The other day, a friend of mine asked me if I could recommend a good house gift; she’s going to a friend’s beach house this summer, and wants to bring something special. “Why yes,” I replied. “As it so happens, I can.” Thames and Hudson has made the task easy, with the most gorgeous books this season.
What could be more perfect this year of the Queen’s Jubilee than THE CROWN JEWELS ? Anna Keay, a former curator at the Tower of London, has compiled photos of the world’s most important jewelry with commentary on their significance in English history. I would kiss, with tongue, anyone who gave this to me for my home. Replete with 277 color photographs, and several more illustrations, virtually every page of this work is an eye popper. The close-ups of the gems, and the workmanship presented are extraordinary. Unless you’re going to marry Prince Harry, there’s no way any visitor could ever get this close to the jewelry that’s displayed to the public. There are also detailed shots of the Coronation Spoon, a scepter circa 1262, King John’s Cup, the swords made for Charles I, Henrietta Maria’s portrait, and so much more. You don’t have to love history as I do to appreciate this sumptuous work, but I challenge anyone to flip through the pages and not learn something about what shaped the monarchy of today.
Another knock-your-sox-off present is BALENCIAGA, from the Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa, by Pierre Arizzola-Clementel, Miren Arzalluz, and Amalia Descalzo. This volume has been published to mark the inauguration of the Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain, the Basque region where he was born in 1895. Over 100 pieces will be featured there in a permanent collection. The book showcases the most representative clothing, in over 500 colored illustrations. There are also four essays written by specialists in Balenciaga’s artistry. The designer’s clients included the great beauties and fashion icons of the late 1940’s and the 1950s, including Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, the Duchess of Windsor, Gloria Guinness, and Pauline de Rothschild. Balenciaga learned about style and craftsmanship from his mother, who was a dressmaker and teacher. He opened his first couture house in San Sebastion, in 1919, at the age of 24; his Barcelona establishment opened in 1933; in 1935, Madrid; and in 1948, his famous salon in Paris opened its doors on Avenue George V. Balenciaga was a very private man; he let his work speak for him. With his death in 1972, the world lost a seminal influence in the world of fashion. Coco Chanel hailed him as “The only true couturier among us.” “We do what we can with fabric- but Balenciaga does anything he wants,” said Christian Dior of the master.
Any country house would be graced with HEIRLOOM FRUITS & VEGETABLES. Created with text by Toby Musgrave and photographs by Clay Perry, the food we eat and take for granted is here raised to the level of artistry. Rich with 160 color illustrations, this book presents the produce in accordance with the seasons. Included is a summary of how and why fruits and vegetables were cultivated, myths and beliefs surrounding them, and the interesting uses people have found for them. While many feel that the superior tasting and more adaptable heritage varieties are dying out, there’s room for hope. Dedicated growers around the world recognize their worth, and heirloom fruits and vegetables are prized by gardeners and consumers in the know.
There’s a new paperback edition of BEATON IN VOGUE, by Josephine Ross, who previously worked at the high fashion magazine. Known for his stylish photos of luminaries of his day, Cecil Beaton was also a clever writer, and nearly as sought after as the celebrities he shot. Both his essays and his photographs relay Beaton’s wit and his devotion to the good life; his travel accounts made exotic locales seem even more glamorous. This tome features 32 color illustrations, and many of Beaton’s signature black and white photos.
Joanna Hardy’s COLLECT CONTEMPORARY: JEWELRY is the latest in a series of books about acquiring “antiques of tomorrow.” Hardy trained as a jewelry designer and goldsmith, and worked for De Beers. She was also a senior specialist in the jewelry department of London’s Sotheby’s. Here, she employs her expertise to help us discern which pieces will stand the test of time, and what qualifies even less expensive jewelry as worth collecting. Inspiration, technique, and materials are all discussed at length, but most of all, the 266 intriguing color illustrations make this book a collectable all by itself.
Any of these fine books will show your hostess how much you appreciate her hospitality. And the guy who brought that expensive bottle of wine? Long after the lost drop has been drunk, the pages of these excellent volumes will still be viewed with pleasure, for many years to come.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com
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