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If I was going to give one book as a present this year, I would be very tempted to choose this one. “Around that Time” is a terrific starting point for any conversation about interiors and style.
It’s not the work of one designer that is the cohesive force in this exquisite interior’s book, but the work of the great photographer Horst P Horst under the editorial direction of Diana Vreeland - an individual whose contribution to modern photography is only matched by her genius as an editor.
When my eagerly anticipated copy arrived, I opened it immediately. I was sitting on a chair outside my little fisherman’s house. As one page turned into the next, I was transported to the 1960s. I was so lost inside the book that when my dear friend, Ed, came to visit me he had to tap me on the shoulder before I noticed him and allowed myself to be dragged back into reality. I gushed “I love this book” as we climbed my stairs, “it’s like being in the most wonderful magazine, only better” and then I had an unanny moment of realisation- this was exactly what it was like because “Around that Time” is made up of a series of articles that were published by Vogue during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Originally a monthly treat for readers, now we can gorge on all the articles like a box set, and despite being from another time, the glamour this book oozes is still as pungent and intoxicating as when it was new. You can only imagine how seductive it was at the time. Many of the images were originally re-published in Vogue’s book of Houses, Gardens and People in 1968.
Carefully edited by Ivan Shaw and Hamish Bowles the work, by Horst and his partner - Valentine “Peter” Lawford - is so great that it transcends time and the reader is invited into houses which, unless you are really, “very grand”, you would not know - and sadly many of them no longer exist. Yet through these pages, the readere becomes an intimate guest, at home and relaxed enough to have an opinion on Pauline de Rothschild’s choice of Chinese wall paper or the Aubusson carpet in her drawing room; the quality of Billy Baldwin’s Picasso, a little late but good; or a languorous afternoon in Christina Brandolina D’Adda’s, (Gina Angelli’s sister) boudoir - imagine sinking into her beautiful Louis XV day bed, covered in rich apricot and soft pink silk and playing with her Fabergé collection? That particularly sumptuous room is so luxurious that you start humming “Killer Queen” by Queen.
Around that Time is clearly not just about the interiors, gorgeous as they are, but is also about the people. What makes the portraits in this book so good is the relationship between the photographer and his subject - the sitters did not have to be anything but themselves. Horst P Horst, after years of work, was particularly good at achieving these portraits, allowing the sitter to meet him half way. He somehow seems to gently magnify what they already have and presents the best of them as they were. Upon considered examination, something else strikes you about these images that you would not see in a current glossy magazine: the lack of plastic surgery. If you were a Vanderbilt, an Agnelli or a Rothschild you appeared as you were. You bore your big nose or frowns with dignity. Apparent normality, within these fabulous homes, with plenty of staff in the background, was the greatest chic of all. It is remarkable how times have changed - everyone now feels obliged to look like a celebrity all the time.
The book includes many of the “beautiful people” too; Betty Catroux’s is stunning in her absolutely up-to-the-minute, futuristic apartment which now, of course, looks very dated; Elsa Peretti, the Tiffany jewellery designer, looks so elegant in her red Pyjamas, lounging on a white sofa that you are reminded of Horst’s P Horst work as a fashion phootgrapher; young Lady Eliot appears without any make up and looks so much the ‘English rose meets art school cool’ that she could be a good friend of Jarvis Cocker’s.
As you spend time with your new friends, you can’t help but wonder was there a little one-upmanship between a certain Contessa’s fresco, saved from an old house in Genoa and the Barone’s Eighteenth Century Chinese wallpaper? Many of the houses and apartments contained magnificent art collections and this book contains the legendary interior shots from Cy and Tatiana Twombly’s home in Rome. It is worth buying “Around that Time” for these images alone. Controversial at the time, they are now sold as art works in their own right and are lovely, with walls decorated by Twombly and Alessandro, his son, dressed up in an antique bicorn perhaps an allusion to Picasso’s son Paul.
There is also a rare opportunity to see a young Karl Lagerfeld with a beard and dark hair. In 1974 he was already a considerable bibliophile, although his flat in St Suplice is not in the same league as the sophisticated shades of cinnamon and brown of Yves Saint Laurent. Is it a coincidence that Saint Laurent and Marie Helene Rothschild had matching flocks of Francois Xavier Lalames sheep? Marie Helene is wearing an Yves Saint Laurent cloak in her photo shoot, one can’t help wondering if they were the best of friends. Who knows? But these are exactly the sort of delicious questions that this book asks.
© Condé Nast
"Around That Time": Horst at Home in Vogue by Valentine Lawford and Ivan Shaw, by photographer Horst P. Horst, published by Abrams (£45.00)