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Penfolds Luxury Collection Dinner at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto

April 30, 2012

Alison wearing Jean Paul Gaultier skirt, Antonio Marras one shouldered silk knit with Shane Douglas

Last Thursday I was delighted to find that I was amongst the chosen few assembled at Intercontinental the Rialto, Penfolds Luxury Collection Dinner in the Bluestone Wine Lounge.

The Bluestone Wine LoungeAs we arrived we were greeted by the gregarious General Manager Joerg Boeckeler, the gracious Director of Sales and Marketing Shane Douglas and consultant Special Events Coordinator the very elegant and exotic Elena O’brien, styled a la Grace Kelly.

We sipped Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010, one of the rare Penfolds wines that is 100% South Australian sourced from super premium sites in the Adelaide Hills. This was accompanied by delicious cold hors d’oeuvres

Laughing Kookaburra

After an enjoyable half hour of chit chat with various people including the engaging publisher of the Luxury Travel and Style Magazine James Air and Sotheby’s stylish publicist Sarah Easson we were seated at a grand and very long timber banquet table, beautifully presented with autumn leaves and fine silver ware. Our host Jorg added a wonderfully eccentric element to the table decoration with the inclusion of a bespectacled stuffed laughing kookaburra!

Stephanie Dutton Penfold wine maker and wonderful ambassadress for the Penfolds Brand was a vivacious raconteur who displayed her great depth of knowledge with her introduction to each course and accompanying wine. Michael Lindell, the architect seated next to me, did very incisive quick sketches of some of the assembled guests including the Laughing Kookaburra.

Mt Laura slow cooked lamb loinAhh! – the wines. Of the reds I loved the St Henri Shiraz accompanied by Mt Laura slow cooked lamb loin with celeriac and asparagus. I think of the whites my absolute favourite was the Cellar Reserve Viogner 2011 that accompanied the splendid Berry Clafoutis desert.

As I took in the wine, the food and the ambiance I had a Proustian moment and was transported back in time to an earlier European masked ball – a totally delicious experience.

French Masked Ball


Sheila Scotter – The Inimitable Queen of Style

April 22, 2012

Sheila Scotter AM, MBE

Rare is the felicity of the times, when you can think what you like and speak what you think.

— Tacitus,
The History, I.i

I first met Sheila Scotter when I was the cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Melbourne in 1988/89 looking after France’s $25 million cultural gift to the Australian Bi-Centenary. As part of these Bi-Centenary celebrations there were many official openings at the Melbourne Art Centre to which we would invite Sheila Scotter.

Alison WatersBeing a hat lover I would always admire Sheila’s evening hats as I often wore an evening bandeau. She told me about her bespoke milliner Marea Bright of Collins Street who would make these exotic evening hats for her with little diamantes that would sparkle when the lights went down at the opera or the theater. As she explained “I would be noticed by everyone, even in the dark” Sheila Scotter was certainly hard to miss.

Sheila’s deportment and elegant style was, funnily enough, not of the establishment English style. She was often referred to as ‘the silver duchess’ and that would have fitted well with her well modulated voice and imperious air, but she was far more like a fastidious, formidable, French aristocrat mixing in the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germaine, in Paris. She knew all about etiquette, style, and ritual but apparently little about empathy.

Sheila Scotter Funeral - Photo via The AgeMarcel Proust the great French writer would have loved Sheila as a character in perhaps À la recherché du temps perdu Remembrance of Things Past and in fact Sheila Scotter was a symbol of the grandeur of the past and the world of genteel luxury, beautiful apartments, chauffeured driven cars, fresh flowers daily and fine dining – she herself was a good cook. But Sheila Scotter worked professionally for most of her long life. In fact she had a very strong work ethic that must have come from her family’s English military and Church background. I think the two great influences of the thirties in England and Europe when Sheila Scotter was a young adult were probably Proust and Freud. A student of Freud in the 21st century would have detected very quickly the discrepancy between the legend and the real women.

Sheila Scotter Funeral - Photo via The AgeSheila had charisma and sex appeal. When she walked into a room all eyes would be on her and she knew how to make the most of her entrances and exits. She certainly was fastidious in everything she did, things were always ‘to be done properly’. Sheila had an innate sense of discipline probably the result of being sent to boarding school in England at the age of four while her parents were still in India. She could be kind and supportive and her close friends speak of her loyalty. She also could be jealous and bitchy and very, very demanding.

Sheila ScotterA perfectionist right to the very end Sheila planned every detail of her funeral for 200 of her closest friends and associates. The funeral was held on Friday 20th of April in St Silas High Anglican Church, Albert Park. Born in India, a daughter of the Raj, her coffin was covered in white roses, gladioli and lilies and was appropriately draped with the Australian flag as befits an AM and a MBE.

Alan Jones and Ros PackerVeteran Age writer Lawrence Money, with a reputation for an incisive tongue, gave a moving and personal eulogy and the fiercesome radio journalist Alan Jones showed a ‘soft and caring side’ to his character as he spoke about his ‘dear friend Sheila’ and her support for such causes as the opera, ballet and her many charities. Jones also recounted Sheila Scotters years as a journalist, particularly as Vogue editor and founder of Vogue Living. Close friend Sylvia Bradshaw gave us a look at the naughty and playful Sheila, the coquettish Sheila and her enthusiasm for titled gentlemen. Former model and Vogue journalist Diane Masters spoke of her first meeting with Sheila at Myer Emporium in 1949 “there she was in a dashing black cloak and Spanish sombrero, a red rose tucked beneath the brim”

The WakeSoprano Tiffany Speight with David McNicol at the piano sang expressively O silver Moon the aria from the Dvořák’s opera Russalka. (this aria had been a great favorite of the revered Australian soprano Dame Joan Hammond and Sheila Scotter had been an active member of the Dame Joan Hammond Award). For sensuous, heart-tugging beauty, you do no better than this beautiful music and these words. The aria conjures up a magical world that you can believe in while the music takes you there:

Rusalka, singing to the moon, whose beams now light up the whole landscape.
It is a beautiful summer’s night -

O moon in the velvet heavens,
your light shines far,
you roam throughout the whole world,
gazing into human dwellings.
O moon, stay a while,
tell me where my beloved is! …
O tell him, silver moon,
that my arms enfold him,
in the hope that for at least a moment
he will dream of me. …
Shine on him, wherever he may be,
and tell him of the one who awaits him here! …
If a human soul should dream of me,
may he still remember me on awakening;
o moon, do not fade away!

At the wake afterwards we sipped on Mumm Champagne and nibbled delicacies from Peter Rowland Catering, with of course linen napkins. We all reminisced about our ‘Sheila moments’. I think Sheila Scotter would have loved it.

John Hoerner - Douglas Butler - Jan McGuinness


Alter Ego – Charlotte Harcourt Private Detective 1920’s Melbourne

April 1, 2012

Hatmatters - Alter Ego - Photo by J Mitelman

I have always been a good detective – I actually have it on authority from a forensic psychologist. It’s important to learn early in life to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff. This is especially so when developing a hat collection – provenance is everything. But when it comes to solving mysteries and seeking out the villain – clearly if the hat fits wear it!

The plot is set in Melbourne in the 1920’s.  My character, Charlotte Harcourt, is a glamorous emancipated young woman of a fearless disposition. She owes her considerable wealth, education and enlightenment to her late father, a man of substance who had returned from the First World War with a greatly heightened sense of social responsibility.

Hatmatters - Delage DMS Roadster 1929Her grand house in East Melbourne identifies her as a woman of independent means. Her cream and brown Delage Roadster sits parked on the circular driveway as if ready for a fast getaway. Charlotte is a young woman on the move. Renovations are under way at her East Melbourne mansion under the direction of the renowned Melbourne architect Henry Norris, designer of the iconic Sherbrook Forest Burnham Beeches country estate of the Nicholas family.

Miss Harcourt has taken up temporary residence at a suite at The Windsor Hotel whilst these works are in progress. It is here at The Windsor that this story unfolds.

There was a loud knocking at the door. It was after midnight, who could it be?

It was a cold, dark, inhospitable night. Rain lashed the windows of her hotel room. Charlotte reached for her dressing gown and slippers. Gingerly she opened the hotel door. It was a man in uniform whom she vaguely recognized. It was the Hotel Windsor’s night porter. “Miss Harcourt he whispered there is someone very important that needs your help urgently. Could you please follow me”. The porter led her along the wide corridor to a door just down from her own hotel suite.

He knocked gently on the door of Room 139 and she was told to come in by a voice with an accent that was peculiarly English. Ushered into the room Charlotte was immediately assailed by the smell of cigarette smoke. The man smoking sat hunched in an armchair his back to the door. He didn’t turn round as she entered the room. “That will be all Porter” he said in his distinctly Yorkshire accent.

Hatmatters - DH LawrenceCharlotte moved to the centre of the room to be nearer the warmth of the fire burning in the grate. The man slumped in the chair was a smallish, slim, middle aged man with a pale face and a dark beard. The face seemed strangely familiar. She waited for him to speak.

At first he just stared at her. “I thought they were bringing me a private detective” he said. “I am a private detective, Miss Charlotte Harcourt at your service, and whom may you be”. In a softly spoken voice he said “I am the writer D. H Lawrence”. He waited a few moments before he spoke again. “Something very serious has happened Miss Harcourt, my wife has been abducted from this very hotel room by Italian anarchists and if I want to see my wife again I cannot go to the police”.

© 2012 The Waters Group ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The ‘Peerless’ Piers Lane

March 16, 2012

The Peerless Piers Lane

On a balmy Melbourne Friday evening Piers Lane, Artistic Director, of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, officially launched the 2012 AFCM’s program for the Festival – 27th July to 04 August, Townsville.

Sue Hackett, Alison and Piers LaneThe launch of this prestigious event was held in the music salon of Di Bresciani’s enchanting Toorak home. It is not often that I have experienced a concert of such passion and virtuosity. The audience was spellbound and bewitched by Piers tantalizing performance of gems from composers Scarlatti, Bach and Liszt.

In the performance of Liszt’s Tarantella I found myself falling into a deep reverie evoking 19th century Venice. I loved the wonderful extravagant flourishes you find so often in Liszt’s music – as Piers noted “Liszt couldn’t help himself – he was a show off” – but what a show off.


Piers, with his full head of hair, became the very incarnation of Liszt. I was almost tempted to extract a hair from his head as so many female fans of Liszt did with their purpose brought tweezers. His devoted fans would fall prone to ‘Lisztomania’ characterized by intense levels of hysteria. This was attributed to Liszt’s personal charisma, openness, his behavior towards his audiences and his performing style that all became part of his genial benevolence and won him fans throughout Europe. Like Liszt, Piers as a consummate performer, gave his all to his audience. Piers let’s us share his immense gift of total intoxication with the music – pure bliss.

At the launch Piers outlined the program for the 2012 Festival season which presents composers ranging from Telemann to Composer-in-Residence, Australia’s Nigel Westlake, as renowned for his film music as for his concert work.

Murray Shaw , Sue Hackett and Dr De  Villiers Smit

“The festival will follow the format that has proved so successful the past few years”. Piers will “interview artists in the morning ‘Concert Conversations’, we’ll have evening concerts of core and spicy repertoire, including a Monday night second half devoted to Tango with that master of the form, Alte Sponberg.

Certainly a festival not to be missed

Grace Kelly – The Patrician Hollywood Princess

March 9, 2012

Grace Kelly - Style Icon Exhibition 2012

Grace Kelly: Style Icon Exhibition 11 March 2012 – 17 June 2012 at Bendigo Art Gallery has all the hall marks of a Blockbuster– its certainly going to be a crowd pleaser and perhaps a salutary lesson for young women on personal style.

Snowden - Madame Gris

As Kristina Haugland, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and author of a marvelous book on Grace Kelly, said at the press conference “Grace Kelly credited her early modeling experience with making her aware of how she looked to others. She was always tasteful, appropriate, ladylike, and while the starlets and sweater girls went out of their way to show off their assets, she maintained this reserve.”

This certainly did not diminish her sex appeal. Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock described her as a “snow-covered volcano” Her very name, Princess Grace, is as much a description of a feminine quality as a real name.

Grace Patricia Kelly 1929- 1982 was the quintessential Philadelphian patrician. This iconic American star and Princess of Monaco, remains the ne plus ultra of the beautiful woman, exuding an effortless femininity, grace, charm, and confidence. Her fairytale-fantasy royal wedding foreshadowed that of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales thirty years later.

Alison - Italian Couturiers -Fontana Sisters

I'm lucky enough to have a dress from the Fontana Sisters, couturiers to Grace Kelly. Photograph Jacqueline Mittleman

Karen Quinlan, Director of the Bendigo Art Gallery worked with Melbourne’s Honorary Consul of Monaco, Andrew Cannon for several years to bring the exhibition to Bendigo in association with various stake holders including the State Government, the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Quinlan hopes those who see the exhibition will get a real sense of the woman whose style and elegance is still a source of inspiration. She says the show provides much more than just the chance to look at designer clothes including Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel. ‘‘Grace’s philosophy was that for a woman to have true style she has to know herself.” Self esteem was everything.

Alison in Dior Hat with Candice De VilleQuinlan admitted at the press conference on Friday that they had only just finished putting the finishing touches to the exhibition as unlike previous exhibition’s Bendigo Art Gallery’s curatorial staff dressed the gowns themselves; She explained how the clothes travelled. “The packing is a major undertaking; each garment travels in its own purpose-built crate, heavily padded so that the gowns maintain their shape, and the mannequins have their own crates.”

John Kelly a Philadelphia banker, nephew of Grace Kelly was also present at the media launch. John Kelly is the son of Grace’s brother John B. Kelly, a rower who won a bronze medal in the single scull at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In my brief interview with John Kelly he said “ Unlike her sports mad family Grace didn’t seem particularly interested in sport. He saw his aunt mostly at the family home in casual clothes, sweaters, matador pants and shirt. He described his aunt as “ someone that cared and connected with people.”

Grace Kelly

My passion for anthropology has given me a strong interest in exploring the nuances of a person’s life through their possessions- their clothes and accessories. Strangely its in Grace’s accessories, hats, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes and gloves that we learn so much more about the real Grace Kelly. She didn’t mind the scruffs on her Hermes bag that became so synonymous with her that its now known as the Kelly Bag. From her shoes we learn that she had rather long and slender feet. She was quite conservative with her hats, although I did love the perfectly plain purple fine straw hat that was on display. She was not afraid to be seen wearing a favourite outfit. a second time.

The clothes only truly come to life when you see Grace Kelly still alive on film, in the sensational newsreels of the time or gliding seductively around the apartment in Rear Window or tipsily dancing with Frank Sinatra in High Society, or enjoying Cary Grant’s terror as she drives him at a reckless, ludicrous speed along a mountain road above Cannes in To Catch a Thief . Kelly’s style was exemplified in the maxim “it’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it.”

Grace Kelly - Academy Awards Dress

In Hollywood, studios usually kept costumes for reuse but MGM gave Kelly many of the outfits she wore in High Society as a wedding gift. My favorite gown from this current exhibition is the cool ice green gown designed by Edith Head that Kelly wore to the academy awards when she received an Oscar for Country Girl in 1955. It was a true goddess gown that the mythical Greek Goddesses Aphrodite, must surely have had in her own wardrobe.

Love and Devotion – From Persia and Beyond

March 8, 2012

 State Library of Victoria 9 March-1 July 2012

Alison Waters - Love and Devotion

The Grand opening of ‘Love and Devotion from Persia and Beyond’ at the State Library of Victoria began with the acrid fumes of Persian fire jugglers wafting in through the grand entrance of the State Library.

Claire Hamer, Alison and Tito

Once inside official proceedings included singers and musicians playing traditional Persian regional instruments the tar and tonbak, a traditional trumpet fanfare for the Hon Alex Chernov, Governor of Victoria, and exquisite themed food from ‘Food and Desire’.

This prestigious exhibition celebrated the beauty of Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish Manuscripts and their universal stories of human and divine love. From one of the richest periods in the history of the creation of the book the exhibition includes 60 works from the famous 400 year old Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Polo - Persian Manuscript

I was delighted to find that the exhibition included the work of the famous 13th century Persian Sufi poet, Rumi.

“My existence is from you and your appearance is through me. Yet if I had not appeared, you would not have been.”

Rumi’s poems capture so well the plight of the human condition.

Poetry in graceful curved Persian calligraphy was accompanied by hand painted illustrations painted in exquisite minute detail from ancient materials including gold leaf and Lapis Lazuli. Such is the store set on such works last year in London a single page from a Persian Manuscript sold for $12 million.

Persian Manuscripts

“It makes absolutely no
difference what people
think of you”

From Illustrated Rumi, p. 81
Photographs by John Hoerner -

Marianne Baillieu – A Life Well Lived.

March 7, 2012

“Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.”

Danish writer Isak Dinesen , Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny

1996 Baillieu Marianne at Writers Fest Melbourne - By Joyce Evans Photographer

1996 Marianne Baillieu at Melbourne Writers Festival - By Joyce Evans Photographer

“Believe me! The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!” Nietzsche.

I can’t say that I knew Marianne very well but her warmth and vitality was totally infectious. There seemed aspects of Marianne’s approach to life that I immediately recognized. Perhaps my own travels in Tibet and India gave me an appreciation of her search for meaning.

Marianne loved water. I know she was fond of whales but I always saw her as a dolphin, frolicking, full of fun with her enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. Like a dolphin she seemed to be in two worlds at once without being at home in either. When I recently visited Marianne in her Williamstown home I had come to give her a small collection of hats – we certainly shared a passion for hats. I was impressed with her paintings. Like Marianne herself her paintings were a riot of colour and movement.

Memorial Sevice

The memorial ceremony for Marianne at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Collins Street last Friday was wonderfully inclusive of so many different cultures and beliefs. From the haunting vibrations of the didgeridoo to deeply resonating Buddhist chants, the beautiful recorded Hindu prayer to Hanuman sung by Ram Dass, the mournful Maori farewell song of the sea, layered with Christian hymns – this was truly an interfaith service. Close friend of Marianne’s, Luba Bilu, told of many of the courageous, outrageous and just plain playful facets of Marianne’s quite extraordinary life. Artist John Wolseley referred to Marianne as a ‘vagabond’. Her nephew Ari Droga described her as ‘the divine and earthy aunt or tante as they say in Danish, an ‘irresistible force – a magical person who wore exotic fashion ensembles and who loved to dance. There was no doubt that the profusion of Sunflowers in the church was a fitting and joyous metaphor for a life well lived.

Alison & Sally Morrison

From the written selected events of her life in the memorial program we learnt about Marianne’s serious illnesses, of loss and death. Of her founding of Realities Gallery in 1971 in Ross Street, South Yarra, where artists like Ted May remembers wandering around in red socks – and then the move to bigger premises in Jackson Street Toorak in 1975-1980. Of her life as a prolific painter, of Marianne and Ian organizing a ‘world wide simultaneous meditations for peace’ under the Dali Lama’s auspices in 1991, 1994 and 2003, of her extensive travels echoing the peripatetic lifestyle started in her early life that took her from her native Denmark, to Sweden, America, New Zealand and Australia.

Alison Waters

Later at the celebratory wake at Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel I learnt more about Marianne’s generous way of living and of her vast array of friends from all walks of life. Many of them surmised that life would not be the same without Marianne.

A close friend of 50 years said “ life around Marianne was never boring”. She was obviously a woman who took hold of her own destiny and like an Isak Dinesen character from Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny, Marianne learnt to shape it her way.


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