Radio Flyer

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If you, like me, are a fan of US movies and TV series, then the iconic Radio Flyer will be more than familiar. Indeed, I know they must be sold in other parts of the world, but like so many everyday iconic items of US life – check out our earlier post on Iconic US Sweets/Candies –  Iconic American Candy – Part 1 – I don’t think I have seen one for sale in the UK. Certainly, when my kids would have loved such a product they weren’t available.

For generations, US kids have carted themselves, several siblings, pets, toys and other important treasures in these charming red trolley wagons. A wonderful item  of great simplicity that’s use is limited only by the depths of a child’s imagination. As American as “Milk Duds” but what’s their story?

2017 saw the celebration of the first hundred years of the Radio Flyer. Antonio Pasin, a Venetian born son of a cabinet maker who, aged 16, in 1913 arrived in New York City to start a new life. In 1917, in Chicago, he started building wooden toy wagons and selling them to local shops. He was a jobbing joiner who built the wooden wagons to carry his tools.

Demand for the wagons led to Pasin forming the Liberty Coaster Company in 1923, and ten years after he made his first wooden wagons he was making pressed steel versions and selling them for just under $3.00. He was very interested in the many production techniques used in the local car industry, earning himself the nickname “Little Ford”. In the 1930’s he produced several versions of his “Liberty Coaster” including The Streak-O-Lite” and The Zephyr that echoed the Chrysler Airflow.

Renaming the company in 1930 the Radio Steel and Manufacturing, the brand name “Radio Flyer” stemming from Pasin’s fascination with the pioneers of Radio (Marconi) and Flight (Lindbergh).

Production was interrupted during the latter stages of the Second World War and turned to oil drum manufacture but the company survived. In 1987 Radio Steel and Manufacturinf became “Radio Flyer Inc” which has been overseen by Pasin’s grandson, Robert as CEO, since 1997.

The company’s range of Radio Flyer and associated products grows annually and aside from being voted a great company to work for, its iconic products are rooted deep in the warmth of the American psyche.

Images used with grateful thanks – Radio Flyer Inc., ClassicCars.com and Vintage Vending Inc.

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The Spirit of Ecstasy

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I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

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The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

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Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

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By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

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Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

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As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

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Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

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Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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If you ask anyone raised in Europe or the US between the 1960’s to 1980’s to name an iconic and impactful TV programme, I can assure you that for many the under water natural history films of Jacques Cousteau would rank very high on a not very long list.

From the curious French soundtrack of slightly strident strings, to the Gallic, faltering commentary – I can never hear the French pronouciation of the name “Philippe” (one of his four children) without thinking of Capt Cousteau – this was pioneering television at its best. It left such an impact on us, a Jacques-Yves Cousteau sized hole that I suspect David Attenborough fills, but who was Cousteau?

Born 11th June 1910, Cousteau, in 1930 studied at the École Navale in Brittany (West France) after graduation he joined the French Navy. His commission was brief curtailed by a car accident where he sustained breaks to both arms. In 1937 he married Simone, the mother of his first two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe, who both would accompany their father on subsequent adventures.

In the late 1930’s Jacques first used diving goggles and in 1943 he received an award for the first French underwater film, filmed on a pressurized camera, entitled “Par dix-huit mètres de fond“ (“18m Deep”). The same year Cousteau’s team made “Epaves” (“Shipwrecks”) – which resulted in his commission to establish the French Navy’s Underwater Research Group based in Toulon. During filming he using pro-type aqua-lungs incorporating the recently invented demand regulator.

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The resultant freedom of the Aqua-lung allowed his team to explore the depths of the oceans of the World and document them through a myriad of films. His first films from the late 1940’s were celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951 and his early adventures were captured in his book published in 1953 “The Silent World”.

In 1956, a film of entitled “The Silent World”, made with famed director Louis Malle won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and an Academy Award for the Best Documentary in 1957. The Rolex Submariner – Rolex – The Submariner – the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres with a rotatable bezel showing the diver their immersion time, was featured prominently in his film which shows Cousteau wearing a pre-launch Submariner The Silent World – The Film

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Leaving the Navy in 1949 he founded in 1950 the French Oceanographic Campaign (FOC) and leased his trusty ship Calypso from its owner, for a symbolic one franc a year, and wealthy benefactor, Thomas Loel Guinness.

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The documentaries commissioned by US TV stations, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau ran from 1966 to 1976 followed by a second series “The Cousteau Odyssey” from 1977 to 1982. Cousteau had spent time growing up living in the US so his English was excellent but he retained his Gallic accent that added much to the authenticity of his films.

In 1979, Phillipe – Cousteau’s favourite child – was sadly killed when a sea plane he was piloting crashed in Portugal.

Following Simone’s death in 1990, in 1991 Cousteau remarried, Francine, already the mother of his two other children. Cousteau died from a heart attack on 25th June 1997 and Francine continues her husband’s work as President of the Cousteau Foundation and Cousteau Society. The Museum in Monaco – where Cousteau was a Director from 1957 to 1988 – is well worth a visit.

In the early 1970’s, like many other teenagers I enjoyed snorkeling. The clear influence of Capt. Cousteau stimulated my interest to know more that resulted in my first steps to undertake the British Sub-Aqua Club’s training course that included pool and open water diving. For quite some time, prior to me realizing my future lay not in the sciences, in response to that irritating question from a friend of my parents, “What do you want to do?” my response was always “To be a Marime Biologist” – Merci Capt. Jacques!

A lasting tribute in Cousteau’s own words: “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

Join Jacques Cousteau’s on his undersea adventures – by clicking the Amazon link below the image 

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Jacques Cousteau – The Ultimate Collection [DVD] [2007]

May be for those who are not yet ready for Capt. Cousteau’s Ultimate Collection and would – how do you say – like to put a toe in the water….the Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau must the finest starting point – click the Amazon link after the image 

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The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

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Image credit – with grateful thanks – Globalfirstandfacts.com, The Cousteau Foundation, The Cousteau Society, ABC, NBC, Metromedia and Fred Muller II.

Hubert de Givenchy

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Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy founded his eponymous haute couturier business in Paris in 1952 having previously worked alongside Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior.  His elder brother, Jean-Claude, became President of Parfums Givenchy with early fragrances being developed for Hubert’s muse, Audrey Hepburn, for whom he designed an iconic black dress worn beautifully in “Breakfast at Tiffanys”.

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The brothers – I suspect reluctantly – divided the House of Givenchy in 1981, with the perfume business going to Veuve Clicquot and, in 1989, fashion going to the staggeringly successful LMVH business. LMVH subsequently acquired Parfums Givenchy.

An elegant and tall M de Givenchy with piercing blue eyes was very noble. I am proud to say that I played a very small role in the dramatic personae of his iconic business in the early 1980s.

In 1980 I moved to Paris. I had read Clive Davis book on working at CBS and was enraptured with the idea of working with such an exciting American company. CBS’ European HQ was in Paris, a city that I have always adored. My hopes of working with this giant in the communications market were dashed but later history would complete that particular circle.

Ok so I was in Paris, I had a law degree and a couple of phone numbers. A friend from college had a brother who was a partner at a Law Firm on the Champs Elysees upstairs from what was the Bank of America and Monoprix supermarket that subsequently housed a Virgin Megastore. To my remarkable good fortune I was given a job with the firm.

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The firm’s roots were deep in old French aristocratic families and they specialized in representing couturier clients – many of whom became “brands”. There I met the people including Pierre Cardin, the master of brand licensing, Karl Largerfeld, who then worked for Chloe and brothers, Hubert and Jean-Claude De Givenchy.

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Hubert’s “atelier” was on Avenue Georges V – where th boss always wore a white lab-coat – for this impressionable 21 year old it was an Aladdin’s Cave. A heady combination of barely-dressed, striking models, celebrity clientele and the high art of French fashion design with wonderful fabrics.

Knowing my appreciation of his working environment, on the smallest pretense his team would call me over from the Law Firm’s office to his atelier just to lap up the atmosphere!

The firm employed me as a “Stagiere” – akin to a para-legal – that combined translating documents, standing in queues at the Company’s Registry, seeking signatures of clients to a variety of agreements, catching white Pugeot 504 taxis in the Spring sunshine on the Quai Dorsey and, almost every Friday, eating remarkably good Cuz cuz Royale in the Moroccan restaurant on Rue de La Boetie.

Ever encouraging I spent a lot of time assisting Hubert with legal matters. I was very touched as my “Stagiere” contract approached its end, Hubert called me to his office, said some very kind things and presented me with a huge bottle of his signature Givenchy “For Gentlemen”.

I was very sad to hear it announced that Hubert de Givenchy had passed away on 10th March 2018. He was a hugely talented designer, very charming and massively inspirational.

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Photo credit – with grateful thanks – Rex Features, LMVH.

 

 

 

Brooks Brothers Shirts

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There is every possibility that it’s a sin. Not one of the Seven Deadly – the major ones – but a guilty pleasure that I, and I am certain many other men, equally enjoy…..wow where’s this going? Pull yourself together. I am talking about the sensual feel of a box fresh/pins still in or freshly laundered/well ironed, one hundred cotton shirt. Bliss!

In my view, the shirts made by Brooks Brothers are not only iconic, given their extensive heritage including the Original Polo Shirt – my very own is our featured image – but their fabrics are simply beautiful and each shirt is a complete joy to wear. 2018 see the 200th anniversary of the launch of this US style icon – some classic Americana – but what’s the story behind these remarkable products?

On 7th April 1818 Henry Sands Brooks, aged 45, opens H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. on the corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City as both shirt makers and merchants. By 1833 Henry Sands Brooks called upon his sons to assist him with the business. His eldest son, Henry, Jr. took the helm upon his father’s passing a year later. Heny is in charge until 1850, when younger brothers Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward, assume leadership and change the firm’s name to Brooks Brothers.

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In 1849, Brooks Brother’s scored a first with the introduction of  Ready-Made clothing – a modestly priced alternative to made to measure tailored suits.

In 1850, Brooks Borthers adopted the Golden Fleece, the historical symbol of wool merchants, as their trademark which has remained their distinctive logo ever since.

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In 1865 a regular, Abraham Lincoln, was presented with a Brooks jacket with an embroidered lining bearing the words “One Country One Destiny” below a spread eagle. He wore the jacket at his second inauguration as President. He wore the same jacket two weeks later, on 14th April 1865, to the Washington’s Ford’s Theatre where he was fatally shot by, actor and pro-slavary activists, John Wilkes Booth.

In 1896 John E. Brooks the founder’s grandson was at a polo match in the UK when he saw that the polo players wearing shirts with disctivtive buttoned down collars. He told his colleagues in New York and the Button-Down shirt, a Brooks classic was born. To this day the Brook’s Polo Shirt includes the expression “The Original Polo Shirt” on its label.

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In 1915 Brooks Brothers relocatesd to 346 Madison Avenue – see below including a list of earlier locations prior to arriving on Madison – set in the heart of New York’s Universities and social clubs.

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Madison Avenue in the decades to come became the corporate homes to the advertising, illustration and marketing communities. It’s no surprise that Brooks Borthers have acted as costume advisors on and made suits for the “Mad Men” TV series set in the late 1950’s early 1960’s.

F. Scott FitzGerald was a very keen Brooks customer and drew heavily of his favourite stores in his writing. In this way Brooks effectively created Jay Gatby’s style for “The Gatsby Gatsby”.  Indeed the 2013 remake of the movie featured a cast entirely dressed in Brooks.

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From the mid-1920’s the Halls of the Ivy League were being dressed with Brooks shirts, striped Repp ties, khaki trousers and blue blazers in the definitive preppie style that I really like to this today and continues yes to be hugely popular.

During a slightly earlier era, the Ivy League students local to Bridgeport CT were throwing Frisbie tins – see our earlier post here – Frisbee

In 1946, Winthrop Holley Brooks, the great-great grandson of the founder sold the business to Julius Garfinckel and Company of Washington DC. The business is now owned and managed by the Italian “Retail Brand Alliance”.

The breadth of customers is truely fascinating – talk about voting with their feet! Whilst John F Kennedy loved their slimmer fitting suits, Andy Warhol, Richard Nixon and Clark Gable, apparently, shopped for clothes no where else. It is said that 39 out of 44 Presendients have chose to wear Brooks clothing.

Would you like to know more about the fastinating story of this American style icon? If so please click on the link below the image

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Brooks Brothers: Two Hundred Years of American Style

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Images from Brooks Brothers with grateful thanks

Citroën Méhari

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So we are bathed in sunshine, time to go to the beach?

I am fortunate to see the beach regularly and am often joined by those who have what they call a “beach car”. This is a vehicle with a particular attribute, namely you’d happily take it to the local shops, pack it out with provisions for a day in the sun but in truth you’d risk neither your nor your family’s safety on the open road or for any real distance.

The most alluring and iconic of all these beach cars is the variant to the Citroen 2CV, the Citroën Méhari. Designed by the illustrious Count Roland de la Poype, the boss of one of Citroën’s plastics suppliers, named after a dessert dwelling but fast camel and the North African equivalent of a cavalryman. The Citroën Méhari was built for twenty years with a production run starting in 1968 and numbering over 144,000 vehicles. A very good 4×4 drive version was made from 1979 to 1983 with a total of circa 1,300 vehicles were built.

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See the amazingly dated 1975 commercial for the Citroën Méhari here Citroen Mehari advert (1975)

Fellow Aestheticons readers will attest to my guilty pleasure that is the Citroën 2CV one of which we enjoyed as a family long before we became overly conscious of the weighty demands of Heath & Safety. We ran our Plums and Custard, “Dolly” around South London complete with large protective car seats for the kids. In truth, you wouldn’t stand much chance in a motorway pile-up but rattling over the sleeping policemen of Clapham, heading no further than Sainsbury’s in Sands End (Fulham, West London) you’d be ok.

See our earlier posts here Citroën 2CV and Citroën 2CV – Rick Stein “Long Weekend”

Interestingly, in the late 1960’s in the USA the Méhari was described as a “truck” thus escaping many US safety features that bugged European car designers in the era.

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Based on the Citroën Dyane 6 (a later and less attractive incarnation of the 2CV with much the same technology including the 602cc engine), a body made of ABS plastic (which faded over time with extended exposure to sunlight) virtually the same polymer as used to make Lego bricks and a “rag” roof and sides. I have always been amused by the rubber toggles used to secure the bonnet.

An amateur car restorers dream, the Méhari like the 2 CV’s are mechanically very simple and spare parts are readily available either new or from the many Citroen specialist breakers yards to be found along the Mediterranean coasts.

In September 2016, Citroen announced that they were re-imagining the Méhari with the E-Mehari, a battery operated version with a passing resemblance to the original. It launched under several banners but one “More Than Just a Beach Car” really appeals to me. With a 200 km range and a top speed of only 100 kph, my suspicion is that the hefty €24,000 price point (that doesn’t include the battery leasing arrangement) is likely to deter even the most determined Méhari fanatics.

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To remind you to build in “Beach Days” to your heavy schedule place this die-cast model of a Citroen Mehari in your office or Person Cave and its allure will make sure you give yourself some time off! Click the Amazon link below the image

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Norev 150922 1:43 Scale “1978 Citroen Mehari” Die Cast Model

Beach decisions include the T shirt to accompany your fine pair of Vilebrequin shorts – see our earlier post here on this iconic French original icon – Vilebrequin swimshorts

My suggestion must echo your taste for the slightly alternative – it would be uncool to wear a Mehari T shirt but this Motorolics Citroen 2CV T-shirt really does the job! Click the Amazon link below the image.

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Motorholics Mens Eat Sleep Citroen 2CV T-Shirt S – 5XL (2X-Large, Yellow)

If you get lucky enough to acquire a Citroen Mehari you will need a Haynes Manual to keep it in tip top condition. Based on the Dyane, the following Haynes Manual will be invaluable to the Mehari owner – please click the Amazon link below the image

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Citroen 2CV Owner’s Workshop Manual (Haynes Service and Repair Manuals) (2013-04-30)

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks from Citroen, Hayne’s Manuals and Coy’s of Kensington

Citroen DS

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In the mid-1970’s South West France was my family’s holiday destination of choice. My Father believed that an ability to speak foreign languages broke down barriers and what better place to explore our newly acquired school French.

Myth and legend has it that my Father’s family, apparently Huguenot and named De Winton, hailed from La Rochelle and left during an early era of persecution to settle in the South West UK. So returning to our ancestral roots felt very natural to our DNA.

My sister had the bright idea to contact certain Cognac makers asking if we could visit their production facilities. She received several embossed replies, and we visited several but the most engaging and somewhat surreal visit was to the House of Hine. We were flattered to be greeted by Jacques Hine at his empire’s front door; forty years ago it was unusual for a factory to receive non-trade visitors.

M. Hine made us very welcome and showed us around the wonderfully archaic catacombs of his business explaining in poetic detail the process of making their fine Cognac – which to this day holds the Queen’s Royal Warrant.

You can enjoy a bottle of Hine’s fine VSOP Cognac by clicking the link under the following image 

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Hine Rare Vsop, 70 cl

M. Hine apologised but explained that he has to attend a funeral but had asked his works Director, Gilles, to continue our tour to the company’s new facility outside town. He insisted that we should use his car. The image of this charming, and I suspect wealthy French distiller, in his black suit disappearing into Jarnac on his aged Solex scooter – see our post here – Solex moped – was comical.

Meanwhile Gilles beckoned us to the courtyard where M. Hines’ gleaming black Citroën DS sat waiting to for us. The clunk of the heavy doors, the smell of the black leather and the oh so Bentley-comfortable gliding ride was truly magical. The Citroën DS had always been my Father’s favourite car. This was truely a French icon of progress and technology and always ahead of its time.

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The Citroën DS – if pronounced carefully sounds like the French word for “Goddess”-  was manufactured by Citroën from 1955 to 1975 – selling over 1.4m cars and was a true symbol of French ingenuity. The classic French icon was designed by the genius, Flaminio Bertoni, engineered by André Lefèbvre and the ingenious pneumatic self-levelling suspension was developed by Paul Magès. It was the first production car to have front disc brakes, it also had power steering, semi-automatic transmission and directional head lights.

Our featured image shows the DS Pallas 23 from the mid-1970’s.

Our visit to the then new facility was fascinating and upon our return to the main office we were ushered into the Hine tasting room. M Hine, having returned from the funeral, proceeded to present us some souvenirs of our visit including a silk scarf for my Mother and a bottle of Hine’s finest, for my Father. He then explained that we all needed refreshment and produced a ice-chilled bottle of champagne which he served into the finest Baccarat crystal glasses Baccarat Chrystal Paperweight

Dreaming of beautiful and fine Baccarat Champagne Flutes? You can order them individually by clicking the link below the image

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Baccarat Mille Nuits Champagner Flute

If like me you love the car why not get the T shirt – in appropriate Burgundy – by clicking the link below the image

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Men’s Citroen DS T-Shirt Burgundy, XL

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Images courtesy of Citroen, Hine and Baccarat Christal with grateful thanks