Alden Parkes' Courtesan chair in vignette

Courtesan Style Counts

Courtesan Chair in silo
The Alden Parkes Courtesan Chair in all its splendid glory!

Everyone has a different definition of beauty but I’m betting it’s the rare soul who wouldn’t be enamored with this sexy chair by Alden Parkes, which the manufacturer has dubbed the Courtesan chair. It is aptly named because it represents the boldness and refinement of an alluring caste of women as well as a luxurious trend for 2015—the melding of queenly hues of creamy white and gold—to prove that courtesan style counts! 

The Life of the Demi-Monde

The aesthetic the Jacksonville-based furniture manufacturer calls “the return to glamour,” which I noticed in abundance at last fall’s High Point Market, is so on point given the chair’s name. This label, coined during the bygone court era, represented elegant women who were capriciously committed to a life of intrigue.

I will be visiting some of the locales in London that are known to be the haunts of these wily creatures when I’m in town for The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in April. I’m sure deluge of writing will pour out of the experiences so stay tuned (I’ll try to parse it out as not to overwhelm!).

Alden Parkes' Courtesan chair in vignette
How would you go to the opera? Covered in your finery, of course!

In her book Courtesans, Katie Hickman recounts a typical evening experienced by the Parisian demi-monde, the lauded lovers who tempted the males of the upper class by their very nature, and a number of them imports from the UK. As they would take to their boxes at the Opera en grande toilette (covered in jewels) with the grave and imposing bearing of ambassadresses, Hickman notes they held court as unapologetically as the royals did.

A Return to Glamour

She revels in their gumption: “I like this description very much: it connects the courtesan to one of the categories of women that most people would think she was least likely to resemble, yet it is very apt. All but forgotten now, in their own lifetimes English courtesans of the stature of Cora Pearl, Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson and Catherine Walters—the five women whose stories I tell in this book—were important people.”

Hickman describes them as highly cultured women—“rich, famous and, most remarkably, independent females in an era in which this was almost an impossibility.” I could certainly see each of these “semi-mythical creatures” choosing this classically beautiful chair for a special spot in her chamber or salon. It is, as Lynne McArdle, the owner of Alden Parkes, declares, “a statement piece.”

And not just in physical appearance but also thematically, the name inspiring me to flights of fancy about the exceptional women who had the ingenuity enough to thrive as courtesans. “Physical beauty might have been enough to attract a lover, but on its own it was not enough to keep him,” Hickman explains. “Intelligence, wit and style counted just as much.”

Courtesan Chair, Courtesan Style

Likewise, poise counts with this fashionable chair. Made of hand-carved mahogany with mortise and tenon construction, the Courtesan is available in green with gold accents, black with gold accents and ultra white with brushed gold accents, all three color combinations hand-painted. I am quite partial to the white knowing it would have been the one color chosen by a courtesan for a costume that would have created the biggest stir due to its connotation of purity. When I become a salonière, which means when I get my act together to found a salon—as I’ve always wanted to do—this chair will be in contention for my throne!

The Modern Salonnière and this literary design encounter © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.