30 June 2010

Well Said: Louise Grunwald

The stylish Louise Savitt (now Grunwald), dressed in a Moroccan caftan and seated on the floor of her Billy Baldwin-decorated living room at 21 East 66th Street in New York City in 1965. Photograph by Horst P. Horst, reproduced in "Billy Baldwin Decorates" (Chartwell Books, 1972).

 

"Once you've had a good dress, you can't go backwards. Once you've had a Norell, you don't feel right in a Junior Sophisticates."

So said Louise Liberman Savitt (now Grunwald), one-time Vogue editor, former antiques dealer, and widow of Henry Grunwald, a managing editor of Time Inc. and U. S. ambassador to Austria.

Admiringly described as "cool, chic, and alarmingly critical" in the memoirs of British decorator Nicky Haslam, the quicksilver Mrs. Savitt had a point: exposure to quality does change one's viewpoint. Skeptics may disagree but her comment has nothing to do with snobbery and everything to do with the power of meticulousness, whether it's the construction of an haute-couture dress or the suavity of perfectly detailed slipcover. Even if you can't afford such things, knowledge of them refines your eye and hones your aesthetic.

A view of Savitt's Baldwin-decorated dining room and living room beyond, 1965. Photograph by Horst P. Horst, reproduced in "Billy Baldwin Decorates" (Chartwell Books, 1972).

 

17 comments:

Mosaicista said...

That's a very chic picture.
I liked your post and this phrase "knowledge of them refines your eye and hones your aesthetic" says it all.

little augury said...

true to a point, and likely more so when Jr. Sophisticates was a label. I do find today- a J Crew for instance can provide a fairly perfect version of the white shirt or little black dress. I was looking at and trying to decide whether to keep or chuck a Target navy suit that Issac Mizrahi did for them- I could not part with it-everything was flawlessly- I mean right down to flat felled seams and white topstitches.That said-there is nothing quite Like a Chanel jacket or dress to spoil one. Now a perfectly made slipcover is a must-no slacking can be tolerated in that quarter. pgt

Mrs. Blandings said...

I completely agree, though I sometimes think it is a curse. By the way, that is the perfect caftan for my raisin-hood.

Jeannine 520 said...

I completely agree. Often if one can't afford the quality, exposure to it can make one miserable.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

I couldn't agree more. Particularly that it's not snobbishness but being meticulous.

The octagenarian principal of my secretarial school pronounced 'Always buy the best that you can afford'. It doesn't always run to a Norell dress but it was music to my ears.

And what a fabulous image that is of L G.

Quatorze said...

Yes, exposure to the finest things hones one's eye like nothing else. It can be a double-edged sword if one does not have the pocketbook to match the knowledge acquired; one seems critical (hence Nicky Haslam's observation) and not easily satisfied. The up side is the keen pleasure and appreciation that is yours when the best is spotted and the confidence to acquire when an item of true merit is found at a bargain price. These items, which meet the highest standards and fall within your budget, provide long-lasting appeal, enjoyment and satisfaction.

Hels said...

hehe exposure to quality may very well change one's viewpoint, but there IS a large dollop of snobbery there :)

An Aesthete's Lament said...

I'm a case in point here, though I no longer get frustrated when I can't afford items outside my price range. Being exposed to things of quality (primarily through my job) has taught me over the years is to be critical about details: the lining of a jacket, for example, or the finish on a table, whatever the price. Everyone has different viewpoints regarding quality and its relative importance, but one thing is clear: a made-to-order Norman Norell dress surely fitted better and more comfortably than a Junior Sophisticates off the rack. That view holds true today. Anything made to your own specifications is more fulfilling.

home before dark said...

It is a fine line to educate the eye/mind and then not have the $$$$ to buy the very best—and then the hardest part—be content with that. I think Quartorze did an excellent summing up of that polemic. I also think it helps to have a clear understanding of one's self, one's soul, to realize that things do not make us happy. I will never be able to afford the beautiful impressionist paintings that speak to my heart. I am, however, forever grateful to view them in museums up close and magnificent. Increasing my knowledge about the works increases my pleasure. Knowing I'll never hang one of these treasures in my home is a long sigh, not a crippling jealousy.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of Norell, in fact his genius, was that his beautifully tailored garments were not custom made.

That's what made him 'Style King of Ready to Wear'.
I well remember the day that I accompanied a young woman to a posh dress salon. Sewing was her forte and she did it skillfully. She decided to brave it and try on some Norells~things utterly beyond her budget. Spent an awfully long time in the dressing room, then emerged with a sort of dazed expression. Those suits fit her like a glove.! Literally, as though tailor made.

Norell was the prince of fashion designers. Louise Grunwald knows what she's talking about.

Toby Worthington

John said...

I am soooooooooo grateful you are back!!!!!!

eclecticentertaining said...

So true. While, as you point out, everyone has their own point of view of acquiring, I personally think restraint is important. Resist the urge to throw small amounts of money at lots of stuff that looks appealing in the moment. By being patient and saving up, high dollar purchases are possible. And aren't they the ones that usually garner the most comments?

Anonymous said...

Why are you talking about how well dresses fit? You're a man; speak from experience. Talk about men's clothes. The post would have been more authentic, more alive. It would have had more of what Henry James called "felt life."

The Errant Aesthete said...

Aesthete,

Your return is sure to hone all our aesthetics. A most warm welcome back.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Dear Anonymous (oh, little brown cloud, oh dear little contrarian, oh annoying fusspot): The quote works in a larger context, I do believe, as the post pointed out. If you don't start behaving yourself and stop being a professional scold, I'm going to have to change the registration of this site. This is a blog with but one contributor; therefore I write about what I like. If it isn't what you wish to read, there are many other blogs to which you might direct your attention more constructively.

magnus said...

So true. My dear late step-father gave me a Hunstman suit as a graduation present from college. That was 40 years ago. It's been downhill since.

Liz, Viive and Benji said...

Two words frighten me--critical and meticulous. Critical people have other choices to define them, like the things they love. Meticulous just says completely uptight. She is beyond chic, but at what price to the world?