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In Musings on
June 22, 2017

Friday Fancies

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Hello dears and happy, happy Friday. I’m thrilled to debut a new Stuffy Muffy series that will be serving up my favorite fancies of the week. Whether it be a restaurant recommendation, a great new documentary or an accoutrement I can’t live without, I’ll be posting them here. I enjoy sharing fabulous finds and I welcome any and all that you have as well!

Without further ado….

EAR CANDY

Working from home can be, well, quiet. Podcasts have become my preferred audible entertainment. I can’t get enough of them! For all things Bravo I tune into Bitch Sesh: a Real Housewives Breakdown which makes me feel better about my disappointing choices in television. I just recently breezed through Missing Richard Simmons; it was intriguing, sad, hilarious and mysterious all at once. James Swan at Million Dollar Decorating has the voice of a sophisticated angel, a must-listen for the design inclined. As you can see, I prefer my podcasts light and fluffy! Please leave recommendations if you have any, I’m all ears…

MONOGRAM MAVENS

I just recently had these pretty little Peacock Alley guest towels personalized at South of Hampton here in Atlanta and oh my heavens am I pleased! The ladies at SoH have the chicest monogram selections and the turnaround time is always extra quick.

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Pretty pagodas! Lucite towel rack is from Lux Hold Ups.

LIP SERVICE

This isn’t a new find for me, but it is an essential one. I keep a Mongo Kiss lip balm in every room of the house! It’s organic, practices social responsibility and it is a smidge thicker than the average chapstick which makes a nice difference. I pick up Mongo Kiss goodies at my local Whole Foods.

HEART THIS ART

I spotted one of Karen Smidth’s paintings on Pinterest this week and just had to see more. Her gorgeous pieces are available at Anne Irwin Fine Art here in Atlanta, at Blue Print in Dallas and through Serena & Lily.

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“Wild Green Spring” by Karen Smidth, available at Anne Irwin Fine Art.

PIE TIME

Do you love coffee ice cream? Chocolate? Well I’ve just discovered a culinary wonder at Trader Joe’s called the Mudd Pie. It’s not dairy-free or gluten-free and it most certainly has lots and lots of calories but it’s delicious and it’s summer so indulge in a slice or four! Find it in the frozen section by all the macarons and other tempting treats.

Bon week-end, dahlings!

In Art, Musings, Travel on
June 4, 2017

Ladies of Venice: Art, Decadence and Eccentricities

On the storied waterfront of Venice sits an unfinished palazzo that houses the Peggy Guggenheim collection but, in its former life, it was residence to three of the last century’s most fascinating female personalities. Drawn to the diminutive neutral palace set against ornate neighboring villas, Marchesa Luisa Casati, Lady Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim would make the place their own, respectively. What was the charm of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni that beckoned its famous buyers?

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Stuffy Muffy

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

A lofty architectural feat started by one of Venice’s most noble families in the 1750s boasted plans of five floors and a magnificent facade. Ill-fated from the beginning, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was never completed except for the ground floor. The Venier family ran out of funds and there are rumors that the neighboring Corner family put a stop to its construction in fear that it would be as grand as their own villa. No one puts the Corners in the corner! Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about the history of the palace is the giant lion that roamed the gardens, an ode to the “leoni” in its title.

The Avant-garde Heiress

Luisa Casati Venice on Stuffy Muffy

Luisa Casati dressed to the nines and two escorts. Photo by Mariano Fortuny, Museo Fortuny.

The palazzo fell into many hands in the years to come, time taking its toll on its exterior and interior, until it caught the eye of the Italian Marchesa Luisa Casati. Romanced by its neglected facade, she purchased the palace in 1910 and swiftly got to work reimagining the inside. Marble! Gold! Glass! She packed it all in and wasted no time outfitting the gardens with parrots, albino blackbirds she would dye whatever color she fancied and monkeys. Luisa’s most prized pet was a cheetah that would accompany her everywhere she went, becoming a fixture at her side at the lavish parties she would host.

Luisa Casati Venice on Stuffy Muffy

The Marchesa and her pet cheetah in the center of party goers at one of her masquerades, 1913. From the Casati Archives.

This was just the tip of the iceberg of eccentricities that the Marchesa displayed. She wore outrageous costumes, shocked high society with her personal life and threw masquerade balls written about in every paper the world over. Venice was her stage, she the modern actress playing a different part every week. A patroness of the arts, Luisa played muse to notable artists such as Man Ray, Alberto Martini and Romaine Brooks. While keeping up with the tony art set, she squandered all her assets on museum-like homes, sumptuous couture and extravagant gatherings. She eventually had to sell her beloved palazzo and moved to London, evading creditors and the Fascist regime of Italy. She lived there in exile and passed away in 1957.

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One of the many portraits of Luisa Casati from her collection. From Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The English Enchantress

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Model Cara Delevingne’s great-aunt, Doris Viscountess Castleross, pictured in her sun suit posing for Sir John Lavery in Palm Springs.

With the palazzo up for grabs, a leggy English blonde snapped it up in 1936 intending to make a fresh start in Venice. Lady Doris Castlerosse had earned a reputation that was much more “mistress” than “enchantress” in London, seducing the likes of Cecil Beaton and Winston Churchill while marrying her way up the ranks of society. She overhauled the palace into a glossy haven fit for a salonniere, hosting party after party that boasted guests like Prince Philip of Greece. From the palazzo’s stuccoed walls hung exquisite antique frames and sconces while guests were treated to bold black marble bathrooms. With the close proximity to Rome, Lady Doris would travel there and buy couture shoes 200 pairs at a time. She was the new social tour de force in Venice until the war broke out, ending her good time on the Grand Canal and leading to her unfortunate overdose in 1942. 

Doris Castlerosse in Venice

Doris Castlerosse outside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1936. From her private collection.

The Grand Patroness

Peggy Guggenheim Venice

Peggy Guggenheim soaking up Venice with her pooches.

During the war, soldiers occupied the palazzo and it became a shell of the once luxurious salon Luisa and Doris had cultivated. Peggy Guggenheim found it in its graffitied condition and took a chance on the crumbling structure. It hurts my heart to report that Peggy took down all of the gorgeous decorative touches the two women had installed and pared down the palace to a light and simple interior. What we can be grateful for is her incredible collection of art on the white walls and foresight as a patroness. While reading her memoir it became evident that it was not easy to transport works in a war ravaged continent and many pieces spent time in hiding. Peggy was determined to have it all culled together in the palazzo and she eventually succeeded, giving us the modern day Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Peggy in her Palazzo. Image via INVenice.

The grande dame of Venice spent 30 years there. She rode around in a gondola donning her signature wild sunglasses, sunbathed in the nude on her rooftop (which was much lower than all the other rooftops!) and gathered likeminded visionaries at her famous dinner parties. If one attended a Peggy Guggenheim event you’d be dining with the likes of Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau and artist Arshile Gorky. If you visit Palazzo Venier dei Leoni today, soak up the view, study the art and try to image the wild creatures that once roamed the garden; Luisa, Doris and Peggy included!

While Peggy’s life lives on through her artful legacy, Luisa and Doris serve as cautionary tales of spoiled excess. What all three females did have in common was a joie de vivre spirit that saw them making their own a palace that was originally built to celebrate male achievement. If only the Venier men could have seen what became of the palazzo!

Summer reading suggestions:

  • If you’re interested in a broader history of these women and their connection to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, be sure to dive right into The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell, available for pre-order.
  • I read Peggy Guggenheim’s memoir last summer and it was incredibly interesting. I will warn you, she is a bit flippant about the war but delves into her childhood, love affairs and passion for art in a way that will have you turning the pages.
In Musings, Uncategorized on
April 23, 2017

Aileen Mehle: When Gossip and Glamour Collide

Whilst waiting under a dryer at the salon last weekend, I became engrossed in a Vanity Fair article chronicling the last interview of famed society columnist Aileen Mehle. She passed away this past November, aged 98, leaving behind 5 decades worth of gossip columns and a fascinating life story. Aileen, best known by her nom-de-plume “Suzy,” was the type of bon vivant that would wear gold sequin hot pants to a formal dinner at the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s home (in the early 1970s, mind you) and have even the stuffiest of guests applauding her bold sartorial choice. She had an infectious disposition, garnering invites to many a glitzy event and just about every guest would want Aileen sitting at their table. Intrigued yet?

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Mehle with the Duke of Windsor at a party for Liza Minelli.

Little Miss Suzy

Aileen Mehle came from an El Paso, Texas oil family and grew up in California. Shortly after attending UC Santa Barbara, she toyed with the idea of becoming a movie star but moved to Florida for love instead. Once in Miami, she joined the most fabulous party circuit and was rubbing elbows with the beau monde from Coral Gables to Palm Beach. Aileen counted C.Z. Guest and Lorelle Hearst as girlfriends and flourished as the ultimate social butterfly. One night at a soirée her friend and publisher of The Miami Herald, Dan Mahoney, was lamenting the lack of a great gossip columnist for his paper. Aileen thought she might be fit for the job, Dan chuckled and said he couldn’t imagine her staying home long enough to write a couple of sentences. The next day, she authored three sample columns, mailed them to The Miami Herald and became their very own gossip columnist under the alias of “Suzy.”

Aileen Mehle Gossip Columnist

Hot off the press c. 1960. Collection of Aileen Mehle.

She migrated up the East Coast from Miami to D.C. and eventually settled in New York City after her second divorce, always keeping her ear to the ground for interesting tidbits. Aileen wrote at the Daily News for 17 years covering the chicest galas, international events and saucy scandals that rocked the social scene. At the time there were 7 society columnists belonging to the major daily newspapers in the city. Her competition were the likes of Walter Winchell, a legend in his own right, and “Cholly Knickerbocker,” written by designer Oleg Cassini’s brother Igor. She would inherit the Journal-American column upon landing at the paper in 1963 and became “Suzy Knickerbocker.” In 1967, she moved to her longest assignment at The Daily News, in 1984 to the New York Post and finally, in 1991 to her last post at Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine. She penned her farewell column in 2005 at the age of 87. Aileen was published in 90 papers worldwide and reached 30 million readers, making Suzy a household name. 

Aileen Mehle

Aileen reposing in her NYC apartment. Photograph by Raymundo de Larrain for Vogue, July 1973.

A Fine Romance

“I’ve had a couple of husbands, which is one too many for anyone,” Aileen Mehle to Life magazine.

A charmer she was, dating and marrying some of her generation’s biggest heart throbs and eligible bachelors. After her first marriage and divorce to a handsome U.S. Navy ensign, she found love with one of what would be a few fancy suitors. Enter Wooly Donahue, heir to the Woolworth fortune, a globetrotter and life of the party.

Aileen Mehle and Woolworth Donahue

“Suzy” and Woolworth Donahue in the 1940s, they would date for 5 years. From the collection of Aileen Mehle.

Next came a successful real estate developer, Mark Kenneth Frank Jr, whom she married in 1953 in Palm Beach. To keep things exciting, Aileen went on a date with Wooly the night before her nuptials to Mark. Talk about a rehearsal dinner! This marriage wouldn’t last either. She rebounded with her new post at the New York Daily Mirror and revived “Suzy” after a brief hiatus playing the role of wife and mother. Fun fact, Mark’s little daughter Suzy was the inspiration for Aileen’s nom-de-plume! To keep her busy in the relationship department, she began to date Walter Wanger, Hollywood mega-producer of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. Wanger, as it turns out, had a colorful past. He shot talent agent Jennings Lang (not fatally!) in 1951 after finding out he was having an affair with Wanger’s actress wife Joan Bennett.  Aileen found that his jealous streak had softened a bit with age and was on his arm from 1963-68 until he passed away.

Aileen Mehle Walter Wanger

Aileen gets a peck from Peter Pagan and Walter Wanger enjoys his biscuit and tea, 1960s. From the collection of Aileen Mehle.

Her most famous beau of all? Frank Sinatra. After his divorce from Mia Farrow, Ol’ Blue Eyes was looking for someone he could take his toupee off in front of to go swimming in his Palm Springs pool. Aileen’s words, not mine! They would enjoy a fun-filled couple of years together until he had a meltdown on a royal’s yacht off the coast of Monte Carlo over a dinner he hosted for the Queen of England’s cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent that did not go as he had planned (tasteless canapes? unpolished silver?). Sinatra would prove to be a great friend even after they parted ways, giving her one of the biggest scoops of her career; Suzy’s column was the first to announce his retirement.

Aileen Mehle Jewelry Collection Doyle Auction

Sinatra showered Aileen with gorgeous baubles, some of which are on the auction block this week through Doyle! See them all for yourself here and don’t forget your bidding paddle…

Gossip Girl

If you’ll recall the scene in Steel Magnolias where Annelle can’t bring herself to disclose her personal turmoil and, in unison, Clarie and Truvy exclaim “of course you can!” that’s exactly how I picture Aileen getting her headlines. Funnily enough, her socialite friends like Nan Kempner and Truman Capote were happily her best sources. Because Aileen never hit too hard, her peers trusted her and delighted in seeing their names in Suzy’s column. Someone who wasn’t too flattered to be written about? Jack Kennedy, then a young senator. Aileen would very often be on the same flight as Kennedy from Palm Beach to D.C. and observed what most wouldn’t dare divulge.

Aileen Mehle

Black and white and chic all over, ready to dish the latest! From Harper’s Bazaar.

Aileen recounted her infamous column highlight to Vanity Fair “Jack Kennedy looked like hell. His shoes were scuffed. His socks were down. His pants were rumpled. His jacket was rumpled. His hair was all higgledy-piggledy. So little Miss Suzy wrote, ‘Jack Kennedy has got to straighten up and fly right, because he doesn’t know how to dress. He is a mess.’” This sent the Kennedy clan into a tailspin over who this Suzy was as her identity had not yet been revealed. Aileen would have many Kennedy encounters over her career but none more personal than when she alerted Jacqueline Onassis at a San Francisco brunch gathering in 1979 that her sister Lee Radziwill had left her groom, hotelier Newton Cope, at the altar. 

Aileen Mehle Joan Rivers at Buckingham Palace

Marion Jorgensen, Mehle & Joan Rivers at Buckingham Palace. Photograph by Jonathan Becker.

In today’s celebrity obsessed culture (Brangelina! Bennifer!), it’s hard to remember that there was ever any interest in the beau monde, the world’s most glittering set who didn’t necessarily appear on your television or at the cinema. We’re still just as fixated on famous figures, but perhaps more so on Real Housewives than royal subjects. But fear not, as Aileen told Vogue in 1973 “Real glamour will never die. It is the whipped cream on top of everything. It’s the fun and spice of life that everyone wants to read about. Gossip—that’s all anyone ever does anyhow, morning, noon, and night. I got a letter from some nuns who read me because I provide them with a slice of life every day!”

P.S. Later this week, I”ll be sharing one of her exquisite NYC apartments done up to the nines, you won’t want to miss it!

In Art, Musings, Uncategorized on
April 5, 2017

Behold the Bulbs: Tulips in Bloom

Madame Hodson, Lord Wellington, Cardinal Wisseman, General Pelissier and the Queen of Sheba. Besides grand titles what, you may ask, do these subjects have in common? Collectively, they enjoy a good shaking free of debris, prefer being preserved in cold climates and only travel internationally via shipping container before being coaxed out of their beds by damp conditions. They’re tulip varieties, of course!

I, as I’m sure many of you do, take great pleasure in having cut tulips placed around the home. Usually, I’ll pick them up at my local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s wrapped in brown paper and ready to be arranged. As their blooming season is in full effect, I’ve become rather fascinated with Tulipomania. Let’s peel back the petals of these silken sirens and get to know them a little better, shall we?

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Lilac tulips soaking up the sun at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Legend has it that they were first spotted by a Westerner in the 1550s when Austrian Ambassador to Turkey, Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, saw them flourishing in the gardens of Constantinople. His interpreter was fervently explaining that their bright hues were reminiscent of Turkish tülbend, or turban, and so the moniker tulipam was born.

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An elaborate floral still life by Jan Brueghel the Elder, most likely painted over the course of a year to render each season’s blooms in real time. (At the National Museum of Art, Bucharest)

Busbecq returned and gifted Carolus Clusius, former Prefect of the Imperial Medicinal Garden of the Austrian emperor Maximilian II (well aren’t you fancy, Carolus?), some bulbs. Carolus journeyed back to his native Holland with the tulip bulbs in tow and after seeing how the gnarled seed transformed into a gorgeous bloom, demand for the tulip exploded. Bulbs were now just as sound an investment as diamonds and their market value reflected that at Tulipomania’s height between 1634-37. It was said that Rubens, one of the most notable artists of his time, could only afford to gift his wife a single bulb for her birthday!

judith-leyster-tulip-book

Artists such as Judith Leyster capitalized on the tulip bonanza. If patrons couldn’t afford to purchase bulbs, they would certainly invest in a lovely tulip still life or book of tulip illustrations. (c. 1643, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem)

Overnight, anyone with a parcel of land was in on the tulip trade. Noblemen, chimney sweeps, footmen and maid servants were all harvesting bulbs. Some of these tulips caught a virus and suddenly changed colors, it was all too much for the Dutch. Prices for these fickle bulbs skyrocketed, an Admiral Liefkens sold for $750 followed by $1,825 being shilled out for a Viceroy and a Semper Augustus going for $4,000. It seemed to good to be true! Suddenly everyone was selling these colorfully named blooms but no one was buying them. Estates were mortgaged, tools discarded and businesses sold. The government stepped in and regulated the market paving the way for Dutch family companies to become the top producers of tulips the world over.

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Bulb Dynasty: the Lefeber family in one of their D.W. Lefeber & Co. tulip fields in Hillegom. (Town & Country, March 1978 issue)

The iconic tulip fields of Sassenheim, Haarlem and Hillegom were cultivated by the likes of N. & J. Roozen, Ltd., J. J. Grullemans & Sons and other barons of bulbs. After World War II, a tulip tour de force was achieved when Piet Bakker began selling gift boxes of bulbs in 1946. He recounted to Town & Country in 1978 that “the Dutch were tremendously grateful to America and the rest of the world for their help during and after the war. Everyone wanted to send something in return. But what could we afford?” The treasured gift laid in tulips, the millions of bulbs left over from the war. Sending them in gratitude became a widespread Dutch gesture and soon launched Bakker’s company into the mass retail trade.

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The perfect backdrop for a commercial that I was not a part of. The handlers at the garden quickly escorted me out of their shot as I tried to photograph these beauties!

Now we can all indulge in a pretty pick-me-up at our neighborhood flower shop or grocery store! I’d love to see the vibrant fields of tulips next spring, have any of your been to the Netherlands to experience them? If you have any travel recommendations or tips of tulip fields here in the US, I’d love to hear them!