Tuesday 29 April 2014

Remembering ... THE ENGLISH GENTLEMAN Savile Row and St James's / Tuesday 7th January 2014 Cabinet War Rooms, London.

Through 'The English Gentleman', now in its 3rd Season, Savile Row tailors and the gentlemen's houses of St James's continue to present the finest collections, in the most iconic and exclusive settings in London.


Savile Row and St James's

6.00pm – 8.00pm, Tuesday 7th January 2014

Cabinet War Rooms, London, SW1A 2AQ

This January, for London Collections: Men, the bespoke tailors of Savile Row and The Woolmark Company, along with London’s best shirt & shoes makers and hatters, will present the modern face of British elegance to an international audience made up of buyers and journalists. The presentation is a reminder of the fact that London is the world capital of masculine style, and has been for over two centuries.
Anda Rowland, Vice Chairman of Anderson & Sheppard

For the last 3 months, the entire Anderson & Sheppard team has been working on the organisation of the latest group presentation for London Collections: Men.  The collection included 80 models and some volunteers who were new to the modelling world.

Sir John Standing, Kenneth Cranham, AA Gill, Sir Michael Gambon and Oliver Cotton took up residence in the Chiefs of Staff Conference Room in the Cabinet War Rooms wearing Anderson & Sheppard.  They were joined by David Furnish who wore a bespoke suit made by Henry Poole & Co.

Seated around the wooden conference table at which Churchill, Vice-Admiral Louis Mountbatten and the heads of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force masterminded Britain’s war effort, Sir Michael and his companions were admired by members of the international press and other guests. Writing for The International New York Times, Suzy Menkes reported that the presentation: “was a wistful, yet powerful visual creation of what ‘Britishness’ used to stand for in men’s fashion – and proof that the images of that era still look relevant seventy years later.”

The presentation was styled by Jo Levin and produced by Anderson & Sheppard and Sammy Aki.

The London Collections: Men presentation at The Cabinet War Rooms was inspired by the Jonathan Cape book Cecil Beaton Theatre Of War.  The book’s editor Mark Holborn is an Anderson & Sheppard customer.
The definitive collection of Cecil Beaton's war photography, drawing on a wealth of material and accompanied by his own diary entries

At the beginning of World War II Cecil Beaton was commissioned by the British government to photograph the home front. He set to work recording both the destruction of the city, and the heroism of Londoners under attack. He conducted a survey of Bomber and Fighter Commands for the RAF, which was published with his own astute commentary. Beaton was an effective propagandist, but his voice, like his photographs, was touchingly elegant. Beaton's wartime work amounted to 7,000 photographs. He traveled through the Western Desert and on to Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, and India, where he photographed the final days of the Raj in New Delhi and Calcutta before joining the Burma campaign. He ended the war deep in Chinese territory where he witnessed the Nationalist resistance to the Japanese. This collection of Beaton's masterful WWII photography captures the home front, the Middle East, arms and vehicle manufacturing in Britain, India, the Burma Campaign, and the war in China. It also includes a chronology placing events in Beaton's life alongside developments in photography, journalism, and the arts; war photography; and world events. His original photographs are reproduced large on the page, alongside his diary extracts, allowing for deep scrutiny and appreciation of the images and their artist.

http://www.FashionTV.com/videos LONDON - FashionTV heads underground in SW1A, where the Cabinet War Rooms come alive with models in attire that is a modern interpretation of the wool clothes and styles worn in the 1940's. Models and friends of Savile Row showcased eighty different outfits befitting a moment in the life of the English Gentleman at the Cabinet War Rooms.The English Gentleman event is designed to highlight Merino Wool yarns, fabrics and garments produced by some of the world's most prestigious manufacturers and tailors which demonstrate the craftsmanship and luxurious detailing.

"Help Britain's war effort. Wear wool

Appearances: Michael Gambon

Music: Count Basie - Tune Town Shuffle

Sunday 27 April 2014

Edith Wharton , Julian Fellowes and The American "Gilded Age" ...

A rich new life of a great novelist. The first biography of Edith Wharton by a British woman writer, it challenges the accepted view, showing Wharton's lifelong ties to Europe and displaying her as a tough, erotically brave, startlingly modern writer and woman.

The name 'Edith Wharton' conjures up 'Gilded Age' New York, in all its snobbery and ruthlessness - the world of The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. This major new biography upsets the stereotype. This Edith Wharton is not the genteel, nostalgic chronicler of a vanished age but a fiercely modern author, writing of sex, love, money and war - a woman of strong convictions and conflicting ambitions and desires.

Born in 1862 during the Civil War, Wharton broke away from her wealthy background and travelled extensively and adventurously in Europe, eventually settling in Paris. During the First World War she committed herself heroically to war-work and lived in France, her 'second country', until her death in 1937. She created fabulous homes in New England and France, and her life was filled with remarkable friends, including Henry James, Bernard Berenson, Aldous Huxley and Kenneth Clark. She ran her professional life with energy, writing on her travels and on Italian villas and gardens, and publishing poetry, plays, essays and short stories as well as her powerful novels. But Wharton had her secrets, including a passionate secret mid-life love affair. She was unhappily married, childless and divorced, and knew loneliness and anguish. Her brilliant, disturbing fiction shows her deep understanding of the longing and struggle in women's lives.

This masterly biography delves into every aspect of Wharton's extraordinary life-story. It shifts the emphasis towards Europe and places her more clearly than ever before in her social context and her history. In particular, it shows in fascinating detail how she worked and what lies at the heart of her magnificent and subtle books.

Untidying the drawing-room
Edith Wharton may have repudiated the customs of her country, but it provided material for her masterpieces. Elaine Showalter reviews Hermione Lee's biography
Elaine Showalter
The Guardian, Saturday 10 February 2007 / http://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/feb/10/biography.classics

Edith Wharton
by Hermione Lee
853pp, Chatto & Windus, £25

In her memoir, A Backward Glance (1934), Edith Wharton recalled her first attempts at writing when she was 11 years old. Her fledgling novel began: "Oh, how do you do, Mrs Brown? ... If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing-room." But when little Edith shyly offered it to her mother, the stately New York matron Lucretia Newbold Jones, the response was chilly and withering: "Drawing-rooms are always tidy."

The anecdote is a favourite of Wharton's biographers, and Hermione Lee quotes it early in her monumentally conceived and impressively executed study of Wharton's life and times. All the seeds of Wharton's work and psyche are contained therein - her fascination with the ethnography of upper-class societies from old New York to the Parisian faubourg, and her obsession with interior décor and its suggestive symbolism of the pristine female body. Throughout her life, Wharton struggled to free her subversive imagination from the bonds imposed upon her by her past. Most sensationally, she had a passionate affair at the age of 46 with a younger American journalist, Morton Fullerton, and left her accounts of it for posterity to discover, a fact first revealed by RWB Lewis in his 1975 biography. In novels such as Summer (1917), she explored the issues of erotic tension in unhappy marriages, while a manuscript fragment, "Beatrice Palmato", is an explicit, almost pornographic, account of father-daughter incest. (Lee calls it "lush and dated", and wryly notes that "reticence has its stylistic advantages".)

Wharton had a late start as a novelist, becoming a professional writer in her late 30s. But she was disciplined and productive, publishing 48 books, including collections of short stories, novellas, poems, essays, travel writing and literary criticism. How should a biographer find a key to a writer so varied? Lee approaches Wharton as "an American in Paris", a writer who broke away from the roots of her own American upbringing to live abroad, and whose deepest connections were to European culture and European values. In her work and life, Wharton repudiated the customs of her country, including the slangy sounds of her mother-tongue. "My first weeks in America are always miserable," she wrote to her friend Sally Norton upon one return from France in 1903. " ... All of which outburst is due to my first sight of American streets, my first hearing of American voices, & the wild, disheveled, backwoods look of everything when one first comes home!" The following year, her alienation had increased: "A whole nation developing without the sense of beauty, and eating bananas for breakfast." How a country she found so aesthetically abrasive, intellectually uncongenial and culturally primitive could in fact be Wharton's "home", and how her cultural exile formed her literary art, are among the themes Lee pursues in this comprehensive and insightful book.

Acknowledged in the last few decades as a major American writer, and newly popular since the filming of several of her novels, Wharton has been the subject of many biographical studies, critical revisions and ideological controversies. She has been described as a woman who hated women; a survivor of childhood sexual abuse; the victim of an unstable and deceitful husband and a painful divorce; a neurasthenic who was treated by the notorious rest-cure specialist Dr Silas Weir Mitchell. Lee rejects all of these labels as unproven - there is no evidence for abuse, for example - or oversimplified. None comes close to explaining her genius, and they underestimate her "toughness and resolve". Lee also gives relatively short shrift to more recent, politically charged critiques of Wharton's snobbery, racism and anti-semitism. She frankly notes the blunt references to "Yids" and other racial and ethnic slurs in Wharton's letters (deleted or omitted by early editors), but places them against the richer, more complex and contradictory contexts of the fiction.

Lee is out to understand Wharton, not to vilify or sanctify her. She gives a much fuller account of Wharton's working methods than anyone has before, looking at manuscript revisions, and at Wharton's many tantalisingly unfinished stories and novels. She seems to have read everything Wharton wrote, and all that has been written about her; and she is a discriminating and generous critic who offers full, fresh and incisive discussions of all the novels and scores of the short stories. She traces Wharton's strenuous intellectual self-formation, from her early reading of Darwin, Spencer, Nietzsche, Huxley, Frazer and Veblen, to her mature studies of European painting and art. She delicately untangles the psychological and literary intricacies of Wharton's friendship with Henry James, who both was and was not her Master and mentor in the novel, and whose influence she both cherished and derided. Wharton's generously intended but sometimes botched schemes to funnel money to James, the social geometry of her friendships and rivalries with James's homosexual and bisexual circle at Howard Sturgis's English country house Qu'Acre, his serio-comic efforts to resist her powerful personality (he called her the Firebird and the Eagle) and her futile efforts to escape being pigeon-holed as his imitator and heiress make this an inexhaustibly fascinating subject for analysis. Lee also pays close attention to Wharton's often overlooked work for France in the first world war, her many books and efforts on behalf of the French cause and her anger, outrage and shame regarding US foreign policy before America entered the war.

To the French, Lee points out, Wharton was "an American who loved France and whose novels brilliantly explained America to the French". She was also admired, and felt at home, in England, where she once hoped to buy a great country house. But her self-created, self-aggrandising position as the exceptional American abroad, the anti-American American, also had its pitfalls for her art. Lee calls The Custom of the Country (1913) her greatest novel, rightly praising it as "tightly themed, highly controlled". But Lee could say more about the limitations of Wharton's ferocious attack on American capitalism, consumerism and acquisitiveness. Custom is also Wharton's most obtuse statement about the promise of democracy. Her anti-heroine Undine Spragg is indeed avaricious, ruthless and vain, a midwestern Becky Sharp; but Wharton also mocks Undine's lack of sensitivity to class distinctions, and absence of religious prejudice, as signs of provincial ignorance. When a French aristocrat denounces Undine, he also condemns an entire pioneer nation: "You come from hotels as big as towns, and from towns as flimsy as paper, where the streets haven't had time to be named, and the buildings are demolished before they are dry, and the people are as proud of changing as we are of holding on to what we have." Although Wharton had travelled extensively in England, France, Italy, Germany and north Africa, she had seen little of the United States beyond New England and New York. In the decades that followed, she would retell and reframe her expatriate story of "nostalgia and distaste", while other American novelists such as Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson were exploring the dreams and tragedies of the inhabitants of those small towns.

In her book Body Parts: Writing About Lives, Lee discusses the problems of ending biographies, particularly dealing with the subject's death; should it be milked for pathos and meaning or understated? She de-dramatises Wharton's death from a stroke in August 1937. But she also chooses to end her lengthy biography with an anecdote, rather than a considered summing-up and celebration of Wharton's literary achievement, and in the absence of a critical conclusion, that anecdote bears a lot of weight. In her final pages, Lee describes her pilgrimage to Wharton's "plain, rather ugly" grave outside Versailles: "The tomb was covered with weeds, old bottles, and a very ancient pot of dead flowers. Clearly no one had been there for a long time." To Lee, the untended, unvisited grave suggests the anomaly and the cost of Wharton's permanent exile and deracination. In the rain, she "weeded Edith" and decorated her grave with a silk azalea bought from the cemetery flower-shop. "She would probably have been scornful about the artificial flower, but would, I felt, have been glad to have her grave tidied up." In this diminishing and muted ending, one hears the echo of Lucretia Newbold Jones: "Graves are always tidy." But neither Wharton nor the reader should have cause for complaint.

· Elaine Showalter is writing a literary history of American women's writing from 1650 to 2000

New show: Julian Fellowes, pictured at The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, the estate of Edith Wharton, who will likely star in his drama for NBC on the Gilded Age in New York

NBC signs 'Downton Abbey' creator for U.S. period drama focusing on the fortunes of 'the princes of the American Renaissance' during the Gilded Age in New York
'The Gilded Age' could air as early as Fall 2013
Era was marked by the rise of industry, invention and finance from the late 1800s to the early 1900s
Characterized by J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt - as well as the Astor family

The first two seasons of British period drama 'Downton Abbey' have taken U.S. audiences by storm, and plans are now in place for America to receive a period drama of its own.
And now, just six weeks out from series three, NBC has signed its Oscar-winning creator, Julian Fellowes, to come up with a show based on America's past.
Set in late 19th century New York City, 'The Gilded Age' will follow the lives of 'the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made - and spent.'

The new television drama will be produced by the NBC Universal television studio and could be on the air as early as Fall 2013.
'This was a vivid time with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry,' Mr Fellowes said in a statement.
Lavish: Mansions, like the one belonging to Cornelius Vanderbilt, sprung up along Fifth Avenue at the height of the Gilded Age

'(It was) a time when money was king.'
The Gilded Age in New York was marked by the rise of industry, invention and transportation.

The era was personified in bankers J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
They were the business pioneers who became America's first millionaires after founding steel, oil and finance.
As lavish mansions sprung up along Fifth Avenue, the Gilded Age was also the time when the Astor family rose to prominence, eventually becoming 'the landlords of New York.'
The famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Manhattan’s Astor Place and the Astoria neighborhood of Queens are just a few of the locations that continue to carry the Astor name.

NBC reportedly passed up 'Downton Abbey' at the start, believing the costume drama wouldn't appeal to American viewers.
The glorified soap opera follows the aristocratic Crawley family; their romances, tragedies and endless struggles of the manor's many servants.
The commercial and critical success of 'Downton Abbey' has been huge since it graced U.S. screens two years ago.

It has won six Emmy awards, including two for Fellowes and two for Dame Maggie Smith, who plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
According to the New York Post, the show's second season was the most watched series ever with its February 5, 2012 episode rated No. 2 at 9pm behind the Super Bowl.
The program has been sent up on 'Saturday Night Live' and by late night host Jimmy Fallon as well as inspiring scores of YouTube videos.
Mr Fellowes will continue working on 'Downton Abbey,' which has been renewed for a fourth season.

In United States history, the Gilded Age was the period following the Civil War, running from 1877 to 1893 when the next era began, the Progressive Era.
The term was coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, satirizing what they believed to be an era of serious social problems hidden by a thin layer of gold.
The Gilded Age was a time of enormous growth as the United States jumped to the lead in industrialisation ahead of Britain.
The economic boom attracted millions from Europe. Railroads were the major industry, but the factory system, coal mining, and labor unions also gained in importance.
During the 1870s and 1880s, the U.S. economy rose at the fastest rate in its history, with real wages, wealth, GDP, and capital formation all increasing rapidly.
Capitalizing on the economic boom were America's first millionaires like J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt - now regarded as the first success stories in the steel, oil and finance industries.
And they weren't the only flourishing industries.
Between 1865 and 1898, the output of wheat increased by 256 per cent, corn by 222 per cent, coal by 800 per cent and miles of railway track by 567 per cent.

The growth was interrupted by a major nationwide depression known as the Panic of 1893.

Julian Fellowes On Downton Abbey: Season 6 'May Be Our Last' Due To 'The Gilded Age,
"Unlike America, in England we have to wait until the season finishes airs before we receive a pick-up; we're not renewed multiple years in advance. We never want to jinx anything."
"That's good because it keeps everyone at the top of their game. If there is a sixth season, it may be our last. I'm about to start on a new US drama called 'The Gilded Age' for NBC Universal. And the last thing I want is to juggle two shows."
Julian Fellowes to create 'American Downton' set in 1880s New York
The Gilded Age' series is expected to reference the Vanderbilt family and will feature 'princes of the American Renaissance'

When Julian Fellowes offered Downton Abbey to the NBC network he was told that American viewers would never sit through an Edwardian-era period drama.

But the broadcaster has had a change of heart after US viewers fell for the series and now Fellowes will create an “American Downton” for NBC, set in 19th century New York.

Three years after sending the Oscar-winning screenwriter packing, NBC has asked Fellowes to put an American twist on the British show, which has won 6 Emmy awards and posted record ratings for the PBS network.

The Gilded Age, the working title for the new show, will be set in New York City in the 1880s and focus on the rising, and inevitably plunging, fortunes of “the princes of the American Renaissance,” according to the network.

Fellowes, who will be executive producer, said: “This was a vivid time, with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king.”

Jennifer Salke, President of NBC Entertainment, says the network was “thrilled” to have the “immensely talented” Fellowes on board. “Having him on our team represents a major creative coup,” she added. The network, which hopes to get the show, produced by the Universal Television studio, on air next Autumn, promises a “sweeping epic”.

Historians define the Gilded Age as the boom period following the Civil War, running from 1877 to 1893.

Coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, it was an era of huge economic growth for the United States, as new railroads connected the vast country, scarred by political corruption and social inequalities which followed industrialisation.

Fellowes’ series is expected to reference the Vanderbilts, the family which attained huge wealth through railroads and shipping in the 19th century, becoming “New York royalty” through their social standing in the city.

Fellowes, who will continue to write Downton Abbey, shook up the ITV drama this year with the introduction of New York millionairess Martha Levinson, played by Shirley MacLaine (pictured above with the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith), as the mother of Lady Cora. However speculation that The Gilded Age might act as a “prequel” to the British show, which has now reached the mid-1920s, appears premature.

The NBC network is under new management since executives rejected Downton Abbey. Period dramas traditionally do not fare well in US prime-time slots, which are dominated by high-volume, crime procedurals.

But although it screens on the PBS cable network, which picked up the series when NBC passed, Downton has built an audience of 5 million viewers and become a national talking-point, spawning “Dress like Downton” segments on US breakfast television and a range of unofficial merchandise, including a “Lady Cora pearl set”.

The Gilded Age is set to compete against another US series based on the snobbery and rituals of a closed, New York, high society. Teen drama Gossip Girl is inspired by The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton’s 1870-set novel chronicling Manhattan’s wealthy classes.

Fellowes will take Downton into a new era following the news that Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley, will leave during the fourth series. The actor is currently appearing on Broadway and says he wishes to pursue new opportunities in New York.

ITV is to launch a new big-budget period drama next year. Set in the early 1900s, Jeremy Piven takes the title role in Mr Selfridge, the story of the visionary American founder of the London retail department store.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Grace and favour;: The memoirs of Loelia, duchess of Westminster

Lady Lindsay of Dowhill
Lady Lindsay of Dowhill, better known as Loelia Duchess of Westminster, who has died aged 91, wrote a remarkably candid volume of memoirs, Grace and Favour (1961), which is a valuable record of high life between the wars

An Edwardian by birth, Loelia Ponsonby became a leading 'Bright Young Thing' in the 1920s and went on to marry the 2nd Duke of Westminster - the legendary sybarite 'Bendor', whose yacht features in Noel Coward's play Private Lives.
Coward also wrote the foreword to the Duchess's well-received memoirs. He did so, he said, 'cowed by the steely inflexibility of her tone and a look in her eye that I suspect caused the late Duke of Westminster some uneasy moments'. Another friend, Ian Fleming, used her as the model for Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond books.
Loelia Mary Ponsonby was born on Feb 6 1902, the only daughter of the courtier Sir Frederick Ponsonby, later 1st Lord Sysonby. 'Fritz' Ponsonby was assistant private secretary to Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V, and wrote Recollections of Three Reigns.
Young Loelia once occupied the lap of Edward VII and amused His Majesty by seizing his beard and demanding: 'But King, where's your crown?' Her childhood - spent variously at St James's Palace, Park House at Sandringham and Birkhall - was, as she recalled, made irksome by a succession of fierce foreign governesses. She escaped from the stiffness of her parents' world into the hedonism of 4the Bright Young People'.
Their pranks included treasure-hunts and impersonating reporters to obtain interviews from famous people. The older generation were duly shocked, although in her own old age Loelia Lindsay insisted that it was 'just light-hearted fun'.
Her own contribution was to invent the 'bottle-party' in 1926, when, for economic reasons, guests were bidden to bring their own drink. The first guest was the author Michael Arlen, bearing a dozen bottles of pink champagne.
Towards the end of the 1920s Loelia met Bendor Westminster, a selfish, spoilt, twice-divorced playboy, though a generous landlord and gallant officer. The diarist 'Chips' Channon summed him up as 'a mixture of Henry VIII and Lorenzo Il Magnifico'.
The Duke courted Miss Ponsonby in style, showering her with diamonds. A typical incident occurred one night in her sleeper en route for Venice when she woke with an uncomfortable lump digging into her: it was an emerald and diamond brooch.
They married in 1930 in a blaze of publicity, with Winston Churchill as best man. The new Duchess became chatelaine of the Gothic palace of Eaton in Cheshire, as well as houses in Scotland, Wales and France, to say nothing of the steam yacht and a sailing ship.
But the marriage was not a success. The Duchess found Bendor a man of changing moods - charming and generous one moment, furious and cruel the next. Their choice of friends differed considerably. James Lees-Milne described the Duchess's married life as 'a definition of unadulterated hell'.
The marriage was dissolved in 1947. By this time the Duchess had established a new life for herself, in considerably reduced circumstances, at Send Grove in Surrey, where she was a skilful hostess with impeccable taste.
She was an expert needlewoman, with a knack of incorporating beads into flowers and leaves. The actor Ernest Thesiger gave her his collection of beautiful multi-coloured beads and she once threaded 20 shades of mauve into a dusky rose.
A talented horticulturist, she transformed a muddy rubbish dump at Send into a magnificent garden. She would bind roses high up a tree-trunk and then allow them to tumble over, giving the impression of a floral waterfall.
In the 1950s Loelia Westminster worked as a feature editor for House and Garden, and covered Grace Kelly's wedding in Monte Carlo. Besides her memoirs she published an evocative album of photographs, Cocktails and Laughter (1983), edited by Hugo Vickers.
She found much happiness in her second marriage, in 1969, to Sir Martin Lindsay of Dowhill, 1st Bt, Arctic explorer, Gordon Highlander, Conservative MP and historian of the Baronetage. He died in 1981.
Hugo Vickers writes: Some years ago I was discussing the new style of obituary with Loelia and she fixed me with a steely eye, and announced: 'Now I'm counting on you for a good spread when the time comes.' I rise to the challenge.
Loelia's life was almost a classic 20th century Cinderella story. It was, she readily admitted, one of rare privilege.
Yet the contrasts were too extreme for comfort: a stern childhood, the seemingly fairy-tale marriage, the sorrow that followed - including incidents that would make some of today's court cases look tame. She told me she had consigned to paper the story of a night when the Duke of Westminster, in one of his rages, tried to strangle her.
Loelia was a mixture of two souls. On the one hand she was insecure, an inheritance from childhood. 'I was most unhappy,' she recalled. 'I never learned a thing. And I was out of everything for a very long time because I was too shy to speak.'
Her parents were so strict that they often put her in the wrong unfairly. In later life, as a defence mechanism, she sometimes wrongfooted her friends.
On the other hand, she had infinite patience and imagination, and made needlework designs of great finery, even picking out the clouds in a sky with strands of her own hair. Her house at Send was full of painstaking work -a wonderful hand-woven carpet, a mirror adorned with shells hand-picked by her in Australia. Her beautiful collection has been bequeathed to the National Trust.
As a hostess she had the skill of a conductor, imperceptibly bringing the silent to life, so that everyone had their say. Nor was she lacking in confidence; I once saw an American guest reach for the decanter of wine, whereupon her restraining hand descended with some alacrity. She lived in a world in which feuds consumed considerable energy, 'cutting dead' was part of the vocabulary and the morning telephone buzzed with enjoyable gossip in her rich, melodic voice. She was celebrated, too, for such aphorisms as 'Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life'.
By her own choice Loelia spent her last years in nursing homes, first in Surrey and latterly in Pimlico, where the matron gave an annual Christmas party at which delicious champagne flowed and the atmosphere was about as far from a geriatric establishment as you could hope to find.
Though Loelia always claimed rather to dislike Margaret Argyll, another resident, they were thrown together in their last days.
Matron told me she had taken them out to tea: 'The Duchess of Argyll wanted to go to the Ritz and Lady Lindsay to Claridge's, but I took them both to the Carlton Towers and they had a wonderful time.'
In her rooms Loelia recreated the atmosphere of Send in miniature, with her favourite furniture, pictures and needlework. 'To think,' she would say, 'that at one time I used to own half London, with 50 valets, and now I am reduced to one room.'
She retained a youthful enjoyment of life, regularly visited by old friends 'that I've known since I came out of the egg'.
Some of her reminiscences were broadcast on BBC Radio 4, such as the occasion at a ball at Balmoral when all her party, as a joke, decided to kiss Queen Mary's hand on presentation. When Loelia's turn came, she found, to her lasting horror, that she had left the perfect impress of red lipstick on the white-gloved royal hand.
Looking back on her life on her 90th birthday, Loelia reflected on the contrasts of her life: 'Rich as Croesus, then not a penny . . . That was all verv exciting, I must say. It ended badly, but things like that do end badly. I never could have done any better. I was out of my depth the whole time. It had moments, there's no question about it. I can see how lucky I've been compared to other people.'

Phillips/Topical Press Agency — Hulton Archive — Getty Images
"A bath of nobility": Coco Chanel and the Duke of Westminster at the races in 1924.
Was Coco Chanel a Nazi Agent?

Gabrielle Chanel — better known as Coco — was a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic, social climbing, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish and given to sins of phrase-making like “If blonde, use blue perfume,” she was addicted to morphine and actively collaborated with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Paris. And yet, her clean, modern, kinetic designs, which brought a high-society look to low-regarded fabrics, revolutionized women’s fashion, and to this day have kept her name synonymous with the most glorious notions of French taste and élan.

Exploring the contradictory complexities of this woman, at once so very awful and so very talented, should make for fascinating and enlightening reading. After all, Chanel’s life offers biographers a trove of juicy material. Chanel was a creative genius, her own expertly polished self-presentation perhaps the greatest triumph of her brilliantly inventive mind. She was born in 1883 in a hospice for the poor in the Loire Valley, to unwed parents of peasant stock and, upon her mother’s death, was placed at age 12 in a convent-orphanage to be raised by Roman Catholic nuns. This left her with a lifelong fear of losing everything. The point is nicely captured by Hal Vaughan in “Sleeping With the Enemy,” who quotes her as saying: “From my earliest childhood I’ve been certain that they have taken everything away from me, that I’m dead.”

She was put to work as a seamstress at age 20 and took the name Coco from a song she liked to sing in a rowdy cafe patronized by cavalry officers. One ex-­officer, the wealthy Étienne Balsan, installed her in his chateau, taught her to conduct herself with high style on horseback and, generally, gave her the skills she needed to make her way up through society. Balsan also introduced her to Arthur (Boy) Capel, a friend who soon became Chanel’s first great love, and who also, conveniently, set her up in a Paris apartment and helped her start her first business venture, designing sleekly simple women’s hats.

It wasn’t long before Chanel took Jazz Age Paris by storm, liberating women from their corsets, draping them in jersey and long strings of pearls and dousing them with the scent of modernity, Chanel No. 5. She caroused with Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso, designed costumes for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and amused herself with the cash-poor White Russian aristocracy. As her personal fortunes rose, she turned her attention to making serious inroads into British high society, befriending Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales and becoming, most notably, the mistress of the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor (known as Bendor), reputedly the wealthiest man in England.

Bendor’s — and Chanel’s — anti-­Semitism was vociferous and well documented; the pro-Nazi sensibilities of the Duke of Windsor and many in his circle have long been noted, too. All this, it appears, made the society of the British upper crust particularly appealing to Chanel. As Vaughan notes, after she was lured by a million-dollar fee to spend a few weeks in Hollywood in 1930 — Samuel Goldwyn, he writes, “did his best to keep Jews away from Chanel” — she found herself compelled to run straight back to England, so that she could wash away her brush with vulgarity in “a bath of nobility.”

It wasn’t much of a stretch, then, for Chanel, during wartime, to find herself the mistress of the German intelligence officer Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, a charming character who had spied on the French fleet in the late 1920s, and who found himself pleasingly single in occupied Paris, having presciently divorced his half-Jewish German wife just before the passage of the Nuremberg Laws. It wasn’t any particular betrayal of her values, or morals or ideals either, for Chanel to find herself traveling to Madrid and Berlin to engage in cloak-and-dagger machinations with her country’s occupier.

The story of how Coco became Chanel has been told many times before over the past half-century, most recently (and, sad to say, much more engagingly) in last year’s “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life,” by the British fashion columnist Justine Picardie. The story of how Chanel metamorphosed from a mere “horizontal collaborator” — the mistress of a Nazi — into an actual German secret agent has been less well known, though earlier writers have reported that she had worked for the Germans. It’s here that Vaughan makes his freshest contribution, using a wealth of materials gleaned from wartime police files and intelligence archives, some of which were only recently declassified by French and German authorities, to flesh out precisely how and why she became an agent, and how she sought to profit from her German connections during the war.

Vaughan ably charts Chanel’s clever opportunism as she works, first, to free her nephew André Palasse from a German prisoner-of-war camp, and later seeks to use the Nazis’ Aryanization of property laws to wrest control of her perfume empire away from the Jewish Wertheimer brothers. Yet his account of her one real mission for the Germans — a 1943 covert operation code-named Modellhut (“model hat”) in which she was meant to use her contacts to get a message to Winston Churchill from the SS stating that a number of leading Nazis wanted to break with Adolf Hitler and negotiate a separate peace with England — emerges neither clearly nor logically from his highly detailed telling. Too many diplomatic documents are reproduced at too much length. Contradictions are not clearly sorted out. Vaughan seems to have felt as though his rich source materials could speak for themselves, but they don’t — and he doesn’t succeed in lending authority to the accounts of contemporary witnesses who were, undoubtedly, unreliable.

Despite her indisputable collaborationist activities, and after a brief period of uncertainty during which she was questioned by a French judge, Chanel eventually got off pretty much scot-free after the war, once again using her wiles to protect herself most expertly. She tipped off the poet and anti-Nazi partisan Pierre Reverdy, a longtime occasional lover, so that he could arrange the arrest of her wartime partner in collaboration, Baron Louis de Vaufreland Piscatory; she paid off the family of the former Nazi chief of SS intelligence Gen. Walter Schellenberg when she heard that he was preparing to publish his memoirs. (It was Schellenberg who had given her the “model hat” assignment.) Vaughan could have done better in providing the context to the seemingly incomprehensible ease of Chanel’s reintegration into French fashion and society, telling more, for example, of the widespread desire for forgetting and moving forward that held sway in Charles de Gaulle's postwar France.

These weaknesses — of authorial voice and critical judgment — run through “Sleeping With the Enemy.” Vaughan, a retired diplomat who has made his home in Paris, has allowed his writing to become a bit too imbued with the reflexive verbal tics and general vive-la-séduction silliness of his adopted country. “Sometimes the kitten, sometimes the vamp, and often the vixen, . . . she must have melted Bendor’s knees” is how he captures Chanel in her 40s; “beautiful and sexy, her silhouette stunning,” he appraises her in her 50s. (Indeed, his English often sounds like French — the most cloying sort of breathy French — in translation.) Despite all he knows about Chanel, Vaughan often appears to be as beguiled, disarmed and charmed by Coco as were the men in her life — not to mention the countless women who have sought over the decades to cloak themselves in her image. And like them, he never gets beyond the self-protecting armor of her myth.

Judith Warner, a former special correspond­ent for Newsweek in Paris, is the author, most recently, of “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.”

BENDOR Duke of Westminster
In 1925, he was introduced to Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel after a party in Monte Carlo and pursued her. He was as extravagant with her as he was with all of his lovers. He purchased a home for Chanel in London's prestigious Mayfair district, and in 1927 gave her a parcel of land on the French Riviera at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin where Chanel built her villa, La Pausa. His romantic liaison with Chanel lasted ten years. An illustration of both Westminster’s extravagance and orchestrated technique in the courting of women has endured in the form of various apocryphal stories. He purportedly concealed a huge uncut emerald at the bottom of a crate of vegetables delivered to Chanel. Disguised as a deliveryman, Westminster appeared at Chanel’s apartment with an enormous bouquet of flowers. His ruse was only uncovered after Chanel’s assistant offered “the delivery boy” a tip.
On 16 February 1901, the Duke married Constance Edwina (Shelagh) Cornwallis-West (1876–1970). They had three children:

Lady Ursula Mary Olivia Grosvenor (21 February 1902[1] – 1978), married, firstly, William Patrick Filmer-Sankey in 1924 and was divorced in 1940. She married, secondly, Major Stephen Vernon in 1940. By her first husband she had two sons, Patrick (who married the film actress Josephine Griffin) and Christopher Filmer-Sankey, the younger dying in her lifetime. Her child by her second husband died young. Lady Ursula's descendants by her first husband are the sole descendants of the 2nd Duke. They reside in the UK, Australia and Sweden.
Edward George Hugh Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor (1904–1909),[1] who died aged 4, after an operation for appendicitis.
Lady Mary Constance Grosvenor (27 June 1910 – 2000).
On 26 November 1920, the Duke became the second husband of Violet Mary Nelson (1891–1983). They were divorced in 1926.

Westminster married Loelia Mary Ponsonby (1902–1993) on 20 February 1930. The couple were unable to have children and divorced in 1947 after several years of separation.

He married Anne (Nancy) Winifred Sullivan (1915–2003) on 7 February 1947. She outlived him by fifty years.

The Duke was known for multiple love affairs and spectacular presents. After Coco Chanel he was fascinated by the Brazilian Aimée de Heeren who was not interested to marry him and to whom he gave significant jewellery, once part of the French Crown Jewels.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

BBC Four - British Gardens in Time

Series which explores four iconic British gardens, from Christopher Lloyd's Arts and Craft Great Dixter to Georgian Stowe and from Victorian Biddulph Grange to the quintessentially English Nyman's.

Emma Townshend: British Gardens in Time - oh, BBC, what do you think you're doing?

I don't know whether the BBC was specifically trying to start a squabble, but last week it defo did so. Forget the very mild controversy over Benefit Street or that tiny bit of gossip you may have heard about Strictly's Susannah leaving her husband: this is the big one. Yep, if you want to get the nation really ranting, you know what you need to do? Kick off a row about the best gardens in Britain.

In particular, you need to commission a big series called British Gardens in Time, with nice presenters such as designer Chris Beardshaw and acclaimed garden historian Andrea Wulf; and then include only FOUR gardens. All of which are ENGLISH. And none of which is further north than junction 17 of the M6. (That's Crewe, for crying out loud.)

The series begins on BBC4 on Tuesday with Stowe, an elegant, huge and leg-knackering landscape very handily located for Silverstone race track. Stowe is also, once you start to look into the history, a singularly argumentative garden. Despite all the apparent Arcadian ease, Lord Cobham, the 18th-century landowner, created most of it during a period of political exile after falling out with Whig prime minister Robert Walpole.

Far from trying to distract himself from his worklife woes, Cobham went all out to make a garden that had a massive go at Walpole, with a "Temple of British Worthies" to hammer home the point about good and bad government. Seldom has a rolling landscape had so much bitter political venom put into it. And the result is superb.

If you like this kind of thing, you must get the series' accompanying book, written by distinguished garden historian Katie Campbell. Campbell treads a nice line between juicy facts and the aesthetic qualities of the gardens. I adore her description of Jane Austen-ish tourists turning up in carriages, buying guidebooks and filling up the local inns, while commendably tipping the head gardener.

The Beeb's most intriguing inclusion is Biddulph Grange, a Victorian garden near Stoke-on-Trent that sort of has to be seen to be believed. The garden's maker was James Bateman, son of a businessman father who'd been "unscrupulous but extremely successful", according to Campbell. Shadily accumulated cash funded an orchid habit that began before James had even finished university; and later, a properly crazy garden with a tomb-like Egyptian garden, scarlet Chinese bridge, and stupendously likeable, er, thing built entirely out of tree stumps (apparently they were all the rage in Victorian times).

The series winds up with two great English gardens. Nymans is in West Sussex, and I've never really fallen in love with it, though I understand it is technically possible to do so. Campbell calls it "the most exquisite Edwardian retreat of all", though here, my argumentative side starts to rear its head. Why not include Arts and Crafts Standen or tumbling-bordered Gravetye instead? (And that's just in Sussex.) If we are being completely obvious, where are Britain's most famous gardens internationally: Hidcote, Sissinghurst?

And if we're being more devolved in our thinking, where are the Edwardian gardens of Yorkshire, Derybshire or the Lake District? Bodnant, the Edwardian jewel of North Wales; Mount Stuart, on the Isle of Bute, just 90 minutes from Glasgow? I felt annoyed for all of these head gardeners, once more ignored.

But in the end, the series finishes exactly where I'd have picked myself: Great Dixter, for my money (£8.80 admission, if you were wondering) is the best garden on our island. Christopher Lloyd, its maker, and his admirable successor Fergus Garrett offer a changing spectacle of flowery loveliness in an underpinning structure of perfectly balanced weight. And for once, I'm brooking no argument.