The only person who could still talk about the French taste today, would be count Dracula. But in the twenties this was a catch-word. Now it is more subtle: The French Women Don’t Get This, Don’t Get That. What they don’t get is how their American friends make money off them. It all had started with the thirty-percent mark-up on the XVIII century furniture Elsie de Wolfe sold in NY and LA. Hey just a couple of women, without a van, trying to make a living; and the splendid result was a new profession of the interior designer! I am all for it, but I also want to remember Pierre Nolhac, the curator of Chateau Versailles and the mentor of Elsie, a heterosexual book-worm buried in his research. What a drag, forget about him!
I remember the anecdote that when Elsie met Salvator Dali, she wanted to know what he did for a living. Good! To hell with the intellectual heroes, just two crooks at a cocktail party calling each other’s bluff. There is always a bit of that in the ephemeral world of good taste. But let us go back to the party the girls were throwing in 1939 at their Versailles Trianon Villa: the white-satin furniture and Persian rugs on the lawn, the garden decorated with garlands of roses, swans in the lit-up pool, waiters dressed in white, Lady Mendle (Elsie) wearing long green gloves, orchestra playing Mozart and Lullie, soon to be relieved by the Bucharest gypsies.
Here is a more recent description of some such gathering, “It was a night of fashion. There were more than four hundred Americans present, the men in black tie and all the women beautifully dressed often in bright pastels, pinks, lavenders, and rose satins and shiffons. And then, after the dessert was served, a waiter distributed masks. As he left the room, the lights dimmed to total candlelight and everyone donned their mask…. One had a feeling of being transported to another time…, a time before the Revolution when the aristocrats were devoted to amusement. A moment of Les Liaisons Dangereuses passing through our consciousness….” “Off with their heads!” yelled one of my colleges, as we escorted the party out of the Chateau gardens. “Off with their heads!” You cannot get that kind of catering in the US.