Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Celebrating the Creative Spirit

The "meuble", Elsie de Wolfe's shorthand for the French term meaning a grand piece of furniture. De Wolfe commissioned the green, black and white secretary was adorned with blackamoors, Peking-glass leaves and wire-and-painted plaster fdigurines, seashells, faux jewels and mirrors. With one piece of furniture, De Wolfe helped launch Tony Duquette's career, and when she died, she gave it back to him through her will.
by Ki Hackney

A year ago, Bergdorf Goodman began putting together
this year’s holiday windows, dedicated to the legendary set, costume, jewelry, interior, and even garden designer, Tony Duquette.

The cover of Tony Duquette, the fascinating new tome about his life, displays the living room from his house in Los Angeles, now a museum, called Dawnridge. The room looks enormous, thanks to very high ceilings -- a Duquette trick –and the balcony, but it’s actually teensey. The whole house, opening onto the street -- a train of rooms with gardens and a goldfish pond spilling down the hillside -- was built on a very narrow ridge alongside Dawnridge Drive…a testament to Duquette’s talent, skill, and slight of hand. Click to order.
The store, which has been selling the late Duquette’s jewelry for the past ten years, also coordinated the unveiling of the window displays with the launch of the magnificent new book by Wendy Goodman and Hutton Wilkinson, called simply Tony Duquette (Harry N. Abrams, 2007).

When the windows went in, I just had to talk to the person behind the fantastical, near perfect tribute, who turned out to be the very articulate David Hoey, Senior Director of Window Merchandising.

“We had the archives that go back into the 1940s, and we certainly understood him, since he started life doing displays for Bullock’s department store (now Macy’s),” says Hoey.

“This explains his slightly irreverent and playful approach to materials. He could spend $999 in a 99-cent store for things he might then combine with fine Chinoiserie, for example. We have a close affinity to that style, because windows are like that. Duquette’s house in Los Angeles, known affectionately as Dawnridge (after the name of the street), is a window-dresser’s dream.” It’s all detail and effect.

Bergdorf’s five Fifth Avenue windows actually celebrate the elements: air, earth, water, fire and light. “Then we interpret,” says Hoey.
The legendary set, costume, jewelry, and interior, garden designer, Tony Duquette.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess is wearing a Tony Duquette necklace.
Tony's wife, the artist and muralist, fondly known as Beegle.
Since we had access to his molds, we made things like sphinxes for one window, and for LIGHT, we interpreted his celebrated 24-foot tall wire figurines. Each of the five bays has a distinctive, Duquette signature.

We based EARTH around his favorite color, green, and the historic black lacquer desk, decorated with green and white plaster reliefs and figures that Duquette created for his first client and mentor, Elsie de Wolfe; although we stretched our version to 12 feet tall (the original is 7 feet).”
WATER is made of millions of shells; “I finally stopped counting,” exclaims Hoey. Shells are another favorite Duquette decorative tool (he once filled an entire wall in the penthouse of the Hilton Lagoon apartments in Honolulu with panels of crushed abalone shells.). In this window, Hoey notes “the kids love the man dancing with a gold-leafed alligator head.” It is very Duquette.

“FIRE is our least antic-y window and is our tribute to a Duquette interior,” Hoey continues…with the golden glow (created by tricks of lighting), an 8-foot dragon over the mantel and the custom-made Venetian mirror.

Duquette loved things Venetian, and one of the first things he and his wife, the artist and muralist, fondly known as Beegle, ordered for their Dawnridge was a Murano glass chandelier. (No do-it-yourselfing here).
I feel privileged to have talked to and briefly interviewed Messers Duquette and Wilkinson, his business partner and current president of Tony Duquette Inc, a few months before Duquette died. While researching a book about pearls, it occurred to me that if anyone made fabulous pearls for interesting women it would have been this Los Angelian; so I called my friend David Patrick Columbia, who got right into the idea and put me in touch.

“I knew him socially, later in his life,” says DPC, and went to parties and dinners at his house many times. He always had a party on New Year’s Day. You could not help but be taken by him and his work,” exclaims DPC.” He appealed to your childhood sense of wonder, astonishment, and amazement. “He always reminded me of a child – kids love fantasyland – who could play with anything; sort of a sanitation man who could make found objects – someone else’s refuse – into a whole environment. His ranch in Malibu, which unfortunately burned in an enormous California fire, was probably created from stuff he picked up off the street.”
“He could take a huge spool of cable wire and turn it into a chandelier. He made houses out of fantasies, and his imagination was absolutely free; unencumbered with rules and creative limitation. He was also a product of the heyday of the film industry, which is probably why he flourished so well in LA. They understood him. Today, everything goes, so he is going again, too; thanks, also to Hutton Wilkinson’s ongoing efforts.”

“I don’t get the feeling that Tony was a snob. He could get distracted by gluing sequins on a piece of paper. Tony was clever, and he was able to turn that ability into a way to make a living. He was always successful. He also had a natural shrewdness, which helped him make everything work. For example, he was fascinated by the bungalows just East of Beverly Hills off Doheny Drive, around Norma and Keith, and he was clever enough to by them all, in the 1950s; very cheaply!”

Always working, watching, listening, and a stream of creativity, Tony Duquette had friends and clients from Hollywood to Venice and a life as big as his imagination.