A gracious conversation with Valerie von Sobel – style icon & Founder of Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation
November 9, 2017
Time truly flies, and surprisingly fast. Learn it is the 2nd anniversary of my blog this month, and when I think back to the beginning, and of all the posts that I have written, it brings back a lot of wonderful memories. Writing about the stylish topics and the stylish and remarkable people makes me feel humble also well satisfied. Nothing is easy at the beginning, but I have mastered much on this writing journey and continue to find the learning cycle endlessly fascinating.
This is reason enough why we should keep moving forward, and to keep ourselves current on trends. On the blog’s birthday this month, I would like to do something special and different this time. As you know our focus has always been on men, as here in ‘My Modern Darcy’. Everything is about refined and remarkable gentlemen, icons around the world. The meaningful conversations in the past, has been all about a men’s perspective on fashion. It now occurs to me, what about women’s perspective? So pushing the proverbial envelope a bit, for a change let us hear this time from the women’s point of view. I have struggled and waited for the right moment and right person to choose, and by happenstance I found one during my visit to Paris this summer.
Photo credit: Albert Sanchez
I was heading for the Louvre, for I couldn’t wait to see the spectacular ‘Christian Dior, exhibit, one of the most feted ever mounted. The “Couturier du rêve’" was at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where you are surrounded with the history of Monsieur Dior since a young man. His fascinating journey from Gallery owner to couture legend.
From Jacques Fath on, each designer who ever worked for the House of Dior was on display, with many examples of their unique witchcraft within the Dior culture. At this breathtaking vernissage, taking us through decades of glamour through the lens of Christian Dior, is where in the elegant crowd I met Valerie von Sobel.
As a renowned style icon, the portrait of Valerie has been featured on the cover of ‘Advanced Style: Older & Wiser’, a beautiful book about ageless style by photographer and blogger, Ari Seth Cohen. She is also featured in the newly published Rizzoli’s “The Art of Dressing”. She had a great career as an interior designer, (featured in the US edition of Elle Decor this October 2017) and has known fame as an actress (Mr. Hobbs takes a vacation with Jimmy Stewart) Now she dedicates her life mostly to her philanthropic foundation – Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (ASRL). Having lost her teenage son, this Foundation that carries his name; assists single parents with catastrophically ill children. She is also an artist, and you may see her work at her website at the bottom of this blog post.
Valerie von Sobel is at the cutting edge of the movement about ageless style, that embraces man as well as women. She is a motivating example for people around the world, which makes her one of the most beautiful and influential people, as we now live longer. Since we last met in Paris, we have been talking about an opportunity of having the voice of this stylish lady to speak about her work, and cultivating a never-ending spirit of to live better, healthier, happier and more stylish. To me, such spirit is essential, for men or women, now with this 2nd year anniversary issue. I am thrilled to have this remarkable lady join me in conversation, as I believe her perspective to be timeless, speaking to any age group, both men or women.
My Modern Darcy: Hi Valerie, such an honor to have you here for our conversation also as our guest of honor for my blog’s 2nd anniversary. First thing first, it’s been a while since we last met, how’s everything been and what’s new with you?
Valerie von Sobel: Kind of you to ask. After meeting you in Paris, I went on to attend four unforgettable days in Sicily; the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda extravaganza. This type of lavish pageantry, a celebration of the senses are a true rarity. The designers created a dream, as if for themselves, but it was for 250 privileged guests. The balls and dinners took place in palazzos and churches, Piazzas and by the seashore. Music and dance and fashion and jewelry, acrobats and fireworks, and conversations with people from all over the world. The visuals alone could feed your senses for years, the colors, shapes, the textures and concepts, all underscored by the divine Tarantella.
After Paris my days in London were equally meaningful, time spent with David Downton, perhaps the best known fashion illustrator in the world today, and Philip Treacy, who hardly needs introduction. These gentlemen are legends in their own time, and having been a witness and partner in London’s most important fashion period, that of the rebel couturier Alexander McQueen and sidekick and muse Isabella Blow.
Europe is rich in personal memories of my childhood, and adding to those making me nostalgic for the next time. Since I am back in California, I can’t complain about lack of opportunities, or the pleasure of my farm in the San Jacinto mountains.
MMD: You know how impressed I was after watching your video clip about the secret of creating your personal timeless style, can you share with us here what motivates you to do that? And how is your style journey and career looks like and takes you to what you are today?
VVS: It is curiosity that you are born with, not with style. Style is something that you develop, if you are able to develop discernment. This is the ingredient that is needed for the fashion journey. At first, it’s great if you can tell the difference between mediocrity and greatness. That is not as easy as it sounds. There are fashion trends that are loud and self-indulgent, that never should have gotten from runway into production. If your intention is to be merely fashionable, then there is the well coined phrase; a victim of fashion. That will never happen to one who has deeply understood what is good. There are many types of “good”. The traditional good taste that strives to be acceptable, to fit in, to be appropriate, always in good taste; is one type. Then there are those who can tell good from great, but stay safe, not really having the appetite to stand out.
Then there are those who put diverse ingredients together, making each of them more brilliant by their combination, and these are inventors in their own right. Assemblage artists. This takes a bit of daring and a lot of confidence.
Photo credit: Albert Sanchez
MMD: Something very encouraging and empowering about your views on ageless style, which you have been very determine and clear that motivates people, can you share with us more why is that so significant in our life to have such mindset?
VVS: In order to be inspirational or motivating, you must be inspired and motivated. People cling to someone’s genuine energy and conviction, and mostly to their optimism. When you are able to exude those you are fortunate. Like Khalil Gibran writes; those that freely give without mindfulness or virtue “as in the yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space”.
When you live with interest in certain topics (be it fashion, philanthropy or art) it’s there for all to see, but you don’t live for the onlooker. You get on with what calls you, and being witnessed is a byproduct. The theater of life is rich and your choices should be based on what attracts you, and in time you will develop expertise and can share knowledge about it.
MMD: And speaking from your personal experience, how did you handle the criticism and setback throughout this journey?
VVS: Criticism is harder to take when you are young. The more confident you are (this should be a natural consequence of getting older) the less importance you attach to it, and can quickly see the source from where a mean comment comes from. You simply don’t have the time or the desire to engage in a negative way. When the criticism is helpful, intelligent or caring, one better listen up. There is wonderful folktale: "When someone calls you a donkey, ignore it, If two people call you a donkey perk up your ears. If three people call you a donkey, put on a saddle”.
Setbacks are different, and there is no way to prepare for them. You can only react with what at that point is in your database. Life is fraught with setbacks, and challenges are difficult for everyone.
MMD: You have a very successful career in interior design already, can you share with us how does that impact to your personal style, and even your work about style? And how did you find yourself to get motivated and inspired to do your work?
VVS: As I mentioned before it all starts with interest. I grew up in a rather poor country, in communist Hungary. My attraction to the refined and excellent was very pure. I gravitated toward beautiful architecture and words very young. There was a magnetic pull to a splendid garden that I could admire for hours. Had an understanding of what was alluring and charming. This is how curiosity begins.
MMD: Can you name 3 items in your closet and your home that means a lot to you, what are they and why?
VVS: I am not sure about meaning, as I don't attach sentimentality to items. I like each thing I own, not only on its own merit, but how they will fare as an ingredient in a composition.
Evening wear especially needs to be worn in different ways. When attending a formal event where one is sure to be seen and photographed, it is by the use of accessories that change everything...so its not so much about favorites, but using the opportunity to revise a gown that is remarkable. It would be a shame to wear once something just because you don't want to be seen twice in it. By the time I am dressing in a well seen/ photographed dress or gown, its own mother wouldn't recognize it as the same...something one loves, need to not only inspire, but re inspire again each time. Gloves, jewelry, coat or wrap, hat or turban, playing with color is what I like to do....so it’s more of what you create from diverse pieces, than favoring any particular item ....it’s about the art of assembling, (www.valeriesobelart.com) rather than the love of each ingredient.
As to my homes, it’s the bed and the bedroom that mean a lot to me. The linens you use, and what you surround yourself in your most private space is what matters.
MMD: In terms of refined menswear, in your opinion, what are the 3 items should a modern gentleman should have in their closet today?
VVS: Man in the business world used to judge by the quality of their watch. Today a modern man will click his mobile phone to tell the time. In the social world a belt told a story…fashion today doesn’t even dictate a belt. You had better owned a good dinner jacket, or you would be a sorry, rather than desirable single man on a hostess’s list. Last year however at the Oscars my very chic escort, wore a Comme de Garcon navy kilt, and no one batted an eyelash…au contraire. So the world and its fashion values have undergone a bit of renovation. Nevertheless while I appreciate “avant” I was hardly in awe of the man showing up to the opening of the Opera in Bermuda shorts straight off the golf course. If I was a man, I would be sure to own a grand fingertip city coat in dark wool and in vicuña.
MMD: Apart from refined clothing, what other qualities that a modern gentleman should have nowadays?
VVS: Some things will never change; the perception. Rudeness speaks loudly with body language alone. As does respect, chivalry and appreciation. Not only gentleman, but all humans should speak this eternal language.
MMD: Can you tell us about your Foundation – Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, how is that come about and what is your goal for doing this?
VVS: I had a successful career and am still member of ASID (American Society of interior Designers) Since I lost my 18-year-old son, my main work is that of the Foundation that bears his name, the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation. Our mission is to assist desperate single parents of terminally ill children, who have ran out of financial resources. In this month, October 2017 my own apartment is published in Elle Decor, where you can see a sample of one of the many styles I used design in. hope your readers may enjoy it.
MMD: Looking back on your journey – from style to interior design and charitable work, can you share with us 2 of the most beautiful memories that you have, and why?
VVS: In style many elements have to come together before they stand out. If you dress with care and intention all the time, each outfit should be memorable in some way. By its unexpectedness, by its dissonance working to advantage, by the surprising little accessory items that you use... that may wait for years sometimes as silent attendants at your disposal….those dove grey spats with a lavender pink tulle skirt.
In design when you find the item that makes the rest of the composition sing the same tune, it’s like the sweet spot for a tennis player. I like to think that in each project I worked on those rich moments existed more than once. As for philanthropy, the purity of giving without the recipient knowing its origin, is a gift like no other to the giver…it needs to be experienced, and it’s never forgotten.
MMD: Do you have any advice for someone who strive to do something successful in their life?
VVS: I consider myself someone happy to strive, rather than an icon. Never a finished product. The creative process is the sacred gift, and while inspiration comes, working diligently is the key. Without fail. People who are easily satisfied, are not doing their best…there is no ceiling on how far you can perfect within your chosen discipline. Raising your personal bar doesn’t make you an overachiever…there is no such thing in any art form. Or in writing, mathematics, fashion, music, sculpting or painting.
Special thanks to Ms. Valerie van Sobel, image courtesy of Valerie van Sobel, cover photo by Albert Sanchez