With Redeeming Features, set mainly in New York, London, Arizona, and various parts of Europe, British designer Nicholas Haslam has written, with great charm and passion, a completely engaging memoir about pretty much everyone you have ever heard of anywhere in the 20th and 21st centuries. Like a "WASP Zelig", from the 1950s until 2008, the frenetically social and ebullient Haslam has managed, according to Vanity Fair, to "pop up from decade to decade alongside some of the most fascinating people in our cultural history."
Now a successful designer with clients from Moscow to Marrakesh, in the 1950s, fresh out of art school, he started learning at the knees of such aristocratic bohemians as Lady Diana Cooper and photographer, designer, and diarist Cecil Beaton. Of course he also came across Chips Channon, actress Tilly Losch, designer Oliver Messel, and photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. Haslam is a brilliant mimic with a great eye, so aside from revealing people's speech eccentricities, he gives you a perfect description of a room where a given social gathering is taking place.
In the 60s he was working at various English newspapers and British Vogue before going to New York with British photographer David Bailey (Antonioni's Blow-Up was about Bailey) and model Jean Shrimpton. There he worked for the art director at American Vogue in the days of Diana Vreeland, and Haslam gives a lively rundown on that office and its editors. In non-working hours he was hanging out with Djuna Barnes and Cole Porter, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford and Jane Russell, with Dorothy Parker, ballet star Edward Villella, and John Richardson.
By 1963 Haslam was art director of Huntington Hartford's magazine Show, spent time at the Factory, and starred in the Warhol film, Kiss, with Baby Jane Holzer. He was beginning to decorate and continued when, in 1966, he bought a ranch near Phoenix to breed and show Arabian horses. For four years he commuted to Los Angeles, working as a photographer for such film producers as Dominick Dunne and decorating for Natalie Wood, among others.
Once back in England in 1972, he wrote a column for David Bailey's Ritz, and NH Design took off, with such clients as Rod Stewart, Rupert Everett, Bryan Ferry, and Ringo Starr. He also designed restaurants, nightclubs, and stores, as well as parties for the Prince of Wales and various Rothschilds.
Redeeming Features is a unique picture of the cultural scene of the second half of the 20th century. Haslam is a gifted storyteller whose wit and enthusiasm make this a compelling read.
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What a terrible book