The Wednesday Outlook: Feb. 23, 2011

winter landscapeThis week I’m in denial. It did not snow 14 inches. It’s practically spring. So what if the back yard gate is snowed shut again, forcing me to walk around the block to get the garbage to the alley? So what if Freja and I have to mount and descend piles of snow on our walks? Pretty soon I’ll be in sandals and dresses, fanning myself and complaining about the heat. Right? Right?


The only consolation is that the birds are making noise in the mornings again, which always means that a change is going to happen even if we can’t immediately see/feel it.

Here’s what’s been holding my attention lately.


I’ve found that the best way to pretend everything is OK is to not go outside that often. What’s kept me going as I hide under a blanket is reading. I’m on a “rich lady” memoir jag. I’ve burned through Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden, Why Not Say What Happened by Ivana Lowell (descended from the Guinness family) and The World of Gloria Vanderbilt by Wendy Goodman and, although in a slightly different vein, Diana Vreeland by Eleanor Dwight. I’m fascinated by the wealthy who grow up emotionally and socially impoverished. Setting aside Diana “Fashion Savant” Vreeland, Gloria is by far the most interesting and accomplished, although I do have to question some of her interior design.

She designed textiles, among other things (yeah, those jeans! – you can still buy them at places like Kohl’s but they now have nothing to do with Gloria Vanderbilt, they only bear her name), and loved to paste them everywhere in a room, including walls and floors. She even had her own book about her style, Gloria Vanderbilt’s Designs For Your Home in 1977. Here’s a taste of her signature look, a famous room she did in one of her own homes using a patchwork quilt design:

patchwork quilt room

That’s just a lot going on.

Reading about all the wealth and hubris has made me long to tour The Breakers, the Newport summer home built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. A 70-room mansion with 66,000 square feet of living space seems a reasonable size for a summer place, doesn’t it?

I’m just about through with my socialite tear for now, although there are two people of interest who keeps popping up in just about every book about 20th century rich people – Wallis Simpson and Cecil Beaton. Simpson is, of course, the American woman who married Prince Edward (when they met he was King Edward the VIII but he had to give that up to marry Simpson) and became the Duchess of Windsor. The abdication of the throne things was because she’d been divorced twice before agreeing to marry Edward.

I’ll have to add a book about her to my list. A number of years ago it was rumored that Madonna was going to star as Wallis in a biopic about her and the Duke. This was probably long ago, when Madge was deep in her Anglomania phase and even using a British accent. It’s too bad, though, that the movie never came together. I think she would be the perfect person to portray Wallis.

Cecil Beaton was a photographer, fashion designer, costumer, interior designer, diarist and friend to a million socialites and celebrities. I’ve seen his photos, paintings and sketches – he did a lot of work for Vogue back in Vreeland’s day. Because he was such a pathological diarist, there are published diaries from just about every year of his adult life. I can’t wait to start reading. I’m not sure who living today is most like Cecil Beaton… maybe there can’t be another one. It seems as if he’d be Simon Doonan, Hamish Bowles and David Sedaris all rolled up into one.

cecil beaton
Cecil Was One Busy Guy

Events That Are Current

I’ve been hearing a lot about bunga-bunga parties in the news. This is a favorite form of entertainment for Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Apparently, they are parties to which a lot of attractive and/or powerful people are invited that turn into orgies. Silvio can’t get enough bunga-bunga. I’d say it was somewhat charming if he wasn’t such a megalomaniac. Now things are looking dicey for Berlusconi in more ways than one – already in trouble for allegedly having sex with an underage woman at a bunga-bunga party (how could this possibly be news?), his BFF Muammar al-Gaddafi is now losing control of Lebanon. The two of them have cooked up a lot of schemes while enjoying the spoils of dictatorship and supreme authority (under Berlusconi’s reign laws regarding statute of limitations have been changed in order to favor him as he battles his various court cases) and if Gaddafi falls, so too might Berlusconi.

The best thing I read about Berlusconi was that, when his wife filed for divorce in 2009 claiming that Berlusconi had had an affair with an 18-year-old, he said he did not have “spicy” relations with the woman, also swearing on his children’s heads. If I were one of those kids, I wouldn’t feel very secure about my head. I might resort to tying it on each day and spending a lot of time looking up for falling pianos.

Speaking of the trouble in Lebanon – is NBC’s Richard Engel the hardest working man in international news or what? The guy has been criss-crossing North Africa and the Middle East trying to keep up with all the news. He seems to belong to another time, when hair was preppy and news was really news. It’s comforting to me to know that he’s out there, speaking Arabic, driving into Lebanon and putting up with the “icy glares” of anti-American dudes.


The New York Times called it in November and I’m feeling strong vibrations- the turban is on its way back in. There are a couple of ways of rocking this look:



streisand turban

If you can’t get with the word “turban” simply call it a head wrap. No doubt it’s a trend more for the uninhibited and confident but perhaps a little nighttime turban to get you started? If you’re feeling especially adventurous, don’t forget to add a cape.

There are already many turbans for sale online (for obvious reasons, many of them are chemotherapy turbans, which does give one pause) but check out etsy if you’re looking for something original. If you’re crafty, get to a sewing store or go online to buy this incredible pattern from McCall’s in order to make every kind of turban possible – The Joan Crawford, the Ali McGraw, the Norma Desmond… also, don’t think you have to stick to a full-on turban. Open-topped head wraps work too!

vintage headwrap