Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Autumn (Leaves) in New York

Fortunately we had a lot of warning at Darlington about Hurricane Sandy, so we were able to prepare the house and grounds and button everything up ahead of the onslaught.  But for a few lamp flickers during the worst of it we emerged blessedly unscathed with power intact, no trees down, and a dry basement.  Others were not so lucky, I am afraid.

As any dog owner knows, one's furry, four-legged friends can find the approach of a heavy storm to be physically and emotionally taxing, what with all the electrostatic changes in the air that those more sensitive than we humans can feel.

Our darling Pompey is not immune to such effects.  As I've written before, he doesn't care for rain, water, or snow one bit.  In fact, he hates it all.  One must drag him out of doors, negotiating with his locked paws, in order for him to do his "business" when heavy rain is pounding and gale force winds are blowing.  I don't blame him, though—I suspect you'd have to drag me outdoors, too, if that's where I had to do my business under such circumstances!

In any event, in order to preemptively address such matters, dear Boy decided to take Pompey out for a constitutional just as the storm was beginning to kick its mischief up here in the Hudson River Valley.  Hoping against hope that the desired results would be made manifest.

While Pompey was endlessly sniffing (and alternately cowering when a particularly heavy gust blew through), Boy patiently waited for the desired results.

As Boy waited and waited, while uttering words of encouragement and admonishment to our little pug, Boy cast his eyes about the grounds at Darlington.  He was struck by the beauty of the colors of the fallen sugar maple leaves that covered the lawn.

Boy used his time to pick up a bouquet of the lovely leaves and presented it to me when he returned to the house, once his mission with our sweet Pompey had blessedly, and much to our collective relief, been accomplished.

I hope you enjoy the photo montage of these leaves, Dear Reader.

photographs by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winning Bid: An Apple for the Day

On Saturday afternoon, Dear Reader, I was the successful bidder at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, on a small American painting of an apple sitting on a pink-rimmed Paris porcelain plate.

A pretty little painting of an apple on a plate,
hanging on the wall of the dining room at Darlington House

I don't think my "new" painting is particularly old—it was probably painted no more than twenty or thirty years ago, if that—but it is done in an old-fashioned, realist style.  Enhancing the painting's early appearance is its attractive, plain, early nineteenth-century gilt frame.

A New York apple sitting on the table in
our kitchen at Darlington House

If one were to squint, one might think my little picture could have been painted in the first half of the nineteenth-century, in the manner of one of the Peales.

With the addition of a sprig of leaves from a crab apple tree inserted
into our apple (camera trickery!) and a Paris porcelain plate,
we have mimicked the painting

I bought the little picture for our dining room at Darlington House, where we have hung it underneath an early nineteenth-century painting of a basket of fruit.  It is the perfect complement to the older painting.

The surface of the painting measures only six by eight inches

I am pleased to own this charming little still life.  I was drawn to it given my fondness for the subject matter—an apple and Paris Porcelain—which I have written about repeatedly here on Reggie Darling.  I was happy that I could bring the picture home with me (and at what I consider to be a most reasonable hammer).  And I am glad that it now hangs in our dining room where it is the finishing touch to the room's decoration.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reggie's Reflections on "Ivy Style"

Boy and I spent this past weekend running around New York attending exhibitions and shows, shopping for clothes, and eating out in expensive restaurants.  We had a lovely time, Dear Reader.

The brochure for the "Ivy Style" exhibition
at the Museum at FIT

One of the reasons we decided to stay in the city instead of making our usual trek north to Darlington House was to take in the "Ivy Style" exhibition at the Museum at FIT.  As most of the readers of this blog likely know by now, FIT has mounted an exhibit that chronicles the evolution of a style of men's clothing, originally known as the "Ivy League Look," from its origins on the American campuses of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale (among others) in the first decades of the twentieth century up through the present day.  For those of us who are interested in clothing, style, and social history (and who isn't?) the exhibit is more than worth a visit.

The window at the Museum at FIT
advertising the "Ivy Style" exhibition
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

There has been much written about the "Ivy Style" exhibit in the media and on the men's "trad" clothing blogs, and it takes its name from one of the most popular of those blogs, written by Christian Chensvold.  Mr. Chensvold was involved in mounting the exhibit and is a contributor to the show's entertaining, thought-provoking, and surprisingly academic catalog.  Boy and I were invited to attend the opening of the exhibit by Thomas Cary of the Cary Collection, who lent many of the accessories featured in the exhibit, but we were, to my disappointment, unable to attend.

A brochure published by FIT showing
a Princeton blazer from the "Ivy Style" exhibit

In any event, I very much wanted to see the exhibit, and I am pleased that I did.  I am heartened that the style of men's clothing featured in it is considered worthy of a curated show at FIT and that there is a growing re-appreciation for the classic American Ivy League men's style in today's fashion circles.

One of the window displays at the Museum at FIT
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Of course Ralph Lauren has been mining this particular vein for decades, but I am hoping this exhibit, along with the chorus of bloggers who have been championing Ivy (or Trad) style in recent years, will prompt yet even more interest among young men in this country in appreciating the integrity of dressing well again.  Hey guys, it's actually cool to wear a jacket and a tie on a weekend!

The Quadrangle section of the "Ivy Style" exhibition
Image courtesy of the Museum at FIT

The exhibit includes a catalog/book of essays by luminaries in the industry that is chock-full of photographs and illustrations from vintage periodicals and sales brochures.  It is a visual delight!

The exhibition's catalog, photographed on
one of Boy's J. Press tweed jackets
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

I've flipped through the catalog/book (published by Yale University Press) a couple of times, mainly focusing on the photographs for now, although I did take the time to read Mr. Chensvold's enjoyable interview of Richard Press, the grandson of the founder of J. Press—the venerable and iconic men's clothing store in New Haven, Connecticut, that did much to popularize the Ivy style.

The University Shop section of the exhibition
Image courtesy of the Museum at FIT

The exhibition is divided into a half a dozen or so themes, ranging from "the Quadrangle," to "the Dormitory," and my personal favorite, "the University Shop," shown in the preceding photograph.

"For God, For Country, and For Yale"
Image courtesy of the Antique Athlete

While I certainly enjoyed attending the exhibit, I had the eerie feeling while doing so that I was spending my time there staring at my own navel.  It was all very familiar to me, and much of the clothing on display could have come from the closets and cupboards of the men in my own family.  My roots in the Ivy League go back a number of generations, mostly at Yale, where my grandfather Darling, my father, and I and my brother were all fortunate to attend as undergraduates.

A postcard of Yale in the 1940s
From the collection of Reggie Darling

It was at Yale that I came to fully understand the true allure and iconographic significance of the Ivy style of dressing.  While my prep school experience at Saint Grottlesex prepared me for Yale (in many ways), it was only upon my arrival in New Haven that I came to truly appreciate the splendor of traditional Ivy League dressing.  I came to Yale as a boy, and I left it as a man.

My father and his freshman classmates in Branford College at Yale,
taken in the fall of 1940.  FD is standing in the second row on the far right
Image courtesy of Frecky Darling

When my father was an undergraduate at Yale in the early 1940s, he was clothing obsessed.  Letters written at the time to his parents in Grosse Pointe (which my grandparents saved and which I read many years later) were full of entreaties from him for yet more funds to purchase the clothing and sartorial accessories he felt were imperative in order to fit in with the smart crowd with which he ran at Yale.

I particularly liked these striped blazers from the 1920s
Image courtesy of Funky President

For my father's Yale 25th reunion, held in June 1969, I remember that all of his returning classmates were given blue-and-white striped blazers similar to the ones shown in the preceding photograph.  However, the blazers handed out were made of paper, like the Andy Warhol soup can paper dresses that were a craze at the time.  What I would give to have one of those blue-and-white striped paper blazers today!

My grandfather Darling's prep school alumni
blazer, ca. 1930, worn by Boy Fenwick
Photograph by Reggie Darling

One of my most treasured possessions is my Grandfather Darling's blazer from the English public school he briefly attended before Yale; I am showing it in the previous photograph.  As the "Ivy Style" exhibit notes, much of the clothing adopted by American Ivy League undergraduates in the early twentieth century had its inspiration in England.  But it became softer, less military, and less buttoned-up when it made its way to this side of the pond.

A vintage J. Press brochure.  I remember poring over these as a college
undergraduate, plotting out my sartorial dreams
Image courtesy of the Ivy League Look

When I enrolled at Yale in the mid-1970s, the Ivy League look was in its death throes.  Even though New Haven still had a number of Ivy style purveyors ringing the campus, almost all of them closed when I was an undergraduate there, with the exception of  J. Press (still going strong) and Barrie Ltd. (long-since closed).

Tweed jackets from J. Press and other purveyors of the type worn
by my father, my brother, and me in the 1970s and 1980s,
as displayed in the "Ivy Style" exhibition
Image courtesy of Vim and Vigor

My father used to let me charge clothes on his account at J. Press from time to time when I was an undergraduate.  Nothing crazy, mind you.  A sport jacket here, a couple of shirts there, some gray flannels, and a Shaggy Dog sweater or two.  Just enough to keep me out of rags, I suppose . . .

A sheaf of my old school ties, mostly bought
at J. Press and Brooks Brothers over the years
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

My roommate and best friend at Yale, William "Willie" Octavius Koenig IV, and I were among the handful of fellows in our class at Yale who appreciated the old Ivy League look from the 1950s and 1960s, and we spent a lot of our free time (and most of our disposable incomes) at J. Press making pests of ourselves.  One of the salesmen there, a fellow named Gabe, used to take us in the back room of the store and let us buy end-of-stock vintage shirts and ties from days gone by.  Gabe used to sell clothes to my father, too, whenever he came to town.  Willie and our friends used to call J. Press "the Squeeze" in those days, a play on its name and a comment on the injury that frequenting it did to our meager undergraduate bank accounts.

My most treasured white bucks, bought for me by my
brother Frecky from Barrie Ltd. for my twenty-first birthday
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

I was something of a throwback when I was an undergraduate at Yale.  Although I was happy that it had gone co-ed by the time I arrived there, and many of my classmates came from backgrounds different from mine—ones that didn't include prep school educations and legacy Yale histories—there was part of me that wished I had been born at a time when I would have attended Yale when it was still all male and more homogeneous and full of people like me, when people still dressed like the undergraduates shown in the following photograph from the 1950s that appears in the catalog from the "Ivy Style" exhibit.

Yale students leaving a university building, 1950s
Image courtesy of Ivy Style

But I didn't, and it wasn't, and they didn't, and that's more than okay with me.

There were still vestiges of that old Yale when I went there, though.  Although official dress codes had been abandoned by the university during the previous decade, undergraduate men during my time at Yale in the 1970s were still expected to wear jackets and ties to university-sponsored events, such as receptions at the president's house or athletic dinners.  And, as a member of one of Yale's undergraduate singing groups (and a highly social person to boot), I routinely found myself donning a jacket and tie at least several nights during the week.  I also owned a tuxedo and a set of tails when I was an undergraduate there, and I had occasion to wear them, too.

Evening wear from the first decades of the 20th
century, as seen in the "Ivy Style" exhibit
Image courtesy of Everything Just So

During my senior year at Yale, when I was a member of the Whiffenpoofs, we spent a week or so traveling with the Yale Glee Club on a Midwestern tour over the Christmas holiday break, visiting places like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Detroit.  At the end of the tour, during the wrap-up dinner, I was given a gag award for being the "Preppiest Guy" on the tour, much to Willie Koenig's irritation (he felt he was gypped out of that recognition).  I wish I still had the certificate—that and a lot of other things from those happy, golden, bygone days . . .

The Library section of the "Ivy Style" exhibition
Image courtesy of the Museum at FIT

After I graduated from Yale and moved to New York to begin my Wall Street career, I pretty much stopped going to J. Press, even though it had an outpost in the city.  I missed Gabe from my undergraduate days, and the more urban, corporate Brooks Brothers seemed to me to be the more appropriate place to outfit myself as a junior banker than my old haunt of tweedy J. Press.

A page from a Brooks Brothers catalog
from the 1980s
Image courtesy of Evolution of a Gentleman

It was not until I was in my forties that I found my way back to the Squeeze again.  I'll never forget the time I walked into the old store on 44th Street, the one around the corner from Brooks, and how I almost started to vibrate when I tried on the same suits and jackets there that I remembered my father wearing.  Here I was, all grown up, slipping my arms into the very same tweed jackets and worsted suits that my father wore when he was the same age as I had become . . .

Getting fitted for a classic J. Press tweed jacket, 1950s
Image courtesy of Life Images

Not surprisingly, I still mostly outfit myself from the likes of J. Press and Brooks Brothers.  I also shop at specialty stores that sell traditional men's clothing and accessories inspired by the Ivy League style, in some cases updated for a more modern sensibility.   I like the look, I feel comfortable in it, and it is one that is appropriate for men of all ages to wear.

Ivy League undergraduates of the 1960s
Image courtesy of Take Ivy

In closing, I very much enjoyed attending the "Ivy Style" exhibition at the Museum at FIT, and I encourage you, Dear Reader, to be sure to see it, too, before it closes in January.

A brochure for an upcoming "Ivy Style" symposium
at the Museum at FIT

For those of my readers who happen to be in New York in early November, FIT will be hosting a two-day symposium on Ivy Style on the 8th and 9th that is sure to be of interest.  My friend and fellow blogger, the highly entertaining and mischievously amusing Maxminimus, is scheduled to appear in the gathering's closing round-table discussion, "Blogging About Ivy," which—I am sure—will be one of the symposium's more memorable gab-fests.

Who knows, you just might even run into Reggie there, too . . .

"Ivy Style" will be on view at the Museum at FIT in New York City through January 5, 2013.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Speaking of "Horrid Carnations" . . .

Following up on MD's rather snooty quote in my last post, here's an example of how one can arrange "those horrid carnations" in such a way that they don't look like an uglified, nasty FTD mess of carnations, baby's breath, daisies, and freesia:

Boy made this frothy arrangement yesterday evening with white hydrangea and carnations bought at the corner deli.  Yes, Dear Reader, you read that correctly—not all of our flowers come from Plaza Flowers!  I don't think he paid more than $22 dollars for them.  Boy arranged the hydrangea and carnations in a simple, rectangular modern glass vase.  I'm showing the bouquet sitting on a side table in our city apartment.

It really is rather divine to be so fortunate as I to live with a fancy Manhattan decorator—lovely flower arrangements such as these appear out of nowhere, just like that!

So chic, no?

By the way, we're taking a break from Darlington House this weekend to take in some of the current shows and exhibitions in New York.  Reggie needs a dose of city living for a change . . .

More on that to follow, Dear Reader!

IPhone photographs by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Autumn Flowers

This is not one of Reggie's wordy posts, Dear Reader.  This is a pretty pictures post.

About autumn flowers.  Dahlias, in fact.  We bought these this past weekend at the Farmers Market in the town nearby Darlington House, from the good ladies at Cedar Farm.  They have the most beautiful flowers.

The dahlias really are lovely—all magenta and purple, pink, and white—and so prettily arranged by Boy in an antique amethyst glass vase.

MD always said that she thought Dahlias were common.  Not quite as bad as "those horrid carnations," but not much better, either.  At least in her book.

She wasn't right about everything, you know. . .

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another Sale, More China, and Thoughts on Stewardship

The Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine Sale

Today's essay was intended to be a "Winning Bid" post about Reggie's successful bidding on a number of lots at the recent auction of "The Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine" held at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York.  It has evolved into being yet another of his posts about collecting ceramics, and it includes one of his favorite tips for carefully storing the same.  It also includes his ramblings about the concept of stewardship.

So, Dear Reader, be forewarned!

For those of us who are as obsessed as Reggie is with pretty things and the appurtenances of refined living—at least as it was narrowly defined among a tiny minority of Anglophilic East Coasters here in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century—last weekend was a sale bonanza in the little city of Hudson, New York.  As readers of this blog well know, on October 5th Stair Galleries auctioned there nearly 300 lots of "Property of a Lady," universally understood to be that of the late Brooke Astor.

Cover of the promotional brochure for the Irvine sale
held at Stair Galleries on October 6th

The very next day Stair Galleries also held a sale of the "Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine."  Mr. Irvine, the noted decorator, died last year, much to the sadness of those who knew and loved him.  His wife, the noted author Chippy Irvine, is very much alive and decided to sell a treasure-trove of objects that she and her husband collected over their long and happy marriage.  Stair was the fortunate auction house to be selected for this extravaganza.

We—and a number of our friends—were fortunate to come away from the Irvine sale with a pretty thing or two for our own collections.  Which brings to mind one of the reasons that I enjoy collecting antiques (or "previously owned" things): namely, that I appreciate owning objects that someone else (and, dependng on the age of the object, possibly many people) owned and enjoyed before me, and which I shall pass on to someone else to own and enjoy in the future.  We are but stewards of our possessions, Dear Reader, and it is up to us to appropriately care for them while enjoying them, so that those who come after us may do so as well.  Collecting and living with antiques (whether they be objects or houses), is the original definition of being green in my book.

But I digress . . .

We attended the Irvine sale from the first rap of the auctioneer's gavel at eleven o'clock in the morning through the late afternoon.  We did so because the lots that we and our friends desired were spread throughout the day, and also because it was all rather interesting.  Bidding in the auction was spirited, and was enlivened by an intense rivalry between two tastemakers in the room who bid determinedly for the same lots over and over again.  There was also one very active phone bidder amidst the fray.

One of the lots in the Irvine sale from which we
dropped out of the bidding, long before the final hammer
Image courtesy of Stair Galleries

Although there were any number of lots in the sale that we were interested in bidding on, we quickly decided to refrain from doing so on those that the two tastemakers were vying for . . .

Nope.  Didn't get this one, either!
Image courtesy of Stair Galleries

. . . since, given their determination and seemingly endless resources, there was no point!  Besides, we knew one of them and didn't want to bid against him, as he is a friend of many years standing.

The Irvine wall clock that we were able to buy,
 as it appeared in the Stair Galleries online catalogue
Image courtesy of same

Boy and I did come away with two lots from the sale.  One, a pretty and decorative tôle peinte Regency-style pocket watch-form wall clock (clearly not first period—it was most likely made in the 1950s or 1960s), and the second a set of prettily painted Wedgwood creamware plates.  Some of the plates in the set were made in the first period, around 1800, and others were made later, possibly as many as one hundred years later, to fill out the set.  Fortunately Wedgwood kept its early molds and had painters on staff throughout who could perfectly copy the earlier decoration.

The Irvine wall clock, photographed hanging
from a doorknob at Darlington House

Boy has rather a thing for early creamware and was excited by the opportunity to acquire a substantial stack of plates at the Irvine sale to add to our cupboards.  Fortunately the two tastemakers at the sale had their sights on furniture and pictures, so Boy was able to reasonably win the plates and bring them home at the end of the day.

The creamware plates Boy bought, as shown in Stair's online catalogue
Image courtesy of same

But the story doesn't end there, Dear Reader.  No, there's more.  For when one acquires pretty things, it requires (or at least it should) that they be cared for appropriately, so that they can be passed on to others in the future in the best condition possible.

The creamware plates, now that they have come
to exist with us at Darlington House

Once we got our pretty plates home to Darlington House, the two of us spent an hour or so tending to them.  First we removed every sticky label (auction lots get covered with identifying paper labels during the sale process), and then we removed the residue left behind (thank goodness one has discovered Goo-Gone™ for such purposes).  We then followed this by a sudsy wash in warm water and a thorough drying with a soft cloth.

Our bolt of brown felt, on hand for cutting rounds

The next and final bit of tending one does under such circumstances, at least that we do at Darlington House, is to cut out felt rounds to place between each plate so acquired.  Doing so protects the plates from scratching and chipping when picked up by a careless housekeeper and ensures their stacked safety for as long as one owns them.  Although one can buy pre-made rounds to layer between one's plates, making them oneself is easy and (by far more) economical.  Furthermore, in doing so one is able to choose the color of one's rounds.  Our current favorite color of felt is chocolate brown, although we have also used grey in years past.

The felt, as marked for cutting plate rounds

Tending to such things is a satisfying, relaxing, and nonverbal activity, and a decidedly pleasant way to pass happy and productive time with one's like-minded spouse.

The plates, cushioned by layers of felt

Dear Reader, should you be so fortunate to buy, be given, or inherit pretty and fine antique dishes, I encourage you to secure a bolt of felt and cut rounds from it to protect them.  Not only will you be assured of coddling the plates for as long as you own them, but you will also be confident that when you pass them on, either directly or when your effects are auctioned after you move into the Big China Closet Beyond, whoever receives your plates will find them to have been properly—and appreciatively—cared for.

All photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hello Kitty!

As some of my readers may recall, this past January I chanced upon a porcelain figure of a white leopard (or is it a white cheetah?) at an antiques show during New York Antiques Week.  I bought the figure because—in addition to liking it (my primary reason for buying it)—its form was nearly identical to one of a lioness that I already owned, purchased when I was still in my twenties.  Although both of these diminutive porcelain great cats (they measure a mere four-and-a-half inches long) appeared to me to have been made from the same mold, they are decorated differently: one is painted as a white and black leopard (or cheetah) and the other as a tawny lioness.  There was no question in my mind when I chanced upon the figure of the leopard/cheetah at the show—I had to have it!

Upon close examination and side-by-side comparison of the figures once I brought my leopard/cheetah home, I determined that my latest acquisition was made from a near-identical mold to the lioness, albeit slightly cruder in its crispness, and the quality of the figure's painted decoration—while charming—is not as refined as that of the lioness.  I deduce, therefore, that the lioness is most likely an earlier example made during the figure's first period of production, the latter eighteenth century, and the leopard/cheetah is later, likely produced sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century.

I believe both of the figures are Continental, and probably German.  Neither are marked.  As was the case with many figures originally produced in the eighteenth century, popular ones were often produced (or outright copied) over and over again, long after their initial production.  This, I believe, is the case with the leopard/cheetah.

You can see that the lioness is a superior figure to the leopard/cheetah by comparing their heads in the preceding photograph.  The lioness' modeling (and painted decoration) is clearly finer and more carefully done.

But this does not mean I am unhappy with my white leopard/cheetah figure, Dear Reader.  No, not at all!  I find it to be a very handsome figure, indeed, and I am quite happy to have it.  It is just not quite up to the quality of the earlier lioness . . .

The base of the leopard/cheetah is shown on the left
and that of the earlier lioness is on the right

Some of my more perspicacious readers may recall that this is not the first essay I have posted about a nearly identical pair of figures in our collection.  I published a related story a year or so ago about a near-pair of early Staffordshire pearlware figures of goddesses in classical dress, circa 1800-1815.

The two pearlware figures of goddesses
shown in my earlier post

It was only after we brought home the figure of the goddess shown on the left in the preceding photograph that we realized it was made from the same mold as one we already possessed (albeit slightly modified), shown on the right.  What a happy coincidence that was!

What a handsome kitty!

In addition to owning the near-pair of cats and goddesses featured in this post we have several more examples of nearly identical figures in our collection at Darlington House, that we have serendipitously united over the years.  I look forward to posting additional essays about their stories here over time.

Tell me, Dear Reader, have you ever bought something and brought it home with you only to find you already own an example of it?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick
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