SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL

Frances Carolina Roberts And Andrew Jackson “AJ” Lewis IV Wed In San Antonio

By Lance Avery Morgan

Photography by Sarah Kate

When the invitation to the wedding was received by 894 guests, everyone knew they were in for something spectacular. Frances “Carolina” Roberts, the daughter of Elizabeth and Barry Roberts and Andrew Jackson “AJ” Lewis IV, the son of Liza and Jack Lewis, all of San Antonio, enjoyed a two and half-year courtship and a one-year engagement, after initially meeting through the San Antonio German Club, a brahman social club in the city. 

The couple was engaged in a truly fitting Texas-style…on the groom’s family ranch. With a bottle of 1995 Dom Perignon and monogrammed cups by his side, AJ asked Carolina to be his life mate while overlooking the ranch perched on the Pedernales River. “Before I knew it, I turned around and saw AJ on one knee, with a ring in his hand. It turned out our families were all waiting for the green light so they could come and meet us where we were. They came bolting down the hill with bells and whistles,” enthused the bride, Carolina Lewis. 

The evening wedding, which occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic began, took months of planning for the grand weekend to happen in San Antonio. Billinda Wilkinson of Wilkinson Rhodes event production company and her team of international designers creatively directed the event, and Danny Cuellar of Trinity Flowers collaborated to  execute a magnificent design for the church. The wedding weekend’s festivities began with the rehearsal dinner for the family, wedding party, and out of town guests, at the Coates Chapel at the Southwest School of Art. The wedding venue, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, was a magnificent setting with a mix of the bride’s favorite flowers. Under the direction of Wilkinson Rhodes, Danny Cuellar created the bride’s vision for the church including a floral armature specifically designed for St Mark’s Episcopal Church.  

The bride walked down the elongated aisle wearing a dress that was a custom combination creation of Marchesa and Creviax by Javier Castillo. She wore a beaded pearl butterfly brooch, as well as an antique lace train that had been passed down for four McAllen family generations. “One of my favorite parts of the ceremony was when our Reverend Matt Wise asked me and AJ to turn around and look at the audience. He told the audience that the night before (at the rehearsal dinner) he had walked around the room and asked some of the bridesmaids and groomsmen, What do you love about Carolina and AJ’s love for each other? He then shared with us, and our guests, many of the sweet thoughts our friends’ had said the night before,” said Carolina Lewis.

The bride selected six flower girls, four ring bearers, and three attendants who were boys over the age of 10, in addition to her bridal party that were: Alicia Urrutia Amberson, Margaret McAllen Amberson, Lillian Foster Calvert, Claudia Luedemann Kiolbassa, Hannah Claire Gibson, Lauren Anne Gray, Carroll McLemore Ison, Meredith Anne Knight, Sallie Wolff Lewis, Felicia Louise Mannix, Diana Lynn Rubin, Fannie Lewis Thomas, and Jane Elizabeth Towns. She chose Josephine Tinsley Simpson as her maid of honor. The groom selected his cousin, Richard Spencer Lewis II, as his best man. The groomsmen who attended AJ were Hunter Hill Comiskey, Robert Menefee Cavender, Jr., Tyler Manning Hays, Dana Gareth Kirk, Jr., Moses McLish Moorman, Stewart Louis Korte, Carlos Federico Longoria, John Argyle McAllen Roberts, George Coates Roberts, Gregory Allen Rubiola, Jr., Charles Clayton Thomas, Jr., John Stuart West, and Burk Ricks Wilson, Jr. The ushers serving him were: Barclay Cunningham Adams, Kenneth Stanley Adams IV, Argyle Christian Amberson, Diego Andrés Guerra, Enrique Eduardo Guerra III, Lorenzo Tomás Guerra, John Luke Mannix, and John Thomas Saunders III.

Immediately after the ceremony, the newly betrothed couple joined the family dinner upstairs at The Argyle, while the wedding reception was in full swing below. “We enjoyed an intimate dinner with our parents before going out to the reception, which gave us a chance to relax, enjoy a cocktail, and sample all the wonderful foods being served at the wedding reception before greeting our guests,” remarked Carolina Lewis. The colors in the elaborately tented reception were hunter green, white, and blush pink, with shades of gold. It was a feast for the guests’ senses as over-scaled floral consisting of over 50,000 hybrid delphinium, hydrangea, larkspur, phalaenopsis, and garden roses arranged in unique floral designs welcomed guests at every turn. Upon entering the dinner, attendees were enveloped by a floral wonderland spanning the length of the tent. The ceiling was filled with over 5,000 stems of cascading flowers and foliage. The bridal party tables featured lush flower runners with arching floral garlands rising above them.

Since the couple had planned a honeymoon to Asia, there was an Asian flair to the buffet dinner with a selection of food stations astutely provided by The Argyle team. There were gorgeous De Gournay-style framed panels around the reception and a beautiful bar created with a series of brightly colored fans mixed with orchids and other tropical flowers. The bridal couple shares a love of food, especially sushi, so it was a treat to have three sushi chefs freshly preparing various rolls, nigiri, and sashimi, along with an incredible noodle bar with ice-cold Asian beer and sake pairings. The fresh seafood bar was topped with an exquisite ice sculpture of two kissing elephants whose trunks formed the shape of a heart.

The specialty cocktails also beautifully represented the couple with “his” and “hers” drinks. The “his” drink was a traditional margarita on the rocks, called a Spanish Spark named after the groom’s favorite drink, the Chispa, served at the famous Soluna Mexican food restaurant in San Antonio. The “her” drink was a twist on a French 75 cocktail called a Purdey Girl (named after the couple’s English cocker spaniel) and consisted of champagne, vodka, cranberry juice, with a large ice cube with small orchid flowers frozen in its center. The bride’s cake, created by Cakes by Cathy Young of San Antonio, was strawberry, with blush pink icing and filling. The groom’s cake was custom made by The Painted Cake. Half of the cake portrayed an African scene with a Baobab tree, elephant, campfire and tent, while the other half was a scene from their Fredericksburg ranch with personal touches to the bride and groom, such as their dog, Purdey. The cake was cut with a ceremonial sword from AJ’s maternal grandfather, Brigadier General James S. Billups, from when he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. The fun continued in the dance tent, where the bar surrounded a two-story tree filled with over 600 stems of elongated, bright white, dripping phalaenopsis orchids, while the tent poles themselves danced with 25 feet of garlands of silver dollar and seeded eucalyptus and more than a thousand roses of different varieties.

Attendees at the reception enjoyed dancing to the Georgia Bridge Water Orchestra, from Jordan Khan Productions, and were also treated to a performance by Cris Cab, who was a wedding guest. The after-party was in the Coates Garden, the newest addition to The Argyle,  and had guests dancing the night away by music provided by D.J. Rooney G, in from New York.

 

The couple’s Asian honeymoon took them on an extended journey ranging from Bali to Japan, where they look forward to visiting again soon. They reside in San Antonio, where Carolina, a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, has just started her own company with two of her cousins, and AJ, a graduate of Texas Christian University, is an executive at his family’s business, Mission Restaurant Supply. “In our spare time, we love to travel, go to the ranch and beach, cook, play with our dog, play backgammon, and spend time with each other’s families and friends,” said Carolina Lewis.  

THE WOW FACTOR

THE WOW FACTOR

What a year for both giving and receiving during the holiday season. No matter what, the show must go on… and all year long, we’ve been searching the globe for the most unique, interesting, practical, and dazzling offerings for everyone in your life. Join our style seekers Alexandra del Lago, Jake Gaines, Lance Avery Morgan, and Leanne Raesener for these inspiringly glamorous ideas. 

SEA TO SHINING SEA

Respecting the delicate flavor of caviar and other species of delicious roe, Larusmiani’s ultra-fine 5-piece caviar set includes two knives with mother-of-pearl handles, two small spoons, and a spoon made entirely of mother-of-pearl. Go ahead, take a dip. $1835. At TheRake.com.

STAYING THE COURSE

The Southern Tide x Star E.V. Collaboration to create an environmentally astute V.I.P. golf cart has our vote as the best way to get from the clubhouse to the 18th hole. Price upon request. At SouthernTide.com.

RESORT-ING TO NEW IDEAS

Bora Bora is where you’ll want to go as your next five-star destination…to flee the everyday world. The recently renovated Four Seasons Bora Bora, with its tropical splendor and amenities, is like no other in the world. From ocean-topped villas to the best activities on the planet, you’ll feel like you’ve really escaped. Price upon request. At FourSeasons.com.

CHIC CHAPEAU

From the neighborhood park to the French Riviera, this raffia straw hat will tell many stories. The dramatic brim provides plenty of shade, and the laced grosgrain on the crown  is inspired by the ribbon ties (chose black or navy) of traditional Basque espadrilles. $300. At LolaHats.com.  

FRENCH TIPS

With its recently refurbished interior, you’ll feel perfectly at home in the new world-meets-old world style at the Plaza Athénée in Paris. The sleek chrome-laden restaurant, Alain Ducasse, will welcome you back to the City of Lights with open arms.  At DorchesterCollection.com.

SEE YOURSELF IN A NEW LIGHT

With technology that mimics actual true sunlight, this Simple Human Sensor Mirror Pro Wide View mirror is perfect for the vanity or, yes, selfies, with its real-life settings of office, restaurant, and candlelight. $400. At SimpleHuman.com.

SUCH BRIGHT, GRAY DAYS AHEAD

Feel like you’re on holiday every day…with a clever Slim Aarons-esque print from photographer Gray Malin. With a bevy of beachy keen images to choose from, having one is never enough to capture that mid-century lifestyle finesse. Unframed prints start at $299. At GrayMalin.com.  

DRESS OF YOUR DREAMS

The luxury of putting on a dress by Esme Vie is unparalleled. Part of a capsule collection, and exclusive to The SIL, an online boutique created by Vernon, Texas native Natalie Bond Bloomingdale, this St. Tropez dress in lilac dream, with an accent of rose floral buttons, is a terrific choice for a dramatic entrance. $1095. At ShopTheSIL.com.

TURN ON AND DROP-IN

Combining creativity with craftsmanship, Cassandra Collections, by designer San Antonio-bred Austin resident Cassandra King Polidori, features unique jewelry to be worn as everyday essentials…or for formal occasions. How about a cadre of them? Price upon request. At CassandraCollections.com.

BEAUTY-FULL AND SO HELPFUL

With The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign to support the Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, as you beautify, you’ll be helping those in need, too. We recommend the Jo Malone Peony & Blush Suede scent, $142. At JoMalone.com, Darphin INTRAL Redness Relief Soothing Serum, $90. At BlueMercury.com, and LA MER Crème de la Mer’s The Moisturizing Cream, $190. At CremeDeLaMer.com.

BEAUTY-FULL AND SO HELPFUL

With Estee Lauder’s Pink Ribbon Products campaign to support the Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, as you beautify, you’ll be helping those in need, too. We recommend the Jo Malone Peony & Blush Suede scent, $142. At JoMalone.com, Darphin INTRAL Redness Relief Soothing Serum, $90. At BlueMercury.com, and LA MER Crème de la Mer’s The Moisturizing Cream, $190. At CremeDeLaMer.com.

FLYIN’ HIGHER THAN EVER

How better to try something new? Feel the rush in a safe, contained environment with an indoor skydiving experience. For skydiving simulators and wind tunnel skydiving in Texas, there are a variety of locations near you. Price upon request. At Cloud9Living.com.

CORRESPONDING IDEAS

Welcome to the ultimate paper lover’s indulgence. Here’s a selection of jotters, stationery, gift tags, and coasters–all with a beloved Bell’INVITO signature touch of detail. The Pucker. $455. At BellINVITO.com.

CAFTAN CHIC

Want to live an eternal Palm Beach lifestyle? All that it takes is donning an Ala Von Auersperg Kathe caftan in her signature bright, festive colors and timeless silhouettes. No matter what the occasion, from entertaining at home to attending a wedding, it’s always right. $650. At AlavonAuersperg.com.

HELLO, YOUR LADYSHIP

Why not make it official? The world of The Crown beckons you. Actually, the manor of Alconbury, UK, welcomes you. Once you fill out the paperwork, you’ll be titled. A Lordship is offered, too, for the gents. Tiaras and septors not included. $30. At UncommonGoods.com.

OUI, LE CAFÉ

Need your morning java as fresh as possible? Look no further than this easy-to-use Chambord French Press coffee maker. In four minutes flat, the job is done, and you’ll be on your way. Plus, this will look so very sleek on your counter. $50. At Amazon.com.

CAPTIVATING CLUTCHES

Who can decide on just one perfect purse? Very few can. So why not ask for a wardrobe of them to refresh your style? Kathy Fielder and her eponymous store in Dallas have scads to choose from, and these are just a few of  our favorites. Prices upon request. At KathyFielderBoutique.com.

ARTFUL SPORT

Be the hit on your mountain with these Keith Haring Tribal 78 skis that boast an excellent  edge grip on the ice and are very stable throughout each aspect of the turn. Adds more color to your outfit on the black run, don’t you think? $2500. At BomberSki.com.

GO, GO GADGET

Electronics can be customized to your every need. We recommend the coolest new products from JLab Audio that will have you on the go with the most innovative wireless sound quality on the planet. We suggest the Epic Air ANC–truly wireless smart active noise-canceling earbuds with a companion  JLab Air ANC App. We also dig the Talk Microphone–a USB microphone great for video conference calls and podcasting, the Studio Pro wireless headset and the Buddies Studio Wireless kids headphones are important with virtual/online learning, and these can be both wired and wireless. Prices vary. At JLabAudio.com.

POCKET LISTING

Interesting art can and should, surround you at all times. So, why not choose a pocket square that tells a story, too? This L’Envie silk number is one of the dozens of designs by London’s esteemed clothier, Rampley & Co. $85. At TheRake.com.

FIND YOUR EXPERT SPIRIT ANIMAL

Masterclass, with its online courses taught by experts, will help you learn to cook from Gordon Ramsey, write a book from James Patterson, or learn about conservation from Dr. Jane Goodall, to name a few  examples of the world-class masters. Subscription is $15 a month. At Masterclass.com.

VIEW FROM THE TOP

This aerial photographer’s drone dream has a 20-megapixel camera that captures super sharp images and video and is extremely easy to navigate. It will make your family’s next vacation a lot more exciting (at least for you, dad). The DJI Phantom 4 Pro Version 2.0 Quadcopter utilizes the Flight Autonomy system for a total of five directions of obstacle sensing and four directions of obstacle avoidance. $1599. At B&H Photo Video.com.

SWIM & SLIM

The new slim swimsuit silhouette will take off visual pounds when you visit your favorite resort again soon. The always-right Vilebrequin trunks continue to be a classic and comes in father-son sets that are memory-making and perfectly Instagram-able. From $260. At Vilebrequin.com.

YES, I SEE THAT

Whether you are channeling your inner 007, or just want to have the latest style in shades, there are plenty of designs to choose from, thanks to Houston-based designer Margot Hogan, founder of Transparent Sunglasses. Her horn-rimmed shades for men, like those presented here, will have you seeing a rosy future. Prices vary. At TransparentSunglasses.com.

YOUR TABLE IS READY

We relish an everyday object that can become extraordinary, don’t you? Like these billiard balls, for instance, that will refine any pool table and game room. In the signature Tiffany & Co. blue, of course. $1750. At Tiffany & Co.

THE ORIGINAL ZOOM

If you could have any classic car of your choice, wouldn’t you choose a vintage 1957 Chevrolet Corvette? At 63 years old, and entering its golden years, it’s as gorgeous as ever and still rides like an adventure-filled dream. Price upon request. At Hemmings.com.

MEET YOU AT THE 19th HOLE

Born to reclaim the lost legacy of great American irons, Texas-based P53 is the only bespoke golf irons company in the world to commit from day one to 100% U.S. forging and hand-made production in over two decades. P53’s head of design and customization has worked with over sixty of golf’s major champions. The time, care, skill, and effort invested into every set of P53 irons is peerless. Created by founder Christopher Griffin. Price upon request. At P53Irons.com.

ROBOTIC SYNERGY

Take a break and let A.I. do the mowing with this Automower by Husqvarna. It will have your neighbors scratching their heads as they watch it cut the lawn on its own, even when it’s drizzling. From $1599. At Lowes.com.

LET’S TABLE THAT FOR NOW

With Table Topics, you can be sure there’s never a lull at a dinner party. Try these questions to start great conversations that range in many themes, including Past Present Future, and our favorite, Not Your Mom’s Dinner Party. $25 per box. At TableTopics.com.

PUMP UP THE JAM

Leave it to Hermès to create a portable turntable. You can now spin your favorite vinyl records anywhere, and look cooler than ever while doing so. Price upon request. At Hermès.com.

BLANKET CLAUSE

For the wintery nights, how about cuddling up in these luxe Equadorian-made blankets by QISU, a company founded by Austinites Fernando Gonzaga and Mark Erwin? Offered in a selection of vibrant colors with contrasting fringe, these alpaca wool throws will liven up any space, especially since they are so ultra-soft,  hypoallergenic, and waterproof. Prices and sizes vary from $249. At QISUme.com.

COCKTAILS, EVERYONE?

Austinite Kate Hersch, founder of August Morgan, is popular with the home entertaining crowd for many reasons. Her quirky and quippy linen cocktail napkins are the hostess gift to give and receive. $40 for a set of four. At AugustMorgan.com.

TIME TO TOWEL OFF

A towel that expresses who you are by the pool, or at the surf, is a treasure. We love these 100% cotton velour, oversized ones by Texas-raised stylist-to-the-stars Stefan Beckman, founder of Lateral Objects in New York. Each towel can come with its own dive mesh pouch. $120. At LateralObjects.com.

FRAGRANTLY ATMOSPHERIC

Home fragrance has been completely redefined with the introduction of Home Cologne eau de toilette by San Antonio-based Soular Therapy. This luxury ambiance spray offers an elevated, boutique experience in scents like The Study No. 629, The Library No. 721 (shown), and Hacienda No. 117. It’s inspired by nature and architecture to instantly transform any room, office or vehicle…while also sanitizing linens and cotton fabric with its 70% ethanol alcohol, skin-safe formulation. $39-65. At SoularTherapy.com.

AS SHARP AS EVER

Hand-crafted in Japan, we love that these extremely sharp stainless steel knives have durable birch Pakkawood handles and blades with a hornet’s nest pattern on each side. The seven-piece set, for the chef in your life, includes five knives, a birch block display, and honing steel. $1199. At WilliamsSonama.com.

JEWELRY FOR THE HOME

A custom pillow can change the face and feel of any room. Treat yourself and your spaces, with peacock feathers, vintage fabrics, and jewelry for a one-of-a-kind look, created by The Pillow Goddess founder Deborah Main, an Austin-based artisan. Prices vary. Shown, $1217 and $1395. At DeborahMainDesigns.com.

TREASURE CHEST

Enhance any occasion with the Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest, crafted by artisans to the highest standard of elegance and luxury. This curated creation includes a removable serving tray, a champagne bottle thermal flask, two thermal caviar bowls, and four hand-blown champagne flutes, all with a leather carrying sleeve. $47,000. At Rolls-RoyceMotorcars.com.

MOVIE NIGHT IS EVERY NIGHT

From the patio and backyard to the family room, turn up the fun with the Nebula Capsule II, the 1 ½ pound device that projects up to 100 feet wide with a 270-degree angle. And just think, you can introduce your kids to classic films in a new way. $580. At Anker.com.

PARIS, ALWAYS & FOREVER

PARIS, ALWAYS & FOREVER

Paris, the City of Lights, always represents love, laughter, and adventure. Join our quest-driven Lance Avery Morgan as we stroll the boulevards seeking one-of-a-kind très magnifique experiences that delight all the senses.

Photography courtesy of author’s own, archival

Paris, at its best, has a soignée approach to life that is, to this day, some of the most intriguing to be found in the world. At its worst, it’s still a tad imperious, although it might have every right to be since it is a city so steeped in the world’s history.

Once, on a flight to Geneva, a woman seated next to me said that it would be better to not visit Paris at all than to be there for only one day’s layover, as I was planning. No truer advice was ever given. So, realizing that only a day to enjoy the city would have left my heart yearning for more, I decided to stay around longer this time. In the famous song of the mid-twentieth century, Lush Life, it professed that a week in Paris could ease the bite of just about anything. And, I learned, it does. When things are back to normal with post COVID-19 travel and safe distancing rules, Paris can be an ideal initial destination to jump back into international travel.

BON JOUR

When I first arrived in the legendary capitol of France, the city’s elegance immediately infused me to my core. Anything and everything about the city…from the fresh chocolate and almond croissants, to the magnificent architecture, or the all-around high-chic Parisian style can beckon any visitor, whether it be the first–or fiftieth time there. On a recent trip, instead of flying into De Gaulle airport, I had the good fortune to take a super train from the Bordeaux region of France directly into Paris. I observed not only the countryside that envelops the city, but also the eye-catching country home set who were traveling back into the city on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon that, in my mind, would usher in a week of non-stop glamour and excitement in the other city that never sleeps. Lots of singletons, couples with children and those spanning many generations boarded from the country enclaves. To see them not traveling wearing the equivalent of pajamas, like so many domestic and international tourists do, was a refreshing change.

This quintessential sense of style permeates every facet of the French resident’s life. All its culture, the restaurants, the shopping, the art…it’s truly a unique experience that can only happen in Paris. The quality of everything from your breakfast in the morning, to a show you see in the evening, feels fresh and unique.

The street fashion seen on the boulevards in Paris is also truly captivating. Chic, a well known and oft-used French word, was surely created to define the city’s everyday style. Parisian women of all ages understand the importance of accessorizing to compliment even the most casual of weekend afternoon outfits… from good jewelry including brooches, to scarves, gloves, good bags…and even better shoes. For work and social outings, the extremes of slim shifts to flirty ruffles rule the current fashion scene. Bold colors, offset by more somber tones, add the duality that defines many a French woman’s own personality…both mischievous and charming. The classic Chanel No. 5 fragrance is still a beguiling scent that can be detected on a certain woman with a certain je ne sais quois flair…either while having drinks at Hotel Costas or merely standing in line at a neighborhood patisserie. Let’s face it: the French just have a way about them.

TRÈS CHIC

For men, Paris is a mix of all styles and designs, not as eccentric as London or New York, but still with a renewed innovation tinted with classicism. Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion is an emblematic representation of what is Parisian style: originality, rock-n-roll, yet respect for tradition and, most of all, quality. The best example of the Parisian style can be seen on the rue Saint Honoré, where the classicism and beauty of the Hermès boutique with its select clientele, meet the trendy selection of the Colette boutique. Parisians are also always looking for novelties and exclusivities, such as the new Lomo camera or the latest Longchamp it bag.

French men have understood their own style since the era of the Louis kings. On the streets these days, savvy professional men, younger, as well as older, have adopted the ubiquitous slim suit silhouette, yet make it their own with loosely knotted ties, whimsical cufflinks and monk strap shoes. All made by French designers, of course. It’s a sexiness of style that few cultures can boast. After all, it’s common knowledge that French men are known for their genetic predisposition toward amour…sometimes appropriate, if the target of his amorous attention reciprocates, and at other times, quite unwelcome.

This bent toward love seems a pervasive–and persuasive–part of life here. Paris is an aesthetic city. Why? Because of the potential for romance around every corner. There is also an intimacy in the richness of sounds, sights, scents, and tastes that Paris offers.

Everywhere I turn, I see people kissing and embracing–authentic, deep embraces­­–on corners, in parks, in public, and private, and on transportation. Paris has often been called the City of Love, and to witness all these very public displays of affection, the moniker is for good reason. The French tourist industry’s campaign, is Let’s Fall in Love Again.’  Walking around the city, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all and while sighing heavily at something, I was asked by someone nearby if I’d swooned. Perhaps I did. In fact, it happened many times over in each beautiful arrondissement section I encountered.

 

LE TOUR

“My favorite places to hang around are le Marais (in the historic center) and the Latin Quarter (in the 5th arrondissement, near the Jardin du Luxembourg)”, says insider Alain Constant, a journalist at the city’s Le Monde newspaper. “I recommend that visitors not limit their visit to only the classics like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Champs-Elysées. Come into the center, to the east of Paris, and walk in the small streets around the Hotel de Ville, Bastille, or perhaps, take a break in the big Bois de Vincennes.”

When asked to create the perfect Parisian day, Constant has his favorites. “I would start by having tea and a fresh croissant in a typical French café on Place des Vosges, while observing the tourists visiting the art galleries and the Parisian fashionistas shopping around. I would then walk through the historical and trendy 4th arrondissement, Le Marais, stopping by the boutique, Mariage Frères on rue Bourg Tibourg to buy the best teas of the world, and then venture to the Centre Beaubourg, the modern art museum.”

He goes on to share, “After wandering around those collections and exhibitions, I would spend as much time in their library, which has one of the best selections of art and design books. For a casual lunch, I would continue towards the 2nd arrondissement, rue Montorgueil, to eat some delicious Italian pasta at Little Italy, or share a table with complete strangers at Le Pain Quotidien―a wonderful way to meet new faces. Afterwards, I would walk down to Place de la Concorde to witness the frenetic Parisian traffic meeting the ancestral Egyptian Obelisque, step into the Crillon hotel and visit the Champs-Elysées. Le Jardin du Luxembourg would be my next stop to have a rest on the benches, watch the kids playing with the sailing boats on the lake and look at the statues paying tribute to famous artists such as Verlaine, Baudelaire or Delacroix.”

“Going out at night is just as glamorous an endeavor. To start the evening, why not pop in for an aperitif at the Experimental Cocktail Bar where they serve excellent drinks, go to the theater and finish with a late dinner in one of my favorite restaurants, perhaps at Hotel Costes? Then, stroll along the Seine river to look at the most beautiful city of the world: the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais, Alexander III bridge, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, and Notre-Dame. Other notable areas I discovered in Paris, through insider recommendations, include Le Marais, Saint-Sulpice, Avenues Montaigne and Saint-Honore, Sevres-Babylone, Place des Victoires, Les Halles and Saint-Michel–all sublime French experiences. Interesting to note, nobody really shops on the Champs-Elysees, unless they want to find the quintessence at the same boxy chain stores easily found at home.”

LE GUEST

While in the city, in between exploring to your heart’s desire, there are a myriad of hotels from which to choose. All dazzling. The usual five-star grand hotels, such as the Georges V, Plaza Athenee, or the Ritz are always top choices for any serious traveler.. I chose the Hôtel de Crillon, a unique and opulent hotel in the heart of the city―the most sought-after location in Paris. The Crillon is next door to the American Ambassador’s residence on the world-famous Place de la Concorde, at one end of the Champs Elysees boulevard that leads directly up to the Arc de Triumph, and near the Seine River.  The Hôtel de Crillon, which recently went through a years-long renovation, is within walking distance to the luxurious boutiques of the Faubourg St.-Honore and the Avenue Montaigne, as well as the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and many more of this famous city’s most acclaimed attractions.

Like everything in Paris, the hotel is steeped in history. Commissioned in 1758 by Louis XV; the Crillon family acquired the palace in 1788 where it remained in the family until 1907 when the Societe des Grands Magasins et des Hotels du Louvre transformed it into a palace hotel catering, in part, to the American industry tycoon families and their daughters visiting to find European titles to marry. Other prominent guests through the years read like a Who’s Who: Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Sir Winston Churchill, King George V, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and even, the Dalai Lama.

“My intention is to revive the magnificence and grandeur of this world-famous hotel: a true gem in the heart of Paris,” says acclaimed designer Thierry Despont, who is also a knight of the French Legion of Honor. My grand suite, one of the 44 grand apartments in the hotel, that also includes over one hundred guest rooms, was fit for a prince, or at least, a prince of good fortune.  

Decorated in tasteful shades of golds and plums, Cole Porter or Cary Grant could easily have enjoyed these rooms in another, elegant era. With a king size bed, couch, several posh occasional chairs, as well as large walk-in closet, the features of the suite also include marble bathrooms with telephone, flat screen televisions, a mini-bar and full valet service. On another design note, all suites are furnished and decorated with Aubusson carpets, Baccarat chandeliers and Wedgewood medallions. Should you want to tear yourself away from such luxury, the property’s on-site restaurants and lounges, Les Ambassadeurs, L’Obelisque, and the Winter Garden Tea Room, located just off the lobby, offer wonderful elegant meals and cocktails, or the jet set favorite, the Crillon Bar, decorated in shades of claret, reflects the namesake drink served there that is so popular.  

It is well known that the French love colorful Texans and any opportunity to collaborate is a welcome one.  How best to end several days in Paris? On your last evening, try Café Marley where, in the moonlight, the stars shine brightly, as the glistening horizon beckoned the last day in paradise on what was certainly a trip of a lifetime to the City of Romance. Until next time, anyway.  

WHERE TO GO AND HOW TO DO IT:

Come Se Va? Useful Phrases

Bonjour / Au revoir (Hello / Goodbye)

Parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)

Desole, je n’ai pas compris (Sorry, I didn’t understand)

Pouvez-vous m’aider? (Can you help me?)

Ou se trouve le metro/le restaurant/la poste/les taxis? (Where is the metro/restaurant/post office/taxi rank?)

Quel est le prix? (How much does it cost?)

Merci / Non merci (Thank you / No thank you)

C’est top! (It’s the best!)

Je kiffe grave (I love it)

 

Les Hotspots: Let’s Go Out: 

Paris Plage (a man-made beach on the Right Bank of the Seine) 

Mini Palais (from chef Gilles Choukroun)

Hotel du Nord (“the restaurant is popular with the fashion crowd”)

Chez Julien (“a turn-of-the-century bistro”)

Le Baron (“grungy-chic nightclub”)

The major cafes of St. Germain – Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp

Le Meurice

Café Angelina

Buddha Bar

L’ Aquire:  Shop

Goyard (233 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore)

Hermes (24 Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore)

Dior (30 avenue Montaigne)

Lanvin (15 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore)

L’Eclaireur (separate men’s and women’s stores at 12 Rue Mahler and 3 Ter Rue des Rosiers)

Christian Louboutin (68 Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honoré)

Well-known stores: Galeries Lafayette, Le Printemps, Le Bon Marche, BHV

ALWAYS, ACAPULCO

ALWAYS, ACAPULCO

A favorite destination of the rich and famous, the Jet Set, was always Acapulco. Just a quick hop from Texas, it offered an oasis of an exotic stay for those who sought the new and different. Join our vintage travel expert Lori Duran, as she whisks us back to the glory days of the Latin destination of many prominent Texans.

STAR QUALITY

Glamorous Acapulco has, without exception, always been attractive, as not only Mexico’s oldest seaside resort but also because of its ties to the Jet Set of yesteryear. It was famous for its breath-taking topography, nearly flawless year-round weather, and its horseshoe-shaped bay with azure waters. So much so, that by the middle of the last century it was a regular destination for celebrities and the wealthy. It was also a dream vacation for many others. Hollywood immortalized it with the Elvis Presley 1963 film, Fun in Acapulco, 1965s potboiler Love Has Many Faces starring Lana Turner, and License To Kill, the 1989 James Bond caper. Besides the beautiful natural attractions the region offered, visitors could look forward to La Quebrada cliff divers, luxury hotels, cosmopolitan discotheques and swanky parties.

By the middle of the last century it was a regular destination for celebrities and the wealthy. It was also a dream vacation for many others.

Coincidentally, Acapulco helped introduce the Margarita cocktail, the Acapulco Chair, and trend-setting residential architecture that worked closely with the landscape and local nature. Braniff Airlines, with its flight attendants outfitted in colorfully bright Pucci uniforms, recruited a socialite party concierge, Sloane Simpson, for the destination…and Howard Hughes spent the last few weeks of his life in a penthouse at an Acapulco hotel.

Film star Merle Oberon was known to host legendary parties at her Acapulco home and often frequented the Las Brisas beach club. According to Slim Aarons, the famed mid–century photographer, Oberon was a popular hostess, and her tasteful villa was considered to be one of the most beautiful resort houses anywhere in the world. In 1979, Oberon became world news after the deposed Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, found temporary refuge in Mexico following intervention from former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger. The Shah was one of the wealthiest men on the planet and a target for revenge-minded Islamic revolutionaries. Reportedly, he was considering exile residence in Acapulco and possibly at the home that had been built for Oberon and her then husband, Bruno Pagliai. Despite all the speculation, the Shah ended up residing in a Cuernavaca mansion during his time in Mexico. San Antonio businessman John Agather spent a considerable amount of his youth in Acapulco and remembered Oberon as being especially gracious.

TEXAS TIES AND THEN SOME

Nearby and at the same time, Villa Arabesque was being built for Houstonian Baron Enrico “Ricky” and Baroness di Portanova. Villa Arabesque was a spectacular sight with Moorish arches along with other grand features. According to guests, the villa seemed to rise out of the water like the Taj Mahal. It was built with 32 bedrooms, 26 bathrooms, four kitchens, and two indoor waterfalls. A few years later it was featured in the Bond film, License to Kill. Baron Ricky Portanova was an heir of Texas oil magnate Hugh Cullen. Ricky’s father was said to be an Italian playboy who called himself a baron, and he passed on that title to his son and Cullen’s daughter, Lillie. For the scion, jetting from Houston down to Laredo’s Cadillac Bar for lunch was a way of life, so a jaunt to Acapulco was a natural extension of his love of the Latin culture.

When Braniff Airlines teamed up with the Dallas-born socialite Sloane Simpson, it was a match made in heaven. Braniff hired her as its Acapulco spokeswoman and hostess, with the catchy slogan Call Sloane, while the airline provided transportation to Acapulco.

Acapulco’s guest registry read like a Who’s Who of pop-cultural icons including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, George Hamilton, Lynda Bird Johnson, and many other well-known people who vacationed there. Elizabeth Taylor married one of her husbands, Michael Todd, there. John and Jackie Kennedy and Henry and Nancy Kissinger all honeymooned in the town’s luxury accommodations when the resort city was at its zenith. Besides the hotels, Acapulco was also built-up with a proliferation of palatial homes constructed atop the rocky cliffs for such notables as Dolores Del Rio, Orson Welles, Johnny Weissmuller, and many others. And it’s still possible to rent Dallasite-turned-New York socialite Sloane Simpson’s expansive villa through a website home rental.

Elvis’s Fun in Acapulco celebrated the glamorous vacation site in 1963. Co-starring bombshell Ursula Andress, the film featured two things of note: Acapulco cliff diving and the Top 10 Billboard hit Bossa Nova Baby, sung by Presley, which reached #8 on the Billboard Pop Charts. The film would be Presley’s last release before the arrival of Beatlemania…and it was the top-grossing movie musical of 1963. Acapulco is also where Rita Hayworth filmed The Lady from Shanghai in 1947 with then husband Orson Welles, as the seaside resort was really catching on after WWII. The broad appeal of a Mexican beach vacation was even reflected in the cartoon animation in 1964 when the Flintstones coveted a trip to Rockapulco.

 

POP CULTURAL BEACON

Acapulco helped introduce a tequila-based Margarita. In fact, that drink may have actually been created by Dallas resident Margaret Sames who concocted the cocktail for her guests at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948. Hotel heir Tommy Hilton was in attendance, and he later brought what would soon be a ubiquitous drink to his family’s chain of hotels. The Acapulco chair is a stylish patio chair that was also popularized there. Cecilia Leon de la Barra, a Mexican designer, has made claims that she gave the chair its name. Meanwhile, the illustrious Guadalajara architect, Marco Aldaco, collaborated with nature for his designs when he built houses for Loel and Gloria Guinness and others. Loel served in the British parliament, and Gloria was a native-born aristocrat from Mexico who was considered to be one of the most beautiful and stylish women of her era, always landing on the International Best Dressed List.

John Agather remembers John Wayne in Acapulco with his “converted WW II former minesweeper, the Wild Goose.” He fondly recalls that the Duke was kind, showed interest even in kids he met, and  remembered names.

When Braniff Airlines teamed up with the Dallas-born socialite Sloane Simpson, it was a match made in heaven. Braniff hired her as its Acapulco spokeswoman and hostess, with the catchy slogan Call Sloane,  while the airline provided transportation to Acapulco. Simpson was the one to call to find out about what parties were taking place, where to go and where to be seen. According to San Antonio-based author and former Braniff employee, William Jack Sibley, if Simpson didn’t make an appearance at your Acapulco party, it never happened, baby.

Some of the world’s first discos were in Acapulco. Agather recalls the rise of the discos and the first real hotspot as being Armando’s LeClub. The sophisticated dance clubs are still a prominent feature of the seaside resort, and the Acapulco nightlife was chronicled in the media then as sometimes decadent. By the late 1970s, Acapulco purportedly may have become a little more depraved. Grace Jones is said to have put on an especially racy show for a New Year’s Eve celebration decades ago.

The signature tourist attraction, The La Quebrada cliff divers, began in the mid–1930s and this spectacle includes divers that first climb to precarious bases on steep cliffs before diving approximately the height of an 11–story building into a channel only four meters wide at high tide. La Quebrada divers thrill spectators with their dangerous descent into the narrow and shallow foamy waters of The Quebrada.

MUCHO MEXICO

Hotel Los Flamingos was the former private hideaway resort of John Wayne and his gang, which included Cary Grant, Richard Widmark, Johnny Weissmuller, and many others. Built in 1930, Los Flamingos was small and unpretentious when John Wayne and partners bought it in 1954 (why buy an avocado ranch in the San Fernando valley when you can buy something much more fun and exotic down Mexico way?).  The resort was known for its remarkable location with ocean waves smashing up against the cliffs below and some of the best sunsets in the area. For the next few years, it remained a private club of movie stars who came there to lounge by day and party by night. Agather remembers John Wayne in Acapulco with his “converted WW II former minesweeper, the Wild Goose.” He fondly recalls that the Duke was kind, showed interest even in kids he met, and  remembered names. So did Cary Grant. The Agather family got to know quite a few celebrities in Acapulco, along with the Apollo 11 astronauts, who were relaxing there with their families after coming out of quarantine from their trip to the moon.

Las Brisas was a favored hotel for luminaries like Frank Sinatra and Sylvester Stallone…and John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned there. Las Brisas is known for exemplary customer service, clean white, and pink décor, all on a sprawling and lushly landscaped property with private pools for its visitors. The resort has deep roots in Acapulco’s Golden Era, having been built in 1957 at the dawn of the development of the Diamante area and lured the affluent and powerful to the city’s beaches, restaurants, and discothèques. The property has multiple terraced levels and a pink signature color that was worked into everything seemingly possible. They whisked customers up the hill in one of the pink and white jeeps, later named after Hollywood’s renown, to their private casita, a little house, with a pink and white striped roof where their customers could get settled. The property is designed to highlight its stunning hillside views over the surrounding bay and ocean, and Las Brisas remains to this day one of the top places to stay in Acapulco.

The Acapulco Princess has been an Aztec pyramid-shaped luxury hotel since 1971, with a unique design that included 15-stories and 1,011 rooms. The billionaire Howard Hughes, who always had a fondness for hotel living, left the Bahamas in February 1976 and moved into an entire floor at the Princess. Unconfirmed reports said that Hughes was in search of a readily available supply of narcotic pain medications, which he used daily to counter his agony from injuries sustained in a plane crash years earlier. While he was able to obtain the medicine he needed, the unfamiliar food and finicky air conditioning system further exacerbated Hughes’ anxiety. Already in declining health, Hughes nearly died at the Mexican resort hotel. On April 5, 1976, Hughes was carried out of his penthouse suite unconscious, and onto a chartered jet. He had stopped eating by the time he was loaded onto the plane, destined for Houston, and he weighed just 93 pounds. Hughes passed away while on that final flight. The Princess operates today as Hotel Princess Mundo Imperial.

Despite all the beautiful and interesting attractions, sunny Acapulco eventually lost its cool. It had become less alluringly exclusive over the years. Braniff and other airlines had made it more accessible as did the highway, built in 1955, that connected Mexico City to Acapulco. In the 1980s, Cancun became the new destination resort city where mega-hotels sprang up seemingly overnight. Cancun and other new resorts provided stiff competition as Americans headed to these new resorts for sun-soaked and value-filled vacations. Also, in 1982, Mexico devalued its Peso and the financial issues and instability that followed influenced foreign residents like Dallas socialite Sloane Simpson, who pulled up stakes altogether and abandoned living in Mexico. But, the final death blow to Acapulco’s international status as the place to go, has been the recent drug cartel fighting there with often deadly results. The fighting has spilled into all areas, and the U.S. State Department continues to warn Americans against travel to the region. Hopefully, this violence can someday be abated, and as the new generation of affluent travelers seek hot spots, they will rediscover the Acapulco that so many still look back on with fondness of the memorable times during the Jet Set era of years past.

 

AIX MARKS THE SPOT

AIX MARKS THE SPOT

France is such a vital part of chic European culture. Join our intrepid traveler Rose Betty Williams as she jets to the Provence region…and with her five-star point of view recommends only the very best for your next visit.

By Rose Betty Williams              Photography courtesy of author’s own and archival 

CINEMATIC BEAUTY

When dear friends asked my husband and me if we wanted to go to Provence and share a villa with them, we jumped at the opportunity. I bought and borrowed guide books about Provence. I also binge-read Peter Mayle’s books A Year In Provence and Toujours Provence, Susan Vreeland’s Lisette’s List, and Lost Carousels of Provence by Juliet Blackwell. I also watched movies about Provence such as A Good Year starring Russell Crowe, Loving Vincent and Lust For Life starring Robert Gubczyk and Kirk Douglas, respectively, as Vincent Van Gogh. 

 

We flew from Austin to Marseilles and then drove to Aix en Provence, which we felt was not only centrally located, but also the perfect spot to begin our exploration of Provence. We loved le Pigonnet, our fantastic hotel in Aix. Our accommodations were charming with a balcony and windows that commanded spectacular views of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that Paul Cezanne depicted over and over again in his paintings. 

 

We relaxed in le Pigonnet’s stunning Versailles-like gardens and enjoyed a light repast of Provençal cheese, fresh fruit, black tanche and green picholine olives, olive tapenade, local charcuterie, and an assortment of bread and crackers. The sunny skies and comfortable September temperatures of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit were ideal and a short five-minute leisurely walk to Aix’s city center beckoned, but we chose instead to listen from chaise lounge chairs to the live music performed in the open air bar and to go to bed early. 

 

The next morning we were ready to explore. We engaged the services of Tours By Locals for private tours of the hilltop villages of the Luberon. Our superb guide, Nathalie Clairault, met us at 8am in the hotel lobby. Even though she had already advised us to wear layers and comfortable walking shoes, she gave us a quick inspection, and then strongly urged me to get my raincoat, and my husband, his hat. The weather and wind, or mistral, can change very quickly in Provence. The mistral is a strong, cold wind that often exceeds 40 mph. More about the mistral later. 

 

We drove to the southernmost Luberon village of Lourmarin to see the Renaissance Chateau de Lourmarin. When we entered the Chateau from one of its many large courtyard terraces, we were astonished by the decorated fountains, flowers and pools, and the sweeping views of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees. That explained why the Chateau is a favorite venue for weddings, special events, music and art festivals, and why Winston Churchill set up his easel there to paint. I was fascinated by the musical instruments that I thought were just for display but found out later are used regularly for concerts and recitals. 

 

From Lourmarin, we drove to Bonnieux. En route, we saw the Pont Julien, a three-arched 215-foot bridge built by the Romans in 3 B.C. and named for Julius Caesar. We also visited the Chateau la Canorgue Winery, which was where A Good Year was filmed. Clairault regaled us with stories about the transformation of this immaculate winery and chateau for the film and about Crowe, whom she called The Gladiator, eating, drinking and “more” in town. We went to the Caveau, also known as the tasting room, and of course, tasted and bought several reds and a couple of Rosés, all reasonably priced and delicious.

 

Our next stop was lunch. We went to La Bergerie that is located in a pastoral park setting surrounded by woods and lavender fields, and has suites, rooms, a spa and pool, and offers cooking lessons. We dined on an extraordinary truffle pizza, a goat cheese and ham platter, a mushroom tartine,  a beef carpaccio and artichoke candied with lemon olive oil, and the most delicious fleurs de courgettes—stuffed and fried zucchini flowers–all specialties of Michelin 2-star Chef Edouard Loubet. I ordered a pastis to drink, but alas, didn’t like it–too licorice-y for me. We easily could have napped by the pool but we had to work off the calories.

 

Bonnieux is a high-perched village located on the northern slopes of the Luberon across from Lacoste. The Vielle Eglise, which means old church, is a 12th-century Romanesque and Gothic styled 1400-foot high church at the top of Bonnieux and the village’s most identifiable landmark. To visit it requires a steep climb up 86-stone steps, which without good walking shoes and if the mistral is blowing, can be very treacherous. Nevertheless, the climb is definitely worth it. The old church, also known as the high church, is small but the views are incredible. Quite a few of the trees around the church show the effects of the mistral. They lean sharply to one side and look very eerie. The new church also known as the low church, incidentally, was built when villagers didn’t want to make the climb from the valley below. Another interesting site in Bonnieux is the Louve Gardens, a private French contemporary garden open to the public, but privately owned, and created in 1986 by Nicole de Vésian, the textile designer for the Paris fashion house of Hermès. La Louve, by the way, means She-Wolf, and should not be confused with Musée du Louvre.

OMNIPOTENT OCHRE 

We drove to Roussillon. This Luberon village sits atop Mont Rouge and is situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world and is famous for its magnificent red cliffs. We had every intention of hiking the Ochre Cliffs Trail but the mistral was too strong and the trail was closed. That did not stop us from enjoying the many shops, galleries and picturesque maze of streets and squares. The red and orange ochre facades of the buildings and the brightly painted shutters and doors make Rousillon a magical mosaic of color and charm. 

 

In a gallery on Rue Richard Casteau, my husband and I were drawn to a few paintings that depicted familiar scenes. It turns out the artist Francoise Valenti came to Texas and painted the Hill Country. She now has a growing Texas fan club and for good reason–her paintings are lush with color and movement. We considered buying one but found another painting at the nearby Galerie Porte Heureuse that really appealed to us. Not sure how we’d transport it, we decided to exchange contact info and follow up later, and indeed we did. When we returned to the US, the gallery sent us photos of a stunning landscape of Maussane les Alpilles and we bought it.

 

From Roussillon we went to Lacoste. The Savannah College of Art and Design has a campus there comprised of 40-plus houses where students live and study for a trimester. Fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who now owns much of the village and resides in the lower part of the Marquis de Sade Castle, helps sponsor an end-of-trimester fashion and art event for the students and also sponsors a summer opera festival. We talked to a student from New Orleans who explained that many of the buildings in Lacoste are closed because Cardin purchased them to store his enormous collections but that his collections are not managed, maintained nor available for public viewing. Nevertheless, it is a treat to visit the castle and admire both Cardin’s renovations and the large sculptures on the property. The word sadism, incidentally, comes from the Marquis de Sade’s notorious pornographic novels and his alleged evil “Sade”-istic behavior.

Also, stone that is currently being used to help rebuild Notre Dame comes from a quarry in Lacoste that is worth visiting. We went to Gordes next. It was an active resistance village in WWII and where Marc Chagall and his wife hid from the Nazis. Gordes is the stunning setting for the movies Mistral’s Daughter, A Year In Provence and Mr. Bean’s Holiday, among others.

 

It is interesting to note that in the Luberon, each village has rules regarding the colors of buildings and the shape of roof tops. Homes built in Bonnieux have to have terra cotta rounded tile roof tops. New buildings in Gordes must be made of stone and use terracotta roof tiles. No fences are allowed, only stone walls. With a few exceptions, all electrical and telephone cables have to be put underground. In Roussillon, natural ochre–red, orange and yellow, not synthetic ochre colors of blue and purple–must be used on the outside. Also, throughout the Luberon, calade limestone tiles that were first used by the Romans are still used today. Roadways are paved with long stones placed vertically with their sides facing upwards to help with drainage and to enable traffic circulation in all seasons. The steps leading up to Bonnieux’s Vielle Eglise are calade as are some of the streets in Gordes and Uzès.

 

After our private tours in the Luberon, we decided to self-guide in Aix-en-Provence. We visited Cezanne’s Atelier, the Hotel de Caumont and the Musée Granet. We loved seeing Cezanne’s studio, watched the video of his life, ate lunch at Les Deux Garcons on Cours Mirabeau (the ChampsÉlysées of Aix), and were stunned beyond words at our good fortune at being able to see the Solomon Guggenheim Thannhauser Collection From Manet to Picasso on loan to the Hotel de Caumont. We could have spent days there. The exhibit and the Caumont Centre d’Art are phenomenal.

 

Our villa in Maussane les Alpilles was the next stop. Villa Jolie is gorgeous with private quarters for four couples, a kitchen and a large living-dining area, a pool and very tranquil surroundings overlooking vineyards, olive groves and les Alpilles. Laurence Vedder of Exclusive Resorts arranged a welcome snack for us that was almost too beautiful to eat, but eat we did, enjoying every delicacy and a couple of bottles of divine Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas wine.   

À VOTRE SANTÉ

In the early morning we drove to Domaine de la Verriere, owned by my friend Nicole Rolet and her husband Xavier Rolet. La Verriere is a majestic estate and winery nestled in the foothills of Mont Ventoux in Crestet that produces the award-winning Chêne Bleu wines. We toured the organic vineyard and the state-of-the-art winery, learned about the history and terroir, tasted Chêne Bleu’s critically acclaimed Abelard and Heloise, Super Rhone, Viognier, and Rosé wines, and then enjoyed a Farm to Fork luncheon with Chêne Bleu wine that was expertly paired to complement each course. Absolutely delightful. 

 

The following day we immersed ourselves in everything Van Gogh. We started with a visit to the Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux. Van Gogh’s clouds, suns, stars, portraits–his greatest masterpieces–are brought to life on cave walls that are more than 16-yards high and also on the cave floor and ceiling. It was a visual and musical tour de force. The constantly changing projections of Van Gogh’s most famous canvases illuminated the enormous Carrieres space and the accompanying sound gave every visitor the opportunity to journey into Van Gogh’s very “emotional, chaotic and poetic inner world”. The paintings pulsated with color and depth and gave me an entirely new perspective and admiration for Van Gogh’s genius. This experience for me was truly one of the most memorable highlights of our trip. I hope to return for the next exhibit that opens in March 2020 and will feature the art of Monet, Renoir and Chagall. Fantastique.  

 

We went to Arles and ate lunch at the Café la Nuit depicted in Van Gogh’s painting of the same name. The restaurant is definitely a tourist trap and the food very mediocre, but it was kind of fun to be there anyway. We visited Espace Van Gogh, the site of the hospital where Van Gogh was admitted after he cut off a portion of his ear. It has classrooms, a library and surrounds a courtyard that Van Gogh often painted. Then we visited St. Paul Monastery and Hospital in St. Remy where Van Gogh as part of his therapy produced more than 100 paintings. We visited a replica of his room and could see the same views he painted more than 120 years ago. The hospital still treats patients today with art therapy. 

 

No visit to St. Remy would be complete without going to its chic boutiques, especially the store Souleiado, considered by the fashion savvy to be the unofficial ambassador of Provence with gorgeous dresses, blouses, skirts and home décor items, in vibrant fabrics that showcase the culture and traditions of the region. 

 

The next day we visited Moulin Castelas, an olive mill at the foot of the Chateau des Baux. We toured the facility, “blind” tasted the olive oils and learned which flavors, aromas and complexity most appealed to us. No surprise, my husband loved the ail (garlic) olive oil. I loved the Classic AOC Provence. I bought two cans. Yes–cans because I didn’t want bottles to break in my suitcase. I definitely will order more but in the meantime, Central Market carries a couple of selections of Castelinas Olive Oil. AOC, which means Appellation d’Origine Controlee, is found on the labels of wine and olive oil bottles and is the government’s seal of approval that the wine or olive oil has met specific requirements. AOP on olive oil labels means Protected Appellation of Origin and refers to the specificities of a terroir: geographical area, climate, geology, olive varieties, and know-how.

ROME’S LEGACY 

Our next day consisted of Avignon, Uzès and the Pont du Garde. Rome’s lasting legacy is evident everywhere. Avignon is busier, grander and more urban than the Luberon villages. It was the capital of Christendom for nearly a century beginning in 1309 when the French Pope Clement V left Rome for the security of Avignon. Nearly three miles of walls and 39 towers were constructed for added protection, and the Palais des Papes was built with 10-foot thick walls, large ceremonial rooms and accommodations for 500 people. Seven popes lived in the Palais until 1403. In 1378, however, the Catholic Church had two popes, one in Rome and the other in Avignon. Eventually, Rome prevailed. Today the Palais is pretty much empty of its original furnishings and paintings. We were given “Histopads” (like tablets) to help us imagine what each room probably looked like. We were impressed with the Romanesque cathedral next to–and also predating­–the Palais. Its modest simplicity provided us a serene and comfortable place for prayer, meditation and rest.

 

Seeing the Pont d’Avignon, also known as Pont St. Benezet, was a sentimental and surprising experience. As a child I sang the nursery tune, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse, sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse tous en rond”, which means, “On the bridge of Avignon, we will dance, we will dance, on the bridge of Avignon, we will dance all in a circle.” Not sure what I expected but I was surprised that the bridge ends halfway across the Rhone. That’s because only four of the original 22 arches of this half-mile long bridge exist today. 

 

The Jardin du Rocher des Doms is on a bluff overlooking Pont St. Benezet and is a great place to take photos. We could see the shuttle boat going to the Ile de la Barthelass, an island retreat in the middle of the river. We could also see Mont Ventoux, which means Windy Mountain. It is known as the Giant of Provence or Bald Mountain because its barren peak appears from a distance to be snow-capped but is actually bare limestone without vegetation or trees due to the mistral that on average on the summit blows more than 56 miles per hour, 240 days a year. 

We drove to Uzès that for us was a welcome break from the more touristy and bustling Avignon. Nevertheless, because we were there on a Saturday and that’s market day, we wandered through a labyrinth of stalls and shopped for lavender, soap, ochre, textiles, nic-nacs, and looked at the fruit, veggies, cheese, breads and meats that were a kaleidoscope of color, texture and aroma, and made us hungry. We stopped for gelato in a café shaded by big Plane trees. Uzès dates back to Roman times. All the buildings are made with the same pale and porous limestone and have beautiful ornamental fountains. However, it’s Uzès’ location near the source of the spring that fed the very important Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct that give it real historical significance. The Romans built the 30-mile long Pont du Gard in the first century A.D. It is considered one of the best preserved Roman ruins anywhere and has the largest main arch ever built by the Romans–80 feet, which is the width of the Gardon River. It is hard to believe the Romans didn’t use mortar to build the arch, and that the Port du Gard supplied the city of Nimes with nine million gallons of water every day. What a remarkable engineering feat. 

 

When we returned to the United States, we reflected on the history and beauty of Provence and were exhilarated by our memories of the extraordinary food, wine, art, architecture, sunshine, and people of the region. Beyond c’est magnifique

THE VERVE OF VICTOR

THE VERVE OF VICTOR

Houston native fashion designer, Victor Costa, is as much responsible for Texas’s pop-cultural rise in the 1970s and 1980s as the T.V. series Dallas, or the big oil boom that cemented the state’s place in history. Here, in an exclusive, our culture-savvy chronicler Geoffrey Connor, reflects on the era’s party that never seemed to end… and how Victor Costa’s designs remain timeless.

Portrait photography by John Conroy – Photography courtesy of Victor Costa, archival

 In 1987, at the apex of his career, Victor Costa’s fashion line was once described by The New York Times as “flamboyant, super-feminine dresses that bare the shoulders, hug the waistline, and billow and swirl over the hips”. With good reason. The name Victor Costa has been famous in international fashion circles for over a half-century now, bringing acclaim to Texas and his hometown of Houston, in particular. He has not only created beautiful designs but also is well-regarded for his commercial acumen and marketing brilliance, combinations not always found in fashion design circles. “He’s one of the most famous names in women’s fashion,” said Houston philanthropist Joanne King Herring. “He’s made many women look fabulous over the years, and I’m so proud he’s a Houstonian.” 

 RISING HEIGHTS

He’s come a long way, baby, in the vernacular of the 1970s stylish cigarette branding slogan. Costa was born in Houston’s Fifth Ward in 1935 in very modest circumstances during the height of the Great Depression. As the middle child born to a Sicilian metalworker, who, with his American wife and family, lived in three rooms behind his grandparents’ grocery store. Although Houston was not exempt from the impact of a sagging global economy during that era, the city’s port and shipping channel benefitted greatly from the Texas oil boom and a corresponding growth in rubber, plastics, and chemicals. Additionally, the World War II era saw a surge in manufacturing and shipping, which added thousands of jobs and greatly expanded the city’s economy. The Texas Medical Center was also established in the 1940s, initiating a transformation of the city’s image into a more modern, refined era.

During this time of rapid change in Houston, Costa’s family enabled him to see and experience the elegant side of the city, even if it was not their personal circumstance at the time. He has often recounted stories of shopping as a boy in downtown Houston with his mother, who had an eye for fashion, though she may not have purchased much then.  It was the time of lavish department stores like Sakowitz, Battlestein’s, Foleys, and many others, that carried clothing and accessories previously available only on the east coast or in Europe. Costa was inspired by the beauty and elegance of what he saw in lavish display windows and learned to draw and recreate such style on paper dolls that he then sold to his school classmates. In high school, he even made prom dresses for his classmates.

Costa also drew upon what he saw on the big screen during the Golden Age of Hollywood. “I had access to twice-weekly tickets as a boy to see movies” said Costa. “I saw such stylish stars as Joan Crawford in some of the most spectacular clothing of the era”, he said. In fact, as destiny would have it, Crawford, for whose persona he would design paper doll dresses as a child, would later become a private client of Costa’s label. 

As an adult, Costa’s natural talents were refined at the Pratt Institute in New York. He also trained at the prestigious Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris, whose other famous graduates include Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, and classmate Yves Saint Laurent. Costa learned the fine art of design, and the imaginative use of fabric and decoration, while also understanding the nature of the fashion business and marketing.

COMPREHENDING COUTURE                                                                                            

Costa then began working as a designer in New York, adapting French high fashion to the American market. According to Myra Walker, of the Texas Fashion Collection of the University of North Texas,  “It helped that he had a photographic memory and a quick hand at sketching, and was able to translate what he saw on the Paris runways into successful designs for the Suzy Perette company during the 1960s. His ability to comprehend couture and ready-to-wear fashions is a complex and masterful talent. He is not content with only a quick sketch or photography, but often goes so far as to purchase the original couture design to study the construction and fabric.” It was an era of voluminous skirts, matching lining, and smart tailoring…all variables that would serve him well to design for glamour’s big comeback in the 1980s.

Determined to be his own designer, especially after a mentor advised him, “Don’t just promote a fashion house–promote yourself.” Costa acquired the Dallas fashion house, Ann Murray, and used his Texas operation to manufacture his designs. His clientele grew quickly to include many top buyers, including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and later, Nordstrom’s and Bergdorf Goodman. His extraordinarily glamorous clothing was worn by the stars of the popular 1980s television series Dynasty and Falcon Crest, and by such stars of the era as Joan Collins and Brooke Shields. By the late 1980s, his business was grossing over $50 million annually. “I adore Victor,” says Houstonian philanthropist Carolyn Farb. “He is a designer who focuses on his most important goal–to make his clients look and feel beautiful.” His presence was so ubiquitous in the 1980s pop culture that he even designed Holly Hunter’s Cinderella-esque transformation gown for the hit 1987 film, Broadcast News. Besides his commercial line, he continued designing for private clients, including Hollywood stars and American socialites who wanted their own distinct look. His appeal was as broad as the shoulders he designed because of its beauty, and deep because his clothing line was priced less than comparable designers. 

Victor Costa paid particular attention to costs early in his career in order to make his fashion line available to a wide base of style-conscious consumers. Importantly, he acquired the facilities and staff needed to manufacture his own creations in-house thereby eliminating markup from a third party manufacturer. Next, he looked for ways to emulate certain design elements with a more economical approach. For example, his designs sometimes have a machine jeweled lace instead of a hand jeweled lace used by a more expensive designer, or even using an expensive trim on an inexpensive fabric to give it a glitzier look. Or, replicating a forty-dollar floral embellishment he found in Paris for just $1.50. In modern times, Costa has cultivated skilled bead workers, detailed embroiderers, and other artisans in China in order to incorporate brilliant new elements into his designs, but his bottom line was always to make beautiful clothing and, while the prices per piece are comparatively low, he sells volumes of each creation. 

 SOCIAL SWIRL

Although very trendsetting, Victor Costa was careful to never fall into the trap of making successful designs only for the runway or the entertainment industry. His designs were worn by women in business and society, like Estée Lauder and Betsy Bloomingdale. He helped popularize the return of the shoulder pad favored in political circles by such women as Lady Bird Johnson, Rosslyn Carter and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. “Victor has always been a gentleman and respectful of his clients,” says Farb. “He is very attuned to the place a woman holds and dresses her sumptuously, but appropriately, for her lifestyle as a business executive, political leader, social leader…or any role she has chosen.” 

Costa’s skill at surveying style trends and quickly translating those into his own fashion line has sometimes provoked the criticism that he relied too much on other’s inspiration for his designs. But, of course, fashion has always been a cycle of taking another’s design and adapting and remaking it in a fresher, more practical or  accessible way. Ralph Lauren famously marketed his Polo shirt for daily wear, which was much the same shirt René Lacoste originally designed for the tennis circuit decades earlier. In the same way, Costa took European haute couture and made it accessible for generations of women by using cost-effective fabrics and decoration…but with no less style and flair. The result was year after year of spectacular designs that women clamored to own. The outfits didn’t just look good on a mannequin but made the wearer look good as well.

Author Mimi Swartz once wrote that “in the right Victor Costa, a plain woman becomes a pretty woman, and a pretty woman becomes a knockout.” As Costa has said, “Special occasion dresses have always been the hallmark of my business. My quest for what is new sends me around the world. It is a sense of pride and fulfilment that some of the most noted and important women in the world are wearing my clothes. But also a young girl of 13 may get a Victor Costa dress which will have name recognition and make her feel special. Women adore how they look in their Victor Costa dresses.”

Victor Costa’s life is so easily compared to the life of his native Houston. They both started out humbly but stretched to reach around the world in spectacular fashion. Both drew on their natural resources and talents, but as they grew, they began to draw the world to themselves. Costa was always at ease in Paris and New York while being professionally successful and inspiring. Yet Costa’s roots in a city like Houston enabled him to see a market need in the fashion industry, particularly the middle-class woman with good taste and a desire to look resplendent in a crowd. Not that the wealthy elite did not also covet the Victor Costa label, but it was the mainstay consumer that really distinguished Costa in the world of international designers.

DRESS-UP MOVEMENT

While Houston has become quite the global metropolis, it has done so in a relatively short amount of time and always with the solid foundation of an industrious middle-class. The succeeding waves of Houston’s success in international shipping, oil and gas, medicine, manufacturing, technology, and space exploration have produced many millionaires and famous names. The same economic expansion has produced a huge number of middle-class buyers who want the same look and quality they see on the pages of the leading fashion magazines but at a more reasonable price and availability. For this market need, Costa has consistently delivered and with tremendous success. The New York Times reported in a 1987 profile, and Costa noted, “It’s very pleasing to me that women who can afford to buy anything feel secure in my clothes. I’m hooked on this whole crazy dress-up movement. I hope it will last, but I know the tape of fashion has speeded up. I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

It’s no surprise that Victor Costa has always been well-regarded by his peers despite the occasional controversies over his designs. For years, he has been a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America based in New York. This prestigious invitation-only organization has fewer than 500 members but includes all the biggest names of the industry including Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, and Donna Karan. The organization is not just about prestige in an already status-conscious business, but also provides scholarships, business funding and serves as a fashion incubator program intended to help young designers launch their own businesses. Victor Costa loves the attention given to the next generation of fashion talent. Costa’s fellow native Texan, Tom Ford, is the chairman of the organization now, following a thirteen-year reign by Diane von Furstenberg. The Council has worked successfully to strengthen the influence and prosperity of American designers in the global economy, and Victor Costa has been an important part of that triumphant effort.

Now, at a spry 84, Costa has slowed only slightly. When not at his mid-town Manhattan apartment, or  his home in Connecticut, he spends time in Houston, where he and his wife, Jerry Ann Woodfin-Costa, returned a few years ago to a palatial home on the twelfth tee of the Houston Country Club where they love being a part of the social community. People still talk about Jerry Ann’s triumphant chairing of the Houston Ballet gala in 1992 when she raised over a million dollars for the worthy cause, and the décor was highlighted with life-size balletic centerpieces on each table.

It’s also true that Houston and the Costas are very comfortable with each other. They are active in the Houston arts and culture scene and quite visible at society events.  hey have also generously established an endowed scholarship for Retailing and Consumer Sciences students at the University of Houston.

Costa is optimistic about the future and is enthusiastic about the next generation of designers. “The key thing is to have a dream, and to know you’re going to achieve it,” he said. “When you get knocked down, you’ve got to get up again.” It’s good advice for people in general who, like Victor Costa, seek to create beauty and success in the world.