July 23, 2014

Small Wonders

I know an elegant, 74-year-old widow with a new man in her life who has been giving her useful household items as gifts-a bagel slicer, an ergonomic corkscrew, a Michael Graves teakettle. Mercifully, he recently depleted his supply of practical devices and complained, "You've got everything you need. I don't know what to get you." She looked at him as if he could play the lead in the film Dumb and Dumber and replied resolutely, "Fine jewelry is always appropriate." God bless her, she's my role model. And good for the beau, he got with the program.

This resourceful gentleman bought his ladylove a chunky gold charm bracelet, and every time they take a mini-vacation or celebrate an occasion, he adds a golden charm to the links. Some of these amulets are studded with gemstones, others are engraved or crafted in a Florentine finish. Still others showcase fine filigree. The newest one is a baby shoe with the birth date of a grandchild. The bracelet is evolving into a gorgeous record of their relationship, and you've got to admit, it beats a bagel slicer any day of the week.

Fine jewelry is always appropriate. But not everyone knows the value or the general history of what's in a personal jewel box.

Jewelry owners with questions should pull out their palm pilots and mark the dates and places listed below, because Gulfshore Life and several esteemed regional companies are sponsoring three events called "What's It Worth: The Gulfshore Life Appraisal Clinic."

Here's how it works. You show up with a cache of your jewels, watches or coins, and a professional from the auction house of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg will consult with you as to type, style, condition and worthiness of your baubles. The evaluation is free.

When you arrive, simply take a number and then enjoy refreshments, live entertainment and some social chatter with friends. When your number is called, your private consultation begins. I think it's best to bring items you're not sure about, because discovery is always thrilling.

Remember to give the Phillips evaluator any family or social history pertaining to the piece. If you don't know anything-say you picked up a bracelet at the Paris flea market just because you admired the Art Deco desiigndon't despair. That's what the experts are there for.

You might also want to ask how to clean and maintain certain pieces and what kinds of repair will alter value. You'll definitely leave the evaluation clinic with a better understanding of what you possess. You may need to increase your insurance. The session might even change your opinion about the person who gave you the jewelry, for better or worse. So, start rummaging through those little boxes in the top drawer of your dresser and clear your calendar for the following days:

Thursday, Feb. 13: Saks Fifth Avenue, The Bell Tower Shops, Fort Myers, 6-9 p.m. ·

Saturday, March 22: The Promenade, Bonita Springs, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Saturday, March 29; The Village on Venetian Bay, Naples, 1-5 p.m.

These valuation clinics are restricted to jewelry, watches and coins. Joining Gulfshore Life in presenting this illuminating series are Atlantic States Bank, Shelton Jaguar, The Lutgert Companies, American Rare Coin and Anastasia's Home Design.

Couture Fashion Comes Home

Who wouldn't want to own an Oscar de la Renta ball gown or wedding dress? The designer is a master of sophistication and elegance, and his choice of luxe-life fabrics and colors always supports his intention-to show a chic woman to optimum advantage. If you already know the rare pleasure of slipping into an Oscar outfit, maybe it's time you took a lateral step on the luxury ladder. Oscar de la Renta is now designing fine furniture.

His three collections have been officially unveiled at the prestigious Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N. C., where they were the talk of an international gathering of manufacturers, retail buyers and interior designers. Kris Kolar, design director for Robb & Stucky, led a team to the show and she met personally with de la Renta.

"There's no doubt that the man loves women," she reports. "If three men were standing around talking to him and a woman appeared, Oscar would just shift his focus immediately. It was refreshing, since High Point can have that aspect of a good ol' boy network. I have to say I enjoyed being the center of his attention."

The de la Renta furniture expresses all the things that make his couture gowns, fashion accessories and ready-to-wear clothes so desirable-expert tailoring, high style, attention to details, and the use of only the best materials. The three furniture collections are distinct in degree of formality and style and are based on the furniture that de la Renta and his wife, Annette Reed de la Renta, have in their three primary residences. These are Punta Cana, the de la Renta plantation in the Dominican Republic; Kent, a 200-acre estate in Connecticut, and Park Avenue, the couple's Manhattan apartment. The designer has said, "If people come to my homes and love the way I live, why would they not want to buy the kind of furniture I live with?" He's got a point. And the furniture is ravishing.

Punta Cana has that island ease blended with overstuffed elegance. Kent emphasizes the collected look of fine family antiques acquired over a lifetime blended with transitional pieces, and Park Avenue is a bit more sleek and urban.

Century is the dependable manufacturer; and in Southwest Florida, Robb & Stucky is the exclusive retailer. The furniture will be on the floor at all Robb & Stucky showrooms in May, but the demand is so great for pieces from all three de la Renta collections that Robb & Stucky is taking orders based on photographs.

"There has been so much national excitement generated by de la Renta's foray into furniture design that homeowners don't want to wait," says Dan Lubner, sales manager at Robb & Stucky's headquarters in Fort Myers. "People know his name and already have great admiration for this designer's great sense of taste, and many people have seen his homes featured in national magazines. So the market is already there."

Lubner adds that the combination of de la Renta's designs and Century Furniture as the manufacturer made it natural for his family's furniture gallery to acquire the brand. Pricing will be on a level with the Ralph Lauren collection, Lubner says.

One of Kris Kolar's favorite pieces is a magnificent round mahogany table that starts out at 60 inches. But it expands to 84 inches while still retaining its shape. "The table is a marvel of engineering, and the clever way the leaves fit in to expand the diameter makes you realize that Oscar de la Renta really is a genius of design," she says.

The pictures are at the Fort Myers store and they are wonderful restrained, beautifully sculptural, and just dripping with couture quality detailing. The Park Avenue collection will undoubtedly appeal to young moderns. The Punta Cana is very Naples-like, and Kent puts a delicate fresh spin on heritage furniture. Until the actual furniture arrives at Robb & Stucky stores in the spring (and the designer himself may be in town to welcome the container of his signature stuff), you may just want to order now and be the first in your golf foursome to have Oscar in your closet and Oscar in your living room, library or boudoir.

LUXURY FOR ALL

What always amazes me about Christofle luxury products is that ordinary people can afford to own them. That's a very French concept. French people, known for their innate sense of style and obstinate insistence on owning beautiful things, believe that great design and quality craftsmanship should be a common denominator for a life well lived, whether you're filthy rich or budgeting pennies. They just don't believe they need to settle for second best. They'd rather collect a few excellent objects than a lot of trendy stuff that's ultimately destined for garage sales.

The petite Pavillon Christofle in Naples on Third Street is a perfect example of how this French house of tabletop design has been educating a discerning public about a world of quality. Brides-to-be by the score have discovered the Christofle silver patterns, china and crystal vases. And the silver picture frames just fly out the door, because a gorgeous frame is the all-purpose neutral gift for man or woman and suits nearly any occasion. Five-by-seven-inch frames start at $100 and come with anti-tarnish protection.

Part of the Christofle appeal is the way everything is displayed with cool restraint and proper lighting. Even though the gallery is small, it feels spacious and has all the understated glamour you could want in a shop.

The inventory is thoroughly French and references either reproductions-based pieces from the Christofle Museum near Paris, famous living French designers or impressive historical connections. Malmaisson, for instance, is the name of the store's best-selling china pattern and Christofle silver flatware pattern. Both the silverware and plates (Limoges porcelain) are decorated with tiny laurel leaves (one of Napoleon's signature motifs). The name Malmaisson pertains to the 14th-century chateau in St. Cloud, west of Paris, that the emperor acquired in 1799 for his beloved Josephine.

Richly detailed, the white china with its wide, gold band of minuscule leaves seems both modern and classic because the ornamentation is under control. Just the border stands out, meaning that you can mix and match this pattern with other more fanciful ones over the years. Putting a gold charger under it would make it more formal. Putting a red salad plate on top renders it festive. The design has durability while giving the owner lots of options. Same with the Christofle silverware.

While the gallery handles sterling flatware, the most popular patterns are in what's termed Christofle silver. It's a kind of silverplate, but has twice the silver in the alloy as standard silverplate. What you end up with is silver with a deep rich patina that's easier to maintain than sterling. People who own one piece of Christofle silver always return for more. A five-piece setting of Christofle silver to adorn your table is about $300. The pieces are European sized (that means big), and if you want to set your table in the correct French mode, turn the fork and spoon so that the prongs and bowl face down.

Although the house of Christofle has been in business since 1830 (it's still family owned), the company doesn't just look to its illustrious past. Christofle designs are as chic and modern as tomorrow, and the gallery in Naples has the plateware by Christian Lacroix to prove it. This haute couture designer has been having some wicked high-style fun with demitasse sets (packaged in a screaming yellow hatbox for $310) and casual dinner and luncheon sets. Très whimsical, colorful and creative, just like his insanely luxurious and theatrical clothes.

One of the most popular designers that Christofle has ever showcased is Andrée Putman, a young woman who produces modern, sleek silver serving pieces that have maximum wow appeal. Young people can't get enough of her stuff. The three-piece cocktail server at $235 seems to be on every bride's wish list. Maybe it's destined for your list, too. In any case, you need to experience Christofle. A browse through their Pavillon in Naples will elevate your taste level and inspire new themes for home entertaining or glam gift giving.

Robb & Stucky

13170 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers

936-8541

Pavillon Christofle

1300 Third St. S., Naples

434-5777

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