The word sensuous rarely springs to mind in the design of executive offices, but in a rare instance, as in the headquarters of fashion/cosmetics designer Diane Von Furstenberg, it seems appropriate. The client told the designers, The Switzer Group, that she wanted a mixture of transatlantic ocean liner and Esther Williams movie, and it is precisely that blend of exotic elegance and theatricality that makes these spaces work as a reflection of office image.
The reception area sets the color theme for the offices. Its unusual round desk is banded in signature colors of pink, mauve and pale turquoise. Behind the receptionist, an orchid painting clues the visitor into the company logo. Orchids are also quilted into the fabric covering the banquettes. Satin pillows are tossed informally on this seating. Overhead, the mauve-painted dropped ceiling gives the illusion of reflecting the purple carpet.
Throughout the offices, natural materials were chosen almost exclusively Most of the carpeting and some of the fabrics were custom-dyed to the client's specifications. Von Furstenberg had strong views about expressing her individual tastes and style. As might be expected, the most personal room is her own office. It is the inner sanctum of a creative, tireless businesswoman, and it shows that characteristic vividly. The Art Nouveau desk and pair of Art Deco armchairs were gifts from family and friends. The wall behind the desk is a sort of visual laboratory, cluttered with clippings, photographs, sketches and other creative catalysts. White floor-length draperies at the windows contribute to the "soft office" luxury ambience.
The cosmetics showroom is the most formal of the office spaces. It is an exercise in Deco sensuality. Rounded corners, pale colors and smooth surfaces combine to form the perfect setting for the display of a very fashionable line of cosmetics and beauty-care items. This feeling is reinforced by the display fixtures and showroom doors, with their curving handles and portholes (shades of luxury liner).
The subtle play of colors includes the ubiquitous pale mauve and purple with an ice cream striped satin fabric used to upholster a banquette. This is set off with a mirrored wall behind it and mirrored tiles on the ceiling, to give an impression of height and depth. Eight elegant armchairs upholstered in white are grouped around a soft-edged conference table—an inviting arena for discussing the beauty business.
A more relaxed theatrical tone is established in the conference room, where banquettes and chairs are arranged in an area perfectly appropriate to the introduction of new fashion lines and other products. Merchandise is on display on a metal framework and lit with theatrical spotlights for maximum effect. The transatlantic motif is continued in the lights on each side of the windows, which are from an ocean liner.
When I was a debutante I often used to go to the Zoological Gardens. I'd go there so often I knew the animals better than the young ladies of my own age. It was in fact to get away from people that I found myself every day at the Zoo. The animal I knew the best was a young hyena. She knew me, too; she was very intelligent; I taught her French and in return she taught me her language. We spent many a pleasant hour this way.
On the first day of May, my mother was arranging a ball in my honor; for nights on end I suffered; I've always hated balls, especially those given in my honor.
On the morning of the First of May 1934, very early, I paid the hyena a visit. "It's a dammed nuisance," I told her, "I have to go to my ball this evening."
"You're lucky," she said, "I'd be glad to go. I don't know how to dance, but I know how to make conversation, anyway."
"There'll be lots of things to eat," I said. "I've seen trucks full of food coming up to the house."
"And you complain," replied the hyena, in disgust. "I eat once a day, and you should see the shit they give me!"
I had a daring idea, I almost laughed: Why don't you go in my place?"
"We don't look enough alike, otherwise I'd go all right," said the hyena, a bit sad.
"Listen" said I, "under the evening lights it isn't too easy to see; if you're dressed up a bit, among the crowd they won't notice. Then again, we're about the same height. You are my only friend, I beg of you." She thought things over, I knew she wanted to accept.
"Consider it done," she said suddenly.
It was very early in the day, there were not many keepers about. Quickly I opened the cage and in a few moments we were in the street. I took a taxi, and at home everyone was in bed. In my room I took out the dress I was to wear that evening. It was a little long and the hyena had trouble walking on the high heels of my shoes. I found some gloves to disguise her hands, too hairy to resemble mine. When the sun reached my room she walked several times up and down, more or less upright. We were so busy that my mother, who was coming say good morning to me, almost opened the door before the hyena had hidden under my bed. "There's a nasty smell in your room," said my mother, opening a window. "Before tonight you'll take a bath scented with my new salts."—"All right," I said. She didn't stay long. I think the smell was too strong for her.
"Don't be late for breakfast," said my mother, leaving my room.
The biggest problem was finding a disguise for her face. Hours and hours we tried; she turned down all my suggestions. At last she said: "I think I know a solution. Do you have a maid?"
"Yes," I said, perplexed.
"Well, there you are. you'll ring for the maid and when she comes we'll pounce on her and we'll tear her face off. I'll wear her face this evening in place of my own."
"That's not sensible," I said. "She'll probably be dead when she has no face left; someone will surely find the body and we'll go to prison."
"I'm hungry enough to eat her," replied the hyena.
"And what about the bones?"
"Them, too," she said. "Well, do you agree?"
"Only if you promise to kill her before tearing her face off; it'll hurt too much, otherwise."
"Right, it's all the same to me."
I was ringing for Mary the maid, somewhat nervous. I wouldn't have done so if I didn't hate balls so. When Mary came in I turned to the wall so as not to see. I admit it was over quick. A short cry and that was the end. While the hyena was eating, I looked out of the window. A few minutes later she said: "I can't eat any more; both of the feet are still left, but if you have a bag I'll eat them later in the day."
"You'll find in the closet a bag embroidered with the fleur de lys. Empty out the handkerchiefs in there and take that one." She was doing as I had told her. Then she said: "Turn around now and look how beautiful I am!"
In front of the mirror the hyena was admiring herself in Mary's face. She had eaten very carefully all around the face so that just what she needed was left. "Yes indeed , you've made a good job of it," I said. Toward evening, when the hyena was all dressed, she announced: "I feel in fine form. I've the impression I'll be a big success tonight."
"When we had heard the music downstairs for some time, I said to her: "Go on, now, and remember not to stand next to my mother: She'd know it wasn't me, for sure. Apart from her, I know nobody. Good luck." I kissed her as she left but she did have a strong smell. Night had come. Tired out by the emotions of the day, I took a book and, near the open window, I gave myself over to rest. I remember I was reading Gulliver's travels by Jonathan Swift. It was perhaps an hour after that the first sign of something untoward came. A bat entered the window, uttering little cries. I'm terribly afraid of bats. I hid behind a chair, my teeth chattering. I was hardly on my knees when the sound of beating wings was drowned out by a loud noise at my door. My mother came in, pale with fury. "We had just sat down to eat," she said, "when that thing in your place gets up and cries, 'I smell a bit strong, eh? Well I don't eat cake.' Then she tore off her face and ate it. With one big bound she disappeared through the window."
IMAGES OF LEONORA CARRINGTON'S MEXICO CITY HOME BY ADRIANA ZEHBRAUSKAS, TAKEN FROM WORLD OF INTERIORS, JUNE 2010; OTHER IMAGES TAKEN FROM ARTHUR MAGAZINE; PAINTINGS [AND THEN WE SAW THE DAUGHTER OF THE MINOTAUR, 1953; AB EO QUOD, 1956] BY LEONORA CARRINGTON; TEXT: "THE DEBUTANTE" BY LEONORA CARRINGTON, TAKEN FROM THE CUSTOM HOUSE OF DESIRE: A HALF CENTURY OF SURREALIST STORIES TRANSLATED BY J.H. MATTHEWS, 1975
"The dreams, that wander to and fro among mankind, I will tell thee of what nature they are,--I who have seen so many more years than thou. Whatever a man has been thinking of during the day, is wont to hover round him in the visions of his dreams at night. Now we during these many days past have had our hands full of this enterprise. If however the matter be not as I suppose, but God has indeed some part therein, thou hast in brief declared the whole that can be said concerning it--let it e'en appear to me as it has to thee, and lay on me the same injunctions. But it ought not to appear to me any the more if I put on thy clothes than if I wear my own, nor if I go to sleep in they bed than if I do so in mine--supposing, I mean, that it is about to appear at all. for this thing, be it what it may, that visits thee in thy sleep, surely is not so far gone in folly as to see me, and because I am dressed in thy clothes, straightway to mistake me for thee. Now however our business is to see if it will regard me as of small account, and not vouchsafe to appear to me, whether I wear mine own clothes or thine, while it keeps on haunting thee continually. If it does so, and appears often, I should myself say that it was from God. For the rest, if thy mind is fixed, and it is not possible to turn thee from thy design, but I must needs go and sleep in thy bed, well and good, let it be even so; and when I have done as thou wishest, then let the dream appear to me."