Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Quiet Return of Bold Colour...

Giambattista Valli.
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Maison Valentino.

Manuel Canovas, Paris.

Bhangarh, India.

Giambattista Valli. 
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Giambattista Valli. 
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Anna Spiro.
(Published this month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

More beautiful photos here.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

Hamish at Cecil Beaton's former home, Reddish House.
(Via Hamish's Instagam)

The Boathouse, Sydney.

The Boathouse, Sydney.

Watt 1875, London.

Designers Guild, London

Hermès, France.

The Exhibitionist Hotel, London
(Opening this month)

My new book. (Still a WIP.)

Friday, October 3, 2014

News, Shoes, Dior and More...


As mentioned briefly in previous posts (ever so briefly, for fear of boring people), I've been busy writing and designing the next Paris book, due to to be published by my lovely publishers MUP in April 2015. My apologies if you've emailed and I've not replied: the book is now behind deadline and that's never professional, so it's become a priority. But it's coming along – albeit in fits and starts – and all remaining emails will be returned this weekend!

If you've thought about writing your own book, be it on Paris or another subject, I'll do a post on pitching ideas and designing mock-ups next week. You do have a better chance with a publisher if you can do a 10-page mock-up: publishers – like most people in this Instagram age – now think in images.

Publishers are inundated with proposals, but there are ways around the fray!


For those who love both books and Dioresque glamour and grandeur, a new title by the New York-based Pointed Leaf Press offers wonderful insights into this legendary French fashion house.

Monsieur Dior: Once Upon A Time is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into the ten years Christian Dior ran his esteemed label, and includes some beautiful images of both his designs and the models (mannequins) and society names who paraded them.

Author Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni interviewed dozens of people who had a direct relationship with the designer such as Olivia de Havilland, John Fairchild, Pierre Cardin, and many others, including his vendeuses, clients, models, and muses. 

It's a lovely look at the flip side of the fashion business.

Published by Pointed Leaf Press in October.


There has been much talk in the media lately about shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo's latest offering to its clients – customised designs. The Ferragamo heel, particularly the Vara (shown), has been a staple in many stylish wardrobes for years, but the designs can sometimes feel a little... dowagerish. Well, now you can 'Amal' them up a little with your own personalised take on the classic lines. 

Stripes... polka dots... juxtaposing tones. Ferragamo doesn't mind. They'll even do a little plaque with your initials on the sole. 

The service is now available in the Sydney boutique and many other stores.
It's a great idea if you want your own unique design – or create something special for a wedding or another event.


Pointed Leaf Press has also brought out a new book that fabric and passementarie fans will love. It's called The French Ribbon and it celebrates France’s deep-rooted tradition of ribbon-making from the time when ribbons were used to express individuality and style in both dress and everyday life. 

There are ribbons made from cotton, silk, satin and velvet, as well as metallic threads and other materials. It's an unusual subject to produce a book about, but with increasing numbers of fabric, textile, and fashion lovers out there, it's certain to be popular. 

Published October 2014.


Do you use Luxe Guides? I do. They're easy enough to slip into your handbag and read on the plane. The copy can be catty –  some narratives sound like they're written by a funny gay friend after a G&T or three – and some of the places are a bit too cool and edgy (cool doesn't always = the best), but their researchers are pretty much on the ball when it comes to knowing their destinations.

Well, former Lonely Planet publisher Simon Westcott has recently bought the company from founder Grant Thatcher (who's since retired to England), and the former has plans for digital expansion. Westcott was involved with Mr and Mrs Smith (another stylish guidebook company), but bowed out when he bought Luxe. Will be interesting to see where the brand goes, digitally speaking...

The problem with guidebooks is finding one you like. I find Luxe's font is slightly too small to read. Some friends use marked-up Google Maps; others rely on crowd sourcing (Trip Advisor, etc). I like the tips in the Financial Review newspaper,  The Australian, Conde Nast's Traveler or New York Times' T magazine, but the best bet is to find someone whose aesthetic you like and mine them for info. (I have a couple of lovely friends who travel a lot and are generous with their insights.) Frommer's was also good before Google all-but-destroyed it, while foreign correspondents and well-travelled friends like to call on Bradt's.


Finally, the LVMH Group, which owns Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Guerlain, Bulgari and many more high-end fashion companies, is reportedly looking to purchase Amanresorts International. 

Widely regarded as having some of the world's most beautiful hotels (George and Amal were married at Aman Canal Grande Venice), Aman properties have always been noted for their architecture (Ed Tuttle's designs have their own followers) as much as their prices ($1000/n). LVMH has only just started expanding into the hotel market with two small properties, but this acquisition would push them into the big time. It makes you wonder if LVMH will subtly decorate the Aman interiors with their own products? Vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunks in the luxury safari tents? Guerlain fragrances offered in gift shops? 

Could be LVMH's idea of cross-pollinisation...?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Remembering Deborah Mitford...

Those who love literature – and literary families – will be greatly saddened to hear of the death of Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (also known as Deborah Mitford), who passed away on Wednesday morning, aged 94.

The youngest daughter of the Mitford siblings – arguably the defining family of their time – Deborah may have, in her early years, been overshadowed by a highly creative, highly productive and sometimes highly eccentric clan, but in the end she made her life her own. And in doing so, perhaps became the most impressive Mitford of all.

Deborah Devonshire's métier was managing Chatsworth, the family home of her husband Andrew, the Duke of Devonshire, and one of the largest private estates in England. They moved to Chatsworth in 1959, after Andrew inherited it and half a dozen other Devonshire-owned estates, including Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Compton Place in Sussex, Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. (Before they moved into Chatsworth, Debo would often quip as they drove past: "Oh, look at that lovely house, I wonder who lives there?" To which Andrew would reply, "Oh, do shut up!"). 

It may have seemed idyllic but the task before them was enormous. For a start, the house had 175 rooms, 17 staircases and 3,426 feet of passage, and much of it required renovating. To make things worse, the couple was already saddled with a staggering debt. After Andrew’s father, the 10th Duke, died, the family faced death duties amounting to 80 per cent of the worth of the estate: £4.72 million, with interest to be paid at a rate of £1,000 per day. However, Deborah, who had inherited her mother's business sense went to work. One estate was given to the National Trust, thousands of acres were sold, and many books and works of art auctioned off. The final debt was finally cleared in 1974. 

Deborah always credited her mother for her frugality. Sydney (known by the Mitford girls as 'Muv') had been a meticulous housekeeper who had recorded all the family's expenses in a small book. "My mother’s account books were fascinating," Deborah once confessed in an interview. "She always wrote down every penny spent on household things, every penny. She loved figures and adding up." 

Deborah also revealed that her sister Nancy had not inherited the Frugal Gene. Once, when the siblings were receiving housekeeping lessons, they were given an imaginary budget of £500 a year and asked to budget for heating, food and so on. Nancy wrote, 'Flowers £499. Everything else £1.’

Deborah's money-saving ways even extended to clothes. She loved fashion and photo shoots often featured gowns by Oscar de la Renta (the perwinkle blue one on the above cover is by Oscar de la Renta) and Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquirè. However, when it came to day-to-day gear, she preferred hardy garments bought from agricultural stores. Fancy gardening gear purchased from Harrods and other fine establishments never lasted, she claimed – and always cost far too much anyway.

After Andrew passed away, she moved out of Chatswoth to make way for her son Peregrine, the 12th Duke, and his family. "I was 85, it was high time to go!" she said, with dignity. Together with her beloved butler Henry, who had been with the Devonshires for more than 50 years, and her personal assistant Helen Marchant, who had been with them for 25 years, Deborah moved into the smaller residence, Edensor House, on the Chatsworth Estate. She also took her beloved chickens, which were so cherished they were featured on the cover of one memoir. (When John F Kennedy visited Chatsworth to pay his respects to his sister's grave – Kathleen Kennedy has been married to the Duke's elder brother – Kennedy's helicopter blew away some of the chickens and Deborah said she never saw them again.)

Last year I wrote to the Dowager Duchess to see if I could interview her for a new book on horticulture, haute couture, and high society. A mutual acquaintance at Heywood Hill bookshop in London (which I often shop at and which the Mitfords own), kindly passed her details on.

(This same acquaintance told me the wonderful story of how Nancy Mitford worked in the bookshop in the 1940s, turning it into a lively social and literary hub for friends and book lovers. Unfortunately, she lacked the sense of her younger sister, and one night forgot to lock up. The next morning she arrived at the bookshop to find people everywhere, chatting, offering recommendations and trying to sell books to each other. The Devonshires were majority shareholders in Heywood Hill until last year, when Andrew's son Peregrine 'Stoker' Cavendish, bought the bookshop outright in order to save it.)

So I wrote a humble letter to Deborah at Edensor House. I'd been told that Elvis (her idol) was the key to  gaining an audience with her and so I mentioned how a lovely friend in California had once dated Elvis when she was young, and relayed a funny story about him – which he no doubt would have approved of, too. The request was a few months too late. Deborah had already become frail and the request was politely declined, although I didn't realise how serious her health was. Her beloved butler Henry had even been allowed to retire. 

I thought of her life, her legacy, all those memorable memoirs – and her energy! It seemed unthinkable that she would ever pass away. 

There are some people in our lives, and in history, that we wish we'd met, even briefly. I would have like to have laughed with Robin Williams (and perhaps given him a shy hug), chatted to Churchill, and shared a stroll through a French garden with Nicole De Vésian. I would have been awed to have been in the same room as Givenchy, and still pay my respects to Hemingway whenever we go to Key West. But for many of us, Deborah Devonshire remains the one person we wished we'd had the opportunity to meet, even for a few minutes. She just seemed like so much fun!

Let's hope the Mitford girls are now happy to be together again, laughing in Heaven.

One of the best books about the Mitfords is Letters Between Six Sisters, featuring 75 years of letters between these witty, humorous siblings. The book was edited by Charlotte Mosley, Debo’s niece, who clearly knows the family better than anyone.

Another great insight into the sisters is The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford's bestselling novel, which was, in her own words, "an exact portrait of my family". Both are still available on Amazon, as are Deborah's books, including The Garden at Chatsworth. {Above images from her books.}

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Beautiful Story of a Lost Garden

I want to tell you a story about a garden. 
It's a good one. You'll like it.

In June, I was visiting some of the rose gardens of southern England when I heard about a garden called Heligan. Or more accurately The Lost Gardens of Heligan {LINK HERE}

Some of you may have heard of this place, just as I had, but I didn't realise the depth of sorrow that's buried in its flower beds. 

Heligan is a garden that lost its soul to the war.

Owned by the Tremayne family for more than 400 years ago, the thousand-acre estate of Heligan in Cornwall was once a garden to rival the greatest in the world. The Tremaynes had fallen in love with horticulture and spent a fortune on sourcing new plants from around the world. 

One after the other, four generations of Treymaynes fell under the garden's spell, and each spent a considerable amount to develop it. Two garden plans from 1777 and 1810 show the development of the Italian Garden, the Rhododendron Garden, the Walled Garden, the Northern Gardens, the Flower Garden, the Lost Valley, even a Melon Yard, among other areas. Prior to the First World War, the family employed 22 gardeners. 

Then, just as Heligan reached the height of its beauty, the war broke out. 

It was August, 1914.

Just before they were all called up, Heligan's gardeners decided to etch their names into the wall of the old outdoor lavatory ("the thunderbox"), with the date – August 1914. 
A month later, they had all gone off to battle. 

Heligan's garden paths were empty; its wheelbarrows still.

The fighting would not be kind to them. 
Of those 22 gardeners, only 6 lived to return to Cornwall. 

Without its extensive horticultural staff, Heligan slowly lapsed into decay. Its owner, John 'Jack’ Tremayne, was so heartbroken by the news of his staff that he turned his family home over to the military and moved to Italy to live out his days. 

“He couldn’t live with the ghosts,” recalled one gardener.

Over the next 50 years, a blanket of bramble and ivy grew over Heligan. The once-beautiful beds and grand allees were claimed by nature and were soon out of sight. Heligan became a sleeping beauty, lost to the world. 

The garden had died alongside its gardeners.

When Jack Tremayne finally passed away, the Heligan estate came under the ownership of a family trust. One of Jack's descendents, John Willis, lived in the area and happened to know a businessman called Tim Smit. John invited Tim to explore this newly inherited property. 

As the sun set over the Cornish coast one gentle evening, they discovered a gate, almost hidden by greenery, and past it, in a corner of a walled garden, the decaying old thunderbox, almost buried under fallen masonry. Drawn to the tiny shed by forces they couldn't explain, they discovered the names of the lost gardeners etched in barely legible pencil, followed by the word 'August 1914'. 

They still don't know what made them look in that particular place.

Moved by the words, John and Tim began to restore Heligan, which had been hidden for almost 50 years. "We were fired by a magnificent obsession to bring these once-glorious gardens back to life," they said. They also wanted to find out more about the gardeners, whose skills had clearly contributed to Heligan's beauty. "We were struck by the idea of all these gardeners going to war."

What they found was that Heligan’s doomed gardeners had taken wildly divergent paths. Charles Ball, a “gentle giant” of a gardener, had enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment and died on the Somme. William Robins Guy, who tended the vegetable garden, had joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and also died, near Lille. Others met their fate in other fields; other devastating ways. 

As they sunk into the mud, their treasured garden was probably the last thing they imagined. Or perhaps it wasn't? Perhaps they thought they were finally going home, to their beloved paradise?

The story of Heligan's gardeners, and of the forgotten, haunting Thunderbox Room, has become so famous that the Imperial War Museum made it a “living memorial”. The building, and the gardens – now restored – have been celebrated and recently commemorated as part of the anniversary of the war. In fitting tribute, Smit and his present-day gardeners have planted a meadow of poppies.

Those who visit Heligan often come away with a sense that its gardeners are still there. Many claim it's haunted; and indeed strange things do happen in the rockery, the melon garden, and the fruit store, as well as the Lost Valley. Heligan's current gardeners believe that the old gardeners are still around, tending to their plants and beds. 

Heligan may have lost most of its gardeners to the war. 
But they ended up returning, after all.

If you'd like to know more about Heligan, buy Tim Smit's fascinating memoir, which details the years he spent restoring Heligan, and also the ghosts he and his gardeners came into contact with. 

It's a beautiful book, albeit unnerving in parts.

It just goes to show gardens do have a soul, after all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Glamour In Manhattan: Travel Insights

Unlike Paris, New York doesn’t seduce you with its Haussmanian sophistication or its seductive wardrobes and ways. It doesn’t have the history, dignity and grace of London, nor the sunny glamour of Sydney—although it does have its own unique sheen. What it does have is confidence and unending energy, and with that drive and determination New Yorkers have built one of the most thrilling and inspirational destinations in the world. If you're feeling tired, overworked, in need of new direction or creative/business ideas, or just want  a glamour boost, this is the city for you.

Most of the creative professionals I know go to New York several times a year, and not just because they can claim the trip on tax. It's stimulating, reinvigorating, inspiring, and enlivening. 

A week here will turn you into a new person. 

Furthermore, New York is going through enormous aesthetic changes at the moment as New York entrepreneurs revive once-staid neighbourhoods with glamorous new hotels and spectacular new stores.

Three of these rapidly changing neighbourhoods are the Flatiron, the Garment District and the Upper East Side. All three are going through a kind of revival, although the Flatiron is attracting the most attention. Named for its ironic (and much-loved) cheesegrater-style building, this bustling quarter has become the city's new design hub, with gorgeous home stores, edgy hotels, and whimsical boutiques. (Don't miss the Marimekko fabric store, the elegant new J Crew store, which has a mini bookstore, and Rizzoli's stylish new bookstore due to open in spring 2015.) 

Here are a few travel insights to help you discover the most memorable sides of Manhattan.

Oh – and my lovely publishers have said to tell you that if you'd like to buy the new New York in Style book directly from them, they'll give you a 30% discount.  
Just go to and enter the promo code NYSTYLE30 on checkout.


Of course, if you really want to know where the great little fashion museums, design stores, fabric stores, vintage Chanel stores, flea markets, fashion boutiques and fabulous restaurants and bars are, come on our Gardenesque Tour in late April 2015. Numbers are limited to 15 people per tour, and we've already had serious interest from five times that number, so it's likely to fill up quickly.

Alternatively, you could book the New England tour (see previous post), and tack on a few days in New York before or after the New England tour.

My favourite month to experience Manhattan is late April, when the streets burst into blossoms and the park break into bulbs – it always surprises me how many flowers there are here in spring and how a metropolis of skyscrapers can be softened by all those beds of perennials down below. 

{Our Gardenesque tour is scheduled to see New York in April – when the city is at its best.}


The NoMad was one of the first to inject a modern dose of glamour into the rapidly changing and newly fashionable Flatiron 'hood. Other places, such as the Shake Shack, The Ace and Eataly had already moved in, but The NoMad seemed to pave the way for a whole lot of new high-end retailers and businessman. (Even Rizzoli's new bookstore is moving downtown to the Flatiron quarter.) Service can be a bit off-hand at the NoMad, but the fabulous interiors and furnishings are worth it.

Other new hotel openings schedule for 2014 include: The Archer Hotel, which will pay homage to its Garment District location with a mix of fabrics (6 Times Square;, the Knickerbocker Hotel, which will re-open to show off its glorious, Beaux-Arts architecture, literary links and distinctive mansard roof (142 West 42nd Street;, and the new SLS Hotel New York – another newcomer to the NoMad/Flatiron neighbourhood  444 Park Avenue. But perhaps the most anticipated newcomer is the luxurious Baccarat Hotel, which opens late 2014. Housed in a 45-storey glass tower opposite the MoMA, it’s the first US Baccarat Hotel and likely to be as shiny and fine as its sister restaurant in Paris. 20 West 53rd Street.

If you want to fork out for a truly memorable hotel room, book into the F. Scott Fitzgerald Suite at The Plaza. Designed by Oscar-winning costume designer and Baz Luhrmann’s other half, Catherine Martin, this dramatic Art Deco space was inspired by Scott and Zelda, both devoted patrons of The Plaza. The suite features photos of the duo, Scott’s complete works, documentaries and movies, and beautiful coffee-table books that evoke languorous summers on Long Island and New York in the roaring twenties. 768 Fifth Avenue.


The NoMad's Library Bar (above left) is one of the most beautiful spaces in Manhattan. 
Other must-sees include Balthazar in SoHo (above right), Benoit, Caffe Storico, Harlow, Eleven Madison Park, and The Lion

We'll also be visiting a few secret and extraordinarily beautiful rooftop hideaways with gorgeous views on our Gardenesque Tour. {}

Quite possibly one of the best sources of vintage Chanel in New York is Jewel Diva, situated within the equally wondrous New York Showplace. It’s a tiny stall, barely bigger than a Chanel earring, but the owner is clearly well connected when it comes to vintage designer jewellery—and clearly informed. You can tell she knows her stuff: the last time I visited she was carrying a lot of vintage Chanel pendant necklaces, which are very ‘in’ at the moment. She also stocks Dior and many other fine French jewellery pieces, some of which date back to the 1920s. Her tagline is ‘From deco to disco, Victorian to modernist, Haskell to Chanel’, which sums it up, really. 40 West 25th Street – but check hours, weekends are often closed.

Other great places to source gorgeous things include Ralph Lauren's Home store (above), where you can find elegant accessories to luxe up your flea-market finds, Anya Hindmarch’s new Upper East Side store (which now offers a bespoke handbag service), the D&D Building (a fabric lover’s mecca), and ABC Carpet and Home (a must for interior design lovers). {All details in New York book}

New York is mostly a city where you try and get high in order to look down, but here's one place where it pays to look up! A signature feature of the Fifth Avenue skyline, The Pierre's ornate Mansard roof (above, building on left) is an architectural treasure. It was once the most glamorous ballroom in Manhattan—and a place for high society to escape Depression-era New York. The ballroom was shuttered in the early 1970s and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Lost to time, it was regarded by Pierre staff of as a kind of ‘grand attic’ to shove unwanted furniture. It was finally sold in 1988 to Australian heiress Lady Mary Fairfax, who converted it into one of the most opulent private residences in the city. (It included a 3500-square-foot ballroom, a Belgian marble double staircase, a 20-foot-high Palladian windows, a curved 23-foot ceiling and huge terraces overlooking Central Park.) It was later re-listed for US$70 million; at that time the highest price ever for a New York residence. It was such a symbol of wealth that the makers of the film Meet Joe Black cast the penthouse as the residence of Anthony Hopkins’ character. To locate it, look for the French-style Mansard roof on Fifth Avenue. 2 East 61st Street.

Hundreds more New York insights are available in the new book New York in Style out next week, or on our Glamour & Grandeur Tour – 
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