The museum I call home


I love the Musée d’Orsay for many reasons. First of all because it’s in a former train station, the Gare d’Orsay, an architectural masterpiece which reminds us of the golden age of steam. An age when travel could be elegant and railway stations weren’t just shopping centres. There’s a fabulous story of how Jeanne Moreau went to visit Orson Welles in his suite at the Hôtel Meurice overlooking the Tuileries gardens (how I envy him!) and he spotted two twin moons across the river which she explained were the railway clocks. Captivated, they rushed out in the night for a closer look and the station was later brilliantly used in his adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. But back to me. I have been going there so long that this place almost feels like home. It helps that I feel like I belong in 19th and early 20th Century France – many of the works of art even feel like old friends. Daumier’s Célèbrités du Juste Milieu, paintings of Scapin and Don Quixote with the dead mule, Millet’s The Gleaners, Manet’s portrait of Zola, Olympia and that astonishing asparagus, Robert de Montesquieu by Boldini, Proust by Jacques-Émile Blanche (although this wasn’t on display last time which is outrageous), the Gates of Hell and that sculpture of Balzac by Rodin, Courbet’s Burial at Ornans and The Artist’s Studio (last time I visited the museum I bought a book about Proust, only to discover an inadvertently stolen postcard of Courbet’s Origin of the World which is my least favourite painting there, surely hidden away by a schoolboy), Pompon’s Polar Bear and Owl, all that Art Nouveau furniture and glass. It’s torture trying to see everything until overcome by exhaustion, I must accept defeat and head for the exit. Until next time.



Winter in London



I must admit that leaving the house just after 7am in the dark and the freezing rain made me almost call the whole thing off. By the time I boarded the train for London, my hands and feet were so cold that I spent the entire train journey bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, trying to warm my fingers with lots of tea. But then the sight of the magnificent St. Pancras station never fails to lift my spirits and I hurried down the platform to meet Amanda and Sharly by the statue of the great Sir John Betjamin. The first time I met Amanda it was in the same spot but during one of the hottest weeks ever. This time, the contrast in the weather couldn’t have been greater but we still had a wonderful day in spite of the rain. The Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A was sold out but we went to the new Ocean Liners: Speed and Style instead which was just fabulous. I’ve always had a soft spot for vintage photos and posters from the golden age of travel and there were plenty here, along with gems such as The Duke of Windsor’s Goyard trunks which straight away made me think of my friend Jan, Marlene Dietrich’s suit, socialite Emilie Grigsby’s Paul Poiret satin trousers and dresses, a Louis Vuitton vanity set, plus beautiful furniture, panelling and music by Fred Astaire and clips from classic films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to enjoy.

After lunch, we headed for Harrod’s, then Fortnum’s, then Hatchard’s where my energy flagged and I collapsed on a sofa in the art section with my bags full of exhibition merchandise, makeup and tea around me. We said our goodbyes in Burberry where Amanda was trying on a beautiful coat. It’s a shame we don’t live closer but I’m already looking forward to our next meeting in Berlin, Paris, London, New York or somewhere different.



An afternoon at the Louvre


I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Louvre. On the one hand, it’s an undeniably magnificent collection in a beautiful building with such a remarkable history. On the other hand, the collection is so vast that I never manage to see more than 0.0001% of what they have on display. There are parts of the museum I have never yet ventured into and at the end of every visit, I retire defeated, certain that I could stay there for months, years even, and still not see everything. Perhaps I should find two friends and just run through the whole thing in record time like in Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à Part.

To be fair, it was 16 years (!) since my last visit and returning there last December brought back nothing but happy memories. On a rainy winter’s afternoon, I decided to make my way to the famous pyramid entrance after killing time dodging puddles in the Tuileries before my timed ticket was valid. I needn’t have worried – to my astonishment, there was no queue at all to get in and I descended the familiar spiral staircase, happy to discover that everything was pretty much the same. Part of my trouble at the Louvre comes from the French Romantics – I can never resist going to those galleries first to see those vast canvases by Géricault, David, Delacroix and the rest, and end up spending far too long there but this at least time I avoided the crowds in front of the Mona Lisa after the disappointment of my first ever visit when I couldn’t believe that such a famous painting was so small and protected behind glass.

After that I only had the energy to visit the sumptuous Napoleon III apartments which made me want to have the rooms of my home decorated in red and gold and invest in a chandelier and fabulous plants. But I’m already planning my next visit to the Louvre when I won’t head straight for the French Romantics. Since my last visit, they have opened an Angélina’s close the Second Empire apartments where you can sit on chairs upholstered in gris montaigne and savour one of their ridiculously thick hot chocolates before trying to see another 1% of the Louvre’s collection instead of an indifferent coffee and a macaron at the regular café. I can’t wait.


I dream of Dior


It was Dior that made me book the Eurostar tickets. After persuading myself since summer that I didn’t need to see every exhibition and that I could be satisfied with the catalogue, I could no longer resist. For Dior is the stuff dreams are made of, whether you prefer designs by CD himself, YSL, Marc Bohan or any of the later designers. Even if you hate most of the stuff that comes down the runway today, there is nothing like the magic of a Dior dress to restore your faith in fashion and elegance.

The exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs is not without its drawbacks. Although I had booked tickets, it was absolute chaos just getting in and then there are the enormous crowds in the first few rooms which make it almost impossible to see anything. But you forgive them that for the lighting which makes the clothes look even more exquisite. Each room is more beautiful than the previous one until you come to the grand finale – a temple of fashion with the most magnificent dresses – jewel encrusted or plain, dreams in satin, silk, tulle or taffeta – with the shimmering light show in gold overhead and on the walls. There is nothing to do but pause and gaze open-mouthed. I shall never forget the experience and can only say merci, Monsieur Dior.


My favourite dress in the whole exhibition.


Written in stone


The last time I visited Paris, it was winter and a light dusting of snow covered the ground. I couldn’t  wait to take the metro up to Montmartre cemetery, one of the few I haven’t visited, with my Paris guidebook featuring a guided walk there by the great photographer Jean-Loup Sieff, plus flowers for François Truffaut, Hector Berlioz and Dalida who are all buried there. My enthusiasm died a sudden death though when I found the gates firmly locked with a notice that this cemetery, and in fact, all cemeteries and large parts of parks were closed for health and safety reasons. For such a romantic nation, the French have no sense of the poetic at times – what could be more beautiful than funerary monuments in the snow? To paraphrase Henri IV, “Paris vaut bien une jambe cassée.”

Anyway, I’m happy to report that this time there was no snow. In fact, it was the perfect winter’s day and the only decent one of my trip. Returning to Père Lachaise after 16 years, everything felt both familiar and new. It really is a remarkable place and like many great French things, we owe it to Napoleon, or more specifically Nicholas Frochot, after the walls of the notoriously overcrowded Cimetière des Innocents collapsed and he ordered him to create new cemeteries outside the centre including this one, named after Louis XIV’s confessor, Père de la Chaise. Its immediate attraction for me all those years ago was the number of famous people I admire who sleep there – Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrision, Frédéric Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust, Marie Trintignant, Balzac, Edith Piaf and too many others to mention. But one of the great pleasures is just to wander from section to section along its avenues lined with magnificent old trees, stopping to admire any monuments or graves that catch your eye and even imagining the story behind the names.

If you want to go there, I encourage you to get off at Gambetta and walk down the hill which is much less arduous and crowded. You will need a plan which you can find at the entrance at the top or from the conservation office at the bottom. I also recommend a guide like Permanent Parisians or Stories in Stone, both of which are excellent. But also be realistic – there are 108 acres to cover and it’s almost impossible to visit all the graves you want to in one day. And always be prepared for surprises – a cemetery cat greeted me after I unexpectedly found the great Claude Chabrol’s grave on my way to Chopin’s. Pausing, I saw a man with wild curly hair and glasses, carrying a folder coming towards me. When I told him I was now looking for Jim Morrison’s grave, he exclaimed, “Jim is dead?!,” before leading me on a shortcut to find it and telling me all the fascinating stories about Edith Piaf, Marcel Marceau, Chopin and so many others. He works as a guide and loves his job because he has no boss calling him on the phone and covers a huge amount of space walking each day. His secret was revealed when he opened a cigarette box to reveal large amounts of chocolate. He left me to make his way to the crematorium to see the barbecue as he described it but I encountered him again, chatting and laughing with other visitors. A true delight.

As the sun started to set, my feet began to ache and I resigned myself to not seeing all the graves on my list and felt sad at the thought of leaving this place that means so much to me. But the memories of that special day are still so vivid and I’m already thinking about my next trip to Paris when I might finally get to Montmartre.

Héloïse and Abélard


Robinson’s phantasmagoric tomb


Félix Faure, President of the French Republic who may have died after erotic excess with his mistress.


Vivant Denon


Memorials to those who died in concentration camps.


The Communards’ Wall


Oscar Wilde


Honoré Daumier’s grave was in a sad state when I first visited but it’s now been restored thanks to donations by those who love his work.
Jim Morrison


René Lalique

Winter in London


Even the most weary traveller would find it hard to resist London at this time of year. Other cities like Berlin are just cold and grey but London has a special atmosphere that brings out the best in it. The Christmas trees sparkle, exquisite decorations light up elegant streets, you pause in front of Fortnum’s famous windows to admire their fantastic displays before going into to stock up essentials like tea, biscuits and marmalade. Even Cartier’s is all wrapped up in a big red bow. And there is always something remarkable to discover. Pausing to admire a beautiful tiara in the window of Bentley and Skinner on Piccadilly, I was invited in to see a small exhibition of exquisite Fabergé jewels and trinkets in the basement before making my way to the Duchamp/Dali exhibition at the Royal Academy. No visit to Piccadilly would be complete either without a visit to Hatchards which is surely the bibliophile’s ultimate dream. After breakfasting on almond croissant, Greek yoghurt with berries and strong coffee, I took the train to Blackfriar’s the next morning for the Red Star Over Russia exhibition at Tate Modern where I spent the rest of the day drifting between the galleries and joining in the fun in the Turbine Hall which is rather like a giant playground. The day ended with a trip to the BFI to watch one of my favourite films of all time, Double Indemnity. In the warmth and comfort of those plush red seats next to fellow cinephiles, the film came alive like never before and not a sound was uttered until after the final credits had rolled. On my final day, I just see the remarkable exhibition of Cézanne portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and return to the permanent collection of the National Gallery to admire some of my favourite paintings before catching the bus over to the BFI again to watch Vincente Minnelli’s wonderful The Bad and the Beautiful. The weather had turned very cold and there was a chill in the air as I walked over Waterloo Bridge in the red lights of rush hour to get the bus back to St. Pancras, taking in the lights and beautiful buildings one last time. I can’t wait for Christmas.


Gift guide for men, 2017

Image result for cary grant style

For this year’s gift guide, I’ve not only included a few suggestions of my own but also asked some stylish men for advice. Thanks to them for giving me ideas and for making this a fun post to put together. Presents range from the very affordable to objects of dreams but I hope you’ll find something desirable and inspiring, even if it’s just window shopping. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful blogs by my friends Jan and Kenneth for more style ideas and inspiring writing.

George Jensen elephant bottle opener, £35. I personally could never give this to a man unless I lived with him because it’s definitely something I want for myself.

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Le Creuset The Waiter’s Corkscrew, £25.60.

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Laguiole Olivewood Three Piece Cheese Set, £289 – the ultimate set to bring out with the cheeseboard.

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A classic leather hip flask in deep brown croc, £45, Aspinal of London (currently 15% off as well). Can also be engraved. The perfect accessory for long winter walks.

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Bucks Fizz Orange Marmalade from Fortnum’s to add a touch of elegance on Christmas morning, £7.95

Two of my favourite fragrances for men which I also love to wear:

Chanel pour Monsieur Eau de Toilette, from £52

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Sycomore by Les Exclusifs de Chanel, from £140

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The finest handmade combs by Kent, starting at £3.85

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An Abbeyhorn shoehorn which really is beautifully made and designed to last. Prices start from £13.88.

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A cashmere tie to keep warm and look elegant in the winter months, Emma Willis, £140 large


Hermès passport holder, £155, sadly no longer available in red but vert Titien is still gorgeous.


A beautiful dark red wool twill scarf from Loro Piana, £360

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And another in blue cashmere and silk, £635

A double-breasted topcoat in camel hair, £1246, J.Crew.

Double-breasted topcoat in camel hair

Bugatti Sports Coat in black watch tartan, currently in the sale for £155 from Peter Hahn

Bugatti - Sports coat

A vintage Daytona Paul Newman watch from antique stores and Ebay among others. From £325,000 – good luck with that!

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Or perhaps you’d rather have the Todd Snyder Military Watch in black, $138

The Military Watch in Black

Steve McQueen by William Claxton, £8.99 because he was just the epitome of style and cool

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James Dean by Dennis Stock, £24.95. Handsome coffee table book of one of the ultimate screen icons.

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And finally some Dorothy Thorope style 1960s roly poly Mad Men whisky glasses because what man doesn’t want to be Don Draper? £125 on Etsy (set of six)

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Image result for mad men whiskey glasses