Cherry Blossoms And The Aqua Kimono

Sakura Pagoda
When I was 7 years old, Aunt Hazel came back from a trip to Japan with an exquisite child-sized kimono of aqua silk woven with pink and silver Chrysanthemums. The moment I pulled that kimono from it’s box, and my heart skipped a beat or two, and immediately Japan became the first destination on my bucket list. Of course, no one called it a bucket list in 1968 but that is what is was.
The little kimono had a long history and was well loved. At first, I wore it with it’s obi as a costume and later I wore it as a bathrobe. For years. By the time I went to college, the floor length kimono was shin length but it hadn’t lost any of it’s glamorous appeal. Rom, The Consort, still laughs about that robe when he remembers it because he is such a good sport.
During my junior year, in the middle of a Saturday night, the fire alarm went off. Dorm residents filed out into the chilly night. In the crowd were a few men all wearing women’s terry cloth robes and looking at their feet. Then, out came Rom wearing The Aqua Kimono. A round of applause went up all around. I remember him laughing with everyone else. Now you know just one of the reasons I married him.
Tomorrow, finally after 45 years, I get to cross Japan off my bucket list. It’s been a long time coming. Just last week, we decided to make a trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms and take a bath in an onsen. Check and check. It is all very improtmptu and some of our plans aren’t even finalized yet (like our return date) but we are going. We are making the leap. It’s not a business trip. There are no family obligations. I’m just going to the land of my dreams and will take Aunt Hazel with me in my heart
She started it all, after all.

Photo by Dave Maschka via FLicker

The Brights Of Spring

It’s still cold here in Chicago. Sandal season won’t come until June and we’ll be wearing cashmere until then. The solution when you need a spring lift? A lot of pink with a dash of citrus.
Have a great weekend!

Brights of Spring 2

A Love Letter To Chihuly

I spent last weekend in Seattle celebrating the milestone birthday of a dear friend. It was four fabulous days in my favorite city.
On a whim, The Consort and I ventured over to the Seattle Center at twilight and saw the permanent exhibit of Dale Chihuly — a native son of Seattle.
Prior to seeing the exhibit, I had always thought that Chihuly’s work was too commercial. The only reason that we even ended up at the exhibit was that the Seattle Center’s lawns are one of the only places where we could walk our dog near the hotel. What started out as a mere dog walk turned into the surprise high point of our trip.
Bold and bright color combinations may be the biggest trend of this cashmere season but Chihuly was the maestro of color when basic black was still QoC’s bestseller. Chihuly’s use of color in his work is dazzling and not only does he work with color he wears it, too. In all the exhibiton video clips he is seen wearing a uniform of lime green pants and an electric blue shirt. Sartorially, he embodies the art he creates.
The exhibit starts indoors. Dark rooms showcase the huge scale and vibrant colors of his work.
Sealife,a massive evocation of swirling water, is dotted with golden crabs,shells and other creatures-of-the-oceans at it’s base.
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The second indoor installation was more horizontal and was inspired by his mother’s Seattle garden. The color combinations were intense and dazzling and you have to see it in person to appreciate the scale. The yellow flower in the foreground was about 6′ across!
Chihuly Garden Seattle
Chihuly studied architecture before deciding to dedicate himself to glass blowing. His love of Victorian conservatories inspired the exhibition’s transition from darkened rooms to the outdoors. A modern greenhouse showcases orange hothouse flowers with a view of the Space Needle.
Chihuly Seattle Space Needle
My favorite piece was a boat full of balls. Image via Flickr by SEHeeny.
Chihuly Balls in the Boat
The boat was inspired by an original floated in the reflecting pool at Chatsworth House in Devon. An image on the wall in the Seattle exhibition of the Chatsworth boat is what made me completely reconsider my opinion of Chihuly as too commercial and overrated. The man not only has a charming sense of aesthetics, he is pure genius. To be further inspired, visit the Chihuly website.
IMG_5676_07.28.06_Chatsworth_TR_B
And, a postscript of acknowledgement to Mandy – a lovely, young woman who sat next to me on the inbound ride to Chicago. She encouraged me to get all the things that interest me out of my head (and camera) and onto my blog. Sometimes inspiration can be found in a middle seat. Thank you so much and don’t forget that there is a little guy that would be very happy if you would move to Seattle. Follow your dreams.

Downton Abbey Season 3

For the past two years, I bought the Downton Abbey DVD when on a trip to Scotland. This is before the season even began airing in the US. Lucky, smug me. Unfortunately, my trip to The Scottish Borders was cancelled this year so I’m on the same DA schedule as the rest of America.
Are you counting down the days until the airing of Downton Abbey Season 3 in the US?  Then I will let you in on a little secret.
Downton Abbey begins airing on PBS on January 6 and will run through Feb 17.  On Jan 29th Amazon is releasing the entire Season 3 on DVD and formatted for playback in North America.
If you can hold out and watch the season over 7 weeks, you probably never peeked at your Christmas presents as a child. I was an expert tape remover and re-wrapper. No surprises, I have already ordered my DVD.
Click the image below to pre-order you copy of the DVD at Amazon.  Can you keep the ending secret?

Monograms Tell A Story

Years ago, my always thoughtful London-based in-laws gave me a pair of Georgian salt cellars for Christmas. They explained that they wanted to bring a gift that predated the American Revolution to our American household.

Tiny and delicate, the ‘salts’  were gilt lined to protect the bowls from salt corrosion. With contestant use, these little silver treasures didn’t fare so well in my household.  An overzealous housekeeper, thinking the gilding was tarnish, was intent on getting the gilt polished off the interior. Not too long ago, I dropped one breaking off the leg.  For the little salts, that was the coup de grâce and it was time to find a silversmith to repair and re-gild them.

In my search, I found Jeffrey Herman in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has always been the heart of silver production in American and Mr. Herman is a master silversmith.  Probably, his expert skills are  more than were needed for the repair of my little salts but it was important to me that the work be done by someone with a practiced hand and talented eye.

In looking over Jeff Herman’s website and FAQs I was struck by his sympathetic take on old monograms.  I suppose, when acquiring a piece of old, monogrammed silver,  many people want monograms removed since they are not their own.   Mr. Herman has a wonderful opinion about leaving monograms intact on old silver.  He gently reminds us that it is part of the piece’s history.  I agree. Many pieces will outlive us and find other homes.  Monograms and coats of arms can track each piece from one life to another.  I hope that someday, everyone will own something with a monogram from someone else and it will conjure lovely memories.

Aunt Hazel, who was a shopper extraordinaire,  once gave me a little silver pepper mill when she came to dinner long ago.  Aunt Hazel whose monogram was HGZ found the little mill in her travels.  The coaster that goes with the mill is engraved with AHV.  We use this mill daily and when someone asks  me the significance of  monogram,  I explain I didn’t know who owned it before but now it stands for Aunt Hazel’s Visit.  It had a lost history but now it has a new one from us.  Aunt Hazel has been gone for almost 8 years but we think fondly think of her on a daily basis when we use the pepper mill.

Do you have something that you cherish that carries a monogram other than your own?

When My Baby Smiles At Me

I go to Rio.  De Janeiro. My-o me-o!

I’m dating myself with that 1978 Pablo Cruise song but I can’t get it out of my head since I went to Rio a couple of weeks ago for a private sale.  I loved Rio and the Carioca gals loved Queen of Cashmere.  We really had a great time.

Rio is gorgeous — a vibrant, breathtaking beach city where life is good.  Every morning, I walked along Leblon and Ipanema Beach.  When I took this image on my first morning in Rio, the guy sitting next to me on the rocks said he was a surfing instructor.  He swore that he could teach me to surf.  Maybe next time. Really. I am already planning my next trip in October.

In October, there are two things I will do differently when I travel to Brazil.  I will take my serious camera and I will wear my jewelry.  I left behind the camera for the sake of trying to travel light since I move between shows like a pack camel, loaded up with samples, laptop and color cards.  Boy, did I miss some excellent shots.  The jewelry I left behind because everyone warned me about the evil that was lurking in Rio in the form of pickpockets and thieves.

Let me just set the record straight, in the last year, Rio has been transformed and is getting ready for her big debut in the spotlight for the 2014 FIFA World Cup followed by the 2016 Olympics.  The city was clean, safe and enchanting.   I walked through Leblon and Copacabana Beach at night.  Perfectly safe but feeling utterly naked.  Carioca gals love their jewelry and they wear it!

Although I went for work, I made sure that I took some time to discover Rio.  I did the regular touristy things  – a tour of the favelas, admired the Jesus on the Corcovado from the lushness of the botanical gardens, walked the beach, drank passion fruit capraihinas and samba’ed to songs sung in Portuguese.  I had a great time and here is what I discovered.

1) Rio is a just a cheese sandwich sort of town.  I had a hard time digesting this fact but I offer proof.

My first foray into a Sucos Bar which is typical Rio surf shack/burger joint/juice bar/frozen acai stand was less then thrilling.    Working off a menu in Portuguese, I ordered something that sounded exotic. “Tradicionais queijo quente”. It turned out to be a grilled Velveeta sandwich. Note to self: use Google Translate.

At a news kiosk, I saw the current edition of a Brazilian health and  lifestyle magazine.  On the cover?  You guessed it. A exciting cheese sandwhich in all it’s glory. Healthy eating Brazilian style is a cheese sandwich!?

While getting a SIM card for my phone, I discovered that the cariocas line up here for coffee and a snack.   Casa do Pao de Queijo.  House of Cheese  Buns.  Yup.  The cariocas LOVE their Velveeta.

2) Havaianas rule in Rio.  It’s a flip-flop city.   They are everywhere and everyone wears them.  One doesn’t bring home embarrassingly tacky tee shirts from Brazil for gift-y souvenirs. It’s way cooler to show up with Havaianas for all.

The consort got navy blue, the Rad-man got black with a Brazilian flag and BFF got a pair in Cha-Cha pink.  The best pair of Havaianas were the upscale ones given to me by my thoughtful hostess.  How cute are these with orange gingham and a matching bag?  Adore!

 

 

Intarsia Intelligentsia

Hello Daybook readers, due to mechanical failure,  it’s been a while.  Finally, the blog is back and just in time for the AW 2012 runway shows.

There is nothing better than having a front row seat via our computers streaming New York, London, Milano and Paris, the crowds and trends.  Although we don’t really do ‘high fashion’ per se at Queen of Cashmere (classic luxury is more our catchphrase) we watch eagerly with the rest of the world to see what waltzes down the runways.

Guess what we saw this year for the first time in eons?  Intarsia sweaters!  Intarsia is the knitting of a pattern into a garment and it’s handwork that the Scots take to a fine art.  The intarsia trend waxes and wanes according to tastes and, this year, it’s on the upswing —  which makes those of us at Queen of Cashmere especially happy since our bespoke line is 100% intarsia centric.  While we use it to personalize sweaters with monograms, we love the way it’s being used at Burberry Prorsum.  At first glance I thought they had placed a dinosaur head on the sweater but on closer inspection (needed my glasses) it was a sweet little bird with a tucked beak.  And who doesn’t love a puppy?

I loved everything about the Burberry collection, not just the sweaters.  Christopher Bailey nailed it this year turning out fashion that was fun, flirty and still tied to it’s English roots with tweed, tartans and trenches.  I think the bow belts are the perfect foil for the intarsia animals, don’t you?

Animals on knitwear is not a new trend, think Krizia in the early 80s, but it’s one that is popping up all around us  again.  Opening Ceremony is offering a cat sweater  in conjunction with Glamour Magazine.  Although for $99 you don’t get hand-intarsia, it’s got the same sort of feel.  Tommy Ton captured it perfectly on fashion stylist and blogger Hanneli Mustaparta.

And below is another Tommy Ton image of the animal knitwear trend.  I have also seen a lot of sock monkey hats on adults this season, but regarding those, I will hold my nose and take pass.

 

 

 

Wine, Women and Shoes

Trunk show season has gone into full swing at Queen of Cashmere and  I have been travelling to some wonderful places.

Early this week, I went to Lexington,  Kentucky and was absolutely swept away by the rolling green hills,  the fence-framed thoroughbred horse farms and the lovely women that I met.  Lexington is dreamy.  Really dreamy.

My charming hostess, Joy Robyn, told me that Mark Badgley and James Mischka, renovated a horse farm in Lexington.  After designing for the red carpet all week, they decamp New York and head to Kentucky for the weekend.

Elle Decor featured their home in it’s pages in 2009.  The restored 1920′s house is  elegantly masculine.

The library with a rock crystal chandelier is such a wonderfully intimate place for dinner.

I’d happily settle into this guestroom for a weekend.

Certainly, those decanters must hold some fine Kentucky bourbon.

Not content to simply reside in beautiful Lexington, the duo have become an integral part of Lexington society and support many  charitable causes.   On October 6,  at Keeneland Racecourse,  Badgley Mischka will present their spectacular Spring 2012 line as part of Wine, Women and Shoes to benefit The Lexington Cancer Foundation. The evening promises to be a spectacular mix of  Lexington charm, elegant fashion, fine wine and boutique shopping. Tickets are available online.

 

 

Not A Cheese Curd In Sight

A friend of mine posted on his Facebook page that ‘fried butter’ was going to be on the menu at the Wisconsin State Fair this year. (Last year, the real big deal was a bacon cheese burger perched upon a Krispy Kreme doughnut in lieu of a bun).  It tells you about Midwestern culinary traditions.  I’m surrounded.

A friend pointed out last night, she considers me a gourmand.  Which is why I can’t reconcile myself with our local green market.   Is this admission akin to high treason? Well, I paid $3 for a single, hard tomato that was ‘hydroponically grown in dirt’.   Hang me if you must.

While I was looking (askance) at cheese curds from the Chicago market’s  cheese monger, below are the images that were haunting me.   This past April, while visiting my family at the wonderful  Chateau Longsard,  I went to the Sunday market in Villefranche-sur-Saone.  Beaujolais. The southern tip of  Burgundy.  Culinary heaven.

Not only was the produce amazing. The characters of the market were stupendously colorful, too.

The cheese cutie.

The boulanger who called me “une jeune fille”. Um, yeah right.

The market ham who just happened to be Spanish.

I’d pay $3 for one of these beauties.

Spring strawberries in wooden punnets dressed up with a Frenchified frill of paper.

Zesty lemons.

Blushing, ravishing radishes.

But the best score of all was  the  Saint-Félicien from the above fromagier that we enjoyed outside that afternoon.

 

Fried cheese curds, fried butter and doughnut buns be damned.  Everything is better in Beaujolais!

 

 

Among The Peonies

In 2009 the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago opened amidst great fanfare.  One of the inaugural exhibitions was a collection of Cy Twombly’s work.  On a beautiful summer’s day, I discovered his exuberant canvases and sculpture with a friend.

I’m not a huge fan of modern art but there is something magical about this artist’s  larger-than- life canvases. Etched with lines of poetry they are joyous and charming.  In one  painting he wrote ‘out of the heart of a peony, a drunken bee’.

“Graffiti is linear and it’s done with a pencil, and it’s like writing on walls. But in my paintings it’s more lyrical.”

Cy Twombly passed away in Rome yesterday at the age of 83.  May his heaven be full of peonies and drunken bumble bees.