Thursday, 26 March 2015

Tribal Chic

These shorts, and the utterly heavenly giraffe-print dress, form the basis of my plan for Sholto and Esmeralda's wardrobes this summer.  They're by Petit Tribe, which is a just-launched (literally, the site went live last Friday) childrenswear brand whose only drawback is that they don't (yet) make the clothes in adult sizes.  Here's more:

How chic is this look?  (Unfortunately I don't think Esmeralda would wear it.  I can barely persuade her to keep a coat on even in the winter.)

But she'd probably wear the all-in-one on the right . . . 

Petit Tribe is the brainchild of the exceptionally stylish Olatoun Jolaoso (that's her daughter above on the right)  who cites her inspiration as the vibrant and colourful prints of the nomadic Fulani Tribe; she grew up alongside them in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna.  The creative director is Joanne Jong (her daughter is in the second image) previously of Giorgio Armani - no wonder the looks are so chic.  But it's the prints that I'm really in it for.

"Looking at your Instagram feed, we just thought you'd like it," said Nick the PR, when he invited me to view the collection about six weeks ago.  He was referring, no doubt, to my Pierre Frey 'Racines' obsession

Pierre Frey, Racines

 - which, though not strictly inspired by Africa, has its roots in tree bark and straw, and "uses the chromatic palate of Mother Nature", which, historically, has also been the case with African textiles, many of which are coloured using vegetable dies -

and my Eva Sonaike crush, whom I wrote about back in January:

Cushions by Eva Sonaike

and who, incidentally, also has Nigerian heritage.

And while we're on the subject of amazingness coming out of that country, if by any chance you haven't discovered the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (which you probably have: Purple Hibiscus was long listed for the Booker, and Half of a Yellow Sun won the Orange Prize for Fiction, but it took me 'til now and a profile in this month's issue of Vogue to finally read one of her books stacked beside my bed, not because I didn't want to but because other books got stacked on top and, well, you know how it goes) you have a treat in store:  I spent last week totally consumed by Americanah: the story unfolds between Nigeria, the US and the UK, and is fundamentally a love story, while also dissecting contemporary attitudes to race, and more than any other book I've read this year - or even last year -  has challenged the way I think. As has her TED talk,  The Danger of a Single Story.  (She's also given a brilliant TED talk on feminism, part of which was sampled by Beyonce in Flawless.)

Read this book

Talking of single stories - and glossing over the obvious fact that the single most overwhelming story right now coming out of Nigeria concerns Boko Haram which is depressing and horrific beyond belief but crucially isn't the entire narrative, and which I can only gloss over because I am neither qualified nor sufficiently knowledgable to correct the balance - Petit Tribe isn't all about clothes:  Olatoun has set up the Petit Tribe Foundation, in tandem with the brand -  1% of all revenue goes to supporting schools in Nigeria, in addition to Olatoun's own contributions.  Similarly Chimamanda is a trustee of the Farafina Trust, a non-profit organisation established to promote reading, writing and a culture of social introspection and engagement through the literary arts.

And so, inspired by Petit Tribe and Eva Sonaike and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but not actually able to get on a flight to Lagos (on account of Sholto, and the school run.  And needing a visa.  Oh, and work . . . ) I took Esmeralda to the African Galleries at the British Musuem last week.  She lay on the floor and ate marshmallow cake pops, and I gazed at the textiles and pretended she wasn't mine. Which I might have been less inclined to do had she been wearing that giraffe print dress in the first image.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Diamond Connection

While I'm not entirely of the opinion that diamonds are a girl's best friend, they're still pretty high up on my Top 100 list.   Pre-babies I used to write about jewellery, which meant that I'd spend mornings at Moussaieff or De Beers or Boucheron or Bulgari, trying on the kind of earrings and necklaces that dreams are made of, or at Harry Winston in New York being shown bracelets from the vaults that were designed by Ambaji Venkatesh Shinde, one of the most talented jewellery designers in the world, and the first  to articulate stone settings in such a way that they really catch the light every time you move; the starting point of red carpet jewellery, and, though I'm not sure if The Killers know it, the beginnings of their line "took to the spotlight like a diamond ring" in Neon Tiger, which is a line I'm storing up for an as yet unwritten novel.

But while I've been busy procrastinating with regard to the novel writing, my friend Josie most certainly has not:  her first book, The Diamond Connection, is now available to buy on Amazon.

It tells the story of the most expensive diamond necklace in the world and its theft during a high-profile charity gala in London - whereupon Jemima Fox-Pearl, Head of PR at the fine jewellery house Vogel, racks up air miles between London, South Africa and New York in a bid to solve the crime while at the same time unravelling a century-old mystery concerning the Cullinan Diamond's fabled missing part, and accidentally falling in love.  

What's brilliant is that Josie really knows what she's writing about, for she spent much of her twenties as Head of PR at the fine jewellery house Graff . . .  and it's pacy and exciting and informative and she's already working on the next one thank goodness because I, for one, can't wait to read it.  I also really want to go to South Africa, but that's a whole other issue.

So to finish, here are some amazing diamonds, which might have provided inspiration for Ms. Goodbody:

The Imperial State Crown.  See that diamond there?  That's part of the Cullinan diamond.  Before it was split up, it was over 3,106 carats - so big, the manager of the diamond mine threw it away, not believing it could be an actual diamond.  

More of the Cullinan Diamond - the largest part in fact, at 530.20 carats, it's known as the Star of Africa, and is set into the Royal Sceptre.  This, and the crown above, can be seen if one visits the Crown Jewels.  (Oh, and if you want a super super amazingly special Crown Jewels experience, check out the Christie's Travel Jewels of London trip in June, which includes a private view of the Crown Jewels, and dinner in the White Tower.)  

The Orlov Diamond, which was 300 carats when found, and was apparently stolen in India in the 1700s by a French deserter from the eye of Vishnu's idol in the innermost sanctuary temple in Sriangam.  Eventually it ended up in Amsterdam where it was bought by Count Grirogi Orlov, who gave it to his former lover, Catherine the Great of Russia, who had it mounted in the Imperial Sceptre.  It's now in the Kremlin.

The Moussaieff Red Diamond, measuring 5.11 carats and the largest red diamond in the world, it's mentioned in the novel.  (Less is said about Madame Moussaieff herself, who is the only woman working at the top of the male-dominated field of fine jewellery, and who I have always found fascinating.)

You know what?  Forget what I said at the beginning.  Diamonds like these would be anybody's best friend.  But until you can afford one, a similar pleasure can be gleaned from The Diamond Connection.  Buy it, read it.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Decorating with Horses

From the age of say, eight, to the age of twelve, my approach to decorating was simple:  I blue-tacked posters ripped from Pony Magazine to every spare inch of my bedroom walls, hung all the rosettes won on Smokey/ Misty/ Rainbow along the picture rail, and ensured that the collection of Spode Noble Horse plates that my grandfather bought for me via an advertisement in the back of the Telegraph Magazine took pride of place over my bed.  Meanwhile my windowsill became a shrine to worn horse shoes, and my bookshelves were crammed with everything from The Manual of Horsemanship to the complete series of Ruby Ferguson's Jill's Ponies books.  (And yes, I wanted to be Jill.  Didn't we all?)

My mother wasn't overly keen, especially since, with me ensconced at boarding school (with ponies, naturally) my bedroom doubled as the spare bedroom.  In retrospect, I realise that she missed a trick.  Had I been introduced to the joys of this wallpaper:

Jour de Fete by Pierre Frey

I probably wouldn't have felt the need to cover it up with Next Milton/ Henderson Milton/ whoever (and did anybody else find it slightly inconvenient that John Whitaker kept changing his sponsor, and thus his horses' names?)  The thing is, home was a series of army quarters, so I imagine that the argument would have been that it wouldn't have been worth wallpapering a room that was only going to be mine for a couple of years, tops.  But surely there was another solution:  she could have bought me a Stubbs or two, no?

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs.  

Of course, the above painting hangs in the National Gallery, which should give you some indication of how much a work by Stubbs might cost.  But I really wasn't picky, as evidenced by my love of the Spode plates.  Here's a picture of one, just to give you an idea of how gloriously gopping they are:

Obviously I didn't have them on little stands.  I had them on the wall.  All eight of them.

Now, of course, we have Lumitrix, which I'd recommend to any mother looking to improve the look of her daughter's bedroom walls - or indeed any other room in the house - specifically, the work of Astrid Harrison:

Astrid Harrison, Circling at Dawn

Astrid Harrison, Camargue in the Mist

But back to my own deprived childhood, in which I had an actual pony but, crucially, no ponies gracing my curtains.  I genuinely don't understand how this happened - obviously I should have had a subscription to World of Interiors and House & Garden as well as Pony Magazine, and then I might have discovered these fabrics:

Haras by Pierre Frey

Lasso by Pierre Frey (I love this.  Esmeralda is so totally going to find it in her bedroom at the very first indication of her being as infatuated as I was . . . )

And They're Off!  by Ralph Lauren Home (which is an incredibly pretty toile and you don't even necessarily realise that it's about horses unless you really examine it up close.)

To conclude, one day I'll probably allow my horse obsession to once again take over, at least in some rooms.  My Pinterest has a dedicated 'Fantasy Stables' board, for when we move to the country and the second coming of Rainbow the Wonder Pony takes place  (I spend a lot of time on Morgan Equine looking at their coloured ponies . . . )  In the mean time, the Spode plates are in my kitchen cupboard, and it's suddenly occurred to me that I can use them for a series of themed parties, which Andrew thinks sound like hell.  

I, however, am very much looking forward to our Grand National lunch. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Visions of India

The television serial of The Jewel in the Crown was largely responsible for a significant proportion of my Gap year.  I was therefore on tenterhooks awaiting Indian Summers, which my Sunday evenings are now structured around.  Because, even though it's shot in Malaysia, it's still the closest I've got to India in about five years.

I have to go - I keep finding little visions - all of which I take as signs directing me to the Air India website, and my obsession with Good Earth is becoming almost overwhelming - I need these plates:

Indus Plates by Good Earth

Our bathroom needs these towels:

Ceylon Towels by Good Earth

And Sholto and Esmeralda need this tent:

The Caravan Galaxy Tent by Good Earth - how heavenly?  (Although Esmeralda says she'd like it to feature palm trees and spiders, rather than camels.)

Good Earth do actually ship worldwide, but I'm sure that it would be more cost effective for me to actually go there. . . .   So, as an interim, I re-read Rumer Godden's The Peacock Spring, which is beyond wonderful, and went to see Dara at the National Theatre, which is on until the 4th April and which tells the tale of two brothers, Aurangzeb and Dara, and their battle for succession in Mughal India.  The sets are exceptional - all the action takes place either in Agra Fort or the Red Fort in Delhi - as are the costumes, and the predominant theme of the play, which concerns religion and extremism, is both fascinating and relevant; one slightly wonders how it is that we are still having the same arguments 350 years later, but there we go.

Dara at the National Theatre

So while I'm preparing myself for a Good Earth binge, I'm considering the merits of wallpapering a room (or two) in something that will inspire feelings of being in the sub-continent.  Firstly, Jacqueline Seifert's Kerala collection of wallpaper, which I discovered at Craft back in January:

Rickshaw wallpaper by Jacqueline Seifert.   Just looking at it I can almost feel the vibrations (in a Keralan Beach Boys, kind of way.)

And here's another of Jacqueline Seifert's designs from the range, on a wall, suddenly, I'm thinking that my bathroom needs this.  And palm trees!  

But then, there's also Manuel Canovas and Pierre Frey to take into consideration:

Bengale by Manuel Canovas - I've been in love with this wallpaper for almost as long as I can remember

Jardin de Mysore by Pierre Frey (yes, basically I just love elephants.)

Maoris by Pierre Frey, which perhaps isn't so obviously of a particular country but which definitely makes me think of India.

Any decisions are going to take a while, not least because I'll have to convince my husband who thinks he doesn't like wallpaper.   In the mean time, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now at the cinema.  A vision of India is better than no India at all.  

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Out of Africa

So, I was drifting around the Home/ Craft/ whatever trade fair at Olympia on Sunday, feeling faintly uninspired by everything I was seeing when I, by chance - and I mean really by chance because I had been going to skip that corner - discovered a stand that suddenly made the whole forty minute bus ride worthwhile (I know.  It's not long.  And I was totally consumed by Frank Garder's biography Blood and Sand, so it was actually quite enjoyable.)  I discovered this:

Eva Soniake

And it might be because I had just been reading an account of travelling through Sudan, and it might also be because I'm just a tiny bit obsessed with Stella Jean -

Stella Jean Spring/ Summer 2015 - totally the look I'm aspiring to come the heatwave

- but either way I suddenly want to cover my entire house in Eva Sonaike's African-inspired prints.  Being me, my eye immediately focused on the straightforward textiles:

Esin Yellow from the Vintage Safari Collection

Esin Green from the Vintage Safari Collection

But these textiles can be turned into cushions (which for once I'm going to say no to as I am beyond over cushioned), pouffes (yes please!!)

Oh my goodness I want one so much.

And bags:

Which may be an easier (not to mention cheaper) way to integrate a bit of Africana to my look this summer.

Eva - who incidentally used to be a fashion journalist for In Style Germany (she is German) so totally got my Stella Jean reference - also does bespoke and makes rugs; you can colour match the colours to whatever it is you need them to match.  The fabrics are great upholstery fabrics as well as curtains/ blinds, and I'm suddenly wavering over my Colefax & Fowler choice for a particular chair (I haven't bought the fabric yet, so there's time.)  The Eva Sonaike mission is "Bringing colour to life" - and oh, I want it in mine. . . .

Sunday, 4 January 2015

All Tomorrow's Parties

We celebrated the New Year, as we nearly always do, with our friends Lara and Mark.  They give great New Year's Eve parties, one reason being that supper is guaranteed delicious.  Both of them can cook, and I mean really cook.  And every time I eat at their house it inspires me to do something about my own culinary ineptitude - for I know, at least for Mark, that his prowess in the kitchen is a learned art:  I remember a time when his dinner parties came from Rotisserie Jules.  I've got to up my game.  Which, as far as I'm concerned, means throwing more lunch and dinner parties - quite conveniently, actually, for as ever I've started the year with a long list of people I really want to see, soon.

Sadly I'm unlikely to become a world class chef - or even remotely proficient - by the end of January, despite my kitchen being stocked with tomes from everyone from Nigella to Ottolenghi.  Therefore it's essential that the table looks good.  For I'm totally convinced that a beautiful place setting can distract anyone from the fact that I'm serving fish pie followed by chocolate brownies, again.  And in this, I have to admit to gleaning most of my inspiration from Valentino:  At The Emperor's Table:

Did you ever, ever, see anything so heavenly as any of these?  The closest I've found to anyone else being to emulate the great Valentino is Nina Campbell, who entertains in serious style, and who, true to my heart, declared at a masterclass she hosted that one can simply never have enough china.  And I happen to know that she means it, and has a colossal cupboard dedicated to her collection.

I've always thought it a shame that the majority only have one or two sets of china - I do get the storage issue - but how heavenly to be able to use, say, Royal Copenhagen blue and white, or Fornasetti malachite, or something pretty and gilded by Limoges, totally on whim?  When I have an enormous house, I shall do just that.  Valentino acquires his priceless china via Christie's and Sotheby's, but I am sufficiently in touch with reality to realise that I probably won't - unless our lottery numbers come in - be able to build up my collection that way.  However, there are a few easier to acquire sets that I've got my eye on . . . :

Kit Kemp's Mythical Creatures for Wedgewood.  Even if the food weren't beyond delicious and the hotel full of my favourite textiles (Kit Kemp's Moondog for Chelsea Textiles, the most heavenly ikat lampshades etc., similar of which can be found at Susan Deliss) this china on it's own would be reason enough to lunch regularly at Ham Yard hotel.  Except that you can't really see just how marvellous it is in this image, so:

Here it is again.  Kit Kemp's Mythical Creatures for Wedgewood.

Oscar de la Renta's Botanical Garden Peony  . . .  This would totally be my go-to for a summer lunch in the garden.  Now these don't really go, but I have to include them anyway because they're also by Oscar de la Renta:

Oscar de la Renta Amber Tortoise Wine Glass.  There are water glasses too, and a decanter.  I have a weakness for leopard.  Nina Cambell has some amazing leopard print placemats, incidentally, which I seriously covert:

They're not available to buy, sadly.  But that amber glassware is, and amber glassware, especially at night, is exquisite.  If you look back at the first Valentino image, you can see it used there, too.

Ralph Lauren Home! Just in case you want leopard china.  It doesn't actually totally do it for me.  

Finally, a complete change - Limoges:  Bernardaut's Constance Rouge.  I love this. It would be so pretty, especially in the winter.

But, right now, I'm going to return to perusing cookery books.  Because however beautiful the plates are, I still need to produce something to go on them.

Valentino: At The Emperor's Table by Andre Leon Talley is published by Assouline and you can buy it here.
Kit Kemp's Mythical Creatures for Wedgewood can be bought here.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Living with Light

It is around this time every year (post-Christmas, still the school holidays) that I cast my eye around my lego-strewn and Peppa Pig-assaulted house, and despair.  I know that underneath it all there's a nice sofa and a lovely rug etc., but nonetheless I begin to wish that my natural decorating taste ran to something a little emptier, more considered, something resembling this:

Which is by Axel Vervoordt, the legendary Belgian art and antiques dealer and interior designer who has worked with, among unnamed others, Pierre Berge, Dries Van Noten, Calvin Klein and Kanye West (his Paris house.  I don't know who is responsible for the $20 million Calabas 'dream house' that he and Kim are rumoured to be about to move into, and am on tenterhooks waiting for AD to cover it.  They will, won't they, surely . . . .? )  Vervoordt has also just done the penthouse at the part-owned-by Robert de Niro Greenwich Hotel, New York, which I now want to decamp to on a permanent basis.

The Penthouse at the Greenwich Hotel, New York

The Penthouse at the Greenwich Hotel, New York

There's a book on my shelf by Vervoordt entitled Living With Light, from where I appropriated the title of this post, but even if there hadn't been it is one of the features of his work that makes it so exceptional.  His rooms, to me, speak of the golden age of Dutch painting - there's a Vermeer-ness to them, to the way that light that pours into them.  I'd like to say it's due to geography, but that doesn't explain the beauty of Vervoordt's projects in countries beyond northern Europe.

The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer

So here are some more rooms by the great Axel Vervoordt, and sons, who both work for him in his atelier.  It really is gloriously renaissance-like, especially when one discovers that he also makes products for the home - his sofas and chairs are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen - and there's an actual art gallery too.  (Vervoordt bought his first Lucio Fontana in his twenties, and there's a passage on the artist in Living with Light, his slashed canvases "with a seemingly infinite space at the centre are like portals into the void.  Pregnant with possibility, the cuts are openings into new dimensions that absorb light and seek to explore the universe and it's infinite reach.")

Concetto Spaziale by Lucio Fontana

So this year - along with giving blood more regularly and being more patient with my children and eating less sugar and being a better wife -  and I'm going to attempt the art of more considered collecting.  How that's going to marry with the aforementioned lego and Peppa Pig I'm not entirely sure, but don't these images make it look worth it?