I'd like to say it was seeing The Birth of Western Civilization in the role of book-as-cultural-talisman, that crystalized my thoughts, but actually it was reading Famous Last Words, a book recommended by a correspondent who thought I might find it relevant to my theme of the past few months - circles within circles - and relevant it is, this tale about an American citizen, friend of European aristocracy, confidante of the Duchess of Windsor, and spy for the Third Reich. Though set in times too recent for it to be considered an historical novel, the book is in its way pertinent to today's post about a history of decorating - itself a fiction if ever there was one.
Sometimes simple things have little individual significance, but occasionally they coincide and together have more import than they might severally have had. And so it was with these two books - one a propper's accessory in a pretend apartment designed for imaginary inhabitants themselves characters from a movie about spurious relationships; and the other about chimerical alliances and duplicity with and by mythical fascists. From one extreme to the other, you might think: but the common thread is that of duplicity - fakin' it, in other words.
For a while now it has been obvious that shelter magazine editors and by extension we the readers are not satisfied with a mere portrayal of rooms - there must be a story. Whether a story of celebrity, notoriety even, or just plain old-fashioned worship, a story there shall be. The plot, or subterfuge, if you will, is frequently the same - someone just walked out of a room that is littered with aesthetic and cultural detritus emblematic of riches and free time. An alliance between theatre and fiction, no less, the scripted yet supposedly extempore situation is the decorating world's equivalent of reality television.
I wonder if this making of backgrounds, stage sets really, for the mini-dramas of the rich and notorious is compensation for the neutralizing - one might say the dumbing down - of interiors that has happened over the last two decades? Interest must come from somewhere, after all, and the more complex the storyline, the more layers are applied to the room; thus the greater the opportunity for product placement - not in itself a bad thing, I'm sure you would agree.
I wonder also where stylists go from here. To those modern sanctuaries, so-called retreats from the stresses of modern life - the bedroom and the bathroom, perhaps? In the cause of creating camera vérité, could a disheveled bathroom with its toothpaste bespattered mirror, a toilet seat not returned to a genteel horizontality, and a pair of his and his robes, room fragrance by... not be emblematic of a life well-lived? Or the bedroom, perhaps, with a trail of discarded clothing leading to a bed déshabillé - while we're there, why not three trails and a set of handcuffs on the bedposts? Now there's a story!
Famous Last Words? though fiction, is an unvarnished portrait of a number of historic figures, Wallis Windsor being one of them. It appears to me that in our little outpost of the blogosphere there's a tendency to write adoringly about previous generations of aristocracy and royalty, be it actual or plutocratic, without overt cognizance of history, character, or politics. They are presented simply as style icons, their often deplorable behaviour and affiliations being totally disregarded. They are, merely by virtue of being old, rich and (mostly) dead, fabulous. In such a way is history rewritten, for in my opinion, there cannot but be a dimension beyond the superficial and the iconic.
Fakin' it, thus, is where it's at. I don't want to appear overly serious about what I see as the fictionalization of interiors, but I wonder what happened to require such a change. A change perhaps that came hand-in-hand with an apparently ravenous purience about the lives of people who are highly unlikely ever to be our intimates. Perhaps an appetite so strong it needs to be fed, however blurred the lines between reality and fable.