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<<  -- 3 --  Jennifer Paull    A musical enchantress


The gown was made from heavy, mauve, double satin. Its bodice fitted like a second skin, the décolleté covered by gossamer, skin-coloured netting upon which sparkled, embroidered stones. The sleeves were a work of engineering, defying gravity rather like two suspension bridges. They were full and wide, and swept out horizontally in pleated layers. The skirt and its train were very full and long, alternatively reflecting the light or hugging shadows inside deep folds. The silhouette was puffed out by an underskirt that in itself, weighed seven kilograms.

A sweeping, swirl of baby ostrich down, rather like piped icing on an art nouveau birthday cake, contrasted the material's shine with soft, matt frosting. These hand-dyed feathers ranged through shades from lilac to lavender. Deep amethyst beads sparkled here and there from their centre stems around the train, the skirt, the bodice and the sleeves. The moment Cathy donned this masterpiece, she became the salon singer she portrayed.

She had chosen her songs for their beauty or for their kitsch. Both were valid statements of the epoch of Art Nouveau and the life of the period, just as they are of any other defined time frame. It is not only the beautiful that is worth bringing back to life. The lack of taste, as much as taste itself, is necessary in proving the presence of the other through contrast and comparison. Painting a true portrait of any moment in any society requires the presence of its flaws as much as its perfection.

The Art Nouveau style was very close to her heart. Her home was full of 'finds' she would accumulate on her travels. Some were lovely, others outrageous, all were original and authentic, and part of that capsule of taste and feeling.

Cathy had lived in Milan since she had studied there at the Conservatory. She owned a fascinating, rambling apartment with a terrace and a tower like Rapunzel, a collection of Art Nouveau objects and many theatrical costumes. I remember staying with her after she had replaced more recent radiators by early 20th century models that had opening doors to a compartment for warming dinner plates. She had found these at a demolition site, seen to their restoration, and had them installed.

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Copyright © 6 March 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland






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