EST. 2009

February 24, 2015

That Organic Jewel

IT WASN'T ALWAYS MAGICAL. The building we now call Casa Batlló had existed for nearly 30 years before metamorphosing into the jewel we behold today. Built in 1877 by Antoni Gaudi, the property was just another building on Passeig de Gràcia, possessing none of its current features. 1904 marked the beginning of its transformation, having been purchased by Josep Batlló, who then commissioned Gaudi to rebuild the house into something creative. Gaudi convinced him that a renovation would suffice, and two years later emerged a terrific, fantastic creature of a building unlike anything on the glamorous avenue.

For its eclectic elements, Casa Batlló has been dubbed "house of bones", "house of masks", "house of yawns" and "house of the dragon". Ultimately, it took on the name of its founding father Josep Batlló. From the outside, the building draws attention with bone-like pillars and mask-like balconies protruding from a mosaic called trencadís. Crowning the building is a dragon-like roof, impaled by a flower-petal cross. The symbols allude to the legend of Sant Jordi, patron saint of Catalunya, who slew a dragon that terrorized the land.

Inside are curling rails, swirling ceilings, rib-like arches and light wells glimmering in an ocean of blue. Floral motifs abound, as do reptilian influences, all amidst a cornucopia of organic forms. The Noble Floor was opened to the public in 2002, and following unexpected popularity, other parts of the house were made accessible in subsequent years. Casa Batlló was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005, and has since been recognized by various institutions for its achievements in conservation.

Four winters since moving to Barcelona, I remain convinced that the city's treasure is its architecture, particularly the Modernisme marvels that nurture tourism and patrimony. Of course there is the exuberant lifestyle, and the spirited drinking and dining culture that grows only richer with new trends. But these things can be adopted elsewhere. Architectural heritage is something that belongs uniquely to its home city. In Barcelona, Modernisme breathes the city's soul.

It's easy to take these buildings for granted when you live here, walking past them on the daily commute. Which is why I still tour the sights every now and then. Years pass but true gems don't lose their luster.

Casa Batlló, Barcelona. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

February 16, 2015

Those Natural Patterns

THEY RESEMBLE FABERGÉ EGGS, PAISLEY PRINTS, OR FILIGREED ORNAMENTS, but the elements featured on Kunstformen der Natur are in fact biological specimens, sketched by German renaissance man Ernst Haeckel. Containing 100 lithographic and halftone prints, the book was first published in sets of 10 between 1899 and 1904, and cumulatively in two volumes at the end of the five-year period. A second edition featuring 30 prints was produced in 1924.

As a work of art, Kunstformen der Natur or "Art Forms in Nature" exhibits intricate detail and meticulous composition, employing the graceful lines and elegant palettes that would be an influence Art Nouveau practitioners. As a scientific material, Kunstformen touches on Haeckel's vast zoological discovery, description and classification, particularly of the Radiolarians he found while traveling in Messina, Sicily. The single-celled organisms proved enchanting to the biologist, "for whom the elegance and complexity embodied the unity of science and art." Film-maker David Lebrun's "Proteus" documents this discovery, recounting Haeckel's conflict between, and eventual reconciliation of, the scientific and the poetic.

A look through Kunstformen proves poetic indeed, with the richness of both its style and subject. The illustrations are eye candy, but they might just provide a good brush-up on zoology, accompanied by such classifications as Bryozoa, Diatomea, Ciliate and Discomedusae, which may or may not sound even remotely familiar. Browse the full set on Wikimedia Commons for a most sophisticated look at the natural world.

Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst Haeckel. Images from

February 11, 2015

That Legion of Luxe

MANSUR GAVRIEL'S SPRING CAMPAIGN features great hair, great bags, color, animals and a surprisingly appealing uniformity. Where anything fashionable nowadays seems to leverage on standing out, whether through shock or subtlety, an ad campaign presenting sameness feels worthy of note. It's most probably coincidence, but is the campaign's uniformity a reflection of the brand's legion of fans, eager to in fact be a legion toting a new template for luxury?

Since debuting in June 2013, the young label by Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel has seen its vegetable-tanned leather bags constantly sold out, while maintaining endless wait lists. The signature drawstring bucket bag, with its boxy shape and discreet details, has spawned controversial imitations from Forever 21 and Mango, in spite of being hailed by Business of Fashion as "the first post-recession it-bag". Priced between $460 and $950, the bags are considered reasonable with their luxe-level Italian craftsmanship. "They may look simple but they take 40 steps to make, so they have to be made with a lot of care and time." Gavriel tells the LA Times, who attribute the brand's success to its "stealth luxe".

Starting out with two models, the bucket bag and the top-handle tote, Mansur Gavriel has now added a backpack and an envelope clutch to its styles, as well as polished canvas, pebbled leather and metallic saffiano to its materials. The styles are limited, appearing to only vary in color, but the idea has always been to work with an iconic template, and express emotion through material quality and color.

I discovered Mansur Gavriel through an "I love..." post by Garance Doré, in the same summer the brand released its debut collection. The black Flamma mini bucket has crossed my mind many times since, but it is the current campaign, with its nameless, faceless uniformity, that ups my desire for the coveted bags. In an era of infinite microcelebrities, perhaps freshness exists in expressions of anonymity.

P.S. The bags are set to restock in March.

Mansur Gavriel Spring 2015 campaign, images from @mansurgavriel on Instagram.

February 5, 2015

That Sweet Life

VOLUPTUOUS AS ANITA EKBERG, ALLURING AS ANOUK AIMEE, and anguished as Yvonne Furneaux, La Dolce Vita enthralls with a colorful set of leading ladies lending vibrancy to its black and white scenes. Though only peripheral to Marcello Mastroianni's identically-named protagonist, each of the women portray their archetypes deliciously, and with distinctive flair. I spotlight these women today, 55 years after the film's initial release, drawing attention to their wiles and ways, as well as the roles they play in a decadent and decaying media culture.

Most iconic of La Dolce Vita's ladies is Anita Ekberg as Sylvia. She is that buoyant figure descending from a plane, welcomed with camera flashes and a pan of pizza. Balancing a kitten on her head, she wanders Rome's empty midnight streets, and wades the Trevi in a ball gown. She is oblivious to Marcello's advances, sending him off to buy milk at what could possibly be 5am. Pure flesh even in greyscale, Sylvia's sensuality is undiminished even in the most absurd of scenarios. Anyone less blonde, buxom or beautiful would easily look inane.

Contrasting with Sylvia's effervescence is Maddalena: a dark and enigmatic heiress played by Anouk Aimee. Maddalena is considered to be Marcello's intellectual equal, although they are rendered disparate in social stature. They are lovers anyway. A woman of wealth and substance, Maddalena squanders her attributes on parties and promiscuity. Unlike Sylvia, who Marcello pursues, Maddalena is not pursued, but neither is she pursuer. "Predator" is more her style. The ultimate femme fatale.

Last, and in some ways least, is Marcello's fiancée Emma. Played by Yvonne Furneaux, she is rendered drab and undesirable in spite of her beauty. Emma is the one character in La Dolce Vita who offers Marcello emotional stability, yet he despises her "sticky, maternal love". His work as a tabloid writer provides him escape from her, as well as access to the cafe society he flounders in. Emma is grief-stricken and attempts suicide.

The three women may be tied together by Marcello, but I see their roles extend beyond romantic affairs. In La Dolce Vita's mid-century Rome, Sylvia, Emma and Maddalena are each either proponents or victims of the media-hyped sweet life, with Sylvia as the celebrity symbol of fantasy, Maddalena as a habitual consumer of the trivial, and Emma as an outsider suffering the undesirability of being so.

Five and a half decades later, La Dolce Vita's critique on media's superficiality feels just as relevant, although today's media feels nowhere near as glamorous. Perhaps the sweet life looks more appealing in black and white.

La Dolce Vita, 1960. Directed by Federico Fellini.

January 27, 2015

That Dry Alternative

DRIER THAN A DRY MARTINI is no martini, proudly brought to you by that thing you may have heard called "Dry January". First held in 2013 as a campaign by British charity Alcohol Concern, Dry January challenges people to give up booze on the month preceding the holidays, with the aim of reducing alcohol's harmful effects within families and communities. "Save money. Lose weight. Feel energised." reads their tagline. 2014 saw 17,000 pledges to give up drinking for a month, with numbers expected to have grown this year as Dry January gains increasing popularity. The sign-up form on the website requires a British postcode but participants hail from even outside of the UK, including Brooklyn resident Anne Hathaway who reportedly planned to "prioritise my health this year and not drink, at least not in January."

Are there any actual benefits though to giving up booze for 31 days? Healthwise, a small study by New Scientist and Professor Rajiv Jalan, from the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London Medical School, found significant health benefits to alcohol abstinence, however insignificant 31 days may seem. Five weeks had ten New Scientist staff abstain from alcohol, while four other staff members carried on drinking as they normally do. All 14 subjects were tested before and after the five-week period, and while no remarkable changes were found in those who drank, the changes were consistent and dramatic in those who went dry: liver fat fell by an average of 15 percent, blood glucose by 16 percent, blood cholesterol by almost 5 percent, and weight by an average of 1.5 kilograms. Concentration and sleep quality were also rated by abstainers to have improved, though on the downside, they reported to have had lower social contact during the study.

Behaviorally, a study by the University of Sussex followed up nearly 900 participants in the 2014 Dry January campaign, to find six months later that 72 percent had kept harmful drinking episodes down, with four percent continuing the abstinence long past January. The changes in alcohol consumption were interestingly found not only in the participants who completed the month-long pledge, but also in those who didn't go fully booze-free. "Even if participants took part but didn't successfully complete the 31 days, it generally led to a significant decrease across all the measures of alcohol intake." The university's Dr. Richard de Visser affirms.

With Dry January coming to a close, it may be worth thinking about cultivating better drinking habits for the rest of the year. Health benefits aside, there are cultured nuances to drinking that, when explored, prove more satisfying than a binge-drunken night out. Think along the lines of aperitifs, digestifs, having a good glass of wine at lunch, trying a new beer for its flavor, oysters and bubbly, dessert and sticky, fancy cocktails you can't afford too many of, actual conversations or a moment to mull one's thoughts. Quality over quantity may be key.

Besides, we really don't need another hangover, do we? Not to mention any more incriminating photos set to resurface on Timehop next year. Salut!

Vintage liquor posters from the Ross Art Group, available at Support Dry January at