The long-awaited wedding of Lady Mary Crawley to Matthew on Sunday’s season premier of Downton Abbey has gotten me thinking—again—about tiaras, for which I’ve always had a thing. I’ve made them out of feathers and rhinestones, palmetto leaves and shells, branches and butterflies, miniature champagne flutes and pearls. (You’d be amazed at what you can do with a glue gun and an upturned tennis visor.) The one thing I’ve never worn is the real thing. Even if I happened to own an actual diamond version, pretty much the only occasion on which you can get away with wearing one is your own wedding.
When I was a child I pored over my mother’s black-and-white wedding photos, already planning, of course, my own nuptials. She didn’t wear a tiara, but she did wear a long veil and elbow-length white kid gloves with the ring finger cut out so my father could slide her platinum wedding band onto her finger. All the men were in white tie, just as the gents on Downton Abbey are every night at dinner, and I vowed I’d have an equally formal event. As it happened, I got married in our front yard, in daylight, so there was no white tie. There was also no veil and no tiara, just a lot of my recently highlighted hair teased up by the brilliant and very funny hairdresser John Barrett, who had to stand on top of a chair to do it.
If I were a child today or, indeed, an adult about to get married, it is Lady Mary’s wedding album I’d be studying. Her tiara, more, really, like a headband, is exquisite. Made by my very favorite London jeweler, Bentley & Skinner, it contains 45 carats of pave-set, old-cut diamonds set in yellow gold and silver, and is said to have cost $200,000. The jeweler wisely made it in the style of the Georgian Period, which spanned from 1714 to roughly a century onward. This means that it is a believable Crawley family heirloom, handed down to generations of brides. When Lady Edith dresses for her own wedding to Sir Anthony Strallen in Episode Three, she puts it on as well.
Of course, you can always come up with a pretend family heirloom—or rustle up one that was long ago lost. Rumor has it that when Alexandra, one of the then ubiquitous Miller sisters, married Prince Alexander von Furstenberg, son of designer Diana and her ex, Prince Egon von Furstenberg, in 1995 it was in a von Furstenberg family tiara—but one that had been recently purchased by the bride’s extraordinarily wealthy father from a French estate jeweler.
Either way, real or pretend, tiaras are both a throwback to a far more refined era and a whole lot of fun to wear. Before my own wedding, there had, briefly, been talk of something glittery affixed to my head. My great friend Andre Leon Talley, the de facto “Style Chairman” of my nuptials, took me to Fred Leighton and we picked out a gorgeous long diamond feather. We tried sticking it in a half-dozen possible spots, but it needed a Lady Mary-style coif, one far sleeker than I could ever get away with.
It seems I’m destined for the glue-gun-and-visor versions. Or, possibly the one worn by Lady Mary herself. The talented folks at Bentley & Skinner designed it so that it can also be turned into a very lavish brooch.
When I was growing up in Mississippi, Christmas was all about fires and fir trees, the pinecone wreaths my mother and her friends made, the vases full of holly adorning the mantle. When I moved to even colder climes, I decorated my apartments in the same way. But then I got to lush New Orleans, where the camellias were already in full bloom and citrus was hanging heavy in the trees. Some years it was still so warm the pine or cedar garland I hung from my balcony turned brown. Clearly, it was time to adapt my decorations to the climate.
I’m a firm believer that décor should match location. You’d never put a shell wreath on a front door in Aspen or snow-flocked tree in an apartment in South Beach. My first Christmas in New Orleans, I stuck with a traditional tree but decorated it with nothing but white lights, fresh kumquats hanging like so many orange jewels from the branches, cheap silver balls in varying sizes, and gingerbread cookie stars I’d iced and studded with more silver dragoons. It remains one of my favorite trees ever. These days I still use kumquats everywhere—in bowls all around the house, wired to the wreaths along with the satsumas and lemons I pick from my trees, in arrangements in which I mix citrus branches with branches of hot pink and red camellias (see “Deck the Halls…And the Tabletop” on Fetch this week).
On the table I love to mix porcelain or silver fruit with the real deal, usually more citrus and pomegranates, but you could also go with red and green pears or apples that abound elsewhere. Spray paint a bag or two of walnuts silver and scatter them around as is or in pretty porcelain or glass bowls. This year, I plan to add William-Wayne & Co’ s silver birds to my own tabletop landscape. After all, they do plenty of munching on the citrus outside. I might as well bring them inside too!
When Coco Chanel introduced her revolutionary little black dress in the 1920s, the editors at American Vogue predicted that it would become a “uniform” for “modern women of taste.” How right they were. Today, all it takes is the mention of three little letters, LBD, and the images come flooding past. Audrey Hepburn in shades and a sleeveless Givenchy in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Marilyn Monroe in skimpy black beads and not much else in “Some Like it Hot.” Any number of Avedon and Irving Penn fashion photos, and (for me, at least), my mother in three-quarter sleeves and full skirt at a party just before she married my father.
The first year I worked at Vogue, I bought a YSL couture knockoff from a last chance sale rack at Bergdorf Goodman, for, I swear, something like $50. It had a wide square neck, cap sleeves, and a nipped in waist, and it took me everywhere I went, which, in that year, was a lot of places. There were dinners at Mr. Chow’s, the first Seventh on Sale AIDs benefit, a CFDA Awards dinner where no less a personage than Diane von Furstenberg complemented my cheap frock. In winter, I wore it with my mother’s borrowed (forever) diamond brooch pinned in one of the corners of the neckline, and in summer, I wore it with the white Chanel camellia given to me by my friend Andre Leon Talley, who has curated a fabulous LBD show featured in this week’s Fetch.
For the Vogue 100th anniversary bash, I borrowed an LBD from the great Bill Blass, a long strapless sheath with a sheer chiffon overlay at the bodice and a simple satin ribbon at the waist. Blass’s design assistant took a long look and told me I should get married in an identical white version. By the time I tied the knot, alas, Bill was no longer with us, but Carolina Herrera was (and, thankfully, still is), and she made me a truly spectacular black dress with a tight lace bodice and full organza skirt with a raven feathered petticoat underneath. That dress was pure fantasy, but then that’s the enduring charm of the LBD. Put one on and you’re instantly safe and unquestionably chic, you can be whomever you want to be underneath. As Andre told Maureen Dowd at the opening of his exhibit, “It’s something you know is right even if it’s wrong”.
Just before Labor Day weekend I spent an afternoon with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the weirdly non-weird former child actresses and the current powerhouses behind a group of brands, including The Row. The Olsens have grown up in fashionâ€”when they were younger Marc Jacobs and Chanel frocks were altered to fit them; they sold a tween line at Wal-Mart. The far higher end Row is the real deal. In June the twins beat out stiff competitionâ€”including Marc Jacobs and Prouenza Schulerâ€”to win the CFDA award for best womenswear.
Inspired by the quality and collectability of Savile Row menswear pieces, the Olsens have created a must-have, timeless group of clothesâ€”the kind that every woman I know wants to wear, season after season. Everything from stretch leather leggings and simple cotton shirts to $39,000 (yes) alligator backpacks fly out of the stores, including Barney's and Bergdorf Goodman. And it's no wonderâ€”everything is brilliantly, rigorously designed, which is to say each piece is boiled down to its ineffably chic essence and then given a beautiful button here, a lovely ribbon stripe there. Current hits include a jacket from Fall 2012 that looks like the dinner jacket you wish your boyfriend/husband owned and lent you.
The nice news is that I was as crazy about the hard-working Olsens as I was about the clothes, but I'll save those details for the WSJ magazine, for whom I am writing a piece that will appear next month. During the photo shoot I browsed through the racks of clothes, from the current fall and resort collections as well as from the gorgeous spring 2013 collection that was shown at the Carlyle yesterday. As I did so, I was reminded of my own favorite wardrobe, consisting of about seven piecesâ€”the same amount that were in the first Row collection four years ago.
The year was 1992. It was October just before the election; I was nursing a broken heart and couldn't bear to see another image of Ross Perot's face on my TV screen. I had generous friends with roomy apartments in both Paris and London so I decided to hit the road â€”and for once I traveled light. In London I saw old flames, dined at the Caprice, and danced at Annabel's. In Paris I saw the Chanel show with my friend Andre Leon Talley, had countless cocktails at the Ritz bar, and lunched with John Galliano at Caviar Caspia. In between, there were lots of museum visits and suitably melancholy long walks, but no matter where I went or what I did, I wore some combination of the only pieces in my suitcase: a black double breasted Chanel jacket with gold buttons and a pencil skirt; a skinny Chanel ankle length skirt; a narrow pair of Dolce & Gabbana black flannel trousers; a black four-ply cashmere sweater so long it was almost a tunic, a black tank and a white tank; and, just in case, a pair of green chiffon wide-leg pants appliquÃ©d with black and white cut-velvet daisies. I know I packed a white cotton shirt and I may have had a black silk one. But other than a pair of black Prada flats and some black Manolo spikes, that was pretty much it.
Despite the heartbreak, most of the time I felt liberated, even a tiny bit glorious. The clothes, like those in The Row collections, were mostly well-made investment pieces and they felt like second skins to me. The Chanel jacket and the green pants tarted things up a bit when necessary, as did the Chanel pearls and oversized brooch that Andre snagged for me from backstage at the show. Some women I know cut their hair when they end a relationship. For me it was a wardrobe reductionâ€”not just in the amount of pieces, but in the kinds of pieces. Poufy party frocks or even a more decorated Chanel jacket would not have felt right. Ditto lots of color or pattern. Each piece I brought with me on that trip had been reduced down to its very best self and when I wore them they enabled me to try and do the same.
I would give my eyeteeth to have versions of those pieces now and the good news is that I don't have to. There is The Row, after all, along with some terrific pieces from Taigan stores that we at Fetch pulled out for this week's fashion feature. They too are perfect timeless basics. I may not be heartbroken but it's an election year again and people's nerves are shot. Investing in sexy, easy armor of a sort strikes me as the perfect way to dress again. It also strikes me as far more genuinely luxurious than donning a lot of fussy bells and whistles.
I spent last weekend in one of my favorite spots on earth, Seaside, Florida, where the weather was shockingly free of humidity and the beach was its typically gorgeous self. On her drive down, my mother had stopped in Alabama somewhere for a big basket of peaches, and when we had eaten pretty much all we could for breakfast, she came up with a far more festive idea: â€œLet's make peach daiquiris!”
We peeled peaches, made a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled just until the sugar dissolves), and squeezed a couple of limes. The only problem arose when we discovered that the white rum supply was dangerously low. Fortunately, our friend Elizabeth McGee Cordes, master of the blender drink, was in tow, and she had thoughtfully brought along a liter each of Meyer's and Mount Gay rums. Elizabeth knows what my buddy Dale DeGroff, aka â€œKing Cocktail,” told me long ago: unlike any other liquor, rum begs to be mixed with itself. There are dozens of different styles of rum, but because the molasses base is so consistent you can mix dark and light, spicy with not spicy, aged with young, high proof with low, all to good effect. We figured if most rum punches call for at least two rums (and sometimes a third, as a floater on top), why not a daiquiri?
Below is what we came up with:
Frozen Peach Daiquiri
8 to 10 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks
8 ounces rum (we used half Bacardi white and half Mount Gay)
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ cup simple syrup
Put all ingredients in a blender. Turn the machine on for a minute or two until the ingredients are blended, and then add ice until you reach the desired consistency. (Ours was slushy, but not frozen hard and smooth like those from a drinks machine. We liked ours a tad loose, with the odd chunk of peach.) Test for sweetness, as you may have to add more simple syrup or lime, depending on the sweetness of your peaches. If desired, float a little Meyer's on topâ€”we loved the way the dark rum played off the peach flavor.
As a child, I always had the best intentions on Mother's Day, but I was just a tad misguided. Particularly the year that I chose the Betty Crocker cookbook for kids as my guide and the Mother's Day menu featured a block of Spam with pineapple glaze. Having never seen Spam until it turned up on Betty's pages, I thought it looked exotic enough to try. Needless to say, I was wrong, and now, a handful of decades later, I intend to make up for it with a festiveâ€”and edibleâ€”lunch, as well as some lovely presents.
First the menu. Even after almost thirty years I still pull down The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook when planning a special lunch or dinner. Its green salad with baked goat cheese is one of my spring standbys and it couldn't be easier. Slice a log of montrachet style goat cheese like the yummy one from Belle Chevre into disks and marinate them in olive oil and a few fresh thyme sprigs for a day. Buy a couple of baguettes and make some breadcrumbs with one. Slice the other, rub the slices with a halved garlic clove, brush with olive oil, and bake until crisp. When you're ready to serve, drain the goat cheese disks, mix the breadcrumbs with a teaspoon or so of dried thyme, roll the cheese disks in the crumbs until coated, and bake at 400 F for about six minutes. Toss some pretty garden lettuces in red wine vinaigrette, put a portion on each salad plates, place the hot cheese disks in the center, and surround with three or four pieces of the toast.
My mother loves two things with equal passion, Meyer lemons and marmalade. Alas, fresh Meyers are not in season, but Josephine's Feast makes a spectacular thick cut Meyer lemon marmalade . I'm going to get her a jar for her breakfast toast (along with the Seville orange and the blood orange versions, and the apricot preserves she is also crazy for). But I'll get an extra jar so I can glaze a couple of the amazingly tasty pastured chickens from Marksbury Farms. Add a bit of chopped rosemary or garlic or both to the marmalade, thin with some white wine or fresh lemon juice for a marvelous marinade/glaze. Throw some carrot chunks into the roasting pan with chickenâ€”the marmalade infused pan drippings will caramelize them for a great accompaniment.
My mother is crazy for Chardonnay, so to wash down lunch, I'll serve a Walter Hansel Cuvvee Alyce from the Russian River Valley. I trust everything A Wine for All's Eli Hardoff tells me, so if he says it's â€œtaut and dry” with a â€œsexy floral quality” and â€œzesty minerality” I'm going for it. For an extra Mother's Day gift, I'll also order a case of Joe Bastianich's excellent Italian rosÃ©, or rosato. It's perfect for kicking off lunch and for sipping the rest of the summer. Now for the presents. When I was a kid, my mother would buy a giant-sized Hershey Bar, put it on the very top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets, and break off a forbidden bit every so often. It's way past time to upgrade, so I will buy her a stash of Christphe Chocolatier's milk chocolate praline bars. She'll love the addition of praline and crunchy paillette feuilletine.
Also on offer will be a box containing Claridge+King's His is Hers Linen Original Shirt in both midnight blue and sterling gray. In the summer my mother still looks like a teenager in her uniform of skinny pants, thong sandals, and cotton or linen tunics. After wearing the Claridge + King tops, there's no going back: the linen is breathable and totally luxurious, the length is long, and the cut is roomy (but nipped in all the right places). And they arrive in beautiful packagingâ€”a pewter and white striped cotton boudoir-sized pillow sham.
Finally, I am usually the designated shopper on my father's behalf. So this year, he'll give her a porcelain and tole version of her favorite flower, lily of the valley, from Vieuxtemps Porcelain. It comes in a lovely clay pot and will be just the thing to mark her place at the Mother's Day table.
Happy Mother's Day!