Monday, February 28, 2011

Marchesa Luisa Casati

So last night during for the Academy Awards, actress Hailee Steinfeld, of "True Grit" fame, wore a gorgeous, blush-colored dress with an large tulle skirt by Marchesa. And, not that it takes much nudging to get me on a Marchesa Luisa Casati tangent, but there it was. And here it is. 
Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881- 1957) is the namesake of Marchesa, the fashion label started by British designers Georgina Chapman and and Keren Craig. This painting is my favorite of her, by Giovanni Boldini in 1908. Casati was a female dandy of her day, scandalous for her time, and known to perform outrageous stunts, such as walking through Paris with her pet cheetahs on their diamond leashes. 

The portrait here, by Augustus John, illuminates two of Casati's key attributes -- the flame-colored hair and the kohl-rimmed eyes. "I want to be a living work of art," claimed Casati, and to that end, she spent her enormous fortune as a patron of famous painters and photographers who created her likeness. 
Since her death, many fashion designers have taken inspiration from this muse. I first became aware of this in 1998, when Casati inspired John Galliano as he created his 1998 Spring/Summer collection for Christian Dior. (He was quoted in Women's Wear Daily as saying something only a modern bon vivant would say: "She would throw a party, then have to sell one of her houses to pay for it. We love that!" And it was true. Her inherited fortune was enormous, as were her estates. But she was so lavish in her tastes that she died virtually penniless). More recently he was again inspired by Casati, for his autumn/winter 2007/2008 Bal des Artistes haute couture collection for Dior. J'adore!
Not one to be outdone, Karl Lagerfeld also claimed Casati as inspiration when he designed his 2010 resort collection for Chanel. 
Photographer Paolo Roversi shot this Casati-inspired shot of Tilda Swinton. Amazing. 

Here's John Galliano's perfume, also inspired by Casati ... with obvious references to the Boldini painting. Casati's tombstone is inscribed with this Shakespeare verse from "Antony and Cleopatra" ... and it couldn't be closer to the mark: The quote "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Birthday ... I'm Now a "Woman of a Certain Age"

It’s my birthday. I am officially a “woman of a certain age.” I’ll be honest: I expected to be somewhere exotic on my birthday. In my younger days, whenever my career as a magazine writer in New York City was tumultuous, or ill paying, my best friend Amy would say, “Oh just think – one day we’ll be sailing on the Aegean Sea!” We had hoped this would be the year for us to finally do this (by way of Paris, naturally). But we are both in career transition right now; life had plans for us other than drifting in a saphire sea. And you know what? I had a fabulous little birthday anyway. Here's why: 
My husband hung this, and six other items that have also needed hanging for some time, throughout the house. 
My parents bought me this lamp I'd been lusting from GasLamp Antiques in Nashville. She kind of reminds me of Empress Josephine. 
I got dozens of Facebook birthday wishes. One was from my friend Stan Williams, in New York, who said if we were together he would have made me this strawberry cake for my birthday. 
My dear friend Katie sent this photo of a Hermes Soirée de Gala scarf to me, and said that if she could have afforded it, she would have gotten it for me. It truly is the thought that counts, and I am so flattered. 
So while on this birthday I didn't go to Paris, or Greece, and I wasn't tooting about town in this Neiman Marcus cupcake car ... 

I had a fabulous day, nonetheless, and realized that it's like artist Eva Juliet says in this darling print (from Etsy), everything IS gonna be alright. XO - Karen  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mrs. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on Presidents' Day

I realize Presidents' Day  is for the 43 men who have now held the country’s highest public office. But creativity is worth nothing if it doesn't give us a license to play a variation on a theme. So I’m using my Presidents' Day to celebrate the First Ladies. And no other lady is more first in my book than Mrs. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (and not just because she was a cousin to the inimitable Edie Bouvier Beale).
For me, picking a favorite Jackie image is harder than choosing a favorite flavor of Häagen-Dazs. But I love this one by Mark Shaw for so many reasons. I love the pink and yellow colors that so vividly remind one of the 1960s. I love that JFK is in the background, and blurred. I love Jackie's hair and makeup. There's something almost Grecian in the poise and beauty of the sitters for this photo. 
This darling tome is a scrapbook of a trip Jackie took to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth with her younger sister, Lee,  in the summer of 1951, when they were 22 and 18, respectively. It is filled with photos and illustrations (by Jackie, who was a charming watercolorist) that the sisters put together to document their adventures. 
This slim volume, "Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad," commemorates yet another trip Jackie took with Lee, this time in 1961. The introduction to the book was written by John Kenneth Galbraith, who was the Ambassador to India during that period; the sisters were widely photographed on their travels through India. 

This whimsical illustration, by Jacqueline Duhême (whose rendering style is similar to Jackie's), captures the State dinner at Versailles Palace  where Jackie wears a raffia lace gown by favorite designer Oleg Cassini. 
For those who want a lo-fi version of Jackie's high society glamour, this bottle cap filled with resin is just the bauble. Tastefully sprinkled with a dash of glitter, it is sold by Weenerware on 
Here's a modern twist on a Jackie classic: This watercolor called "Vintage Black Jackie Dress"  at Laurenspaintpalette’s shop on 
And for those of us who aspire to entertain like a first lady, a vintage cook book called "The First Ladies Cook Book." I suspect an aspic recipe or two might be found in these musty pages. 


Friday, February 18, 2011

Vintage Vases for Spring Bulbs ... and a Little Martha Stewart

I love the cheer a vintage vase brings when awash with candy-colored flowers. Recently, I visited one of my Nashville clients, GasLamp Antiques & Decorating Mall, where I styled various vases with inexpensive flowers from Trader Joe's. I adore this little $18 cat. You could put a tiny fern in it, or some ivy, but I prefer the pop of color from the tulips, since the vase is black and white. To purchase, go to 
This vase, at a mere $8, is such a find. I love the embossed beading on the handles, such a nice touch. I tossed in some daisies, yarrow, and alstoemeria, then gave it to a dear lady I know who recently received some bad health news. 
I don't own any McCoy art pottery myself, but I do adore it. Those pastel colors are one reason, plus I love the embossed designs you find on McCoy. This vase is pricier than the others, at $45, but that is because McCoy is so collectible. I need to hit some yard sales this summer and see if I can find any at a good price (unless a certain Martha Stewart has snatched it all up -- her East Hampton kitchen is filled with McCoy pieces in trademark mint blue). 
Well, since I mentioned Martha Stewart's McCoy collection, I just had to toss in this photo. When I lived in NYC, I had a friend who worked for Martha, and would go to her houses to work on photo shoots. She said Martha's collections of all manner of vintage were so extensive that it made a person want to give up collecting altogether, simply because Martha had probably already bought whatever it was one wanted to collect. This was an exaggeration, of course, but don't we all love a Martha story? (I've got more where that came from ... stay tuned). Photo courtesy of Kevin Sharkey at 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Oscar de la Renta Fashion Illustration & "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale

In honor of Oscar de la Renta's Fall 2011 fashion show today in New York City, I've posted a gorgeous illustration of one of his new looks. When I was a fashion editor in New York, his was always one of my favorite shows to attend.

I've also posted a frothy pink fur from the Oscar de la Renta Pre-Fall 2010 show; it was on my "lust list" (which should be renamed a "delusions of grandeur list," as it includes such items as a Neiman Marcus cupcake car). 
And while I'm thinking about chic coats, I just had to toss in the photo of a young "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale in her gown and fur, because this "Grey Gardens" doyenne knew how to stay fashionably warm (as well as how to tie a sweater around her head with an inimitable aplomb).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Have a Modjeska

On the day after Valentine’s Day, many of us are noshing on candy. But what about a Lindy? Or a Modjeska? Yesterday I wrote about Schimpff’s Confectionary, one of the oldest candy makers in the U.S. There, the on-site museum features enough trivia to send a sweet tooth’s blood sugar soaring. Among the displays are early 20th-century candy jars made of pressed glass. There’s one of Charles Lindbergh flying The Spirit of St. Louis (Lindbergh also had candy bars named after him called The Lindy and the Winning Lindy). There is another one of Charlie Chaplin in his trademark hands-in-pockets stance. A fabulous tale from Schimpff’s museum is that of the late 1800s stage actress, Helena Modjeska, who deeply moved the audiences – and candy makers – of Louisville, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Schiff’s) when she performed there in 1883.  The now-defunct Busath’s Candy made a treat in her honor, named the Modjeska; it was a marshmallow hand-dipped in caramel. Other candy makers followed in suit, and Schimpff’s still makes Modjeskas today. 
Monday, February 14, 2011

Schimpff's Confectionary

A holiday of greater decadence than Valentine’s Day? I think not. In time for the grand occasion, I met the fourth-generation owners of Schimpff’s Confectionary, which has been operating in the same building in Jeffersonville, Indiana since 1892. The on-site museum houses thousands of pieces of antique candy memorabilia spanning over a hundred years. These vintage boxes are illustrated with Art Nouveau ladies and flapper girls; wouldn't it be nice to see a return to this romantic candy packaging? Shimpff’s is known for its fish candy, horehound drops, and original cinnamon red hots. They still use small kettles, natural flavors, and hand-operated equipment to make them. Their chocolate creams and truffles are delicious, far surpassing modern factory-made candy. The website is, for ordering information.