Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Art Nouveau in the Streets of Paris

The Colebrooke Row love affair with Paris began years ago but with the opening of our new venture Bar Le Coq, this week we’ve fallen in love all over again. Paris has a vibrant and exciting bar scene and Le Coq has arrived to celebrate the 1970s and the synergy between traditional French glamour and the raw energy of the New York underground music scene. Originally the site of a Parisian wine bar, Le Coq graces a small backstreet in the 10th Arrondissement.  Despite an incredibly busy month we’ve had the opportunity to stroll along the autumn streets and in doing so we couldn’t help but spend some time admiring the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and delving into its rich and fascinating history.

Paris has always been a key-player in all European artistic movements. In the latter part of the nineteenth century it played home to core developments in the formation of Art Nouveau, many of which found themselves immortalised upon the streets of Paris. From the mid-1890s, the works of emerging young designers were exhibited at the gallery L'Art Nouveau and the city hosted the World's Fair of 1900 which helped to propel Art Nouveau into the limelight. 

The most infamous of Parisian Art Nouveau architects is Hector Guimard (1867- 1942) - indeed, the Art nouveau style is often referred to as the Style Guimard in France. Guimard attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris from 1882 to 1885. Here Guimard became acquainted with the theories of Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc whose rationalist ideas formed the inspiration for many of his ensuing architectural endeavours. Guimard's first project was to design the interior of the "Au Grand Neptune" restaurant in Paris and on the success of this followed numerous commissions for private dwellings in Paris.

Castel Bérange
Perhaps Guimard's Parisian masterpiece is Castel Béranger, which presides on the rue La Fontaine, but his best-known works - despite some initial scandel - are most likely to be the entrances to the Paris Métro, some of which were completed just in time for the 1900 World Exposition. Based on the ornamented structures of Viollet-le-Duc, Guimard utilised an organic and tense linear style and combined it with cast iron for both structural and decorative purposes. By 1903 Hector Guimard had designed numerous Métro entrances in the Art nouveau style, featuring wrought iron, bronze and glass. The results became instantly iconic. These arches are testamount to the progressive curiosity of Guimard and their construction serve as a precursor to industrial standardisation. In this way, although Art Nouveau often calls upon nature as a muse, it is really an urban style, designed to grace the streets and interiors of modern industrial cities

Guimard's Metro Entrance

When we travelled to the 7th arrondissement we found it to be home of many masterpieces of the Art Nouveau architectural design. It is here that you can find many of Jules Lavirotte’s incredible Art Nouveau masterpieces. Jules Lavirotte (1864-1928) was one of France’s most brilliant and fearless Art Nouveau architects and designers. A contemporary of Hector Guimard, Lavirotte is known for his freeform and audacious designs. Although he worked very little in Paris, there are several examples of his legacy which still stand proudly. The Countess de Montessuy, who lived on rue St-Dominique, was the first patron to enable Lavirotte to work in Paris. On rue Sedillot, close to his patron's dwelling, is a fantastic example of Lavirotte's earliest and Baroque-influenced designs. In the roof and windows, Lavirotte uses designs most commonly seen in Baroque French castles and he cleverly combines these with Art Nouveau iron-worked balconies. Now an Italian school, this building has an impressive and imposing tower over the main entrance.  

Rue Sedillot

Lavirotte's presidence in the 7th arrondissement continues with his building on the Square Rapp. A lack of symmetry in the facade and elaborate balconies, each one different from the rest, ensures that this building really stands out from all others. A short walk away at 29 Avenue Rapp is Lavirotte’s most outlandish building. Designed in 1901 for his friend Alexandre Bigot, the building has a wildly decorated facade and as ceramist himself, Bigot worked in collaboration with his friend to execute the lavish and ornate design. Lavirotte's gift for exuberant forms is clearly visible in this facade, whose bravura set piece is the doorway. 

Avenue Rapp
Square Rapp

Maison des Arums

Unassumingly tucked into a quiet little street near the Champ de Mars park is one of the finest Art Nouveau buildings in Paris. Designed by Octave Raquin in 1904, this building earned the nickname “maison des arums,” or the house of the lilies, because of its lavish floral and vegetate designs and decorations. Here at Colebrooke Row we can't wait to spend more time in Paris as Bar Le Coq approaches the busy Christmas season. No doubt we'll fall victim to a fresh new wave of love as we walk the streets of Paris in the snow...

Monday, 5 November 2012

Erotic and Lethal: The Origins of the Femme Fatale

"Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying."

Larna Tuner
Beyond the sensational design details, film noir is close to our hearts at Colebrooke Row because it cemented the rise of the femme fatale, the type of woman who inspired the creation of ‘The Lipstick Rose’ cocktail. Film noir, or 'black cinema', refers to the dim city-scape backdrops and shadowed alleyways of film noir, but also to the dark and sordid motives of its characters. Among these characters is the femme fatale,the French phrase for ‘deadly woman.’ However, the French term is somewhat misleading: more accurately femme fatales are simply the queens of compromising situations – the match for cynical, disillusioned male protagonists who were susceptible to the charms of a beautiful but promiscuous and seductive double-dealing femme. The exceptional frequency in which women of a questionable virtue graced the screens of film noir was a focus that had become rare in Hollywood films after the mid-1930s and the end of the pre-Code era.

The Pre-Code Era

The pre-Code era is a shorthand term for a roughly five-year period in film history which began with the widespread adoption of sound in 1929 and ended in 1934, with the inauguration of the Production Code Administration and a policy of rigid censorship. Before July 1, 1934, restrictions on film content varied wildly depending on local laws and public taste. As a result, pre-Code films tend to be sexier, more adult, more cynical, socially critical and honest. Preferring the individual to the collective, these films were considerably politically strident.

Marelene Dietrich

The emerging jazz age and the Great Depression encouraged encouraged directors and screenwriters to seriously examine the moral and socio-political underpinnings of America and so came about a new wave of films that radically expanded the previously accepted moral thresholds. Without strict laws of censorship, actresses in the early thirties had access to a greater scope of female presentation. In this terrain the newly materialised, sexualised, self-sufficient New Woman - epitomised by Christian Dior's fashion in the 1920s, could truly flourish. Consequently, the injustices of corporate capitalism, divorce and particularly the sexual experimentation of women were now considered to be fitting subjects for the silver screen. Provocative and pro-active, women were presented as not just being aware of their sexuality but in control of their sexual prowess. It was not an unusual sight for women to waltz across the screen scantily clad in silken lingerie.

Colette Colbert
Many women in the early pre-Code era played prostitutes, however Norma Shearer in The Divorcee established a different pattern. She played a normal wife who, upon discovering her husband has been unfaithful, sets out on a voyage of sexual discovery. With nothing floozy-like about her, Shearer established the bedroom as safe territory for the ordinary woman, and so paved the way for Claudette Colbert in the Smiling Lieutenant, Loretta Young in Employee's Entrance and Bette Davis in Ex-Lady. 

Norma Shearer

The Rise of the Femme Fatale 

In early American slang, what we now consider to be a femme fatale was dubbed a 'vamp', short for vampire, a term which was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's popular poem The Vampire which described the downfall of a seduced man:

A fool there was and he made his prayer/ (Even as you and I!)/ To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair/ (We called her the woman who did not care)/ But the fool he called her his lady fair...

'A fool there was...' very much became the mantra for film noir male protagonists. Surfing the underbelly of many film noir movies is the failure on the part of male leads to recognise the dishonesty inherent in many of noir's principal women. Such hamartia is the downfall of the male characters in iconic noir films such as Scarlet Street, The Locket and Angel Face. In this sense, the power of the woman in film noir was, in part, channelled through wickedness. Women would employ their feminine wiles and alluring heightened sexuality to manipulate the make lead into becoming the fall-guy - often following a murder. However, after a betrayal or double-cross, she was frequently destroyed as well, often at the cost of the hero's life.

Laraine Day in The Locket

The more malevolent femme fatale tends to torture her lover in a relationship of -take-take as opposed to give-and-take, often denying any confirmation of her affection. Double Indemnity provides the archetype of this kind of femme fatale in Barbara Stanwyck's character Phyllis Dietrichson (an apparent nod to Marlene Dietrich of pre-Code era). The film's commercial success and seven Oscar nominations ensured that it became one of the most influential of the early noirs. A plethora of noir 'bad girls' would follows; characters played by Mary Astor, Veronica Lake, Lana Tuner and Jane Greer were particularly adept at driving men to the point of obsession and exhaustion. Jane Greer's unapologetic portrayal of a cunning female in Out of the Past epitomises the appeal and darkness of an authentic femme fatale. Greer truly possessed the perfect on-screen persona of post-war desolation. 

Jane Greer
However, it's not all sex and murder for the noir femme fatale. Although usually villainous, if not morally ambiguous, and always associated with a sense of mystification and unease, femme fatales have also appeared as anti-heroines in some stories, and some even repent and become true heroines as the film concludes. Some film noirs even feature benevolent and heroic femme fatales who employ their wiles to ensnare the villain for the greater good. 

Nonetheless, by the late fifties and into the sixties, strong, tough and independent women were replaced by assistants and consorts. Those who had once been leading ladies were now defined only by terms of their male protagonists who were increasingly portrayed as gallant Don Juan's or Casanovas - a fashion that was to reach its peak with the James Bond generation... However, the freedom and allure that defines the legacy of the femme fatale lives on in our hearts at Colebrooke Row.