Bon Vivants: Positions Available This Very Moment

24Sep09

“Bon Vivants: 11 Stories and Habits of Highly Effective BVs.”

Written by a well-published and widely read Bon Vivant author. Me.

book_of_poultry

#1  “Join the bon-vivant!  You can too! It’s never about pedigree, and always about wit, drama, intrigue, good and stylish outfits and bohemian silliness…”

(and taking the summer off from blogging!)

We admit it.  We were more taken by Bon Vivant Country weekends than blogging…but we’re back.

Here’s the first story. Sweaty summer kids, we were invited one particular weekend by our country gentleman friend, John Favreau, to his Little Lake in Warren, Connecticut, where “How to Join the Bon Vivant Life” was encapsulated at every turn.   little marvin and I donned our best wigs, packed some BBQ chicken wings and Gatorade and set on our journey.   Above is tall little marvin on the right in the conked long straight wig and you can guess little me from the coiffed frizz, proudly rockin the hair of my people. Thankfully, the right white coif is de riguer for the country set!

kent-ct

Tumbling stylishly off the train, and strutting over runway-style in the bright sunshine to John, who picked us up in his white convertible Mercedes, we hopped in and drove sportily across the rolling hillettes, directly into the pedigreed land of Connecticut estates. (hold on to those chicken wings and wigs Kidz!)

Pointing out the estates of the rich and powerful, John said sportily, as an aside, that you don’t necessarily need good genes or a pedigree to hang with the “Manor born.” John’s own Vanity Fair-worthy story of Philadelphia society in the 80’s got us thinking if this were true.  In my own home town of Brotherly Love, John played house-boy host to this century’s most notable Bon Vivants from Nancy Brewster Grace, Henry McIlhenny to Lady Sarah Churchill, to Hope Montgomery Scott, the woman who inspired the Oscar-winning film, The Philadelphia Story andwhomVanity Fair once called “the unofficial queen of Philadelphia‘s WASP oligarchy.”  John traveled the world with notable Salonist and photographer of the whole scene, Gloria Bragiotti Etting.  I recalled my favorite W. Somerset Maugham quote, ” It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”

Could it be that anybody can charm the charmed society?  Armed only with grand vision, a sense of generosity about oneself and others and seeking the best of the best?  I was inspired to explore the subject.  I am neither a Self-Help Author or Fashion Journalist but these Eleven Stories, Quotes, Anecdotes and Habits from Eleven Real Bon Vivants, from Dame Vivienne Westwood to Francine du Plessix Gray, can set you on your path to better living!

#2  Wake People up like Showy, Strutting Roosters!

pamela-anderson-for-vivienne-westwood4

We’ve arrived! Are you not happy?  Be and Welcome showy guests such as Pamela Anderson, Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler and fun is immediately assured.  John does. He routinely hosts guests ranging a house full of photo shoot producers and models from Gradient magazine to a lively, costumed crowd at a pirate themed party attended by neighbors including Richard and John of Lambertson & Truex and Privet, their haute shop; trend spotter and paper-doll designer, David Wolfe: Author, Amanda Hallay and Painter, Pierre Hale and of course…us.

#3 “Survival of The Fittest! Nature and Society eats whatever is

boring, injured, useless or dumb.” so says John.

af orange blossom

John Favreau is a most elegant country gentleman, one who owns lots of bucolic land, cans his own home-made jam and can be equally consumed with the foxes on Wall Street or the foxes attempting to get into his home-made chicken roost.  Clearly you either eat or get eaten, and the facts of life are somehow more raw when they float just beneath a postcard pretty scene.  Nature’s thorns and thistles of life are abundant and we have the choice to corral our survival tendencies into Fear or equal ourselves to elements of Nature and moment to moment seek how to live the good life by being useful.

The Ultimate Bon Vivant is Nature herself, laughing at our Sisyphean tasks within her wilds, such as my task to be fascinated with Bon Vivants, perhaps as dumb to Nature as Fitzcarraldo’s Opera House in the Amazon and even the making of such as recently described in Werner Herzog’s obscene jungle love in Conquest of the Useless.

wbe

I pondered on this given my reading for the trip, Black Elk, The Sacred Ways of A Lakota, on the simple, multi-universe lives of Black Elk and his channupa pipe. Part of my attempt to try to be all Thoreau-like in the country hence, resulting in my best Man vs. Nature BV habit advice which is to Join The Cult of The Appreciative No Matter What or Where You Are and:

#4  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

#5  Give Good Story.  “The ability to be a raconteur is key,” says John.

peacocksplash

Good Stories told by fine Dandies. Purrrr.  Everyone knows I love Dandies. Dandies are prime Bon Vivants and they notably have a story at the ready for everything. “Oh, this…?…” or “You’ll never guess what happened on my way to…”  Next to my blogger, San Francisan love, Mr. Peacock, (picture above) whence comes John.  His creature comforts all have fascinating stories behind them, ranging from his custom designed crocodile bikers bag to the huge sea turtle shell in his living room that was caught off the coast of Cuba by his Grandfather. Even little marvin and I got in the persuasive story act, trying to coo and comfort John’s caged and scared feral cats housed in his barn, where they were  being “encultured”,  ie: tamed to stay put and catch mice. (We told them about the rose of The Little Prince, the steady diet of plump mouses and John’s dandy hospitality. )
Love and the stories we tell each other do create intricate weavings of relationship! Clearly, it’s far better to be the storyteller.
Being a dandy  is a good, harmless and enriching storytelling habit for anyone, here are 3 tips to get started:
  • Be a handsome, well-groomed, gallant or flamboyant person
  • Be obsessive about refined language, facts and obscure, wearying hobbies (especially those requiring lads, Dads or gladhands to assist)
  • Be a self-made person, live a magnified style of life regardless of background
Aha! That’s so me.  I add only one perfect complimentary diamond-like habit to dandyism…an unmitigated lack of pretension.

#6    Lose The Youth.  Hang with Elders, the wise and cultured.

Henry fonda, katherine hepburn

Spending leisurely time with older creative people topped by white frothy hair was another Little Lake theme (thank God we were properly topped!) Connecticut hamlets have borne famous artists and characters such as Katherine Hepburn, Bill Blass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The greenish hills and curvy streams wind around Warren properties hiding iconic treasures such as author, Philip Roth, who lives next door, Denis and Ann Leary up the road who are hilarious pals, How’d You Get So Rich?…Joan Rivers who cackles just around the hill and the Kissingers, who are always helicoptering in and out.
Warren characters and the interweaving of our lives were in my thoughts all weekend. Even my “elders” and their connections to this Land made me ponder lineage, personal and public history. My Dad was a Connecticut boy, my mother grew up next door to Philip Roth in Newark and I’ve designed runway jewelry for several collections of the legendary Bill Blass. Just around the corner from John, lives a woman who has always inspired me as an artist among the bon vivants,Francine du Plessix Gray. Given that both John and my friend, Kelly Lebwith, have both enjoyed her company and rhubarb pies I have named her a Bon Vivant of Warren and I love her quote. (of course, John makes his own home-grown rhubarb pies, thank you!)

#7 Claim intriguing genes!

Francine du Plessix Gray“My mother enjoyed claiming direct descent from Genghis Khan,” which gave her “…both the aristocratic pedigree and the freedom to be a barbarian.” said Francine du Plessix Gray.

My Good Bon Vivant Story Number 2: I grew up in a simple, suburban bedroom community in South New Jersey.  It does not get more plebian than that.  “Alex”, a good friend, was a tall, striking young person, who, from the 6th grade clearly saw their destiny as a high society coutourier and decorator. Frequently claiming residence on the tony Main Line of Philadelphia versus the flatlands of South Jersey and parentage by vague, world travelers who were never were around my friend’s small trailer size home, who could argue? (Maybe that was just a South Jersey crash pad for the kids…) Although no one quite believed it, my friend amazingly went on to work for a top couturier, became a designer dressing high society and First Ladies, collecting rare antiques and designing the homes of A-list celebrities. Clearly an example that the best way to predict the future is to imagine it. Bravo!
Francine du Plessix Gray of good encultured genes made her way in the world similarly to Philip Roth, spilling all the secrets of her cafe society parents and soap opera background into her book “Them.” Her mother, Tatiana’s story is complete drama, at 19 she was a refugee from Russia, her love affair with poet Vladimir Mayakovsky resulted in his suicide after she left and her marriage to high society bon vivant Bertrand du Plessix, left her a widow when he died right after Francine’s birth. Again a refugee, her mother fled occupied France to New York with Francine and Alexander Liberman, whom she married in 1942.
Irving Penn of Alexander Liberman, Tatiana LibermanAlex was a noted artist and later the longtime editorial director of Vogue magazine and then of Condé Nast Publications. The Libermans were pure party people in media, art and fashion circles.  His BV advice was to preserve one’s personal life, to identify one’s instinct, and never to carry packages for people. Francine came to Connecticut when she married the painter Cleve Gray. Content to keep the drama of suffering to her biographies of the Marquis de Sade and Simone Weil, as the New York Times said, she turned her back on the high life and instead made some great pies.
#8 ” Travel the world and pack well with the right jeans, luggage or trunks”, says Me.
The Third BV Story. While studying architecture and design in Paris one summer with Parsons, at the Louvre’s Musee de les Arts Decoratif, I was taught that furniture was invented from alterations to the trunks which stored a family’s world possessions.  As a family became more encultured, trunks became chests, armoires, beds and tables. Likewise, John knows the value of being Trunk Savvy.  His property grows tree trunks galore and he enacts a Man vs. Nature scenario for errant beavers chewing his tree trunks. Vilbrequin swim trunks are de-riguer for his easy Jude Law-in-Como dives into his own lake filled with bass, catfish, frogs and snapping turtles and the man has more Goyard trunks than Barney’s. Travel and Pack Well Indeed.

Gloria Bargiotti Etting

“Living proof that charm and experience will always matter more than Money.”

Thus ran the headline of David Patrick Columbia’s piece for Quest magazine on Philadelphia socialite Gloria Etting.

John Favreau earned his pedigree as a cook, party planner, entertainer and travel companion for art-world esthetes, Gloria Braggiotti Etting and her artist husband Emlen. He cut his teeth as Nancy Brewster-Grace’s house boy and then went on to plan parties and travel with Gloria.  Nancy entertained Red Grooms, Henry Mcilhenney, his sister Bonnie Winterstein, Peggy and George Cheston, artists, architects, designers and literary types (Sir Stephen Spender, Arthur Clarke, Robert Venturi, etc.)  Gloria’s Italian-Boston theatrical family background featured growing up with the Cushing sisters who became Babe Paley, Betsey Roosevelt and Minnie Astor by way of marriage, and her fashion editor position at The New York Post were only part of her pedigree as per The Philadelphia Museum of Art as the consumate salon hostess. Gloria’s bohemian and aristocratic past made her noted for antics like putting anatomically correct ancient Etruscan statuettes on the dining table for shock and conversation value.  (John notes, ” On the same vein,it was Hope Scott who had a medieval chastity belt, which used to make Walter Annenberg laugh riotously!!)

She voraciously traveled and photographed her friends, Henry Mcllhenny, Claudette Colbert, Truman Capote, Perry Rathbone, Isamu Noguchi, Isek DinesonJacques Tati, Tennessee Williams, Buckminster Fuller, Alexander Calder, Elizabeth Taylor, George Balanchine, Salvatore Dali and Gala, Picasso, Jackie O, Maxime de la Falaise and Martha Graham. The Philadelphia press wrote of Gloria after her passing, that she was one “who gathered friends with the kind of passion others have for collecting stamps, art or butterflies.”

John. Write this book!

#9  Utilize costumes!

Henri David
“Don’t come as you are, but as you want to be,”
proclaims famed Philadelphia jeweler, party thrower, Henri David.
The Other Philadelphia Story #4. On the other side of the tracks in Philadelphia, while the pedigreed enjoyed antiquity porn, my mother was attending her friend, gay jeweler,Henri David’s annual Halloween parties, which have drawn people from every strata and fauna of society for over 30 years.  John relates that he once went to one of Henri David’s parties as a highway, all in black with a white stripe down the middle and matchbox cars sewn up and down the sides of the road, and a strategically placed Yield sign.

In honor of John’s costume and crossing the tracks and highways of social boundaries, the rest of these tips are shallowly slave to how mere fashion and affectations can deliver one to the right circles.

#10  “Own, Display and Wear Tribal Symbols Brightly and Irreverently…never, ever wear them in tribes though,” says Me, “Pick a country or street club trademark…

like Plaids, Tartans, Monograms or Gang Bandanas…just rock it smartly and incessantly!”                                                                                                                            

Little Marvin, Jade and John cavort in Connecticut

little marvin, Jade and John sartorially Cavort in Connecticut

My room at John’s was the perfect mix of “Tribal Symbols.” Both the Call of the Wild and the Call of the Cultured surrounded me, from the lush sand colored kangaroo skin bedspread to the Pierre Hale hand-painted ceiling border with Nina Simone lyrics running the circumference…”It’s a new dawn, It’s a new day. It’s a new life, for me, And I’m feeling good.”

On an elegant side table was a signed copy of Gloria’s sleek little photography book of high society and artists from the 1970 and 80’s on top of a signed copy of a huge coffee table book for the color and history addicted fashion slaves called “Tartan, Romancing The Plaid.”

Tartans, whale print pants and feather boas, Medieval chastity belts and flowing fine wine …tribes, tribal symbols and people are always best mixed.

If you want expert advice on how to wear tartan, see Mr. Peacock’s recent post here.

tartan good

They say the word “tartan” comes from the French word, “tirer” translating “to pull”, but I hear the etymology of tartan in the word “tantra” in Sanskrit, which means “to weave.” Most people associate the word tantra just with sexual practices, in which weaving certainly is required, however it actually refers to a universal weaving of desire, energies, elements and people.  Perhaps this is a key root to the symbolism of tartan and its visual tribal metaphor for “belonging” whether it is society or a rejection of society.  It always reads passion and a rich expression.

Jeffrey Banks, the author of Tartan, Romancing The Plaid, writes, “But tartan is more than a design, it is a sign; and while it signifies kinship (real or imagined), country, and celebration of the Scots, its subtext is dignity, distinctiveness and a sense of belonging- qualities that possess universal appeal.”

Philadelphia Number Story #5. Reading Jeffrey’s book, I recalled my own first odd meeting of tartan and world views at my Jewish father’s children’s clothing store, where he would outfit the Catholic parochial school children in their tartan uniforms. I watched them as if they were wild animals from afar in my chic Petit Bateau T and Dittos hipster jeans. The tiny Catholic children had the odd mixed face of trying to look excited about their new unsightly uniform while pain and confusion darted beneath their eyes.  I suppose this memory did much to cement my ideas of personal style, religion and the passion for the bon vivant life.

burberry_trench
#10  When it Rains, it Pours! When life gets grey, boring and stale,
the bon vivants invent!
The tartan book’s forward is by Rose Marie Bravo, who saw gold in the plaid lining of another of my favorite timeless icons of The Bon Vivant, trench coats and raincoats when she re-mastered the dowdy English brand, Burberry.  From this famous plaid conquering the world, the expression,“Doing a Burberry”, stands for turning and re-birthing the traditional into a trend and icon status.

Years ago, John lent me another fascinating book, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. Did you know that umbrellas were invented by Louis XVI, whose Midas-focused eyes were in hot pursuit of the 24-7 bon vivant life and as a result gave us full-length mirrors, cafe lighting, champagne and gourmet cuisine?

Gaultier and Rhianna are two modern icons who can also suddenly wake you up with plaid and unexpected style and vision.

gaultier plaid
rihanna
#11 “Re: The Total Look? Claim one color for hair and body wear like icons, Westwood, Shiaparelli, Christo or Vreeland or wear a tribal symbol like a bandana…all the damn time.”
post_image-40604ey_westwood_b_gr_01-leaderDame Vivienne Westwood gives good arrivals and is one of the best examples of a Bon Vivant.  Westwood orange follows Vreeland red follows Shiparelli pink. Her husband, Andreas Kronthaler follows gang bandanas, follows Malcolm McLaren and they all follow tribal mash-ups to supreme effect.

#11 A.  Reference Nature and Eastern Mysticism Often.   

matahari

Madonna, The Beatles, Rasputin, Marquis de Sade, Mata Hari, James Bond, Sarah Palin, Madame Blavatsky, all Bon Vivant seducers whose sultry mix of the sacred and profane references hit the spot.  Try these Bon Vivant requirements on for size courtesy of the above characters, a quirky historic account of the mysterious Madame Blavatsky, Robert Greene’s book, The Art of Seduction and my own inventions.

  • Escape, claim or disdain your royal, exotic or mundane roots
  • Walk with Royal carriage or at least employ car service
  • Use make-up or facial expressions to make Eyes like Helena Blavatsky, who had ” large, luminous blue eyes whose strange spiritual expression fascinated all who came within her influence”
  • Reference immortal experience to create an age uncertain
  • Utter prophetic and seductive visions at uncanny times
  • Gather a curious mixed set of literary and artistic friends, Bohemians, visionaries, cranks and an occasional practical thinker from Wall street or the colleges
  • Be a conversationalist of rare magnetic power
  • Like Helena, be “an accomplished linguist, as most Russians are, “she spoke French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Hindostanee and several Arabic dialects with east and fluency”
  • Display a deep knowledge of the ancient and modern literature and philosophy of many lands
  • Enjoy robust dinners washed down by good wine
  • Cultivate odd, disarming wee habits, so as to humanize and have others feel superior over you, such as feigned incongruous insecurities or smoking Turkish cigarettes of a peculiar and excellent quality
  • Never be a Bore

Upon being myself, a self-proclaimed well-known Author, I am a student of Mysteries, Tibetan Tantric Black Hat Sect Feng Shui and Eastern Sciences since the tender age of 16, I offer my spiritual bon mots, enthusiastic wine drinking and enjoyment of fine foods to the Hosts and Hostesses of the World.  As proof of my powers, I offer this image of Neith, Egyptian Goddess of Weaving, Water and War. It’s so very Me…right?

egyptian-goddess

Here is the reading from the I Ching, The Chinese Book of Changes, I pulled before we set sail for Little Lake…it will astonish and seduce you to its ancient Nature-based wisdom.

Today in I Ching Astrology, the Lake trigram rules the roost. Sometimes known as the Lake, this Star is called the 7 Lake Star and is owned by the fun loving and courteous Youngest Daughter in the I Ching family. Today her chi will pervade all the Stars differently during this 8 Mountain month.

One of the best activities today is to chill out! Also to reflect. Take time to meditate quietly about the week ahead for you. No real action, simply enjoy and take it easy.

This Star also belongs to the west. Here when the image of sunset comes into play it can mean to party, be with friends and family and let your hair down. The youngest daughter has few responsibilities in the family and she knows how to entertain. (from Jon Sandifer’s blog )

Kind of apt that this actually rules September 2009 as well.

…and finally, the last words on The Bon Vivant Life, Nature, the Sunset of Summer Weekends, and The Curious Sisyphan task of Blogging?  Go Nina Simone…with the best advice yet.

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Reeds driftin on by you know how I feel

(refrain:)
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom in the tree you know how I feel

(refrain)

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
That’s what I mean

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel



4 Responses to “Bon Vivants: Positions Available This Very Moment”

  1. Hi Jade….
    Wow, that’s a wonderful post!
    Thanks for including Mr. Peacock!
    I love #6: Lose The Youth. Hang with Elders, the wise and cultured.
    ….I loved hanging out with my grandmother when I was young.
    And I want to go to Mr. David’s Halloween party!!!!

  2. Fabulous post. Stellar advice. You just can’t go wrong with Blavatsky, Black Elk and sage encouragement such as: “Tribal symbols and people are always best mixed.” Too right. Rock on.
    xo


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