage to demonstrate how to tie a windsor knot, make perfume, taste cheese and wine and shine shoes. A fashion show will run throughout the day, as will street activities such as Wilton’s oyster shucking, a Ferrari car show and The Cavendish hog roast.”
Jermyn Street has long been a favourite wandering spot of mine, as it is home to such wonderful traders as Paxton & Whitfield (cheesemongers and seller of sublime chutneys), the aforementioned Turnbull & Asser for shirts and pocket squares, and Floris for wonderful fragrance gifts and scented candles.
I am not one to enjoy organised fun, but this does sound like a rather nice afternoon. Heritage retailers can’t just rely on tourists to keep their doors open, and it is imperative that as consumers we do our bit to pop by every now and then and buy a little something when we can. Jermyn Street is the PERFECT place to buy gifts as these stores really do lay the service on thick, making choosing a pleasure… and they wrap and ribbon everything beautifully which not only saves time but a small fortune in wrapping costs to boot. Significantly, the products sold on this street are quite simply the very best quality money can buy… making them a benchmark for other companies who aspire to the know-how and expertise which is so poorly emulated, often at greater cost, by bigger, glossier international brands.
So do pop down to Jermyn Street on 10th September and get stuck in to some good, old fashioned British fun. Tally Ho!
I have been slightly neglectful of my lovely readers of late – and for this I present a couple of lovely monograms by way of an apology. I hope they inspire you.
First up… possibly the perfect monogram in my eyes… I adore this orange colour, being slightly brighter and more intense then the Hermes orange which is my favourite. My own Smythson correspondence cards are engraved in this colour. This monogram belonged to the late Queen Julianna of the Netherlands, whose descendants recently had a bit of a clear-out at Sotheby’s. Unusually for me I love the asymmetry of the J (I am quite OCD when it comes to symmetry). I also find it to be a modern, quite masculine monogram despite belonging to a lady.
Technically speaking, I think this design qualifies as a ciper rather than a monogram, which by definition requires one or more letters to be combined… but who cares about technicalities. This is stationery for goodness sake, not nuclear physics.
The next monogram is not that of an individual but of a restaurant, Bob Bob Ricard in Soho, and yes before I continue it IS another David Collins-designed interior which I know based on the number of previous posts referencing Mr Collins makes me into some kind of groupie…. what can I say… I love his work!! This monogram is another asymmetric number which is throwing my sense of self into considerable doubt…
I absolutely love how the designer has formed an angular monogram from rounded letters, B and R, which would normally present a considerably more flowing and organic combination than this art-deco design, which is almost like a circuit-board diagram or architectural symbol.
I am thinking more and more about taking the plunge with my own monogram and having it engraved onto some envelope flaps… in this age of austerity however perhaps this is not such a good idea…