“TheRue de Rivoliis very straight and unaltered from end to end: three simple storeys above an arcade,” according toNairn’s Paris. “But it feels quite different from the autocratic straightness of the 18th century. That was for show; this, basically, is for convenience, and there is a fine, underplayed urbanity in the wayPercierandFontaineconsistently refused to hot up what is in fact a very long elevation. Impersonal but not inhuman; the mile long covered street never gets on top of you, and life can take what shape it likes inside the framework.” Life takes on a luxurious shape insideNo.228 Rue de Rivoli: Le Meurice, an urbanVersailles.
Sometimes the weekend starts a little sooner than anticipated. We’ve disappeared down the bunny hole to a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea Party in Sanderson. The hotel where larger than life Philippe Starck first played with surreal scale in London – a pair of sofa lips swears to swallow us in reception – is just the setting to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. This really is hard work as we’re with three lawyers, an investment manager and a banker. Beats the boardroom. Sugared almonds over Alan Sugar.Everyone should eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work. We will not set out every jot and tittle of our dilettantish ponderings, save to remark on the curiouser and curiouser culinary revelations as we peak over the palate piquing afternoon tea. “EAT ME!” shrieks the goat’s cheese croquet monsieur and white crab éclair and cucumber and cream lime sandwich and smoked salmon quail’s egg and caviar scotch egg.
Sitting in the canopied Enchanted Garden of Sanderson, we’re cosily oblivious to the monsoon unfolding overhead. Amidst carousels and birdcages, we’re like the Cheshire Cat who got the cream (clotted with raspberry preserve on fluffy scones. When Alice in Wonderland ate the cakes, they made her smaller. We live in hope. Perhaps we’ll have just one more chocolate coated coffee flavoured pocket watch macaroon. And another Queen of Hearts Oreo cookie soldier stuffed with strawberries. Maybe the last red velvet ladybird cake. Rude not to. The cake of good hope. Mondays are for martinets. Life is the cards you’ve been dealt.
‘Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design’ is the latest exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao. It’s curated by Petra Joos at the Guggenheim and Amelie Klein of Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition seeks to illustrate how design is steering change in Africa and presents the main protagonists of this new design epoch. Its context is globalisation through technology, especially the internet. “A part of this development is a new and open understanding of what design is,” explains Mateo Kries, Director of Vitra Design Museum. “It’s no longer limited to the creation of furniture, products, typography or fashion, but is very closely interwoven with the fields of photography, art, architecture and even urbanism.” He believes while this change is happening around the world today, it most clearly manifests itself in Africa.
Mateo’s counterpart Juan Ignacio Vidarte at the Guggenheim concurs, “It is in the intersection of innumerable creative fields… that design holds a position as the focal point for multidisciplinary work. ‘Making Africa’ successfully portrays the image of a continent that is beginning to move at this very moment.” ‘C-Stunners, 2012’, eyewear sculptures by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru in the show’s Prologue section, are a metaphor for what’s to come. Who’s examining who? “We’re mutually examining ourselves,” responds Amelie. “The exhibition isn’t a totalising vision. Rather, a supplementary vision. Not an exhaustive dialogue – a starting point for our thoughts. One possible way, another way, of looking at the continent.” The exhibition cleverly conveys the diversity and complexity of Africa. After all, this is a landmass with a population of one billion.
Western misconceptions are diminished. Laughter replaces misery. “Something I got obsessed with is people dancing to Pharrell William’s video ‘Happy’!” smiles Amelie. “I really watched those videos, I dunno, for nights and nights in a row! There are dozens from Africa. Yet in our Westernised minds the continent is always struggling.” She selected the work of young South African photographer Jody Brand which depicts not only African street style but party life and in doing so, reflects a changing society. Jody’s images show there’s much more than struggle to Africa.
Like Mateo, Amelie believes “the continent is at the forefront of global technological change”. She continues, “Modernism was the result of change in Europe 100 years ago. What will we see coming out of this change?” The politics of representation are never far away. Who’s allowed to speak about Africa? The curators engaged in an intense three year long preparation to qualify. Their exhibition includes 75 recorded interviews with artists and designers. “In reality of course,” concedes Amelie, “there are millions and billions of different Africas. How can we speak about one Africa? From Cairo to Cape Town, there’s a lot in that!”
‘Making Africa’ attempts to answer many questions but the curators want visitors to go away asking new questions. And preferably seeing Africa in a new way or ways. “You will see art in this design show,” warns Amelie, “but I’ve used every single piece to make comment on design. That’s the thread that keeps everything together. I can make an argument for every single object on a key design issue.” One such issue is social and political commentary. Leanie van der Vyver’s ‘Scary Beautiful, 2012’ is a design statement – or is it art? – on cruelty in women’s fashion. Think ribcage crushing corsets or neck elongating braces. Leanie worked with shoe designer René van der Berg to create a pair of impossibly tall reversed high heels. Despite limiting the wearer’s mobility and controlling her silhouette to the extreme, the shoes are actually wearable. Seguing her fashion interest into design work, Leanie asks the viewer to look anew at (not so) everyday apparel and what it represents.
The 120 contributing young makers and thinkers are a savvy and politically astute lot. They are a critical generation not afraid to speak out, freer, perhaps, of the burden of colonialism. ‘Making Africa’ doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the continent. South African artist Lucinda Mudge isn’t one to pull punches. Her hard hitting vases display home truths. “I use headlines from local crime story reports,” she says. ‘I Will Kill You and Then I Will Eat You’ is emblazoned on the side of one of her vases. The other side, slogan free, is beautifully decorated in gold. Violence and beauty. One artist, duality of voice. Nothing is simply black or white. It’s a comment on not looking, on looking the other way. There’s more than one way to view a situation, a design, an artwork, she’s saying. And a continent.
Like a forest fire, raging, sparking, keep ‘er lit, l’enfer, burning everything in its way with gusto, the desire, the lust, the greed, no make that the need to be and see and be seen and be paid to see and be paid to be seen… at the latest greatest eating house as it consumes London. London’s burning. Just as every other developer in town introduces his high density scheme as “inspired by the meatpacking district”, so the Manhattan trend for chasing restaurants for a fleeting 15 seconds has well and truly arrived in the English capital. Last year it was Balthazar, last Christmas it was Il Ristorante, last month it was Hoi Polloi, next month it will be Ham Yard. Now, very now, so now, right now, right on, it’s Chiltern Firehouse. Right?
With a three month waiting list for bridge-and-tunnel nonentities, the only alternative is to longingly gaze through the lead paned windows as girls-about-town celebrities Lily Cole, Lilly Allen, Lil’ Kim, bask in mutual glow, relishing the comforting closeness of riches and recognition, enjoying the peace and prosperity of the city. There’s always Monocle café across the street. At The Wolseley, Scott’s, Le Caprice, dining numbers dip slightly while the cameras flash outside The May Fair or Dabbous or The Ivy (weekend lunch menu Saturday 14th September 2002, £17.50, plus £1.50 cover charge in main dining room) and then it’s business as usual as Kate Moss, Kate Middleton, Katie Hopkins, return. In this feverish race to trip the light fantastic, skip the bright fandango, flip the trite almighty, moths fluttering up the lampshade of life, there are burnouts. Bistro K, where art thou? Senkai, why oh why? Enough. It’s time to tango in Paree.
The restaurant with a palace attached. No ifs, no buts. A ballroom (turn cartwheels ‘cross the floor) abuts the dining room abuts the marble staircase. A swimming pool fills the basement. More hôtel than hotel. Where the red carpet is always rolled out. Welcome to the Cristal Room at Baccarat, the hôtel particulier at 11 Place des États-Unis, 16th Arrondissement, a plumped up cushion’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe. Louis Quatorze, Quinze and Seize meet the current King of Design, Philippe Starck Première, Deuxième and Troisième. Where the past is never passé, lending a presence to the present. A place transcending our time, deserving of its own hard backed Assouline tribute. There are no equals.
Mirrored lipsticked lips snogging niches shriek of decorative welcome from the leafy square. Staggeringly strange explosions of rarity erupt amidst terrifying grandeur. Like an emissary from a modernist future, a marble head utters eloquent profundities. A chandelier, Baccarat no doubt, drowns in a glass cube of water (dry chandeliers are priced €20,000 to €120,000). A jaguar (glass objet d’art, not a car) in the library is ours or yours for €25,000. A gargantuan chair lords it over the landing. Upstairs, ladies lunch (“You simply must come to Munich”), boys do late brunch, eating, meeting, sat in satin seating. Le ciel, c’est les autres. A social whirl, the dining room is hummin’ harder, metaphoric symbols of cymbals clash in ironic oxymoronic cacophonic supersonic discordant harmony. Crystal (natch), mirror, gilt, chalkboard, linen (a whiter shade of pale), scaglioli, marble, wood, exposed brick (au natch) and trompe l’oeil (the sky’s the limit) rise as a realised Piranesian fantasy. Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcophagi… “Vous êtes là!” the waiter randomly points on our opened map. We are, we’ve arrived. On a sultry late afternoon in August, fellow diners desert post dessert and we embrace the dining room to ourselves.
Appetites ablaze, we consume Michelin starred Guy Martin’s natural white asparagus, pecorino espuma and bresaolo in pesto garlic followed by Pollock fish cooked a la plancha with leeks and radishes in a dashi broth. C’est bon. C’est très bon. “Do you wish to continue outside?” Terrace for two, s’il vous plaît. Exquisite Harcourt is served alfresco. This is a light pistachio cream and crispy biscuit speckled with gold leaf as if fallen from the cornice. Let the rich eat cake. We call out for another drink, the waiter brings a tray. And so it was later.