Treated to a night out in honour of a mutual friend’s significant birthday, we were struck by the ambition of the menu, each dish herculean, its components pickled/ reduced/ puréed/ foamed/ smoked/ charred/ dehydrated/ infused/ caramelised by chefs-cum-lab technicians before hitting the tablecloth and diners’ Instagram feeds. Slipping into a chipper afterwards, still peckish after pricey daubs of molecular gastronomy, we wondered whatever happened to meat and two veg? New York Public Library to the rescue, with one of its meticulously researched online databases (www.menus.nypl.org) documenting 17,545 New York restaurant menus, from the comfort food of traditional bistros to the status-on-a-plate served by swanky fine dining establishments. The menu archive features fare like legendary hotel Waldorf Astoria’s 1949 classic Shrimp Cocktail to a Roast Loin of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, with a side of incomparable view from the top floors of the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant, in the fallen North Tower, its 1989 menu now a kind of holy relic.
So much blare and glare vies for our attention, online through social media and relentless pop-ups, flashing chyron alerting us to some new disaster superimposed over the bombast of 24-hour cable news shouters, must-see Netflix series’ tempting us to binge watch, “hero” beauty products for the bits of me not yet past rescuing, and the must-have, must-do, must-visit bucket lists of influencers and even our own enviable friends. Amid the din, let’s not forget about the mute button.
Seventy-freaking-nine-year-old Speaker of the House and third in line to the Presidency of the United States, Nancy Pelosi, an iron fist in a velvet glove, schools us on the power of understatement. As Speaker, Pelosi practically whispers, but her aim is true, more javelin than gavel. Max Mara is reissuing its 2013 “Orange You Sorry You Started This Fight” coat she wore, paired with oversized shades and nude stilettos, upon exiting the White House after a triumphant meeting. She softens fitted, below-the-knee dresses and two-piece suits, in a range of bold colours to soft pastels, with loosely tied Hermès silk scarves, a power boss who understands the impact of understated style.
Victoria Beckham’s SS20 collection, described by Steff Yotka in Vogue, distills the “subversive ladylike polish” that feels like this season’s genie in the bottle. The designer channels the look we wish for when dressing for another day in an upside down world, explaining: “You feel powerful when you wear these dresses, but feminine at the same time.” Vogue’s Sarah Mower deconstructs Victoria Beckham’s way of “enveloping women in empathy … essentially whittled down to neat-and-together tailoring … while always – to her credit – scrutinising why and how any garment translates as practicable and relatable to a laywoman.” A pared-back aesthetic need not be generic or boring; Beckham senses what we really really want is to feel good and confident, in flattering colours from zingy green to creamy lemon, kinetic purple, spicy cinnamon and nutmeg to windowpane checks. VB characterises her collection as “cool, modern and fresh”; we’d prescribe it as an antidote to the noise.
The poetry of understatement articulates the space in between, whether we’re talking about notes of scent unfolding in contact with the warmth of skin, consciously planned landscapes encompassing negative space, allowing the eye to fill in the detail, musical compositions embracing rests, making room for sound. Understated chic is not about the clothes we wear but how we wear them, requiring the same degree of composure that listening does; the mindful listener is always heard when she has something to say.
This month’s Moodboard
1. I’m bowling a strike in Prada’s 20th anniversary reissue of its iconic Bowling Bag.
2. I’m restricting my palette to flattering Smoky Eye Brick eyeshadow in Tuxedo, from Victoria Beckham Beauty.
3. I’m planting an idea in a copper box by Bronzino, from the Sylvan collection; www.bronzino.co.uk.
4. I’m channelling Marian the Librarian in a demure bun.
5. I’m commissioning a Celestial ring in ethically sourced quartz and recycled gold from Irish jeweller Helena Malone; www.helenamalone.ie.
6. I’m spicing up my wardrobe with posh plums and sporty tweeds from Victoria Beckham’s London pre-fall collection.
7. I’m replacing fixtures and fittings with uncompromising architectural details like these solid brass switches finished in dark bronze, by www.corston.com.
8. I’m falling into the embrace of Byredo’s Slow Dance, a bittersweet, gender-neutral scent with a top note of sweet myrrh.
9. I’m switching on a Taza scorched ash lamp by www.fosberystudio.co.uk.
10. I’m savouring plums from the archive of Irish realist painter Blaise Smith RHA.