Can Colourful Interior Design Actually Lift Your Spirits?
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Can Colourful Interior Design Actually Lift Your Spirits?

Brighten up your home for a vibrant mood.

By Joy Callaway
Fri, Jun 3, 2022 2:45pmGrey Clock 4 min

WHEN DOROTHY DRAPER, Gilded Age heiress turned famed decorator, was enlisted in 1946 to revitalize the storied Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia., she was met with its skeletal remains. Abandoned after its stint as an army hospital during World War II, it had been ravaged. There was no finery, no inkling its grounds had once been the playground of American aristocracy.

In a way, the state of the resort represented America. Many in Draper’s generation had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Everyone, regardless of status, had lost loved ones and watched stability evaporate. Draper had also been subject to a high-profile divorce from Dr. George Draper, President Franklin Roosevelt’s polio doctor, who left her on the eve of the stock market crash and ultimately married a woman 10 years her junior.

Everyone had stories. Everyone was battle-worn—not unlike the great fatigue we feel today, born of uncertainty that makes us either fold in fear or grasp for hope. Draper’s response was the latter. She believed deeply in the power of positive thought made manifest in the colourful decorating aesthetic she was known for.

By the time Draper’s train reached the White Sulphur Springs station, she had reanimated countless spaces. To New York City’s Hampshire House, she brought turquoise walls and cabbage-rose chintz. She transformed Brazil’s Quitandinha Resort with neo-baroque plasterwork and a brash palm-leaf print she called Brazilliance.

Colour ran counter to the prevailing interior decorating aesthetic c. 1890-1910, what might be called funeral-parlour chic. Draper, the daughter of iron heir Paul Tuckerman and shipping heiress Susan Minturn, had grown up in exclusive Tuxedo Park, N.Y., surrounded by antique furniture that was often stuffy, impractical and uncomfortable; and gravy colours such as wheat, slate and cream. The dreary neutrals Draper loathed were so beloved by the Gilded Age upper crust that Edith Wharton, in her 1897 decorating book, “The Decoration of Houses,” wrote “…the fewer the colours used in a room, the more pleasing and restful the result will be. A multiplicity of colours produces the same effect as a number of voices talking at the same time.”

Even before Draper’s first formal foray into decorating, her peers recognized the eye-catching beauty she cultivated in her own homes. Her opinion was so frequently sought that in the early ’20s, she did the unthinkable for a proper heiress and went into business, opening the Architectural Clearing House, a sort of matchmaking service between architects and clients. The firm evolved into Dorothy Draper & Company when it became clear that her real passion lay in decorating commercial spaces.

Draper chose what spoke to her, what she thought would make others joyful. Her husband, Dr. Draper, was a firm believer in the beneficial physical effect of positive thinking, and Draper carried the philosophy into her work. Bright shades and prints could influence not only the ambience of a space but also the mood of those occupying it. Her conviction resonated, and her clientele grew internationally. She deinstitutionalized patient rooms at the Delnor Hospital in St. Charles, Ill., with arm chairs, ottomans and window valences in floral chintz. In the cafeteria-style restaurant in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8-foot birdcage chandeliers and fluted columns surrounded a sculpture pool, and shocks of coral banquettes lined blackberry walls. All over the world, Draper replaced beige and sadness with wide stripes in splashy colours, lacquered furniture in striking black and white, and elaborate plaster mouldings. Eager to spread her message and style, she also wrote how-to books and a long-running column in Good Housekeeping.

The Greenbrier finally reopened in April of 1948, and it was Draper’s masterpiece. The first weekend boasted celebrities like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby and the Kennedys, but the true highlight was Draper’s design. The lobby was dressed in her signature black and white checkerboard marble floors, bright presidential-blue walls and rhododendron-print curtains. The ballroom, the social centre of the weekend, sported a hand-plastered cameo ceiling and an 1,800 pound, Czechoslovakian drop-crystal chandelier inspired by the one found in the winter palace of Catherine the Great. Even the matchbooks were lovely, a bright neon red ornamented with a rhododendron blossom. The ragged old hospital was a memory.

Draper once said, “You don’t sell a commodity. You sell joy, gaiety, excitement. You aim at people’s hearts, not their minds.” It’s clear that today, reeling from the pandemic, we are leaning toward interior design that aims at our hearts. Carlton Varney, president of Dorothy Draper & Company and author of a deluxe edition of “The Draper Touch” (Shannongrove Press, June 29), has been enlivening homes and resorts for 62 years. “Across the board we have seen an increase in people seeking more colour and pattern in their homes, fully embracing our interiors,” said Mr. Varney, who believes as Draper did, that colour doesn’t just transform our walls, it is a form of magic.

Dorothy’s Edicts

Three tips from Draper’s 1939 book, ‘Decorating is Fun!’

1. Before You Begin. Gather the samples of every colour you intend using in your room…first and ask yourself whether you would wear them all in one costume. If you wouldn’t, don’t ask your room to do it either.

2. Choose What You Like. [Don’t] be afraid of a colour combination because you think it is too extreme or hifalutin. It probably isn’t at all. And it won’t cost a
cent more than a dull one.

3. Be Open-Minded. Muddy-coloured walls are nothing but a blight. So are undecided colours that compromise between…two blues until they become neither sea, sky nor good old cornflower. There should never be any doubt about what your colour has to say.

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The Lipstick Index Is Back

Sales of the cosmetic product are a bright spot in an otherwise bleak discretionary-goods environment

By JINJOO LEE
Fri, Nov 25, 2022 2 min

Masks off, lipstick index on.

In a gloomy economy, consumers might cut back on other discretionary purchases but will keep shelling out for small luxuries such as lipstick—or so goes the theory. “When lipstick sales go up, people don’t want to buy dresses,” Leonard Lauder, then-chairman of Estée Lauder who is widely credited for coming up with the so-called “lipstick index,” told The Wall Street Journal in 2001.

L’Oréal Chief Executive Nicolas Hieronimus called this out during the company’s earnings call in October, noting that a luxury lipstick or mascara is only €30, making it an “affordable treat.” Sales at L’Oréal rose 9.1% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier despite slower sales in China due to Covid-related lockdowns. Coty, maker of CoverGirl makeup, said organic sales grew 9% over the same period.

Beauty sales have also been a rare bright spot for retailers: Target said beauty category sales grew roughly 15% in its quarter ended Oct. 29 compared with a year earlier, with Ulta Beauty shops in Target tripling their total sales volume over that period.

While Macy’s namesake stores saw comparable-store sales decline last quarter, its beauty-focused Bluemercury chain saw same-store sales grow 14% last quarter compared with a year earlier. Kohl’s locations with Sephora are outperforming the rest of the department-store chain.

Of the 14 discretionary categories that market research firm NPD Group tracks, prestige beauty—products you might find at a department store or a Sephora—is the only category that is seeing unit sales growth year to date. And lipstick, which suffered during the masked-up pandemic, is making up for lost time.

Lipstick sales have grown 37% through October this year compared with a year earlier, according to Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD Group. That is an acceleration from the 31% growth seen during the same period last year. Lip product is the only major category within prestige beauty where sales are actually up compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to Ms. Jensen.

Cosmetic companies have also called out strong sales in fragrances, calling it the “fragrance index.” Demand has been so robust that there is an industrywide fragrance component shortage, Coty said in a press release announcing third-quarter earnings earlier this month. CEO Sue Nabi said during the call that Coty hasn’t seen any kind of trade-down or slowdown, also noting that consumers are shifting away from gifting perfume to buying it for themselves.

“A big piece of it is just a shift in what wellness means to consumers,” NPD Group’s Ms. Jensen said. “Beauty is one of the few industries that are positioned to meet [consumers’] emotional need. It makes them feel good.”

While the lipstick effect could be observed in the recession in the early 2000s, that wasn’t the case during the 2007-09 recession, during which lipstick sales declined alongside other discretionary purchases. Part of this might have had to do with category-specific dynamics.

There was a lot of newness in the cosmetic industry in 2001, including lip gloss, a relatively nascent category back then. That tailwind simply wasn’t there starting in 2008, though nail polish turned out to be consumers’ small indulgence of choice in that period. This time around, consumers may be eager to show off a part of their face that was hidden behind a mask for so long during the pandemic.

In an otherwise bleak environment for companies selling discretionary goods, those in the business of selling cosmetics look well poised to come out of the holiday season looking freshened up.

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