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.

 

 

 

Bonne Maman Jam

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Click here to buy from AMAZON – Bonne Maman Blackcurrant Conserve Jam, 370g

As many of you know I am a huge admirer of many French products. My list includes Duralex “Picardie” glasses Duralex Glass – Picardie a favourite mustard, Maille – Maille Dijon mustard , a favourite polo shirt, Lacoste – Lacoste Shirt , three favourite cars from Citroen Citroën 2CV Citroen DS Citroën Méhari , my favourite fragrances are from Chanel including Chanel Egoiste and I really like Baccarat glassware – Baccarat Chrystal Paperweight .

When it comes to my favourite jam then that trophy goes to the black fruit jams including  Blackcurrant and Blackberry coming from the fine kitchen of Bonne Maman. “Bonne Maman” literally translates to “Granny” and the company stresses that its recipes are traditional – perhaps suggesting they may have been handed down by a Grandparent.

The pretty jar and screw topped lid – draped in a bistrot-style gingham-tablecloth pattern – both enjoy certain Intellectual Property protection around the world. The designer of this iconic packaging, including the quill-like script, was Pierre Roche-Bayard.

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The simple presentation is in the style that you may have seen, possibly produced by any older relative and sold at your local equivalent of a Farmer’s Market, at any point over the last fifty years.

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Click here to buy from AMAZON –

Post World War II, Jean Gervoson and his co-founder Pierre Chapoulart established the  Andros agro-business, in the Department of Lot in South West France. They decided to make jams from the fruits – primarily plums – that remained unsold. The business developed during the 1960’s and in 1971 the Bonne Maman brand was launched.

Jean’s sons Frederic and Xavier continue to be in charge of the business and its various divisions. Since 1997 Bonne Maman has diversified launching of a biscuits, desserts and pastry /muffins ranges.

Unsalted, perhaps French…., butter on a lightly crisped tartine – a day-old toasted and halved baguette – which once coated in butter should be loaded with Bonne Maman’s wonderful jam. A perfect breakfast when combined with a good strong coffee.

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Don’t throw your empty jars away – sorry fans of recycling – as you may well be inspired to make your own jams or jellies and use the attractive jars as gifts for your pals.

Images – Courtesy of Bonne Maman

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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

 

 

 

 

Baccarat Chrystal Paperweight

As a young law graduate in 1980, fresh out of college in London and with images of those who resided in Les Deux Magots, Saint Germain des Prés and the neighbouring, Quartier Latin – as depicted by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald – whirling romantically around my brain, I went to live in Paris.

I was a reasonable French speaker from many family holidays in Charente Maritime. I suspect this area – which we all loved – was chosen as my Father’s family maintained that our roots were in La Rochelle and in an emigre Huguenot family who left France for England under the tyrannical reign of Louis XIV in the early 18th Century.

I smoked Disque Bleu and partied with the offspring of intellectuals, composers, film makers and the like it was an amazing experience but reality dawned that I needed to find an apartment and an income. Really quite sound thinking for a 21 year old, who looked about sixteen. I recently re-discovered my old Carte Orange, a monthly renewable season ticket for the Paris Metro. It carried a durable plastic ticket and a photo of someone who now resembles my son!

I had made a connection with the sister of a partner of a prominent Paris based law firm. Seeing him – who couldn’t have been more suave – at their fabulous offices on the Champs-Élysées, above what was City Bank, I was invited to become a Stagiair. A post often occupied by trainee lawyers in the French system of Advocats, an opportunity that I jumped at.

I was required to translate documents and generally undertake what we would call “outdoor clerk” duties. Registering documents at the Courts and the Companies Registry and hand-delivering mail to locally based clients.

I understood Intellectual Property Rights, and the firm who had hired me were specialists in the same area. They worked with an array of French and Paris based fashion business talent that was mind-blowing. I was on first name terms with Jean-Claude and his brother, Hubert de Givenchy – who knew for some reason that I tended to always arrive at his atelier when Ines de la Fressange was modelling for him! Karl Lagerfeld (who worked for Chloe at that point) was another who certainly knew my name, Pierre Cardin and the Vaudable family who at the time owned Maxim’s were all regular visitors to the offices.

One of the clear reasons why the client list was so special was the firm’s senior partner, an fabulous character and hugely proud internationalist, Rene du Chambray whose desk in his grand office was cluttered with signed photos of the famous including Coco Chanel and his late father in law, the war-time leader of the Vichy Government, Pierre Laval. His wall also had a painting of the close associate of George Washington and Andrew Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, of whom Maître de Chambrun was a direct descendent.

Aside from his legal career, and very close to his heart, Maître de Chambrun was also Chairman of Baccarat Crystal between 1960 and 1992.

Before arriving in Paris I was aware of Rene Lalique and the sand blasted statutes for which he is famed that graced the bonnets of many classic cars of an earlier era, but I hadn’t understood the prominance of the Baccarat brand in Europe.  Baccarat Chrystal dates back to 1764 when King Louis XV gave permission to Prince Bishop Cardinal Louis-Joseph de Laval-Montmorency to found a glassworks in the town of Baccarat in Lorraine (Eastern France). Until 1816, when the first crystal oven was installed, production consisted of window panes and mirrors. In the mid-1840’s Baccarat developed a range of glass “millefiori” paperweights that continue to today to be a true representation of Baccarat’s craftsmanship. Baccarat is also renowned for chandeliers, very elegant tableware – particularly beautiful champagne flutes – and perfume bottles.

On leaving the law firm I was called into Maître de Chambrun’s office, where the entire firm had gathered each holding a Baccarat Chrystal glass of champagne and I was presented with a very familiar red box that contained the cobalt blue Baccarat “Gemini” – my birth-sign – paperweight. Beyond special.

In 2005 Baccarat Chrystal was acquired by Starwood Capital Group and in 2012 Starwood announced that they would launch a chain of luxury hotels to be called “Baccarat Hotels and Resorts”.