Doris Day and Edith Head, and oh yeah, Alred Hitchcock and Jimmie Stewart

These principals all came together in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

They created movie magic at its finest.  Time travel back to 1956. American surgeon, Dr. McKenna (Jimmie Stewart) takes his wife (Doris Day) and young son to visit Morocco, for he had been there, serving in North Africa during WWII.  They literally stumble into all kinds of espionage and trouble in Marrakesh, and their son is kidnapped in the process.

Alfred Hitchcock directed this classic film and Edith Head made this sketch of a beautiful suit for Doris Day to wear in the critical parts of the movie.




The suit seen above, without the stole, was realized in gray silk and Miss Day wears the suit throughout the second half of the film, during which she is seen in Albert Hall in London, as well as in the Embassy of some unspecified but critical country.  Her kidnapped son had been taken to London and she and Mr. Stewart are there to find him.

I loved the movie and highly recommend it.  Here are the lead actors and the director:



And here is the poster advertising the film.




Sumptuous textiles and Leonardo in Renaissance Florence


Leonardo had a fascination with curly hair. His own hair, as one early biographer attests, was long and curly, and his beard “came to the middle of his breast, and was well-dressed and curled.”  He evidently took pride in his appearance.

Besides his well-dressed hair and curled beard, he had a taste for colorful clothing. Florence was renowned for its luxurious textiles— silks and brocades with names like rosa di zaffrone (pink sapphire) and fior di pesco (peach blossom). But most of these exotic fabrics were exported to the harems of Turkey because sumptuary laws— regulations against ostentatious dress— meant Florentines necessarily favored more sober colors. Not so Leonardo, whose wardrobe in later life, an audacious mix of purples, pinks, and crimsons, flouted the dictates of the fashion police.


One list of his clothes itemized a taffeta gown, a rose-colored Catalan gown, a purple cape with a velvet hood, a coat of purple satin, another of crimson satin, a purple coat of camel hair, dark purple hose, dusty-rose hose, black hose, and two pink caps.

King, Ross (2012-10-30). Leonardo and the Last Supper (p. 26). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Florence had a thriving cloth industry, and Leonardo designed numerous machines for the textile trade, such as hand looms, bobbin winders, and a needle-making machine that he calculated would produce forty thousand needles per hour and revenues of a mind-boggling sixty thousand ducats per year. All of these inventions he no doubt hoped would find their place in Florentine industry. In about 1494 he drew plans for a weaving machine, and in the same pages he outlined a project for a canal by which, he claimed, Florence’s Guild of Wool Merchants could transport their goods through Tuscany and, by extracting revenues from other users of the canal, boost their profits in the process. These pursuits reveal the breadth of Leonardo’s interests, the scope of his ambitions, and the depth of his conviction that there was no task that could not be improved through technology and invention. None of his plans seems, however, to have tempted the hardheaded merchants of Florence.

King, Ross (2012-10-30). Leonardo and the Last Supper (p. 119). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Emilio Pucci, part 1

The work of Emilio Pucci (1914-92), Florentine fashion designer and Marchese di Barsento, has been on my radar all of my life. I absolutely love it.





I mean, what’s not to love?

Pucci was born in 1914 to one of Florence’s oldest aristocratic families, and he both lived and worked at his family’s Palazzo Pucci, which is a stone’s throw from the Duomo in Florence, for much of his life. Check out his Palazzo here.


Pucci had an amazingly wide variety of interests and was an avid sportsman, who swam, skied, fenced, played tennis and raced cars. He attended the University of Milan for two years and then studied agriculture, of all things, in the United States at the University of Georgia. In 1935 he started school at Reed College in Oregon, where he eventually received a Master’s degree in social science. Pucci was on the ski team at Reed and his first real fashion design was created for this team.


That same year he was awarded a (an honorary degree one has to suppose ) laurea in poli science from the University of Florence.   Always invested in Italian politics, even at Reed College he was known as a staunch defender of the Fascist regime in Italy.

When Pucci returned home he joined the Italian air force, rising to the rank of captain.  He became entwined in the lives of Benito Mussolini’s oldest daughter, Edda and her husband, which led to Pucci being arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.  He lived in Switzerland until the war ended.

Pucci’s first recognition for his design was in the 1948 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. He had designed some ski wear for a friend, utilizing the new stretch fabrics, and his sleek new designs caused a sensation.


Several American manufacturers offered to produce this glamorous new ski wear, but Pucci instead set up his own atelier in the fashionable resort of Canzone del Mare on Capri, which was a brilliant strategy, for Capri was a destination for the world’s new international jet set.

Pucci’s business thrived almost immediately.  He experimented with the stretch fabrics to create a swimwear line in 1949, but found his voice in designing brightly-colored patterned silk scarves. Neiman Marcus, the high end American retailer, noticed Pucci’s scarves and suggested Pucci create blouses and then a popular line of wrinkle-free printed silk dresses.  He seemed to be made of gold, for his designs caught on immediately.  He opened a boutique in Rome.  Pucci was a hot designer commodity by the mid 1950s.

Marilyn Monroe discovered Pucci in the early 1960s and enhanced the designer by wearing his creations in some of her last photo shoots.  Many celebrities wore Pucci, including Sophia Loren and Jacqueline Kennedy.

In 1959, Pucci decided to create a line of lingerie.  Since he’d had some textile related issues in Italy in the 1940s, he deiced to give his lingerie contract to Formfit-Rogers mills in Chicago. It was a successful venture. In 1959, Pucci met Cristina Nannini, a Roman baroness, whom he married.

During the go-go 1960s, Braniff International Airways engaged Pucci to update the airline’s image by designing new clothing for the flight attendants (or stewardesses–as the almost exclusively female crew were then known).


Pucci  designed six complete collections for Braniff hostesses, pilots and ground crew between 1965 and 1974. The 1968 garments were copied for the very popular Barbie doll.


Among the more unusual aspects of Pucci’s Braniff designs was the so-called “bubble helmet” – a clear plastic hood worn by flight attendants between terminal building and aircraft to protect their hairdos from rain and the blast of jet engines.



Pucci’s influence even extended all the way to the Moon! He suggested the three bird motif for the Apollo 15 mission patch.

Apollo 15-insignia.png





What’s in a word? History, association, description, and sometimes even poetry.


To me there are certain words that just seem poetic in and of themselves.




Indigo is one of them.




Indigo. I like the way it sounds.




I like to say it. Indigo.




I like the objects that are made using it.

From the sublime:



To the indispensable:



I love to think about where the word comes from and all the associations it carries.  Once the dye was so valuable in the world market that it was known as “blue gold.”



indigo (n.)

17c. spelling change of indico (1550s), “blue powder obtained from certain plants and used as a dye,” from Spanish indico, Portuguese endego, and Dutch (via Portuguese) indigo, all from Latin indicum “indigo,” from Greek indikon “blue dye from India,” literally “Indian (substance),” neuter of indikos “Indian,” from India (see India).

Replaced Middle English ynde (late 13c., from Old French inde “indigo; blue, violet” (13c.), from Latin indicum). Earlier name in Mediterranean languages was annil, anil (see aniline). As “the color of indigo” from 1620s. As the name of the violet-blue color of the spectrum, 1704 (Newton).




The color indigo was named after the indigo dye derived from the plant Indigofera tinctoria and related species.  Blue dye was hard to achieve. A variety of plants have provided indigo throughout history, but most natural indigo was obtained from those in the genus Indigofera, which are native to the tropics. The primary commercial indigo species in Asia was true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, also known as I. sumatrana).





A common alternative source of the dye is from the plant Strobilanthes cusia, grown in the relatively colder subtropical locations such as Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan. In Central and South America, the two species grown are I. suffruticosa (añil) and dyer’s knotweed (Polygonum tinctorum), although the Indigofera species yield more dye.
India is believed to be the oldest center of indigo dyeing, both in terms of production and processing. The I. tincture species was domesticated in India. It was a primary supplier to the rest of the world of indigo dye.

The dye was in Europe as early as the Greco-Roman era, where it was valued as a luxury product. The Romans used indigo as a pigment for painting and for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.  The extravagant item was imported into the Mediterranean lands from India by Arab merchants.

Indigo remained a rare commodity in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. A chemically identical dye derived from the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria), was used instead. Woad was replaced when true indigo became available through trade routes.



In the late 15th century, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India.




This led to the establishment of direct trade with India, the Spice Islands, China, and Japan. Importers could now avoid the heavy duties imposed by Persian, Levantine, and Greek middlemen and the lengthy and dangerous land routes which had previously been used. Consequently, the importation and use of indigo in Europe rose significantly.

Much European indigo from Asia arrived through ports in Portugal, the Netherlands, and England.



Spain imported the dye from its colonies in South America.

Many indigo plantations were established by European powers in tropical climates; it was  also a major crop in Jamaica and South Carolina, with much or all of the labor performed by enslaved Africans and African Americans.

Indigo plantations also thrived in the Virgin Islands.

However, France and Germany outlawed imported indigo in the 16th century to protect the local woad dye industry.

So valuable was indigo as a trading commodity, it was often referred to as blue gold.


Indigo is among the oldest dyes to be used for textile dyeing and printing. Many Asian countries, such as India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations have used indigo as a dye (particularly silk dye) for centuries. In Japan, indigo became especially important in the Edo period, when it was forbidden to use silk, so the Japanese began to import and plant cotton. It was difficult to dye the cotton fiber except with indigo. Even today indigo is very much appreciated as a color for the summer Kimono Yukata, as this traditional clothing recalls nature and the blue sea.


The dye was also known to ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Britain, Mesoamerica, Peru, Iran, and Africa.





The association of India with indigo is reflected in the Greek word for the ‘dye’, which was indikon (ινδικόν). The Romans used the term indicum, which passed into Italian dialect and eventually into English as the word indigo. El Salvador has lately been the biggest producer of indigo.



The first known recorded use of indigo as a color name in English was in 1289.



Historically,blue dyes were rare and hard to achieve, so indigo, a natural dye extracted from plants, was important economically. A large percentage of indigo dye produced today – several thousand tons each year – is synthetic. It is the blue often associated with blue jeans.

The primary use for indigo today is as a dye for cotton yarn, which is mainly for the production of denim cloth for blue jeans. On average, a pair of blue jean trousers requires 3–12 g of indigo. Small amounts are used for dyeing wool and silk.



Indigo carmine, or indigo, is an indigo derivative which is also used as a colorant. About 20 million kg are produced annually, again mainly for blue jeans.[1] It is also used as a food colorant, and is listed in the United States as FD&C Blue No. 2.



In 1675 Newton revised his account of the colors in a rainbow, adding the color of indigo which he located between the lines of blue and violet.


Newton had originally identified five colors, but enlarged his codification to seven in his revised account of the rainbow in Lectiones Opticae.


Indigo, a color in the rainbow.






What’s beer-making got to do with interior design?

Well, I’m so glad you asked!

You know how you have to break some eggs to make an omelette?  Well, if you want to make beer, you gotta dry some hops.

And where do you dry hops?

Why, in an oast house, of course!

An oasthouse looks something like this one in Kent, England.


Kent is here:



If you know what I’ve been up to lately, you’ll know that the reason I am writing about oasthouses is that some of them have become residences for Brits…

and as we all know, residences must be decorated, and…

well…you know the rest.


When, oh when will my current obsession end?  Only with the end of the BBC Two series, The Great Interior Design Challenge, comes to an end I fear!  Yes, it is true I love interior design and up cycling old treasures, but what really floats my boat is the tour of fascinating English homes, high and low alike, and the history lessons of British social life and domestic architecture.  I mean, what’s not to love?



But, I do have a couple of dilemmas.

Here’s one: whereas Google images usually has a great selection of images for most things a blogger wants to illustrate, whether it is fabrics by Fortuny or drawings of carnations, for some reason there are very few images online anywhere I can find of the various projects used in The Great Interior Design Challenge series on BBC Two.  And the ones I can find won’t copy, as the folks at BBC Two obviously know how to restrict access to their intellectual property.  I respect that.

So, I am unable to show you any images from the show of the oast houses featured on the series, exteriors or interiors.  None of the images in this post are related to the show. But that’s okay!


Oast house, Herefordshire

Stone and timber-frame oast house interior, Leominster, Herefordshire, England.


Okay, now that I have that info out of the way,  let’s look at some of these crazy oasthouses!

Here’s how they were originally used.

diagram of a typical Oast house in original use


And here are some examples of how these great old structures have been converted for modern life.






And, for a quick primer of the variations in structural matters:





Here are some useful links for more info on British oast houses: