Balbec: The Name

A Leon Carre' illustration of the Thousand and One Nights, one of Marcel Proust's favorite books.  It appears  on "The World" card, the last of the major arcana of Lo Scarabeo Tarot of the Thousand and One Nights


Why Balbec?

I am often asked what Balbec means and why I chose the name for our company. I usually respond that I'm a Proust fan and Balbec is a seaside town in his novel. That's the short answer. My computer still autocorrects "Balbec" to "Malbec", which irritates me because I think it should know better by now.  "Malbec" is what agents hear when I'm talking to them about Balbec on the phone.  Sometimes when I'm in a rush I'll say "it's like Malbec but with a B", although I don't love saying that.  People get really excited when they think its is a reference to Baalbek, Lebanon. And they seemed so moved that I really hate telling them that's not it.  I tell them that Proust was probably inspired by Baalbek, because I believe there is a good chance that he was (or should have been).  Then there is Balbec, Indiana, but no one ever brings that up. 

Balbec is a fictional seaside resort that features prominently in Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower aka Within a Budding Grove, the second volume of In Search of Lost Time. (1913-1927) As a place, Balbec charges the narrator's imagination before he ever visits. When he finally arrives, it is different from what he imagined, but transformational nonetheless. Balbec is where the narrator spends a long summer holiday trying to recuperate from his illness. He is young and curious and in Balbec--against a backdrop of sea and light, he meets an assortment of significant friends and loves who will shape the course of the novel.

Why Proust?

I began reading In Search of Lost Time the week my older daughter was born, and because I read it over a period of several years (yes I am a very slow reader, but I also read other books in tandem), it became part of my environment.  I formulated, designed, and began building Balbec Beauty while I was still under the influence.  One of the things I love about the novel is that Proust explicates even the shadows and outlines of emotion and thought that we all recognize and grapple with in life, but accept as elusive and are content to let go of without fully articulating. To follow Proust's line of articulation is to experience alongside the narrator the creation of a given moment or thought as an ecosystem, one that is vivid and has many other lines of flight implicated within. Insights and epiphanies are here in abundance to collect. Same goes for those moments we all experience from time to time--when you’ve been listening to or reading something wonderful but then a sentence or a phrase is so acute that you are forced to come up for air, out of text or the music in which you feel you are a participant, to become a witness, an observer who has no choice but to testify: this is extraordinary. It's the "aaaha" expressed by the audience of Indian classical music concerts when a phrase is particularly resonant. Memory is the motivating device for In Search of Lost Time, but because memory is inaccurate, it becomes the catalyst for creativity and presence. The text becomes a creative machine rather than a documentary of lost time.

In addition to art, ambition, relationships, nature, loss, and death, Proust writes a lot about the everyday: errands, doctors visits, logistics, parties, shallow people, the demimonde, shopping, technology (elevators and telephones), crushes and obsessions. Ok fine, this is not necessarily everyone's everyday; shopping can mean the narrator is at the Fortuny atelier with his flame Albertine, buying her not one but two exquisite gowns, so that she (but more likely he), won't regret the loss of the gown not chosen.

Two Fortuny Dresses

Sometimes the narrator is insufferable, but in everything there is the consolation of philosophy, There are those passages you want to remember to refer back to for the rest of your life, and in that way it is a life manual. Of course all the great writers do this, but the strange thing about Proust is how sustained the meditations and how poignant the epiphanies are, one paragraph-long sentence after the other, across seven books. They become addictive; this is the case even in the more modernist, sometimes referred to as “cubist” style in the later part of the work. Sometimes I think that Proust had to have written In Search of Lost Time in a meditative state, somewhere close to the theta wave band. We know he barely left his bedroom while he wrote this. He certainly wasn’t out partying anymore.

Inspiration for work

In Search of Lost Time zeroes in on the balance and flow between the narrator's curiosity for the natural and material world that inspires him: a voice, a place, a name, a flower, a work of art, and his faculties of imagination and reflection with which he receives and understands, charges, and recreates them.

This balance really applies to everyone. In my own work, when I formulate, I get inspired by the properties of a plant or a substance and can hypothesize about what the formula will be like: how it will feel, what it can offer the skin in the short and long term, and so on. I imagine and project. The actual formula is always different than I had expected because I don't work with single molecule synthetics but with substances that have numerous and complicated constituents. I may have to reframe, but I work with what the plants and/or ingredients are giving me, always imagining, always following their lead, and reimagining where I am headed. And then, when I am lucky, something even better than I was hoping for happens.

I am grateful that I read this particular rhythm over many years in In Search of Lost Time, because it helped me let go of some perfectionistic tendencies that didn't serve. I can recognize and trust the creative process as a balancing act and not feel too frustrated at the vast amount of time spent that might otherwise feel fruitless, unproductive.

Skincare & Aging

The question of skincare, aging and anti-aging is tricky. I recognize that it causes real anxiety for people, so I don't like to diminish the concern. However, I do prefer to focus on skin comfort, also because aging skin reflects a lot more than how one topically cares for skin. The way I see it, one can look at the passage of time in two ways: 1) mourn an aging face, body and the loss of youth  2) recognize  the limited scope of perceiving and feeling age through a linear year count of the body (this is a paraphrase of what my online Kundalini teacher on Yogaglo was saying), and understand that memory is inaccurate and has much to do with perception. The second option leaves only presence and opportunities to see and feel, experience beauty at any moment.  I'll take the second, please.

The Challenge 

When it comes to Beauty and Fashion, most of us easily hand over authority to what is packaged for us by the media, the industries, by the culture at large, and so we miss out on independent experiences of beauty(ies). Dreaming more and imagining more to balance out our attention to someone else's ideals is partly the answer, I guess. I notice that I am particularly inspired when the young (despite being impressionable and eager to please) or the middle aged and older (despite being dismissed) are particularly adept at this dreaming.

“Our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits have long been at work, and it is the task of art to undo this work of theirs, making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us.” 

~Marcel Proust, Time Regained. 



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