Swan’s Way


For the Countess of Peralta


The snow-white Olympic swan,
with beak of rose-red agate,
preens his Eucharistic wing,
which he opens to the sun like a fan.


His shining neck is curved
like the arm of a lyre,
like the handle of a Greek amphora,
like the prow of a ship.


He is the swan of divine origin
whose kiss mounted through fields
of silk to the rosy peaks
of Leda’s sweet hills.


White king of of Castalia’s fount,
his triumph illumines the Danube;
Da Vinci was his baron in Italy;
Lohengrin is his blond prince.


His whiteness is akin to linen,
to the buds of the white roses,
to the diamantine white
of the fleece of an Easter lamb.


He is the poet of perfect verses,
and his lyric cloak is of ermine;
he is the magic, the regal bird
who, dying, rhymes the soul in his song.


This winged aristocrat displays
white lilies on a blue field;
and Pompadour, gracious and lovely,
has stroked his feathers.


He rows and rows on the lake
Where a golden gondola waits
For the sweetheart of Louis of Bavaria.


Countess, give the swans your love,
for they are gods of an alluring land
and are made of perfume and ermine,
of white light, of silk, and of dreams.

Ruben Darío


Photo: Bruce Weber


Carmen Dell’Orefice by Norman Parkinson, 1980


Swaroski logo


Bathyllus in the swan dance, Aubrey Beardsley


Henri Matisse making a study of a swan in the Bois de Boulogne, c. 1930


Advertisement illustrated by René Gruau


Illustration to Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage Mr. President, by Josie Portillo


Still from The Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)


Anna Pavlova


Still from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)


Helena Bonham Carter


Laetita Casta. Photo: Mario Testino


Uma Thurman and Mikahil Baryshnikov as The Swan Prince. Photo: Arthur Elgort


Truman Capote styled his beautiful and wealthy female friends “swans”


Accompained by Lee Radziwill and Jane Haward


With socialité Babe Paley in Paris


Escorting CZ Guest


Capote and Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet arrive at New York’s 54th Street Theatre for the opening performance of Caligula., 16 Feb 1960


Gloria Vanderbilt ad campaigns


Ludwig II (Luchino Visconti, 1972). He was sometimes called the Swan King


Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)


Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)


Leonardo di Caprio. Photo: Annie Leibovitz


Madonna. Photo: David LaChapelle


David Bowie


Ad campaign featured in Vogue, January 1997


Tory Burch swan-print wedge sandalias


Swan Evening dress by Charles James, 1951


Kate Moss wearing a Givenchy gown by Ricardo Tisci, Spring-Summer collection 2011


Giles Deacon Spring-Summer 2012 collection


Erin O’Connor wearing a gown by Alexander McQueen. Photo: Tim Walker


Eglingham Children and Swan on Beach, Tim Walker, 2002


The Man Who Would Be Gatsby

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald


While a teenager, Francis Scott Fitzgerald was collecting ideas about the goings on in West Egg and not just those of the community but those of a specific man: W. Gould Brokaw, a now-forgotten Long Island socialite, playboy and gentleman automobile racer. He literally could not escape his shadow.


W. Gould Brokaw


Brokaw was the son of hugely successful New York clothier Vail Brokaw of Brokaw Brothers, and grandson of a railroad tycoon; he inherited a fortune of around $4.5 million and never needed to do anything in particular for work. His circle of friends was the cream of New York society: Astors, Whitneys, Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Morgans, all of them interested in speed, whether horses, greyhounds, yachts or cars. Brokaw was an elder statesman for that set of young millionaires, having been born a decade or more before most, in 1863. In later legal proceedings–of which there were oh so many, he was described as “a rich and fashionable clubman.”

According to Some Sort of Grandeur, Matthew Bruccoli’s biography of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the character Jay Gatsby is based on the bootlegger and earlier World War I officer Max Gerlach. In the 1920s, when Gerlach knew the Fitzgeralds, he operated as a bootlegger and allegedly kept Fitzgerald topped off with booze. Born in Yonkers as Max A. Stark (or possibly Max A. Stork), he claimed direct German ancestry and went by the names of Max Stark Gerlach and Max von Gerlach later in life (his gravestone reads Max Stork Gerlach). Nevertheless, Gatsby is a composite, as are all Fitzgerald’s characters, and there’s a certain amount of Scottie himself in Jay.


Robert Evans and Ali MacGraw


About the filming adaption of The Great Gatsby directed by Jack Clayton in 1974, it was originally conceived and developed as a wedding present vehicle for Ali MacGraw (formerly Diana Vreeland’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar magazine) from her then-husband Robert Evans. The project was derailed from its initial purpose when MacGraw fell in love with her The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah, 1972) co-star Steve McQueen and divorced Evans.


Evans in his home Woodland, built by architect John Woolf


The producer with Tatjiana Shoan. Harper’s Bazaar, 2004


Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw


Stills from The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)


Automobiles are almost treated as a character in the plot of Fitzgerald’s book. Myrtle Wilson was knocked down by a car and this sad event unchains the climax of the story. Plus, Fitzgerald to his editor Maxwell Perkins that the name of Jordan Baker (a character based on the golfer Edith Cumming) is a combination between the two then-popular automobile brands, the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle, as an allusion to Jordan’s “fast” reputation and the freedom now presented to Americans, especially women of 1920s.


Ralph Lauren


Ralph Lauren who (as we know) made the costumes for Jack Clayton’s The Great Gastby, has a penchant for cars. His collection of classic automobiles is another dimension of his own persona. An amazing lineup of 50-plus dream machines that have all been restored to glory, the convoy is a portal to the past, when men like Brokaw drove their race cars home from the track at the end of the day and manufacters were the manifestations of their designers: Jean Bugatti, Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche… RL’s gateway drug was a white ’61 Morgan convertible with red leather seats, which he bought in 1963- back when he was a travelling salesman for the Boston-based tie company A. Rivetz & Co.- and was later forced to sell when he couldn’t afford a garage in Manhattan.


Steve McQueen


And it’s a little bit curious and probably not coincidental that one of Ralph Lauren’s cottages is adorned with black-and-white photos of Greta Garbo, Johnny Depp and Steve McQueen, a man who also loved engines and made himself just like Jay Gatsby and Lauren did.