In Vietnam, a Stylish New Mountain Retreat
Soon after the turn of the 20th century, Sapa — a verdant Vietnamese mountain town known for its terraced rice fields — became a stylish retreat for French colonials who would take the train from Hanoi for visits to their country villas and to a now-defunct sanitarium. Today, travelers come to hike the misty trails linking Sapa to surrounding stopped-in-time villages such as Ta Phin and Cat Cat, whose residents sell handmade brocades and silver jewelry. For the new 249-key Hôtel de la Coupole, set in a mustard-yellow building in Sapa’s Muong Hoa Valley, the Bangkok-based architect and designer Bill Bensley was interested in how, a hundred years ago, these types of artisanal goods made their way to Paris and ended up influencing Western fashions. “I found a 1920s haute couture hat in Paris, which was basically a Vietnamese rattan hat covered in white and red polka dots, and decided to do the entire hotel like that,” he says. To that end, there are cane and velvet barrel chairs in the high-ceilinged cafe, Cacao Patisserie, and, in some of the bedrooms, French lounge chairs covered in graphic hill-tribe fabrics and linen-colored pendant lights draped in tribal silver beads. Bensley, who believes a hotel should be a layered, even intellectual adventure in itself, has also hung some 500 vintage fashion illustrations and ads throughout the property and erected a lobby installation lined with industrial-size bobbins spooled in jewel-toned threads that recall not just vibrant silks but also the lush orchid gardens of nearby Ham Rong Mountain. — LUCIE ALIG
One of Us: Cult-Inspired Dressing as a Pathway to Belonging
The desire to belong and the need to stand apart are the two contradicting impulses driving fashion. Recent sartorial trends — ruffled dresses made with modest cuts that cover arms, chest and legs in patterned, decidedly unglamorous-looking fabrics — have been said to evoke a life on the homestead from a more bucolic era. But these clothes also allude to another kind of life: They recall the outfits worn by the women in the opening sequence of the Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” in which the protagonist and her “sisters” are rescued from an underground bunker, where they were held captive by a maniacal religious figure. In other words, these clothes make you look like you belong to a cult.
Is it ironic to dress this way? At best, cults are now seen as roguishly edgy, cast in a nostalgic glow as lawlessly free from convention. Audiences last year were captivated by “Wild Wild Country,” a six-part documentary about the Rajneeshees, a 1970s and ’80s commune built around an Indian mystic who promoted free love and the importance of meditation. Two of his lieutenants were eventually convicted of various illegal activities, including orchestrating a salmonella attack on an Oregon town in order to influence a local election. Part of the fascination with cults is how well they manage to convince people to do what is so clearly the wrong thing. Who would be so simple-minded as to blindly follow a leader into lying, cheating or even, as was the case with the Manson family, murder?
But it’s harder to dismiss cults when you begin examining why people join them in the first place. Just look around: From celebrity-owned lifestyle companies that promote “radical wellness” as a way of life to millennial-pink co-working spaces for women that serve grain bowls telling you to “fork the patriarchy” to electric-car entrepreneurs who promise to take us to Mars, what is being peddled today as empowering or innovative or revolutionary is not a far leap from what some guru or Scientologist offered a few decades ago. We all want to feel like we belong to something greater, something bigger and more meaningful than everyday life. And we are willing to pay for it — especially now, when contemporary American politics has arguably become a story of two opposing cults battling for the nation’s collective psyche. But before you buy in, try to take a moment to consider why doing so makes you feel as if you stand out. — THESSALY LA FORCE
Shoe or Moving Sculpture?
The designer Paul Andrew has long looked to visual art for inspiration — one of his first shoe designs for Salvatore Ferragamo, where he began as creative director in 2017, referenced the hulking steel sculptures of Richard Serra, while his personal collection includes works by Robert Motherwell, Josef Albers and Pierre Soulages. In preparation for his spring 2019 runway collection, Andrew was sifting through the brand’s archives when he came upon a ’30s-era photograph of the actress Loretta Young wearing a pair of Ferragamo sandals with a woven upper and a striking wavelike heel. Reminded of the 20th-century sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column” series comprising zigzagging stacks of rhomboid modules in metal or stone, the designer decided to make his own version. The result is a dramatic platform whose four-inch heel, Andrew says, was “a feat of engineering” not unlike the 98-foot-tall “Endless Column” (1938) that stands near Brancusi’s hometown, Hobita, Romania. Artisans molded each wooden module independently, wrapping layers of calfskin leather around the top. Even the mesh upper, shown here in a vivid violet, nods to the concept of infinity, its threads creating a pleasing pattern of interlocking diamonds — and to Andrew’s overall vision for the brand. “What we’re doing here, it’s endless,” he says. “We’re not just celebrating a legacy but carrying it forward.” — SEAN CALEY NEWCOTT
A Clothing Designer Who Collects Baskets
The designer Ulla Johnson’s romantic clothes are unapologetically nostalgic — midi dresses in layers of lace and high-necked puff-sleeved blouses — so it makes sense that she might collect woven baskets, the ultimate analog accessory. Her first piece was Shaker style, given to her as a child by her grandfather, who had an antiques shop near Ann Arbor, Mich.; she kept it in her college dorm room. Now, Johnson, 44, has more than 50 baskets, discovered in her travels, from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband and three children, to Brazil, Paris and the beaches of Montauk: “I’m that person who pulls the car off the side of the road if I spot something good.” For her, the baskets are also indispensably practical; she uses them to haul vegetables from the farmers market and to store supplies in her Manhattan studio. “I’m not precious with anything,” she says. “If my kids can’t be around something, I don’t want it.” — JOHN WOGAN
9 Not-Quite-Vintage Purses
In boxy shapes and neutral shades, new models with classic appeal.
From One Jeweler, Gleaming Strings of Candy-Colored Quartz
As a globe-spanning jewelry designer who splits her time between Paris, New York and Jaipur, India, Marie-Hélène de Taillac rejoices in a classic ritual of her trade: opening drawstring bags to pour a tumble of sparkling gems onto a worktable for inspection. She is particularly drawn to lozenge-size semiprecious stones in rock-candy pastels and neons — gems that might have washed up like sea glass on the shore. Her most recent collection of necklaces, made by artisans in India with a technique that calls for carefully piercing the stones so they can be set in a near invisible gold armature, are in amethyst, smoky quartz, lemon quartz and green quartz. An extravagant web of 64 jewels (nearly 500 carats in total), in oval, round, pear and octagon cuts, such bold (yet lightweight) collars don’t go gentle into that good night or even that bright afternoon — they vibrate. $9,500 each, mariehelenedetaillac.com. — NANCY HASS
In Los Angeles, a More Convivial Art Fair
Dean Valentine, a Beverly Hills-based art collector and former television network executive, has been to countless art fairs in the past few decades. In recent years, he feels, they’ve devolved into lifeless affairs — “timeless, windowless voids of buying and selling,” he says, that take place in convention centers that hardly vary from city to city. In a bid to infuse new energy into the scene, he and the West Hollywood gallery Morán Morán will launch Felix L.A. next week — on Valentine’s Day, as luck would have it. What they promise is a more relaxed, convivial version of an art fair, starting with the venue: Felix will debut at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, famous for hosting the very first Oscars, in 1929, as well as countless nights of poolside debauchery since. (The pool even has a David Hockney mural at the bottom.)
The inaugural fair will showcase 38 galleries from L.A. and beyond, including the local Château Shatto and Vitamin Creative Space, based in Guangzhou, China. Rather than booths, they’ll set up shop in hotel rooms, cabanas and the 13th floor’s massive Johnny Grant penthouse. Valentine got the idea from the art fairs he attended in the ’90s at the Chateau Marmont, the West Coast outpost of New York’s Gramercy International (now known as the Armory Show and celebrating its 25th year). His fondest memories are of the depth of discussion made possible by a few cocktails beside the pool. “It’s about putting the pleasure of talking about art, of buying it and selling it, back into the conversation,” he says. He’s encouraging visitors to relax and enjoy the sunshine, within reason. “Please don’t jump in the pool,” he says. “I don’t want to have to save anybody.” Feb. 14 through 17 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, felixfair.com. — JANELLE ZARA
A Designer’s Quest for the Perfect Playing Cards
Twenty or so years ago, the designer John Derian chanced upon a small antiques store in Brussels that he describes as “a real cabinet of curiosities.” He’d visit each time he was in town. “It would move, and then I’d find it again,” he says, “and I’ve bought some really cool ephemera there.” His most prized discovery is a deck of early-19th-century English playing cards printed with colorful etchings of historical characters, both real and imagined: the king of clubs is a drunken ne’er-do-well in blue striped stockings, the queen of spades resembles Joan of Arc.
Derian, who grew up in a large family in which cards were a vacation mainstay, now hosts frequent game nights at his apartment in New York and he has long dreamed of reprinting his antique deck. He first sent ideas for updating the cards to his canasta friends eight years ago (should he create two decks? Did they need a joker?) but the project consistently got waylaid. Now, at long last, Derian will launch his first-ever playing cards — his dream deck, based on his 19th-century set but tailored to the needs of modern players — at his two namesake home décor stores in New York. He did add a pair of jokers, as well as numbers in the corners of each card (the original deck only had suit symbols) and he enlisted the classic American card manufacturer Bicycle to make them — Derian liked the way that Tiffany & Co. cards shuffle and tracked down their producer. But otherwise the cards are much the same. To celebrate the realization of his almost decade-long labor of love, Derian has also created trays that feature the cards’ designs — in his signature decoupage style, of course. johnderian.com — ALICE NEWELL-HANSON