You’re Invited to a Super (Potpourri) Bowl Party!

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Reggie Recommends, Again: Agraria’s Bitter Orange Potpourri

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Friends of Agaria: Geraldine Stutz

Geraldine Stuz

Geraldine Stutz (Walter Pippin/New York Times)

She launched Andy Warhol’s career, she revolutionized merchandising with Henri Bendel, and she scented the fashionable streets of New York City with Agraria’s Bitter Orange.

Geraldine Stutz and Buster, who's been opening doors to Bendel's for almost 60 years. (Women's Wear Daily, 1974)

Above: Geraldine Stutz and Buster, who’s been opening doors to Henri Bendel for almost 60 years. (Women’s Wear Daily, 1974)

It was 40 years ago this month, that Geraldine Stutz put Agraria at the first door of Henri Bendel and nothing has been the same since. Stutz was a visionary in the retail world. With her investment team, she was essentially the first woman to helm a world-class luxury retail store — Henri Bendel.

Stutz’s first big coup in the world of fashion and retail was the collaboration with Andy Warhol on I. Miller’s famous shoe ads and campaigns. Long before the most famous artist in the world painted his Campbell’s Soup cans, Stutz knew his sensitive, liquid line art would encapsulate the style of the times.

It was a natural transition in her ascendancy to be ensconced at Henri Bendel where she took the leadership position in 1957. Henri Bendel had a reputation for bringing the most exclusive European fashion lines to the store. They were the first American retailer that Coco Chanel would allow to sell her creations..

Geri Stutz focused the store on a young, hip, urban woman — not unlike herself. Ms. Stutz described her taste for what she called “dog whistle” fashion: “clothes with a pitch so high and special that only the thinnest and most sophisticated women would hear their call.”  And her vision of what defined ‘fashion’ came to include home decor, inventive menus, and even the fragrances in the home.

Henri Bendel's "Street of Shops" with Scentiments on the right.

Above: Henri Bendel’s “Street of Shops” with Scentiments on the right.

Stutz’s 1958 overhaul of the main floor at the store, at 10 West 57th Street, into a U-shaped “Street of Shops” was widely acknowledged as a precursor to modern shop-in-shop merchandising displays.

Robert Rufino, the former vice president of creative services at Tiffany & Co., is one of the many retail executives who found career initiations and inspirations with Ms. Stutz. He designed windows for the company in the 1970′s, and recalled Ms. Stutz’s ability to intermingle her acquisitive fascination with art and film, infused with fashion.

Rufino offered: “In those days, there was nothing else like Henri Bendel. It was like working for the best house in the world. To take this little town house and make it look like someone lived there, as you were going from room to room – it was just one woman’s vision on the world of fashion, and yet it did incredibly well.”

He also said in an interview about her:  No matter what the task, large or small, her motto was: If you are going to do it, do it once and do it right and be gutsy.

Maurice Gibson and Stanford Stevenson, the original founders of Agraria

Above: Agraria founders, Stanford Stevenson and Maurice Gibson, photographed in 1984 at the Scentiments Shop during the week-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of Agraria. The signature brown and white Henri Bendel boxes (to the far right with the green ribbon and gold Agraria logo) are filled with Bitter Orange Potpourri.

Often friends would suggest items to Stutz they thought might appeal to the Bendel’s “type.” But in this case it was a gift from a friend that made the first connection.

Sam Deitsch was one of Geraldine Stutz’s oldest chums — their friendship dated from early years in Chicago.  Gibson and Stevenson knew Deitsch when he was about to open the North Beach bistro Washington Square Bar and Grill.

Deitsch was a fan of Agraria and on a trip to Manhattan in ’74 he stopped by Henri Bendel (Stutz was away at the time) and left a box of Bitter Orange with her assistant.  Ms. Stutz  was pleased and liked it well enough to call and invite Gibson and Stevenson to come to New York for a meeting. The magic happened and for the next ten years 10 West 57th was home.

A year later Scentiments, the in-store home fragrance boutique, was opened. Stutz’s sense that fragrance defined style influenced her wise placement of the lattice worked jewel box to be right by the front door of the store and as the doors opened and closed all day long, the luxurious scent of Bitter Orange poured out onto the street luring the well-heeled clientele inside. Many years later, Vogue magazine quoted Michael Kors: “I thought 57th Street was heaven.  I smelled the Agraria potpourri wafting out of Henri Bendel, but I just thought the street smelled good.”

Stutz’s high-profile promotion of Agraria as the scent of the Park Avenue set was what established Gibson’s and Stevenson’s creation as a world-class home fragrance house.

“The way a house smells is one of the most important elements in decorating and entertaining,” Geraldine Stutz said, and for that we are very grateful.

Geraldine Stutz

Above: Geraldine Stutz

“What is the difference between mere fashion and true style? Fashion says ‘Me too’, and style says ‘Only me’.” Words to live by from Geraldine Stutz.

Lincoln, Lobbyists, and Lemon Verbena

The Willard InterContinental Hotel

The Willard InterContinental Hotel

Lincoln, Lobbyists, and Lemon Verbena: What might these three things have in common? The Willard InterContinental Hotel, of course.

Abraham Lincoln became a hotel guest shortly before his first inauguration as president in 1861. He arrived abruptly on February 23 after an assassination plot in Baltimore changed his travel plans. He was joined soon after by his wife and sons, remaining until his inauguration on March 4.

Linoln's Inauguration in 1861.

Linoln’s Inauguration in 1861.

At noon on March 4, Lincoln left the hotel with outgoing President Buchanan to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue enroute the Capitol. President Lincoln returned to the hotel after the inaugural ceremonies to watch the parade and enjoy his inaugural luncheon. The menu consisted of Mock Turtle Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes and Blackberry Pie.

The American legend surrounding the term ‘lobbyist’ originated at the Willard Hotel when Ulysses S. Grant was in office (1869-1877).  Apparently President Grant would frequent the Willard Hotel to enjoy brandy and a cigar, and while he was there, he’d be hounded by petitioners asking for legislative favors or jobs.  It is said that President Grant coined the term by referring to the petitioners as “those damn lobbyists.”

The lobby as it is today at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

The lobby as it is today at the Willard InterContinental Hotel.

Grant most likely was coining the phrase for American idiom, as the phrase was in common use in England a few decades before. But in the United States, the ancestry of the word Lobbyists was born at the Willard.

President Obama's 2009 Inauguration

President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration

Next week, we are honored to mention that guests staying at the Willard InterContinental Hotel during President Obama’s Second Inauguration, will be greeted with a commemorative Lemon Verbena Bath Bar and a Sweet Dreams card making a reference to when the President moved into the White House in 2009.

sweetdreamscardWho says that politics can’t have a lovely fragrance?

Lemon Mellow

A Victorian perfume pendant

Everyone knows that fragrance stimulates memory: cinnamon at holiday time, mock orange blossoms on an early spring night, the eau de parfum that your mother used, your favorite cookies baking in the oven. These can all trigger pleasant, happy memories. But fragrance can also affect your moods.

De Materia Medica

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function, or health. Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides describes the use of essential oils in his De Materia Medica, written in the first century.

The ancient Greeks used lemon Verbena leaves in their pillows to enhance their dreams. Today, dream pillows are used as part of aromatherapy to stimulate lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. The term was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932). In a lucid dream, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid.

Many artists and writers — and anyone with a curious imagination — have explored the world of lucid dreaming. Our goals and struggles and our very destiny often play out in symbolic form. Enhancing the hours you sleep with conscious dreaming, or even just the lightening of the spirit sought by those ancient Greeks with their Lemon Verbena pillows, can be a tonic to our hectic and demanding lives.

Get the most out of all your hours — not just the waking ones. No need for a crunchy pillow full of leaves. We have a wide assortment of great products to make the dreamworld a more crisp and lemony journey.

The Lemon Verbena Story: Part 1, The Precarious Journey

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Dangling Delight

Muslim tasselmaker and his wife | AGRARIA

Muslim tassel maker and his wife, 16c.

From the highest ecclesiastical offices to the low prurience of a near-the-airport strip club, tassels are both a signifier of status and a visual point of whimsy.

In Deuteronomy 22:12 we read: “You must put four tassels on the hem of the cloak with which you cover yourself — on the front, back, and sides.” But we didn’t need the bible to tell us that tassels add a little something extra to almost anything decorative.

Camel with tassel harness | AGRARIA

Camel with tassel harness.

In early Egypt, Mesopotamia and throughout the Arab world, tassels were affixed to the hats and hoods of children to ward off evil spirits and demons.

Tassels, Fringe, and passementerie | AGRARIA

Tassels, fringe, and passementerie, oh my! Too much is never enough.

Tassel comes from the Latin word tasseau which means a clasp. The origin of the word “passementiers” has been lost to time, but it is French in origin, as are all things truly exquisite. Passementiers were fine craftsmen who created all sorts of trimmings and decorative bindings but especially the finest tassels. An apprenticeship of seven years was required to become a master in one of the subdivisions of the their guild.

Clarence House Tassels | AGRARIA

Clarence House tassels live up to the Victorian ideal.

Tassels and their associated forms changed style throughout the years, from the small and casual of Renaissance designs, through the medium sizes and more staid designs of the Empire period, and to the Victorian Era with the largest and most elaborate. Some of these designs are returning today from the European and American artisans who may charge a thousand dollars for a single hand-made tassel.

Chinese lanterns | AGRARIA

Chinese lanterns illuminate and protect.

Tassels have been widely used around the world, generally as ornaments. In ancient times, the Chinese  decorated lanterns, swords, clothing, and shoes with tassels.  In China and Japan their color signified rank among the swordsman, and their bright colors were used to distract the opponent. The beautiful knotted red tassels we often see interwoven with gold threads or gold bindings are a symbol of good fortune.  In Buddhism a tassel is regarded as being able to understand spirits and exorcise them to avoid any calamity.


Assorted Chinese tassels in the marketplace.

And today one of the most common signifiers is the tassel worn on the mortar board hat of a graduate. At the final ceremony of graduation the tassel is moved from one side of the square hat to the other to denote completion of schooling.

And of course, we have indulged in our own tassel whimsies.  In the early 90’s, we created an exclusive offering of tassel-decorated boxes of Bitter Orange Potpourri for Bergdorf Goodman.  They sold out almost immediately and when they reordered, we discovered we couldn’t get any more tassels from the man we bought them from in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  We were flabbergasted to learn they were originally souvenirs from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

Bergdorf's, as covered by The New York Times. | AGRARIA

Brunschwig & Fils, Inc., one of the finest makers of tassels has a witty take on a cocktail table.

Erte | Agraria

Art Deco artist Erté certainly knew his way around a decorative tassel.

Vivian Vavoom's School of Burlesque | AGRARIA

And finally, we could not resist. From Vivian Vavoom's School of Burlesque, a selection of artisanal pasties.