12 October 2009

Do you wear your style on your back or on your walls?

Peggy Guggenheim - who put much as much thought into her sunglasses as to what went on her walls, ceilings and floors

A conversation with one of my students reminded me of the saying of some fabulous jet-set socialite* whose name escapes me. She asserted that one must choose between being beautifully dressed or collecting art. I would amend the latter to having a well-dressed home.

Peggy at home in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni - previously inhabited by another lady of style, the Marchesa Casati

This student who is a professional set designer for magazines told me an interesting story. One of his assignments was to redecorate and style an independent art dealer's apartment - a classic before and after story. She was impeccably dressed, with a new Catherine Malandrino dress for every occasion, but her apartment was a typical white box affair with no effort or expense apparent in its appearance. After the shoot was over, he later found out, she sent everything back.

Particularly in a city where most of us live in small spaces and don't entertain at home, it is our personal appearance that announces who we are or aspire to be. Just as women of some tribal communities put all their wealth into their jewelry, we may carry a Birkin bag or wear Manolo Mary-Janes. The disconnect is that we may look like a million-bucks, but once home we're eating ramen noodles and sitting on an Ikea sofa.

In the evening, look up at the windows of apartment buildings, and you know what you'll see? my student said. Paper or metal blinds which the owner probably inherited from the previous resident.

Peggy's bedroom where according to this biography she spent a lot of time

Even with our limited budget and full schedules, I believe we CAN have it all. Your home is your cocoon - it nurtures and comforts and energizes you to go out into the world. Making it a place where you love to be will be just as rewarding as looking like the person you want to be.

But how? you may ask. Quality over quantity. Consume less but better. One black cocktail dress, but it's Chanel. (Read any style book on Audrey Hepburn who learned how to wear an Hermes scarf 100 different ways as a teenager during the war.) A sofa from George Smith but it will last you for decades. Over time, it will have paid for itself.

* The omniscient GG has reminded me that it was Gertrude Stein, who he rightly points out wore "brown corduroy sacks so shapeless and frumpy that Spanish peasants thought she was a nun" rendering my description "fabulous jet-set socialite" a bit questionable.


little augury said...

Oh how true- this goes for people living in huge mcmansions too-thankfully-since I work less-I see very few,but I know they are lurking out there. PG's bedroom is one that would cause its owner to linger. G

maison21 said...

lovely essay, and all too true. here in los angeles, i find the money often goes into the car one drives, rather then to making one's house feel like a home.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Surely I don't have to choose. It must be both.

Paulette P. said...

Terrific post, and terrific photos of Peggy. As Interior Designers, I believe the home does affect the nature of your world on the outside. As with in so with out.

home before dark said...

Understand the biology, yes the biology, of the need in big cities for the seen be seen thing. Am grateful I do not have to live in that world. My home and garden are my cocoons. How I dress is no longer important to me. Wish my mother could have lived long enough for me to declare that! She must be having quite a chuckle over that conversion.

balsamfir said...

Is that the famous bed that Jackson Pollock, ehem, misbehaved in? Or am I mixing people and stories up? The pink plantation chairs are pretty lively for the times.

le style et la matière said...

A very interesting post. It is always a surprise to see how people live after knowing them away from a home context. And sometimes a heart-rending disappointment. I'm for a balance of the two sides and avoiding schizophrenia!

Lauren said...

This is something I've thought about often.

I think in some cases its due to an emphasis of status over style- you have no choice but to announce yourself to the world with your style of dress (can't stop wearing clothing, after all), but your interior is a much more private affair. For someone concerned solely with projecting "wealth," its easy enough to avoid caring about an interior that people won't necessarily see.

For anyone who gives a GENUINE thought to aesthetics in their lives (through art, design, clothing, textiles, etc), though, I think it would be near IMPOSSIBLE to thoughtlessly throw together a living space. It's a case of developing style, learning what types of things you find beautiful and care about. Love looking at the homes of fine artists for this reason.

I will say that my friends moving into their first apartments have been giving lots of thought to their interiors! Maybe this has something to do with the state of the economy? Just a thought- as I notice my friends cutting back on bar trips and nights out, entertaining at home seems to be happening with much greater frequency.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

And, for a while, the palace was occupied by the beauteous Doris, Lady Castlerosse.

Patricia said...

One's attire is one's presentation to the world. The truly remarkable and discerning individual will dress according to his or her taste, eschewing the high priced fashion icons for independent designers whose design sense speaks to the client. These free thinking people are far less likely to leave their homes in the original cookie-cutter state.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

la - isn't Peggy's headboard incredible? and as Balsamfir rightly remembers, that wasn't the only thing that kept her in the bedroom.

Maison - interesting point about cars. indeed.

Lauren, I completely agree. In times of recession, I believe people do stay in more and entertain more at home. So why is the shelter category of magazines suffering? oh, that's right - advertising.

Aesthete - another devastating socialite of whom I wasn't aware, but obviously should....

Patricia - excellent point. but for those who are less adventurous, one can always shop secondhand/vintage.... I hardly buy anything these days brand new.

Janet said...

Oh gosh, that send photograph of Peggy in her foyer is fabulous. Amazing how it has changed so little (though the Picasso is now safely tucked away in the galleries).

Georgia O'Keeffe once talked about finding a "uniform" ~ something simple, easy, and comfortable...so one doesn't have to think about what to wear. Needless to say she was interested less in how she looked, but in what she saw. Though, I would say that she always looked distinguished, if not particularly fashionable. I'll have to see if I can find the quote for you.