Category Archives: people

Givanchy and Collaboration

Hubert de Givenchy had a great go of it. He was renowned as a fashion designer, rich and famous. And now that he has passed on at the ripe old age of 91, we might celebrate his great success.

I like this picture of Givenchy with Audrey Hepburn

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I like it because it brings out an important factor in Givenchy’s great success. He became famous because of his great collaborations with celebrities like Audrey Hepburn. She genuinely liked and admired him. This quote brings that out

Her genuine friendship with Givenchy stemmed from his warm, gentleman’s persona and refined elegance, something they shared unequivocally. It’s quite rare this day and age to point out a designer-celebrity ambassador relationship that’s not tied to exclusive dealings and multimillion-dollar contracts.

So sure, Givenchy was a brilliant fashion designer. More important, he was brilliant in creating great collaborations. And this is a more rare feat!



Understanding Patsy Kensit

Recently, I have gotten interested in the TV series, “Who do you think you are?” The main reason is that I love history — especially personal and family history. I am endlessly fascinated how the choices people make or don’t make change their lives, and the lives of their families and descendants.

Case in point – Patsy Kensit. Patsy was a  “child star” and hwent on to be a successful actress, model and singer.

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But her father led a very different sort of life. Her father was a criminal. How did he get into that? Were his choices matters of individual preference (for example, was he just a bad person?) or was he driven more by circumstances?

Check out her “Who do you think you are?” adventure to find out. And be prepared. You are in for some surprises. Enjoy!

Do You Really Need a New Bentley?

Of course not. No one needs this car.

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After all, it will set you back over $300,000.

So you should not want to read about it., right? You should automatically pass over a link to a review of how this car performed on the road. Right?

Will you?

Apparently, lots of people will not. They will check out the Bentley. At least, that is what Business Insider thinks. That is why Business Insider offers the review that I link to  – to get your attention. It matters not that a review of a Bentley has nothing to do with getting “inside business”.

So what is it about this product category that captures our attention? It is less the thing than they´symbol of the thing. It is the reward for status that we believe we deserve. And it is human nature to crave status among our peers.

It is the “deserve” part that proves to be tricky. Does Donald Trump, for example, deserve the status that  he gets from being president? We might disagree on that point. But we would probably agree that  not deserving it robs the status of its pleasure.  Perhaps that is why Trump has a tantrum whenever he is exposed as a liar or a philanderer or a cheat (did the Stormy Daniels news story, for example, lead to Trump starting a trade war?)

Which, of course, takes us back to the Bentley. It may not be the reward that you crave for the status you deserve. But I am willing to bet that you crave other such rewards. We all do!

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And how about this?

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And this?

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And this?

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Who does not want to be celebrated for something great?

Some Dukes are Pretty Cool!

Aristocracy is not what it used to be. Nor is it likely to return to its former dominant position in society. Are we better off without that?

In some cases, perhaps yes. I wrote the other day, for example about the bad 5th  duke of Marlborough, who left little if anything better off when he exited the stage in 1840.

But not all dukes have been like that. And I was cheered by a show starring Mary Berry, the food writer, who visits various great country houses of Britain to showcase nice things one can find there. I was especially cheered by her visit to Goodwood and the Duke of Richmond and his family.

Here is a view of the main buildings

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A quick note – Mary Berry may not be to everyone’s taste. She is not a hipster like Tony Bourdain  To the contrary, she is proper lady and kind and respectful to all. No snarky comments, or even a single bead of sweat in the kitchen as she prepares coq au vin.

Back to the story. Goodwood is unique among the great estates for a variety of reasons. First, the Duke himself, taking after his father has proved to be an innovative estate manager. This story about the founding of the motor sport race track on the property gives you a hint

During World War II a large area of farmland on the southwestern edge of the Goodwood Estate was developed as the Royal Air Force Westhampnett fighter base, which became a center of historic aircraft action during the 1940 Battle of Britain. After the war, RAF Westhampnett was closed to operations and returned to the Goodwood Estate. The late Freddie March then led the way in persuading British government ministries to permit the disused aerodrome perimeter tracks to be adopted for motor racing, which led to the opening of the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948.

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The Duke and his family have embraced some highly attractive values in their care of the property and care for the animals that they maintain there. That would include organic farming.

Mary Berry gave an interview where she said this

It’s very difficult to pick out a highlight. I went to a dinner during Members’ Meeting: the room was so unusual and beautiful, with grass laid out over the tables and then the wonderful surprise of motorbikes zooming through the front hall. You are in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden there’s a slight draft as the door opens and before you know what is happening a motorbike shoots past.

I really enjoyed spending time with Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon. She is exactly the same age as me and we reminisced about how things have changed and how we do things differently. I appreciate her love of animals and her efforts to take in battery chickens, nursing them back to health. What strikes me about Goodwood is that the whole house is in such pristine condition. The present Duke has done some amazing things including restoring the Egyptian Dining Room. Susan found the little crocodiles that were on the back of the original chairs tucked upstairs in the attic and brought them out so they could be restored. I am full of admiration for such endeavours and have loved getting to know the family a little.

You can watch the episode via good old YouTube. One thing impressed me most. The duke is committed to doing fine preservation and renovation of  a historically important estate, yes. But he also seems to have a lot of fun in the process! Enjoy!

A final note. The above show was filmed not long after the duke and his wife had suffered from a break in and robbery at Goodwood. During the robbery, the Duke was physically assaulted. Historically important jewels valued at over £700,000 were stolen. No doubt he and his wife were traumatized by the experience. And yet, the Duke has not withdrawn from pubic view. Good for him!

The Trouble with Disraeli … and More!

The trouble was that the dude wrote too many great letters!

From the preface to Robert Blake’s biography

Disraeli died in 1881. His literary executor was his private secretary, Montagu Corry (Lord Rowton), who seems to have contemplated writing a biography of his chief. Certainly no one would have been better qualified to “Boswellize” Disraeli. But when he died in 1903 nothing had been done. In the interim not only had some unofficial lives  — mostly of dubious value — appeared, but also the official biography of Gladstone, whose death had occurred only five years earlier, in 1898. In the circumstances the Beaconsfield Trustees of whom Lord Rothschild was the key figure, were anxious to have something done as soon as possible. After offering the job for a fee of £20,000 to Lord Rosebery, who declined it, they chose W.F. Monypenny, a distinguished Times journalist.  He began work in 1906. His first volume covering the years 1804 -37. appeared in 1910, and the second (1837-46) in November 1912. But he was in failing health and died a few days later. The Trustees then invited G.E. Buckle, who had recently resigned the editorship of The Times as a result of a disagreement with Lord Northcliffe. The remaining four volumes were published at intervals over the next eight years, the last appearing in 1920..

The six volume work, running to at least one and a quarter million words, is rightly described in the notice of Buckle in the Dictoniary of National Biography as both a “quarry and a classic”. Not least of its virtues is the great quantity of Disraei’s letters published there for the first time. All subsequent writes about Disraeli must acknowledge their debt to Monypenny and Buckle. Perhaps one day some wealthy foundation will finance the complete edition of the correspondence of the best letter-writer among all English statesmen. Till that day, the official biography remains the nearest equivalent.

Notice the great care that was taken to retain and re-think the things that Disraeli wrote in his private letters. In those days, in contrast to our own, letters were a major channel for exchanging ideas.

Food for thought. Given that exchange is the key to developing new ideas. should we be concerned that our use of more sophisticated tools may not be producing such high level exchanges on a regular basis?

And what of that dispute between Buckle and Northcliffe? Buckle represented the old school view that The Times was a repository of the public interest, rather than an organ of its own opinions.  Northcliffe was a publishing baron of the popular press. When he purchased The Times in 1908., he wanted to “modernize” The Times, something that Buckle did not support.

Here is Buckle as a young man, who btw, had been a very bright student

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And Northcliffe, born Alfred Harmsorth?

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That is a flattering image. Northcliffe was a controversial figure, as he catered to popular tastes .Heaven forbid! And powerful, he was!


Revisiting the Money Culture

The other day, I posted on John Taylor’s book “Circus of Ambition”. This is a brief follow up.

I remember when I bought this book back in 1989. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and practicing law. The book gave  me a fresh look at an unfolding drama that we were living through at the time. The people Taylor wrote about were in the news on a daily basis and the attitudes were in plain sight. There was little doubt that Taylor was right on about the shift in values that merged “morning in America” (from Ronald Reagan) with “greed is good” (from Jerry Falwell and then more famously from the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the film “Wall Street”). Moreover, Taylor was not the only one who noticed. Tom Wolf’s satirical novel, “Bonfire of the Vanities” had already come out in 1987.

Now, more than 25 years later,  Taylor’s book has an odd feel  to me. In part, the stories seem like they are from long ago. Mortimer’s restaurant, a second home to the moneyed crowd, closed down in 1998.. At the same time, the themes that Taylor describes are still playing out.

For example, Taylor conjures up the scene at a “little lunch” that Malcolm Forbes threw for Danielle Mitterand, wife of the then president of France.

There they all were — Estée Lauder and the  Dillons  and the Zikhas and John Fairchild and Susan Newhouse and even, for some strange reason, Donald Trump.

See what I mean? It is not just that Donald Trump is mentioned that catches the eye. It is also that he was a bit of an oddball even back then amidst the moneyed crowd. That oddball would much later flaunt his wealth on his way to winning the White House. And it may be that Trump’s “wealth” is connected to the “wealth” of another political actor from a different country, who uses a different sort of “business model” and who nurtured Trump along for his own reasons: Mr. Putin. That is a matter under investigation.

But there is a deeper thought that resonates other than the personalities and antics of the people on Malcolm’s guest list. Taylor writes

By the late eighties, the money culture had taken deep root in American society. The philosophy of wealth creation encouraged each person to seek his or her own fortune and let others take care of themselves. Of course, those incapable of taking care of themselves suffered correspondingly. The growing desolation among the nation’s poor, the increase in homelessness, and the general rise in frustration and disillusionment that helped bring about the crack plague are all ironic outgrowths of the money culture.

Is Taylor right about the effects of the “me first” value shift? Or does this indictment go too far? I am confident that I could find people to take both sides of the issue. That matter remains open.

Certainly, the money culture that he describes still has a powerful hold on the American imagination, and much more so elsewhere around the world. Even after the 2008 meltdown, the financial industry has a hold, not just on its position of power, but on the imaginations of many youngsters who yearn to get rich. But not all are so enamored. There are rumors as well, that some millennials are looking elsewhere for inspiration.

So, is someone like Nail Ferguson right that such a yearning is the normal state of affairs that should be nurtured or at least tolerated because of the benefits that the yearning creates in building prosperity? Or will we move on from the money culture in the 21st century, making a bit less money perhaps, and finding our pleasures and inspiration without the second yacht, private jet, a flock of Ferrari’s and Bentleys, and real estate holdings in ultra luxe settings scattered around the globe?

That story has yet to be written. Stay tuned!

BTW, as I write about these things, I am reminded of the cautionary tale of Commodus, the Roman emperor. It is said that the reign of Commodus began the decline of the Roman empire because it was he who began the culture of “me first” instead of “Rome first”. It was Commodus, for example, who had two brothers, who had led Roman legions in Gaul, to be murdered, so that he could take over their villa for his personal use. Me first, with a vengeance!

Thinking about TS Eliot’s Deeply Divided Nature

Peter Ackroyd is, perhaps, the perfect person to write a biography of TS Eliot  Ackroyd started his literary career more interested in poetry and literary criticism. But he started to write novels. He said

I enjoy it, I suppose, but I never thought I’d be a novelist. I never wanted to be a novelist. I can’t bear fiction. I hate it. It’s so untidy. When I was a young man I wanted to be a poet, then I wrote a critical book, and I don’t think I even read a novel till I was about 26 or 27

Now check out a closing thought that Ackroyd offers about Eliot

Throughout his life Eliot brought the anguish of his difficult and divided nature to the surface of his poetry, just as in oblique form he analyzed it in his prose. His predilection for order, as well as his susceptibility to disorder, were immense and in the jarring, crushing equilibrium between the two his life and work were formed. Both as a writer and as a man, his genius lay in his ability to resist the subversive tendencies of his personality by fashioning them into something larger than himself. His work represents the brilliant efflorescence of a dying culture: he pushed that culture together by an act of will, giving it a shape and context which sprang out of his own obsessions, and the certainties that he established were rhetorical certainties. In doing so, he became a symbol of the age, and his poetry became its echoing music – with its brooding grandeur as well as its bleakness, its plangency as well as its eclipses, its rhythmical strength as well as its theatrical equivocations.

Eliot had a certain loyalty to a grand cause, long ago lost, but not forgotten. He was certain of its grandeur.  Loyal to a grand lost cause, he was a wandering spirit, cast adrift without hope for a future that he could feel at home in. Again, certain. Now certain that he was lost.

In many ways,the future that came was indeed horrendous. and its horrendous nature might have pleased a part of Eliot’s divided character. But it was also magnificent in a way that Eliot would not be able to see. He was too much a man of his own internal struggles. Struggles that define him as a man of a particular era. Pre-modern?