Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Perfect (but perhaps slightly twee) Porcelain

Part of my natural aesthetic - quite a large part, actually - very definitely errs on the twee side of taste.  I love a bow.  And a frill.  And pelmets and tie backs and tassles - all of which by themselves would be fine - but I also love Delft figurines, and Herend animals:

But seriously, wouldn't you want the bunny?

Sadly my husband almost goes into spontaneous combustion whenever I show him a picture of anything by Herend, and I daren't show him my newest obsession, which is special china just for Christmas by Royal Copenhagen (and I know that this is a totally seasonally inappropriate post.  But I think about Christmas a lot.  Even as it ends, I start thinking about how to make the following year even more perfect):

Just look at the bows and the wreathes!  And imagine this hosting the Christmas roulade, all chocolate and cream decadence with icing sugar scattered on top, and little Christmas figures of Father Christmas and reindeer and a sledge that get brought out every year . . . 

And imagine this piled high with lebkuchen, taking centre stage on the tea table. (Much of my upbringing was in Germany, and no other country in the world does Christmas better.  So to me, Christmas without lebkuchen and stollen is just not a proper Christmas.  People seldom say this, but I am going to: thank you, Lidl, for opening in the UK.)

I dream of creating Christmases that are so wonderful - and packed with twee bits of matching china and linen napkins embroidered with angels or snowflakes or something which I'm going to make myself one day, all the silver polished and reflecting happy faces -  that my children, even when married, will never want to go anywhere else.  It is clear  that I am going to be the mother-in-law from hell, fiercely competitive of my children's time, and I know that I am going to have to resist this urge.

But I'm not sure if I can resist the Royal Copenhagen.  I'm considering buying just one piece a year, every year, until I've got a full collection.  And meanwhile I'm praying, praying, that my husband gives in and buys me a Herend rabbit as a present one day.  

Thursday, 25 April 2013


I never seem to go to private views anymore; they always clash with the children's supper time and bath time, and generally by the evening I'm shattered from a day spent playing with lego and the last thing I feel like doing is going in to St. James' or Mayfair or worse (because it's further) East London.  And what if I don't actually like the work once I get there, or what if there are only three paintings and some incomprehensible video work that needs to be listened to through headphones to understand and the headphones are always busy?  Obviously if it's Ai Wei Wei at the Halcyon or Anish Kapoor at the Lisson or Subodh Gupta at Hauser & Wirth etc. I'll make the effort, alternatively I'll go if the artist or gallerist is a really good friend or if I've been invited to the post-opening dinner - but otherwise, unless it's literally around the corner from my house, I'll see the show when I'm passing one day.

Last night's show, however, scored two out four of the exception requisites.  So I went.  And I'm really, really pleased that I did.

Alexander James, Glass

This was one of the first images that I saw - beautiful, right?  Apparently it's been in Another Magazine, but Another is not one of my regular reading choices, so I can't pretend to have seen it.  The exhibition itself is in a sort of warehouse building, so think gigantic rooms, concrete floors, and industrial lighting.  Green industrial lighting, to be exact.  It felt a bit like being in a multi story carpark lit by Dan Flavin; the artist, Alexander James, said that he'd been thinking Bladerunner.  The works are huge, and have a luminosity that it's just not possible to see on screen.

Alexander James, Morpho Amathonte 0005

Alexander James, Isis Bound

Alexander James, Untitled 2956

James (who incidentally is really quite attractive) is heavily influenced by the 17th century Dutch masters who frequently depicted such still-life arrangements in oils, the cut flowers, dead animals and butterflies representing the transience and fragility of life.  These works are photographs, obviously, but they're photographs with a difference: everything is placed in a tank of water, and then a single frame is taken.   James is responsible for the entire process; he doesn't just take the photograph, he also breeds the butterflies and grows the roses and makes the tank for the water and develops the end result.  And then he destroys everything but the image and - and this is my favourite aspect of his work - the butterflies, which are still alive. It turns out that if you lower the temperature enough, a butterfly will go into a natural coma.  The water is set at the same temperature, the butterfly goes in  for as long as necessary before being being brought out and having it's temperature raised sufficiently to enable it to wake up, absolutely fine.  Which is lucky, as James refers to them as children and grandchildren.  The work below, which is probably my favourite, took, James explained, seven months, in order to grow the right tulips of the right colour, have the right butterfly as a butterfly (and not a caterpillar, which would be quite a different look) at the same time as the tulips were on their way out - "and then it all came together, just for a minute in time, and I took my one frame.  And then I smashed it to pieces."

Alexander James, Grace

It occurs to me that the exhibition would be great for a first date - or any date, really.  It's practically dark, so very flattering, and there's an underlying edginess to the location and setting which, combined with these works of pure beauty, provide perfect date setting (or at least, perfect date setting for me.)  And if you don't have a date, I think that the artist himself is single (and hot, as previously mentioned) - he's hetero, in case you were wondering - and he says he's going to be there every day.  

Alexander James Intersection is on until the 23rd May, at the Studio Building, 21 Evesham Street, W11 4AJ.  It's not immediately obvious where it is on the street - go through the gates that look like you shouldn't go through them, and it's the building on your right.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Magic Mushrooms

Heaven, right?  They're mushroom plates - Flora Danica Funghi - by Royal Copenhagen, and they are eye-wateringly expensive at around 3000 Euros each.  Which is a shame, because I am totally totally in love them.  But obviously 3000 Euros is an absolutely ridiculous amount to spend on a plate, regardless of whether or not one has got a couple of very small children with a tendency to drop things.

I think my mushroom obsession started with an exhibition entitled The Mushrooms of the Russian Avant Garde in 2008 at Club Row, which consisted of works by Igor Makarevich and Elena Elagina. It was to do with artists such as Tatlin (after whom Sholto is named) and Malevich being 'agents of irrationality', and with contemporary Russian society displaying signs of 'mystical delirium'.  All due to magic mushrooms, apparently.  (This is a vastly simplified explanation.  The artists' statement went on for pages, and even such luminaries and philosophers as Boris Groys wrote pieces for the catalogue, which can be downloaded here should you wish to read it in full:  http://www.conceptualism-moscow.org/files/catalogue.pdf )  But I went to a talk given by the artists, and by the end of it, I was a believer. (So fervent was their enthusiasm that I genuinely believe they could have converted anyone.)

Mostly though, I just liked the works, especially the centre piece of the exhibition which consisted of a model of Tatlin's Proposed Monument to the 3rd International of Communism sitting on top of a toadstool:

The exhibition, as previously mentioned, was in 2008 - i.e. pre-marriage, pre-children, pre-my owning a flat and when I spent any disposable income I had on Erdem dresses, so I didn't try to buy anything, which was in retrospect a mistake as I think I wrote about the exhibition in Vogue Russia so they might have given me a discount.  Although, thinking again, it was organised by the art fund ARTiculate, so it may be that nothing was for sale.  (Which won't stop me uploading images onto ArtStack, and sticking them into my fantasy art collection.  I love  ArtStack.  I currently spend far more time than I should on it, even taking into account the fact that I'm mid writing an article about art and the internet, and can therefore sort of justify it as research.)

Happily however, my favourite artist/ illustrator, Alice Peto - she's a dying talent by the by, one of the few remaining illustrators who does everything by hand, nothing digital in sight - did a very charming picture of a mushroom for me, which is hanging in the children's room and which makes me smile every time I see it:

That's a shockingly awful image - I had to creep in while the children were sleeping and snap it on my iphone - but you can kind of get the gist.  And you can see that Alice framed it for me really nicely: she's a big fan of the deep bevel.  I feel that often people don't think about framing as much as they should.  It can make a real difference, but Alice would know that, because her mother was a truly brilliant framer - which is a longwinded way of suggesting that if you ever buy anything from her - and her illustrations are equally as heavenly as those plates and a lot cheaper - ask her advice.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Chairs, Chairs Everywhere

I'm currently researching a piece on Danish design.  It's meant to encompass Georg Jensen and Royal Copenhagen and potentially several other important design houses, but I'm not getting very far as I don't seem to be able to stop looking at chairs.  Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chair is so famous that I barely need to include an image - but I will, anyway - regardless, it's not necessarily one of my ideal chairs (I'd like one or two, but they wouldn't go in my main house; I'd have them in my imaginary chalet in the Alps, I can picture myself curling up in one with a good book, after a hard day on the slopes); no, the chairs that are currently taking prominent position in my dreams are Kaare Klint's Church Chair and Hans Wegner's Wishbone Chair (also called the Y Chair.)  I love the simplicity of them, the honesty of them - in my mind's eye I can see a collection of them around a huge kitchen table, the kind that hosts many an endless supper.

Kaare Klint, Church Chair

Hans Wegner, Wishbone Chair

Arne Jacobsen, Egg Chair

Thoreau reckoned one only needs three chairs in one's house "One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society" - but we have loads.   For a start, there are four of us, and then, well, aren't we all part of Cameron's 'big society' now?  Politics aside, I often find myself entertaining rather more than two other people.  Even so, we possibly have too many.  We have a pair of armchairs in our bedroom, for instance; the children's bedroom has two nursing chairs (though that has been useful, at least once, in the past); downstairs, meanwhile, there exist chairs that serve solely as a place of repose for stacks of books and papers, as well of course as the overflowing cushion situation.

Which is why I know that I couldn't, in all seriousness, have any of the chairs above. I'd try to upholster them in some way - me and my staple gun - before glue gunning  a pom pom gimp all around them.  I'd totally destroy the simplicity and the honesty.  Though if I had more rooms, I could keep them somewhere I didn't feel the need to frillify and ruffle-up.  So, in my head, I'm placing them in the enormous kitchen of my enormous house.  Which means that there is more room for other chairs, too . . . . :

Sam Edkins, The Anatomically Correct Chair.  My friend Christopher just sent me these via email - the subject heading was simply "I want".  Well, I want them too, for my dining room (incidentally Sam Edkins also does amazing cushions.)

Jolly Roger Chairs by Fabio Novembre for Gufram.  These are going to go in the basement nightclub (my house is going to have to be a tiny bit naff in order to encompass these, but I think it's worth it. Plus, I can wallpaper the nightclub with Versace wallpaper - I've been wondering where to put it for a while now.)

This is just to demonstrate what the walls of my basement nightclub are going to look like.  Thank you Versace.

This is more Versace wallpaper, slightly less obvious, and I love it so much that I'd have it upstairs, i.e. on the ground floor not in the basement - perhaps in the evening (rather than day time) drawing room (my house is so big that I have more than one option for retiring postprandially.)  

Back to chairs: the S.T.Q.V.T.M. Chair by Pool.  It comes in a limited edition of twelve - I need all of them, to go around my pool.  They're going to look fab.  The whole house is, actually.

Finally, back to Danish design. I just discovered that Georg Jensen made chairs, too.  This is going to go in my chalet in the Alps with the Arne Jacobsen Eggs.  I might have a different fabric finish, just to make it look a little more contemporary - also, I like the juxtaposition.  

And finally finally, Royal Copenhagen had a hand in these.  The design is by Arne Jacobsen, but the decoration is by Royal Copenhagen.  I'm not sure where these are going to go just yet - but definitely somewhere. So, technically, I could continue to do nothing but look at chairs for this piece I'm researching.  

So that's a lot of chairs.  But I like chairs.  I like sitting down.  It used to be because I was wearing super high heels; there are shoes in my wardrobe that even back in the day, when I was wearing heels from dawn 'til dusk and then 'til dawn again - I wore 5 inch Louboutin platforms for 13 hours straight on my wedding day without really thinking about it - I could only wear for lunch or dinner.  Now, I like sitting down because I'm usually a bit tired.  And I find it helps, if I've got a lot to do, to sit and contemplate it for a while first.  I even do this at the gym (which could be why I'm not loosing weight as fast as I might be . . . )  It's tradition in Russia to sit down before one embarks on any kind of journey; one encounters it in various of Chekhov's plays.  But it's Chekhov who is making me question my chair addiction, to the extent that I'm wondering if I need fewer chairs in my life, and if I should spend a little less time in content contemplation:  those three sisters never did make it to Moscow, did they?  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Holiday Inspiration at Somerset House

It was my husband's birthday today, the one day a year when I allow him full control over what we do.  Which is not to say that he doesn't get input on other days - we have fairly similar interests so our wants tend to coincide - but today he got absolute control, which included deciding on financial outlay.

My husband hates spending money.  If, say, I'm re-ordering my stationery from Smythson's, I can not consult him on the colour of the card or the ink because he'll be hopping around the room going "Do you know how much this all costs?" even after I have patiently explained that it truly is a money saving initiative as each correspondence card and envelope, once my discount is factored in, equates to roughly the same price as a (gilt-edged, three-inch thick) postcard.  "Yes but because you've got a whole box of them, you write so many more letters than you would otherwise!"  I hold my father partially responsible for this state of affairs:  when we got engaged, he wrote to Andrew telling him that I had always spent 30% more than my income, and pointing out that 30% of nothing was nothing. Suffice to say, we still don't have a joint bank account.

Happily, for today, he found a completely free exhibition at Somerset House that he wanted to go to.  And it was wonderful, and we wandered around planning our holidays for about the next ten years:

Simon Roberts, The Camel Estuary.  This view will be familiar to thousands.  It's basically heaven on the north coast of Cornwall, where we went last year, and where I went every year as a child, and where I hope that we'll take our children, summer after summer.  See those tiny white houses on the right?  That's Trebetherick, where a little bit of my soul resides, forever.

Florian Joye, Bawadi 2006.  Aside from the fact that the photographer has got the most fabulous name imaginable, we decided that we'd like to go and build a paper city in the desert.

Elger Esser, Sacramento River.  Both of us thought this was the Nile, which both of us have, quite seperately, sailed down.  We were wrong.  So now we'd like to go here.  It looks lovely and peaceful (so much so that we perhaps shouldn't take the children.)

Jamey Stillings, Arizona Arch Segment.  Andrew has got a thing about bridges, especially bridges like this.  Sholto's second name is Isambard, after Brunel . . . 

Nadav Kander, Chongqing 1.  Andrew spends hours photographing the undersides of overpasses.  This is catnip to him.

Mitch Epstein, BP Carson Refinery, California.  The other day Andrew drove us the whole way to Mile End to look at a Victorian pumping station that isn't actually open to the public.  He'd drive us to California tomorrow, given the chance.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Trailings no. 34.  This is somewhere in Canada, and I love it.

Olaf Breunning, Complaining Forest.  This was one of my favourite works.  I think Sholto would like this too.   Not that I necessarily want to go on holiday here - I'd walk here, yes, but I always find houses in forests a bit horror film-y, especially if there's also a lake.  And I bet they're damp.  There's that poem by Robert Frost:  "Who's woods these are, I think I know/ His house is in the village though" - which to me proves my point: the owner of the woods didn't actually live in them.

And there were more, many many more wonderful photographs - indeed, so many more that Andrew remarked on what good value an exhibition it was, and bought me cake from Tom's Deli in celebration.  I fear he would not say the same of the Picasso at the Courtauld, which is £6 for two rooms - but what rooms!  And I found it fascinating, because I seldom give as much thought as I should to Picasso pre-1905, when he painted Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon and Matisse painted The Green Line, and Modern Art, according to the academics that taught me, began.  And the permanent exhibition there is wonderful - I had actually forgotten just how good - and that is free.  And it reminded me that I want to go back to the South of France really, really soon, simply because of this painting:

Georges Braques, Le Port a L'Estaque.  The colour isn't nearly as good on a screen as it is in real life - seriously, if you go and see the Courtauld Collection for one reason only, go for this painting (though most of the works are so good that it's worth going to look just at them.) (I did actually go to L'Estaque one summer, purely on account of Braques' paintings.  I took a two day detour en route to a wedding. . .) 

Landmark: Fields of Photography is at Somerset House until the 28th April. 
Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is at the Courtauld until the 27th May.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Anya Ziourova on Ballet

I remembered last night where my obsession with bed linen stemmed from: there was a picture in Vogue, years ago, of Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell in a Versace covered bed, drinking tea out of Versace china cups.  That image has stuck with me for over a decade, but, of course, I can't find it.  (I might well be mis-remembering the models, which will not be aiding my search.)  However I am going to Yorkshire this weekend, where lives my collection of Vogue, so perhaps I'll find it then.

My friend Anya, the Fashion Director of both Tatler and Allure Russia, has Versace tiles - white ones, with the Medusa head in relief -  in her St. Petersburg flat.  This news didn't actually come as any great surprise, as Anya is consistently super-chic to the extent that she is a firm favourite of the street style bloggers:

Anya and I used to have adjacent desks, back in the days when I still went to work and she still worked out of London.  She used to buy the most decadent cakes, have a single forkful, and put the cake in her desk drawer, 'for later', while telling me that I could help myself.  There never was any cake for her to go back to, which is one of the reasons why my hips are, to my reckoning, approximately twice the circumference of hers, and why she looks so much better in everything than I do.  Also, she hasn't got children wiping their noses on her Balenciaga . . .  yet. The pictures above are all old pictures.  Check out the ones below, where Anya gives a masterclass in pregnancy dressing.  I don't think that she's written about it, which is probably a good thing, because it would reduce the many, many 'how to look good in maternity wear' bloggers to tears.  

With Natalie Joos, casting agent and author of one of my absolutely favourite blogs, the heavenly Tales of Endearment

At her baby shower, which was covered by both US Vogue and Tatler Russia, with the hostesses Natalie Joos (as mentioned above) and Julia Restoin Roitfeld, who also has the most wonderful blog, Romy and the Bunnies, which includes the most adorable images of her daughter Romy.  I was utterly ecstatic to discover that Romy's and Esmeralda's wardrobes have a few items in common.  I may not be a style icon, but I don't want to stand in my daughter's way . . . . 

But what is less well known about Anya is that she is also a classically trained ballerina.  (Inspired by her, and Sarah Jessica Parker, I actually tried classical ballet lessons myself.  However I became dispirited when my legs didn't resemble Sarah Jessica Parker's after two sessions, so gave up.)

Anya is number six along.

Aren't those pictures adorable?  Ballet was, Anya says,  her "first love."  She and I went to see the Boshoi a couple of times in London, when she still lived here, and when the Bolshoi were over doing their summer season (as they do every year - booking is now open for this year's performances.) We were broke, in those days, so sat high high up at the very very top, but it was beautiful, and totally worth it.   I asked Anya if she'd give me a list of her all time top five ballets, and here they are:

"Swan Lake
Romeo and Juliet
The Nutcracker
Sleeping Beauty."

From which we can surmise that Anya is a great romantic, as well as being chic.  She has confided that she and Cosmo, her husband, have been looking to ballet for inspiration for a name for their soon-to-be-born daughter; I have no doubt that they'll find the most perfectly beautiful name imaginable, and I can't wait to hear what it is.

In the mean time, here are some images of the Bolshoi performing:

Swan Lake

Giselle (This is Natalia Osipova dancing - one of Esmeralda's middle names is Natalia)

Romeo and Juliet

Sleeping Beauty

The Nutcracker

And finally, because I love it, Natalia Osipova dancing Esmeralda


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Monogrammed Linen

Every so often, the Volga Linen catalogue drops through my letterbox, and I fantasise about owning everything in it. I truly believe that life could be infinitesimally improved by perfect bedlinen and a well stocked linen cupboard - although when I say 'cupboard', I really mean 'room'.  And for this idea I hold school trips to such houses as Montacute and Stourhead entirely responsible:  I didn't think 'gosh it's sooo big,' but 'I could live sooo happily here,' and I mentally planned dinners for sixty and pictured my future monogram on hundreds and hundreds of little napkins (and I was going to marry someone with a really good title so my monogram would definitely have included a crown.)  Seriously, if school had wanted to prepare me for reality, they should have taken me to look at two bedroom flats, and then to Ikea to research space saving ideas.

Where I feel I should be living:  Montacute House

Where I actually live:  in a two bedroom flat on the 5th and 6th floors of this not particularly attractive - though I'm very fond of it - Brutalist block, hence my having chosen a picture where the building itself is as obscured as can be by the gardens.

There are no dinners for sixty in our flat.  Eight, even, is a squeeze, and while I did arrange the building of a linen cupboard at one end of our bathroom, my husband promptly filled it with tools, which is what he does with any space he finds lying fallow.   (I was in Yorkshire with the children when the bathroom was being built.  I wasn't there to take possession of the cupboard.  And now he won't move his tools out.  So we have a sander and some hammers and countless nails and I have no idea what else living in what is supposed to be a beautifully ordered and scented repository of pillow cases, napkins, sheets and towels.)  So instead, I wander off to the Monogrammed Linen Shop on Walton Street, or spend hours on the Bella Lino website, or pick up the Volga Linen catalogue again, and dream:

Bella Lino

Volga Linen

But the truth is that we're not yet ready for monogrammed linen.  We have children that bounce on our bed and spill their milk and make me spill my coffee, and so realistically, patterned sheets are best right now.  Lulu Guinness used to do the most fabulous bedlinen ever, but tragically she has stopped, and I'm almost wondering if I should use the Bed of Roses set that Sophie the gorgeous PR gave me less often, in order to prolong its life:

Lulu Guinness, Bed of Roses (which is also kind of brilliantly Bon Jovi-esque)

But fortunately, there is always Cologne & Cotton, who, lest I ever forget about them, send me endless emails telling me that I can have 10% off, should I be in the mood to restock my non-existent linen cupboard:

Cologne & Cotton, raspberry pink Camille (which is on our bed at the moment.)

Cologne & Cotton Amalfi - we've got some pillow cases.   And it's really pretty but my rings catch in the fabric because the stripe is embroidered on quite loosely.

Cologne & Cotton Eugenie embroidered linen - I would love this, but fear it is still too mainly white and so would show up all the coffee stains

But the children don't drink coffee in their beds, so Sholto has the Cologne & Cotton Stars in blue, and Esmeralda will have them in pink (once she is out of her cot.)

But happily for me Volga Linen don't just do beautiful bed linen.  They also do laundry bags and dish cloths, neither of which require my living at Montacute to be able to make use of them.  And using a monogrammed Volga Linen tea towel (there is literally nothing I won't put my initials on, given the chance) makes drying up (we don't even have room for a dish washer) just that little bit more enticing. 
And my husband has promised, promised that he is going to sort out his tools.  So the dream of a linen cupboard, at least, may yet be realised.