The Antique Mahogany Four-Poster Beds of the U.S. Virgin Islands–The World’s Most Stately Beds

Virgin Islands Antique Mahogany Four-Poster Beds

Crucian 4-Poster Mahogany Bed.jpg

In all the world, there is no bed more stately than the antique four-poster mahogany beds of the United States Virgin Islands, the former Danish West Indies. Certainly, there are beds more grand, more intricately detailed, more fancy and ostentatious. But in terms of sheer magnificence, that ever-delicate balance between form and function, and understated elegance, the beds of the Virgin Islands are beyond compare. To enter a room in which one is situated is to be drawn, almost instinctively, onto it. Wherever situated in the room, the bed becomes the center of the room—the navel of the space. And it is upon those great beds that families are conceived, born, and die, generation after generation.

In 1493, as Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the New World approached the Caribbean archipelago at its center-point, it is said that he remarked that the islands—some big, some mere rocks jutting out the sea—reminded him of the legend of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins who are said to have been massacred by the Huns near present-day Cologne as she, accompanied by her virginal retinue, undertook a self-declared pan-European pilgrimage prior to her marriage to the pagan governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica. In honor of St. Ursula and her many virgins, Columbus named the idyllic islands “Las Islas Virgenes” (“The Virgin Islands”).

Almost immediately after the Spanish conquest, the Virgin Islands—especially St. Croix because of its strategic location within the Caribbean archipelago and its relatively flat, arable land—would become the object of desire for a long line of European interlopers and colonizers, from the English and Dutch, to the Knights of Malta and the French, and motley crews of pirates in between. But it was the Danes, towards the end of the 1600s and the first decades of the 1700s, that embarked upon comprehensive, sustained efforts at colonizing the Virgin Islands, namely St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas.

Apart from pre-Columbian Amerindian furnishings, very little of which has survived, much of the furniture-making heritage of the Virgin Islands occurs during the Danish era (1671-1917). By the 18th century, as a result of profits made from the slave trade and the sugar industry, Caribbean plantations had become infamous for their immense wealth, so much so that the adage “as wealthy as a Barbados planter” would become a part of the vernacular, and St. Croix would come to be dubbed “The Garden of the West Indies.” Mansions reflecting and celebrating that wealth were built and had to be furnished and decorated—typically with European luxury items. In the beginning, European planters would import European-made furniture constructed from European woods. But it soon became apparent that the local species of termites had a special appetite for European woods, in many cases leaving the intricately carved, gold-leaf Rococo furniture of the late 18th century so structurally compromised that it would collapse upon being touched.

Beginning in the early in the 1700s, plantation owners would ship termite-resistant Caribbean hardwoods back to Europe, the wood then used to make furniture that would in turn be shipped back to the islands for use in the plantation mansions. There are accounts of exquisite mahogany and rosewood being shipped to Europe to be made into furniture that would then be decorated with gold-leaf to suit the tastes of the day, concealing, unfortunately, the beautiful grain of the tropical hardwoods in the process.

The History of Mahogany

Swietenia mahogani is native to Cuba, Hispanola (Domican Republic and Haiti), and Jamaica in Greater Antilles, as well as the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. The tree is believed to have been introduced to the Lesser Antilles and Central America during the colonial era, between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Popularly known as mahogany, West Indian mahogany, Cuban mahogany, and Spanish mahogany, it has for over 300 years been regarded as the world’s finest, most versatile, and luxurious furniture wood.

An upright-growing tree, able to attain heights of 150 feet under favorable conditions, mahogany is highly prized for its dense, tight-grained, reddish-brown wood, which is conducive to a high polish.

Mahogany was first introduced to the European market five centuries ago by the Spanish, the major colonizers of the Greater Antilles, but it was the English, who in the very late 17th century, made the wood a household name. One of the earliest mentions of mahogany in English newspapers occurs in the London Gazette of February 22nd to 25th, 1702. The first reference to mahogany in the statistics of imports filed at the Public Record Office is dated Christmas 1699 – Christmas 1700: “Jamaica. Wood Mohogony….” And it is generally regarded that between 1720 and 1725, the English began using mahogany in the furniture-making trade. The Daily Journal of May 26, 1724 reports what is undoubtedly the first recorded use of mahogany in the construction of doors: “His Magesty’s Ship, the Mermaid, which is coming from Jamaica, hath on Board from thence 600 Planks of the famous Mahoginy or Redwood, which grows in no Part of the World but the West-Indies, which Wood is to be employed, in making all the inner Doors in the new Admiralty-Office, now building at Whitehall; and to be used in Tables and other Purposes for the said Office.”

By 1774 Swietenia mahogani had become scarce in most parts of its natural range, and it was virtually extinct in Cuba by the end of the 19th century. Closely related to West Indian mahogany is Swietenia macrophylla, also known as Honduras mahogany or South American mahogany. Besides sporting a bigger leaf (hence its botanical name), the South American variety is less dense, less beautifully patterned (therefore less valuable as a decorative veneer wood), and less expensive. And unlike the West Indian varieties, which are enhanced by age (the Cuban variety becoming honey-brown when exposed to sunlight and the Hispañolan, which becomes darker with exposure), Swietenia macrophylla is known to bleach if confronted by sunlight over extended periods.

The reputation of mahogany, as unsurpassed for beauty and versatility in the furniture-making trade, has led to its commercial extinction in many regions of the world. Several countries, however, have come to the rescue of the species by enacting laws regulating its harvest, use, and export.

By the 1790s and into the first decades of the 1800s, with the clean, simple lines of Empire furniture becoming all the rage and oftentimes replacing the ornately carved Rococo furniture of 50 years earlier, exotic tropical woods, especially mahogany, became prized since the simple line of Empire furniture lent itself to the beautiful grain and rich color of mahogany. And it was the convergence of simplicity of line and richness of wood that laid the foundation for what would become the Virgin Islands’ greatest contribution to the decorative arts: the four-poster mahogany bed.

When Africans were enslaved and forcibly shipped to the Caribbean to labor on plantations, they brought with them their culture, professions, talents, and skills. Highborn and lowborn and skilled and unskilled alike were equalized as manual laborers. The only outlets for artistic expression were in the performing and useful arts. Who otherwise might have been or become a painter or sculptor or poet in a free society oftentimes found him/herself—during the little free time allowed the enslaved—gravitating towards performance arts such as music or dance, or crafts such as cooking, jewelry-making, or furniture-making.

Wood-working and carving, still a strong tradition in Haiti, had long been a part of West African tradition before the emergence of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the 15th century. So in the early 1800s, when European plantation owners realized that it was more practical to have furniture made in the islands by local craftsmen than shipping Caribbean hardwoods all the way to Europe to be made into furniture, that furniture then having to be shipped all the way back to the Caribbean, plantation owners began utilizing the traditional and European-trained skills of free and enslaved cabinet-makers to produce furniture for local use. What is today stylistically categorized as “Colonial furniture” is the result of a merging of European and African aesthetics.

By the 1830s, during the Late Empire period, African and European aesthetics had converged, giving birth to the 4-poster mahogany bed (and also the elegant, caned Caribbean rocking chairs), arguably the region’s most distinctive and celebrated contribution to the decorative arts.

The necessity of mosquito nets led to the preference for beds with tall, massive, elegantly tapered, lathe-turned, hand-carved posts, surmounted by a “tester,” a framed canopy that, in the finest homes, would typically be dressed with hand-embroidered linen skirting. And the big, upright-growing, abundantly branched mahogany trees provided the necessary lumber for the crafting of the beautiful posts from which the nets could be suspended. Foot boards with open spindle-work, a design feature that triumphantly distinguishes the beds of the Virgin Islands from all other beds of the Caribbean, allow the tropical breezes to flow, unimpeded, onto the beds, thereby cooling their occupants. The foot boards also impart a certain “finish” and “balance” to Virgin Islands beds that is unmatched in other Caribbean beds.  Each headboard was more impressive than the next, craftsmen oftentimes having signature motifs, many of which were Afro-centric. Mattresses were high off the ground—as high as the typical windowsill, necessitating bed-stairs but also allowing for breezes penetrating jalousie windows to bring uninterrupted comfort on warm, tropical nights. The high-set beds were also infamous for wreaking havoc on the bones of careless sleepers!

By the late 1800s, owning a mahogany bedstead had evolved as a rite of passage into adulthood for the average Virgin Islander. Most of the beds were made between 1830 and 1940—until the coming of ready-made American furniture. Modest families had “the family bed,” while more well-to-do families had a bed for each child, children typically carrying along their bedsteads when establishing their own homesteads. So much a part of the culture were the beds that a new bed would be given a “bedstead party” in order to celebrate its one-year anniversary: The bed would be dismantled and reassembled outside the home in a public space of the community so that it could be blessed by clergy and praised by neighbors. (At the end of the party, the bed would again be disassembled and then reassembled in the home).

Virgin Islands four-poster mahogany beds are so esteemed that they are oftentimes bequeathed in last wills and testaments. It is not uncommon, for example, for a testator to dispose of real estate and cash then the bed: “And the mahogany bed upon which I slept should go to….” It is also not uncommon for a mahogany bed to be at the center of family discord and discontent: “Mama had always said that her bed should go to me….” And one of the most highly regarded gifts from a godparent to a godchild is a four-poster mahogany bed. So coveted are the beds that some are said to be haunted by their former owners, making for many a restless night for unapproved subsequent occupants. And many of the islands’ present-day prominent families—the families that produce the lawyers, doctors, university professors, clergymen, and, of course, artists, for example—descend from cabinet-makers who were able to command, on account of the cultural admiration for fine mahogany furniture, a respectable income in the decades following Emancipation in 1848, thereby acquiring private property and availing their offspring to higher education.

Though not as obligatory or ubiquitous as they once were, Virgin Islands four-poster mahogany beds are every bit as revered, locally and abroad. And on the rare occasion when they are offered at international auctions, they are known to command enviable prices.

Everything a Modern Gentleman Should Know About the Nuances and Complexities of Male Sexuality

For many 21st -century individuals who have truly observed, explored, and understood sexuality, sexuality is no longer viewed in over-simplified, absolute terms of “gay or straight,” the former being an “abomination,” and the latter being “correct.” Instead, today’s social thinkers see human sexuality as a complex, visceral, involuntary positioning along a highly nuanced continuum, with no assignment ne of “rightness” and “wrongness” or “naturalness” and “unnaturalness” attributed thereto.  

Wayne James

The Nuances and Complexities of Male Sexuality

Sexuality is an organism’s natural inclination for engaging in sexual activity. Human sexuality manifests along a spectrum, from those exceedingly rare individuals who are 100 percent heterosexual and can only conceive of sex if it is with the other sex, to those extremely rare individuals who are 100 percent homosexual and are utterly repulsed by the thought of sex unless it is with someone of the same sex. Then halfway between those two very rare extremes are those über-rare persons who are 100 percent bi-sexual, equally comfortable engaging in intimate acts with one sex as with the other—and sometimes with both, simultaneously. Most people, however, fall somewhere within those three absolutes, gravitating either towards the heterosexual pole, the homosexual pole, or the bi-sexual median. For many 21st -century individuals who have truly observed, explored, and understood sexuality, sexuality is no longer viewed in over-simplified, absolute terms of “gay or straight,” the former being an “abomination,” and the latter being “correct.” Instead, today’s social thinkers see human sexuality as a complex, visceral, involuntary positioning along a highly nuanced continuum, with no assignment of “rightness” and “wrongness” or “naturalness” and “unnaturalness” attributed thereto. For those newly enlightened people, sexuality is an individualized expression of an oftentimes inexplicable penchant—the way people, for whatever reason, have favorite colors, fragrances, or foods, or naturally gravitate towards the arts or technology or athletics, for example. To such persons, all self-realized, harmless sexuality is valid, and to deny humans their fundamental right to fully and honestly express themselves sexually is to deny humans their basic humanity. For some other people, however, the only “valid” or “natural” expression of sexuality is heterosexuality, every other expression regarded as aberrant.

The Sexual Essences:

Sexual essences—some accepted by at-large society, some not—are as varied and individualized as people themselves. And sexual essences are not fixed: a gentleman may express one essence with one person, and, because of “chemistry,” assume a totally “contradictory” essence with another. There are, for example, men who, in their essence, are only sexually attracted to women, and there are men who, in their essence, are only sexually attracted to men. Then, there are men who are equally sexually attracted to women and men but chose to exclusively express themselves either heterosexually or homosexually. There are men who are heterosocial-homosexuals, and, as such, socialize primarily with the opposite sex but have sex exclusively with their own sex; and there are men who are homosocial-heterosexuals, and, as such, socialize primarily with their own sex but have sex exclusively with the opposite sex. And there are also men who are sexually attracted to both women and men, but more to one than the other. There are men, for example, whose “female” essences are sexually attracted to their own masculine exteriors, rendering such persons narcissistic. There are homosexual men who live “heterosexual” lives. And there are bisexual men who express themselves heterosexually at times and homosexually at other times. Then there are men who are primarily attracted to one sex or another but do not regard engaging in sexual intercourse with the sex to which they are not primarily attracted as remarkable. There are also asexual men, who experience no sensation of sexual attraction. For some such men, a penile erection (whenever one is realized) is the anatomical equivalent of the rising of the chest during the involuntary act of respiration or the swelling of the ankles due to poor circulation. And even if an orgasm is achieved, it is as related to sex as is blowing one’s nose in an attempt to rid it of mucus. There are men who are attracted to the feminine gender, regardless of whether that gender is embodied by a male or a female; and there are men attracted to the masculine gender, regardless of whether that gender is embodied by a male or a female—all the while considering themselves “heterosexual.” There are homosexual men who have no sexual interest in any penis other than their own. And there are other homosexual men whose primary sexual interest is not in their own penises, but in those of other men. It is not uncommon for a heterosexual man to declare himself a “breast man” or an “ass man” or a “legs man,” thereby indicating the part of woman’s anatomy to which he is primarily sexually attracted. Likewise, there are homosexual men for whom the buttocks of another man is where sexual attraction begins and ends. Some heterosexual men achieve their most effective penile erections when there is simultaneous penile-anal stimulation; whereas, for some homosexual men, any anal stimulation is a complete turn-off. Some men describe themselves as “active,” while others describe themselves as “passive” or “versatile.” And there are men who are inclined towards passivity, for example, but, because of certain physical attributes, assume, by default, an “active” role in their sexual relations. There are men who describe themselves as “heterosexual from the waist up,” but “bi-sexual from the waist down.” Then there are some people who are endowed with male and female genitalia and are attracted to just one or both sexes. Some people feel as if they are female trapped in the male body. So they undergo sex-change only to discover that they, in their transformed bodies, are attracted to other women, not men. There are heterosexual men who enjoy wearing women’s clothing, and there are homosexual men who enjoy women’s clothing. But then there are homosexual men who like wearing men’s outerwear, but women’s underwear. Some stereotypically masculine homosexual men receive sexual pleasure only from an effeminate partner who assumes a stereotypically masculine role during sexual intercourse but maintains a stereotypically effeminate role in other aspects of their relationship. Whereas for other stereotypically masculine homosexual men, the more effeminate their sexual partner, the better. Other homosexual men, however, regard effeminate mannerisms as sexually unappealing (claiming that they would opt for sexual relations with a woman over sexual relations with a man with effeminate mannerisms). It is not uncommon for men to be attracted to women who remind them of their sisters. And some men regard interracial sex as infinitely exciting, while others find it utterly repulsive. There are men who are essentially monogamous, while there are others who are essentially polygamous. Some heterosexual men derive sexual pleasure from having their female sex partners assume the stereotypically masculine roles during sex. Some stereotypically effeminate men feel no attraction to stereotypically masculine men; instead, their attraction is to stereotypically masculine females. There are some men who regard sex as simply a physical expression to be engaged in for the purpose of attaining sexual pleasure and consider the particular sex or gender of a sex partner as completely irrelevant. Then there are men with aberrant essences: the fans of fetish; the sadists and their masochists; the men, homosexual or heterosexual, whose sexual essence is that of the dominatrix; men who engage in bestiality; those that dominate and those that wish to be dominated, etc. And the variations upon the theme of sexual essence go on and on, and on and on again…. What is critically important is that there be openness and honesty between sexual partners so that informed decisions can be made. What is also critically important is that no sex act that is capable of compromising the physical, mental, and/or emotional integrity of another be engaged in.

 

The History of Cocktails and the Etiquette of the “Cocktail Hour”

Cocktails

Vermouth, created by Antonio Benedetto Carpano of Turin, Italy in 1786, is credited as the first drink formulated specifically for the purpose of igniting the appetite, though the historical record indicates that the ancient Egyptians would oftentimes drink a small amount of alcohol before meals. By the 19th century, various types of apéritifs were known in the major cities of Italy, and their popularity had spread throughout Europe by the late 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, they were popular in the United States.

The word “apéritif,” which derives from the Latin “aperire,” meaning “to open,” is also used to describe pre-meal snacks. Olives, pickled pearl onions, salted nuts, and salted crackers are amongst the most popular.

The typical commencement time for a formal dinner varies from country to country, culture to culture. But regardless, in most cultures where alcohol is consumed, social drinking will usually take place before sitting down to a formal meal. Cocktails, also called apéritifs, not only serve to ignite the appetite, they also tend to enliven conversation; and a gentleman should use this time to acquaint himself with his dinner partner, be introduced to other guests, and, of course, speak with his host and/or hostess, being sure to express his sincere gratitude for the kind invitation.

Whether cocktail orders are being taken by the service staff or are being requested directly from the bartender, a gentleman should see to it that his dinner partner is provided with a drink of choice. Exceptionally sweet or heavy drinks should be avoided during the cocktail hour so as not to compromise one’s appetite. Likewise, exceedingly complicated drinks should be avoided so as not to overburden the bartending staff. A pina colada, for example, would be an inappropriate request during a cocktail hour, for it is both sweet and complicated—in addition to being noisy to make. A gentleman should also bear in mind that combining distilled liquor with wine is oftentimes a recipe for next-day hangovers; consequently, he should limit his cocktail intake so as to be able to fully enjoy the dinner with its carefully selected, complementary wines—and be alive and well the morning after to talk about it. For men with delicate constitutions, sherry serves as an excellent apéritif since as a wine, though a fortified one, it will not be chemically incongruous with the wines which are likely to be served with dinner.

 

 

 

A Rare, 19th-Century Painting by Th. Jessen (Niels Christian Theodor Jessen) Unveiled at Historic Fort Frederik Museum on St. Croix

A rare, 19th -century painting by Danish artist Th. Jessen (Niels Christian Theordor Jessen) was officially unveiled at the Fort Frederik Museum on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

Kristiansted, 1884.jpg

Only two of Jessen’s paintings from his years in the Virgin Islands are known to exist: an oil painting in the permanent collection of the Danish National Museum, depicting the sugarworks at Estate Golden Rock in the foreground, with the town of Christiansted in the distance, that painting granted to the museum in 1966 by Denmark’s esteemed Hagemann family that once owned all the plantations along the Frederiksted coastline, stretching from Estate Smithfield to Estate Punch, in addition to Estate La Grande Princesse in Christiansted; and the painting that was unveiled at the Fort Frederik Museum, thereby availing that work for public viewing for the first time in its 131-year-long history.

Titled “Kristiansted, St. Croix, gul Luft efter Krakatoa Udbreddet” (“Yellow Air over Christiansted, St. Croix after the Krakatoa Eruption”) and dated 1884, the oil-on-canvas painting depicts the yellow-hued sky over St. Croix, the result of the August 1883 volcanic eruption on Krakatoa, Java (present-day Indonesia), located some 11,400 miles away from the Virgin Islands. The Danish Golden Age-style coastal scene painting shows the historic town of Christiansted in the distance as viewed from the shoreline at Estate Golden Rock. The harbor master’s mansion on Protestant Cay is visible; Fort Christiansvaern (in its historic yellow color) stands watch over the tranquil harbor; what appears to be the belfry of the St. John’s Anglican Church stands tall amidst the town’s many buildings extending from the fort and continuing westward to the outskirts of the town at Estate Contentment, just beyond the Moravian church. But featured prominently in the foreground of the meticulously detailed painting is the island’s lush, tropical, then-still-virgin shoreline, teeming with flora and a few depictions of fauna: tall, elegant coconut palms, their fronds swaying in the wind; sea grape trees, their amber-colored young leaves reflecting upon the mirror-like, silvery rendering of the Caribbean Sea; in the mid-ground of the painting, in the vicinity of Estate Richmond, is a man dressed in all white atop his white steed, the rider presumably an overseer surveying the plantation; aloft is a “gahlin,” colloquial for the island’s ubiquitous white egrets; and above all, a yellow-gray firmament, the result of the catastrophic natural disaster that had occurred months earlier on the other side of the world. The 28.5 cm X 45 cm painting (excluding its 19th -century gold-leaf frame) is a feast for the eyes, with minute details, à la Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), and the elegant painterly reserve of the early Danish West Indies landscapes and coastal scenes of St. Thomas-born Impressionist master Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and fellow Danish artists Fritz Melbye (1826-1869) and Carl Bille (1815-1898), who journeyed to the islands during the Danish colonial era to paint their idyllic environs.

For over a half-century—since the acquisition of the Hagemann-donated painting by the Danish National Museum—the signature “Th. Jessen” had befuddled Danish art historians and researchers, museums, and auction houses. Despite the obvious classical training and mastery of the painter, no “Th. Jessen” appears in Weilbachs Kunstnerleksikon, the biological dictionary of Danish painters and architects—not for lack of talent, but on account of Jessen’s apparent preference for officially listing his profession as “chemist,” not “artist.” And no mention was made of the artist in the various books that have been written over the years on the subject of Danish artists who journeyed to the Danish “sugar islands” for inspiration and to capture on canvas the Danish presence in its far-flung isles.

It would not be until September 14, 2015, on the birthday of the painting’s current owner, that a serendipitous breakthrough finally occurred: Danish researcher Klaus Dahl emailed Virgin Islands-born art collector Wayne A.G. James with the news, “In all haste I send you the following: ‘Niels Christian Theodor Jessen, f. 24/9 1847, cand. phil. 1880 inspecteur ved St. Croix Fællessukkerkogerier’. Could this be him?….”

“I knew immediately that we had found our man,” Wayne James said. “Everything fit perfectly: the signature, the name, the date of the painting, the fact that Jessen was employed at Estate Golden Rock, and the point of view of the painting. It was a match made in paradise,” James said. “Such finds, after so much searching for so many years, are exhilarating. They make this work worth all the work.”

Since the September 14, 2015 revelations, additional details of Jessen’s mysterious life have emerged. A book on the genealogical history of the Jessen family, titled Meddelelser om Slægten Jessen, compiled by the artist during his sojourn in the islands and published in Copenhagen in 1885, is a part of the holdings at The Royal [Danish] Library. The book’s introduction is signed, “Golden Rock, St. Croix, den 1. Januar 1885 Th. J.” An October 15, 1885 Danish West Indies passenger list shows a “Theodor Jessen” departing the colony, en route to “Portorico.” (And Jessen does not appear in the 1890 Danish West Indies Census). Then in July of 1891, a “foreigner” chemist by the name of “Theodore Jessen,” single, age 43 (the age Jessen would have been in July of 1891), is listed as a passenger on board the vessel Medway, leaving the island of Barbados en route to Plymouth/Southampton, England, arriving July 16/17, 1891. Then, finally, there is a present-day Family Tree record of a Niels Christian Theodor Jessen, born in Denmark in 1848 (sic), living in the State of Utah and married to a Danish-born Diantha Brodersen.

“The research is unfolding rapidly, but part of the difficulty of tracking Jessen derives from the fact that he did not always use his full name. He seems to have preferred being identified by his second middle name, Theodor,” James said. “Rarely did he use his full name. And even then, he tended to use initials and/or abbreviations for all his given names and sometimes even for his surname. Researchers in Denmark and at the St. Croix Landmarks Society are painstakingly combing through the archives to uncover what else exists on the artist. What is already established, however, is that based on Jessen’s surviving paintings, his paintings of the Danish West Indies rank amongst the absolute finest of the era; and—ironically—what is also irrefutable is that Niels Christian Theodor Jessen’s enduring legacy to Danish and U.S. Virgin Islands history did not come as the result of his conventional, predictable, respectable vocation as a chemist in the sugarcane industry, but as a result of his precarious avocation as an artist in the enchanting Danish West Indies,” James said.

The painting will remain on public display at the Fort Frederik Museum until further notice. “Very few Virgin Islanders have ever seen a painting of the Virgin Islands dating from the 19th century. Few such paintings of the caliber of Jessen’s were ever created; and even fewer have survived the ravages of time. The public display of such a work of art is a rare opportunity that the entire Virgin Islands community should experience,” James concluded.

The painting is on display in the “Officers’ Quarters,” thereby joining James’ ongoing exhibition, “Sleeping with a Bachelor: The Antique Bedroom Collection of Crucian Collector Wayne James,” an exhibition featuring Danish West Indies and Danish mahogany furniture from the 1790s to the the 1890s; a rare collection of 19th -century oil portraits done by European artists of black subjects; and various other oil paintings and decorative arts.

The World’s Most Luxurious Men’s Silk Pajamas and Dressing Robes–Zimmerli of Switzerland

Silk Pajamas and Dressing Robes by Zimmerli of Switzerland

Few men sleep in pajamas these days; typically, they crawl into bed wearing only a T-shirt and underpants—if that much. But every gentleman should own a set of pajamas, along with a dressing robe, for use especially when entertaining sleepover guests, or for when invited as a sleepover guest at someone else’s home. (No one needs to bump into an under-dressed host or guest in a narrow, dim-lit hallway en route to the bathroom for a “wee-wee” in the wee hours of the morning!)

Men who routinely sleep in pajamas should have a fresh pair for each night—after all, an average eight hours of wear per night is a lot of wear. And even for men who shower or bathe before going to bed, sleepwear, like bedsheets, gets soiled. While pajamas of cotton or linen are excellent for the spring and summer months, and flannel—wool or cotton—is prefect for the fall and winter seasons, a gentleman who wears pajamas only on special occasions, or only when obliged to, should invest in one luxurious set that can serve him year-round, from palace to penthouse to pop tent. And when it comes to luxurious pajamas, silk pajamas by Zimmerli of Switzerland ( www.zimmerli.com ) are the absolute finest.

Wearing silk can perhaps be best likened to wearing garments made of the wind…. But rarely do men fully experience the sensuousness of silk. Yes, silk underwear seduces the skin. And a shirt of crêpe de Chine silk caresses a torso like very few things can. But it is when a man sleeps in pajamas of silk—especially when those pajamas are worn over silk underwear—that he truly experiences the full-blown luxuriousness of silk. Simply put, sleeping in silk is sexy. (And when a man in silk sleeps on silk, the sensation transcends the physical, verging, instead, upon the spiritual. Silk is a mystical fabric; its beauty and luxuriousness have fascinated mankind for millennia.

Pajamas have evolved over the years.  But at the end of the day, the one-pajama-set gentleman should own the classic: the loose-fitting, buttoned-up, jacket-inspired top, traced with contrasting piping, and paired with full-length pants. At Zimmerli, that iconic style in 100% silk charmeuse is hand-crafted to sartorial perfection: buttons are of mother-of-pearl; piping is impeccable; pants, with concealed button-fly, are sufficiently tapered at the hems so as to minimize “riding up” during an otherwise-restful sleep. The silhouette is generous, but tailored, so as to effortlessly conceal, yet reveal, the masculine physique. Unlike classic-style pajamas by so many other manufacturers, Zimmerli pajamas are cut long enough to effortlessly fit tall men—men between 6′ and 6’4” in height (1.83 to 1.93 meters). And with a size-spread ranging from S – XXL (S – 3XL for other fabrics), practically any man can find his fit at Zimmerli.

Just as every man has a God-given right to know what an orgasm feels like, every gentleman should experience the feeling of sleeping in nothing but pure silk. On the night of his wedding, he should wear silk pajamas (even if only for a short while!); to celebrate the birth of a child, he should wear silk pajamas; to mark life’s milestones and great accomplishments such as graduations, promotions, anniversaries, and birthdays, he should wear silk pajamas; and holiday celebrations should begin and end in silk pajamas. But classic, tailored pajamas without a dressing gown (also called a “robe” or a “nightwear gown”) when going about the home is like traversing Wall Street in the dead of winter in a business suit, but without a topcoat. Zimmerli makes a superb, kimono-inspired, silk dressing gown: the shoulders are slightly padded to accentuate the male form; the shawl collar is the definition of relaxed elegance; the sleeves are long and ample so as to effortlessly embrace those of the complementary pajama top; two hip pockets and a chest pocket provide form and function; and the just-below-the-knee length allows unimpeded movement about the house.

Silk nightwear is best cared for by hand-washing in cold water with a mild detergent. (Dish-washing liquids that are formulated for hand-washing dishes are usually excellent for hand-washing clothing: they generally leave no residue; they cut grease; and because they are gentle on hands, they are also gentle on clothing. Zimmerli recommends hand-washing their silk garments with a mild hand-washing detergent, then adding a small amount of transparent cider vinegar in the final rinse). The garments should be allowed to soak in a soap-and-water solution for at least one hour before they are gently hand-washed, special attention being paid to areas such as collars, armpits, and cuffs, that are prone to soilure. After washing, the garments should be thoroughly rinsed in cold water, then allowed to drip-dry. (Wringing in not advised as it is hard on garments and frustrates the ironing process). After the garments have drip-dried, they should be ironed on the reverse side with an iron set at the setting recommended by the garment manufacturer and/or the manufacturer of the iron. Once ironed, the garments should be loosely folded and placed onto a flat shelf in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, until time to be worn again.

The History of Men’s Robes

Men’s Robes

The type of man who wears pajamas is also typically the type of man who wears a robe when lounging about the house in the morning. Very few men today do as a proper Victorian gentleman would have done: return home from the office; remove his jacket and tie; take off his shoes; slip on a pair of fine leather slippers; don a lounging robe (also called a “dressing gown”) of hand-embroidered silk; then sit in an overstuffed wing chair in front of the fireplace to enjoy a smoke and a drink—legs crossed and dog by his side, or course. Today, a man uses a robe to cover himself prior to getting dressed for his day, or (especially the terrycloth type, called a “bathrobe”) as a garment to cover himself upon exiting the bath or shower. To a large extent, climate, personal taste, lifestyle, and Christmas and Fathers’ Day gifts determine the type of lounge robe a gentleman will wear. And also to a large extent, the type of robe a gentleman wears will determine the type of slippers he selects. A man who wears a silk dressing gown will oftentimes be the type of man who wears leather slippers, while the type of man who wears a terrycloth bathrobe will likely wear it with rubber flip-flops. But regardless of personal preference, every gentleman—especially one who visits or hosts friends—should have at least one set of pajamas, a lounge robe, and a complementary pair of lounge slippers.

Like pajamas, men’s dressing gowns were also influenced by Eastern culture. And like pajamas, dressing gowns have also served to influence fashion in general. The presence of the dressing gown in Western fashion dates back to at least the 17th century when European gentlemen would wear what was then called “Persian gowns” and “Indian gowns” because of the garments’ Eastern origins and oriental, kimono-style design. By the 1860s, the dressing gown had achieved the design which remains popular today: shawl collar; button-less, wrap design secured by a sash-belt; one chest pocket and two front-hip pockets; long sleeves; and of a length ranging from mid-thigh to as far down as the ankles. In the 19th century, lounge robes were worn twice per day: during a gentleman’s morning toilette, and in the evening after work (but before getting dressed for dinner). Today, they are worn primarily in the morning—or until a gentleman decides to get dressed for his day.

Perhaps the greatest trans-fashion influence of the lounge robe occurs in men’s formal wear and outerwear, where the shawl collar design of some tuxedo (“smoking”) jackets and winter coats, and the sash-belt closures of some topcoats, are directly inspired by dressing gowns.

M.M.M.: Men Must Moisturize! (The key to aging beautifully)

“…the difference between a raisin and a grape or a prune and a plum is moisture.”

Wayne James

 

Special Areas

At around age 30, men realize that they have stopped growing up and have begun growing old. A wrinkle here, a gray hair there, adulthood sets in. And the proverbial “cream of youth” that made moisturizers redundant no longer rises to the top of the skin. As such, a man must pay special attention to areas of the body with especially thin or unusually rough skin: the neck; the area of the upper inner-arm, extending from right under the armpit down to the elbow; the elbows; the buttocks; knees; and feet should be moisturized with petroleum jelly on a daily basis in order to maintain elasticity in the skin. And, of course, a hand-and-body lotion should be used to moisturize the body after each shower or bath.  Nivea is a reasonably priced product that has proven effective on most skin-types.  A gentleman on a budget may wish to apply lotion to his body while it is still wet from his shower:  A little bit of lotion goes a long way when applied to wet skin.

 

Facial Scrubs and Moisturizers

 Most men know that the difference between a raisin and a grape or a prune and a plum is moisture. Yet many men still think that the thousands of skin-moisturizing products on the market are for women only. Consequently, on account of skin neglect (especially by light-skinned men, on whom dry, “ashy” skin may appear—at least perfunctorily—less obvious), many men, by age 40, look significantly older than they should. Fancy, expensive, designer moisturizers are not necessary; there are very good, modestly priced products available in most drugstores and supermarkets. Pond’s, founded in 1846 and manufacturing facial creams since the 1910s, is considered one of the absolute best.

Before applying moisturizer, the face should be thoroughly washed with lukewarm water and a soft washcloth. Facial soaps are not necessary on a daily basis. Besides, they tend to rob delicate facial skin of its essential oils. About twice per week, however, the face should be cleansed with an exfoliating cream, commonly called a facial scrub—which can also be found, modestly priced, in the typical drugstore or supermarket.  St. Ives’ Apricot Scrub is an excellent, well-priced product that agrees with the average skin-type.

When moisturizing the skin, it is important to apply the cream to the center of the face, spreading the cream towards the perimeter of the face using a gentle, upward stroke, which serves to tighten the skin.  The ring finger should be used to carefully apply moisturizer around the eyes. The forehead should also be moisturized using a slightly upward stroke, towards the hairline.  Moisturizer must also be applied to entire neck—front and back—down to about the collarbone. Neck-neglect is one of the reasons the neck is one of the first places to indicate aging.