La Serenissima

A Glass of Aperol

Aperol – a habit acquired by Jasper while in Venice

Bonjourno as they say in Italy. Although to be perfectly honest I really don’t have a lot of time to chat in any language today. As Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, would say “I am up to my oxters in alligators” as they say in Maryhill. The trouble with being not only simply marvellous but also an international woman of business is that there are just not enough hours in the day. I suppose that is what happens when one is a woman who has just come back from a glamorous European destination and still has a household and husband to run as well as a stylish business specialising in interiors for the discerning Glaswegian. Thank goodness there are so few of us at home or I would be run off my feet. Jasper, on the other hand, is in his shed apparently taking cuttings but, as Mrs T has reported, he is fast asleep in a Lloyd Loom chair with a glass of aperol beside him.

Dinner Dance Master Class

The simply marvellous Assembly Rooms in George Street

This of course means he will be in no fit state to practice the cha-cha-cha with me later. He has two left feet and no sense of rhythm or direction and I want him to help me demonstrate this dance in Edinburgh at the weekend when I shall be giving one of my master classes at the Assembly Rooms in George Square. This is not a master class in dance, I wouldn’t presume, but rather in how those who are new to business might make the most of the opportunities afforded by that most popular of events, the firm’s annual dinner dance. After all the nights are drawing in and the winter season fast approaches so one’s thoughts should be turning to preparation for this event.

Many of the men who luckily returned from the last Unpleasantness now find themselves climbing up the ladder of business in Glasgow or Edinburgh. They are in all manner of business activities in our cities for example in wholesale ironmongers, or bungalow building firms or perhaps have just been invited to become partners in an accountancy or law firm or have recently been promoted in that well respected shipping agency, leather manufactures or in our great textile firms such as Coats and Clarkes, or even in our new industries like Ferranti. Business and social success go hand in hand and one is just as likely to become a partner with a good golf handicap or Palais Glide as one is with a mastery of double entry bookkeeping or quality control.

Navigating Your Way Out of Trouble

For many young men the social side of business is a minefield. A night out with the managing director can be more stressful than one’s monthly sales figures report. What should one say to avoid blotting one’s copybook; does one mix the grape with the grain; are patent shoes too much? It is to be frank a jungle and that is before we get to the person that will make or break the evening or indeed your career in automatic door closers, the lady wife! Rest assured you can be certain that your advancement to the management dining room, a company car and the role of Father Christmas at the pensioners’ party depends on how your wife (or indeed intended) looks and behaves at the firm’s dinner dance.

Never fear, as ever I am here for you and on Saturday at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh I am making sure my master class allays your fears and begins your training for you big night out later in the year.

a sherry party

Follow my advice and I can promise you, ladies, soon your husband will be on the fast track to the boardroom and his dreams of an executive chair with arms, a secretary with legs and a rubber plant in the corner of the office will soon become reality. Of course, ladies his success will be your success too and in no time you will have that new top loader, food mixer and electric floor polisher, not to mention invitations to sherry parties and the occasional indulgence of a small Cinzano for those you like something herby or a G&T for the more conventional.

Success is Within Reach

So ladies and gentlemen, business success in 1950’s Scotland is very dependent on success at the firm’s dinner dance. Who knows you may find yourselves moving house to be near me in Glasgow’s West End   and hopefully decorating your new home with furnishings from my shop ‘Chez Nous’, the gateway to gracious and stylish living. You might even find that you are travelling abroad for the business or even for pleasure.

I am firmly of the belief that more and more people will be travelling abroad to Europe in the second half of this century. I also think Europe will become more of a place with which to do business, especially since the signing of the Treaty of Rome this year and the new European Economic Community. Of course the UK is not part of this yet as we want to see how things are going and I suppose we would only take over as, let’s face it, we do know how to run things well.

Always Trying to Keep Ahead in Soft Furnishings

As you may have gathered from my opening remarks I not only have a firm grasp of the essentials of the Italian language but have in fact been in Italy this past week on business myself. As something of a trendsetter in the world of fashion and stylish interiors, I have to be one step ahead of the game. Being a leader in the business of furnishings and trimmings is not dissimilar from the world of the film actor, one minute one is the talk of the town regarding one’s tassels or ruched cushions and the next one has a glut of sheepskin rugs as a more fashionable emporium has opened along the road.

I am known for my tassels

I am sure you have all seen “All About Eve” and sometimes I feel like the Bette Davis of the lampshade world. One must always have something fresh and exciting for one’s customers or tap into their current interests to develop your displays and move your stock. Now I know that the current vogue is for all things Scandinavian. That is for practicality, but sometimes the Glaswegian just wants a little bit of gilt and glamour in the home and who is more glamorous and stylish than the Italians? They have sharp tailoring, wonderful leather and beautiful shoes. There is an elegance in all that they do with their printed skirts, large sunhats, crisp white blouses and gold tassel earrings. Jasper just adores Sophia Loren almost as much as he does the staff at Harry’s Bar. They do indeed know how to create ‘La Dolce Vita’.

 A Tiara of Proud Towers and a Nicked Tiara


For me Venice is my city of inspiration. I love its decayed beauty and fragility and the wearing of age like a badge of honour. I wish I could do the same.

The decayed beauty of Venice

Like so many of you, Venice is part of my imagination and let’s face it we have all been there with Mr Turner’s paintings and in Mr Ruskin’s stones as well as with Shakespeare not to mention with Voltaire in Candide, Henry James in the Aspen Papers and The Wings of a Dove, Wilkie Collins in the Haunted Hotel and Across the River and Into the Trees with Ernest Hemmingway.

Of course Jasper’s  experience is limited to the descriptions of Lady Constance in that book he has covered in brown wrapping paper from the Post Office, which he keeps in the shed and thinks I don’t know about and onto which he has scrawled the renamed title for security purposes – “Lady Chatterley’s Liver – A beginners guide for first year medical students”, by Dr Lawrence. He thinks I came up the Clyde on a Garibaldi biscuit! Our nephew Sebastian, the actor, finds his Venice in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Mrs Travers has a glass clown, over and above her son Billy. My Venice is in Lord Byron’s Childe Harold:

She looks like a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,

Rising with her tiara of proud towers

At airy distance, with majestic motion,

A ruler of the waters and their powers:

And such she was – her daughters had their dowers

From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East

Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers:

In purple was she robed, and of her feast

Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased. 

The missing tiara

Of course I should not be mentioning Billy Travers and tiaras in the same paragraph what with him suspected of having been involved in the theft of Lady Pentland-Firth’s jewels using Jasper’s Humber Super Snipe. I digress but such is the fault of the multi talented individual.

Your First Time

the rialto bridge

One might have one’s picture of Venice from art or literature but take it from me one only ever sails up the Grand Canal for the first time, once. So do it from the Piazzale Roma to St Mark’s sitting as near the front of the Vapporetto as you can. Your breath will be taken away as you sail under the Rialto Bridge and past The Ca’ d’Oro, The Accademia,  the Salute and the Doge’s Palace.

The Salute

You will of course be reminded of how many of the princes of Glasgow’s industrialisation took their architectural inspiration from these buildings and some will seem oddly familiar if you know Union Street or Templeton’s carpet factory or indeed the interior of Wylie and Lochhead’s in Buchannan Street. The merchants of Glasgow saw themselves as successors to the merchants of Venice.

Everyone Knows When Muriel is in Town

I had rather hoped to keep my visit a secret. Well you know what it is like when one visits an old haunt, old friends expect a call. I had no sooner settled Jasper into a café with a book and an aperol and myself into our hotel than the telephone started to ring. Maria Callas, who is a well known singer of the operatic type, said my arrival had been the talk of the “Café Florian” that morning and could she pop in on her way to rehearsals at La Fenice.

La Fenice, Venice’s opera house

She looks wonderful and I wish I could get my eyeliner to look so perfect. I asked why she had left the Edinburgh Festival and Lady Pentland-Firth’s Classic Country House Concert early. “No particular reason” she said, “it is expected of a diva. Who is going to pay attention to a singer who behaves themselves?” adding that staying in Lady P-F’s guest bedroom was no treat. I asked if that was the tartan room where Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept on his way north. Maria said it was and she would have thought they might have changed the sheets. I knew exactly what she meant as Jasper and I have had that room too and we found his wig under the bolster.

Peggy Guggenheim’s Table is Too Small

at Peggy’s Palace

No sooner had Maria departed to warm up her voice than the telephone rang again and this time it was Peggy Guggenheim from the Palazzo on the other side of the Grand Canal between The Salute and the Accademia. Peggy asked if we had anything planned for the evening if not would we come over for suppa as she had one or two new pictures she would rather like us to see. As she reputedly buys one a day this can be hard work. Of course having inherited 2.9 million dollars in 1919 she can well afford the odd daube or two.

Her taste runs to the avant-guarde and the bohemian and she is an old friend of Patience Pentland-Firth as they hung about together in Paris in the 20s with Man Ray and Duchamp. I must say she has far better taste than Patience, but then like so many of us with good taste she lost family on The Titanic; as she said over suppa “Tragic Muriel, but character building.”

She divorced artist Max Ernst about 10 years ago and bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the canal and began to promote American artists. Jasper rather likes her and she likes him but then she she is rather keen on anything in a linen suit – even Jasper. She has suggested that Jasper’s shed might become a rather unusual venue for modern art and says if he would like it, he can borrow one of the Picassos as she has quite a few. One wag says she collects as many men as pictures. She had a short affair with Beckett, who was a famous Irish playwright called Samuel Beckett. Perhaps if it had been a longer affair she might have helped him to write a play someone could understand. I must say she is very hospitable but she has the oddest dining room – the table is so small and narrow, it is such a crush sitting around it. As Jasper says it is all elbows and spaghetti.

Film Festivals are Such Hard Work

We were invited back the following evening to meet some of her artist friends but as Jasper says one can be overloaded with surrealism, cubism, abstractionism and he was himself more interested in finding a pizza-ism as he calls the restaurants. Fortunately we had an invitation to the Film Festival so were able to make our excuses. I say fortunately but then the film choices were not exactly, and I quote my husband, “a bundle of laughs” as we had to sit through a A Hatful of Rain, a film about a young man with a secret morphine addiction, (one was reminded of Lady P-F and the Armontilado problemo)

Lady Pentland-Firth#s problemo

made bearable said Jasper by Eva Marie Saint and a score by Bernard Hermann. Nice to be invited. However, light it was not and then there was Le Notti Bianche an Italian film by “the neo realist” Visconti based on a Dostoevsky novel White Nights with Maria Schell and Marcello Mastrioni. You get the drift! The film which seems most popular was an Indian film called Aparajito, there is a general feeling among the cognoscenti that Indian films are the coming thing. There certainly was a wonderful scene with a train, although one quite ached for an Ealing comedy.

Nothing is Too Good for “Chez Nous” Clients

luxurious Venetian fabric

I was not in Venice, however, just to party and watch films there was after all some serious shopping to be done for Chez Nous and I managed to pick up some wonderful Fortuny fabrics and lights which I think will have an appeal to some of my special clients who like a little bit of luxury.

Venice has always been well placed for the importation of wonderful fabrics such as velvets, silks and damasks and designers like Fortuny knew how to use them. I am sure you are all familiar with his Delphos dresses with the pleats that were so fine no one can replicate them. Just as well really – they were a little unforgiving on the mature figure.

the dragonfly vase designed by Zecchin in the 20s

Glass, however, is always my downfall and I was unable to resist some pieces by that master Vittorio Zecchin who also designed graphics and furniture as well as ceramics. It is his dragonfly vases of the 1920s that I love most and the colours are wonderful. Although he died in 1947, the Venini Factory for which he was the artistic director still produce his designs, thank goodness.

I cannot wait to reorganise ‘Chez Nous’ and prompted by a beautiful image of Mary Magdalene at the Accademia, I have suggested to Lady Pentland-Firth that she and I host an Italian Night to raise funds for the Home for Fallen Women. September is always one of our busiest months. Such a lot of falling takes place in Glasgow during Christmas and New Year.

Anyway must dash I need Jasper to practice his hip movements for Edinburgh and then I am going to the shop to see if my windows might look good in Tintoretto red.


il Semplicemente meraviglioso

Sig.ra Muriel Wylie

This entry was posted in Talk of the Town. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to La Serenissima

  1. Louise Lewis (Lady from the right side of Carlisle) says:

    Buon giorno Signora Wylie,

    Ah, Venice is indeed ‘La Serenissima’ itself! As are you, Mu dwaaling! Serene, stylish and simply made for ‘la vita bella! As one sits here, sipping an Aperol Spritz (like dear Jasper: one is a huge fan), one pines for a taste of Venetian life…..not to mention a slice of pizza on the piazza!

    As you may be aware, dear heart, La Lulu is out of sorts at the moment and plagued with pain from the damned arthritis. So your snippet of Venetian voluptuousness has cheered one up no end……one hopes that Venetian vowels were equally as captivating as their Italian counterparts! Si, si Signor……all good words for the lips, especially when spoken like Sophia Loren…..!

    Do let one know how your Cha Cha Cha went down at the lecture… is sure your Alemana was a thing of beauty and that Jasper’s Cuban Breaks broke a few hearts in the Ballroom. As you quite rightly say; many a promotion can be gained or lost on the quality of one’s Cha Cha Ch-arm…….

    Ciao bella,
    Lulu xxxx

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    Anglo-Italian cultural relations, a mucky book, and the greatest minds.

    I’m keen to know what oxters are. Do I have any?

    One should never drink oneself into a chair when one should be doing the cha-cha-cha with one’s beloved. This should be the first lesson in how to be a gentleman, before one ever considers climbing a management ladder. One’s beloved must wish to share the adventure, and benefit from it.

    I think Muriel is the perfect emissary to ease trade between Italy and Great Britain. Two stylish nations sharing their common marvellousness. Savile Row and Milan, Maranello and, er, Newport Pagnell.

    Lady Chatterley’s Liver. An optimistic target even for a man of the soil.

    I should probably change the subject to architecture. I must visit Glasgow, the architecture alone will make it worthwhile.

    The thought of Muriel and Peggy Guggenheim in the same room. Greats, both. The thought of Peggy and Patience together does lead one to ponder. Beckett, eh…

    I’m fond of surrealism. My friend is one, possibly two.

    I must see all of those films. All of them. Obviously I too would seek to lighten the mood with Kind Hearts and Coronets.

    Chez nous must look wonderful. Bella.


    • Muriel Wylie says:

      Dearest Matthew,

      You do indeed have oxters – it is the Scots’ word for the area under your arms, armpits to be exact. And indeed Chez Nous is a delight. You ae so observant.

      Yours truly

      Mu x

  3. Moira Taylor says:

    Oh such marvellous splendidness Muriel! I totally agree with Jasper when confronted with an invitation to return to Peggy Guggenheim’s – having visited Florence one can become overexcited by a surfeit of beauty.
    I do admire your ability to sit through those dreary-sounding films – I would have preferred a night at the opera ( Verdi, not the Marx Brothers, obviously).
    It is so good to know you are back on these shores and preparing to share your wealth of knowledge on all things stylish. Where would we be without you to marvellously steer us through the myriad styles with which we are currently tempted?
    Not altogether sure it is wise to leave a man alone to practise his hip movements but you probably know best, dear.

Comments are closed.