Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A connection and a laugh

The loan of a book, timely as it turned out, from a friend brings me, not quite full circle, but certainly back to the South of France, Roderick Cameron, La Fiorentina and that raft of men who at various times, whether by choice or duress, inhabited that ancient part of the Mediterranean coast and its hinterland.

Fulco di Verdura, though he flits through style icon hagiography, and Billy Baldwin's autobiography, has never really impinged too much on my consciousness. Of course, I knew he designed jewelry but not being fascinated by that particular form of quincaillerie, I wasn't all that curious about him. That is no longer so, for besides my liking for his "Night and Day" cufflinks, Verdura is a link in circles within circles - he knew Roderick Cameron, in whose house - almost a clearing house of talented gay men it seems to me - he met Tom Parr who had partnered with David Hicks who knew Wright Ludington and Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, employed Mark Hampton, and decorated Roderick Cameron's Le Clos Fiorentina for Sao Schlumberger, a house that eventually came to be owned by Hubert de Givenchy, the great friend of Walter Lees, who appears in one of Nancy Mitford's books, through whom I was introduced to Lord Mullion, and who was a confidant of the Windsors who were, in their turn, chums of the Mosleys, and knew Billy Baldwin's great friend, Van Day Truex at whose house in Menerbes Billy MacCarty was photographed in the years before he met Douglas Cooper at Henry McIlhenny's house in Philadelphia - a house in which hung a portrait of the Comtesse de Tournon through whom I came to learn of Alexander Baillie and Jørgen von Capellen Knudtzon. James Lees-Milne very likely wrote about many of them - except perhaps for Arthur Smith, Andrew Crispo, Joe Cable, Ruben de Saavedra, William Gaylord, and Kalef Alaton.

"He spent most of his time in London, however, in the city in which Tom Parr, whom he met in 1954 at Lady Kenmare's Villa Fiorentina on the Riviera, lived and worked. Tom had just set up an interior design decorating business with David Hicks, which he soon left for Colefax and Fowler, where he was president until his retirement in 1995. Their relationship was to last until Verdura's death, when Tom took his ashes back to Sicily. It was also in London that, as he was leaving a dinner given by Daisy Fellowes in Belgrave Square, he suffered a serious road accident that was gradually to erode his health. In the 1950s, Verdura started to paint, thereby returning to a youthful passion. Caricatures of his friends were his forte, along with humorous miniatures. It was this light wit, ever present in his conversation and his creations, that encapsulated the charm of the man who himself embodied all that the Old World could bring to the New: a name sonorous with history, immense knowledge, education, and natural chic."

I found a lovely quote in Patricia Corbett's excellent book about Verdura's life and work - the ideal thing to end a post about connections, and it made me laugh.

"Hearing that the daughter of David Hicks and Pamela Mountbatten had been christened India, he suggested helpfully that the next child might be called 'Suburbia, after the father's side.'"

Photographs of Tom Parr's house by James Mortimer to accompany text by Min Hogg for The World of Interiors, February 1988.

Quotation from Cafe Society: Socialites, Patrons, and Artists 1920 to 1960, Thierry Coudert, Flammarion, Paris 2010.

Quotation about David Hicks from Verdura: The Life and Work of a Master Jeweler, Patricia Corbett, Harry N Abrams, 2002.


  1. Wow, Blue...quincailleirie? I am impressed!that's not a word that you hear frequently these days...finally got my Lees-Milne diaries. Have only read a few pages as i'm trying to finish something else. Like him, so far...

  2. "Raft of men"? What an excellent way of putting it.

  3. Devoted Classicist - it made me laugh out loud. As you say, priceless.

  4. Lindraxa, I hadn't heard the word since the seventies in Quebec.

    I read and enjoyed Lees-Milne's Prophesying Peace and his biography of Viscount Esher but gave up on Heretics in Love.

  5. Voice Talk, thank you. It took me a while to get back to posting - I had a whole raft of things that intruded on my leisure time.

  6. This is where you show yourself to be the Bible of decoration history blogs, but who begot whom?
    Should we just say your charmed circles are enough to make our heads spin? I love links, cuff and otherwise.

  7. We missed you but you came back strong: Quincailleirie? Even the definition is in French! But this paragraph: "Fulco di Verdura...and Kalef Alaton." is the ultimate in "circles within circles." I think it caused a rift in space-time: the very thing that makes Blue's blog the best.

  8. Verdura was wildly talented and chic, but must we have that
    uncharitable quote about David Hicks's background? I'm reminded
    of something Hicks himself said about ancestry. "Nobody ever cared
    who GF Handel's father was". He was making the point, perhaps a shade
    defensively, that talented people reinvent themselves.

  9. I respectfully present the dissenting opinion re Verdura's remark. I think the India/Suburbia crack is marvelous, because well re-invented or not, Hicks was a terribly pompous, sometimes pretentious and mean, snob, brilliantly talented though he was, and that particular sort of snobbery invites, nay, demands such a remark. And it is witty...

    Interesting to compare Dick Dumas' space with Tom Parr's. Dumas bows to the clime, but within, Parr's is an outpost of Mayfair--lovely, but oh, that fussy chintz inside, when there are those lovely gardens without...

    Glad you're back---I was about to send out a search party.

  10. In re David Hicks, I'm with Dilettante (and Verdura).

    But I am tempted by Toby's suggestion that we make David Hicks the object of charity, I really am.

  11. le style et la matiere, thank you - a very nice compliment, indeed! I too love links, and this time I mean cuff, and I still use the same pair I bought for myself when I was twenty-one.

  12. Terry, thank you. It's good to be back but I'm not sure what really happened - one minute it was December and here I am in February. Life intervening, I suppose.

  13. Glad to read you are circling your wagons one more. I see both sides of the India/Suburbia comments. However, I view it as a witty Oscar Wildeism and am not going to dissect it further. Being from Oklahoma, I was always embarrassed that Oral Roberts was, too. In college, during my most obnoxious period, when people would talk about him in positive terms, I would always ask about his little-known twin brother, Anal. My step mother-in-law was never known for her quick wit, but she nailed the situation when my dyslexic, horse-riding, sister-in-law, named her daughter after a city in Wyoming: "The baby book of names I gave her proved to be too much reaching, so she grabbed an Atlas instead."

  14. Mr Worthington,

    I take the mildly chiding nature of your remark about my posting of Verdura's comment about Hicks to heart, but I must tell you I felt it to be essential because it shows the essence of the man - his wit. As to it being uncharitable on my part to quote from a book in which the remark is already a quote, and probably a well-known one, the logic of that escapes me. Rightly or wrongly, wit is rarely threaded through with charity.

    Talented people may well reinvent themselves - certainly with the help of a publicist and good PR - but the character remains, whatever the spin.

  15. Dear Dilettante, thank you. I am glad to be back, though, it must be said, I'm not entirely sure where I've been.

    I totally agree about Hicks' character and talent - both quite clear from his writings, the opinions of people who met him, and from photographs of his work. I appreciate your comment very much!

    Odd, isn't it, how Parr's living room in Provence could be anywhere in Mayfair or the shires? The 1980s were enveloped in chintz, it seems to me, because of the prevalence of the so-called English Country House Style and at this remove, Parr's room, undoubtedly fashionable enough at the time to appear international, now seems provincial. It's a pretty room, though, if a little precious.

  16. Dilettante, PS.

    The gardens are superb and I have, somewhere, later photos of them as they've grown in. Lovely!

  17. Ancient, thank you. Thank you!

  18. home before dark, thank you for giving me the biggest laugh of the day so far. As ever, it's a pleasure to hear from you!

  19. Of course it was a witty remark on the part of Fulco di Verdura.
    But whether David Hick's "humble" origins can be used to justify
    a dislike of his work as a decorator, is another matter. He had an
    impressive career. The later work, with the exception of his garden
    design, was decidedly "off" and some of it downright coarse. Yet
    can any of us deny the impact of Britwell Salome, the 18c house
    that put him on the map?

  20. Toby --

    I perfectly understand your point.

    But there was this other part of Hicks who was, at best, a character of out of Gilbert and Sullivan:

    Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes! Bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses!

    P.S. Confession: I know less than I probably should about his gardens, but I never liked anything he did in the Sixties. And I thought that set at Albany looked like a cheap Venetian whorehouse.

  21. What a sensational post! Your blog is stunning!
    I love to follow it!
    Have a great week!
    Jamie Herzlinger