Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Talent for Overdoing It: Tony Duquette

Flamboyant talent: Tony Duquette and his longtime collaborator Hutton Wilkinson

[Do try clicking on all the images for a much better look]

The name of decorator Tony Duquette, protegé of Elsie de Wolfe, is synonomous with excess and the exotic (walls covered in abalone shells anyone?). He prided himself in using cheap or unorthodox materials to substitute for genuine luxe and his longtime friend and business partner Hutton Wilkinson said of him ''He was the only man who could spend $999 in a 99-cent store''

I always wondered what Duquette looked like. Here he is marrying Elizabeth Johnstone, ' an artist and eager contributor to the Duquette vision.' [Read the entertaining NY Times obituary of T D here]
The wedding took place at the fabled Pickfair with Mary Pickford as a bridesmaid.

What about this bridal gown? It looks like the national dress of Piedmont or somewhere. Are those sleeves silk jersey? What colour might they have been? Or is she wearing a jumper underneath? In the context of marrying such an interesting man I think it succeeds fabulously.

Elizabeth who had marvellously turned ankles and Tony at home in 'The Porcelain Pavilion', their miniature house in Paris 1951.

The two of them had a magisterial talent for parties.

Elizabeth helps Mrs Harrison Williams (Mona Bismarck) with her Tony Duquette mask for The Vicomtesse de Noailles' costume ball in Paris C. 1951

T & E at a chinoiserie ball that Duquette designed for the Pendletons of Beverly Hills.

Walls of crushed abalone shell and a Tony Duquette nacre and coral chandelier decorate the entrance to Mrs William Roth's Undersea Ball. ( You didn't need to look up to the surface.)

Another whimsical party setting. Don't you adore indoor topiary!

.. and a magical winter ball

A vegetational decoration for a ball given at his Los Angeles Studio.

Talking of the Studio, I love this picture of them having tea there with the cat 'Weak Eyes'

Maybe the tablecloth was made out of Elizabeth's wedding dress?

And here they are photographed at the Studio for Town and Country Magazine in the 1980s
Click for a close-up of TD's remarkable sunburst sculptures and their gorgeous dressing gowns.

The Duquettes' tiny but mighty house Dawnridge in Beverley Hills is featured in the video below when a jewellery designer pays homage to the whole Duquette legend. The host is Hutton Wilkinson who bought it after TD's death in 1999. (Don't be put off by the video's appearance; just enjoy Wilkinson opening the door to this odd-looking lady)

A pagoda in Dawnridge's orientalist garden.

''Decorating is not a surface performance, it's a spiritual impulse, inborn and primordial.''

All images courtesy and


  1. The decoration of that Winter Ball would be a huge hit today.

  2. What a wonderful post- combining what I do Love most- quote, humor, content! I do think the Lady Elizabeth is lovely-the dress and the cake were made to match, while the pair obviously were just growing into their conservative tastes at the time. la

  3. Ohhh - I LOVE his jewellery - that book they were flicking through at the end of the film looks great - is it on your amazon wish list??

  4. My god, that's Dawn Ridge alright, that video brings it all back. Hutton was very much the same character when we filmed him. What a godawful TV spot that is though, rush- cut and terrible presenter.
    I will try to dig out the piece we did for BBC2, and also the pics i took at the remains of his property up in Malibu. Hutton actually lives up there in a modern house built on the site, but there are some of TD's pieces still dotted about.
    I think more people need to know this story; not just the man's designs (which are fab) but the man himself. Meaty..


  5. Thanks Willy. Will be very interested to see what material you have on Tony Duquette.

  6. fabulous inspiring post on tony duquette. how come i didn't know him till this point?! of course went straight to his website and then straight to amazon to find the details on the book. why did i ever install the 1-click-buy-option? dammit. but i must say, even if it would have been my last penny, the book is worth it. in it, amongst a load of other fantastic pictures, a couple more of beegle's wedding dress. from what i can see, the sleeves are of a certain taffeta (probably silk or acetate).
    x m

  7. Oh Michiel, you are such a bad boy with your book habit, but no worse than me. Perhaps I should succumb to buying the book myself. Do you know what put me off? The hopelessly amateur website. Unbelievable.
    I am sure you are right abut Beegle's wedding sleeves; and you would know if anybody would. See above that Will filmed Dawnridge for a programme on superhouses. xxRosie

  8. indeed, very amateur website. but the book definitely is not! and wow, again, this man did an awful lot. it is really amazing. i'm sure you would love it too.
    is will's programme to be seen anywhere online? would love to see it.
    x m

  9. That settles it Michiel, I'm going to amazon now.
    Will find out if the prog. is online.

  10. The second book "More is More" launches in NYC in October and is even better!! We will def be seeing more of this talented fellow...

  11. That is great news, thank you that FPK


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