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Book Review – BALRAJ KHANNA – Born in India Made in England

By Robin Dutt

Balraj Khanna is one of the most tireless and enthusiastic painters working in Britain today. His art, frequently featuring dancing motifs (seemingly anonymous shapes, yet full of life) on hyper colour backdrops, are celebrated around the world and many comparisons have been made with master abstract painter, Joan Miro. In both cases (and with also, say, Kandinsky in mind) Khanna seeks to create symphonies out of his canvases, scores and music sheets too which contribute to the flow and mellifluous nature of his oeuvre. Carol Jacoby of Tate Britain refers to ‘his strong intellectual base’, his style ‘at once distinct, personal and universal’. Bryan Robertson calls him ‘one of the most distinguished artists working in England’.

Much has been written about the very real connection between the Indian subcontinent and England, for many Indians, seen as a type of maternal figure. This aspect of respect, of course, did not come without certain disagreement, dissention and downright hatred of a conquering nation expressed by many – and few would, especially today, argue with that. The conflicts, massacres (on both sides), mistrust and distrust are items of historical reference material but still vivant and fresh, amidst much change and development.

This book is described as an ‘Autobiography of an Artist’ and if the first word inevitably involves the real essence of a journey, then one comes more than close to Khanna’s intention to set all down on paper. He’s a striking, elegant man, tall, sartorial and imposing, with snowy white hair and a ready laugh and smile which is more than memorable. You know when he walks into a room. Look at pictures of him as a young man at one of his openings and that man, defying time, is still there today.

Khanna grew up and witnessed the cataclysmic Partition of India in 1947. He went on to be a Foreign Correspondent between 1971 and 1972 during the India-Pakistan War. He began his love affair with England as a young child falling for the charms of the richness and poetic possibilities of expression – even in everyday prose. And then, returning to his work, are not his treasured motifs, apart from notes on a score, letters or ‘characters’ on a multicoloured page, telling a sensual and sensuous story? This love of the English language was the cornerstone (along with British culture in general) for his decision to come to London in the bitter winter of 1962, which many still remember – a time of ice and smog – where, as a ‘foreigner’ it cannot have been an easy task to simply merge with the day to day of being. Khanna has much to say about this. But an artist, in general, has only his work that he regards and understands as important. The minutiae of life’s little ironies and direct brickbats (forget the bouquets) are as nothing when you create other worlds within a new one.

Khanna with his infectious charisma made a superb start in England when at the age of only 28 he was invited to have a solo show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and has had several private and public shows, notably at the Hayward Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum and Brighton and Hove Museum. He has had a lifetime of lecturing at such august establishments as Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the Royal College of Art. As a talented writer, his novel, ‘Nation of Fools’ was awarded the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Prize for a first novel, in 1984.

In ‘Born in India Made in England’ one learns about the equally ‘special relationship’ one might often hear trumpeted, regarding the UK and US when one considers India and the UK. The text is written from such a personal perspective that the author’s voice is tangible and real. Snippets and snatches of remembered conversation, add a directional element. You can almost hear that famous laugh of his, in some passages.

This is an energetic, funny, sad and moving tale of one of India’s sons and one of England’s treasures.

Published by Unicorn Press. £25. (Hardback).

Book Review - BALRAJ KHANNA - Born

Whilst the idea of food paired with fine alcohol may be nothing new, it is a skill and absolutely fascinating to be part of such an event, writes Robin Dutt. Two brands, Ron Abuelo, Panama and the Brandy, Vecchia Romagna were reminding all that as the winter nights draw in and the cold becomes, for most, a daily and nightly feature, the comfort of a strong, treacle or amber-hued tipple simply goes best with a roaring fire, fine cheeses or indeed, a great armchair read. Or, of course, all three.

To hear a dedicated master luxuriate in choice words and ask for thoughts and opinions about the delicate notes of the drinks is a delight and you certainly feel being part of some esoteric masterclass. It can also be quite daunting. Do you really want to shout out the notes and flavours you think might be present? A few sips – and you do! Perhaps the first drink one thinks about when considering pairing is wine. And those who know that wonderful Roald Dahl story about a manipulative TV wine expert who plays a trick on an old friend to secure the hand of the latter’s daughter, will smile at the memory – and the denouement. But of course, it need not be only wine or, indeed, champagne when it comes to pairings.

Rum may not be the choice for all but those who appreciate its fiery strength and potency, indeed, its spiciness and magnetic sweetness, will love Ron Abuelo (grandfather, in Spanish) the Award winning Panamanian Rum (established 1908) which is double-matured and the Two Oaks variety is 12 years old with a strong, smoky taste and finish which is the result of the concluding process being carried out in extra charred barrels.

Rum is an alcoholic spirit, distilled from sugar cane residues or molasses and originates from the 17th century. The event was held at Hedonism Wines, 3-7 Davies Street, W1K 3LD and as the name of this wine and spirits boutique surely suggests, it is a lavish palace of pleasure for the dedicated imbiber. After a welcoming and certainly unusual cocktail, light bites were placed in front of the hand selected connoisseurs and rotated and replaced with other treats, frequently, their purpose to unlock the mysteries of the drink.

‘There’s nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms as Rum and true religion’, observed Lord Byron in his picaresque poem, ‘Don Juan’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Rum’ even today more than hints about the drink’s masterful properties of overtaking the drinker.

There are many in the range to choose from – Anos, The Two Oaks, The Finish Collection and Ron Abuelo Centuria. And showing just how versatile Rum can be, the cocktail featured, lime juice, Angostura Bitters and Champagne. Utterly refreshing – even on a chilly day when it seems at first glance and premier sip, more suited to a summer’s afternoon. Global Brand Ambassador, Cristobal Srokowski shared his knowledge to evident enthusiasm with the journalists assembled and that knowledge is vast and stories engaging.

With similar and unapologetic potency the Brandy by Vecchia Romagna (established in 1820) was showcased at the charming eatery, Luca, near Farringdon Road. Brandy, like Rum, hails from the seventeenth century and is described as a strong alcoholic spirit, distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice. The actual name derives from the Dutch word ‘Brandewijn’ meaning, ‘burn, distill’. This variety is an 18-year old aged Brandy, finished in Armandine della Valpolicello Barrels. The makers describe the taste of its satisfying finish as, ‘intense and refined’ and there is certainly no countering this. With good humour and a lifetime’s knowledge ‘The Maestro’ regaled the assembled with tales and explanations of this beautiful Brandy and others too to distinguish one taste from another. ‘ ‘Brandy for the Parson, Baccy for the Clerk’, said Rudyard Kipling and ever the pursuer of placement in his pronouncements, Samuel Johnson wrote ‘Claret is the liquor for boys; part for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink Brandy’.

Of course, the intention here is not to favour one drink over the other. Enjoy them both. They are both stealthily strong.

There are 12 days of Christmas, after all! Cheers!.

Whilst the idea of food paired with

Don’t you just love the esoteric, asks Robin Dutt? Today, we can probably find any book we are after but the hunt is part of the joy. If you have first editions of the following…Treasure them. If not, you just might get lucky on Amazon…Or some such. These are sure to be fun gifts…

Manners for Men By Mrs Humphry – “Madge” of “Truth”

Originally published in 1897 by James Bowden, London, this livre de poche is full of useless information which will amuse, astound and cause laughter from even the cheap seats. There are sage stupidities like these – ‘ The Man Pays’, ‘A Fall, Generally the Man’s Fault’, ‘Non-dancers should not accept Invitations’ and ‘Small Talk alone will not Suffice’. I am sure you get the picture? A sententious female voice (if indeed Mrs Humphry had any sex to call her own) highlights the ludicrous nature of the Victorian period and provides moments of disbelief and hilarity in equal measure. There are chapters on Driving, Dinner Parties, the Church and Manner. This is the perfect book to guffaw over, accompanied by a mince pie and a particularly good Port. Gawd Bless yer Missus ‘Umphry!!!

The English Countryman by H.J. Massingham

‘Every chapter is crowded with interesting and delightful detail, social, geographical and aesthetic…the excellence of his writing is such that one would enjoy his book even if one did not so heartily agree with it,,,’ So said Sir John Squire in the Illustrated London News. ‘Enough to make a townsman weep’, cried Punch and The Yorkshire Post calls this book, ‘far more than a picture book’. Phew…so far more than so good. Massingham’s passion is evident from the start and whether talking about the poet, John Clare, the fall of the Squire or indeed, the Dorset Peasant, he fills page after page with a lucid and telescopic fascination with a time long gone but still somehow part of the English scene. Pip Pip and Hip Hip Hooray!!!

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton – And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press.
Jeremy Clay.

That the Victorians were passionate about their newspapers is a given. What Jeremy Clay has done here is to amass true stories reported in the press which often seem unlikely if not completely doubtful. Consider his offerings – ‘An Elephant in the Witness Box’, ‘ Desperate Attack on a Hull Policeman’, ‘A Peculiar Bet’ or, ‘Shocking Ice Incident in Regent’s Park’ – all designed by the early journalists to inform but most essentially, to titillate. It’s the perfect Christmas read by a roaring fire. Just to think how our forebears simply had to be informed by slices of trivia still astounds…

Don't you just love the esoteric, asks


The idea that books (in themselves) as fat, beautiful doorstoppers is a thing of the past is quite incorrect. Yes, so a voucher is akin to a certain cheeky liberation regarding spending someone else’s money intended for you but to actually have a real tome delivered or given is a joy. Now…What do we mean by ‘tome’? Easy. Nothing paperback and anything oversized. Thames & Hudson has been in the business of celebrating art, design and aesthetics since 1949 and are past masters when it comes to an oversized book. And of course, this is no criticism. Live it large might be a general call to arms – or charms. T&H certainly does.

Shall we say, their books are ‘statement publications’? In the old days, I suppose they were called ‘coffee table books’ which carried with it the suggestion that they were part of an interior designer’s colour or fake intellectual aesthetic scheme. Somehow the suggestion also is that these books were destined never to be opened and so remained virginally mint. But it worked – and still does. I purchased my first apartment on the strength that the sellers had lavish tomes on their possibly India Jane, blond wood, trunk-cum-coffee table and coincidentally, a copy of an art magazine which I contributed to at the time. What folly. But you see the power of strategy…Perhaps as sellers, they had done some research on the potential buyer?

But here are three beauties to consider for the bookworm friends that you might have who might like the physicality of a book that weighs more than a brace of Koalas but offers better intellectual stimulation…

‘Sapphire – A Celebration of Colour’ by Joanna Hardy. (Edited by Robert Violette)

There are only four precious jewels in gemology and proudly sported by knowing (or lucky) hands, necks and lapels. Rubies, Diamonds, Emeralds – and Sapphires. Reduce any mineral to the basics and you are left with chemical numbering and the dullness of disconnected lettering. But when cut and buffed, this product of the earth attains almost celestial glamour. And it has been the same since time began. The idea of capturing shine, glitter, gloss and sparkle was not lost on the ancients, wherever they came from on this tiny globe and celebrated the rarity and beauty of rough shards and roundels from the earth which could then reflect and project elements of the day or night. It was and still is surely, magic.

In this lavish book, Hardy takes us on a gem-spangled journey which celebrates one of the most beautiful stones ever discovered. And with chapter titles such as. ‘Medicine & Magic’, ‘High Society’ and ‘Showstoppers’, the author stops at nothing when describing the lure of this gem whose colour might be the hue of a spangled night sky illuminated by the moon or those further reaches of the bluest ocean. And one will also learn that sapphires are not only blue in colour.

Famous sapphires are recorded such as Her Majesty’s Wedding Sapphires and Princess Diana’s Engagement Ring (which went on to be worn by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge). But Hollywood royalty also gets a look in, in the form of precious piece worn by the likes of screen legends such as Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford and Cher, who sports in an iconic portrait, the 733-carat Black Star of Queensland – a black star sapphire set in a diamond surround. Sophia Loren, Capucine, Ursula Andress and Elizabeth Taylor also feature as ready made ‘fleshy stages’ for the charm of this beautiful, precious stone.

But there are also other objets hewn from this precious material shown in the book such as a carving of a Hindu saint, a miniature pair of beautiful feet and this writer’s personal favourite – anything made out of a star sapphire where a distinct star shape within the gem, Arctic white – dances in the denseness of the midnight blue. The star shape seems to float and almost vibrate.

One might be reminded of Jonson’s ‘Volpone’ when thinking about gems, as he wrote the words of his protagonist regarding gold – ‘Thou that can do nothing but make men do all things’. It is the same with fine gems. Useless and utterly, utterly captivating…

‘Sapphire – A Celebration of Colour’ by Joanna Hardy is published by Thames & Hudson

‘Versace – Catwalk’ Text by Tim Blanks

It is quite possible that Versace is one of those love it or hate it type of designers. Dare one mention Marmite in connection with this?!? The precise opposite of the minimalism of, say Giorgio Armani, he shares more with the flamboyance of his fellow creators (and rivals?) such as Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabanna. Featuring over 1,200 images, this is a comprehensive look at the late master’s take on florid, fabulous fashion with no nod to restraint. One seems instantly to recall that image of two young film stars, Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at a chic, glittering dinner, the former eyeing the latter, practically tumbling out of her low cut evening dress, one nipple almost eyeing the competition – but not quite. Some might say she was brash. Loren’s expression seems to say so. But this is what some may feel about Versace’s clothes, when he was at the helm of his house before he was murdered and now still under the directorship of his sister, Donatella. But in Versace’s hands, if it is brash, it is beautifully so. And one has to say, there are quiet moments too. Gianni Versace’s brilliancy was to also be sartorially chic when not pursuing chromic ‘madness’ in the form of wild prints and clashing colours, often featuring animal prints, celestial symbols and colour blocks, to say nothing of the extravagance of gold splashes and details.

There is something definitely magical about the name, Versace, itself. I recall so well that my friend at university went all the way to London to buy a pullover he had seen advertised in Vogue. It was around 1980 and it cost something just shy of £300. You do the maths! I remember his return when he unpacked the item from the glossy bag and placed it on his bed. Even seeing the bag alone was an event! I had just bought a jumper from the little market in town for £5…This treasure he had snatched from London’s South Molton Street was as a jewel and very restrained in shades of nutmeg and moss. A jumper it certainly was but when my friend tried it on, and lithe and over six foot tall as he was, it made him look even more fabulous. And remember this was really, just a piece of knitwear…

This heavyweight tome begins the Versace journey from 1978 with the Ready to Wear ‘Military Collection’ and ends with 2021’s Ready-to -Wear, ‘La Greca’. As every design house knows, titles for collections are vital. So, in between, we have such themes as, ”Underwater’, ‘In the Cut’, ‘Road-Trip’, ‘On Parade’ and ‘Perfect Imperfect’. ‘I don’t like the idea of forcing a single look on anyone’, the master once told Women’s Wear Daily, before his Spring 1989 show. ‘Fashion should be as easy as drinking a glass of water.’ And he was right – because he was not talking about Style. This is more akin to sipping delicately at an etched crystal glass of Chateau d’Yquem. Preferably Edwardian. The glass, I mean.

Here you will discover or re-discover iconic pieces such as the homage to Andy Warhol dresses, splashed with Marilyn Monroe Pop Art portraits, others plastered with Vogue front covers, fluorescent shifts, glossy satins, studs and lace, embellished denim, floaty silks and of course, lashings of deepest black on everything from a tiny cocktail dress to a billowing gown. Oh…and a sprinkling of oversized safety pins, a la Hurley.

There can be no doubt that Versace was a genius, someone of ‘exceptionally great creative power’ in this case and Tim Blanks’ text goes quite a way to describe his fiery and independent essence as a spirited and unique creator. No shrinking violet he, and as I recall with a seemingly permanent semi-snarl after I encountered him in Harrods (but presumably not because of me) he remains, although he passed on in 1997, the heart of one of the most vital and delightfully experimental Italian fashion houses. Certainly, his house is one of the most vital – and of course not to everyone’s taste. I once encountered a lady at a cocktail do who was wearing a tube dress in I believe some sort of soft but robust jersey material with the house’s name in diagonal stripes. She looked like a stick of rock. I approached with my martini and asked (in a friendly way) and with no suggestion of a whip-smile on my lips, who designed her outfit? Needless to say that was the end of that conversation.

It was largely due to Gianni that we have the term, ‘Supermodel’ featuring such stellar names as Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington. As a corporate ‘one’ they set the standard that still resonates today even if the name for them collectively has waned and aged. But you can’t do this in clothes which do not positively shriek for attention. ‘Polite’ clothes, in general Mr V did not do. Of course, Thierry Mugler did it his way as also, the wonderful Jean Marc Sinan but Versace ruled the glamour roost and intended them for women who were not afraid of being noticed. They were and are also women who knew that Brash can be Beautiful.

It should be remembered that it is also Versace’s sense of tailoring which is so much to the fore. Remember the much missed Prince, dazzling in strident Versace suiting? That red suit!

And so, now, as I sit in my ebon-hued, glossed to Hell Versace leather coat from the ‘nineties and think of my only other one at the top of the house (also leather) but festooned with those sun disk Medusa buttons, from around the same decade, I am so glad that I was not tempted to save up for a sweater.

‘Versace – Catwalk – The Complete Collections’, is published by Thames & Hudson.

Vogue Paris – 100 Years. Edited by Sylvie Lecallier

For many people, Paris Vogue was the only Vogue, writes Robin Dutt. I recall the difference of the French edition compared to all others – the chic, the style, the downright arrogance of being simply, right. This was at a time when buying a copy was akin to being quite wealthy – or thinking that you were or simply, wanting to be. And more than that…A person of discernment. Those days are gone. There used to be a ritual every month with my friends, of buying their ‘Vogue Moment’ – a cappuccino and a copy in the town square and making sure you folded the magazine in half and clutched it on your way back to your digs, branded with the title you were all to happy to be branded with. It cannot be a coincidence that several clutch bag designers, created examples which looked like folded magazines in rigid plastic – a fashion that began in the 1950s and perhaps, even earlier.

‘Vogue Paris – 100 Years’ is a wonderful book celebrating style and the photography that captured that style. And of course, it is amazing how forward-looking past fashions were. The heart of it all is surely an understanding of timeless elegance. Vogue might simply mean ‘what is now’ but it means so much more than that. To be ‘en vogue’, ‘in vogue’ au courant’ ‘ and even dans le vend’ are all markers of the life blood of fashion itself and the understanding of discernment. And of course, money well spent on frivolity. Well…One might as well spend it on something…

As a reminder of how vital architecture is to couture, there are images here, a-plenty which compare and contrast marble and fabric, sweeping stairs and monuments, street scenes and park benches. Juxtaposition, after all, can be…everything! It may be well worth remembering that so many couturiers and even fashion designers had their beginnings in the study of architecture – Dior, Balenciaga, Cardin, Alaia, to name but a few The list goes on. It was the great, late Scott Crolla who once said that a designer can design anything be it a luscious, juicy liquid gown or a set of strident, steely cutlery and all true creators (especially Monsieur Cardin) would have surely agreed. He, after all, designed everything from bubble dresses to aeroplanes! Crolla designed glittering coats and velvet chairs and so much more besides.

So many images will be all too familiar to so many. The book has amassed treasures by William Klein, Irving Penn, Arik Nepo and later stars, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. Then there are marvellous drawings. One often forgets that photography was an invention dating from around the 1840s and that images in periodicals of all kinds were often hand drawn. Engravings and etchings featured too., to partner the words. The charm of the hand drawn was never lost on Vogue magazine. It was a connection with the artistry of clothes design and especially, couture. So prepare for blasts from beautiful pens and pencils from stars such as Pierre Brissaud and Georges Lepape, Pierre Le-Tan and Mats Gustafson. Drawings make fashion live in quite another way to the blatancy of photography. Cinematic might be what we expect but drawings are elements of the soul of the creator, in quite a different way.

Vogue Paris – 100 Years is published by Thames & Hudson

BOOK REVIEWS: By Robin Dutt The idea that

What exactly is luxury, asks Robin Dutt? The unattainable, the strategically unaffordable, the saved up for, the impossible, the salaciously needed … The sad desire to be?

Well whatever you think luxury just might be, Savile Row welcomes Argent Timeless to ‘The Row’. Timelessness and Savile Row, of course, go hand in hand, for craftsmanship and style are never part of the vulgarity of the fashion world. This writer, for one, is glad that there is a difference. After all, wasn’t it Jean Cocteau who said that ‘We must feel sorry for Fashion. She has such a short time to live.’ ? She…Or indeed, He… And even if he didn’t say this…Isn’t it true? Of course…

Argent Timeless is timely indeed when it came to their pre-Christmas opening of this magnetic boutique, a specialist in automotive, bespoke apparel and luggage items which remind of the time (Covid apart) when travel was not simply a luxury but an expansion of the mind. Travel may indeed broaden the mind, or of course you can be an armchair traveller but there is something about the efficacy of the feel of elegantly crafted leather and objets which simply reassure for any journey, whether you leave the drawing room – or no. Do you know…I am the proud owner of the jewellery box of the ‘Swedish Nightingale ‘Jenny Lind? Sadly no jewellery within…BUT the jewel was without, a piece in itself. It is purple plush velvet. And there was a letter which I will never read.

Small for a flagship store but crucially on Savile Row, the intent is to target the ardent driver, perhaps, in us all. My first car was a Mini. She was beautiful…A black beetle carapace. I recall giving a lift back from Llandudno with a charming blonde and the Mini practically conked out (because I hadn’t checked the oil level). BUT I got her back to Kensington. A Mercedes crashed into me some time after and I was pulled out of the wreckage by a passing policeman.

And then…I had a Karman Ghia – a poor man’s Porsche as they still say. Gone now, too…

At Argent Timeless you will find jewellery, prints, of course sturdy luggage and various accessories – such as impossibly glossy gloves. Don’t you hate it when you lose one? These here, you will strap to your soul.

Don’t forget to take a look at the 60s & 70s furniture too. The Argent Timeless leather collection has been hand crafted by its bespoke factory partner, established in the reign of George III and each piece in this collection is cut using traditional clicking knives and then stitched by craftspeople and individually hand finished. Leather has , of course, always been a source material – some might say, a bi-product.

Reassuringly expensive, with an Argent Timeless Handmade Weekend Bag at £595 or consider the Argent Bespoke Handmade Travel Watch Roll at £195. Quality is as always has been…all.

Old wisdom says…buy well once, you won’t buy twice.

Sounds just about right.

What exactly is luxury, asks Robin Dutt?