Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Age Of Aquarius

What do you give to a man who has everything? My dear friend, Robert, whose birthday fell on Saturday, already has a gorgeous wife of almost thirty years, a successful retail business and a lovely home filled with enough objets d’art to outfit a small museum. I would have to don my thinking cap in order to come up with an imaginative birthday gift for the esteemed septuagenarian.

Robert Levine, founder of Fire & Ice Jewelers (www.fireandice.com), along with his wife, Jan, my dearest Baltimore friend and vice president of the company, opened their first treasure-filled store in July of 1980 at Maryland's newest tourist and shopping destination, Baltimore’s Harborplace. Now numbering twelve locations in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, Robert and Jan’s jewelry stores reflect their exquisite taste in high-end wearable and decorative art. They spend time each year traveling the world, seeking out artisans whose painstaking handiwork might be lost to antiquity if not brought to light and sustained by Robert’s encouragement and patronage. To visit a Fire & Ice store is to engage in happy sensory overload, immersed in a fabulous collection of art glass, prehistoric fossils, intricate carvings and unique and beautiful jewelry, the displays within each store carefully curated to emphasize the various artists' visions and creative process. 

I couldn’t just get the man a necktie for his birthday.

Sara England with some of her spirited animal creations
Fortunately, inspiration struck while I was perusing the stalls at a craft fair in January. Along with their six cats and one Australian bearded dragon, Robert and Jan recently became the proud owners of a puppy – a standard poodle puppy – who has taken over their hearts (and their household) with her good-natured rambunctiousness. One of the craft booths I visited that winter day featured an artist who creates depictions of almost any dog breed imaginable. Sara England has been painting and selling her popular line of animal artwork for almost eight years now (www.saraenglanddesigns.com). Her work is sold all over the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Last week I asked if she would customize her poodle drawing with some elements from Robert’s life. Sara was more than happy to oblige.

Robert displays his poodle
picture beside his lovable
pooch, Chanel.
What I ended up with was a beautifully matted print of Robert and Jan’s adorable black poodle with the puppy’s name, Chanel, emblazoned across a glass of red wine (Robert is an oenophile with an extensive wine cellar), and diamonds gracing the dog’s collar to reflect Robert’s affinity for fine jewelry. I framed and gift-wrapped the adorable print, hoping it would be a hit with the recipient.

Meanwhile, when asked how he would like to celebrate his birthday, Robert, a lover of musicals, replied that he wanted to see the current production of Hair (http://hairontour.com), playing in Baltimore for only three engagements, followed by dinner at Baltimore’s hottest new restaurant, the Greek "Ouzo Bay" in Harbor East (www.ouzobay.com). Sounded like a perfect evening to me!

I chose my wardrobe carefully for this auspicious occasion. A tasteful A-line dress by Joneswear from JCPenney with a halter-style neckline and a ruched waist in soft polyester would suit the 1960s-era theater production and still be classy enough for dinner afterward. I selected my favorite jewels: a corded choker necklace of tri-metal discs that I picked up in southern Ireland last summer, paired with a bracelet and earrings of black glass beads, glimmering crystals and freshwater pearls that I bought at one of Robert and Jan’s stores a few years back. I added my most comfortable platform pumps by Call It Spring and pushed an elegant black and gold lace hair accessory into my curls, a "Dea Dread", as she calls them, made for me by Baltimore artist Thea Osato (http://deadreads/etsy.com).

The weather was brisk but not frigid, so instead of donning my thick winter coat, I opted for a gorgeous leather Dero in warm winter white with uniquely striated sleeves and elongated cuffs by Italian maker Rocco D’amelio for Neimen Marcus, which was a fabulous hand-me-down last year from my best friend, Kari’s, mother, Joyce (for details, see "Ski Trip 2012").

Danyel Fulton plays the role of
Dionne in the musical production Hair

Together with Robert and Jan’s longtime store display consultant and lighting designer, Jesse Turner, we found our seats at the Lyric Opera House Saturday night and settled in for a colorful production of the infamous rock opera in whose shadow we’d all come of age. The set design was imaginative and the costuming evoked fond memories of the fabric-embellished bellbottoms and fringed jackets of my youth. The talented cast put on an entertaining show, highlighted by the terrific voice of Danyel Fulton, who played Dionne, a key member of the 1960s-era "tribe" whose drug and sex-filled exploits inform the anti-war message so eloquently portrayed in the nostalgic score.

Enjoying my meal with, from left, Robert and Jan Levine,
and their longtime store designer, Jesse Turner 

Dinner at Ouzo Bay after the performance was exceptional. Although the hour was late, the staff went out of its way to provide us with top-notch service. The restaurant’s handsome owner, George Aligeorgas, stopped by our table to say hello and, remembering me from my Valentine’s Day post about his restaurant (see "My Greek Valentine"), treated us to a bottle of fine wine in honor of Robert's birthday. After an exquisite meal at the hands of head chef Rey Eugenio, we were presented with an artful quartet of signature delicacies by Akis Anagnostou, the plate adorned with the beautiful spun-sugar decorations for which the pastry chef is known.

Pastry chef Akis Anagnostou, left, and
Sommelier Julian Albornoz, present
dessert to the birthday boy

The evening was a resounding success. And as for the birthday gift? Robert loved his poodle picture.  Much, much better than a necktie.
A beautiful array of confections,
compliments of Ouzo Bay restaurant
owner George Aligeorgas

"…[T]o share our fascinating, creative and unique treasures, inspiring delight in the lives we touch…"  
Excerpt from the mission statement of Fire & Ice Jewelry of Baltimore

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