Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Window Watching at the Movies

Even after spending the day working with fabrics and creating window treatments, it's a treat to sit back and look at more window treatments on film.  Movie sets might not be as fraught with meaning as a Vermeer painting but they certainly do offer visual delights when the performances are a bit off.  And in a well-acted film the sets subtly support and reinforce the director's intent.  So in keeping with TCM's "31 days of Oscar" and the 81st Academy Awards, I nominate my favorites for Draperies to Die For:
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1945) - This just-about-perfect movie from Vincente Minnelli features the set designs of Edwin B. Willis and Cedric Gibbons in addition to warm, loving performances from a very accomplished cast.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  is certainly one of my favorite songs of the season, but the best part of the movie for me is when John and Esther (Tom Drake and Judy Garland) are going through the house at the end of the party turning off lights and getting all caught up in each other.  The Victorian window and wall treatments are further enhanced by Garland's blue dress, all trimmed out in ball fringe and bullion.  We won't see a worthy competitor to that costume until Carol Burnett spoofs Gone With the Wind 20 years later.
  • The Merry Widow (1952) - I'm not sure who thought this Franz Lehar opperetta would be a good vehicle for Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas (!) but Edwin B. Willis and Cedric Gibbons created over the top sets that make the actors' shortcomings enjoyable.  Lana Turner acting cool and beautiful and Fernando Lamas looking "marvelous" and imperious were fine with me as long as I could feast on the stellar draperies and trappings in Crystal's (Turner) American home and the trappings at the Marshovian palace.  This is a remake of the 1934 B/W version with Jeannette MacDonald and Maurice Chevallier.  The sets are equally sumptuous in the original, even in monochrome.
  • My Fair Lady (1964) - If Lerner and Lowe had never written the libretto and music for this play;  if Eliza had never learned to speak "How kind of you to let me come";  if Higgins had never wagered with Col. Pickering this would still be a visual smorgasbord to be savored.  Even with the sound down (and why would you do that to the truly delightful music and clever lyrics!) the black and white composition of the Ascot Race patrons, the nearly psychedelic and period accurate wallpaper in Higgins' entry hall, and Mrs. Higgins' blue and white Art Nouveau parlor are reason enough to watch the film regularly.   Whole articles could probably be written on the settings providing clues to the personalities who live within.
  • Nanny McPhee (2006) - This delightfully quirky film features wonderfully garish colors in the interior sets designed by Philippa Hart.  The walls, furniture and draperies all clash and combine in such fashion as to set the viewer subtly on edge.  The Browns (for all the children's bad behavior) and Evangeline are the only "normal" ones in the place.  Nanny McPhee's appearance might change but the house does not.  And neither does Aunt Adelaide.  Apart from the fact that Emma Thompson and Colin Firth are 2 of my favorite contemporary actors, this movie offers a fun romp through the color wheel.
  • In any discussion of cinematic draperies it's impossible to omit the films of Busby Berkeley.  This man made geometry fascinating with his overhead shots and precision movements.  The story lines were usually nothing more than lead-ins to the musical numbers and for that reason I'm not quite sure in which BB film my favorite visual is located.  I'm guessing it's either Gold Diggers of  1935 or Zigfeld Follies, but what looks like a gargantuan wedding cake made of white draperies sits center stage.  As the music plays, the draperies (yards and yards of a Christos fantasy) begin to rise in huge swags and disappear into the flies above.  A rotating  "corkscrew" is revealed with dancers (or women, or pianos) arranged around its sides and after they perform  the draperies then descend in graceful folds around them all and the set again resembles a wedding cake.  Each time I watch that I'm filled with questions - "Where are the seams?"  "What kinds of motors did they use to haul those drapes into the flies?"  "How did they table these babies to get the hems straight?" 
  • A lot of people think of retirement as a time to start something new.  When I retire I want to go to work at DisneyWorld in the set design department.  Or maybe I'll go to the Smithsonian and the Cooper Hewitt Museum and explore the treasures of window coverings through the ages.  Retirement is a long way off, tho.  So I'll just keep watching movies.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Drapery Design Books I LOVE, Not Just for Valentine's Day

I'm a reader of books.  Regardless of the success of Kindles and Nooks and iPads, there is something most sensual about the heft and feel of a design book.  The pages are crisp, the photos are clear; I can almost touch the textures in the photos just looking at them.

Several years ago Stephanie Hoppen came out with a delightful book called The New Curtain Book.  This book features the work of numerous designers including daughter Kelly and Vicente Wolf.  Even though it's subtitle is "Master Classes" this is not a fabrication or how-to book.  What it is, is a visual romp through some incredibly outrageous draperies tempered with beautiful, crisply understated designs by interior designers on both sides of the Atlantic.  Hoppen gets an "A" for this master class!

Jackie vonTobel has written 2 books to date on window treatments and bedding.  She is a designer in Las Vegas, and after years of drawing out designs for her customers, she decided to publish them.  These design directories are encyclopedia idea books for drapery workrooms and homeowners alike.  Jackie's pen and ink drawings are subtlety colored to encourage the viewer to visualize the treatment in her own home.  And now Jackie had embarked on a line of custom designed fabrics.  You can see her fabrics and follow her blog at .

Indulge in these visual treats this Valentine's Day.  They will expand your design options, not your waistline.