Saturday, 28 May 2016

My peasant blouse by Irving & Fine

You know the feeling to hold a new and special garment in your hands, designed with depth and meaning? My wardrobe got richer when I received such an item, the Embroidered Peasant Tunic, a classic Tangier peasant blouse by Irving & Fine. It was a surprise gift from textile designer Lisa Fine (earlier this month I wrote a piece about her textile designs), although I kind of knew what it was when she told me she was going to send me their bestselling peasant top. I have had it for a week and the fabric feels so soft; double gauze cream cotton with blue embroidery, made in India. The Irving & Fine label is a collaboration between esteemed textile designers and friends Lisa Fine and Carolina Irving (remember her Manhattan home on the blog?), who create embroidered peasant blouses, tunics, kaftans, coats and accessories. Their design is inspired by their travels to exotic places.

This is my ode to their peasant blouse, a token of my appreciation.

As I unwrapped the blouse and admired it for the first time, I was reminded of the Romanian-blouse paintings by Henri Matisse, with their puffy sleeves - see e.g. his works The Romanian Blouse, 1940, and The Romanian Green Blouse, 1939. He travelled to Morocco and was fascinated by the city of Tangier, the subject of some of his paintings. From Matisse in Tangier my mind, enchanted by my blouse, wandered to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who had houses in Morocco; one in Tangier. YSL paid homage to Matisse with his couture collection for autumn/winter 1980-81 and one item was the Romanian blouse (see image No. 3), a replica of the one in Matisse's painting from 1940.

When preparing this piece I found a short interview with Lisa Fine. Asked about the inspiration for the Irving & Fine clothing, she replied: 'Ottoman & Eastern European folk costume and old Yves Saint Laurent' (Cannon Lewis). It sums up my first impressions.

My photos should give you a clear idea of the design but here is the basic anatomy of the Irving & Fine classic peasant tunic: It's made of cream cotton double gauze with blue embroidery at the neckline, cuff and side seam, with embroidered medallions at the front and back. The hip length blouse has a gathered, self-tied scoop neck and bracelet-length sleeves. The blouse is made in India and is also available in indigo with cream embroidery.

Is it unnatural to be in love with embroidered sleeves? I cannot stop admiring their beautiful exotic pattern. The same goes for the embroidered side seams. Such wonderful design details!

The tunic has a bohemian vibe but one can easily dress it up and down, depending on the occasion. It's loose and comfortable, and the cotton fabric feels very soft.

When not wearing the blouse I leave it hanging on the wardrobe so I can look at it with pleasure and dream about the other Irving & Fine items I would like to have. They currently have an embroidered coat that I believe is taking a hold of my subconscious.

I have referred to Lisa Fine as a designer with a sense of history. I would describe her collaborator Carolina Irving in the same manner. Under their label Irving & Fine they not only design beautiful clothing for you to wear; when you put them on you feel inspired. The garments aren't a passing fad but pieces that help you to create a unique personal style.

~ · ~

[The colours in the following images do not reflect the correct blue shade of the embroidery.
My daughter took the photos of me in the garden wearing the blouse.]

As Irving & Fine use the term a classic Tangier peasant blouse, I want to give a nod to the city, even though I haven't had the chance to visit it. I believe I have romanticised it in my mind; probably stuck in its golden era. Tangier is a vibrant city on the northern tip of Morocco, a short ferry ride away from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. Remember in The Living Daylights (1987) when James Bond tracks down General Pushkin in Tangier to kill him? That's when I became hooked, and I think of Tangier each time I hear the song by my Nordic brothers in A-ha. (I am yet to see Spectre (2015), also set there.) I can easily picture its cultural mix, its narrow streets and bazaar stalls where merchants offer their rugs and spices.

Talking about Tangier and leaving out its most famous expatriate, American writer, translator and former composer Paul Bowles, is like discussing the New Testament and not mentioning Jesus, or the Qur’an and not the Prophet. In 1958, in a travel article, 'The Worlds of Tangier', he wrote:
I am now convinced that Tangier is a place where the past and the present exist simultaneously in proportionate degree, where a very much alive today is given an added depth of reality by the presence of an equally alive yesterday. ... In Tangier the past is a physical reality as perceptible as the sunlight. (Paul
It was Gertrude Stein who suggested to Bowles to try to live and work there. He arrived there for the second time in 1947, published The Sheltering Sky two years later (remember him as the narrator in Bertolucci's film?), and stayed for 52 years, until his death in 1999. (Patti Smith wrote about him and trips to Morocco in M Train, a book I loved reading.)

I would like to leave you with a visual dose of Tangier, a short video where other expats describe Tangier to the readers of T-Magazine (Umberto Pasti and Christopher Gibbs, to name some). You can read the article, 'The Aesthetes', in full with images on the NYT website (it's one of those bookmarks I have kept). Its author Andrew O'Hagan introduces Tangier as the 'high meeting place of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Europe and Africa, sanctity and sin, where men and women have long set out to find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.'

One day I will visit. Until then I have my Tangier blouse by Irving & Fine.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Modigliani in the morning light

This morning, as I was refreshing our home for the weekend, I walked into the living room to find Modigliani bathed in the morning light. Not Modigliani himself, obviously, but a framed reprint of his painting Woman with Blue Eyes (1918, oil on canvas). I removed it from the wall and placed it on the mantelpiece next to the carnations and bowl of dates. If you happen to be strolling the streets of Paris, and in the mood for art, you will find the original at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Wherever I may be in the future I will link artist Amedeo Modigliani to this house. The owner left two framed reprints hanging in the living room that were my first impression when I entered it for the first time. A good first impression.

It is Friday, which in our world means home-made pizza and red wine this evening; a tradition we started when living in the centre of North Zealand in Denmark six years ago. But now it's coffee and inspirational reading in a clean house. Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

spring gift: Ely Maple by JORD wood watches

When invited to be part of the JORD wood watches spring campaign this year I decided to give my younger daughter a watch. It would be her spring gift for simply being herself and fabulous. She chose one from the Ely series, the Ely Maple, which also shows the date. (Looking for a gift for someone? There's an e-gift card below.) We are not new to JORD and know what to expect, which doesn't make it any less exciting to receive their wooden box with a beautiful watch inside. It's been 8 weeks and my daughter is a happy customer.

It pleased me to see her pick the Ely watch that has a simple and timeless design. The other day we were talking about its qualities and I mentioned the timeless part. First there was silence and then she said: 'But that's just stupid, it's a watch, it tells the time!' It cracked me up; how right she was! Then I explained to her the concept of something being a classic piece, timeless in the sense it never goes out of style. The teenager agreed that it applied to the Ely Maple.

Honestly, my daughter hasn't given me a detailed review of the watch. Her words go something like this: It's a watch, it works, it shows the time, she likes it, she is happy with it. What's more to say?

Exactly! It does everything a watch is supposed to do. Plus, it looks good and it's handcrafted, by a company that values sustainability. As you probably notice, she wears the watch on her right hand, the hand she writes with, which I find interesting (I couldn't do it).

As a parent, I have one more thing to add, about quality vs. quantity. In the past we have bought watches for the kids, not the cheapest, that are usually colourful with a plastic strap. I don't know how often I have found one of those plastic ones at the bottom of a toy box, probably long forgotten. As kids grow older they of course learn to take better care of their things, but I believe we as parents can teach them early on to value quality. I have noticed that when my daughter isn't wearing her JORD watch it's either in the box on her desk or on the bedside table. She knows it's more expensive than the other watches she has had and obviously values it and takes good care of it without me having to tell her to do so.

I photographed my daughter wearing the watch while drawing her manga. (She's interested in pretty much everything Japanese and has even been learning Japanese all by herself.) I'm not much into comics but I love viewing the manga she draws in her sketchbooks and drawing tablet. As I watched the young artist at work through my lens I couldn't help but feeling a little mesmerised by the setting. I think there is an interesting contrast between the simple design of her watch and art.

The Ely watch is made of 100% natural wood, in this case maple, and has a scratch-resistant mineral glass. It runs on a battery and displays the hours, minutes and seconds, and has a date window. The buckle has push buttons, which makes it easy to put on and take off. The Ely is also available in red sandalwood, dark sandalwood, and green sandalwood & maple. You can read more about its features on the JORD website.

The Ely watch is named after a building in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, the Ely Walker Warehouse - now Lofts - that was built in 1907. JORD is based in St. Louis and ships the watches internationally.

Would you like to give someone a watch or a gift card? JORD is offering my blog readers an e-gift card. All you have to do is click on the link and enter your email, or a friend's email, and they will send an email with a $25 discount code. There is a limited number of the e-gift cards available, which are on a first come-first serve basis. Please keep in mind that once they are all redeemed your gift card will no longer work.

[This post is part of the JORD wood watches spring campaign. The featured watch is the Ely Maple, a spring gift for my artistic daughter. Words, images and views are my own.]

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Springtime on the patio

The Scottish spring kept us waiting until two days ago when it arrived in all its glory, sunny and warm. The patio was swept, the garden table scrubbed and the wicker chairs brought outside. It was time for our first al fresco dining this season. These last days have been heavenly, mainly spent on the patio under a cherry tree in full bloom. That's where I am at this moment, with a cup of coffee, books and magazines. In a recent blog post the tree was getting ready to bloom and then one morning I saw it through our son's bedroom window and it felt as if it had exploded. Sublime!

These days I'm reading The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia by American novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux. It's his first travelogue, first published in 1975. I had meant to read Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town but then I thought it best to read his travel books in chronological order - perhaps a foolish decision on my part with the latter being his twelfth! In The Great Railway Bazaar we travel with Theroux by rail through Asia, starting with the Direct-Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul. His style is wonderful and witty. He had me cracking up with regular intervals and frequently quoting him in my notebook. Before the end of chapter two I had realised that I would have to put my notebook aside if I were to finish the book before Christmas.

Speaking of Istanbul. I'm virtually on my way there from China, with the help of historian Sam Willis and the BBC Player. On BBC Four they are showing The Silk Road, where Willis takes us through Central Asia to Istanbul and Venice. On the programme's website you can view a photo diary of his journey. In the latest episode he was on the Registan Square in the ancient city of Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, where he met craftsmen making tiles used for the restoration of the Bibi Khanum Mosque. It was fascinating. In the city of Khiva, further west, he sat down with his guide to enjoy a meal in gorgeously decorated kitchenware. Even the flatbread had a pattern!

I don't post my Instagram images on my blog but today I had to make an exception, to preserve a precious moment. Yesterday I took the photo below with my tablet, just when my daughter and I were about to sit down to enjoy our lunch - a long lunch on the patio (she's studying at home these days; taking her final exams). It pictured the mood perfectly. I love how overexposed it looks and how there seems to be a blank space beyond the patio, instead of the ivy-covered garden wall.

Have a wonderful day!

Our lunch table (from my Instagram account, taken yesterday)


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lisa Fine Textiles

In a documentary by the late Albert Maysles about designer and style icon Iris Apfel, simply called Iris (2014), she has a conversation with photographer Bruce Weber. When they start talking about fashion designers that don't know how to sew - 'they are media freaks', Iris says - she mentions young designers that have 'no sense of history' (about 46 minutes into the film). Perhaps you find this an odd intro to textile designer Lisa Fine, the woman at the helm of Lisa Fine Textiles, but I think it is exactly a sense of history that drew me to Fine's work. There is depth to her design and her patterned fabrics have an exotic and mystical element.

Only reading some of the names of Lisa Fine's beautiful fabrics could take your mind to faraway places, or make you reach for the historic atlas (the links take you to the fabric on her website): There is Aswan, a city on the east bank of the Nile River in Egypt; Luxor, another Egyptian city where you will find the ruins of the ancient city of Thebes; Lahore, a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan; Kashgar, the historic oasis city in far western China, a stop on the old Silk Road; Bagan, an ancient city in Myanmar (Burma); Baroda, the old name of Vadodara in the Indian region of Gujarat; Malabar, a region on the western coast of India, furthest south between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats.

I could go on.

The Zoraya fabric in rose and monsoon

It has been years since Lisa Fine's textiles first cast their spell on me but I had never handled the fabrics (100% linen) until I received a collection of her samples in the mail. My high expectations were met. One fabric is called Zoraya (image above). I was curious about the origin of the name so yesterday, before publishing the blog post, I decided to send a request to the office, which was promptly replied with Fine's explanation of how she came up with the name for the pattern. Soraya was the name of one of the wives of the last Shah of Iran, who ruled from 1941 to 1979. Fine was in Andalucia in Spain and was reading the history of the North Africans and Persians in Spain when she came across the name with Z, Zoraya. 'I thought the pattern had a very geometric almost ancient Persian look and liked the name Zoraya.'

A designer with a sense of history for sure.

In the foreground: Malabar Reverse in Nordic blue

In the world of textiles and interior design it is unlikely that the name of Lisa Fine has escaped you. Quite recently in the American House Beautiful there was a feature on her mother's home in Dallas, designed by the daughter, of course. (There is a book called Iznik on her mother's coffee table that I want!) Her mother gave her free rein with the space and the happy customer had just one 'complaint' about the outcome: 'The only problem is, when people come over they don't want to leave.'

Lisa Fine's colourful flat in Paris has been featured in publications like Lonny (a pdf with the feature itself and larger images here) and The New York Times (more images from the NYT feature at Apartment Therapy). Her collaboration with designer Richard Keith Langham has resulted in stunning Indian dhurries. Then there is the collaboration with textile designer Carolina Irving, Irving & Fine, where you can purchase their patterned and embroidered tunics and kaftans.

Left: Samode in indigo/natural (also spotted in desert sand); Lahore in apricot. Right (in frame): Baroda II
in pomegranate (pattern with bird); Zoraya in monsoon; Luxor in pompeii on ivory (orange one)

Each time I see a feature on Lisa Fine I can easily resonate with the books she has read; like me, biographies and travel writing seem to be her genre. She has travelled extensively, e.g. throughout India, and her textile design is inspired by it. I remember this one particular feature that I came across online. It had a photo collage and she was asked all kinds of questions. The final one was where she would like to go and she said Isfahan in Iran, but added that she didn't think it would be possible (when researching for this post I found it on her website: Material Connection, Ultra Travel, Summer 2012). Now that the international sanctions on Iran have been lifted, and the US-Iran relations are improving, Isfahan (Eṣfahān) seems a possibility in the future. I can only imagine the inspiration she could take from the historic Islamic architecture, its splendours and gorgeous tiles. Especially with her sense of history.

In the foreground: Kashgar in spice. In the background: Chiara in sky blue/oyster. Also spotted: Bagan in indigo