Tuesday, March 30, 2010

APRIL FOOD DAY The Word is Out

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
Mother Teresa

Fellow bloggers Meg of Pigtown Design and Chris of Easy & Elegant Life have drawn my attention to the important food drive, April Food Day.

Use of food banks has risen sharply. Sadly, ever greater numbers are dependant on them. There has been an increase of food provided to 46 % more people since 2006. Feeding America provides food to 37 million Americans, and more than a third of those are children.

Studies show that up to 20% of food that North Americans purchase must be discarded because of waste, spoilage, or poor planning. As well, numerous recent articles in the media have spoken of the large, unnecessary increases in portion sizes over the last few decades. For the sake of those in need and for the environment, we can consider buying and eating less, and paying closer attention to what we are wasting. Consider this as the savings or “found food” you can donate to those who are in need. At the same time we will do a favour to the environment.

Saint Francis said, “It is in giving that we receive.” To help others is a wonderful thing, and I encourage you to donate to a food bank, either with food products, or of volunteer work which is desperately needed. As modern western society moves further away from organized religion, we are not always reminded to help others, and there are fewer times when we are given codes of ethics. I cannot recommend highly enough the value of taking one’s teenagers to help out with such projects as food banks and April Food Day. In so many ways, it will help to build a better future and a better society.

I wish to thank Easy & Elegant Life, Pigtown Design, and all the other thoughtful bloggers who have worked and taken time to draw attention to this very important initiative.



For more information on different ways to help, please see:

Feeding America’s website: http://feedingamerica.org/default.aspx

The April Food Day blog: http://aprilfoodday.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Classical French Garden Pavillion of Your Very Own

In my fantasy, I have an old chateau in the French countryside. It has a formal garden with meticulously clipped parterres punctuated with elegant dressed limestone pavilions, like the one Hubert de Givenchy has at his chateau. In reality, my garden is tiny, wedged in a densely populated part of central Toronto, Canada’s largest metropolis. But those gardens and romantic pavilions continue to pervade my dreams….

Orangery, Le Jonchet, The Givenchy Style, Rizzoli, 1998

Mt. Vernon Style Garden Pavilion, Le Jonchet, The Givenchy Style, Rizzoli, 1998

Tower pavilion of moat, Le Jonchet, The Givenchy Style, Rizzoli, 1998

Here is a pair I made of Bristol board with marker. They are approximately a foot (30cm) tall. Part of the charm comes from the sketchily rendered details. I like to think that one day, I will overlook a similar pavilion of honey coloured Caen stone, partially covered with coral roses, in the garden of my own French chateau.

Architectural inspiration for such a pavilion lantern can come from old architectural engravings. I was inspired by the classical black and white decoration of my Fornasetti porcelain. To make this, I drew it lightly with pencil, then overdrew with black permanent marker. I cut the windows out with an X-ACTO knife. The pavilion has 16 windows, each with 8 "panes", meaning that a pavilion required carefully cutting out 128 tiny squares. This was a time consuming process requiring some concentration, so be prepared to set aside a few hours before starting this little project.
Recent Fornasetti porcelain inspired by classical architecture, 2002
vintage Fornasetti porcelain inspired by classical architecture, circa 1960

Antique architectural models are elegant, and add distinction to an interior. Bill Blass had outstanding classical examples in his Manhattan apartment. These ones however, become enchanting lanterns when lit with a candle. Romantic and charming and elegant.... The shadows cast by the tall, mullioned windows conjure up images of Versailles par nuit.

Mysterious shadows are thrown by miniature mullioned windows.

Perhaps elegantly dressed courtiers will momentarily emerge....
Finials, urns, and a Roi Soleil motif add interest to the roofline.

And what could be better than an exquisitely scaled, finely appointed garden pavilion? Why a symmetrical, matched pair, in true 18th century French style, of course!

classical obelisks and corner quoins compliment the façades

aerial view with candles

Is there is there a bal masqué within?
Imagine the mysterious echo effect of voices and court shoes clicking on cobblestones while walking through this passage.

© 2010 Square With Flair™

Monday, March 8, 2010

Poor, but Pretty in Pucci

Pucci is one of the most iconic fashion looks of the mid to late 20th century. I remember one fashion expert saying that in the '60s, "If you weren't wearing Pucci, you didn't exist." To be in a Pucci dress was to be recognised as a member of the jet set, and those who were fashionable, modern, and had European sophistication. Pucci reached the height of popularity in the late '60s to early '70s when brilliance of colour and pattern could be seen on fashions for children, men, and women, as well as household products such as bedding, wallcoverings, upholstery and drapery fabrics. The most sophisticated patterns of this era were by Emilio Pucci of Florence. Women became weary of the brilliant looks in the mid '70s, and the immediately following trends played with Edwardian, Victorian, and romantic influences by Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren. Within a decade, the futurism of Cardin, Gernreich, and Couregges was abandoned for high necked blouses, buttoned granny boots, and patchwork skirts that evoked the previous century. The most notable example of this was Lady Diana Spencer's 1981 neo-Victorian wedding dress, covered with lace, frills, and bows.
Diana Spencer's 1981 wedding dress in neo-Victorian style

The renaissance of Pucci started in the early '90s with women wearing vintage pieces. Around this time, books were published about Pucci, and this brought awareness and discovery to a new generation, who was smitten with Pucci's unique dolce vita modernism. Eventually the house itself increased advertising and production, and after an absence of two decades, Pucci was seen again in the most prestigious clothing stores

Iconic fashion like Pucci rarely goes on sale, and when it does, selections are very limited in terms of size, style, and colour. One will sees very expensive fashions on sale, but less frequently does one see fine classics like Chanel suits, Hermes handbags and scarves, Burburry trench coats, or classic Lacoste polo shirts, at reduced prices. That is why when they do go on sale, it is a good opportunity to buy, especially if you've always dreamed of one of these iconic pieces, but never been able to afford it.

Pucci blouses and dresses have been worn by the most fashionable women of the 20th century, including Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Gurley Brown, and Paloma Picasso. A Pucci print is very sophisticated, and recognisable in the way that a painting by a good modern artist is. Pucci prints are bright and colourful, but upon examination, many of the colours are not so brilliant as they seem. The colours are so well coordinated and contrasted that they sing and vibrate. If you look at some of the colours in these Pucci prints in isolation, you'll see that many of the colours aren't nearly as electrifying as when they play off the other very carefully selected tones. The mixing of these colours is much more difficult than one can imagine. This is why most vintage psychedelic prints of the 1970s are brash and vulgar when contrasted with a Lilly Pulitzer, Porthault, Paule Marrot, or Pucci. In Pucci prints, each area of colour is delineated by a very fine black line. The small and very discreet signature "Emilio" is scattered throughout the print, so that one can discern if the pattern is authentic.

Just this week, I was surprised to come upon this rack of Puccis on sale at a major Canadian clothing discounter. There were blouses, dresses, pants in cotton and silk. Prices were half suggested retail, so that $600.00 blouses were $300.00. Considering that most fashion loses 90% of it's value when it leaves the store, these sale pieces are an excellent investment compared to most clothes. The $300.00 blouse will likely get you $100.00 to $200.00 if resold, whereas virtually any other clothing in that price range will bring nothing if resold.

Puccis are very noticeable, and some people think they are difficult to wear. This is not correct. The best way to wear them is as separates, so that for example, a blouse would be worn with slacks, jeans, or a skirt in a solid colour of one of the tones used in the print. A cotton Pucci print blouse and a pair of simple white jeans will take you almost anywhere this summer.

Fashion is often fickle and unpredictable. Avoid expensive fashion errors by sticking to time tested looks, and fashion can be much friendlier. Pucci is a dear friend one first met in the 1960s, and who is always cheerful and bright. Pucci is the perfect antidote to economic gloom and the predictable black that so many of us seem unable to shake off. In these times calling for extraordinary fiscal measures, one can still be pretty in Pucci.

© 2010 Square With Flair™

Friday, March 5, 2010

Erzgebirge Flower Children From Germany

A trio of flower children from the Erzgebirge

What could me more charming that the combination of children and flowers in spring?

From the Erzgebirge come delightful figurines of children holding single flower stems. The Erzgebirge is a tiny region of eastern Germany, bordering on Czechoslovakia. It is mountainous and for a time ore deposits supported the region. As the mining declined, cottage industries developed to replace it. Among the most famous are the folk art style wooden toys and religious figures, nutcrackers, and figurines the folk art style wooden nutcrackers, toys, and these captivating little figures, the so called blumenkinder. These are the type of old fashioned toys one sees in illustrated picture books of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Great attention is given to the hand painted details of Erzgebirge wares.

These wonderful little figures are of a naïve simplicity. They are made of wood and finished with fresh, high gloss enamels. The facial features are carefully painted in minute detail. As children became enamored with American style toys of plastic, and in the last decade, electronic games, these very simple toys have become increasingly out of fashion. For many adults however, Erzgebirge figures and toys are collected as reminders of simpler times. The figurines are somewhat expensive, and not easy to find. There are numerous shops in German towns and cities that have many visitors from abroad. They can also be found in German specialty shops and markets during Advent.

Snowdrop flower child from the Erzgebirge

Most people are likely more familiar with the products of the Erzgebirge in the form of the soldier doll nutcrackers seen in the Tchaikovsky ballet, and in illustrated children’s books. Both the flower children and the nutcrackers are now being very poorly reproduced in China, and care should be taken so that one buys originals. While new figurines are expensive, Erzgebirge can be bought less expensively from reputable sellers on eBay.

They make wonderful gifts for gardeners, horticulturalists, or those who love flowers, especially if the figure selected holds a favourite flower or one of significance to the recipient. They are little bouquets that never wilt, and will remain long after a special occasion. In Germany, they are favourite gifts for this reason, and over the years I have been delighted whenever I received one on my birthday or at Christmas.

Miniature Erzgebirge angel musicians are very popular at Christmas.

The Erzgebirge flower children make a wonderful collectible. They hold their value if you ever decide to sell them. They take up very little space. A collection is easily liquidated or amended. They bring a touch of the garden indoors, and as our cities become more and more populated, they are a reminder of the simple beauty of small flowers, and the importance of preserving it for the younger generation today and of tomorrow.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Uta Wichmann (1935-2009), who first introduced me to these delightful figures, and treasured her collection of "blumenkinder" that over the decades were given with love by her husband, family and friends.

© 2010 Square With Flair™

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Inspired by Tim Burton’s Marvellous Magical Mushrooms

Official Movie Poster for Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland

Inspired by Tim Burton’s Marvellous Magical Mushrooms
Tripping through the Settings of his"Alice in Wonderland"

Viewing the ads and the trailer for Tim Burton's new Alice In Wonderland, I marveled at the gigantic mushrooms that were evident in many of the publicity shots. I recall as a teenager in the
1970s how mushroom motifs were so popular in design. They could be seen on shirts, jewelry, kitchen accessories, and such things. I’ve noted that the motif seems to be coming back, likely due to a certain nostalgia for the 70s, similar to the shades of avocado green and harvest gold that also appear to be making a revival.

But apart from the swinging pendulum of fashion, the mushroom speaks to our longing to be close to nature. Floral motifs are a constant in every country and historic period; we are drawn to their beauty. But mushrooms are more discreet and don’t always attract with brilliant colour. Living in a dense urban metropolis, I’ve always been enchanted by these emblems of the wild where there is no traffic, pollution, crowds, or noise. Years ago I began collecting small ceramic
mushrooms at flea markets. I later learned more about what I was collecting, and read the inscriptions on the bottom. They were made my the Lorenzen Studios in Nova Scotia. They are accurate, correct models of actual species of wild Canadian mushrooms. I am always intrigued by their esoteric Latin names. I recently learned that these are much sought after and that Dalhousie University has an extensive collection of these beautiful pieces. The largest collection is at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural history which has 400 different models of the Lorenzen mushrooms. Lorenzen pieces are also at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, and the University of Victoria.
Vintage 1960s Lorenzen ceramic mushrooms

Lorenzen ceramic mushrooms

If you are fascinated by the mysterious mushroom, one might find others in the flea market:

Vintage Erzgebirge wooden mushrooms

A vintage silk scarf with mushroom motifs

Detail from a pair of 1970s embroidered Levi jeans

Of course, the motif doesn’t have to be hippy with funny funghi. Fine 18th century botanical paintings and engravings are brought to mind in these modern reproductions of the Flora Danica porcelain service by Royal Copenhagen, a service that was intended as a gift to Catherine the Great of Russia:

Next time mushrooms sprout on your lawn, take one and examine it very closely, and imagine you have become very tiny like Alice, and have your own Burtonesque view of the marvelous mushroom.
Vintage circa 1960s ceramic mushrooms, Lorenzen. Frog figurine, Nymphenburg Porcelain.


Flora Danica fungi plate, Royal Copenhagen, http://www.royalcopenhagen.com/Dinnerware/Flora-Danica-Fungi.aspx
© 2010 Square With Flair™

Monday, March 1, 2010

Return of the Maple Leaf Tartan

Maple Leaf Tartan wool tie MacCleod's, jacket by Brooks Brothers

On the evening of Sunday, February 28, after a triumphant but emotionally exhausting hockey game, Canada watched the lavish and creatively produced closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. These were the most extensively watched Olympics in history, and viewers were given an abundance of sensational images to remember.

The most ambitious and lavish musical production number had Michael Bublé in trim retro-lounge style shawl collar tuxedo similar to what Guy Lombardo wore in the 1960s, and statuesque female Mounties singing and dancing around him. This morphed into an extravaganza with gigantic 24 ft beavers and even taller board game lithographed metal style hockey players and intentionally kitschy souvenir style Mounty statues. The maple leaf chorines looked oh so Canadian, with overtones of Vegas and Mardi Gras for festivity and fun. A detail I noted in some outfits was use of the seldom seen Maple Leaf Tartan. The maple leaf dancing girls wore short kilts of this iconic plaid while the band accompanying Michael Bublé wore 60s style tuxedos of Maple Leaf Tartan with green satin buttons and shawl lapels. After years of not seeing it worn, it is wonderful to see garments in this patriotic cloth, a bit like reconnecting with a long lost, dear old friend.

Guy Lombardo wearing a tuxedo in the Maple Leaf Tartan

Around the time we got a new flag, 45 years ago this February, there was a wave of patriotic feeling as Canadians started to prepare for Montreal’s Expo 67 and Centennial celebrations across the country. In 1964, the new Maple Leaf Tartan was created by David Weiser to commemorate the new Canadian flag. While each province and territory has an individual tartan, the Maple Leaf Tartan is the only one representative of Canada. It is also used by the pipes and drums of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Courtesy of National Defense

The four colours reflect the colours of the maple leaf as it changes through the seasons; green in spring, burnished gold in the early fall, deep red as temperatures drop, and brown after falling. The colours are distinctively rich and somewhat muted. The harmonious shades are considerably less strident than many modern tartans, but not quite as retiring as antique tartans made with vegetable dyes.

Maple leaf tartan, designed by David Weiser, 1963

During the 1960s clothing in the Maple Leaf Tartan was available for women, men and children. This clothing was widely promoted in Canadian department stores such as Eaton’s and Simpson’s. In this tartan there were also other products such as fine English fine bone china with a border of the pattern, and dolls dressed wearing outfits of it.

Currently, vintage pieces such as kilts, vests, narrow neckties, and sport coats are not that difficult to find, but after collecting vintage clothing for 20 years, I can see that there are fewer and fewer pieces of it available.

vintage Viyella shirt in the Maple Leaf Tartan

If you are interested in garments of the beautiful Maple Leaf Tartan, they aren’t available in department store as they were in the 1960s or even into the late 1970s. The best place to find fabric, scarves, kilts, neckties and other accessories of this relatively obscure tartan is at Scottish shops. I got mine at MacCleod’s Scottish Shop in Stratford, Ontario. Prices were reasonable and they were very helpful, courteous and prompt with ordering by e-mail.


Tartan fabric by the meter, including the Maple Leaf Tartan can be purchased inexpensively at fabric stores in Canada, such as Fabricland (170 stores across Canada), during the fall/winter season. Tartan fabrics in different fibers, synthetic, cotton, wool, and wool blends, are available at different price points and depending on what the material is to be used for.

The costume stylists and designers of the Olympic ceremonies are to be commended for reviving this iconic piece of Canadiana and including it in the memorable closing presentation. It couldn’t have been better and it couldn’t have been more Canadian. May it inspire greater love of country and encourage us to proudly wear Canadian symbols like the Maple Leaf Tartan.

Maple Leaf Tartan on the cover of the Toronto Star Magazine, March 6, 1965
vintage Garment tag, Highland Queen, circa 1965

© 2010 Square With Flair™