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Itís Blue: Landscape Pleasures Interpreted By Mizrahi And Moss

Originally Posted: June 15, 2009

Edward Callaghan

Landscapes Pleasures Were Never This Fun: Event Co-Chair Charlotte Moss with Keynote Speaker Isaac Mizrahi chat up their take on color and design. Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - The Parrish Art Museum kicked off its annual Landscape Pleasures weekend Saturday with a two-day horticultural-inspired series of insightful talks in the museum's great hall that set the stage for the weekend's outdoor activities which included self-guided tours of some of Southampton's most exquisite private gardens. This year's theme centers on the role of color in our lives - not just in the garden but in fashion, interior design, and the entire world around us. Co-chairs for this year's event were Leslie Rose Close, Lillian Cohen, Gale Drukier, and Charlotte Moss.

The day began with a lovely continental breakfast provided by The Golden Pear. Over fresh bagels and hot pastries guests chatted about the upcoming lectures and which gardens they were most eager to see. Promptly at 9 a.m. Terrie Sultan, executive director of the Parrish, welcomed guests and event co-chair Leslie Close, who introduced acclaimed landscape historian Judith Tankard, the morning's first speaker. Spotlighting three of the 20th century's most influential gardeners, celebrated for their creativity throughout the world, Close presented a slide show on the creations of Gertrude Jekyll, Beatrix Farrand, and Ellen Biddle Shipman.

Tankard, a world renowned landscape historian, author, and preservation consultant, presented a fascinating exploration of how theories of color shaped the work of these and other leading women gardeners of the early 20th century. In particular, she focused on the extraordinary work of Ellen Biddle Shipman who in her career created over 600 private gardens - unfortunately few of them remain today. However, several outstanding examples of her design philosophy can still be seen - including on the Banfi Estate in Old Brookville, Long Island. The classic Elizabethan-style manor house was built in 1929, on Long Island for an English knight, Sir Samuel Agar Salvage and his wife Lady Salvage. After years of neglect, the mansion and its magnificent gardens designed by Shipman have undergone authentic restoration and it is now the home of a vintner and importer of fine wines.

Another example of Shipman's work are the gardens she created for Duke University which due to the regular flow of University pedestrian traffic have not held up as well as the gardens she created for private homes.

Tankard received her M.A. in art history from NYU and has taught at the Landscape Institute, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University since 1987. She is the author or co-author of seven illustrated books on landscape history, receiving a 1998 book award from the American Horticultural Society. Her articles and book reviews have been published in Antiques, Country Life, Horticulture, Hortus, Landscape Architecture, and Pacific Horticulture, among others. For 10 years she served as editor of the Journal of the New England Garden History Society. In 2000, she was awarded a Gold Medal by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her role in the advancement of historic New England gardens.

A filled to capacity lecture hall listened intently to the repartee of the two color conscious leading designers.

Following a short coffee break, the crowd settled back in their chairs for an informative and humorous talk by British landscape architect Dan Pearson. Landscape Pleasures Steering committee member Mara Seibert introduced the much respected landscape architect to loud applause.

Internationally acclaimed for his unique garden designs, Pearson captivated the audience with his descriptions of how color can be used to heighten or create a sense of place and to elicit a particular mood or emotional response. At Home Farm, Pearson created a garden in an old barnyard using hot fire colors and gold grasses to capture the sunshine on this exposed site. At Torrecchia, an extraordinary estate that incorporated ancient ruins, a medieval castle a, church and villa outside Rome, he has used an ever-changing palette of white and blue to create a cool lush shelter from the southern Italian heat. He filled the 500-acre property with numerous resting places and hideaways for respite from the sun.

Most fascinating was his description of his own London garden. A traditional townhouse garden of 25 x 120 feet, he was faced with bringing his grand expansive designs to a veritable postage stamp size in comparison. Joking, he quipped, "I live grandly and vicariously through my clients"

A thoughtful moment during the question and answer segment of the lecture.

Using clear, pure color with ornamental plants close to the species to create a sense of heightened naturalism, he created a vibrant garden that literally changes with the season and light. To insure that his house would not be swallowed up by the ever expanding greenery, he created a slate patio to separate and keep nature at bay. "Nature is a scary thing - you've got to clip the hell out of it to tame it".

Pearson began his career in 1987, gaining an international reputation for design and planting excellence. As one of Britain's foremost garden experts, he has created and starred in several popular British television series on gardening. He currently sits on the Editorial Board of Gardens Illustrated magazine and is a weekly gardening columnist for The Observer. Among his many achievements, he has designed five award-winning Chelsea Flower Show gardens and was appointed a Tree Ambassador by The Tree Council (UK) in 2006.

Following the talk, Pearson joined Judith Tankard in the Museum's gift shop to sign copies of their books. After a brief intermission, Perry Guillot, a Landscape Pleasures Steering Committee member, took to the stage to introduce the afternoon's much anticipated event - a conversation between two American icons of design Isaac Mizrahi and Charlotte Moss. Guillot - faced with reading pages of credits for the seemingly always working Mizrahi, instead took the familiar Joyce Kilmer poem, "I Think That I Shall Never See" and listed Isaac's accomplishments poetically!

The Friedrich Gardens.

Then Keynote Speaker Mizrahi took to the stage with celebrated interior designer Moss for a lively conversation about color, which Mizrahi calls "food for the spirit."

A leader in the fashion business for almost 20 years, Mizrahi is Creative Director for the Liz Claiborne brand, has been awarded four CFDA awards, written the book "How to Have Style," created costumes for movies, theater, dance, and opera, appeared in films and television, and performed a one-man, off-Broadway show "Les Mizrahi" in 1999. He currently stars on the Bravo reality show "The Fashion Show."

A Parrish trustee since 2002 and co-chair of Landscape Pleasures, Moss is founder of Charlotte Moss Interior Design, the author of six books, and the designer of houses throughout the United States and Canada. Her design work has been featured in numerous publications and more than a dozen decorator show houses.

Taking their theme to heart, Moss wore a resplendent lime green silk tunic and Mizrahi who was "on my way to a Bar Mitzvah" sported shocking pink custom made Belgian shoes. Then the pair took off with Mizrahi explaining his sources of inspiration which seemed to include almost anything with which he came in contact. Foremost though was music for Mizrahi who confessed to a "passion for George Balanchine."

The Brownlee Curreys Garden.

The irrepressible Mizrahi, who clearly delights in his tumultuous world of fashion, had the audience laughing when he stated, "Procrastination is my greatest source of inspiration." He claims that whenever faced with looking for new ideas he'll watch TV, diddle around in the garden or "do something that really pleases me and then ideas just pop." The multi-talented designer claims that his greatest inspiration since a child has always been the old Technicolor movies like "Oklahoma which has such magical layering of colors" which he tries to capture in his fabrics and designs. "TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has always been a great source for me - I should be paying them royalties."

Referring to the great choreographer Balanchine he said, "the master's mantra was 'Do it now, do it now'. A philosophy Mizrahi has tried to follow but as he confessed, "I listen to my inner bratty child. 'I want it this way" which is why some people don't like working with me."

On the topic of inspiration Moss pointed to several glorious images on the huge screen and showed flowers that had inspired her to create a whole theme for a room and how something as ordinary as the polished boot of one of her assistants helped her determine an entire palette for a residence.

The free flowing, laugh-filled hour ended with a discussion of Mizrahi's favorite "blue" which he claims is more sensitive to the effects of light than any other color. For Mizrahi blue only reads well in the light of the Cote D'Azur or "of course here in Southampton." He then launched into a funny story of the dress he had designed for First Lady Michelle Obama for a magazine shoot. "Everyone calls it that purple dress - it's blue in my eyes not purple - it's the light that deceives." Mizrahi would not be moved on that point and no one would disagree with the master of color in fashion.

On the way out, guests were given brightly colored tote bags, filled with gardening sandals from Talbot's, Burpee flower seeds, Privet Cove toiletries and Arizona Green Tea!

On Sunday there were self-guided tours of six private Southampton village gardens - those of Bruce and Maria Bockmann, Mr. and Mrs. Brownlee Currey, Juergen and Anke Friedrich, Parker and Gail Gilbert, David and Simone Levinson, and Betty and Virgil Sherril.


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