My high school alma mater is Hillside in Durham, North Carolina, one of the 300 historically black high schools that operated in the state before desegregation. Four generations of my family attended the school and I always felt honored to be a “Hornet.” Famous alumni include Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley, artist Ernie Barnes, Letterman buddy Biff Henderson and NBA player-coach John Harding Lucas. The school sat next to the campus of North Carolina Central University, one of the nation’s premier black colleges.
The fine old 1930s Deco building that housed Hillside was closed in 1995 and a new, architecturally nondescript “modern” high school was built down the road, away from the historically black community that had nurtured it. The school has struggled academically since then. In 2003, the original building was torn down and replaced by a campus science building.
All this comes to mind when I remember the old school “mess hall” with its unusual looking chairs and tables. At the time I thought they looked weird and unattractive. I re-imagined them in wicker and bamboo, which in my adolescence I adored. When I went to design school, I encountered the chairs again as I studied a particular designer, the Danish Modern master Arne Jacobson. By luck of the draw, I was assigned to research Jacobsen and I immediately recognized his Scandinavian designs. The chairs and the tables I saw at Hillside were based on Jacobsen’s Series 7 chairs.
Born in Copenhagen in 1902, Arne Jacobsen wanted to be a painter, but his father encouraged him to learn architecture. He went on to design the SAS building by Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and the Danish Embassy building in London, but he is remembered most today for his furniture designs, and in particular his simple and effective chair designs. During the 1950s, he designed the Ant Chair, the Swan Chair, the Egg Chair, the Pot chair and the Giraffe chair, all acknowledged classics of 20th century design.
During his life Jacobsen was often criticized for being “too modern,” but time has proven his critics shortsighted and me just wrong. Wicker just wouldn’t have worked in the mess hall.
Twelve Things I Can't Live Without (right now)
- Steven Smith Teamaker (www.smithtea.com)
- Gucci by Gucci Fragrance (www.gucci.com)
- Michael Graves Tea Kettle (www.target.com)
- Frank’s Quality Produce at Pike Place Market, Seattle (www.franksproduce.net)
- Rub with Love, Exotic Mushroom Rub and Ginger Pineapple Teriyaki Sauce by Tom Douglas (www.TomDouglas.com) Use them on roasted vegetables or grilled chicken
- Jonathan Adler Stationary (www.jonathanadler.com)
- Orchids (Trader Joe’s)
- Happy Feet Socks (Nordstrom’s Rack) Fun and Wild Colors!
- Blueberries served on summer salads
- Italian Organic Honey Citrus (Nice on toast )
- Hiwa Kai Black Lava Salt (Hawaii) (www.sugarpillseattle.com)
- Khaki Pants from Old Navy, comfortable and at a great price. (www.oldnavy.com)
The Fashion of Berlin (A Pedestrian’s Perspective)
I was arriving in Berlin from Hamburg by train and I began to choke up finally meeting the city I had heard so much about since I was a child. The German capital, the Nazi nightmare, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the hideous Wall, the fractured city. I was here and it took my breath away.
The Wall is gone of course, and it’s as if it never existed. The towers, the barbed wire, the soldiers’ guns, the no-man’s land, all gone. In its place uber-fabulous retail monuments, a gleaming white-lighted Ritz Carlton, a grand American Embassy rubbing shoulders with a stately British Embassy, a Kennedy museum just inside the Gate and a Starbucks next to it. If you know the history, it all seems so hallucinatory.
Brandenburg Gate is and was the western entrance into the City. The Communists were hiding the best part of Berlin, the commercial core, the world class museums, the tree-lined unter den Linden, the showplace Friedenstrasse. What was once East Berlin is now the new Berlin, the hot Berlin.
As it happened, the week I was in Berlin was Fashion Week. I was not aware of that before I arrived; otherwise I would have brought my formal wear and joined the festivities. The party spilled out onto the boulevard, where the Hollywood spotlights danced with the fashion stars and the once-somber Soviet capital seemed giddy with high-spirited fashion magazine glamour.
I found a wonderful little coffee house with a fireplace and perched to watch my very own runway show of street fashion in Berlin. There were knee high boots, draping wools scarves, sleek hats and high attitude that needed to be reckoned with.
Yes, it was glossy and over the top. But to me it reflected the new self-confidence of this tragic city that has risen from the ashes, endured and appears on the cusp of greatness again. Berlin will inspire you.
The Hermes Scarf: History and Mystique by Nadine Coleno, Thames & Hudson, 2010
Lifting the Curtain on Design by Vicente Wolf & Christine Pittel, The Monacelli Press, 2010
American Modern by Thomas O’Brien with Lisa Light, Abrams, New York
One of favorite cook books is Dean & Deluca: The Food and Wine Cook Book by Jeff Morgan, Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2002. This book has help me with many of my entertaining events with success.