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Top ten Christmas wishlist

If money was no object, what would you want for Christmas? Here's my top ten list.

DegasWell, Christmas is coming up, and my presents are all ordered, delivered, or have arrived already and only await packaging. This isn't because I'm well organised or anything, but because the DH and I don't buy each other much (and in this neck of the woods, nobody buys anything for friends as most people are too broke).

We find as time goes on that our tastes are so expensive that we can't afford to buy each other what we really want (I-phones, Ipads and Macbook Airs are reserved for business expenses), so it may as well be something token. Our holidays are really our birthday presents (I prefer to take mine in the dark months of winter rather than in April), and we sometimes go out for a nice meal, but other than that, it's usually a book or a magazine subscription. 

This year, the DH has treated us to the complete X-Files on DVD as our joint Christmas pressie. We'll start watching it in the new year, on 'X-Files night' once a week, when friends aim to come round, probably in their PJs, and we'll watch a couple of episodes. He also ordered his own present, handed the Amazon package to me and it's my job to wrap it. Romantic or what? 

Meanwhile, I strongly suspect he's got a book for me - possibly the one I sent him an email link to about six months ago, saying: "Get me this for Christmas or else..." As you can see, romance isn't my strong point either. I will also be treating myself to a bottle of perfume, probably from a niche perfumery.

When it comes to fantasy 'wants', however, that's a completely different matter. I asked the DH what his Top Ten Most Wanted objects would be (we're not going to include metphysical concepts like 'to see my dad alive again' or 'world peace' in this), and all he could think of was cars. Followed by watches. Clothes or art didn't figure among them, though at one time, when he still flew, he would definitely have had a Beech 18 on the list. 

For myself, the list is quite different, so I thought I'd share it on here. These are the 10 things I would like, if money was no object.

Mompesson House1 - Mompesson House, Salisbury

Mompesson House is owned by the National Trust and is one of those gorgeous houses you enter and you think: "Cripes, I could actually live here..." I love the Queen Anne style ('everything plain and simple, from a piece of wainscot to a lady's face'). The house is spacious but not overlarge like Blenheim or Harewood or one of those stately piles, and despite the gracious entrance hall, most of the individual rooms, such as the dining room and various studies, are quite small and cosy, with beautiful, elegant proportions: fires, fenders, high ceilings... It also has a gorgeous walled garden out the back, so maybe in my fantasy, the lovely National Trust old dears would also be there in their teashop, selling home-made cakes. If you want to 'experience' it without visiting, it features in the Emma Thomson version of Sense and Sensibility. Mompesson House, obviously, is not for sale. 

Rie bowl2 - a bowl by Lucy Rie

When Issey Miyake saw the work of Lucy Rie, he said: "My heart and mind were filled with the spirit of this woman," and when I see one of her works I simply CRAVE it. I don't know what it is about them, but they make me sick with longing: the biscuity glazes, the purity of the shapes. Aargh. They are the kind of pottery you want to put in your mouth, like a sweet. They are not completely out of reach, either, at about £1,800 a pop, but still totally unjustifiable on my budget. I satisfy my cravings with studio pottery with similar glazes and shapes, the latest being a peach-coloured raku bowl with applied abstract flowers by a studio potter from Locranon.

Aston Martin3 - an Aston Martin DB5 Vantage

This classic car was on both the DH's and my list, but we both want it in the reliable reworked version by RS Williams, as seen on Top Gear. A silver kestrel of a vehicle, these beautiful lines could be mine for a mere £355,000....

Degas4 - Après le bain. Un femme s'essuyant la nuque by Degas

I can't tell you how much I love this picture. It leapt off the wall at me at the Musée d'Orsay and I wish wish wish there was a way I could own it. If you are ever in Paris, please go and see it - a computer image, or even a reproduction, cannot convey the depth of colour and feeling of the artist's hand in this pastel. I literally burst into tears when I saw it, but I - like everyone else - must make do with only a print at home. I don't know how much a Degas would set me back, but my guess is a couple of quid?

Oxburgh Hall5 - Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Another National Trust property, I figure this one could be my country house while Mompesson could be my town house. Oxburgh was built in the 15th century from gorgeous pink brick and was lived in for nearly all the centuries since by the Bedingfield family. It's positioned exactly at that point where the castle became the stately home. I love everything about it, from the moat to the Spanish gilded leather hangings to the leaded glass windows. I remember sitting on the oak window ledges as a child, with the light growing dim and gazing out at the rain falling into the water. Bliss.


Chateau d'O6 - Chateau d'O

Only up the road from here but sadly no longer open to the public, due to a family dispute, this mini-chateau is a folie de pleasance with everything a girl could wish for: pointy turrets, secret rooms, painted furniture, black swans on the moat, panelled boudoirs. Everything but Rapunzel, lowering her hair out of the window. This can be my French holiday home for when I get bored with my other moat.

Vionnet dress7 -  a dress by Madelaine Vionnet

Any dress would do, but the best would undoubtedly be one of her architectural marvels of the 1930s - essays in 3D design that are not merely beautiful, but intellectually satisfying too. I have a feeling that this red and black one shown may once have belonged to Tina Chow. Failing that, I'd like Vionnet's 153-seam 1920s bias-cut shift made up of graduated green velvet diamonds cut so the pile falls differently on each, and outlined in silver cording. Or anything else she ever made. Or the magenta silk ballgown by Balenciaga in the V&A; or a Balenciaga jacket of any description; or a Fortuny stamped velvet cloak...See, I'm easy to please.

Miyake coatMiyake coat8 - an Issey Miyake coat

This bronze Origami one at far right is quite nice, isn't it? About $4,000 I think (just right for walking the dog in). I can't afford Miyake garments, which I think represent the best that modern fashion can offer, so I make do with collecting his patterns. Here is my version (in pink tweed with abalone buttons) of his brown blanket coat. 

Reverso9  - a Reverso by Jaegar-le-Coultre

The only watch I've ever really wanted, a Reverso - again - isn't entirely out of the question, just entirely out of MY question, at between $4,000 and $16,000. Reversos, as the name suggests, can be flipped over to reveal another face, which can be either plain or a timekeeper. I fancy the type with a white face one side and maybe black the other (usually a man's watch), or daytime one side and evening the other with rows of diamonds. Supremely elegant, this watch design dates from 1931 and the firm has rung variations on it ever since. Instead, I wear a one-cent Cartier Tank knockoff from Hong-Kong. 

opal10 - an opal necklace

The specific necklace I have in mind is in the Geological museum, London. I can't show a picture of it, as it's copyrighted, but you can see it here. It has three tiers of cabochons, with the colour shading from blues and greens through to fire opals and whites, all joined by the daintiest of gold chains. Failing this necklace, I'd love the 1820s neoclassical bracelet fashioned from Roman glass I once saw on the Antiques Roadshow. Some of the techniques still remain unknown as the knowledge was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire. Semi-precious stones are my thing, rather than diamonds, for instance, which are a bit bling-y for me. 

So, that's my modest little Christmas sorted. How about you?



The great couturiers - Vionnet

Madeleine Vionnet is known today as the greatest dressmaker of all time

blog imageYou could be forgiven if you've never heard the name Vionnet. Her house was couture only and its heyday was the 1920s through to the early 1940s. In each of those decades she was a leading light on the Paris couture blog imagescene, but the label barely exists today compared with better known marques such as Chanel and Dior, and there is no franchise selling perfumes and tote bags and Vionnet ready to wear.

Madeleine Vionnet, born in 1876, had a tough early life that included poverty, a failed marriage and a dead child. She was already middle-aged by the time she became a famous couturier, having worked at the house of Callot Soeurs, among others - a couture house that was famous for its beaded eveningwear.

Quite plain and plump herself, and not given to dressing in the fashion, Vionnet was also bisexual and loved to dress beautiful women, having a particular admiration for South Americans. She had a unique understanding of the female body, and an architect's abstract interest in clothing as a problem to be solved. The design and seaming of the garment was what interested her, not so much its colour, detail or pattern. She had no interest in creating 'fashion' or setting a style - she only wished to create the most beautiful dresses ever seen.

It is her bias dresses for which Vionnet is remembered today. The bias is the 45 degree angle between the warp and the weft of a cloth. Turning fabric to its bias automatically creates stretch and cling in a garment, and the material also falls more sinuously on the body. Until Vionnet's time, bias-cutting had been used only for small areas of garments such as cuffs, but she revolutionised clothing by using it for entire garments.

She was aided in this by new methods of fabric manufacture, particularly the introduction of tightly twisted silk crepe in very broad widths.

The best of Vionnet's designs of this era have an architectural, intellectual quality that is very satisfying. They don't look much on a hanger, but on the body they cling to every curve in a particularly sensual way. The flesh-pink satin dress above is outwardly modest, but just look at the position of the slit above the breast - it promises considerable exposure if you make the wrong move.

blog imageblog imageVionnet's designs went through several phases. In the 1920s, they were based on geometric shapes such as squares and triangles, often with panels flying free, and she used a great deal of embroidery and beading inspired by both Egypt and Greece.

By 1930 she was designing simpler gowns based on triangles, often backless and usually bias-cut - these are among the most beautiful gowns ever made and every one of them is now a collector's item. To see most of them, you have to visit a museum such as the Victoria and Albert in London.

By the late 1930s, she had moved on to full-skirted ballgowns, often of the finest black silk Chantilly lace over fabrics such as lame (left), or with embroidery graduated from waist to hem.

Her daywear is less well known, but this grey wool outfit (right) is a good example - the dress goes on over the head and is cut entirely without seams.

Vionnet closed her Paris house when the Nazis invaded France in 1939 and never reopened it. She was already 63 at the time and for the rest of her life she remained in genteel retirement, living to be almost 100 and dying in 1975.

Her name may be almost forgotten, except to those in the know, but her influence on modern dress design is incalculable.


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