6.26.2015

Elsie de Wolfe, Networking in the 1930s, Good Advice and Deck Cushions


Elsie de Wolfe in 1919
Architectural Digest

America's first lady decorator. Yes, they were called ladies back then. Elsie de Wolfe was largely responsible for the creation of interior decorating as a distinct profession. Before Elsie, the design end of things was mostly done by architects and upholsterers.

The de Wolfe signature style of white paint, botanical chintz and leopard print was ground breaking 100 years ago. Let's not forget her love of dogs either.

Cristi Holcombe

Today, white interiors are described as fresh, new, clean, even dramatic. Leopard has been declared by some as a new neutral. Dogs play a supporting role in photo shoots.

Channeling Elsie. She died 65 years ago in 1950.

Elsie de Wolfe opened shop in 1905 and reigned as rock star decorator until the start of World War II. Her client list included Henry Clay Frick, Condé Nast, Cole Porter (he gave her a line in Anything Goes), Wallis Simpson. She worked both coasts, Paris and London.

Back in the day, adverts for decorators were unexciting. This one from 1910.

From the blog, Down East Dilettante.
As a business card  this works. Plenty of space to write a note to the client, e.g. "Call Me, I'm available to do your ball room!"

Black and white newspaper ads generate zero buzz. Shelter magazines are in their infancy. Color film has yet to be invented.

If you are young enough to be on your third iPhone, film is that stuff on your teeth when you hop out of bed in the morning. Difficult then to comprehend life devoid of technology. No reality tv, no internet, no blogging, no daily emails from Elle Decor, Traditional Home, Architectural Digest.

So how does a decorator in the 1920s and 30s network, generate buzz, get new clients?

Parties. Lots of parties.

1938. Arriving at an Elsie soirée. Coco Chanel and Serge Lifar, the ballet master 
of the Paris Opéra, and writer Paul Morand.
Photo: Roger Schall and (c) Jean-Frédéric Schall
From the AD article.

Elsie's were legendary. Everyone wanted to attend an Elsie event. Politicians, socialites, business tycoons, royals, film stars, clients and the glitterati of the day, they dressed to the nines and came in droves.

Elsie de Wolfe dispensed advice as legendary as her hospitality. My favorite:

"Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but 
be gracious if it kills you."

I'll be gracious and share my latest find. The Scalamandré version of Elsie's classic botanical fern print in an outdoor fabric, on sale at Scalamandré's Third Floor outlet! Just in time to do the deck cushions for your 4th of July party!

Elsie de Wolfe fern print at Scalamandré's Third Floor outlet.
This would look great on my white kitchen chairs.
Design tip: outdoor fabrics aren't just for the deck. 
They are rugged, very cleanable and kid friendly.

Sort of like six degrees of separation with this post. If I had just shot off a scoop on a great outdoor fabric on sale, and by the way it was a favorite of Elsie de Wolfe, you would have thought, "Elsie who?" while hitting the delete button (designer readers excepted, of course).

And now for the Friday equivalent of Throw Back Thursday. I proposed the de Wolfe ferns a couple years ago for a master bedroom. Elsie's fern fabric has been in production by one or more fabric houses forever. Decades.

from l-r: Elsie de Wolfe fern print from Lee Jofa, an OWW weave, a silk taffeta from Schumacher.
The walls to be the same warm white as the ground, the blue/white weave for an upholstered reading chair or chaise, floor length billowy curtains in the silk, the print for the upholstered headboard.
Tranquil. Calm.




I could really do an Elsie, paint our deck table and chairs white with cushions in Scalamandré's outdoor version,



corded in dark green. Design history on my deck and completely washable.

Let me know what you think of the de Wolfe fern print. Miles Redd used it not that long ago in a guest room in Lyford Cay, the Bahamas.

Love Miles Redd, but this is too much, even for me.
I do, however, love the rug, the bamboo bed and the curtain hardware!
Wish there were a better picture of that armchair by the doors.
Architectural Digest 

Have a great weekend!

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pakravan

p.s. I mentioned Elsie in a previous post on Leopard

10 comments:

  1. I could swear either my grandmother or my mother had some kind of outdoor furniture, wrought iron, with this pattern as the upholstery. And something close too.

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    1. I meant to write, "or something close to it."

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    2. Doesn't surprise me, three women of good taste!

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  2. Completely fascinating, Linda! I didn't want your post on Elsie de Wolfe to end. Though I've heard that quote, I didn't know she came up with it. Cheers

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    1. Loi, thanks, you are so sweet!

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  3. Hello, Linda! Thanks for the introduction to Miss Elsie de Wolfe and the most amusing writing. Ah yes, to contemplate life before technology is a very strange thing, is it not? Imagine, a time when people chatted face to face with cocktail in hand. How civilized.The fern fabrics are simply divine.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you are back!

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    2. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you are back!

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  4. Thanks for the intro to Elsie; I hadn't heard of her (not a designer myself) but I love your writing and pictures and I would love to have the fern fabric somewhere in my house or yard!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog, and the positives! Elsie was quite the character. I'd love to have her fabric somewhere in my house too!

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Please do. I love to know what you think!