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Paris pays homage to India’s glamorous ‘golden couple’ of the 1920s and 30s

A Paris museum has launched a spectacular new exhibition to celebrate the glamorous lives of the Indian 'golden couple' of the 1920s and 30s.

Paris pays homage to India's glamorous 'golden couple' of the 1920s and 30s
The exhibition is now open at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. All photos: AFP

The extraordinary lives and impeccable taste of the Maharajah of Indore and his maharani, Sanyogita Devi, are celebrated in a spectacular new exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.

With the clouds of World War II darkening over Europe, the pair created a gem of an avant-garde palace on the Malwa Plateau in the heart of India.

An oasis of understated but dazzling modernist luxury, it was furnished with pieces by Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret among others, with art by Brancusi.

The first building in the subcontinent to have air conditioning, it also had a ballroom where the couple could do the foxtrot to the jazz-loving maharajah's collection of 100,000 records.

The aesthete prince commissioned the young German architect Eckart Muthesius to create his dream of the future.
 

'A veritable Rudolph Valentino'

Together the two men combed the salesrooms and artist studios of Paris and Berlin with art advisor Henri-Pierre Roche – author of the novel Jules and Jim – to find the works to fill it.

Muthesius was also asked to kit out the 25-year-old maharajah's sleek new royal train, as well as a barge that was a “vertible floating modernist palace” and do the interiors of his private plane.

He designed, too, a hunting caravan so the prince – who had come to the throne at 17 – could stalk tigers in style.

Despite being bound together in an arranged marriage when she was 10 and he only a few years older, and having one foot in the Raj and age-old Indian princely traditions, the pair were a thoroughly modern couple, said the chief curator Olivier Gabet.

The ever-elegant maharajah was a “veritable Rudolph Valentino”, said Gabet, and few could fail to be charmed by his bright young wife, who shared his interests.

“She was involved in all their projects and was treated as an equal by her husband. In fact, they were quite an exceptional couple,” he said.

Man Ray, their guest on the French Riviera, thought the same. He was very taken with the maharani, whom he described as an “exquisite girl in her teens”.

“Dressed in the French style, she wore a ring with a huge emerald that the Maharaja had bought her that morning,” he later wrote.
 

'Magnetic aura'
 

Clearly deeply in love, the couple had “a magnetic aura”.

In fact they charmed everyone wherever they went, whether filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille and actor Gary Cooper in Hollywood, or old world royals like themselves.

Vogue described the maharajah as like a “character from a Visconti film, the last member of a carefree aristocracy, living its final hours in the lap of idle luxury.”

And indeed, the couple did not have long to enjoy their idyll in their modernist home, the Manik Bagh, or “garden of rubies”.

The maharani died at the age of 22 from appendicitis, leaving behind their toddler daughter, Usha, the present maharani.

The maharajah's artistic adventures pretty much ended with her death, said Gabet, “which shows just what an influence she had.”

Despite being educated in England, Yeshwant Rao Holkar II –  in the shortened version of the maharajah's full title – turned away from the well-trodden tweedy anglophile tastes of his princely peers.

His Paris-based son Richard Holkar believes the maharajah's cosmopolitanism may have been a reaction to his father and his grandfather being forced to abdicate by the imperial overlords.

Gabet agrees, believing that it “may have been a way of asserting” his independence.

Air of mystery

After his wife's death, the maharajah went on to marry again twice but his inner life remains mysterious.

He died in 1961 as he was planning to write his autobiography, having burned all his private papers.

“They are both quite mysterious actually,” said Gabet.   

“It was a time where people didn't bare their souls in the press,” and they came from a class where “there was a great sense of holding back, of reserve and of discretion.

“It's the mystery in some ways which makes them so mythic,” he added.

But if their fame has been somewhat forgotten, even in India, where maharajahs were stripped of the last of their powers in 1971, the couple's legendary connoisseurship has not.

Collectors like fashion moguls Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, and the Qatari prince Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani, snapped up much of their furniture and carpets in a legendary auction in Monaco in 1980.

Their modernist “garden of rubies” has been swallowed up by the expanding city of Indore, now in Madhya Pradesh.

The once stately salons of the Manik Bagh have long since been subdivided into offices for the local excise department.

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MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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