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Glamour Gardens

A new book spotlights the fashion world's best-dressed grounds.

August 11, 2000|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

You don't have to stand on your tiptoes to peek into the gardens of some of the world's fashion greats. A lush new book, "Private Gardens of the Fashion World," by Francis Dorleans, with photographs by Claire de Virieu (Abbeville/Vendome; $50) gives even the least fashionable slug entree into the gardens of people who've dedicated their lives to making the world better-dressed.

With this book you might gaze wistfully at Valentino's garden in Tuscany, Hardy Amies' in the Cotswolds, or at the Marrakech garden of painter Jacques Majorelle, now preserved by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge. Or stroll through the magical and much-copied garden created by Nicole de Vesian of Hermes in the south of France. Perched on a stony hillside, the garden, writes Dorleans, has "more stones than flowers, and although that comes as no surprise, the severity is startling, especially considering that this is the home of a Parisian lady of fashion. . . . At once dreamlike and minimalist . . . it started a fashion in Provence and one now finds versions of it all over the world." De Virieu's photos in this coffee-table book are superb, and it's not hard to imagine yourself on the bright terrace of this garden, immersed in herby fragrance.

There are more than 200 photographs of elegant gardens belonging to 18 fashion luminaries around the world. Who would suspect that these couturiers, who can shock and surprise us on the fashion runway, would have gardens of such subtle charm and timeless beauty? There is nothing bizarre here--no fur, feathers or sequins--only the beauty of plants in settings that are often ancient by California standards.

The gardens are extremely--dare I say it?--sensible, and as traditional and classically elegant as a pair of leather wingtips. Christian Louboutin may design dress shoes with bright red soles--a point the author makes--but his garden expresses nothing more daring than loose poultry wandering its allees. Instead, Louboutin's taste in gardens is very much that of a traditional gardener, and his kitchen garden is the most romantic in the book.

For those of us more familiar with the Gap than Givenchy, the grandeur of the gardens will take some scaling down if they are to be used for inspiration. But since so many of these gardens are in the climatically similar Mediterranean region, we Southern Californians can dream or scheme all we want, because most of what is pictured is doable here. There is nothing in Givenchy's Co^te d'Azur garden that we can't grow, and even YSL's garden in Marrakech is not a stretch, though the elaborate Moorish house, "as flashy as a scene out of 'Arabian Nights,' " may be a little more difficult to duplicate.

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