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.
Plain old curiosity led the Client plus household to leave the Big Smoke and head out to Berkshire last Friday to visit Highclere Castle, the Carnarvon family residence which is famously the setting for the much-praised television drama Downton Abbey. I knew of Highclere before she became Downton, for it was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who funded the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. (I am sensing a preoccupation with ancient Egypt at present… I know not why…)
I have to admit to being slightly fascinated by the 1920’s. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 was a hugely influential cultural event, spawning new stylistic directions in fashion and particularly in jewellery. Cartier in particular was strongly influenced by such motifs as the scarab, the lotus flower and by the architecture of ancient Egypt. Many of their jewels, and those of other major houses from this period, reference the aesthetic brought to light in the discovery.
Other joys from the 20s include the early works of Agatha Christie, who’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles gave life to the much-loved Hercule Poirot and was published in 1920. My favourite AC novel is Death on the Nile (published 1937) and whilst not universally acknowledged as one of her best, does remind us of the grand tours undertaken at the time and evokes the glamour of travel in the jazz age – something that still resonates today with hotels such as Sofitel’s Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan reminding today’s guests that Dame Agatha was a guest there back in the day. P.G. Wodehouse was also writing at this time and his creations Jeeves and Bertie Wooster appeared in 1919.
One defining element of this period is the popularity of the cocktail, this being the era during which many of the concoctions we know and love today were created – or if not created then certainly given names and catalogued for wider reference. The defining tome for cocktail lovers everywhere is of course The Savoy Cocktail Book first published in 1930, with an absolutely cracking Art Deco cover design.
Speaking of cocktails, it was my great pleasure to dine with some chums at the Delaunay restaurant the other night and I must give praise for the absolutely delicious Sidecar they served up. Made with 1/3 brandy, 1/3 triple sec, 1/3 lemon juice, my benchmark for brilliance for this particular favourite is the one served at the Connaught Hotel’s Coburg Bar. I have to say the Delaunay’s comes in a very close second and I will need to return as soon as possible for another (for research purposes of course….) The food wasn’t bad either and I have to say the dining room, service and general all round experience was one I very much look forward to repeating, soon and often thereafter. It may well be my new favourite spot.
In need of a bite to eat in Soho last week I found myself at the door of Bob Bob Ricard, another of the great David Collins’ interior design triumphs. If you are within a fifty mile radius of this part of London I urge you to have an evening off from the pots and pans at home and dine within its utterly sublime booths. I can’t even remember what I ate, the hour being rather late and the decor being so completely distractingly perfect.
My dear chum Hugh over at Twelvepointfivepercent visited BBR many a moon ago and posted a review in his inimitable, charming and inspiring style. Do click the link and have a read, he does it far better justice than I ever could.
Bob Bob Ricard
1 Upper James Street,
020 3145 1000
So good they named it twice… so the saying goes… but there really is something rather marvelous about the City that Never Sleeps. On a recent business visit I was pleasantly surprised by the urban-chic hospitality at the Hotel Americano (518 W 27th Street) which although small is absolutely perfect for a short 4-5 days stay. The rooms are very simply furnished in a utilitarian manner, with a Japanese-style raised bed platform defining the sleeping area, and a small table and chair providing a space to eat from room service (which is all served in bento boxes) or to work. Every room has a pre-loaded iPad2; when I arrived into my room mine was playing the theme from Grease which made me smile. In the lobby is a smart cafe bar serving snacks and drinks and a full-service restaurant and terrace complete the facilities.
Round the corner from this hostelry is another find worth knowing about – a really great neighbourhood restaurant called Bottino (248 10th Avenue) I had their golden beet salad to start followed by grilled salmon… simple but very well put together and dinner for one (I had a copy of New York magazine for company) came in at 45 bucks including a “seasonal” lager and sparkling water. The service was absolutely impeccable and lightning-fast… I noted that it was much more sedate for those dining a deux showing a thoughtful approach to tailoring the experience for those eating because they didn’t fancy another room service supper (me) and those that wanted to make their evening last.
One of the best things about Chelsea aside from the rather nice galleries however has to be the Chelsea Market which is to be found on 9th Avenue between 15th & 16th Streets. Occupying a former biscuit factory, this space is now home to a catwalk of food shops, selling such deliciousness as fresh lobster (The Lobster Place) and heavenly chocolate brownies (Fat Witch Bakery). There are enough places here to provide novelty at lunchtime for over a fortnight as well as shops selling gifts, foods, wine, flowers and books.
New York isn’t all about skyscrapers and uptown shopping… areas such as Chelsea and The Village are deserving of being destinations-within-a-destination in their own right and I delighted in experiencing their unique and friendly environs.
Apart from a brief sunshine and heat wave at the end of September, I think we can safely say that autumn is upon us here in London. Finding myself with a free weekend, I seized the opportunity to replant my window boxes and in order to do so, a visit to Petersham Nurseries for a lovely lunch was called for. Petersham is justifiably a very popular destination for its laid back, casual atmosphere and delicious food which if you eat in the tea shop is not at all expensive. Lunch for four people was just £42. After eating you can wander through the plants and imagine what you would do if you had many acres to plant up and maintain. The acres falling under my jurisdiction can be measured in mere feet, so some simple pink and white winter-flowering heathers were acquired for only £30 and planted up look very well in the galvinised metal window boxes I bought at Clifton Nurseries earlier this year.
This time of year also heralds some delicious changes to the weekly menu. Squashes and suchlike which have been nurtured and lovingly tended all summer become ready for the table. Last evening we were treated to a home cooked supper of rabbit in a red wine sauce. Rabbit is so delicious but I often forget about it as an option. A visit to a proper butchers such as Allen’s in Mount Street or Lidgate’s in Holland Park is a great reminder that small independent shops often carry a selection of fare which is completely unavailable in the margin-driven world of the supermarkets. Specialist sausages and game are all out there to be enjoyed and popping into Lidgate’s was another reminder if one were needed that we must support our local specialist retailers whenever possible. As someone once said… Use it or lose it!
I know I say it every time… reading about other people’s travels is so dull. Better to get out there and find your own places of interest and excursion. However, I am feeling a need to share with you some of my Tokyo highlights if perchance you are coming here and need a pointer or two… so here they are.
This restaurant serves delicious beef and crab shabu-shabu, which is served raw and you cook it yourself in a copper couldron filled with boiling water in the centre of the table. The charming staff are generous with their explanations of what to do and how to do it and the overall experience is delightful for its novelty and deliciousness. Very thinly sliced beef shabu-shabu takes mere seconds to cook. Lunch for three people came in at ¥21,500 (£180)
This shop in Ginza is an absolute must if, like me, you are a lover of anything made of paper. The store is laid out over ten floors and sells everything from greetings cards to fine writing instruments and origami supplies. The sixth floor is your must-visit for handmade Japanese paper (Washi) which comes in a seemingly limitless choice of colours and designs. You can buy roughly A4 sized sheets for as little as ¥189 (£1.60) each and my purchases are destined to be framed and hung as a souvenir of this visit.
Across the street you will find Alfred Dunhill‘s “Home”… and the very lovely Aquarium Bar which has a great view of the passing Ginza foot traffic below. Owned by the global luxury company Richemont, this store is noteworthy for its collections of vintage Dunhill items artfully merchandised alongside current product, and whilst no longer British-owned, is a wonderful outpost of the British sartorial aesthetic so loved in Japan.
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
For lovers of Art Deco the building itself is pure inspiration. Completed in 1933 for Prince Asaka (a relation of the Imperial Family) this residence was built to reflect the aesthetics of the time he and his wife spent in Paris. They visited the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in person in 1925 and were therefore early patrons of this still influential design movement.
Heads-up… The museum is closing for renovations in November 2011 so perhaps put this on the bring-forward list for your next visit to Japan.
If visiting the Teien Museum, a short (downhill) stroll leads one to Happo-En, a truly relaxing and beautiful garden which one can scarcely believe exists in such a bustling and seemingly crowded city as Tokyo. Taking a stroll along the winding path, you come across a small lake teeming with enormous carp, turtles and dragonflies.
Every now and then my mind wanders off into a little daydream, and a recurring theme for me is to think about what I would do for my perfect dinner party. I think about guests, linen, crockery, flowers, the menu… and of course the surroundings. Fuel for this fantasy fire has been well and truly dispensed by a visit this week to the artful surroundings of One Aldwych, just off the Strand.
Whilst the Savoy was going through its root-and-branch refurbishment, this place was the only decent hostelry in an area which is congested and profoundly overbusy with tourists and theatre goers… nothing wrong with that of course, but does make it a little inconducive to a relaxed evening when you can’t get a taxi outside for love nor money and navigating a chewing-gum strewn pavement in your best pumps rather takes the edge off. So I haven’t been to this place more than a handful of times before.
However, once through the doors and greeted warmly by the doorman, I was reminded that One Aldwych is home to a room which has given me a new backdrop for my fantasy dinner… The Dome Suite… formerly the boardroom of the newspaper company which was this listed building’s original occupant… is a truly intimate and elegant space. Off an amply proportioned suite of bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, it is circular, which lends itself perfectly to a feeling of inclusiveness and friendship, and the round table in the centre is perfectly aligned with, you guessed it, a soaring dome above. One feels that sitting at this table with nine of your best people would be somewhat akin to being a Knight of the Round Table, except you’re more conveniently located than in Camelot.
Flowers can be supplied by the creative in-house team, and if the display in the Lobby Bar is anything to go by… they are capable of truly great things. A chaotic, firework-esque explosion of Phoenix Palms, Agapanthus, Alliums, Monstera leaves and hanging Vanda orchids currently towers above the drinkers, creating the feeling as though one is the temporary inhabitant of a tonally-managed lilac rainforest.
If stopping by briefly, a cocktail in the Lobby Bar gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy a sculpture by one of my all time favourite artists, Emily Young. Dionysus – Goddess of Chaos & Wine is an object of great sensitivity and beauty which if I could lift my own bodyweight in stone I would happily pop into my tote and take home.
London WC2B 4BZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7300 1000
Emily Young, Sculptor