A-Gent of Style made it. Finally.

London was blessed with sweltering hot weather last weekend and A-Gent of Style was joyous at the idea of starting his Saturday morning surrounded by opulent luxury and jaw-dropping beauty. How often can you say that an exhibition was one of the best you ever saw? “Ultra Vanities, Bejewelled Make-Up Boxes from the Age of Glamour” was definitely one of them.

This year summer’s exhibition“Ultra Vanities, Bejewelled Make-Up Boxes from the Age of Glamour” at London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall celebrates a unique, private collection regrouping 300 bedazzling and astounding make-up boxes from the 1920s and 1930s – the Art Deco golden era of bejewelled and enamelled boxes – to the 1970s by some of the world’s most revered jewellery houses, such as Bulgari, Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels and Chaumet.

Displayed in a setting enveloped in a lush, raspberry crushed velvet and reminiscent of a French salon, these “nécessaires de beauté” (capable of carrying everything a woman might need hence their name), minaudières (from the French verb minauder meaning to simper with great affectation and mannerisms, invented and coined by Charles Arpels of Van Cleefs & Arpels in 1934 to replace the evening bag after he saw a friend’s wife carry her make-up and several loose items in a tin box) and compacts (for they were very small. Birkins they were not) epitomising the age of glamour gives a mesmerising insight into the luxury fashion and design trends of the period and their social mores, as well as the miracles of miniature engineering that went into these masterpieces’ interior fitments which left A-Gent marvelling at their exquisite workmanship, artistry and creativity for hours.

These stunning objets d’art incorporated everything a society lady such as Mona von Bismarck or the celebrated American decorator Elsie De Wolfe who was recorded in 1921 as owning one of the earliest boxes, created by Cartier: a powder compact, lipstick, comb, cigarette holder, mirror and, occasionally, note pad and pencil, and were the perfect appurtenance and adjunct to a couture outfit.

Some of these Pandora’s boxes were utterly captivating: lift the lid and a portable dressing table is revealed, complete with mirror, four compartments and removable powder compact.

Made from expensive materials such as precious and semi-precious stones, mother of pearl, lacquer, and tortoiseshell, they required jewellers, enamellers, goldsmiths, stone-setters and engravers who would handcraft them with the same attention to detail as a piece of haute joaillerie. They were built for function and practicality but were also used for showing off showcasing wealth and social prominence as they sat delicately on cocktail bars and dinner tables.

Today’s clutch bags seemed a little lacklustre in comparison…

N65-1 - Janesich, c 1920-25 (closed)

Goldsmiths’ Hall and its Ultra Vanities in situ:

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The associated book “Ultra Vanities – Minaudières, Nécessaires and Compacts” written by Meredith Etherington-Smith is on sale during the exhibition. Meredith Etherington-Smith is editor in-chief of Christie’s Magazine and the director of Double-Barrelled Books, a specialist arts publisher.

A-Gent of Style knows who he will be going to bed with this week…



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