Book of the Week: The Sultan and the Queen-The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam.

18brotton-master768Murad III, left, Elizabeth I, right. Credit Ullstein Bild, via Getty Images (left); The Print Collector/Getty Images (right)

Jerry Brotton, a professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary University of London, is the author of the forthcoming “The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam.” A dear friend of mine sent me a summery of the forthcoming book that the Prof. Brotton has written…. I have copy pasted what he wrote as I thought that I simply couldn’t put it any better… I have pre ordered my hard copy, its coming out on the 20th of this month yay!

“Britain is divided as never before. The country has turned its back on Europe, and its female ruler has her sights set on trade with the East. As much as this sounds like Britain today, it also describes the country in the 16th century, during the golden age of its most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

One of the more surprising aspects of Elizabethan England is that its foreign and economic policy was driven by a close alliance with the Islamic world, a fact conveniently ignored today by those pushing the populist rhetoric of national sovereignty.

From the moment of her accession to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth began seeking diplomatic, commercial and military ties with Muslim rulers in Iran, Turkey and Morocco — and with good reasons. In 1570, when it became clear that Protestant England would not return to the Catholic faith, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth and called for her to be stripped of her crown. Soon, the might of Catholic Spain was against her, an invasion imminent. English merchants were prohibited from trading with the rich markets of the Spanish Netherlands. Economic and political isolation threatened to destroy the newly Protestant country.

Elizabeth responded by reaching out to the Islamic world. Spain’s only rival was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad III, which stretched from North Africa through Eastern Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans had been fighting the Hapsburgs for decades, conquering parts of Hungary. Elizabeth hoped that an alliance with the sultan would provide much needed relief from Spanish military aggression, and enable her merchants to tap into the lucrative markets of the East. For good measure she also reached out to the Ottomans’ rivals, the shah of Persia and the ruler of Morocco.

The trouble was that the Muslim empires were far more powerful than Elizabeth’s little island nation floating in the soggy mists off Europe. Elizabeth wanted to explore new trade alliances, but couldn’t afford to finance them. Her response was to exploit an obscure commercial innovation — joint stock companies — introduced by her sister, Mary Tudor.

The companies were commercial associations jointly owned by shareholders. The capital was used to fund the costs of commercial voyages, and the profits — or losses — would also be shared. Elizabeth enthusiastically backed the Muscovy Company, which traded with Persia, and went on to inspire the formation of the Turkey Company, which traded with the Ottomans, and the East India Company, which would eventually conquer India.

In the 1580s she signed commercial agreements with the Ottomans that would last over 300 years, granting her merchants free commercial access to Ottoman lands. She made a similar alliance with Morocco, with the tacit promise of military support against Spain.

As money poured in, Elizabeth began writing letters to her Muslim counterparts, extolling the benefits of reciprocal trade. She wrote as a supplicant, calling Murad “the most mighty ruler of the kingdom of Turkey, sole and above all, and most sovereign monarch of the East Empire.” She also played on their mutual hostility to Catholicism, describing herself as “the most invincible and most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all kind of idolatries.” Like Muslims, Protestants rejected the worship of icons, and celebrated the unmediated word of God, while Catholics favored priestly intercession. She deftly exploited the Catholic conflation of Protestants and Muslims as two sides of the same heretical coin.

The ploy worked. Thousands of English traders crossed many of today’s no-go regions, like Aleppo in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq. They were far safer than they would have been on an equivalent journey through Catholic Europe, where they risked falling into the hands of the Inquisition.

The Ottoman authorities saw their ability to absorb people of all faiths as a sign of power, not weakness, and observed the Protestant-Catholic conflicts of the time with detached bemusement. Some Englishmen even converted to Islam. A few, like Samson Rowlie, a Norfolk merchant who became Hassan Aga, chief treasurer to Algiers, were forced. Others did so of their own volition, perhaps seeing Islam as a better bet than the precarious new Protestant faith.

English aristocrats delighted in the silks and spices of the east, but the Turks and Moroccans were decidedly less interested in English wool. What they needed were weapons. In a poignant act of religious retribution, Elizabeth stripped the metal from deconsecrated Catholic churches and melted their bells to make munitions that were then shipped out to Turkey, proving that shady Western arms sales go back much further than the Iran-contra affair. The queen encouraged similar deals with Morocco, selling weapons and buying saltpeter, the essential ingredient in gunpowder, and sugar, heralding a lasting craving and turning Elizabeth’s own teeth an infamous black.

The sugar, silks, carpets and spices transformed what the English ate, how they decorated their homes and how they dressed. Words such as “candy” and “turquoise” (from “Turkish stone”) became commonplace. Even Shakespeare got in on the act, writing “Othello” shortly after the first Moroccan ambassador’s six-month visit.

Despite the commercial success of the joint stock companies, the British economy was unable to sustain its reliance on far-flung trade. Immediately following Elizabeth’s death in 1603, the new king, James I, signed a peace treaty with Spain, ending England’s exile.

Elizabeth’s Islamic policy held off a Catholic invasion, transformed English taste and established a new model for joint stock investment that would eventually finance the Virginia Company, which founded the first permanent North American colony.

It turns out that Islam, in all its manifestations — imperial, military and commercial — played an important part in the story of England. Today, when anti-Muslim rhetoric inflames political discourse, it is useful to remember that our pasts are more entangled than is often appreciated”.

 

Velvets Are Back!

I am thrilled that the 90s velvet trend is back! I felt so nostalgic when I saw all the FW collections… I loved this trend back in the 90s…. I still remember Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s long black velvet gloves she wore with her Yohji Yamamoto dress like it was yesterday!

Designers like Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren (below), Valentino and many more, have included velvet in their Fall/Winter collections. I honestly haven’t seen this much velvet since the 90s… I’m loving it! I’m loving the wide range of colours and the wide range in designs from those extra wide pants to the victorian style dresses ….

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There are many dos and don’ts on the net of how to wear velvets… None really make much sense to me… One particular “don’ts” that I’ve been reading everywhere and that made no sense to me at all is Don’t wear velvet on velvet!… I personally think that velvet on velvet can look great if done right! I’m on the hunt now for the perfect velvet heels to wear with a a matching colour velvet dress! Those Gianvito Rossi signature heels in velvet are one of my favorite out there!

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 I just wanna run in those heels!

Christian Marclay’s Fondue

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Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay who has won many prizes (which includes The Golden Lion for the best artist at the Illuminations exhibition at the 54th Venice Biennale) has a great fondue recipe ..  My close friends and family love fondue so I thought of trying this one out with them and find out if his fondue is as good as his work!!!

Ingredients
(Serves four)
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed, to rub the fondue pot
1 tbs cornstarch
300ml white dry wine, such as Fendant from the Valais region
400g Gruyère, grated
400g Vacherin Fribourgeois, cut into pieces
black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
small glass of kirsch
loaf of bread (700g) cut in cubes

Method
Crush and rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic clove, then discard. Dissolve the cornstarch in the white wine, and mix until boiling on stove. Slowly add the cheeses and melt slowly on a low flame while continuously stirring with a wooden spatula. Season with pepper and nutmeg and add the kirsch. As soon as the mix becomes creamy, put it on the table heater just before it boils. Maintain the fondue at the same temperature on the heater. Stir in the pieces of bread and eat. Diners should keep stirring the pot regularly to maintain the unctuous texture.

Note: Don’t forget to rub your caquelon with garlic.

Movie Wardrobe: The Thomas Crown Affair

There are many movies out there that inspire us in terms of fashion and/or interior design…. So I thought I’d start a new segment in my blog about movie wardrobes that I love and that have influenced my taste and style through out the years…

I’ll start this segment with one of my favorite movie wardrobes from the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair  which was designed by Kate Harrington. I loved Rene Russo ’s lead character, Catherine Banning’s wardrobe. The wardrobe was so impeccable and still relevant today, despite the fact that it was done 17 years ago.

 Harrington was hired with only two months “to pull the clothes together,” which left no room for her to create anything from scratch: not a sketch, a pattern, or garment. She settled on a wardrobe for Russo’s character from the 1997 Celine F/W collection by Michael Kors (one of Russo’s suggestions) and a few Halston creations.

Harrington’s approach was like doing a magazine spread. “That’s how I saw it. I’d just act like I was doing an entire Vanity Fair issue, cover to cover, only with Pierce and Rene.”  I’ve learnt many lessons from Kate Harrington’s approach for this movie. Here are a few “lessons” worth thinking about:

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1. You don’t have to have a colorful wardrobe to make a variety of looks. Rene’s character in this movie rarely wore the same thing twice even though she wore a lot of the same neutral colors like  cream, camel, grey and black. She never looked boring because she mixed and matched her neutrals all the time.

2. You must play with textures and materials. For example Rene wore a cashmere turtle neck with a leather skirt…. and I love the look above where she stayed within a colour scheme but added interest by mixing 3 textures  cashmere, fur, and leather.

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3. Invest in classic cuts because they will never go out of style.  All her clothes are in classic silhouettes – that sequenced black dress, the turtleneck sweaters, the mandarin collar on her gown, that stunning biker cut leather jacket and the list can go on! .. Her wardrobe was full of items that are a must in every wardrobe and that have stood the test of time.

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4. Always add a touch of “cool” to your look!. Rene’s character always looked cool even though she always wore very classic clothes…  Like those cool aviator sunglasses with her conservative turtleneck and skirt, those unexpected earrings with a traditional gown, and that bustier over a classic white shirt (above).

 

 

A Unique Home Office!

I love this home office by Stephane Chambard Agency in Toronto Canada… I just love how they design homes, and I think that the way they display art is an art in itself!… I always hate it when I see a beautiful painting or photograph not displayed in the right place or the right way!….. I think in some cases how you display your art is almost as important as the art piece itself!!! For example that Her Chair by casamania and the hands on the wall aren’t art, but they work so well with the art displayed… they almost … complete it?!!

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How nice would it be to enter your office or home office and just let loose … and be your self!… I know that this office space isn’t for everyone … I must admit it isn’t even for me!! But I loved how unique it is, and I’m pretty sure that it perfectly reflects its owner!

The Wide Leg Pants are Back!

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Thank God the wide leg pants trend is back (Not that I’ve ever stopped wearing them)… I’m not a person who follows trends for the sake of them being the latest thing!!! … I normally stick to what suits my body shape and style… So I’ve been waiting for this trend to come back for a while! Not so I can start wearing them (like I said I never stopped) but because now I can easily find them everywhere! …Hooray for that!!

To me there’s nothing chicer than  a pair of wide leg pants or better yet a wide leg jumpsuit!! My favorite brands for wide leg jeans are 7 for all Mankind and Zara. For wide leg pants my favorite are Ellery, and Celine. And for the wide leg jumpsuits, my absolute favorite Brand is Rosie Assoulin…Chloe comes a very close second though!

The wide leg pants are a statement unto themselves. Even the most classic or simple look like the one above looks dramatic and far from boring.

 

 

Hermès Window Display by Frank Plant

This post has been sitting in my draft box waiting for me to remember it since January!! I can’t believe that I totally forgot about it!!

 Hermès always manages to create beautiful window displays. This year they have commissioned the sculptor Frank Plant to design their windows… I loved it so much that I thought it is worth posting even if its so late!!

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Better late than never right?

Selfridges Celebrates Shakespeare 400th Anniversary with the Most Creative Campaign Yet

 To honour Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, Selfridges has made its biggest and most creative campaign yet …. They are opening a temporary in-store theatre and a series of collaborations with designers, musicians and drama groups.

The campaign, created in-house, also sees Selfridges collaborating with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and The Faction theatre company. Shoppers will be able to watch a play being rehearsed and musicians playing in the store throughout the event.

The window displays will include one-offs from Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela, Marques’ Almeida, Dries Van Noten, Erdem, Craig Green, Givenchy, JW Anderson, Gareth Pugh, Rick Owens, and others.

The windows will launch in two phases (Act I and Act II) with the first inspired by the Bard’s romances and comedies and the second by the tragedies..

The campaign started from 4th of July but will stay until 24th of  September. It will be the longest-running creative project yet for the Selfridges… I just can’t wait to see it when I’m back in London.

One of the brands collaborating with Selfridges for their campaign is Olympia Le-Tan. She has  turned to the great bard’s most famous works to inspire a capsule limited edition bags that are exclusively sold at Selfridges during that period.

My favorite Shakespeare play of All Time is Othello!! Othello to me is what Romeo and Juliette is for others!…. Who doesn’t want to be loved the way Othello loved Desdemona?…. Anyways as I was writing this post I orderd The Othello bag even though I already got the Midsummer Nights Dream! Because … well why not!

Herb and Dorothy Vogel

f53945b695088ec7474dc688431aa6f9Herbert Vogel (August 16, 1922 – July 22, 2012) and Dorothy Vogel (born 1935),

My Husband and I love watching documentaries and one of our favorite is the award winning Herb and Dorothy by Megumi Sasaki. We love it so much that we have been watching it at least twice a year ever since it came out!!!

This documentary tells the extraordinary story of an ordinary couple with modest means, Herb, a postal clerk, and Dorothy, a librarian, who together managed to build one of the most important collections of Minimalist and Conceptual art.

Spending all of Herb’s salary for art, and living on Dorothy’s paycheck alone, the Vogels amassed over 5,000 works of art. In 1992, the Vogels donated their collection, estimated at several million dollars, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

At the core of this film is a love story that celebrates not only the couple’s passion for art but also their dedication to each other. It is through their loving partnership that the viewer experiences their remarkable story. I’m sure that most of you out there have seen it already but if you haven’t yet please do…. its a must!!!

I’m planning to watch the “part 2” of this documentary soon … the 2nd one is called HERB & DOROTHY 50X50. This one focuses on the final chapter of the Vogel’s extraordinary life and their gift to their country, raising various questions on art, and what it takes to support art in today’s society.

In 2008, legendary art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel made an announcement that stunned the art world. The Vogels launched a national gift project with the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington DC that would constitute one of the largest gifts in the history of American art: to give a total of 2,500 artworks to museums in all fifty states.

This came sixteen years after the Vogels had transferred their entire collection to NGA, the majority as a gift, making headlines in 1992. During those years at the NGA, the collection had grown to nearly 5,000 pieces, too large for any one museum to contain. As a solution, a national gift project titled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States was conceived. Though their collection was now worth millions of dollars, the couple did not sell a single piece, instead giving fifty works to one museum in every state.

On July 22, 2012, Dorothy declared their collection closed after the passing of her husband Herb. Dorothy works to create a living tribute to their partnership, the collection they created together, and the overwhelmingly positive legacy they have left on the American art world for generations to come.

Can you imagine? On two lower middle income government paychecks? and living in a rent-controlled small one bedroom apartment in Manhattan? They have collected almost 5,000 pieces of art, most by major artists….Oh and Btw where do you think they stored their valuable collection before it was all donated? All their collection was stored in their tiny little apartment… under their bed! In the bathroom … every nook was stuffed with art…. they barely had a place to sit!! they had 2 chairs that they left for them to sit on and haven’t seen their sofa in years before all that art was sorted out!

They donated about half of it to the National Gallery of Art, and the other half (in 50 piece increments) to museums in all 50 states!!!

How incredible were those two?

Featured artists include Will Barnet, Robert Barry, Lynda Benglis, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Chuck Close, Sylvia Plimack, Lucio Pozzi, James Siena, Pat Steir, Richard Tuttle, and Lawrence Weiner.