Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finding Inspiration in Life

It's easy to lose inspiration. One minute you're full of exaltation and motivation, encouraged by new ideas and creativity; the next you're struggling for stimulus and stuck in a quagmire of inactivity. To make things more difficult, influences come and go so quickly that sometimes we miss The Muse when it passes through. All too often I've noticed something amazing that illuminated that moment in time, but have then forgotten it in the onslaught of life. The flash that could have been a magnificent impetus had faded before I'd even had a chance to properly absorb it.

That's why I take photos. Instagram is no doubt wonderful for this but a simple camera or notepad will also do. I'll use anything to scribble, sketch, record or jot down notes and ideas as they appear. I'll also collect things – beautiful cards from bookstores and museum and gallery giftshops, publicity material from exhibitions, and of course pages from magazines – and then collate the 'Papers of Inspiration' (as my partner calls it) in a pocket of my suitcase for when I get home. (That's the best part: going through it all again!)

Inspiration doesn't just come on cue. You have to seek out The Muse. It's like being an anthropologist of ideas; a David Attenborough of stimuli.

Here are some places where I find inspiration. Hopefully they'll help you find it again too.

I was lucky enough to write for this beautiful magazine  in the 1990s (albeit under a different name), and I still have a soft spot for it. It's one of the most inspirational magazines in the world, which is why you always see it on newsstands in New York and London. I was saddened to hear that long-time editor David Clark has resigned (quite suddenly) and is now taking a much-needed break in Hawaii. However, I'm sure the new editor (whomever it is) will take the publication to even greater aesthetic heights. The latest issue is quite possibly the best ever. The online version has a story on the remarkable photographer Steve Back and his aerial shots of Hutt Lagoon (image at very top of post). If I could paint, I'd paint that photo. Just beautiful. Here are two more of Steve Back's extraordinary landscape studies...

Earlier this year, my partner bought me a vintage copy of a New Yorker magazine from the day I was born (or close enough to it). I've always loved vintage magazines, and this was a surprisingly thoughtful gift. It inspired me to spend half a day in London's vintage magazine stores last week looking for a vintage Vogue from the month my sister-in-law was born to give her for Christmas (top). But apart from the sentimental value, vintage magazines are full of inspiration: incredible photography by great names such as Irving Penn, cute stories on long-lost pastimes and gorgeous ideas, colours, interiors, gowns and places for modern projects. You can find them at the Conde Nast online store, or in London's vintage magazine shops. (I used the one in Soho.)

It's difficult to make time to see exhibitions – especially in Paris, where the queues for the just-opened shows, Paris By hollywood (Hotel de Ville), the Bohemians (Grand Palais) and Van Cleef & Arpels (Les Arts Décoratifs) took over an hour. (Surprisingly, London's shows, including Tim Walker, Hollywood Costume and Ballgowns, and were easy to access.) However, it's worth tracking down and seeing good exhibitions, as the inspiration they provide can keep you energised for months. If you can't see the exhibitions, then ordering the book can be the next best thing. I've just bought the exquisitely miniature catalogue of the Cristóbal Balenciaga, Philippe Venet, and Hubert de Givenchy exhibition. It juxtaposes the gowns with the influences of the designers – from roses to paintings, staircases, artwork, interiors, mirrors, even balustrades (one of my favourite things.) It's format is so beautiful, it has inspired the design of our next Paris book.

A bookshop is a magical place, which is why it's such a shame that Amazon is teasing us with cheap prices. In Paris last week, I popped by the bookshop at the Decorative Arts Museum next to the Louvre (Les Arts Décoratifs), and stumbled upon an entire section of vintage fashion books. It was like finding the veta madre – the Mother Lode! Bibliophilia bliss. There was more inspiration there than you could shake a Balenciage gown at.

Those of you who read The Library's regularly will know I have a great weakness for a foreign place (especially if it's Paris or New York). Condé Nast Traveler magazine and its English version are valuable sources for ideas on places to go, even if you're only an armchair traveller. Their stories are always wonderful sources of inspiration, and this month's 25th Anniversary Issue, with Hilary Clinton on the cover is one of the best yet. The issue has offered a list of the 32 Best Trips in The World, and it includes Australia. (Thanks CN; we love you too.)
As a little addendum to the list, here are five destinations on my '32 Best Trips List':
1. Lake Como, Italy, and a day-long tour of the waterfront mansions in a 1950's wooden speedboat. BYO picnic and handsome man. (I'd take mine.)
2. Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and arriving at either island in a puddle-jumper plane from Boston, crossing the beauty of Cape Cod as you do. Nantucket village and Edgartown are arguably two of the most beautiful villages in the US.
3. Key West on Fantasy Fest Weekend. Hire a convertible Mustang, drive down the Keys, pay your respect at Hemingway's mansion, have a drink or three at a sunset bar and stop for some palm-tree-enhanced R&R at The Moorings on the way back.
4. A long weekend on Harbour Island, a far-flung island in the Bahamas. The celebrity spotting is incredible, but the pastel-painted Caribbean architecture (above) is even better.
5. Sailing the Whitsunday Islands in a little Beneteau yacht. Ask one of the sea plane companies to pick you up on the way out to the reef and go snorkelling on the reef: one of the world's most magical places. I get inspiration just from swimming amongst the tropical fish for an hour.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Secret Gardens of Paris

The one thing I love about gardens, about from their scented pleasures, is the fact that they are completely egalitarian.

A garden doesn't judge you on your wealth or status; it doesn't care whether you went to a private school or a public one; whether you fly Economy or Singapore Airlines Sleeper Suites; whether you earn half a million or an author's wage. It doesn't sneer if you have the wrong shoes; if you have the wrong handbag; if you've forgotten to apply your lipstick when you rushed out the door  in a flurry of hurry. It doesn't mind if you're not wearing Chanel or Balmain, if you caught a cold on the plane, if you utter a quiet profanity when you trip over the 'Do Not Walk On The Grass' chain. It doesn't even care if you don't want to talk. In fact, it rather likes the silence. Shhhhh, it says gently. Can't you see people are trying to think?

A garden is a place where all things are equal, and all people are too. Rich or poor, homeless or haute couture, a garden is open to all. There are no class distinctions here. So you can check your social anxiety in at the gate. And your airs and graces too.

A garden is a place of worship, but it's not necessarily about God. Unless you look upon Mother Nature as a deity. (As I do.) It's a place of faith, in the sense that once you enter, life just seems to become inexplicably better. It's a place of contemplation, rejuvenation, salvation. A place where anything can happen, even if nothing does. A garden is a saviour for the soul, a tonic for contemporary life, a last-chance place to find grace.

I love gardens. I'm only a starter gardener, but I suspect I will be a worshipper my whole life.

Here, in horticultural tribute to the gardens of Paris, are some of the more enchanting oases in this botanical-loving city. I was so inspired by them that when I arrived home at midnight last night I couldn't wait to get up at 6AM and water my own humble backyard patch. That's the other thing about gardens. They inspire you to live life to its fullest.

Oh – and I apologise for not getting back to emails and comments before now. Am suffering from terrible jet lag, although it's possibly from staying up late to watch the New York news! Thank you for all your lovely notes. Looking forward to replying to them all now.

The beautiful parterre of the courtyard of the Carnavalet Museum in the Marais. 
Sublime on a summer's day. Sublime on any day, really.

The  Orangerie at Versailles. 
Many visitors miss this in the shuffle from the Palace to Grand Canal. And that's a crime. It's spectacular. There's just no other word for it. It's beyond spectacular. 
Built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart before work on the main palace had even begun, it was designed to both shelter the tender citrus plants and impress the palace's visitors. There are more than a thousand trees, all of them in beautifully constructed Versailles planters. (Those are worth seeing on their own.) Most of the trees are orange trees, and many are 200 or 300 years old. 
I saw this just before the gardeners put the trees away for the winter (which happens at the end of October). I spent an hour walking around this part of Versailles. It was a glorious autumn morning, and the garden just glowed.

The gardens of the exquisitely tiny, doll's house-style Petit Trianon palace at Versailles.
And the even tinier Pavillion Français next to it. 
No wonder Marie Antoinette like to retreat here to escape the royal pompousness of the palace. I'd happily spend my life wandering up and down its pleached avenues, too. Even the lantern was deocrated with intricate ivy.

The grand gardens of Versailles. 
And the garden architecture within it.
Have you ever seen such craftsmanship? Incredible.
(Have you some of noticed my photos are on a lean? So strange. Perhaps one leg is shorter?)

The enthralling Pavilion Frais.
Which is tucked away behind the Pavillion Français.
(Which, in turn, is tucked away behind the Petit Trianon. It's like a Russian Doll of gardens; each one smaller than the last!) 

Of the three of these gardens, the Petit Trianon, the Français and the Frais, the Frais was by far my favourite. The trelliswork was extraordinary. Also known as the Salon Frais or the Pavillon du Treillage, it was constructed under the reign of Louis XV and designed by the renowned Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the “Architecte du Roi”, considered by many to be one of the greatest French architects of the 18th century. (He also did the Versailles Opera and the Place de la Concorde). He designed the entire Petit Trianon triptych, including the Petit Trianon, and the Pavillons Français and Frais. 
Unlike the Petit Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette's own private residence, the one-room Pavillon Frais was used primarily on warm spring and summer days as a private dining room by the Queen and her courtiers. It was a charming garden hideaway with elaborate, intricate trelliswork featuring garden motifs in stone, bordered on each side by two grand pillars adorned on top with topiary spheres. The whole structure was painted in delicate shade of spring green. The interior was decorated with walls of beautiful boiseries (sculpted with garlands and flowers), mirrors, a chimney and a savonerie carpet. The surrounding garden had two oval pools on the inner sides of two symmetrical rectangular flower beds whose outer sides had fan palms in the centre. The two pools were surrounded by slabs of Languedoc marble, like the chimney of the pavilion, paved with two-coloured stones and decorated with a water spout.
The Pavillon Frais was destroyed in 1810, its portico pulled down the following year and its pools filled in between 1830 and 1840. The restoration of the pavilion only began in 1980, but was interrupted. It was only thanks to the sponsorship support American Friends of Versailles that the restoration was finished. As you can see, I was utterly enthralled by this magical place.

There's an amazing doco about the restoration of it here.

The west side of the Luxembourg Gardens.
This side is less crowded than the east. 
And more enchanting, in my opinion.

The quiet grandeur of the Tuileries. 
Just look at those enormous urns propped above the Rue du Rivoli entrance. 
If you find a serene corner – and there are many – you'll have one of the best places to have a picnic lunch in Paris.

The Garden Bookshop in the Tuileries Gardens
A great place to find unusual gardenalia. On the day I was there it had even planted its own whimsical garden out front. Just lovely.

The Petit Palais. 
Situated opposite the more famous Grand Palais (Lagerfeld's favourite new spot in Paris: he calls it "the new heart of the city"), the Petit Palais is a small pocket of stillness in the bustling madness of the inner city. The galleries themselves are worth a wander but it's the cafe and exotic tropical garden in the very centre of the building that are the real drawcards, I think. The queue to eat here was 40 minutes. And no wonder.

The secret garden of the Cour de Rohan, in the 6th.
An idyllic street that's only open on Wednesdays when the locals reluctantly allow the tourists a peek.

Rue du Furstenberg. 
It's not a garden as such, but just try to walk through it and not feel a sense of wonder. Delacroix's Museum is also here. That's a garden worth seeing too.

The private gardens of Montmartre.
Even the window boxes of geraniums were splendid.

The gardens of Hermes.
I couldn't obtain access to the rooftop garden of Hermes this visit, as the notice was too short, but I hope to in the future. In the meantime, the window merchandising was enough. The displays were  gorgeous. I was so inspired I bought a small bottle of the new fragrance Un Jardin Sur Le Toit (or 'A Garden on the Roof”). Whenever I spray it, it reminds me of this glorious week in Paris.

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