Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The New Victorian"—Please allow me to introduce myself

I admit it, I am affected. My style at its best pays homage to the Victorian and Edwardian influences around me. I gravitate. I was born 100 years too late. It is sad, but very true, and for some of my friends it is the same story.

In current magazines I read about the "New Victorian", "Victorian Style", even a style where "Marie Antoinette meets Out of Africa". I am boggled by what these magazines are trying to tell the public. Yes, the term Steampunk arises, but so does Gothic. GOTHIC? Steampunk, at least, references a world of steam power. How does Gothic fall into this style? Victoriana had Gothic influences—maybe, but Gothic as the defining the era? Never. I think these writers have seen one too many Harry Potter film, and decided Serious Black's family home is the epitome of a Victorian-Gothic fusion. Black was a popular color during the period, granted, but to define it only as Gothic? I think not. Have these writers studied design history at all? How does a television set become Victorian?

I myself am a student of art history and design. I am avid reader and make notes on notes in books and on post-its that hang from pages. Televisions are not Victorian by the way.

Movies such as Sherlock Homes (the nice new one with Robert Downey, Jr.—I hear a sequel is in the works), The Young Victoria (hint hint), Howard's End, A Room with a View (Edwardian), and Age of Innocence inspire by their beauty and attention to detail. Merchant Ivory Productions are great for those who are gaga about details—and look at the era. They have adapted authors or stories from the period. The Victorian era was when???? That's right, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Now honestly, I have more of a Steampunk/Victorian aesthetic myself. I like the ideas that H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and others wrote about in their world of the future. Even Mary Shelley had some ideas. I am tossed between homage and reinvention—this is a typically Victorian attribute. I am a gardener; I enjoy antiques and object d'art; preparing fine meal and presenting it. Paintings, rugs, books and many lamps are displayed throughout. I like things that recall a bygone era, but I also enjoy functionality. In trying to replicate an era I may sometimes mimic it. I like using the feel of it and translating that into small projects and the design of my home—or rather the redesign of my home. I like indulgences such as the Opium Den, Neoclassicism, romantic motifs of the rococo style, the age of Empire, and the eye of the intrepid Victorian global traveler.

Victorian style is about acquisition, about being au courant (be the first in your county to own a Cattleya orchid!), about bringing the world into your home—be it through art, books, evocative objects, plants, and souvenirs. Gardeners understand about acquisition. The Victorians were just more skilled at the presentation of it.

Victorians loved natural things. They worshipped nature. They collected it. Plants—ferns, tropicals, flowers—the plant explorer's next Wardian caseful of treasures. Wall papers from the era can look more like a lepidopterist's text book than something that might grace the walls of a home. And when it came to decorating, they wanted the interiors to reflect this affinity for nature as well. Homes were decorated in natural shades and hues. A variety of greens from deep forest to moss and lichen. Browns were used, a wide variety of them. Rusty reds, sienna, and earthy ochre were standards. Reds that were bright were often used. Yes, there was the frill and the high compliment colors. Draperies of olive and pink, lilac and mustard with hints of baby blue. And trim, if you couldn't afford fancy hardwoods you painted them to either mimic woodgrain texture or color —mahogany was the rage. Let us also keep in mind while I describe these colors, the lighting in homes was much different—gas, oil lamp, maybe a bare bulb with an amber filament. It was the fashion and meant to look good. We often look back at other eras and wonder what designers were thinking, but in the Victorian age one surrounded oneself with the things one loved most, and designed rooms to make collections look their best.

Now how do we, as a consumer-based culture, reflect this new "Victorian Style'"? Are we being guided by someone who lives is an apartment and has a friend with a begonia in the kitchen window? That writer writes about what they see, what they assume quickly, without research. Has this new mania for old Victorian been a long time coming, but has important, useful information been left in some editor's trashcan, in favor of printing articles that read like ads? As far as I know the Victorian Style never left. I grew up in a house where my mother would paint or refinish her finds—mainly Grand Rapids oak pieces; they were all over our home. Old lamps, taxidermy from my father's college hunting exploits, arrangements, house plants, walls covered in old plates, a hall lined in hand tinted photos, bird cages, spittoons, antique flat irons, oriental rugs, knickknacks, baskets, fossils, and other details too numerous to mention. My mother had the Victorian Style down even with her big hair, Oleg Cassini outfits, and Pucci print scarfs. I have my own interpretation—maybe it is lighter, maybe more romantic, maybe I like too much? That is the Victorian way.