Monday, 3 January 2011

Why I'm not sure I like satin anymore


When I flicked through Pauline E Metcalfe's  Syrie Maugham (pub. Acanthus Press 2010) there was something about its glamour that reminded me of my mother's bridge friends in the English provinces when I was growing up in the 50s.  I particularly loved Dorothy, Beryl, Gay, Mary and Heather who left their scented fur coats and Jacqmar scarves on the banisters and played cards with manicured hands in deathly silence, save for the the murmur of  the bidding.  Nobody lived in particularly recherché houses but something about their well-groomed silkiness and face-powder, their nail polish, their patent leather or crocodile shoes chimed with the high-gloss effects of some of Syrie's rooms.  I was nostalgic too for my mother's pale blue satin dressing gown on the back of the bathroom door.  On the strength of that, I  bought the book.


Then I looked again.  Oh dear.  The curtains above were made for her daughter Lisa Paravicini but not sure if I could have lived with this hemming that puts one in mind of  pair of lounging pajamas that have come into contact with the bathroom floor.


Who was Syrie Maugham's upholsterer, I  can't help wondering.  It's tricky stuff but they made a pig's ear of this valance n'est ce pas?  


Just because these rooms [above and below] were created for wondrously camp old Stephen Tennant at the fabled Wilsford Manor, there's no excuse to dress the occasional chairs in  bargain rail party frocks.  



 You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a Nevada chicken ranch.. The taste is not even amusingly execrable and one might spend one's spare time twitching the corners of the bed cover to align the corners. I'm not even an obsessive person.




Now what's going on here?  I love the organdie curtains but the pelmet treatment is nothing short of a tragic stab at things.  Sort of thing your teenage daughter might do with a staple gun on a night when her boyfriend was playing football.




Another bout of juvenilia. Sorry Syrie, but that stool just won't do. 




If anyone needed reminding, this is what Syrie Maugham was capable of and rightly celebrated for.  It's all a bit of a puzzle.



24 comments:

  1. That bedroom is nosing into the gray area between Liberace pied-a-terre and a Giancana family funeral.
    My next upholstery project will be in natural canvas. I'm just curious to see how it will hold up.

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  2. While there was certainly a lot to appreciate about the style of Syrie Maugham, I would not put her at the top of the lady decorators. Quality and service are issues still in question with some big name personalities today, where good p.r. is often valued over education. I totally agree with your critique of craftsmanship and faults in photo styling, however.

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  3. with you on this one! best left as ball gowns or PJ's I think!

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  4. rurritable that totally nails the look in your time-honoured way. Thank you!

    Devoted Classicist, I so agree about the PR. Fame and aspiration coalesce
    around certain figures who don't always deserve it.

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  5. Oh, Rosie, what wicked fun this one is! And what a gimlet eye you have, my artist friend---so entranced was I by the borders of the Paravicini's dining room curtains that I missed entirely the horrible hems. as for bedroom valance, definitely a bad hair day.

    The description of the bridge ladies made me so suddenly nostalgic for childhood...

    And in the last photo---how could Syrie go wrong with a rug by the great Marian Doorn?

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  6. PS, Are you familiar with Frances Elkins, a Californian who sometimes collaborated with Maugham, and used many of her furnishings? She was a far better editor and had a more rigorous, intellectual approach---the student surpassing the teacher, I think...

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  7. Most amusing and clever of you, dear Rose. Perhaps the Empress is not, at least not always, wearing her clothes?

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  8. One of my instructors in design school used to say "There are two paths to fame in interior design: you can be a good designer, or you can be a good-looking designer. Hotness will take you far."

    Whatever Syrie had going for her, she obviously didn't have a stylist on call, and any time satin is involved, you need one--not that a little bit of seam-straightening would have helped that black lace bedroom much. It reminds me of what somebody said was "the shopgirl's idea of glamour".

    Then again, maybe the woman who hired Syrie to do this room had been a shopgirl and this was her dream bedroom. Maybe poor Syrie just bit her tongue & tried to make her client happy, since she certainly found little enough happiness herself. At least the draping of the swags came out a little better this time. Sometimes, you just take whatever comfort you can find.

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  9. Oh dear indeed. The black & white photos of her earlier work would not be completely out of place in some Thai residences here - today! Yikes. I wonder when they are dated. It's extraordinary to think that this work was ever considered good, the satin frou frou notwithstanding. The bedroom photo is a particular horror story. Ann Summers might have been inspired by it to create her naughtiest lingerie.

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  10. There is too much satin. It feels like an old episode of Dynasty. Consider yourself lucky: there was a time when the fashion was to extend the hem so the curtain would have a few inches sweeping the floor.

    Nothing wrong with satin overall. Just don't abuse it.

    http://davidikus.blogspot.com/

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  11. It seems that a few "reputations" give the beneficiary the right to do sloppy work. And it should not be questioned what's more. I had a look at that kind of a situation with a client this year for whom I had to come in and "fix" a few things. I was shocked. And I am not that obsessive either...It is a very tricky job what's more, to be the second fiddle.Great post! What an eye!

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  12. I'm glad to hear the voice of skepticism, and I totally agree with it!

    The 1980s were good years for naf "window treatments" - even the phrase itself is so redolent of that time. I'm not sure why it is but one of the first things I notice is the quality of finish of upholstery and curtains and there's a lot of bad stuff getting by the editors - whether by choice or sin of omission is debatable.

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  13. DED, wicked is a great compliment thank you. I agree about the Marion Dorn rugs - genius to employ her work.

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  14. Reggie, yes, some people definitely mistook the Empress's new clothes. I think she wore them rather often actually.

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  15. Getting in a muddle answering all these great comments..

    Concrete Jungle and Jeanne-Aelia D H thank you for commenting and welcome! Glad to have struck a chord here.

    Room Temperature - the black lace look was for the aesthete Stephen Tennant who made some terrific surreal statements at Wilsford Manor. Camp as he was, he must have been appalled by Syrie's lack of wit here.

    Columnist - amused by your reference to Ann Summers. This is as tacky as her shops.

    Blue - Syrie's window treatments really let her down. Of course she wasn't 'trained' as an interior decorator and it shows. I keep wondering how many clients were appalled and, having fallen for a society lady, were too scared to stand up to her.

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  16. The first paragraph was a beauty. The teenager with a staple gun wasn't bad either! Perhaps it's time to write the memoir. I was on the fence about this book, and I think I'll wait until goes on the remainder bin...where, it seems, the upholstery should be there as well.

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  17. While I'm not entirely comfortable dismissing Syrie Maugham as someone
    whose work was uneven or slapdash (she had some good moments) these
    photographs do lend weight to the suspicion that she was a model for
    Evelyn Waugh's predatory lady decorator Mrs Beaver in his finest novel
    A Handful of Dust.

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  18. Dear Rosie, satin's such a difficult fabric to work with. I'd love a copy of the book and the ridiculousness of it makes me smile. The last picture is great though. Hope all's well and wishing you a fabulous 2011 xx

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  19. Home, you always say the sweetest things and I love it. I wouldn't make this book a priority - it faintly depressed me.

    Mr Worthington, you always manage to put things perfectly into context. I haven't read A Handful of Dust but must. W Somerset Maugham said some pretty damn uncharitable things about his wife which incensed her supporters. But I am prepared to believe some of it at least.

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  20. Christina - satin's touch and go as a dress fabric I've noticed. I will lend you this book - don't buy it! Happy 2011 and congratulations for being selected as one of Little A's favourite posts.

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  21. getting in terribly late here, I did not buy the book because I am trying to cut back-and I have about enough of her in other books. I think here is was a lot about theatrics and like set design it works for the set rather than holding up under close scrutiny.

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  22. la - I think that's a good point. But actually, the more I look at Syrie's general work, the more I think she was fairly undistinguished beyond her great white drawing room moment. Fabulous at mirrors and bathrooms!

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  23. i cracked on the staple gun! great post! more please.

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  24. Hi Michiel! If anybody encourages me to speak my mind, it's you. I'm just off to your blog now.

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