Tuesday, August 30, 2011

With Bright Eyes for Style

A woman of style and smiles, Gisela Mann Gierlich
Matt and I are in Mainz, Germany on the Rhine River, visiting our friends, Judith and Christof. They are art lovers and collectors, among their other many wonderful and fascinating interests. So far, it’s been two straight days of art parties; meeting a group of exciting European artists, eating great food, drinking delicious wines, and enjoying a glass or two of Taittinger Rose champagne to start and end the evenings.   
Judith introduced me to her friend, Gisela Mann Gierlich and I saw immediately that she is a woman of great genuine style. Gisela has an interior design business, Domus Einrichtung and Innenarchitektur and she generously agreed to talk with me about her design inspirations and to show me her combination home and interior design office. 

In her living room, Gisela has tones of mauve and soft lavender with a dramatic touch of a bright yellow Venetian glass chandelier.

Her dining room has bright pink and green and a bold pattern. Just like her personal style of dressing, her interiors are feminine, modern with an edge of the unexpected.

Gisela opened all her rooms to me, even her closet, a cozy boudoir with soft puddling curtains covering racks and drawers. It’s intimate and practical at the same time. Chanel, Prada and Gucci are her favorite designers right now with a little bit of H&M. Gisela says she wears everything and has fun mixing designers and expensive with the not so expensive. Eyeglasses designed by Chrome Hearts is a favorite of Karl Lagerfeld, and is also her favorite. 

Gisela's luxurious closet with a fur chair and cool Anthologie Quartett Gabriele floor lamp. 

She wears her clothes for many years. One of her favorite pieces is a Versace leather jacket
given to her twenty years ago by her late husband. 
Gisela describes her style as classic, but Judith says she is much more than that. Judith describes Gisella’s style as “extraordinary”. That whether she dresses classic and traditional or sexy and modern, she is always herself, a person with elegance, taste and an open heart.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Mother's Cocktail Dress

My parents, Duffy and Doris, enjoying cocktails sometime in the 50's, somewhere in New Orleans.

As promised, I reached into the back of my closet and pulled out two of my mother's cocktail dresses that I inherited. Both are beautiful LBD's, slim-fitting black crepe with black chiffon beaded necklines. They are the type of dress you can step into, zip up, slip into heels, dab on perfume and you're elegant and ready for a cocktail soiree. Best of all, the dresses fit me perfectly. My mother died when I was eight, so wearing something of hers has great meaning for me and helps me feel close to her.

Trying on one of my mother's cocktail dresses. 

Another of my mother's cocktail dresses, with a beaded
and chiffon bodice. 

Since my family is from New Orleans, you can imagine that cocktails have always been a highlight of fun gatherings. And being such an old traditional city, when I was of age (which can be younger in New Orleans than most cities) I went to the same nightclubs and bars as my grandparents and parents. We've been having cocktails at the Napoleon House for four generations!

My grandmother, Bootsie, and three of her sisters, Myrt, Sis and Dot, made an event of dressing up and going to lunch at the best New Orleans restaurants. They had a ritual of tailgating in the restaurant parking lot before going in. They'd find a shady spot to park, pull out a little ice chest and make Old-Fashioneds. In their thrifty French point-of-view, making their own drinks was a lot cheaper and better than what they got in a restaurant. As a little kid, I loved to be in the car with them, hearing their stories and  laughter. But after the second cocktail Myrt, the matriarch, would say "Ok girls, that's enough, you want to enjoy your lunch." And off we would go to enjoy a fabulous Trout Meuniere, fried soft-shell crab, or some other rich New Orleans specialty. 

Bootsie's Old-Fashioned
Add ice to fill rocks glass halfway, add 1 1/2 ounces bourbon, 1/2 ounce of Bootsie's simple syrup (homemade simple syrup with thin slices of orange peel added to marinate), 1 to 2 orange peel slices and a couple dashes Peychaud bitters and maybe a little water. Take a few sips and begin to tell stories about growing up on the bayou. 

For more stories about enjoying a cocktail or two in New Orleans, "In the Land of Cocktails" is a fun read with great drink recipes. It's written by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, proprietors of one of my favorite restaurants, Commander's Palace (where they serve 25 cent martinis at lunch!). Concerning the Sazerac, Ti gives this savvy advice "Do have just one, as you won't be nearly as attractive as you think you are after two." 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cocktail Couture

The striking cover of my current favorite and highly recommended book, 
published by the Rhode Island School of Design.

“I used to visit all those very gay places, those come-what-may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life, from jazz and cocktails…”
--Billy Strayhorn, “Lush Life,” 1933-38

Cocktails are riding the hot tamale train in San Francisco. Any bar worth its shaker is serving handcrafted vintage cocktails with rediscovered antique spirits. Five years ago, I got blank stares if I ordered a Sazerac anywhere outside of New Orleans. Now it’s the specialty cocktail at many bars in SF. And that’s a good thing.

But there’s a whole other aspect to cocktails that needs more exploring. And that’s cocktail couture. What does one wear when holding a martini that’s so silvery, shivery cold and clear that one wants to dive into it?

This fabulous book, Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980, gives many ideas and much inspiration. It’s the catalog from the Cocktail Culture show that was recently at the Musuem of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.

Cool and elegant from Cocktail Culture,
Karen Radkai, photographer, American, 1919-2003, illustration,
Vogue, November 1, 1960. 

It’s ironic that Prohibition, which went into effect in 1920, was the inspiration for the cocktail party. It must've been the naughty feeling of doing something illegal that heightened the excitement of men and women drinking together. At the same time, Hollywood showed everyone that imbibing with style and panache was the chic thing to do.

From Cocktail Culture, film still from The Thin Man, 1934

The book features six essays exploring various aspects of the cultural phenomenon of cocktails and in "Blithe Spirits: Cocktails and Hats", milliner Gretchen Fenston writes about the importance of the cocktail hat. She says, "... one simply had to have a cocktail-appropriate hat, one with elements that imparted fun over function." We can always use more of that!

From Cocktail Culture, Edward Steichen, photographic illustration,
Vogue, November 15, 1935

This book has me drinking, I mean thinking. I have a few of my mother's cocktail dresses from the fifties and I think it's time to give them a try and create a little cocktail party action around here myself. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Audrey and M.E.

Uncle Ron, Audrey Hepburn, Aunt Mary Ellen and Robert Wolders at the International Hotel in New Orleans, 1989

My Aunt Mary Ellen in New Orleans has always been a lover of classic and elegant couture clothing. But while the family budget didn’t provide for beautiful designer dresses, family talent and imagination did. M.E.’s mother, my great Aunt Helen, could whip up a Chanel suit just from a photo out of W magazine.

In 1989, my Uncle Ron was on the board for a mental health organization and at M.E.’s suggestion, he wrote a letter to Audrey Hepburn asking if she would be the guest of honor at their annual gala event. M.E. and Ron have always been diehard fans of Audrey’s. I think they’ve seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Two for the Road” maybe a thousand times. And Ron must’ve written a very good letter because Audrey said yes.

M.E. and Ron met Audrey and Robert at the New Orleans airport and escorted them to their hotel and to all the events that weekend. There was some initial nervousness about being with Audrey, but M.E. said she was down-to-earth and very gracious. “All she asked for was an ironing board and a hair dryer.”

At the gala event, Audrey and M.E. surprised each other by both wearing black and white evening dresses and the same Givenchy flower brooch. Audrey admired M.E.’s white sequined “Chanel” jacket and when M.E. told her that her mother made it, Audrey was thoroughly impressed. 

Aunt Helen sewed on each sequin by hand and added the gold chain, a la Chanel, so the jacket would hang perfectly. 

They had such a wonderful time together that evening that Audrey invited them to a party at the Baron and Baroness di Portanova’s in Houston. Which they attended and spent another weekend with Audrey and Robert. M.E. said they were in 7th heaven. The four remained friends and even now after Audrey’s death, M.E. and Robert have their phone chats.

M.E. recently gave me the “Audrey” evening dress and jacket and I was thrilled to wear it to a holiday party last year. I haven’t been invited to party with any movie stars yet, but I’m ready!