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September 7, 2010

As Paris is emptying out from this season's M&O, a few parting thoughts to summarize some of the important events and directions pointing toward the future for home

1) Expect a revisit of the 17th CENTURY with BAROQUE overtones and DUTCH COLONIAL influences. If, as I suspect, this trend gains momentum, expect a revival of tapestries, crewelwork, bargello and flamestitch, all on dry textured textiles. Unbleached cotton, linen and finely textured velvets are the exact opposite of the previous luxury phase. The total effect is one of understated elegance. There is no glitz, no shine, no sparkle.

2) Also, keep an eye on ART NOUVEAU. While not yet present at this show, it is another look back in the making. The first signal was a large retrospective of the period and style held at the Grand Palais in Paris only this past January. TARGET was the first American retailer to receive the message and quickly tied in with Liberty of London, which just happens to own the largest collection of original William Morris printing blocks. Add to this a re-energized crafts base and an overall renewed interest in nature and all of its forms, flora or fauna, and you have a platform ready to unfold.

3) A third direction is not new - it just continues to garner more design efforts based on multiple exotic regions. It started with Marrakesh, Tunisia and parts of Africa and has since added the bold colors and designs of India, China and Indonesia. What's been missing is an appropriate name fore this continuing and growing trend. That umbrella name is ORIENTALISM. This, too, is a revival but one with a more contemporary sensibility expressed both in color and adapted designs.

I would be remiss not to mention here the trend forecasts presented each year by the show's organizers and the designers they choose to illustrate them. Within the context of this season's theme, "INTIMACY," two are worth contemplating.

One of them, "ARCHAIC SHELTER," seems an overstatement that's not so easy to digest or accept. Basically, it suggests a cave-like environment as a refuge from the outside intrusions all of us are subjected to every hour and every minute of the day. However, while I am the first one to search for a refuge and privacy, I am not ready for a bunker and complete isolation.

For one thing it was awfully hairy in there. Also claustrophobic. Animal hair was draped over wooden cubes, dangerous-looking wooden spikes protruded from a stylized seating piece, a bench looked like a beehive and was backed against a sofa with fur pillows and a full size musk ox bearing down on all. The bathroom - at least that's what it seemed to be - had a rock-hewn tub but was inexplicably peopled with a black bear rug and leather cushions. I am not sure if you were to cuddle up to the bear while bathing, perhaps because the water was too cold, or you were supposed to sleep in the tub and cover yourself with the bear.

A lot more understandable was the presentation "MICROCOSMS," a "village" of igloo-shaped modules offering privacy as well as creature comforts inside, such as a zippered sleeping bag but with 3D glasses, a remote and speakers nearby which also served as light sources. Or, a pair of soft sculpture chairs which could enfold you like a big sweater or let you breathe freely and partake in life with the outside world.

Lastly, between history and the future, luckily, there is the NOW AND HERE. Even luckier, when the Now & Here includes the incredible new store opened by RALPH LAUREN in the heart of Saint Germain a mere few weeks ago. Already, all of Paris has fallen under the American designer's spell. After a two-year renovation of what had been one of the great traditional hotels particulaires, and an investment of untold millions in a painstakingly authentic restoration of the architecture and the interiors, the store that was born is quietly spectacular, more European in its structure and aesthetic than it is American. That is until you hit the 4th floor, which is the best Western General Store you can imagine. It's what cowboy dreams are made of.

That's in sharp contrast to a bespoke men's floor where custom shirts and suits are measured for - a cosmopolitan floor for the latest in Ralph Lauren couture for women, a second floor for his more accessible sportswear and a main floor that's all about his two restaurants: the cobblestone courtyard, originally lined by stables is a delightful open air garden setting where lunch and tea are served during mild weather. The real piece de reistance, however is the indoor restaurant called - what else - "Ralph's," a white tablecloth affair with leather banquettes lining the walls and huge paintings depicting hunt scenes and equestrian sports transport you in an instant to the Great Homes of Britain.

The menu is all-American: Maine lobster, Maryland crab cakes and steaks and hamburgers. The meat is flown in from Mr. Lauren's Colorado Ranch.
With all this reinforcement of the brand's origin I couldn't help to imagine whether the chef should be given a miniature branding iron to monogram the steaks and burgers before serving. Granted, those markings would be fleeting as you chow down on them - but isn't it the first impression that counts - and would this be any different from the diminishing effect of use of Tom Ford's monogram etched into his first lipstick? However, this may just be a silly asterisk to the Lauren launch, which can only be described and appreciated as total perfection.