Reading the proposal by Otl Aicher to reinvigorate the Lufthansa brand makes one wonder why more people aren’t conversant in the language of graphic design. It surrounds us, informs our decisions, defines our public spaces. And yet, reading the 1962 document, we find sentences like, “A unified aesthetic has the following advantages for a company:  It makes the whole of a company easier for the public to recognize.” It’s astonishing that I write similar sentences in proposals, even now, 50 years later.

While it’s true that corporate communications have, in some cases, embraced much more dynamic approaches to visual identities, Lars Muller’s Lufthansa + Graphic Design is a reminder of how far the majority of businesses, organizations and institutions have to go to achieve the level of sophistication seen during the early 60s.  The book is a tidy review of a seminal design project…worth adding to the collection.


the designer’s art

back when you’d advertise the food on a flight

the wedding present

Jane Sacchi antique linens

I love buying gifts almost as much as I love receiving them. The perfect present is one that is exactly fitted to the recipient, so thinking through generalities is almost entirely useless. There are a million bowls in the world…which one, if any, is perfect for your purposes as a gift-giver? And it need not be in the stratosphere price-wise. I’ve recently received a present from an old friend that was inexpensive but profoundly meaningful. Knowing your audience and being sensitive to the occasion is everything in successful gift-giving.

Weddings are peculiar in the gift-buying pantheon since most couples have a registry, making the process straight-forward. Taste neutral presents for those weddings where one is perhaps not as close to the couple are, if not easy, then certainly easier than those where something more spectacular or memorable is required. In regard to the former, I typically look at the registry and follow their recommendations, and in some cases, upgrade their request (for example, replacing a Calphalon saucepan with a copper-core All-Clad version of the same.)

But what of those weddings where you are intimates with the one or both of the couple? Or, as is the case for me, it’s your sister?

For those closer to me, I’ve begun to look for things like antique champagne buckets, gorgeous over-sized bath towels or luxurious new/fabulous antique linens. I’ve noticed Restoration Hardware has upped its game recently in the linen department, after having what appeared to be a very public identity crises. Frette, of course, makes smooth sheets that, while expensive, are blissfully heavenly. My brother has mastered the art of giving fine wine as a gift. Usually it’s a case from a vintage that is significant to the person on the receiving end. My daughter, for example, is going to have some amazing 2007 reds to drink at various points in her life. Recently, too, I’ve gotten over my auction house anxiety and have started flagging some beautiful and not-so-expensive one-of-a-kind beauties online to pick up for these occasions.

Make no mistake, I don’t typically spend my time crawling antiques houses or sipping 1982 Bordeaux. I have my fair share of Ikea and $10 pinot grigio in my house. But when it comes to these once-in-a-lifetime moments for those closest to us, finding a bespoke gift, the object that carries more than a trace of the shared history between the giver and receiver, is not just important, but helps us truly build a home.

the art of the martini

William Powell in his first scene in The Thin Man. 1934.

I’m not a professed connoisseur of cocktails. Wine has always been my game — less fussy, more to-the-point. I can get a glass myself. Whereas with cocktails, I’ve always felt that I needed to understand not just one ingredient (grapes) and one, relatively straightforward process (yes, I understand the complexity, but you know what I mean) but rather multiple ingredients, proportions, processes, and so forth. Making a drink begins to feel like I am performing a chemistry experiment, and one I’m pretty confident will go south at a moment’s notice.  With wine, all the chemistry was done before I arrived on the scene. (I did, in a brief moment of insanity, buy a book of cocktail recipes. I then proceeded to more or less waste a perfectly good bottle of tequila, vermouth and gin over the next few days. Despite my good intentions, I was told, not very kindly I might add, to step away from the liquor cabinet.)

I can really make only one cocktail: the martini. Gin or vodka, I’m your girl. Really. Arcticly cold, with three olives (not two, as so many chintzy bartenders insist on offering) and a very, very little splash of olive juice from the jar. The proportions of vermouth to the gin and the vodka are my special secret, but trust me, they do vary. Significantly. I prefer to pour them into Thin Man-sized martini glasses, but it’s almost impossible to find anything that isn’t closer to the massive, Crate & Barrel species of glass that seems to be in favor at the moment.

When your glass is small, and you need to fill it frequently, many wonderful things happen:

  1. your martini stays cold while you drink it to completion,
  2. you realize you’re enjoying drinking a lot of martinis as martini numero tres goes down the hatch, and
  3. it feels like a party when you’re repeatedly using the alcohol and ice-filled martini shaker as a maraca to provide refills all around.

For a while, I had a policy of dressing for martinis. You know, put on a dress and some sparkle and whatnot. Having a child put the brakes on that particular practice, but I do like the idea of at least applying a little lipstick, and fixing the messily cobbled together bun. (I now think of it as a trendily “casual up-knot,” without really adjusting my technique in any way.) But, if I had it my way, I’d be having martinis, in a gown, at the Carlyle in New York City, enjoying my tipsy compatriot lounging on a leather club chair.

What I enjoy about cocktails is less the actual drink, although I know they can be tasty and fun, but rather the entire hoopla around them. What’s hoped for, what’s expected. An air of rough and sophisticated manners — but manners, anyway — overlapping. Witness Nick and Nora Charles: the trappings of cocktail culture are just as delicious as the drink itself.

mother of pearl earrings

Silvia Furmanovich


Temperly London 1930s-inspired peach silk gown

vintage martini glasses, c. 1935


The Carlyle Hotel, New York City


tieks giveaway

My very own Tieks.

As some of you might know, I’ve recently come around to the charms of ballet flats. I know, late to the party. (I’m Brazilian. I’m always late to the party. Stylishly late, but still.) I’m here now, however, and excited to be able to give away a pair of Tieks. My own pair ride around with me in my purse (they are foldable, and come with a very cute case,) just in the event of a) high heel fatigue b) emergency child pick-up from school or c) earthquake. It’s reassuring to know that I’ll have a pair of perfectly made Italian leather ballet flats as the East Bay burns around me.

Just leave a comment below, and check out (+ follow!) Tieks’ very cute Pinterest boards, and we’ll pick one reader at random, on Friday at 10:00am PST, to receive a pair of Tieks of their choice! Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest boards for more…and good luck!

UPDATE:  Jen Homstad is our lucky winner of a pair of Tieks!  Congrats, Jen! Thank you all for participating…keep an eye out here and on the Tieks Facebook page for more events and giveaways!  xoxo, Vanessa 


the white shirt

I have always believed there are some Platonic ideals in the world of fashion: jeans, perfectly tailored black pants, the fisherman’s sweater that makes one look adorably cute and petite and sexy, and not as if one is carrying an extra 20 pounds. Another, I must confess, is the perfect white shirt. They are tricky devils, these white shirts. They can’t be synthetic (good grief, no!) as they will make you sweat to the nth degree. They can’t be too structured, lest you look like the matriarch at a wedding. They must have enough substance, however, to allow one to wear it without feeling as if one is about to reveal the darkest secrets of the lingerie drawer to the world.

But it’s a worthwhile search. The perfect white search gives the face a bright lift, removes years, and has a modern|classic look that is almost impossible to refute. Think Audrey in Funny Face. Think Sharon Stone at the Oscars. Think Charlotte Gainsbourg just being herself.

That said, one knows it will be a heartbreaking relationship. We all know that the most tragic aspect of the white shirt is its inevitable and quick demise. They get dirty, and, well, to not put too fine a point on it, sweat in. And then, frankly, they’re unwearable. So owning the perfect white shirt is always, at best, a very short term victory. It’s ephemeral. A moment in the sun. Because it’s pristine-ness, it’s cleanliness, it very whiteness ensures the brevity of its stay in your closet. And so the search is ever on.

home life

I recently was having a conversation with H____,  a very lovely, very successful woman in New York City about aesthetics, cupcakes and social media (if you must know, yes to social media, no to cupcakes) when we hit upon a point in the conversation that veered in a broader direction. She — uptown, well put together, me — less so on all counts, were discussing the relationship between style and gracious living, and what constitutes each. Where we landed: a house filled with books, flowers, friends, family, music and wine is the ideal, and which, if we’re being honest, can but doesn’t have to be sinfully expensive.

Stinginess with time and particularly with wine is never appealing, and generally, I think, curiosity of spirit and generosity of home tend to go together. In this vein, the super-stylish Vogue editor and Moda Operandi co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo’s Pinterest boards have been wonderful to watch. While we clearly move in different socio-economic spheres, I sympathize with her general view about which things are important in day-to-day life, as well as sharing her views about how you integrate those things around you. Hers isn’t simply a collection of interesting but arbitrary things she’s stumbling across, but rather a tightly edited and coherent world view. The result is both beautiful and an education.




you can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep — navajo proverb

Vacations are over. Jaunts to Sonoma, Colorado, New Mexico and New York City…fin. I have a slight glow still lingering on my skin (from New Mexico, naturally, since everybody knows New York does many things, but leaving one with glowy, dewy skin typically isn’t one of them). I suspect a few weeks under indoor florescence will ensure that any healthy glow — whatever its genesis — will soon be a memory.

I was going through some images from the recent stops in Taos and Santa Fe (in an effort to keep the vacation zen going a little bit longer) and was reminded of a store, right on the Santa Fe Plaza:  Packards. The jewelry side of the house is mostly forgettable; standard issue stuff — Ippolita, John Hardy…you know, the usual suspects. But the textiles in the small space were beautifully curated.

Chief's blanket

The Navajo, I learned, are considered the foremost flatweavers in the world. This vintage collection of Navajo weavings at Packards stunned not only because of the incredible condition of the weavings, some of which were well over 100 years old, but also the utterly contemporary designs. Modern, graphic, sophisticated. Blankets, saddle blankets, rugs…all executed at an incredibly high level of craftsmanship and sensitivity to color and pattern.



Regardless of their artistic merit — or cost — the most divine thing I can think of doing with these is wrapping myself up, sitting on a deck and pretending to be asleep in the desert to keep the vacation going.


Woman’s Navajo shawl c. 1880