In her Encyclopedia of the Exquisite (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), Jessica Kerwin Jenkins ’93 is inspired by exotic 16th-century encyclopedias, which celebrated mysterious artifacts, with emphasis on the elegant, the rare, the commonplace and the delightful.
Jenkins’s modern-day version combines whimsy and practicality, as it showcases the fine arts and the worlds of fashion, food, travel, home, garden and beauty. In the spirit of renewing old sources of beauty, and using an anecdotal approach, each entry shares engaging stories. Among them: the explosive history of champagne, the art of lounging on a divan, and the thrill of dining alfresco.
The book is a lifestyle guide for the Francophile and the Anglomaniac, the gourmet and the style maven, the armchair traveler and the art-lover. It pays homage to the esoteric world of glamour and luxury but it doesn’t require a lot of money to enjoy.
In her review of the book in The New York Times, Lily Koppel writes that Jenkins’s “encyclopedia is sensual and dainty, arranged alphabetically, with antique-style illustrations to go with entries on diverse and beguiling subjects, among them the color black, Champagne, the Elephantine Colossus (one of several elephant-shaped 19th-century buildings), enthusiasm, frilly lingerie, mouches (fake beauty marks), “Nebula, the Powdered Sugar Princess” (a ballet created by Joseph Cornell), omelets, the Japanese pillowbook, sequins, twilight, weekends and whistling.”
“Jenkins’s wittily curated selection emphasizes the rare and not often considered, with a dash of Julie Andrews’s ‘favorite things’ sensibility. Along the way, tales are told about muses of the marvelous, from Madame de Staël to Yoko Ono.”