05/11/17
Photo: TheSultanette

PARIS UNPLUGGED: Liberty, Equality, Jewelry!

Photo: TheSultanette

B&W in bloom from “Flora”

As if we don’t owe the French enough for teaching us how to tie a scarf, now the culture connoisseurs offer us another life lesson. No, I’m not talking about how to elect a president with the smarts to marry a woman old enough to be his mistress. I’m talking about L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels. Liberty, Equality, Jewelry!

Shortly before the French hit the polls last week, I headed to a presentation on Van Cleef’s School of Jewelry Arts hosted by the Albertine Library.

Photo: TheSultanette

The Albertine beckons

A project of the cultural services of the French embassy, Albertine is an intimate alternative to the Metropolitan Museum of Art holding court up the street. Its calendar of events features the latest in literature, dance, art, and of course philosophy (France’s Mick Jagger of punditry, Bernard-Henri Lévy, spoke there).

If you simply want to partake in the French art of dawdling, the book store is an oasis on Fifth Avenue. With its dreamy, star motif wallpaper, it could be a scene from Le Petit Prince. Comfy leather chairs, velvet settees and books in French and English ranging from graphic novels to fashion, food, architecture, literature, and politics beg you to browse.

Photo: TheSultanette

Bottoms up at “Flora”

Entering the foyer for the presentation, any doubt that I was now under French jurisdiction was dispelled when I was handed a glass (not plastic) of wine with a starched linen (not paper) serviette (not napkin). Vive la France!

I followed the chatter into the main gallery. Not a fashion victim in sight among the standing-room-only crowd of all ages – all there to learn about “Flora and the Art of Jewelry” from the jeweler who has decorated the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor.

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Bouquet of bling at “Flora”

Two professors from L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels faculty, Inezita Gay-Eckel and Gislain Aurcremanne, briefly described the courses which attract jewelry lovers from all over the world to an 18th century Paris townhouse (details below). They then treated us to a bouquet of nature-inspired bijoux – stunning pieces designed from the fleur-de-lis, orchid, chrysanthemum, poppy and rose. (In the French romantic tradition, a red rose symbolizes love while the yellow rose allows for cheating.)

Beginning with the dawn of ornamentation – basically the fig leaf – we were transported through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Mughal Empire and Victorian times, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods based on holdings from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Along with descriptions of each piece’s provenance, the presentation was sprinkled with historical anecdotes.

Photo: TheSultanette

Jewels to drool for at “Flora”

If you had a few francs on you in 1887, a bargain might be yours at the Louvre fire sale – an auction celebrating the firing of the royals. With the last emperor, Napoleon III, replaced by presidents of the Third Republic, the crown Jewels went on the block. “No crown, no crown jewels” said Gay-Eckel, producing a collective gasp from the audience.

And if you think coordinating your Birkin Bag and Manolos is daunting, imagine the woman of Victorian times (the “matchy-matchy” period according to Gislain) when the lady of the house was required to coordinate her accessories with the colors and theme of her interior decor.

Photo: TheSultanette

“He loves me” … or whatever!

To the age-old dilemma, “He Loves Me” or “He Loves Me Not” the most useful French factoid concerned the humble daisy. No settling for “oui or non” here. In France, the daisy augurs six possibilities: Oui (Let’s have at it), Oui un peu (Try me), Beaucoup (What are we waiting for?), Passionnément (Why do we still have our clothes on?), A la folie (Where’s the whip?), and finally, Pas du tout (The park’s closed).

Photo: TheSultanette

Finger food at “Flora”

After consuming all that eye candy, the only possible fallback was patisserie and the reception after the lecture did not disappoint. While drooling over glass cases of exquisite baubles, The Sultanette probably grabbed a few too many yummy confections. But I’ve never regretted the extra nibble.

The Van Cleef & Arpels School of Jewelry Arts is located in the Place Vendome a stone’s throw from the Jardins des Tuilleries. Fourteen courses of four hours

are led by jewelers, art historians, gemologists, and watchmakers.

With each course limited to twelve students it’s assured that you’ll be “right up close to the Savoir-Faire.” If you’re aspiring to a summa cum laude in bling, apply now. As for lessons in savoir faire, we Americans might take a page from the playbook français as we contemplate la folie presidential.

Stay tuned for more posts in Paris Unplugged.

 

09/23/16

Introducing the State-of-the-Art Orgasm

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave.

You say your Apple Watch can give you an orgasm? Okay never mind then, you won’t need Objects of Desire, a tantalizing compendium of sex toys, brilliant widgets, and couture erotica you didn’t know existed, designed to inspire an orgasm you didn’t know you could have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the book’s writer, Rita Catinella Orrell and designer, Jason Scuderi by email. What struck me was their smart and thoughtful approach to a subject that so often gets tossed in the taboo file. No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about pleasure. It’s now possible to get sex at the click of a mouse or swipe of an app but pleasure isn’t so easy to manufacture.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

I know, I know, who has the time? Pleasure requires finesse. A slowing down and savoring. A connection with the sensorial coaxed by a willingness to be present. But if there is a single theme to the book’s array of elegant paraphernalia, it can be found in the introductory quote by American designer & architect, Charles Eames. “Take your pleasure seriously.”

A look at the table of contents reveals the stunning choices. Beyond dildos so brilliantly devised they could get off a rocket scientist, the collection includes vibrators, strokers, harnesses, couture, jewelry, light BDSM, toys for every orifice, and a chapter dedicated to “A category of their own.” (If you want to know about those cheeky items, including a Swedish oral sex stimulator that beat out Samsung for a Cannes Lions in product design, you’ll have to buy the book!)

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Truth told, I’ve never been one to collect an arsenal of sex toys, generally preferring human beings to batteries. But these products aren’t just clever new mouse traps. “I don’t think replacing the middle man is the goal exactly,” says Orrell. “It’s that you now have more options to customize your experience.”

Example? If your lover isn’t the brightest bulb on the marquee, try the artificial intelligence of Hum by Dimensional Industries, Inc. “This technology can respond to the female orgasm and draw out the experience,” says Orrell. The smarts? “A 3D-printed internal structure, motion sensors, and thousands of lines of code, respond intelligently to movement and touch, delivering varying frequencies of vibrations in response to how much pressure is exerted, and in return, creating an organic experience for the user.” In short, fasten your safety belt.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

But does the spontaneity get lost in the coding? Scuderi hit my cerebral G-spot when he explained it this way: “I like to think of myself as an adult but in all reality, I also like not to grow up.” These gizmos may be highly rational but their brilliance is in their ability to provoke highly irrational results.

Scuderi was drawn to the project when his work on conventional consumer products lead him to see the “addictive, almost sensual relationship” between products and consumers. He views the entrepreneurs featured in Objects as intensifying that connection through a kind of sensorial production quality. “These are real artisans with real emotion creating seriously designed pieces,” says Scuderi. “With a dash of sex aficionado thrown in for good measure,” adds Orrell.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Beyond possessing state-of-the-art brains, this new age of digital widgetry is as irresistible as it is ingenious. These are sleek objects you want to hold, exciting fabrications you want to feel next to your body, and elegant accessories that dangle around your neck like the discreetly vibrating pendant on the book’s cover. Which brings me to one more quality these products embody – a sense of complicity. And Ohmibod’s Bluemotion wins in that category hands down.

Imagine your standard office cocktail party. Your date appears to be fiddling with an app on his smart phone but in fact he’s remotely manipulating a massager tucked in your Ohmibod-designed lacey thong. Depending on which functions he chooses, you are experiencing various levels of vibration as you nibble on a shrimp canapé while talking office politics with your boss. When I commented on the delicious complicity of such a concept, Orrell concurred that Ohmibod is taking “the erotic experience out of the bedroom while keeping it discreetly between the participants.”

Might complicity be life’s ultimate aphrodisiac? Is there anything more intoxicating than the stolen kiss? The clandestine interlude between lovers? And now, the Bluetooth-enabled foreplay across a crowded room? Yet as we persist upon posting, sharing, and tweeting every digital detail of our existence, are we denying ourselves the joy of secrecy?

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

To further research this modern conundrum, The Sultanette is about to spend a month in Paris. There, in the city that invented the cinq à sept (the witching hours reserved for rendezvous between five and seven p.m.) I will contemplate keeping secrets. (Okay, I’m writing a book about a spectacularly surreptitious French affair, but why would I tell you that!)

If a tangle offers itself at cinq o’clock, I may not refuse. But there will be oysters on the half-shell and aperitifs at the Ritz, shopping in Le Marais and book stalls along the Seine to keep The Sultanette entertained. And a state-of-the-art toy or two in the privacy of my pied-à-terre? Maybe so, but I’ll never tell. “I love products that hide secrets” says Orrell, “they are magical in a way.”

08/19/16

The Care And Handling Of Pussy

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

The Sultanette refers here to those beguiling furry creatures that rub against you when they’re petted and go wild when toys are dangled in front of them. Did you have something else in mind?

Back to pussies that purr, when I read last weekend’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Wild Thing,” on training your cat to get along with people, my fur went up.

Satyr Mason, Agostino Carracci, 16th C.

Satyr Mason,Agostino Carracci,16thC.

I’ve treasured two main kitty squeezes in my life. The Abyssinian Turkey, who graciously agreed to relocate to Paris with me and the Good Ex. And Oscar Wilde the Persian who obligingly put up with One&Only for seventy-two cat years. (When his sweet life ended, a friend suggested it was a shame that the vet couldn’t have sacrificed One&Only instead.)

Turkey, Oscar, and I understood the key to compatibility. We agreed that there was one thing on earth we didn’t want to be told: What to do. So when writers John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis explained that “training can help our feline companions adapt to the demands we put on them” I wondered if they’d overdosed on catnip.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Cats are aloof, the article condemns. While man’s best friend, the obsequious canine, has been nuzzling up to humans for 15,000 years, it took cats another 5,000 to show a little love. And that was only when they realized it was easier to raid the farmer’s cupboard than the steppes.

The first evidence of cats becoming companionable was 4,000 years ago in Egypt, where archeologists have found them ceremonially buried with their owners, though that might have been a final effort to get them to stay off the kitchen table.

Regardless of their attempts at becoming warm and fuzzy Bradshaw and Ellis report, “owning a cat was taken as evidence of collusion with the devil.” Even into the 17th century, they were still making mischief, resulting in an association with paganism and witchcraft that lead them to be highly suspect during the Salem witch trials.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

But this is now. Cats are clever enough to get with the program, right? Just like the male human is in relationship lockstep? Not so fast. “Cats aren’t programmed to interact with all humans,” the Journal reports. While felines may become “genuinely fond of their owners” unlike the tail-wagging pooch, “they don’t feel the need to ingratiate themselves with every human on Earth.” Don’t we spend millions on therapy to wean ourselves off of that behavior?

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Themost shocking pussy report: “Cats like to be alone.” They don’t even much like to spend time with their own breed, says “Wild Thing.” Apparently before they joined civilization “cats’contact with one another was usually limited to a few days each year during the mating season and the few weeks in which mother cats raised their kittens.” No helicopter parents here. A little sex, a little time with the kids, and it’s off to the races!

The article does allow that “the independence of cats can be part of their charm.” Unless you ask them to leave home. “Cats’ solitary, territorial nature means they are more strongly bonded to the place where they live than with any of the people with whom they share it.” Really? When Good Ex and I moved to Paris, Turkey took to the pigeons toying with her like courtesans on our wrought-iron balcony much more readily than I embraced the dominatrix behind the counter at our neighborhood patisserie. Besides, everybody know these conniving creatures pour their greatest affection on those who feed them.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

But never mind, these failings can be trained away! If this sounds daunting, Bradshaw and Ellis reassure us that “the goal shouldn’t be to bring cats under our control” but to teach them “how to control their own behavior in a way that forges a better fit between feline nature and 21st-century human life.”

Case in point, “cats are hunters.” Yet by keeping them cooped up at home, eating gourmet cat food and sleeping in their designer cat beds while we clean the litter box, we deny them the need to capture prey. Solution? To “reduce a cat’s stress levels” play hunting games with them. Research has proven it! We may think that Snowball is playing, but “the cat seems to think that she is catching prey.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

As for those anti-social tendencies, “you can also train your cat to be more accepting of its fellow felines.” If a new cat moves in next door, for instance, organize a series of play dates. This is not as easy as Tinder and we are advised “to make the introductions very slowly.” First give them a scent sample like you might sniff an insert of Obsession in Vanity Fair. Then let them check each other out from afar. When you start seeing “signs of relaxation” reward them with a “tasty treat.” Only then can you allow the experts to chase tail.

Congratulations, you have now taught your cat to conform to the 21st century. Simple enough. But by the looks of how we’ve managed love, companionship, and the pursuit of sex and happiness in the 21st-century, might we be better aspiring to the ancient, worldly feline? Single-minded. Discerning. Detached. Playful. Never ingratiating. Valuing its solitude. With a little witchcraft thrown in. That even sounds worth a few hair balls.