France-Amérique has selected five coffee-table books including rare editions, glossy guides to fashion and art de vivre, and collections of cocktail recipes all published by prestigious houses. Perfect for putting under the tree this Christmas.
In 1898, the Swiss businessman César Ritz inaugurated a palace hotel boasting “the full sophistication any prince would expect to find in his own home,” at 11 Place Vendôme in Paris. The Ritz was very modern for its time and was an immediate hit with international celebrities of the day. Actress Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor, singer Maria Callas, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henri de Rothschild were regular guests. French writers could also often be seen there, from Jean Cocteau to Colette — who lived in a fourth-floor suite from 1934 until her death — and Marcel Proust, who celebrated his Prix Goncourt for In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower at the hotel in 1920. During the Roaring Twenties, the palace hotel became popular with Americans fleeing Prohibition. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the novella The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, and Ernest Hemingway contributed to the legend in their books. Today the Parisian palace hotel is continuing its search for excellence, and every detail counts, from the impeccable quality of the bed linens and the cuisine served to the ultra-slim screens installed in the mirrors in the bedrooms. In this work, Laure Verchère pays homage to this institution, where history and modernity combine.
Eternally Ritz, by Laure Verchère (Assouline, 85 dollars)
The Complete Costume History
The last word in fashion long fell to the six-volume encyclopedia Le Costume historique by illustrator and lithographer Albert Racinet, published in Paris between 1876 and 1888. Since united in a single work, they have just been republished by Françoise Tétart-Vittu, the former curator of the Musée Galliera, the museum of fashion and costumes of the city of Paris. The 636 pages are an invitation to adventure from Ancient Egypt to Victorian England, with readers introduced to Russian farmers, Aztec warriors, and figures sporting togas and top hats. Racinet mostly depicted Western civilizations in his illustrations. Although this did not stop him enthusiastically portraying the “Red Skins” of Kansas and Nebraska, the Choctaws in the Mississippi Valley, and the “Eskimos” in the Great Canadian North. Every plate is accompanied by the author’s observations, which are often instructive while also giving a certain insight into the prejudices of his time. Readers will learn that bison leather, which is “used for coats, beds, and covers,” is known as “mahitou,” and that the “industry of the Killimous [a Native American tribe from Oregon] is not as advanced as that of the African negros, who are able to weave and dye fabrics.”
Racinet: The Complete Costume History, by Françoise Tétart-Vittu (Taschen, 70 dollars)
The French Riviera in the 1920s
In the interwar period, the Côte d’Azur became the most popular vacation spot for wealthy Americans looking to spend the winter in the sun. Around this time, a couple of hedonistic U.S. expats called Gerald and Sara Murphy discovered the town of Antibes. They decided to build the Villa America, a modern masterpiece designed by two American architects, where they hosted their friends Picasso and Man Ray. They were soon joined by the Lost Generation writers fleeing New York in search of sunnier climes, and a prolific intellectual scene began to develop. Jean Cocteau, the Fitzgeralds (Scott actually wrote The Great Gatsby there), Broadway composer Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway all helped create the legend of the French Riviera. Historian and art critic Xavier Girard looks back over this carefree time in a magnificent book featuring unique archive images from private collections, and illustrates the joyful intellectual inspiration of the Roaring Twenties in this little slice of Southern France.
The French Riviera in the 1920s, by Xavier Girard (Assouline, 195 dollars)
Have you always dreamed of packing your bags and moving to live in a château in France? Australian Jane Webster made this fantasy a reality in 2004 when she bought the Château de Bosgouet in Normandy, where she now hosts cooking workshops during the summer. This extraordinary experience inspired the author to write a number of works including At My French Table and French Ties. In her latest book, she welcomes readers to her 19th-century residence to show how contemporary chatelaines live, cook, set the table, and receive their guests. From the vegetable garden to the vast banquets held in the château grounds to a visit to a local food market, she pursues her “all-consuming obsession” for the gastronomy and art de vivre of her adoptive country. The book also features 60 varied family recipes superbly photographed by Robyn Lea, including three-cheese soufflé, panna cotta with lemon curd and fresh berries, and a selection of pies… A fairy tale come to life.
Château Life, Cuisine and Style in the French Countryside, by Jane Webster (Assouline, 85 dollars)
This term has no exact English translation, and the expressions “cocktail hour” and “pre-dinner drinks” are approximations. The Americans instead use the French word, apéritif (and its abbreviation, apéro) to describe both the drink and the enjoyable moment spent with friends while sipping said cocktail or glass of wine at the end of the day. American journalist Rebekah Peppler splits her time between Los Angeles and the 18th arrondissement of Paris, and has written a book about this symbolic ritual of French art de vivre. “L’apéro is so much more than a simple apéritif and a snack before dinner,” she writes. “It ushers in and properly celebrates the night’s beginning.” After all, apéritif comes from the Latin aperire, which means “to open”! Depending on the season, readers can indulge in one of the 54 cocktail recipes that showcase traditional French liquors such as Dubonnet, Byrrh, Lillet, Suze, and Pastis. In the winter, or generally “when it’s too damn cold out,” the book suggests a Dubonnet Cassis, a Vert Jus, or a Vin Chaud Rouge. And in summer, we recommend a Suze Tonic, a Kir-Beer, or a Perroquet. Cheers!
Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way, by Rebekah Peppler (Clarkson Potter, 18.99 dollars)