L&F-crop

The Double Act

Perhaps even more difficult a task than dressing a royal bride is dressing the bride’s mother. So, when a vintage Rolls-Royce Phantom swept up the Long Walk of Windsor Castle at 11:58 on the 19th May 2018 bearing Meghan Markle, it’s little wonder the hawk-like gaze of the world’s fashion media settled also on her mother, Doria Ragland.

 

Her outfit – a mint-green Oscar de la Renta two-piece – was a lesson in mother-of-the-bride-decorum; zingy but demure, accented with the same florets of white embroidery as those scattered on the kick of her daughter’s dress. That Ragland chose Oscar de la Renta for such an important and momentous occasion “was extraordinary”, says Laura Kim – one half of the creative duo behind the brand – with an air of lingering bewilderment. “We were so honored.”

 

And yet, maybe it’s not that surprising that she turned to Oscar de la Renta for the occasion, given that the Dominican-born fashion designer was unofficial outfitter to a series of First Ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama, and a peerless master of beguiling, gowns-and-gloves-style society wear. But since his passing in 2014 and the subsequent appointment in 2016 of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia as creative directors of the fashion house that still bears his name, the brand has also evolved to appeal to a younger clientele.

 

The design duo’s latest spring/summer collection, which featured a flurry of mannish tailoring – including one memorably distressed denim two-piece and a tulle gown notable for the legend “Oscar de la Renta” spelled out with conspicuously oversized sequin embroidery – might have left some loyal followers clutching their pearls. But evolution is the key word here – and every collection is Oscar de la Renta through and through, explains Garcia.

 

“I always remember Oscar wanting the newest thing,” he says of their early mentor – for Kim had worked with de la Renta since 2003 as studio director, while Garcia clambered his way up the ranks from intern to senior designer at the house from 2009. “I think he wanted us to move forward but keep it very Oscar. He was the one pushing us, to see the newest, youngest ideas and materials.”

 

After Oscar de la Renta lost a decade-long battle with cancer, it took a little while to find a suitable successor. The British designer Peter Copping briefly took over the helm, during which time Kim and Garcia left the company to set up their own label, Monse (named after Garcia’s mother). A far cry from de la Renta’s hyper-feminine gowns, Monse is best known for shirts – but shirts transmuted into Rei Kawakubo-esque deconstructed forms.

 

“We wanted to create a brand that wasn’t extremist; not too feminine or too masculine,” says Garcia. “The market needed more clothes that made a girl look like it took her five minutes to get ready,” he explains. “We didn’t think it was going to be like Oscar, and we didn’t want it to be.”

 

Monse was more or less an instant hit, with pieces worn by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amal Clooney – the kind of glamorous, influential tastemakers young designers dream of being worn by. Then, in 2017, Alex Bolen – Oscar de la Renta’s son-in-law and the house’s CEO – re-hired the duo, this time as joint creative directors.

 

It was a happy homecoming, of course, but pulling together nine collections a year across two brands brings its challenges. When the pair aren’t at the Oscar de la Renta studio in Midtown, they’re in Tribeca, working on Monse. “It’s like being in two different movies,” says Garcia of the parallel worlds he and Kim inhabit. And surely there are moments in which the pressure becomes insurmountable, when they’d rather just be in the one movie.

 

Key to successfully juggling both labels is the pair’s mutual affection and the convergence of their design approaches; for Garcia is a University of Notre Dame architecture graduate, while Kim is a South Korea-raised fashion design alumna of the Pratt Institute, New York. That, and a canny division of labor.

 

We make “the perfect combo. I tend to be very balanced and tough, whereas Fernando goes for more of the drama and romance,” muses Kim. “Budgeting and managing is Laura’s turf,” says Garcia, “Public relations and marketing is Fernando’s,” Kim echoes, resolutely. And the rest? “We divide and conquer.”

L&F

 

 

 Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim

 

 

 

FW18DLR_NY, Derek Lam,New York

 

 Above and below: highlights from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2018 collection

 

 

FW18DLR_NY, Derek Lam,New York

Abby Ross

It’s a Wonderful Life

A conversation with Jon Batiste is like drinking a tall glass of liquid optimism. Even on an oppressively humid afternoon in New York, the dapper 31-year-old still manages to exude a joyful enthusiasm. His outlook reminds me of the famous Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World. It’s extremely refreshing.

 

Batiste’s effervescent brand of charm – quick-witted yet cynicism-free – will be familiar to viewers of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for which Batiste has been bandleader since 2015, and also to St. Regis guests (he has played live at a number of St. Regis events, including the fifth anniversary of The St. Regis Deer Valley and the grand opening of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort). A jazz prodigy and graduate of New York’s prestigious Juilliard School for the performing arts, Batiste is as comfortable behind the piano as he is bantering on air with Colbert or goofing around in the sketches. His gift for improvisation, both comedic and musical, has made him a star. (His résumé also includes a position as artistic director-at-large at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and acting roles in the HBO series Treme and two Spike Lee films, Red Hook Summer and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.)

 

He first became friends with Colbert after twice appearing as a guest on The Colbert Report, which finished in 2014, the year before its host succeeded David Letterman on The Late Show. “Stephen is a genius,” says Batiste. “He can talk to people about politics on the highest level, but he’s also a thespian with a theatre background, who understands comedy and improv. After The Colbert Report ended he gave me a call and said he had a new show — and the rest is history.”

 

Did Batiste have much comedy experience before The Late Show? “Not really,” he says. “I’d had roles that were semi-comedic in Spike Lee films, but that was about it. As a kid I was always the second-fiddle class clown. I was quiet but I’d always have a friend who was really rambunctious, and who would get into trouble. I would always be the one who got away with it. So with comedy I was open to experimenting. I really loved the idea of trying something and failing, because that’s how you learn.” True, though most of us don’t learn the ropes in front of an audience of millions on national television. Batiste picks things up fast.

 

After three years, The Late Show has become, he says, “like my cool day job, where I get to hang out with famous people.” Famous people such as Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder, with whom he duetted on the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration, giving a poignant rendition of the African-American National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. “He was a joy to perform with, an endless source of inspiration and light,” Batiste says of Wonder. “When I make music I try to create a lot of different emotions, but joy is one of the primary emotions I try to tap into: for myself and for other people. I feel we’re kindred spirits in that way.”

 

Batiste and Wonder first met backstage at a concert in Central Park where they bonded discussing hip hop with Will.i.am (“a friend of mine”) before Wonder asked if he could play Batiste’s “harmoni-board”, a cross between a harmonica and a small keyboard. Next to the piano, it’s Batiste’s favorite instrument and he often carries one. Wonder deadpanned that he used to play one too but stopped because it kept clogging up with spit. “Oh, you’ve got jokes!” Batiste replied.

 

Born near New Orleans, in Kenner, Louisiana, Batiste belongs to a sprawling musical dynasty that stretches back at least four generations. He grew up immersed in melody and rhythm. His relatives include the arranger Harold Battiste, who worked with Sam Cooke and Sonny and Cher; and the free-jazz saxophonist Alvin Batiste, who taught “every New Orleans musician that’s come up in the last 40 years”, including Harry Connick Jr and Terence Blanchard. Batiste’s father, a professional bass player, and his uncles had a band together. Batiste himself was playing percussion in a junior band by the age of seven. He later switched to piano, aged 11, on his mother’s advice, teaching himself to transcribe music by copying video-game soundtracks. He may well be the only international jazz superstar for whom Sonic the Hedgehog was a formative influence.

 

He moved to New York, where he still lives, aged 17, after winning a place to study jazz and classical piano at Juilliard School, where only 6 per cent of applicants are accepted. Was it as intense as Whiplash, the movie about the young jazz prodigy pushed to the brink by his teacher at an exclusive New York music school? “That film was heavily dramatized but it did depict the kind of devoted study you need to learn how to play,” he says. “People think you just make jazz up as you go along – you just figure out what you want to play and don’t listen to anybody else. But it takes so much discipline, and so much focus, to be able to play at the highest level.”

 

What does live jazz have to offer a young audience? “You’ve got to experience it in the right context – and that isn’t necessarily a concert hall or even most jazz clubs today, which don’t really do the music justice. Jazz is very interactive, very immediate and all about crafting a unique experience for the audience.” For Batiste’s part, such unique experiences come in the form of “love riots” – guerrilla gigs on the streets or Subway cars with his band, Stay Human. His concerts can also be anarchic – leading his band from club to bar to restaurant, or popping up unexpectedly in the middle of the audience to begin a show from the seats, as he has done at Carnegie Hall. It’s all part of an approach he calls “social music”, which is about “bringing people together, and music without borders, and finding a way to connect people through that experience of a live performance.”

 

That sounds almost political. “Absolutely. One hundred per cent. In times of uncertainty, we depend on a philosophy or truth that can come off as political.” Not that he’s given to proselytizing. He prefers to let his creativity do the talking, whatever the format: music, acting, comedy – or fashion. His signature look is a bold-colored zoot suit, simple T-shirt, custom sneakers and a big hat. He designs and makes some of his stage outfits himself. He once joked on The Late Show that “clothes are the music of the body and you hear them with your eyes”, but he meant it, too. “When a performer walks out on stage you should be able to hear it before they’ve even raised their instrument or their mic,” he says.

 

With a new album this autumn, and a tour, he’ll soon be walking out on stages – and less conventional spaces too, no doubt – all over the world. This time it’ll be a solo record, produced by the great T Bone Burnett, with no band, “just me playing the piano and singing: no autotune, no effects, just the realness of the performance.” All of the songs are original compositions except one, a version of What a Wonderful World. And right now, there’s nobody better equipped to make us believe it.

 

Jon Batiste’s album, Hollywood Africans, is out September 28 (Verve Records)

 

Your address: The St. Regis Deer Valley; The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort

Abby Ross

 

 © Abby Ross

 

Jonathan Batiste

 

© Peter Lueders

 

Josh Cheuse1

 

© Josh Cheuse

St. Regis Connoisseur Photoshoot 3 - China Suite with Afternoon tea

“The problem with being a woman jeweler is that you fall in love with the pieces you’ve made”

Bao Bao Wan is one of China’s most successful jewelers, with her own line of haute joaillerie as well as a more accessible range. Although she is successful in her own right, with collections stocked worldwide in stores such as Harrods in London and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, the designer and socialite was born into power. Her grandfather was Wan Li, a vice-premier of China in the 1980s and a high-ranking member of the National People’s Congress, and she grew up within the confines of Zhongnanhai, the government compound in the former Imperial Gardens. Today, when Bao Bao (which, very aptly for a jeweler, means “treasure”) isn’t jetting between fashion shows in Paris, where she often takes her front-row place beside fashion giants like Bernard Arnault, and events such as the Met Gala in New York, she lives between Hong Kong, where her business is based, and Beijing. In 2016 she became the first St. Regis Connoisseur in China.

 

Given that you come from a political family, how did you become a jeweler?
My family were very supportive of whatever I wanted to do, which as a young woman was art and photography. Having studied French literature in Paris, then photography in New York, I went on to study gemology [at the Hong Kong branch of the Gemological Institute of America]. My studies rounded off my education, as I understand historical references as well as aesthetic ones when I’m making jewelry – and my Chinese background gives it soul.

 

Is there some jewelry that you never take off?
When I was younger, I used to wear small diamond earrings that my mother gave me. I left China at the age of 16 to go to New York and didn’t know anyone, and didn’t speak the language, so it was very difficult and very lonely. Wearing my mother’s earrings reminded me that I belonged somewhere. I stopped wearing them about a year ago, although they are still very precious – as is my mother. She is also creative, and is a great painter and calligrapher, and keeps me grounded. She comes from a very humble family, and reminds me of who I am, who my family are, and my roots, which are very important.

 

You’ve designed cufflinks for Dior, a car for Mercedes, a make-up line for MAC. Do you regard yourself as a designer or a jeweler?A jeweler, for sure. I love doing collaborations because it’s creative. So I didn’t just choose the color for the lipsticks, but the names. One MAC lipstick, which is a violet color, I called Lavender Jade; another I named Burmese Kiss. Doing projects like that is fun.

 

How would you describe your own style?
It depends what I’m doing and where I am. If I go to New York now it’s for some red-carpet event, like the Met Gala, so I’ll pack something fabulous. If I’m in London, I’ll go a bit more “elegant lady” and intellectual-looking. In China, with friends and family, I’ll be casual and sporty. In Hong Kong, it’s usually for business, so I’ll have a professional look. And when I go to Australia or Sydney it will be for a holiday, so I’ll take flip flops and shorts.

 

You once said that, as a girl, you thought of being a bus conductor “because they had extremely beautiful bags”! Do you remember your first handbag?
Yes, it was a Lady Dior, which I still use. I always go for classic bags, rather than the latest fashions. It’s the same with fashion: I still have some old dresses by [Maison] Margiela that I bought when I was studying in Paris. I’ll still take them out to admire them, even if I don’t wear them that often. A lot of great designs today are copies of yesterday’s, which is why I don’t follow trends. You realize after a while that you’ve seen it all before.

 

Any labels you love more than others?
Clothes made by the Chinese designer, and my friend, Huishan Zhang. He made the last dress I wore to the Met Gala: it was covered in 10,000 Swarovski crystals, and sequins and pearls.

 

Specific destinations in Beijing that you would recommend?
For fashion, a boutique called Joy, which has a mixture of western designers and local labels. For food, Temple Restaurant [TRB Hutong], which is in an old temple that’s hundreds of years old. And for a drink, the bar at The Georg [the restaurant at the showroom of Danish silversmith Georg Jensen], which is in a house in an old area of Beijing that has a beautiful courtyard, with a pretty fishpond planted with lotus flowers. It’s very soothing.

 

Do you have a strict beauty regime?
I do a lot of walking and biking and stretching, as well as Pilates, to keep in shape. When it comes to nutrition, I don’t eat many carbs. I like Asian food, which doesn’t have much dairy in it, or potatoes or cheese, so it’s light and healthy. In Beijing, I go jogging and biking quite a lot around the lakes in the royal parks. I don’t know what it is about water – it calms me down and is therapeutic.

 

You’re often featured on the covers of magazines. Do young women in China still read magazines? Or is technology changing that?
I won’t ever stop reading magazines, and I hope other people don’t either. I really love the feel of print. And I don’t want to have to look at a screen all the time.

 

Do you travel yourself to find stones for your jewelry?
Always. Stones are my real love. The problem with being a woman jeweler is that you fall in love with the stones and the pieces you make and get emotionally attached to them. I have quite a big collection of stones I can’t bear to let go. I’m very picky about what I buy – about the colors, the shapes, the brilliance – and if something is perfect, it’s pretty hard to sell. I love sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, but particularly alexandrite. It’s a stone that sometimes looks yellow, and sometimes white, depending on the light. It reflects different rays in different ways, which is so beautiful.

 

You’ve said: “I don’t want to put on jewelry so people just look at that – it has to be part of my life”. Could you explain what kind of jewelry you like now?
There are two types: red-carpet pieces, and effortless pieces that you can wear in the shower, to sleep in, when you’re jogging. A lot of actresses wear my jewelry whether they’re on the red carpet or working out. Our famous Chinese tennis player, Li Na [who won both the French Open and the Australian Open] was wearing my Gardens of Victory necklace when she won her biggest tournament.

 

Do you still get a thrill from fashion shows?
I prefer going to gemstone shows in places like Hong Kong and Basel and Thailand and Paris, and traveling to different countries to buy stones: Sri Lanka for sapphires or Burma for rubies. Some places are safer than others.

 

Do you like watches?
I’m not really into the mechanics of them. I wear a watch like I wear jewelry: for aesthetic reasons. All the ones I own are extravagant: for instance, one from Bulgari called the Serpenti 7 Coils, which looks like a long snake, and another from Chopard that’s set with emeralds. That’s unique: it’s the only one in the world, so it’s pretty precious.

 

Do you ever use a personal shopper or stylists?
No. I know exactly what I want, so I don’t need help. Although I don’t like shopping, so a personal shopper might save me time, so I could put more of myself into my work and my passions.

 

Many of the international brands today now have their bags and shoes and clothes made in China. Do you think the label “Made in China” no longer has connotations of being cheap?
For sure. If you look at labels like Huishan Zhang; his clothes are sold around the world alongside greats like Alaïa. My jewelry is sold at Harrods alongside Dior. So it’s changing quickly.

 

Tell me about the piece of jewelry you made for St. Regis.
The pin that I designed for butlers to wear on their lapel was inspired by the St. Regis hotel in New York. To me, it’s a very special place, not only because it’s unique and filled with American history but because it’s glamorous – even the cashier’s desk is beautiful. The swirl of gold on the edges of the pins reminded me of the gold you see on the elaborate door handles and on the arms of the chandeliers in the hotel; and the pearly white interior reminds me of the softness of the carpets and towels, which I love whenever I stay there.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Beijing

St. Regis Connoisseur Photoshoot 3 - China Suite with Afternoon tea

 

Bao Bao Wan photographed at The St. Regis Beijing

 

IMG_2899_quick cutoutEarrings from Bao Bao Wan's "Jade" Collection

 

IMG_5969._quick cutout Pendant from Bao Bao Wan's "Jade" Collection

Princess_1

“Warhol said, ‘Scarlett, would you like to sit for me?’ I called myself that then. I was 16”

A pair of matching Vespas is not the first thing you expect to find at the front door of one of Europe’s leading royal families. But, as the electric gates swing back to let me into the London townhouse of Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, there, by the chic black-lacquered front door, stand two immaculate burgundy scooters: one for him and one for her.

 

If they were the property of any other young London couple, the bikes wouldn’t be of interest. But Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece, has connections to half the royals in Europe, with their golden carriages and bulletproof limousines, and his wife Marie-Chantal, the daughter of the DFS (Duty Free Shops) billionaire Robert Miller, is not unaccustomed to a life of personal chauffeurs and private planes. The fact that they whizz about the British capital on two wheels – posting Instagram photographs of themselves with their children on the back – tells you much of what you need to know about this most independent of royal couples.

 

As she leads me into the drawing room of their capacious Chelsea home, her petite frame clad in black J Brand jeans and a cream lace shirt, with Pierre Hardy pumps on her feet, it’s clear she’s no average princess. “Sorry about the cat,” she apologizes, removing a muddy-nosed creature from a cream chair and calling one of her five children to retrieve it. “It got stuck in a hole, and I haven’t had time to wash it yet.” The cat, though, is the only thing that’s not immaculate in the room. Cushions are artfully arranged on carefully placed sofas. Tight, round “trees” of single-color flowers adorn coffee tables. Photographs of the couple’s wedding – the biggest gathering of royals in London since the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1947 – adorn a polished grand piano. And on three of the walls hang Andy Warhol paintings: one that the artist gave her as a gift on her school graduation, and two which she posed for as a 16-year-old intern at his Factory studio in New York.

 

Working for Warhol was “one of the best experiences I could ever have had”, she says. “It was so much fun. It was the 1980s and the art world was booming, and he’d have me do everything: mix paint, serve lunch, run errands, go with him to openings and exhibits, and hang out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I can’t believe my parents let me, to be honest – although I did have a 10pm curfew.”

 

Sitting for Warhol came about by accident. “He said to me one day, ‘Scarlett, would you like to sit for me?’ I called myself Scarlett then – who knows why. I didn’t like Marie-Chantal. I was 16 and trying to invent myself. Maybe it was after Gone with the Wind – I can’t remember. So I sat for him. My father, thankfully, bought the works, which was a good investment.”

 

Three decades later, she not only appreciates the name Marie-Chantal, but has created an eponymous business from it: a luxury children’s clothing range that has grown from a small line in a single London store to an internationally recognizable brand sold in more than 30 countries worldwide. When she launched in 2001 in New York, where she has a home, “friends [including loyal followers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba and Victoria Beckham] were very sweet and bought it. We did 18 options for girls, 12 for boys.” Today, she sells as many items online internationally as she does in her original store in the British capital.

“I think people crave the nostalgia of an old-fashioned childhood,” she says, praising the Duchess of Cambridge, whose wedding she attended, for helping to revive more traditional childrenswear. “They want gingham and stripes, and pretty dresses for girls, and beautifully cut classics for boys, whether they’re in a big city in Asia or on America’s East Coast. And lovely fabrics that aren’t scratchy and itchy.”

 

Her own mother, she says, has “immaculate taste” and bought only classical styles for her and her sisters, Alexandra von Fürstenberg (now a furniture designer) and Pia Getty (a filmmaker). “We lived in Hong Kong and she would take us to Europe to do our shopping for the year: toiles from Liberty,and kilts and cashmere from The Scotch House, in London; the remainder from Cacharel and Daniel Hechter in Paris.”

 

Even today, as a 48-year-old mother of five children, aged between nine and 21, Marie-Chantal still takes inspiration from her mother’s wardrobe – and borrows from it regularly. “She has great jackets and accessories, and some very good Chanel pieces. What’s funny is that Olympia [her 21-year-old daughter, currently studying photography in New York] is now borrowing my clothes. Our taste is multi-generational.”

 

Other than her mother, from whom she borrowed a navy Chanel couture suit to wear on the evening she met Prince Pavlos, the icons she was inspired by are all from a previous generation. “I know it’s a cliché, but it was women like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Birkin, whose style you don’t see so much today. It’s much more diverse and creative now: girls are mixing street style with high fashion, and pieces from Zara or Topshop. They might buy a designer bag, but that’s it, whereas when I was young and living in Paris in the 1980s, you were loyal to one designer. Mine was Karl Lagerfeld, then Valentino, who made my wedding dress [a pearl-encrusted gown that was rumored to have cost $225,000] and who has since become a friend. I love the way they nurture clients. There’s a real friendship there.”

 

If she had to pick two women now whose style she admires, it would be Inès de la Fressange, Lagerfeld’s muse, “who has such classic elegance, she could wear white jeans and a white shirt and look fabulous”, and Lauren Santo Domingo, “who’s great at being experimental and carrying off new brands”, and who carries Marie-Chantal’s line on her Moda Operandi online boutique. And designers? “Peter Pilotto, Erdem, Emilia Wickstead and Michael Kors.”

 

As you might expect from someone who regularly appears on lists of the world’s best-dressed women, attending fashion shows and shopping are a key part of her daily life. “The problem is the internet!” she exclaims, rolling her eyes. “I love shopping online and there are so many great places: Matches, Mytheresa, Shopbop for its jeans and T-shirts, Farfetch, Amazon… I can’t remember the last time I went and browsed in a boutique. It just doesn’t happen any more.”

 

Being much the same size as she was when she married 22 years ago means she can mix classics from the 1980s with new things. She stays trim by going to the gym or cycling. “Plus, I haven’t eaten carbohydrates for years, or sugar. If you add up how much sugar is in a diet, what with fruit and veg, and cookies and desserts, it really adds up, so I stopped completely. I try to stop the kids having sugar, too, but it’s a nightmare. Even juices – you really have to read the labels. It’s all hidden. Everyone should watch Food, Inc. and That Sugar Film. Then they’d cut it out completely.”

 

Two things she believes in, however, are fresh air and a good beauty regime. “My dermatologist advocates a regime of scrub, wash and moisturize, plus vitamin C and glycolic acid,” she says. “And it works.” As for the fresh air, she gets plenty of that on the family estate in Yorkshire, in the north of England, where they go most weekends. “Growing up in Hong Kong, I dreamed of space. Being able to enjoy that now is wonderful. I’m a mix of urban and country, I think.”

 

As are her customers – in her four stores, online shop and sales points around the world. Surprisingly, she says, it’s in Asia that classic dressing has had a particular resurgence. “There, the little girl or boy really represents the family status, so it’s important to dress them well,” she says.

 

Advice to focus her business eastwards has come from a trusted source. Her father grew his DFS and Galleria brands by targeting the Japanese consumer of the 1970s. “Today, it’s the Chinese,” she says, “who love not just luxury but lots of different new brands. It’s growing there like nowhere else.”

 

But really, she says, wherever they are, people of all ages like to look good. “It’s important to make an effort,” she smiles. “People appreciate it. Like manners.” And with that she gets up to make me tea, like the mannerly princess she is.

 

marie-chantal.com

 

House style

Above: Princess Marie-Chantal in the elegant London abode she shares with Prince Pavlos and their family (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)

 

 

The art of decor

The couple’s home is filled with art, including paintings of herself by Warhol, and of her children (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Small wonder

Marie-Chantal’s spring/summer 2017 collection for children includes lightweight suits for boys and cool tweed dresses for girls, each beautifully cut

 

 

 

Royal standard

Princess Marie-Chantal photographed in the garden of her London townhouse with three of her five children, wearing clothes from their mother’s eponymous range

 

2

‘We want to encourage a woman to dream. We’re playful, fun and unexpected’

The typical super-busy, fashion-savvy woman from New York, what does she do when it comes to buying clothes?” asks Lauren Santo Domingo. “Is she going to walk around Bergdorf Goodman and throw things over her arm, then drag them to a fitting room? This woman doesn’t go to the supermarket, so why would she be expected to do the same thing at a department store?” Why indeed? If anyone knows about shopping, it’s Santo Domingo. The perfectly polished brains behind the luxury shopping e-tailer Moda Operandi is very good at it, too. So good, in fact, she has perfected the experience to a fine art. Her latest boutique opened on Madison Avenue and 64th Street in 2016, an appointment-only, luxury-shopping experience that is entirely tailored around each individual woman who shops there. And trust her, there will be no carrying clothes over your arm as you peruse the rails. Your every wish will be taken care of, before you’ve even made the wish.

 

Santo Domingo calls it “hi-tech, high touch”. Before a client even walks through the door, her personal shopping advisor will know her shopping habits: what she likes, what she’s returned, her size, her wish list, what she’s put in her shopping cart and taken out. “We cater the experience around her,” says Santo Domingo. “So when she comes in and says, ‘I’m looking for an evening gown for my son’s bar mitzvah,’ we say OK. Then we put in a pair of earrings or a jacket in the changing room when she arrives, so although she’s there for the dress, the coat she’s been looking at for two weeks is there too.”

 

Although around 80 per cent of Moda Operandi’s business is done online (the average transaction is $1,200, with customers ordering an average of seven to eight times a year), the experience of actually touching the clothes, trying them on, and interacting with a salesperson is still important. Santo Domingo set up her new model of shopping in 2010 to allow members of the public to shop the runways as soon as the fashion show was over (a privilege open only to the elite fashion insiders who were allowed to pre-order items at showroom appointments the day after the show). “When we shop online, clothes are laid out as still life images; you are seeing it from the front, and when you’re in a shop, all you are seeing is the arm. Shops haven’t evolved or changed the way women buy.” The experience at Moda Operandi is much more intimate. The clothes all hang face-out like they do when you view them online. “If we can figure out a way to get all the most perfect things you can get online – and you can touch and feel it – that’s the perfect shopping experience. That’s our goal.”

 

The first MO boutique opened in London, tucked away in a mews at the back of Hyde Park Corner. But in New York, Santo Domingo says, there is a lot more snobbery about location. “We opened in London first because it just felt right, but in New York it can’t just feel right, it has to be right. You can’t expect a woman who lives in the perfect building on 5th avenue to come to 73rd between 2nd and 3rd. It’s just not going to work. So we are East 64th right off Madison, between Madison and 5th. It took us a little longer to find the perfect spot.”

 

And while the London mews attracts a lot of foreigners, VIPs and Middle Eastern royalty, New York is much more local. As well as the women who live and shop the city, Santo Domingo is keen to attract women traveling through – other Americans, as well as foreign visitors. “When a woman comes to New York, what’s she doing? She’s shopping, looking in museums, and going out to dinners.” What the private Madison Avenue salon can offer is hand-picked eveningwear, a real insider’s edit of high-end fashion (and not just the usual suspects; Santo Domingo has a keen eye for the up-and-coming designers), exquisite jewelry, together with an entrée into the often impenetrable world of fashion that she so loves.

 

Clients are invited to meet the designers at trunk shows (Santo Domingo’s star trunk-show host is Giambattista Valli, who she says can read a woman immediately and knows exactly what she wants out of life and her clothes – and, she adds, he’s always right). “There are a lot of women who are creative and want a creative outlet and are drawn to fashion.” With Moda Operandi it’s possible for them to gain access to that world, to sit front row at a show, to be immersed as well as to shop.

 

Santo Domingo, 40, grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the 1980s. Her father, Ronald V Davis, was CEO of Perrier in America, so he traveled to France a lot. “As I got older, my father started to take me and I’d see glimpses of what life could be. Then we’d go back to Greenwich. It was such a small, conservative, don’t-raise-any-eyebrows place. Everything had to be perfect. I’d do all my back-to-school shopping in Paris with my father. You’d get the little French notebooks and pens and that would be as crazy as you could be.” Her mother, Judy Davis, is a mosaic artist and visually very creative. Her father was, she says, the complete opposite: “Very business oriented. I got a bit of both of them, which is quite lucky.”

 

While she says she wasn’t interested in clothes as a child, Santo Domingo started her career as a fashion assistant at Vogue in New York. “I learned to have this confidence. You have all these importantly connected women in the office and we were expected to come up with ideas and pitch things and I was shy and embarrassed to speak up. Someone told me once, ‘Don’t overthink things so much. You’re out and about; if you’re interested in it and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too.’ ” Now she doesn’t question her instincts. New finds like the Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz (a family friend of her Colombian husband, Andrés Santo Domingo) have been a runaway success. “It’s about confidence to go, ‘This is how women want to shop. If they don’t today, they will tomorrow.’ ”

 

Moda Operandi has ambitious plans. While building the exclusivity and choice of the online experience, the salons will continue to open around the world. As well as San Francisco, LA and Miami, there will be openings in the Middle East and Asia. “If you stay in one place, your mindset and business will stay local. The more you move, the more you spread it,” she says. Her belief that fashion and the right accessory can change your outlook is infectious. “Sometimes I’ll go to a party and see someone buttoned up in the perfect dress and barely holding it together. You just want to go up to them and mess up their hair and trade bags and say, ‘I know if you were carrying this crazy Inés Figaredo clutch, you’d have so much more fun tonight.’ We’d have a dance. Come on! It can be life-changing if you just let it.’ ”

 

Fashion should be fun, she says. “We want to encourage a woman to dream. We try to take a conservative approach to the most far-fetched fashion and that strikes the right balance. Our point of view is playful and fun and unexpected. But it’s considered.”

 

Santo Domingo understands well the life of her wealthy clients. She lives with her husband and their children, Nicholas, 5, and Beatrice, 4, in Gramercy Park, her favorite New York neighborhood. She has great teams supporting her both at work and at home, where she loves to entertain – usually with an informal buffet. But she also loves being out and about in her city. She and her husband are regulars on Citi Bikes. If it’s a day out with the kids, she’ll go to the High Line, the Whitney, the park in Tribeca, and for lunch at Balthazar or Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. “The Children’s Museum of New York on the Upper West Side is probably the greatest place for children in the world – more of a playhouse.”

 

If she had a day without kids, she says, it would begin with coffee at Via Quadronno on the Upper East Side. Then the bookshop at the Met. She would then go to Moda to look at the jewelry. Lunch would be at Sant Ambroeus in SoHo, followed by a visit to the new Whitney. Then a beauty treatment (“I have a whole list of facials; it depends on my mood, but maybe a Georgia Louise facial”). Then a snack of grilled corn at Café Habana and a browse around De Vera gallery and Opening Ceremony. Cocktails would be on the back terrace of the Bowery Hotel, with dinner at Momofuku Ko. A late night with friends would involve the new Socialista at Cipriani. “I’d go home at 4am and sleep until 3!” she says, with a mischievous laugh.

 

It really does sound perfect (and perhaps not so far from her own life). “I always wanted my own business, to travel, to make my place in the world,” she says. “I wanted a family, so this is the life I always dreamed of. It would be ridiculous to complain for a second, for even a moment.”

 

 

Lauren Santo Domingo is co-founder and creative director of Moda Operandi: modaoperandi.com.
Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

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Your wish list is her command

Lauren Santo Domingo: “I learned to have this confidence. Someone once told me, ‘If you’re interested in something, and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too."

 

 

 

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Heeling power

A display at Lauren’s new Madison Avenue boutique –
where an appointment-only luxury-shopping experience awaits 

(photo: Matthew Williams)

 

 

jewels

Jewels in the Crown

From the slums of Mumbai to the palaces of Rajasthan; from the technology hubs of Bangalore to the spiritual mecca of Varanasi, one common thread weaves its way through India: an enduring love of jewelry. No one sub-continent’s cultural, geological and historical makeup is so entwined in the sourcing, manufacturing and self-adorning as this great land mass – from the excesses of Mughal royalty to the traditional nose-rings, hand jewelry and stacked gold bracelets worn by millions. Characterized by yellow gold, strings of beads, carved emeralds and bold color-combinations, its influence in varying degrees has crept into Western jewelry design, a process that can be traced back to the early 20th century.

 

As the great jewelry houses of Paris – Cartier, Van Cleef and Boucheron – made stone-buying trips to India in the early 1900s, their paths inevitably crossed with the maharajas of the time who, seeking a more Western, refined aesthetic, commissioned the maisons to re-make their jewels, replacing the traditional yellow gold with finer, less visible, platinum settings. One of Cartier’s biggest ever commissions occurred in 1925, when the Maharaja of Patiala handed over his crown jewels for total re-modeling, a job that took several years to complete and proved key to an East/West cross-pollination of styles. The Indian tradition of long, beaded necklaces that covered the chest morphed into the fashionable sautoirs of the 1920s, while engraved emeralds (carved in Jaipur and often the centerpiece of ceremonial jewels) became a staple of the art-deco style running concurrent at the time.

 

Cartier incorporated these stones into a genre that’s still firmly part of their house style: Tutti-Frutti has carved, unfaceted emeralds, rubies and sapphires in leaf and fruit motifs set against the sparkle of white diamonds – a combination considered daring and avant-garde at the time. (Cartier has never stopped making Tutti-Frutti pieces; last year the house showed the largest piece in this style it had ever made: the aptly named Rajasthan, featuring a central carved emerald of 136.97 carats.)

 

Boucheron’s love affair with the Subcontinent started in much the same way. Its recent Bleu de Jodhpur high jewelry collection is a riff on the “Blue city”, mixing Indian motifs and materials (such as marble from the same quarry used for the Taj Mahal) with Indian jewelry styles, underlined with the ever-present sharp execution of a Place Vendôme jeweler. East meets West in a mix of ancient custom and contemporary savvy.

 

While Surat in Gujarat is famed for diamond cutting and the mines of Golkonda have produced some of the world’s most legendary diamonds, it is Jaipur in Rajasthan where the cutting of colored stones and the centuries-old techniques of enameling are still practiced.

 

Western jewelers such as Bulgari source many of their signature candy-bright gems from the ancient city, with creative director Lucia Silvestri making frequent trips to oversee the process. She concedes that these visits have informed the house’s rainbow palette. “I love the colors of the saris the women wear in Jaipur,” she says, “and how they clash orange and pink, blue and red, in unexpected combinations. It gives me fresh ideas for designs.”

 

Less mainstream jewelers are also harnessing the centuries-old expertise of Indian workmen. Alice Cicolini, for instance, uses their enamel workshops to create exquisite hand-painted rings, and cult jeweler Noor Fares created her Navratna collection after a trip to Varanasi. Hanut Singh, great-grandson of the Maharaja of Kapurthala, who was a famous patron of Cartier, has spent ten years honing his signature fusion of old and new. Singh shows at private trunk shows and attracts a cult following from the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé and Diane Von Furstenberg.

 

Although India’s influence has always been present in the West, one development from a particular jeweler marks a significant change. Nirav Modi is the first Indian jeweler to combine Eastern motifs and themes in a thoroughly Western way. Unlike Indian brands like Amrapali, whose core designs are dominated by yellow gold and large colored stones that resonate with its Indian clientele, Modi has expanded his modern designs, attracting high-profile fans like Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts. Although his designs are Western, his Indian inspiration is still there. His Mughal range features diamonds cut to mimic petals, the shape inspired by 18th-century paintings of Mughal gardens. And his Maharani necklace with strings of emerald beads owes everything to its ancestral roots yet looks entirely at home in the window of his New York store.

 

Progression is everything; from an aesthetic that originated in the coffers of the maharajas to a style now gently disseminated throughout Western jewelry, India’s influence continues to dazzle, a century on.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

 

Romancing the stone
Haut diamantaire Nirav Modi (niravmodi.com) blends Indian and Western influences to create exquisite pieces like his “Emerald Maharani” necklace (above) and his “Flamingo Embrace” bangle (below)

 

 

Fit for a Maharaja
Below, left and middle: “Gothikas” earrings and “Ebony Triangles”, both by Hanut Singh (hanutsingh.com). Below, right: Indian-made enameled pieces from Alice Cicolini (alicecicolini.com)

 

 

 

hero

King of the Red Carpet

Seated at the rustic boardroom table of his studio in the heart of New York’s Garment District, Jason Wu appears calm and relaxed, not at all like someone who has just shown two collections at New York fashion week: a ready-to-wear line for Hugo Boss and his eponymous line, Jason Wu. But don’t let the calm exterior deceive you. This is a man whose drive and ambition saw him designing dresses for dolls as a child in his native Taiwan, a hobby that led to the creation of the Fashion Royalty doll collection, right through to designing the dress that Michelle Obama wore to the 2009 Inauguration Ball, and to his current heady heights as one of the world’s leading designers. That inauguration dress is now in the Smithsonian Museum, which to Wu sums up the scale of his achievement. “When I moved to America to be a fashion designer, I never imagined I’d become part of American history,” he said last year.

 

Making clothes for dolls gave Wu a grounding not only in the creative side of fashion but also in manufacturing, marketing, intellectual property, business – the many pieces of the jigsaw that make up a successful brand. It was only a matter of time before he would graduate to full-scale frocks. In 2007, at the age of 25, the designer – who had moved to New York seven years previously to attend Parsons School of Fashion – launched his first ready-to-wear collection, instantly catching the eye of the most powerful woman in the fashion industry, U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour. “At the time I was starting out there was a lot of streetwear around,” he recalls. “It was a lot edgier than what I do, which is uptown and polished. But Anna and the team were very supportive. It helped me embrace my aesthetic and gain the self-confidence to be different.”

 

Wu’s description of his signature style as “uptown and polished” certainly hits the mark – no wonder Michelle Obama became a fan. “Having anyone in the public eye support you is instrumental to a brand,” he says, “but when it’s someone like the First Lady, it’s an incredible honor.” 

 

Wu credits his mother, a bestselling author in Taiwan, with teaching him about style and the profound empathy he feels towards women. “I really care about the way a woman feels in my clothes,” he says. “I think that’s very important, because if a dress isn’t about the woman wearing it, what is it about?” Women, in turn, respond to the wearability and femininity of his clothes. Actresses Lupita Nyong’o, Jessica Chastain, Michelle Williams and longtime muse Diane Kruger all wear Jason Wu on the red carpet, and these relationships mean a lot to him. “The idea of red carpet dressing has become so commercialized but we are an independent brand, so for us the relationship is meaningful, not just an endorsement.” 

 

Part of the appeal is that Wu’s clothes are not too aggressively trend-led, which gives them a more lasting appeal. He’s also a firm believer in the value of luxury, talking at length about this much-debated concept. “Luxury isn’t something that only lasts for one season,” he says. “It’s timeless and it takes time to create. I believe we should move away from trying to be the fastest or first – it should be things of substance we invest in.” 

Since 2013, while creating his own line, Wu has been a creative director at Hugo Boss, overseeing the entire womenswear range. The appointment was greeted with a certain amount of surprise: after all, Wu’s gowns are all old-school glamour and femininity whereas Hugo Boss has a reputation for streamlined womenswear with a masculine edge. Yet it was that contrast that drew Wu to the project in the first place. “I like the fact that it’s not somewhere people would have placed me,” he declares. 

 

Luxury and elegance, always interpreted with a contemporary sensibility, run through both collections, which is why Wu is drawn to show in spaces that embody these qualities. In the past, he has chosen to show his collections at The St. Regis New York, which reminds him of the 1950s: the era he would most like to return to. “I love it,” he says. “The shape, the clothes: it was a really glamorous time. Not just the fashion, but refrigerators, cars, furniture; the whole thing to me is irresistible.” In fact, after showing at the hotel in 2010 (“It’s so refined – I loved showing my collection in such a landmark”), Wu became an ambassador for the brand – a St. Regis Connoisseur – and has, to date, designed a bag and scarf for St. Regis. 

 

His creative ambitions don’t end there: in addition to designing four collections a year for his own line and four for Hugo Boss, he wants to expand the Jason Wu line, “to really establish a lifestyle brand”. Despite his hectic schedule, Wu did recently manage to squeeze in a family reunion holiday at The St. Regis Bali Resort. “It was great,” he sighs. “The first time we’d all been together in a decade; everyone is just so busy.” Sadly, it may be some time before the next get-together. When asked about his work-life balance, he lets out a rueful laugh. “I don’t have one! But then, I’m not sure any designer would say they do. I’m not too upset about it. My work is my life, it’s my passion. So for now the work-life balance will have to wait.”

 

Images: Getty Images, Dan Lecca

 

Old-school glamour 

Jason Wu (above) says that wearability is key to his collections – women love the femininity and glamour of his designs

 

Issue7_Interview-Vodianova

Natalia Vodianova

Natalia Vodianova looks incredible in red. Don’t get me wrong, she also looks incredible in white, black, pink, or even sludgy brown. But it’s in red that she really shines. Perhaps that’s because she wears it whenever she’s hosting one of her Naked Heart fundraising events, which she did in February of this year during London Fashion Week – a red sequined dress made specially by Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein to accommodate the model’s five-and-a-half-month pregnancy bump.

 

Vodianova, the 34-year-old Russian supermodel who is based in Paris, but regularly jets between New York, London, and Moscow, does not do things by halves. As well as being one of fashion’s most successful and instantly recognizable stars, she’s a leading figure in the charity world. Her first Love Ball in Moscow’s Tsaritsino Estate, held on Valentine’s Day in 2008, featured a 220-ton ice palace specially constructed for the event, the auction of a Damien Hirst work that fetched $1.2 million, and a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet. She set her sights high – and the rewards matched. The ball raised $6 million.

 

When I first met Vodianova, at her house in the English countryside, it was a few weeks before her now legendary London Love Ball, which included a sit-down dinner for 420 people and an auction conducted by Christie’s that raised $1.7 million. In typical Natalia fashion, she juggled the interview between a snowball fight with her children in the garden, a photo shoot where she slipped straight into cover girl mode, all dreamy eyes and soft lips, and negotiating logistics for the event. She had the air of someone who is very capable, used to taking control of situations – and getting things done.

 

“Looking back, I realize that growing up in Russia gave me tools that other people don’t necessarily have,” is the explanation she gives for her extraordinary drive, “such as the will to push that bit further, to make things happen, to succeed. I try to use these now to help other people.” Nor has her lavish lifestyle left her suffering celebrity amnesia: she is happy to talk frankly about her impoverished childhood and the difficulties of growing up with a disabled sister.

 

Vodianova set up the Naked Heart Foundation as a response to the 2004 Beslan school siege, when at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. “I guess everyone who does charity has a moment when it strikes them, and it is unfortunately something horrible most of the time,” she told me. Her response to seeing the siege unfold on her TV screen in Moscow at the time was to cry. But through her tears, she had a vision. She decided she wanted to build a playground so that the children who survived would at least have some moments when they were lost in play and could forget the horrors of the siege.

 

She went back to New York, and with the help of her friend Diane von Furstenberg, set up a charity auction and raised $350,000. She had to wait five years before she could open the playground in Beslan, but that didn’t stop her opening her first in her home town of Nizhny Novgorod, and then opening playgrounds in more than 30 cities across Russia – many in the remotest, most forgotten towns.

Since starting the foundation, she has built 158 playgrounds across 103 Russian cities.

Born in 1982, Vodianova had a childhood that could not be further from the lives of her own four children (three from her previous marriage to Justin Portman, half-brother of the 10th Viscount Portman, who she met when she was 19, and one with her boyfriend Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH founder Bernard Arnault). Vodianova’s mother Larisa, who raised her three daughters alone, had a stall selling fruit and vegetables. Natalia looked after her sister Oksana, was born with cerebral palsy, while her mother worked long hours.

In her teens, Vodianova was spotted by a French model scout. She moved to Paris in 1999 and was soon swept up in the glamorous new life as an A-list model. In 2004, Steven Meisel shot her for the cover of American Vogue in 2004 alongside Gisele and Daria – the three models of the moment. Calvin Klein booked her for the most lucrative fashion contract of them all (a seven-figure contract she held for an unheard-of eight seasons) and ten years later, she became the face of the brand’s Euphoria fragrance. In 2012, Forbes named her as the world’s third most profitable model, estimated to be bringing in a very handsome $8.6 million in one year.

What is most striking about Vodianova is her incredible work ethic and her philanthropic drive. Anyone would forgive a mother of four (soon to be five) if she wanted to take a break from professional life. But Vodianova was back on the catwalk two weeks after giving birth to her first son Lucas. And she is utterly committed to the Naked Heart Foundation. As well as opening playgrounds, she has extended her focus to work with orphanages with the campaign Every Child Deserves a Family, which works with children who are abandoned by their families because of unemployment or disabilities.

Small wonder, then, that Vodianova’s nickname is “Supernova” – a tag Diane von Furstenberg would surely endorse: “The more you know Natalia,” she says, “the more you are impressed with her. She’s a remarkable woman – and I don’t say that easily. She’s probably one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. Her beauty is nothing compared with her character.”

 

Natalie Vodinova's Charity: nakedheart.org

Issue7_Interview-Vodianova

 

 

 

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Carlos Huber

What do you recollect of the scents of your childhood?

 

Although I’m absolutely in love with plants, I’ve actually always lived in apartments. But growing up in Mexico City I remember, when the elevator doors would open, always discovering a new flower arrangement that my mom had made. So the scent of flowers would always welcome me home.

 

How does your love of place and history connect to perfume?

 

More than any other sense, smell is linked to memory. As abstract and evanescent as a perfume can be, in our minds it is always tied to a concrete time and place. I’ve always been very connected to the discovery of a new city, a new landscape, through its aromas. With each of our scents, I want to guide you through a journey. That’s why it’s very important for me that the perfumes be “transparent”, that you are able to smell each ingredient so that you recognize them as clues in the story.

 

What was it like to train under Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Givaudan US?

 

When he discussed a specific note, or an historic perfume accord, he would set it up
in its period so I would understand the world around it. It was a cultural history
of perfume.

 

How would you describe your work?

 

I see myself as a fragrance architect: designing the scent so it highlights the significance of a beautiful story. I strive to be meticulous. The more of the picture I can paint for you, the more connection you will find with your life.

 

Your scents allude to historical events such as the meeting of Louis XIV
of France and María Teresa of Spain in 1660. What inspires you about
such moments?

 

History is my favorite subject. I read about the meeting of the French and Spanish courts in 1660 when the Peace Treaty of the Pyrenees was consolidated. For Fleur de Louis I investigated not only what they used as perfume, but also what they used to scent the room. The king’s cousin said that the pavilion where they met was so new that it still smelled of pine and varnishing tar.

 

What are the most exotic locations you have visited in your
perfume adventures?

 

Waiheke Island in New Zealand: it’s full of honeysuckle and jasmine. And Sydney is such a fragrant city – full of star jasmine in late spring, magnolias in the early summer, and frangipani later on. My favorite ingredients are gardenia, magnolia grandiflora, vanilla, lavender and rosemary, from Mexico, Australia, Spain and France.

 

You live in New York. What is the olfactory character of the Big Apple?

 

The waterways are definitely important. I love the Hudson for its sharp, briny scent.

 

And the aroma of home?

 

I like to buy fresh flowers and to change them depending on what’s in season, to experience a new scent. I also love burning candles. In the living room there will be a green floral (the St. Regis scent actually), in my bedroom something warmer, and in the bathroom something mossy and green.

 

What is the story behind the perfume you have created for St. Regis?

 

The ambient scent and candle are inspired by Mrs Astor’s ball, held at her Fifth Avenue home on January 29, 1900. Guests were greeted by the scent of American Beauty roses, the hostess’s favorite flower. They made their way down halls lined with potted palms and pillars of apple, quince and almond blossom. From there, they would enter a ballroom decorated with red roses, white lilies, yellow jonquils,
violets and carnations. Our scent is a custom composition that is historic, modern, truly signature.

 

Does perfume allow us access to something akin to a sixth sense?

 

Absolutely. Perfume can create a reaction almost like a vibration. It can excite, remind or attract you to something that’s beyond rational explanation.

 

I am a Cover Girl in my Dotage

I am a Cover Girl in my Dotage

Iris, you were born and raised in New York, right?
 
I was raised in Astoria, Queens, and lived there until I married. My grandparents were settlers, actually, and caught the boat here from Long Island.
 
What memories do you have of coming to the city as a child?
 
Well, the city was the mecca. You would go there for shopping, or an event such as the Easter Parade – everybody in their spring finery, looking swell. In those days you wouldn’t see a person walking on Fifth Avenue without a hat and gloves. Today you’re lucky if they have shoes.
 
I remember a story you told me about your first experience shopping alone in the city…
 
Yes, I was 11 years old. It was Easter time and I needed a new outfit and bonnet, but my mother had no time to go shopping with me. So she gave me $25 to go into the city by myself. I went to S. Klein and found a dress that I just flipped over. All silk, poet sleeves, with a tie front, for only $12.95. I gave thanks to God and $12.95 to the cashier, and then went to A.S. Beck and got a smashing pair of shoes for $3.98. I had enough left for a nice little lunch and the bus home. My mother approved of my sense of style and my dad approved of my economical choices. My grandfather, who was a master tailor, was the only one who was not impressed.
 
Where were the memorable places that you lived in New York?
 
After I got married I moved into the city. I haven’t moved around that much, but before living here, we had a great townhouse on 79th Street. What we had in charm we lacked in plumbing. Nothing worked, but it was fabulous.
 
In what decade or era would you say New York was at its most elegant?
 
The late 1940s or 1950s, before the youth revolution. It was glamour; glamour doesn’t exist any more. People like glamour – especially men. I think men are more romantic than women, anyway.
 
Did you have any favorite spots in the city during that era?
 
Oh, there was fabulous nightlife, glamorous clubs like the Copacabana – where, if you were lucky, you could sit ringside and touch Frank Sinatra. Great jazz clubs, restaurants… Henri Soulé ran an extraordinary French restaurant called Le Pavillon. They all had dress codes – you couldn’t go in looking like a slob. It was nice to have people looking elegant. They always had a coat and tie rack for men who came in without them, and nothing would fit, so they’d sit there looking like the village idiot or a grade-school dunce. There was also Ben Marden’s Riviera in New Jersey. Everyone used to go. Lucille Ball was in the chorus. People also entertained at their homes beautifully. Guests came dressed to the nines. There was an article of clothing called the “hostess gown,” which you don’t see any more.
 
Did you frequent any of New York’s great jazz clubs?
 
El Morocco and the Stork Club. Fifty-Second Street was very important in the 1940s – the whole street, with one place next to another. I had a boyfriend who was mad for Billie Holiday so we used to go there all the time.
 
Do you have any fond memories of The St. Regis New York?
 
It was always a very beautiful hotel, and we used to go to the King Cole Bar there. It was a place for people to meet.
When you’re in New York these days, where do you like to go? We love to eat at 
La Grenouille – it’s very old-world, very elegant. People come well dressed, the floral arrangements are spectacular and the food is divine… and yet it’s very natural. Some of these new restaurants that are so la-di-da are very pretentious.
 
Where do you like to shop today in the city?
 
I don’t shop very much. I don’t need to shop, I’ve got so much. But New York does have great discount stores, like Loehmann’s, and great sample sales.
 
What’s a highlight of your career?
 
We did major work at the White House, through more than nine administrations. We did many historic restorations: the Renwick Gallery, Blair House, the Senate, the State Department, Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace and the Decatur House, among others.
 
At 91, you have a whole new career as a spokeswoman, model, teacher and fashion icon…
 
Oh, it’s hysterical – the other night I did a personal appearance at Bloomingdale’s for my new handbag collection, and people were lining up. I’m the same as I ever was but all of a sudden I’m cool. It’s almost embarrassing. My husband and I think it’s very funny, but I also think it’s very sweet. I’m touched that at this stage of my life I’m having so much fun.
 
What projects are you working on?
 
I’ve done a line of sunglasses and readers for Eyebobs. I have a collection of purses called Extinctions, and a new line of shoes for HSN. I did a collection with MAC cosmetics and I’ve also been working on a perfume. I teach visiting students as a professor for the University of Texas, which keeps me very busy.
 
How did you feel when MAC approached you?
 
I thought it would be fun. When I do these things I really put work into it, choosing the colors and textures. I don’t just put my name on it. And a bonus is that I’ve met some very nice people from it.
 
Do you feel that you have helped in some way to alter the perception of ageing in popular culture?
 
I hope so; I think so. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve become so popular, because I’m so old. I’m a cover girl in my dotage, a geriatric starlet. The world’s oldest living teenager.
 
What do you love about being in New York?
 
There’s no place in the world like New York. If you can’t find it in New York, it doesn’t exist. It’s the heartbeat of the world.
 
What advice do you have for someone visiting New York?
 
You have to be like a sponge and soak it all up. It’s a walking city with some of the best museums and shops, with everything you might want to buy, whether you need it or not. Every kind of food you might want to taste is here. And it all exists in all price ranges. What’s the Sinatra song… if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.
 
So, where do you want to retire?
 
I don’t want to retire ever. I think retirement is a fate worse than death.
 
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