Beauty is on my mind: Roberto Capucci gives us a lot to look at. Happy Holidays.

Roberto Capucci is one of the most important fashion designers of our time. His work has always been groundbreaking: It is architectural, a study in shape and form, color and texture, sculptural and sensual, and always about astonishing beauty.

Capucci’s artistic nature is deep.That is palpable when in his presence and in seeing his creations. His shows now are not ‘fashion’ shows in the traditional sense, but exhibitions in ancient palaces and centuries-old cathedrals. Fitting places for such a regal master.

I met Capucci several years ago, on a warm February day in Rome. I was there writing a story on him for As they always do, 1stdibs recognized what a design innovator he was in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, & 80s, and, that he was a bold hero who had been unafraid to pushed boundaries. I’m still proud of this story:

I remember how humble, and soft-spoken he was during our meeting. He appeared in the room where we were meeting, dressed elegantly in Indian/Asian inspired attire. He revealed that he had been drawing while waiting for me. In fact, he said that he drew every day for several hours. I asked him if he would show me what he had been working on. Here,is a photo of him displaying his work. The drawings were interesting, but I had already been to the Fondazione Roberto Capucci, in Florence, and had seen some of his early fashion drawings there that were breathtaking.

The photos I took at his atelier are seen here. It felt special; a private inner sanctum. There were framed black and white photos of famous women he had designed clothing for. Magnificent dresses were draped on mannequins that had stood effortlessly over time. I remember Capucci walking me into the back work room, where he showed me dresses sewn and designed decades earlier. A year and a half later they were all on display at The Philadelphia Museum. For that exhibition Capucci finally received accolades in the USA, so many years after his work had first been shown here, in fashion shows, and at Neiman Marcus!

For the really amazing photos you’ll need to click on the 18-page story. The layouts and clothing seen there are fresh and modern and staggeringly beautiful.

So today, before Christmas, as we move into the new year, I want to think about the beauty that Capucci created. How grateful I am for others, like Capucci, who inspire me so profoundly.

My hat is tipped toward Rome, where Capucci still lives.

I bet he’s still drawing every day.

A communal table (not at a restaurant) at a hair salon: Head to meat packing to O&M, look for the wooden door.

Here at Designer Previews we’re always on the hunt for the unexpected. Our latest discovery is the six-month-old O&M Salon on the far West side of Manhattan, three flights up, in an old brick industrial building, known to those in the know, as ‘the Brass Monkey” building. That’s because the bar of the same name, on the ground floor has been there for years. It’s fitting that this still ‘edgy’ section of the meat-packing district, in the shadow of the Standard Hotel, where sexy rooms can be had for $500 a night, is where this Australian based firm has chosen to set up shop: O&M is different; in the best possible way.

Let’s start with its look. Finally a reprieve from the overly lit, noisy places that feel like a disco. Sure, they have a few standard issue hair styling chairs in front of the mirror; but the real action takes place at a long wooden communal table, set near a wall of old windows, where natural light spills across the aged plank floors. (How could I have ever gone to salons with FAKE LIGHTING? ) Around this table is where the team of O&M stylists work. While they’re doing their thing on my head, I scroll on my Ipad, thanks to their free WiFi. Or I read from the great stack of hip mags piled on the table’s center. There are cool games and black and white movies projected onto the wall.  They’ve even offered to fetch lunch for me.

The O&M (Original Mineral) brand launched in Australia about 10-years ago, and has a kind of cult following there. Even with the 450-salons there that use the product, it’s still somehow keeps its edgy following. Devotees are musicians, artists, models, all kinds of clients who want the next best thing in hair color technology and a relaxed setting too.

O&M is celebrated for their transparent approach in both their product ingredients and the physical environment. At this salon there is no “back room” where stylists slink off to, returning with a toxic bowl of ‘color’ in hand. They believe all color should be mixed in front of customers. And, take note: there are no bad smells. These are ammonia free hair products, and the goal in all  product development has been to eliminate dangerous dyes and lethal chemicals. “We’ve  gotten rid of PPD hair dye and other “old school” ingredients that are carcinogenic dying agents,”  explains Janelle Chaplin, global creative director  for the company, and a partner in the NYC  salon, adding, “Just because we work in the fashion industry doesn’t mean we have to use products that kill us. We believe in CCT– clean color technology. We’re always looking for a smarter choice.” 

The intention is to bridge the gap between natural and luxury, without having to look  or act  ‘green.’ Thus the relaxed environment which doesn’t evoke a health food store, as much as it does a living room loft, or a cool club. Even Julian Casablancas, lead singer of the band, The Strokes, (a client) like the chill vibe.

I agree: this gang is fun and easy. Let’s start with Jesse the front of the house guy who sweetly puts up with too many phone calls from me regarding my (often) late arrival. If you’re lucky you’ll be bestowed with a complimentary hand massage by the beauteous Stephanie Clark. William is my hair dude though. He does my color and he’s awesome. And his outfits are fun. Last time I was there he wore a sheer black shirt with cut off jeans and combat boots and looked like he’d just arrived from Seattle where, of course, he hails from!  I’ve also had color done by Joseph Mullen, O&M’s  technical director and color guru of the salon. He’s another kind of wizard with color. Don’t ask too many questions: He’s the quiet type.

Just go and trust.

Original Mineral
55 Little W 12 St
NY, NY 10014

(212) 255-2445

Barbra Streisand, the play ‘Buyer and Cellar,’ linked by an insightful blog post

When Barbra Streisand’s 2010 design book, My Passion for Design was published, I was among those who rolled their eyes and thought, “Oh now she’s an expert in this field too.”  Thankfully, playwright, Jonathan Tolins had another — more thoughtful – and humorous interpretation. His play, Buyer and Cellar, showing at the Barrow Street Theater, is a brilliantly written, beautifully acted, one-man-show, that shouldn’t be missed.

Michael Urie, its star is indescribably mesmerizing; effectively using humor and introspection to examine the power objects have over us, and the relationship loneliness  plays in our need to possess.

I read a great story about this very subject some time before the play had opened. Well-known architecture and design writer, Fred Bernstein, wrote this over a year ago on his eponymous. It’s a great read in preparing for seeing the play. Bernstein is a consummate creature of curiosity and after reading the Streisand book, he visited her Malibu home.

Read below, then buy a ticket to the play. I promise that both are ideal ways to escape the holiday madness that surrounds us.

A Doll House in a Doll House           Published in

November 13, 2012

Barbra Streisand’s “barn” in Malibu


No one argues about the size of Barbra Streisand’s talent. It’s what she does with the talent — the schmaltzy arrangements, the self-regarding films — that make her controversial.

When it comes to home design – Streisand’s latest obsession – the pattern is the same: The talent is enormous; it’s how she chose to use that talent that will raise eyebrows and lower a few jaws.

In Malibu, Streisand has just completed an 11,000-square-foot “barn.” The building overlooks a mill house, complete with an artificial river to keep its fake water wheel turning.

Inside the barn are dozens of period rooms. One enormous suite is Georgian, meaning Wedgewood-blue walls and a portrait of George Washington over the fireplace. The library, at the other end of the building, is all Arts & Crafts — much of it adapted from the Pasadena masters Greene & Greene. Other rooms are Victorian or art nouveau, down to the smallest detail (including a tulip-shaped toilet). Vestibules separate the suites, making the transitions from one period to another less abrupt.

The barn is ready to be used, despite the fact that “main house” that Streisand shares with her husband, James Brolin, is just 100 feet away. There are frilly pink robes in Ms. Streisand’s closet and a flight simulator in Mr. Brolin’s home office. There’s a Stickley style fax room and a Sub-Zero refrigerator carefully disguised as an icebox.

But much of the building is really a private museum. The actual closets pale next to the “display closet” — an art nouveau-style showcase for some of Ms. Streisand most famous outfits, including dresses from Funny Girl and the gown in which she married Mr. Brolin in 1998.

The closet is disguised as a clothing shop; it is one of half a dozen fake stores lining a cobblestone street in the building’s basement. Antiques Ms. Streisand couldn’t bear to part with — but which she didn’t have another place for — are in a private antiques store. Her doll collection – all white lace and pink ribbons and bows – is displayed in a doll shop (where one can marvel at the concept of a doll house in a doll house). A catering kitchen is presented – though not convincingly — as a root cellar. (One large piece of crockery is labeled “buttah.”)

The project arose out of pent-up creative energy. Choosing not to make the movie the Normal Heart — based on Larry Kramer’s play about the early days of the AIDS crisis, to which she owned the rights — Streisand turned to a project, that she said, was ultimately more difficult than movie-making.

For years, she says in a new book about the house, “I was hoarse from screaming over power tools.” (That’s what the voice has been up to?)

She and Brolin already occupied the main house, on an oceanfront lot, as well as the smaller house next door, a ranch that she had turned into a kind of guest house/office. She gave that building a frilly decor that led Mr. Brolin to dub it “grandma’s house.”

But it was on a third lot, beyond grandma’s house and her elaborate rose garden, that Streisand decided to build the ultimate retort to her deprived childhood (when, she has said, her only “doll” was a hot water bottle). She avoided art deco — a style she had employed in several previous homes (in 1999, she sold much of her deco stockpile at auction) and threw herself into studying the work of Greene & Greene (particularly their Thorsen house in Berkeley) and Hector Guimard, designer of Paris’s art nouveau subway entrances.

Architects were little help, she said; she fired several when they didn’t understand her vision. And contractors rarely lived up to her expectations. (One of them, she said, told her, “Can’t you just give us the plans and leave?”) Others, she complained, padded their bills because she’s rich.

One assistant who stayed with her was Bernadette Stewart, who had just graduated from interior design school, and was working as a waitress, when she spotted an ad on Craigslist: “Assistant needed for 11,000-square-foot house in Malibu.” She almost didn’t apply – Malibu is a long drive from Long Beach, where she lives – but when she did, Stewart found herself in a creative maelstrom. One coup was finding an upholsterer who could do a sofa overnight. That allowed Streisand to see immediate results, like a movie director watching dailies.

“She was the designer; I was hired just to manifest her vision,” said Stewart of her boss. Together, they bought and commissioned thousands of items, from the tulip-shaped toilet in the art nouveau bathroom to the carved stone that “dates” the brand-new barn to 1799.

But even paradise has problems. Having spent millions of dollars on the house, Streisand said, “I worry a lot about wildfires in Malibu.” That’s one reason, she said, she decided to document the project in her book, My Passion for Design.

Not surprisingly, she wrote most of the text, took most of the photos herself and narrated a tour of the house, which appears on a “bonus” DVD. Recently, she said, she persuaded the publisher, Viking, to mount the DVD in the book over a photo of the mill house – with the disk doubling as the water wheel. “The disk has to match the book, and it’s a different printing process,” she said, explaining her latest reoccupation. Then she added, of her publisher, “They’re great. They’re not fighting me on the details.”

She phoned me from the South of France, where she was vacationing with Mr. Brolin. “How do you like the house?” was her first question. It was hard to know exactly how to answer.

Streisand’s building mimics Winterthur, the du Pont mansion in Delaware, known for its lavish period rooms. The difference is that Winterthur is open to the public, as is J. Paul Getty’s Malibu mansion, a re-creation of a first-century Roman villa, just down the coast from Streisand’s compound. But her house, on a quiet residential street, is private, and probably always will be.

Then again, it’s in Malibu, where houses far bigger than 11,000 square feet — built by people far less accomplished than Ms. Streisand — are commonplace. And she said she doesn’t care what the public – much less architecture critics – think of the design. “All that matters is the process,” she said. “After that, whatever happens, happens.”

Yet by publishing the book, and promoting it widely, she has shown that she does care.

As for the house’s stylistic anachronisms: Is there any reason art nouveau is any less “valid” than modernism? Why is one considered kitsch, the other cool?

Filled with the kind of decoration modernists hate — mosaics, carved wood, stained glass — the house echoes the debate at the heart of a new book: Architecture and Beauty: Conversations with Architects about a Troubled Relationship, by Yael Reisner. Most “serious” architects, raised on the idea that form should follow function, avoid obvious ornamentation. During a recent panel discussion prompted by Reisner’s book, a number of prominent architects, including Frank Gehry, seemed to view the idea of beauty for its own sake with dismay.

Streisand should have been on the panel, making full-throated defense of beauty — the same case she makes with her house.











Forget holiday shopping, the mall, or Soho, this weekend: Opt for an unforgettable musical experience.

I’d been planning to head up to The Cloister’s, the Metropolitan Museum’s exquisite uptown outpost, for months. I knew that visiting the former Benedictine monastery, originally from the Pyrenees, with its covered walkways and  large open courtyard, in full autumnal color would be ideal.  I had already been told that hearing The Forty Part Motet was an experience I couldn’t miss.

Instead I waited until the last minute (the presentation closes Sunday).

I went today. There was heavy fog, like a billowing white pillow, hanging quietly over the Hudson River. The trees were utterly bare. It was perfect.

Walking into the 12th-century Spanish Fuentidueña Chapel to experience the first presentation of contemporary art – ever – at the Cloisters, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard about visitors weeping, and that many were returning at a rate of twice a week. The “Motet” had become the “it” event of the season and I was here 3-days before it closed. I entered the space and felt  literally enveloped by the sounds of the 11-minute repeating loop that immerses visitors into a sea of voices, each one part of the astonishing whole. The music is heard via 40 speakers that encircle the chapel in an oval configuration, placed  that way intentionally  by the  multimedia artist Janet Cardiff, who created this presentation for the 40 voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, when they performed the piece in 2001. She has said that the oval speaker placement contributes to a kind of sculptural effect, her own architectural way of breaking down and then adding together the choral voices to achieve a new experience.

The renaissance choral composition from the late 1500s was destined for the Cloisters. The acoustics of the chapel, with it’s soaring ceiling and ancient arches, allows for everything to align perfectly.  In this place the music is a transcendent experience.

Just listen. Look around at the faces. Eyes closed. In awe. It will happen to you too.

You’ve only got a few days. Do whatever it takes to get there.

September 10 – December 8

Fort Tryon Park, New York, N.Y.