1960 – Reclining Bather by Alex Katz
1960 – Reclining Bather by Alex Katz © Courtesy Alex Katz

I need to talk about my skin. The changing season, the wind, the relentless rain, the skin-brutalising conditions brought about by central heating, the constant washing… At this time of year my face feels persecuted enough, and that’s before mask-wearing became near mandatory, bringing with it the horror of associated mask-ne.

As Nicola Moulton discovers in “Does Your Skin Need a Shrink?”, I am not alone in my need to decompress about my skincare. Beauty therapists have found themselves deluged with calls from clients needing to discuss a range of conditions – from sudden-onset rosacea to eczema flare-ups – as well as to talk about their general welfare. Sourcing miracle creams and unguents has become a secondary concern for many, who are now using their treatments to seek more psychological balm. 

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison © Marili Andre

These developments are not entirely superficial. I would argue that the uptick in “skin therapy” is a corollary of a new world order that dissuades touch, face-to-face communication or any kind of intimacy in lieu of long periods of introspection in front of the looking glass. The pandemic has also barred us entry from the places – the changing room, the ladies’ room or the beauty counter – that have always been a mecca for idle chat about our hang-ups and, oftentimes, our feelings. For women especially, beauty can be a hugely bonding subject. No surprise then that without the casual interplay of normal conversation we’ve all gone a bit beauty mad. Nicola traces the beautician’s new role as ad-hoc psychologist, confessor and magician. She also unveils the skin savers worth looking out for.

A completely different meditation on the subject of beauty comes via Alex Katz, the 93-year-old US artist best known for his glorious portraits of Ada, his wife of more than 50 years (“Alex Katz: The ‘Artist of the Immediate’ On Why His Time Is Now”). Interviewed by Lou Stoppard on the publication of a giant new monograph dedicated to his oeuvre, the painter offers a refreshingly candid analysis of the current art world, the meaning of his work and his status among his peers. “We are in a time of hysterical ‘diversity’,” he says of contemporary efforts to reflect the current mood and temper. “Social art to me is especially sentimental – you are telling people what to think. I’m doing just the opposite. It’s got nothing to do with making society better.” Katz’s attitude has not softened one jot with age, and he has a wit that can come across as being extremely pointy. But his work, with its focus on beauty, loveliness and stillness, makes a delicious antidote to the current torrent of polemic we must endure. 

Beauty, stillness and an incredible swimming pool were among the reasons Isabel Ettedgui was drawn to buy a 15th-century house in Petersham in Richmond upon Thames with her late husband, the retail guru Joseph. They purchased it nearly 17 years ago, and built a home that brought together an extraordinary confluence of timber beams, topiary, Colman’s-mustard-yellow paint and bold contemporary design. In “Inside Isabel Ettedgui's 15th-Century ‘Playground’”, Nick Foulkes visits Petersham to write about his friend’s country home at “the end of the King’s Road”, and marvels at the chutzpah with which such opposing influences have been combined. 

It’s a lesson in how true style does require a little daring. Rather like our cover star, Dries Haseldonckx – or Puss in Boots, as I have come to call him – in a shoot styled by our new contributing fashion editor, Giovanni Dario Laudicina, and photographed by Robin Galiegue. “The Great Beauty: Traditional Menswear With a Twist” explores some of the grander gestures proposed for men by designers this winter, to create a look that calls to mind Tom Jones at his most high-collared and slim-waisted, Timothée Chalamet in petulant teenage mode and a hint of Jean-Paul Belmondo. It could be too much. And yet the results are molto elegante

@jellison22

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