Defining Elegance

fausto-calderaicontesally
(Contessanally calls Fausto Calderai — in white tie– “Florence’s most elegant man about town.” But my money may be on Marchese Dotti Bichi Ruspoli Forteguerri, who looks like he wears a dinner suit every evening.)

LuxuryCulture.com is a marvelous thing. It is the creation of Yaffa Assouline and is therefore, very elegant. In the online magazine they frequently ask those profiled a version of the Proust questionnaire. “If Luxury were….”

What a good idea! And, as the man who taught me the most about writing used to say: “when you know enough to steal the very best…”

Elegance is an elusive target. I still believe that there is an empirical elegance, something that we all recognize as elegant. But I think that the individual’s definition is by its very nature… individual to that person. I wonder where the overlap occurs?

Do a quick google search on “the elegant man” and you’ll be surprised what images turn up. For the most part your results will emphasize accessories. “Clothes make the man” is the message. And to some degree, that’s correct. Your outward appearance can be indicative of your inner life. “The elegant woman” does slightly better, and rewards you with this survey.

DD, a new reader, commented yesterday “I do believe that elegance in demeanor, dress, and speech is always rather startling to observe, so unaccustomed are we to seeing it nowadays.”

That’s a damning statement, isn’t it? We know it when we see it. But, if we can define what it is to be elegant, we are half way to living a more elegant life. And that’s what this Easy and Elegant Life experiment is all about.

Here’s a little weekend parlor game. I invite you to play along. I’ll even send a invitation to those living persons whom you nominate as elegant soliciting their answers to the quiz.

If Elegance were an object:

If Elegance were a moment:

If Elegance were a person:

If Elegance were a place:

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17 Responses to Defining Elegance

  1. Trish says:

    If Elegance were an object: a classic, yellow gold, milled wedding band

    If Elegance were a moment: the photographed moment of President and Mrs. Obama, she wearing his dinner jacket over her gown in a freight elevator leaving an Inauguration Ball

    If Elegance were a person: Katharine Hepburn

    If Elegance were a place: The Carlyle Hotel, New York City

  2. Jan Siberry says:

    If elegance were an object: Art Deco cocktail bar — well-kitted out with appropriate sterling accessories ….. white roses or lilies in crystal. Well-cut tuxedo worn with a sense of dashing devil-may-care.

    If elegance were a movement: A gentleman slowly removing a ladies coat — and then pulling out her chair. Offering his hand as she rises to dance with him. Offering a charming and witty toast to the occasion. The proper handshake. Trying a bowtie. Mixing a martini.

    If elegance were a person: Cary Grant. Fred Astaire. Myrna Loy and William Powell. Maurice Chevalier.

    If elegance were a place: Palm Springs. Palm Beach. The Lanesborough in London. The Dorchester in London. The Pierre Hotel, New York. Four Seasons George V in Paris. Anywhere with a old stone terrace overlooking a long dark pond and formal gardens with the scent of white evening flowers and featuring a table for two under starlight and candlelight.

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  3. Benedict says:

    If Elegance were an object: I think context is very important, but in my book a martini glass (filled with a decent cocktail) would be the most elegant object I could conceive. That or a cigarette.

    If Elegance were a moment: That moment when she is hanging from your shoulder and nobody dare challenge your pre-eminence as you enter the club (I appreciate there is here a slight degree of chauvinism)

    If Elegance were a person: My vote would be for Leonard Cohen, not only for his dress but for his, aha, literary and musical elegance.

    If Elegance were a place: Well now. Either the Piazza San Marco or the Champs d’Elysees? Sorry to be so obvious (and of course one must disregard the Hawaiian-shirted tourists) but I am nothing if not traditional.

  4. Phyllis says:

    If Elegance were a object: A perfect string of pearls on the neck of a lovely woman.
    If Elegance were a moment: When the orchestra begins and the sound is so utterly breathtaking.
    If Elegance were a person: Audrey Hepburn
    If Elegance were a place: Chenonceau Castle in the Loire Valley

  5. HOBAC says:

    If Elegance were an object: an old fashioned man’s watch with a grosgrain band worn by a woman of a certain age.

    If Elegance were a moment: that split second where one decides not to say or not to do something out of pique.

    If Elegance were a person: Marella Agnelli

    If Elegance were a place: the back seat of a black Lincoln Continental sedan with suicide doors.

  6. If Elegance were an object: a heavy bracelet on a slim wrist be it animated or still.

    If Elegance were a moment: the day you wake to face the world when you are sure that you cannot and do.

    If Elegance were a person: Grace Kelly

    If Elegance were a place: any table that has been graciously set on your behalf.

  7. Paula says:

    Elegance is seasonal. If elegance were an object in April, it would be violets and trees in bud; in May it would be big, fat, gorgeous peonies; in June it would be an old-fashioned English rose bush; in July it would be an American flag hung at the front door step; in August, it is our backyard–a shaded swimming pool with our English Springer Spaniel doing the backstroke while we work in the garden. If elegance were an object in September, it would be a child’s pair of back-to-school shoes (preferably hard shoes in English red for girls); in October, elegance is a fire pit in your backyard surrounded by chairs and blankets and our daughter and her friends; in November, elegance is a beautifully set Thanksgiving table and the smell of dinner to come. Elegance in December is the smell of fresh evergreens in the house and singing at church on Christmas eve by candlelight. January elegance is going to bed early and often; February elegance is the smell of freshly laundered and ironed linens and a well-ordered linen closet; March elegance is that day when you first notice the light is different outdoors and suddenly days are longer.

    if elegance were a moment, it might have been when Ronald Reagan gave his goodbye speech to the American public, knowing he was ‘going away’ to Alzheimer’s. He looked so happy and proud and confident, and his words were his own. He knew how to sign off with grace and dignity.

    if elegance were a person, definitely my beloved husband–smartest & funniest man I know, always handsome, possesses real wisdom–a trait which few people have or understand anymore. Elegance is also a well-adjusted, witty, handsome and smart 21 year-old son who is very comfortable in his own skin.

    If elegance were a place: waterskiing on Lac Lucerne in that frigid water. Yikes!

  8. G-M Jones says:

    If Elegance were a person, I think it would be these 5 men :

    1. Dirk Bogarde
    2. Rudolf Nureyev
    3. Erik Bruhn
    4. Helmut Berger
    5. Alain Delon

    I admire all of the above and their way of dressing and also demeanour. I think some people are born with inner elegance. They know how to hold themselves in an effortless, impeccable manner. But most people have to work hard at it whether it is the way you speak, walk, dress and etc. One does have to keep practising. I think that’s why we need to bring back elocution lessons at school. I highly recommend this following book, “The Magic Key to Charm by Eileen Ascroft and Joanna Lumley” and it teaches you how to be elegant. It’s one of the bibles on elegance which teaches you from how to pronounce properly, how to dress and even how to run for the bus elegantly!

  9. Francisco says:

    If Elegance were an object: British Infantry Officer’s Sword 1895/1897 Pattern.

    If Elegance were a moment: a sincere “Thank you” with a light but genuine smile.

    If Elegance were a person: Grace Kelly

    If Elegance were a place: the German Pavilion, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition.

  10. Ryan says:

    If elegance were an object: personal unique cuff links; a pocket watch.

    If elegance were a moment: those relaxed minutes after a formal affair when your untied bow tie is draped around your neck and top button is open, cocktail in hand – a sublime combination of style and relaxation; the end of a seemingly perfect first date.

    If elegance were a person: Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, my father

    If elegance were a place: Rick’s Cafe – Casablanca; any nightclub from the 40’s, drenched in smoke and laughter filled, tuxedos and cocktail dresses, live entertainment.

  11. Alexandra says:

    If elegance were an object: A beautiful silk scarf tied around a lady’s head and a simple strand of pearls.

    If elegance were a moment: The moment that a lady and gentleman graciously answer the door to their guests attending a dinner party, cocktails in hand, adorned in a gorgeous cocktail dress and tuxedo.

    If elegance were a person: The amazing Grace Kelly.

    If elegance were a place: Afternoon tea at the Waldorf.

  12. Nancy Corradini says:

    If elegance were an object: custom tailored tuxedo for a man and for a woman with a skirt above the knee.

    If elegance were a moment: When a bride walks down the aisle to beautiful music.

    If elegance were a person: Jackie Kennedy

    If elegance were a place: Dining room at Country Club Hotel, Lima, Peru.

  13. L Nicholson says:

    One of the great cornerstones of elegance is timelessness, however a list such as this should certainly bear relevance to the current time. With that in mind:

    If Elegance were an object: the new BMW 7 series which was designed in collaboration with one of the great elegant ladies of the last several decades, the editor of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani.

    If Elegance were a moment: Henri Cartier-Bresson defines this best in his “Decisive Moment”- “The simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression…”

    If Elegance were a person: Queen Rania of Jordan

    If Elegance were a place: Portofino- simplicity in the face of luxury, au courant yet steeped in history.

  14. Counsellor says:

    Great blog. Do you know of any relevant forums or dicussion groups?

  15. Hello Counsellor and thank you for commenting and reading. You may want to check into The London Lounge (http://www.thelondonlounge.net/) which sparked my interest in digging deeper into what constitutes elegance.

  16. S. Krof says:

    I am in full accord with G-M Jones. Particularly with choices 1 and 5. – Dirk Bogarde and Alain Delon, and in that order. Superb choice.
    For me Elegance is a place: Dubrovnik and all its beauty.

  17. S. Krof says:

    This is unforgivable, and I shan’t even think of asking to be forgiven but Leonard Cohen is synonymous with elegance in style, music, poetry… it goes on… I forgot to mention that earlier. The SHAME!

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