Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snow Day

It just doesn't stop. Another "Snow Day" yesterday. All schools were closed and so was our office. Staggeringly beautiful and peaceful. It felt like a Sunday. Here is what NoLita and Washington Square Park looked like.

Monday, February 22, 2010

An Australian Rose and the Big Apple

I was flicking through an old Vogue Living the other day and came across an article about Australian interior decorator Rose Cumming and her rise to fame in New York in the early 20th century. Whilst Florence Broadhurst might be well known both in and outside of Oz, this name was new to me. But apparently her name will be well known soon, as her great-niece Sarah Cumming Cecil, also a New York-based designer, is working on a book to be published this year. And some of Rose's classic fabric designs have also been re-launched.

Rose Cumming's entrance into the design field was unexpected. She grew up on a sheep farm outside of Sydney. Fiercely independent, she left the pastures of Oz for the avenues of Paris to find a husband, but wound up in New York, single. She fell in love with the fashion crowd of the 1920's and sought career advice from her friend Frank Crowninshield, the then editor of Vanity Fair, who asked if she wanted to be a decorator. “Perhaps I would, but first tell me what it is,” she reportedly answered.

According to the Rose Cumming websiteCummings revolutionized the decorating business when she opened her New York store on the corner of 59th Street and Park Ave. Her work was eclectic and bizarre, often with a nod to surrealism. She loved everything from Gothic, Venetian and Austrian Baroque to early Oriental furniture. But her most enduring legacy was her love of mixing bold colors. “Parrots are blue and green,” she remarked. “Why shouldn’t fabrics be?"

She brought color to chintz and purportedly invented metallic wallpaper. She also designed her own furniture and by the 1930's, her store was a favorite of the well-heeled, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev, Jacqueline Onassis and Babe Paley. With her purple hair, enormous hats, wit and outspokenness, Cummings became a darling of New York society and a legendary eccentric figure.
Her own townhouse was an eclectic mix of fabrics, colors and furniture styles.

Probably her most enduring fabric was the Delphinium chintz which has now been re-leased through Design Founir Companies in Kansas of all places. 

And for a more modern look, you could try "Zebrine," a blue and white zebra print as seen in the house of designer Ashley Whittaker.

Cummings even gets a nod in Mark Hampton's book, Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century. 

I look forward to uncovering more eccentric Aussies who "made it" in this town.

Images: Architectural Digest, The Peak of Chic, Little Augury, Amazon

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chocolate Fiend

I have to admit that because the winters are so cold over here, I have become a chocoholic. Maybe it's the lure of the rich, warm chocalatey colors and delicious textures, or the comfort factor of hot, thick, milk-laden cocoa sliding down your throat and warming every inch of your body.  Whatever the reason, I find myself drawn to any store or cafe that can feed my obsession.

I have recently come across a little gem in Williamsburg; Mast Brothers Chocolate. It certainly isn't a secret - google it and you get pages of mentions - but it is a heart warming story in this age of big chocolate corporations being swallowed up by even bigger food corporations.

The Mast Bros came up with the idea of starting an artisan chocolate business in Brooklyn when they were experimenting with different recipes in their apartment. Rick Mast had already done a stint with the chocolate maestro Jacque Torres (who also has a divine store in DUMBO), so was no stranger to the complexity of taste and texture in chocolate. Now they are apparently the only "bean-to-bar" chocolate makers in the city. Using cacao beans from small family farms and coops in the Dominican Republic and other South American countries, they create 60 - 81% cacao delicacies in the form of chocolate bits and bars, all in a tiny kitchen behind the store. They add ingredients such as pistachios, sea salt or cranberries, depending on the cacao beans used at the time. This also means that each time you visit the store, the selection is different. And if you are lucky, you can see them sifting through the beans while you are browsing the choices.

Each bar is lovingly wrapped in gold foil and exquisite florentine-style paper, some of which are designed locally.

They are also so keen to remain local, that the sugar they use comes from Domino, once a working factory down the street. Ok, this factory has long been shuttered, but it's a nod to local enterprise and the Domino logo is certainly still a favorite icon of the city.

And whilst on chocolate, I have to mention Chocolate Celeste. Based further afield in Minnesota, I need to show you their most exquisite asia-theme chocolate assortments. They look like beautiful Mah Jong pieces. Not sure they deliver to Oz, but if you have a friend in the US who loves chocolate.......

Images: design files, bobguskind, morale agency, good housekeeping, gothamist

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New York Fashion Week Part II

Today I went to my first "serious" fashion show in this town - Derek Lam. I call it serious because the goliaths of fashion were there and when that happens, you know the brand has to be taken seriously.
The show wasn't held in the tents at Bryant Park but in a beautiful old space on the Bowery called Capitale.  I was beyond excited when I saw the Vogue quartet arrive and sit front row - Andre, Anna, Grace and Tonne. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of "the September Issue".  My blackberry struggled under the enormity of the occasion, but here are 2 very blurry shots to get excited about:

Andre Leon Talley in his signature "bear skin rug"

 An artistic rendition of the Vogue Powerhouse Trio

My boss was seated directly behind Mr bearskin. Needless to say her view of the show was limited. Ms Wintour was dressed in her signature fur and black sunglasses. I get breathless even thinking about it.

Anyway, the clothes were to die for. The theme was "Myth of the West" and it was all really an ode to the urban cowgirl in us all. Think lots of fringing, leather, boots made for walking and a nod to the Georgia O'Keefe bolero, with a few random feathers and alot of fur (heck it even gets cold in the desert you know). All that was missing were the smoking guns. 
The music was a fab mix of the Paris Texas soundtrack and Malcolm Mclaren's "Buffalo Girls". And the piece de resistance? It was snowing real snow heavily outside the show and they had fake snow falling on the inside!

Images: The Cut from fashion frenzy,

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Be My Valentine

I'm a bah humbug when it comes to celebrating Valentine's Day - commercialism at its worst, marketing gone overboard, that sort of thing - and there is nothing worse than receiving an anonymous bunch of long-stemmed, red, hothouse roses that have absolutely no smell at all and die after 24 hours! (Actually, that's probably a good thing.)

In saying that, I adore flowers in general, so I thought I would take this calendar moment to share my favorite florists in this city:

First up is a nod to fellow aussie Antony Todd. Predominantly known now for his interiors and event planning (try Elton John's Oscar party and the UN's 50th anniversary party) Todd was originally known as a florist. He can still count Martha (Stewart) and P. Diddy as fans for his beautifully simple if not very structured arrangements.

If you prefer something more wistful and natural, you will adore Jessie Weidinger's arrangements from Rountree Flowers.  She does the most awesome table decorations for Karen Mordechai's Sunday Suppers, one of my fave blogs and desperate-to-be-at dinners. I love the way she mixes florals with fruit and creates a nostalgic wildflower kind of feel.

For a more extravagant impact, we use ZeZe Flowers for all our work dinners and functions. ZeZe is a larger than life Brazilian who began life on a Rio stage. He favors bright colors and orchids and is the darling of the UES social set, who regularly use him for their charity galas. ZeZe recently opened a heavenly cafe on the Upper East Eide, where you can nibble on pastries and breathe in the intoxicating scent of lilies, hyacinth and freesias.

On a more local level, I have VSF (Very Special Flowers) around the corner from home. Apart from personifying your typical West Village boutique store, VSF is famous for fabulous arrangements combining "unusual" blooms.

Over in funky Williamsburg, you can't help but enter Sprout Home when you pass it. The way they arrange the flowers so simply at the front of the store just makes me want to pick a bunch immediately. And without the pretense or high prices!

If party planners and sometimes overpriced store fronts are not your "thang", there is always the Chelsea flower market which runs for two blocks at 28th St and 6th Ave. There are endless warehouses full of dried flowers, silk flowers, enormous blossom boughs (perfect for those cavernous Tribeca warehouse spaces), indoor plants and freshly cut flowers of all colors and types.

Or, if you want to pride yourself on a small carbon footprint, try the greenmarkets. My local is at Union Square. Every Saturday I wander up to choose my blooms from a nearby grower who tootles in from Jersey or Hudson Valley and sells their seasonal florals from buckets out of the back of a truck. Now that is quite authentic for this town.
Happy Valentine's Day x

Images: Antony Todd, Karen Mordechai @ Sunday Suppers, Rountree Flowers, New York social diary, David Fratianne, nyc loves nyc, nymag, disdressed, wedding aces, mine

Friday, February 12, 2010

New York Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week started here yesterday with hardly a ripple or murmur. I think most people are simply annoyed because it falls over the long weekend! Or maybe it's because of the news of Alexander McQueen's suicide. Or on a more fatuous level, perhaps it's because the huge snowfall the day before made sure that the fashionistas sported rain boots to the tents rather than the bejeweled heels of the coming spring.
Anyway, regardless of all this, I had the good fortune of supporting an Aussie Designer by being invited to Toni Maticevski's show. As a brand, he flies very under the radar - certainly here because I don't think anyone even stocks his designs - but even in Oz, he's not a "big name". He should be. His designs are exquisite. His fall 2010 collection was a mass of sequins, diaphanous chiffons and silks, gold leaf motifs, appliqued metallic florals and pleats in the most unexpected places. The colors were all muted in dove greys, creams and black with vibrant slashes of rich gold, and alot of knickers and bras were on display, which is quite ambitious for Northern Hemisphere winters! But maybe he was thinking more AFI Awards or film premiers in Sydney. Whatever he was channeling, the final effect was pure romance, whimsy and femininity, all of which we need in these troubling times.

Images: George Chinsee @