Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, January 24, 2016

News on the Duchess of Devonshire, Pierre Frey and Belmont House


SOTHEBY'S AUCTION OF THE PERSONAL TREASURES 
OF THE DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE

One of the most anticipated auctions this year is Sotheby's forthcoming auction of the personal items of one of this century's most remarkable women, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. It seems strange to think she's gone, after such a long and extraordinary life as one of the legendary Mitford sisters, and even stranger to think that her beloved things are now being auctioned. But she was so adored by the public, and if some of the contents of her final home The Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate can be sold to raise money for estate of Chatsworth, why not?

I always regret not meeting her before she passed away. A contact at Heywood Hill bookshop in Mayfair (which the Devonshires bought in recent years, in order to save it) kindly said he would make arrangements for me to visit (it was for a forthcoming book on gardens, one of the Duchess' passions), but in the end she wasn't well enough. A friend of mine in the US dated Elvis for the briefest of periods (she was very young at the time!) and I had some great stories about Elvis to tell her (another of her obsessions). But it was not to be. I probably would have been too shy to converse much anyway. She really was one of the most interesting, most inspirational businesswomen of our time.

The Financial Times (FT) has recently published a wonderful piece about the sale here. And Sotheby's has another, smaller, article about 'Debo' (as she was called) on its website here, as well as a glimpse at a few of the pieces going to auction here.   The sale includes exquisite jewels (some gifted to her by her husband and his parents), a rare copy of Brideshead Revisited personally inscribed by her friend Evelyn Waugh, plus fine and decorative art, and (something I'd love to view) the contents of Duchess of Devonshire’s library.

Here are a few pre-sale photos and pieces from the auction, from Sotheby's website:




The collection mixes high-end and low. There are many personal photos, including the one above of the Mitford family, priced at a reserve of only a few hundred pounds. But there are is the Duchess' jewellery, including a Chanel camellia (£400) and a pair of aquamarine-and-diamond clips (£2,000), and a book of John F Kennedy portraits (£1,500 -- £2,000) signed by the former US president with the sign-off 'L.O', a reference to the sisters’ habit of calling him 'Loved One'. (JFK was a close friend of the family.)


More details of the sale, including the pieces in the photos above, on Sotheby's website.

The auction is at Sotheby's London, March 2, 2016, with pre-sale viewing from February 27 -- March 1.



BEAUTIFUL BELMONT HOUSE: 
ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR PLACES TO STAY IN ENGLAND

One of the most popular places to stay in England isn't a hotel but a small, relatively unknown Landmark Trust property known simply as 'Belmont House'. It's an exquisite, pale pink, 18th-century, Grade II-listed villa in Dorset that was once owned by businesswoman Eleanor Coade and more recently the author, John Fowles, whose books include The French Lieutenant's Woman. 

The Landmark Trust has spent several years carefully restoring the house, including the Victorian observatory tower, with hatch and revolving roof, and the garden leading down to the beach, and has opened it up for short stays. However, it's proved so popular that the earliest available booking is now mid-2017. (NB: It's incredibly inexpensive; the villa sleeps 
8, and 4 nights is £640, or just £20 per person, per night.)

For those who would love to see it but can't wait until 2017, there is a rare Open Day on the weekend of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February 2016 , from 10am to 4pm each day. No booking is required.

More details on Belmont can be found here. It looks beautiful.


MAISON PIERRE FREY EXHIBITION 
AT PARIS' MUSEUM OF DECORATIVE ARTS

The first major exhibition of French textile house Maison Pierre Frey since 1935 opens at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris this month. The show features many of the famous fabrics produced by Pierre Frey as well as the stages and techniques involved in creating and producing a textile, from the sketch to the finished product. It's set to be a fascinating show about fabrics, but it also covers wallpapers, and how they're conceived, created and produced.

 Knowing Pierre Frey, there is certain to be awealth of patterns, colours and information on display.


TISSUS INSPIRÉS: PIERRE FREY is  at the
Musée des Arts décoratifs from 21 January until 12 June 2016. 

More details can be found  here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The New Trend for Flowers, Scents, Floral Books and Other Gardenalia


There is a quiet but highly scented new trend sweeping England, France, the US, Australia and other international destinations. And it's all to do with botanica. In this grey, urban, high-tech world, we're turning to a new kind of therapy to offset it all: Petal Power.

I'm currently working on an ambitious new garden book, but my project is daisies compared to some of the extraordinary floral and garden projects being seen around the globe at the moment. 

Here are a few incredible ones...

As always, follow my Instagram at LINK ,  or at https://www.instagram.com/janellemcculloch_author 
I'm finishing writing two books but will be back to IG next week, once the deadlines are over.

(PS It seems strange to do this in a post about gardens, but RIP David Bowie. He will be greatly missed.)


A GRAND SCANDINAVIAN GARDEN 
(AND A GRAND NEW BOOK)

Do you follow Claus Dalby and his gorgeous garden on Instagram? I've written about him here before, but his photographs are becoming more and more beautiful with each passing season. Claus is a Danish plantsman, publisher, author, florist, photographer and an all-round lovely man man whose Scandinavian garden is arguably one of the best private picking gardens (flower gardens) in the world. 

Unfortunately, the garden isn't open to the public, apart from one or two rare days each year (usually August). But the good news is that Gardens Illustrated magazine is featuring his spring bulbs and other stunning tulips in a forthcoming issue. (Most likely April 2016)

And the even better news is that Mr Dalby is also working on a book, which will detail the whole development of this grand garden over the years.

The image above is the entrance to the garden. Glorious, isn't it?
Here are some further images from his Instagram feed.

It's an astonishing estate.



The room above is his 'vase room' (this is half the space). It's interesting how most of the vessels are green shades. Perhaps they highlight the flowers better than more neutral-colored or glass vases?

More of Claus Dalby's beautiful images can be found here . Many of them are his flower arrangements, which are just as superb as his perennial beds.

Further details can be found HERE.



THE LAND GARDENERS AT WARDINGTON MANOR:
FLORAL WORKSHOPS AND GARDEN GRANDEUR

Another Instagram feed worth following is The Land Gardeners, the business name for two floral entrepreneurs whose skill with arrangements is almost more impressive than the Oxfordshire garden and manor house they do it in. 

Henrietta Courtauld and Bridget Elworthy established The Land Gardeners in order to grow organic, quintessentially English cut flowers. Each week, they deliver buckets of blooms to London florists, local markets and individual clients. However, they also design gardens -- "wild romantic, productive and joyful gardens", says their wild, romantic, joyful website- - and they've already finished projects in England, France, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. 

But perhaps the one thing they're really becoming noted for are their workshops, in which they explore "healthy gardens". These workshops, held at historic Wardington Hall, are not only a chance to learn about gardening, flowers and other beautiful botanical matters, but to see the Manor and its gracious garden beds up close. (The dahlias are spectacular.) 

Forthcoming workshops include Grow Your Own Cut Flowers (Edwardian cutting gardens are very 'in' again), Planting a Dyers Garden and How To Grow Edible Flowers.

For more details, see http://thelandgardeners.com/learning--events or THIS LINK for details.




CHELSEA AND THE ORIENT EXPRESS 

The Chelsea Flower Show has seen some astounding show gardens over the decades, including one by the house of Chanel. (Still my favourite.) But the masterful, magnificent garden planned by Harrods and Orient Express for this year's show looks set to be one of the best yet.

The grand centerpiece will be a 25-m (80-foott) -long carriage from 1920s Belmond British Pullman (sister train to the legendary Venice-Simplon Orient-Express), which will be 'parked' in a special Chelsea Flower Show train station that will be surrounded by a a 6,000-square-foot garden. There will be two platforms, with Platform 2 featuring rare jungle ferns and other exotic, eye-catching plants. 

It's all designed to represent a 'journey through gardens' over the centuries. Very, very clever, indeed.

There is also a garden called ‘The British Eccentrics Garden’ (above), which looks like being one to watch as well.

More details on Chelsea can be found HERE.


A LOST HOUSE AND GARDEN IN MALAYSIA, REDISCOVERED BY A FILM CREW

Did you catch the period drama Indian Summers on Britain's Channel Four or in the US or Australia last year? (It's now on DVD if you didn't.) It was so successful that a new series has been commissioned and is currently in production. 

It's an epic drama set in the summer of 1932, at a time when India dreamed of independence, but the British were still clinging to power. The series revolves around the events of a summer spent at Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, by a group of British socialites at the time of the British Raj. 

The producers looked at filming in Simla, but eventually decided, due to logistics and monsoons, that Georgetown on the island of Penang would be better. (NB Because of this series, I now want to see Georgetown, which has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and so do thousands of others, judging by the increase in visitor numbers!) Executive producer Charlie Pattinson found their perfect setting on the VERY LAST DAY of their five-month scouting mission, after many countries and countless sites. It was at the top of Penang Hill, in Malaysia, where the wealthy had built hill stations to avoid the heat. It was a semi-derelict house that was hidden by jungle overgrowth but that clearly showed the remains of a grand floor plan and garden. It took the team some time to hack through the jungle to fully assess it, but when they at last emerged from the overgrowth, they knew it was going to make the whole show.

Woodside Bungalow, as it is known, was always going to take a lot to restore, and so Penang’s chief minister, who knew the colonial property and its architectural neighbours from his childhood, stepped in to assist. He found the funds and became personally invested in the project. After several months,  and great deal of painting and replanting, the house and garden were ready to be filmed. It was renamed 'Chotipool', and can be seen above, serving as the home of  Indian Summers' central character Ralph Whelan and his sister Alice. 

However Woodside wasn't the only hill station to be saved by Indian Summers' team. They also stumbled upon the old Crag Hotel, which was also perched on top of Penang Hill with its spectacular views. (Both houses could only be reached by a water-powered funicular railway, a real relic of empire, which eventually caused problems with production and the transporting of equipment up and down the mountain.) The Crag Hotel was one of several 19th-century hotels, including Singapore’s Raffles, that had been owned by an Armenian family, the Sarkies. After the Second World War the Crag Hotel became a boarding school, and was then used as a set in the 1991 film Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve.  (I still remember the scene where she steps out onto the verandah, with the old timber shutters visible behind her.)

But after the Indochine film crew left, the jungle re-claimed it. When the Indian Summers team came along and saw its forlorn facade, barely visible through the vegetation, they knew that the Crag would be perfect as the Royal Simla Club, where much of the action happens in the series. (Julie Walters is the club's owner and powerbroker.)

Isn't that a great story of two great houses and gardens, lost to the world and then rediscovered just in time?

More details on Indian Summers' setting can be found HERE.
Let's hope they commission a third and fourth series, and it becomes -- as the media are suggesting -- the next Downton Abbey.


PAULETTE TAVORMINA AND THE ART OF FLORAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Have you heard of the New York photographer Paulette Tavormina? I was first alerted to her by a friend Lee. (We send each other recommendations all the time; aren't they the best kinds of friends to have?) Paulette composes the most beautiful still lives you've ever seen; intricate studies of figs and roses and fruit that look more like 17th-century Old Masters' paintings than something put together on a 21st-century  photography studio. (She admits to being influenced and inspired by the still life art of Dutch, Italian and Spanish painters of the 17th century, including Francesco de Zurbarán, Giovanna Garzoni, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Willem Claesz Heda.)

Well, Paulette Taormina has, not surprisingly, gathered a following and is now producing a limited-edition book on her work, which is available to pre-order. There are also exhibitions and workshops planned for 2016.

Here are a few more extraordinary studies from her website. 



Do go and have a browse, and then make a note to look for the book.
More details can be found HERE or on Wikipedia.


More floral posts shortly! Until then, I hope you're all having a wonderful 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joyful Things In 2016


This time last year, my partner and I decided to make a Christmas pact. We decided not to waste money on myriad gifts for each other, but to spend the money visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites instead. (Last Christmas was spent at Angkor Wat and Siem Reap; still one of my favorite destinations. This February, it will be the Great Barrier Reef.) 

Writing our UNESCO Wish Lists for 2016 and 2017, which include Luang Prabang, and Praslin Island in the Seychelles (the Vallée de Mai national park was reportedly the original 'Garden of Eden') was a small thing, but it made me stop and think about life, and what makes each of us happy? (Thank goodness I have a partner who loves to travel.) Contemplating the UNESCO lists also made me realize that, no matter how overwhelmed we may become from digesting all the content we're offered in The Information Age, there are still so many things out there to discover in the world. There are still so many things to inspire and delight us; things that are so beautiful they will, like Angkor Wat and the Seychelles, linger in our memories long after we experience them.

2016 is set to be a year of such things. Here are a few lovely things to anticipate in 2016.  

As always, thank you for all the thoughtful and kind emails. I've loved reading every one of them, especially those from the Garden Tour girls, and look forward to staying in touch in 2016! Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and a happy, restful and joyful holiday season.

 (NB New additions to UNESCO's World Heritage List can be found HERE. I love that Singapore's newly restored Botanic Garden has been added to the mix.)


NEW HOTELS TO DREAM ABOUT

The new NOMAD HOTEL LA, THE BEEKMAN in NEW YORK, and BLAKES SINGAPORE are among the coolly glamorous hotels scheduled to open or begin development in 2016, but one of the most anticipated hotel openings is Six Senses' new resort SIX SENSES ZIL PASYON (above two images), in the SEYCHELLES. 

Set on the private island of Felicity (I love the name, plus that of nearby Curieuse Island), it's a short boat journey from La Digue or Praline (more gorgeous names), but miles from the rest of civilization. Six Senses is becoming as well-known as Aman Resorts for its architectural designs and remote destinations, so this will likely be One To Save Up For.

There's a great list of the Hottest Luxury Hotels in the World opening in 2016 HERE

(And if, like us, you don't have the budget for Six Senses, there are also lots of cheap guesthouses in the Seychelles too. As there are everywhere. It's difficult to find them, I know, but they're there.)



NEW DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A CERTAIN STORE ON FIFTH AVENUE

If you saw the much-talked-about documentary SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORFS (featuring some of the best quotes ever captured in a doco – LINK TO TRAILER HERE), you're going to love the next in the series by filmmaker Matthew Miele. 

It's about Tiffany & Co., the jewelry store that started as a small stationary and gift shop more than 177 years ago, and eventually, with the help of Audrey Hepburn, a film and some good branding, became an international success. It stars some big names, including Katie Couric, Baz Luhrmann, Rachel Zoe, Jessica Biel, and Jennifer Tilly. Tiffany is on board, so the archive footage will be fascinating. 

No trailer yet. Released in cinemas early 2016.

(Above pix of Tiffany Christmas windows for 2015)


NEW FILM CAUSING A FUSS 
(AND AN OSCAR CONTENDER)

THE DANISH GIRL is a beautiful film. A beautiful film. It's based on the true story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between her loving marriage and her own needs and desires. It's a timely film, coming out in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner's story (and Vanity Fair cover), and it's well worth seeing, even if artistic films like this are not your thing. 

Eddie Redmayne is superb as Lily, and up for a Golden Globe. He is even more moving in this than My Week With Marilyn, Les Miserables and The Theory of Everything. Alicia Vikander is also up for a Golden Globe. 

If you missed the previews of this film in late 2015, it will undoubtedly be re-released in cinemas in early 2016, as the Oscar buzz about it is loud. (It's released in Australia in early 2016.) 

TRAILER HERE. Released in cinemas early 2016.



NEW (TOURING) CHANEL EXHIBITION

If you missed the CHANEL EXHIBITIONMademoiselle Privé, at the Saatchi Gallery in London last month, the good news is it will be showing in Hong Kong early 2016 before traveling to other international cities. Billed as an 'enchanted voyage', the exhibition takes a historic look at the design of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and the contemporary direction the brand has taken under Karl Lagerfeld. 

No news of venues or Hong Kong dates yet, but keep an eye on Chanel's website for details.


NEW GARDENS-IN-ART EXHIBITION

There's been a spate of books and exhibitions about the beautiful symbiosis between gardens and art. Even Buckingham Palace held an exhibition on the subject last year. The newest show to display the inspiration that gardens have had on art over the years is at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, from January to April 2016. PAINTING THE MODERN GARDEN: MONET TO MATISSE will feature the usual players, including ol' Claude, but it will also highlight the works of artists and gardeners like Pierre Bonnard, Camille Pissarro and Wassily Kandinsky. It will also tour afterwards, so keep an eye out for cities and dates.

Set to be a blockbuster exhibition of paint, petals and pure joy. 
(There will no doubt be a book to accompany it, so look for it on Amazon.)

Royal Academy of Arts, Mayfair.  January 30—April 20, 2016.

Note: There's a great article about artists and gardening HERE, and another one HERE. I loved hearing about Monet's horticultural expertise. His library was filled with gardening books and  journals. Instructions sent to his chief gardener Félix Brueil in February 1900 included: From the 15th to the 25th, lay the dahlias down to root, plant out those with shoots before I get back. In March sow the grass seeds, plant out the little nasturtiums, keep a close eye on the gloxinia, orchids etc., in the greenhouse, as well as the plants under frames. Oh, if we only all had our own little Felix to do our weeding!



NEW (OLD) TV SERIES TO BUY FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

Finally, while this isn't new for 2016, it's something to put on your Must-Watch Lists for the new year. A lovely reader told me about it, and I just loved the trailer! She says it's well worth watching. 

It's a period drama called THE TIME IN BETWEEN (or type it's Spanish name—EL TIEMPO ENTRE COSTURAS into Google for best results), and it's about a young seamstress who rises to become an elite couturier and then a spy during the Spanish Civil War. 

The film sets are as beautiful as the fashion and the dressmaking. With the success of the Australian film The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet, and Dior and I, I predict there will be more movies about fashion, seamstresses and behind-the-scenes in ateliers and studios. Let's hope so.

TRAILER IS HERE. (It's wonderful!)
Available via Amazon and other outlets.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gorgeous Design Books for your Christmas Wish List



PARIS IN STYLE: THE NEW PETIT GUIDE TO PARIS

I didn't want to write about Paris during the recent coverage of the terrorist attacks, because I was so heartbroken for the city. (And I'm still a little heartbroken over my own father, too.) But I thought the best way to remember Paris was to celebrate her. Paris needs to be visited; it needs to be loved and embraced and remembered. If you haven't yet visited this sublime place, consider doing so in 2016. Because Paris needs you!

PARIS IN STYLE (LINK) was a wonderful book to write because it took me back to Paris, and to those places that will always remain in my heart. The gorgeous Parisian gardens and parks, the beautiful little independent boutiques and stores (including secret fashion and design bookshops), all the fantastic places to buy new and vintage designer labels, handbags and scarves (some of the vintage Hermès scarves are more beautiful than the modern versions), plus hundreds of other design secrets. (And lest you think it's all about high-end labels, there are guides to the flea markets and other affordable destinations, too. Since I can't afford Chanel either!)

However, it also features many Paris destinations that I've only just discovered these past few years, ranging from textile stores to enchanting and often tucked-away neighborhoods -- including a great neighborhood for architecture lovers that feels like a piece of pastoral France, with mini-chateaux and villas.

It's my little tribute to a city that still sparkles, even after all this horror.

A few page spreads are collaged here...



PARIS IN STYLE.  PUBLISHED BY MUP (Melbourne University Publishers). 
SEPT 2015.

LINK HERE or on AMAZON





GRACE: A NEW EDITION OF THE BESTSELLING MONOGRAPH

One of the most popular fashion books ever published was Grace; Grace Coddington's beautiful book about her life and fashion shoots at US Vogue. It was so popular that editions have been selling on Abe Books and eBay for up to $1000. Well now Phaidon publishers, in all their wisdom, have decided to buy the rights and re-publish it. And the new copies are being snapped up just as quickly as the old ones! It's come out just in time for Christmas, and Grace has been doing book signings in New York this past week. (I believe The Strand still has signed copies available?)

What isn't as well-known is that Grace is working on a follow-up to this illustrated monograph, which will be published mid-2016, and will feature Vogue fashion shoots from 2002 to the present day. Vogue's famous September issue (2016) will carry an extensive interview with Grace to promote the book's publication.

For those who love Grace and her talent and style, there's a lovely interview on Phaidon's website, where Grace reveals her aversion to social media and other humorous insights, including how her book has become a much-thumbed reference at the Vogue offices. "Everybody around is always coming and borrowing it and wanting to look at it again; everybody’s always referencing it. It’s been useful for that, because all of the shoots are dated and there’s an index in the back.”

The Phaidon interviews with Grace are HERE and HERE. (Above images from Phaidon's website.)

GRACE. PUBLISHED BY PHAIDON. 
DECEMBER 2015


LIFE IN SQUARES: CELEBRATING THE CENTENARY OF THE BLOOMSBURY SET

{CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM}

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bloomsbury Group (not sure how, but it's a great marketing tool!), and already there are books and films and TV series being rolled out in anticipation of the Bloomy 'buzz'. Recently, there was the sumptuous and much-talked-about BBC series Life in Squares, which is now available on DVD. But if you can't find that, Amy Licence's book, Living in Squares, is just as compelling. The story is too complex for me to do justice in a few lines, but there's a great synopsis HERE. (There are also other titles about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West  on the same Amazon page.)

Still as fascinating as ever. (And the sets of the BBC series are as fantastic as the storyline!)

LIVING IN SQUARES. AMBERLEY PUBLISHERS
JULY 2015


GREAT GARDENS OF LONDON: A LUSH LOOK AT THE  HORTICULTURAL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

{CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM}

I want this book. Badly. It's beautiful. The images are lavish (many are double-page spreads), the gardens are lovely, and London, well, it has been my home and remains one of my favorite cities.

The best bit about the book is that authors Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas and Marianne Majors have managed to obtain permission to shoot many private gardens in the city, as well as some much-loved public ones. Accompanying the photographs are essays on the design and planting schemes that explain the designers’ inspiration, ideas and designs. 

Just lovely.

GREAT GARDENS OF LONDON. PUBLISHED BY FRANCES LINCOLN.
OCT 2015


JULIA REED'S SOUTH: A SOUTHERN GUIDE TO GRAND ENTERTAINING

I love Julia Reed. Her writing is witty, warm and spiked with funny stories. Her home in the Garden District of New Orleans was magnificent too. And her book on Furlow Gatewood remains an all-time favourite. 

This new book isn't out until 2016, but mark it on your Wish Lists; it's certain to be as riveting as the rest of her writing. Julia and fellow photographer Paul Costello have spent months shooting at various locations in the Deep South, including many gardens, and the images are just lush! 

Look at the cover. Doesn't that make you want to visit the South?

JULIA REED'S SOUTH. PUBLISHED BY RIZZOLI
2016



LEE: A NEW LOOK AT LEE RADZIWILL

I can't say much about this new title as very little has been released, but the images are glorious and Lee Radziwill always makes for a great story. (Her life is one long, enthralling narrative.) What its publisher Assouline has revealed is that it follows on from Lee's best-selling Happy Times, recalling her friendships with the numerous cultural figures, from Rudolf Nureyev to Truman Capote.

Love the collage-style page spreads.

LEE. PUBLISHED BY ASSOULINE
DEC 2015.



MICHELE BONAN: A MONOGRAPH ABOUT THE DESIGN MIND BEHIND JK HOTELS

If you love the look of the JK Hotels in Capri, Rome, Florence and elsewhere (now Instagrammed and blogged to death), this is the book for you. It's a monograph of the talented designer Michele Bonan, the magnificent design mind behind these soothingly serene hideaways, as well as others such as the Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris.

A great one for fussy travelers and discerning design lovers. I can't wait to see a copy.

MICHELE BONAN. PUBLISHED BY ASSOULINE
DECEMBER 2015

Images and Visuals: Behind The Scenes on an Illustrated Book




There's no getting around it: we are now firmly ensconced in the visual age. Where once it was all about the word, today it's all about the image. Photographs have become as much a part of our lives as the social media tools that capture them.

This is perhaps because, in a world cluttered by information, visuals simplify life.  They cut across languages and borders, not just geographically and linguistically but also aesthetically. They are the default alphabet of our modern life.  

In fact, our visual intelligence is now so refined that many of us are communicating largely by images rather than words. We are even able to recall the images we've seen, much like conversations.  An ex-Vogue friend in Sydney has a remarkable recall: she can look at an old image and pinpoint which designer / website / book / magazine / fashion collection it came from, OR the era / year / book / film / designer it was inspired by. (From what I hear, Vogue staffers had to have such encyclopedic minds. They were all walking reference libraries.)

CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM



(Top grid of images from my website. 
Second grid of images above from a forthcoming London guide book, currently in production.)


I love the beautiful and refreshingly original website / blog by former New York creative director-turned-author Amanda Brooks, who wrote the book I LOVE YOUR STYLE.  (LINK HERE) Her newly re-designed layout is wonderfully image-rich but it's the way she configures the content around the visuals that's really inspiring. Just look at her 'visual board' on writer / gardener Vita Sackville-West above. Genius.

Amanda is almost religious about images -- her photographs of life at her Oxfordshire home Fair Green Farm are pure poetry for the weary, visual-ed-out soul --  and because of this, she has just picked up a new book deal with Penguin. Clearly, her discerning eye for images has caught the eye of some discerning editor, somewhere.

A few other writers, designers and bloggers who are skillful at imagery include Ben Pentreath (LINK HERE; scroll down to his garden pix for the best eye candy), Tory Burch, Mark D. Sikes and India Hicks.

In the following paras, I'll show you just how influential images have become in our lives, particularly in the world of books. (Certainly illustrated books.) You'll see why visuals really are leading the way in the modern world.


IN THE BEGINNING...

For a long time, I was a word girl. A journalist. Visuals were something the photo editors took care of Then, I began contributing articles to Australian Vogue Living as a freelancer (not as the editor, as stated in a publisher's blurb recently). The Melbourne editor, Helen Redmond, was famously lovely, but I'll always remember something she once said to me. We were talking about Vogue and Vogue Living's high production values and she said that any intern who worked for them needed to be so aesthetically savvy that they could be trusted to go to the markets and find "ten perfect potatoes", if the need arose. (This was in the days when Vogue Travel and Entertaining was part of the Vogue stable.) Isn't that fantastic?  I've always remembered that. Ten Perfect Potatoes. It was the design version of ISO 9001:2015. 

It was then that I realized that the 'look' of something can be as important as the story and the words around it.

Now I remembered this quirky Vogue mantra recently because for the past few weeks I've been trying to design several books. And often I've felt I've not been living up to the 'Perfect Potato' standard.  

Here's how I got through.



STEP ONE: STUDY THE BEST

When you're struggling with anything at all, study the best to see how the pros do it.  One of the best photographers and visual manipulators around (in my insignificant opinion) is the New York-based Australian photographer Robyn Lea. 

Robyn's book The Milan Book, above, is a visual work of art. A publishing masterpiece. 
Here are some page designs, above and below... 


There's a fantastic video about how the book was produced from Robyn HERE, but there's also fascinating post about how it was designed HERE. 

The pages of this sumptuous tome feature (wait for it) varnishes, laser cuts, UV varnishes, almond scratch and sniff varnishes, hot stamps, reliefs and bas-reliefs, black silk screen prints details, letterpress inserts and silver laminations, among other effects.

Incredible. And that's not even touching on the beautifully composed photographs.



Robyn (who is a new friend, so I hope she doesn't mind all this!) has also recently produced the bestseller Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, published by Assouline (2015).

 This is another extraordinarily beautiful book where the images have -- as you'd imagine with a book about Pollock -- taken centre-stage. 

I particularly love the juxtaposition of paints /  pastels and receipts / food. 

It's beautiful, and very, very clever.  No wonder it's been a good seller.


STEP TWO: RESEARCH VISUALS; UNDERSTAND WHY THEY WORK

Now it's one thing to look at pretty pix; it's another thing to understand why they affect us so much? One of the reasons is that images tell a story, mostly through their composition but also through their layers, colours, patterns and lines. The best images are as carefully put together as any photo shoot directed by Grace Coddington.

Look at the stills for the BBC's new series on the Bloomsbury Group, A Life in Squares, above. I loved this image because it shows everything from the wicker chairs loved by the Edwardians to the pragmatic colour palette preferred by writers and artists and gardeners at this time. Images like this offer invaluable insights into how visuals are put together, whether for a book or a film. They show how the designers and producers are aiming for integrity as much as beauty.



STEP THREE: COLLATE YOUR OWN FILES AND PILES

The next step is to gather your own inspiration, for whatever project you're working on. (Or even for your own personal files.) You may think you'll never need your carefully curated visuals for anything. But I'll show you why you will.

Recently, I've been designing the pages for my illustrated biography about Joan Lindsay and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The biography covers the years 1896 to 1980, but the main section focuses on the Edwardian years, so I had to understand Edwardian aesthetics and even Edwardian colour palettes. The BBC series, A Life in Squares, above, helped to clarify the 'style' of writers and artists in this age, and the lovely Charleston magazine further confirmed the style. (Isn't this a gorgeous cover?)

I then crystallized this colour palette using roses from our garden. (I was dead-heading one morning, and they seemed too pretty to waste! This rose page eventually became the Acknowledgement page.) 


Then I came across these visuals on my Instagram feed (left image from Carolyn Quartermaine's Instagram; right via Rivkah1981's Instagram), which showed just how beautiful the colours green and yellow can be. (NB Yellow is set to be big in fashion in 2016.) I realized then that yellow would brighten some of the pages of this biography, especially those that featured old sepia photos, as sepia photos can often look 'dull' if too many are stacked together.

Yellow and green are also the colours of Australia, so they seemed fitting for a biography about a major Australian author and her iconic Australian novel. (They are also the colours of the Australian countryside in summer, which is when Picnic at Hanging Rock was set.)


But even then, the shade of yellow was wrong. This is the title page. The daisies were a reference to picnics, but it was all wrong. (The ferns are a mural in Joan Lindsay's writing room.)  This was an early page design that was relegated to the bin.



So then, I went back to that old fail-safe: the collage. 

I ended up configuring some simple, pared-back collages that featured Joan and people she knew -- Sir Laurence Olivier; the Murdochs; Dame Nellie Melba -- and the Edwardian picnics she went on as a girl to Hanging Rock. But you can see that it still featured the greens and golds, albeit in a softer way.

In the end, the book featured an unusual palette: leaf green, yellow/gold, pale pink, plum, sky blue and beige/grey (for the old photographs). I would have never thought it would work, but it does, because they're not only the colours of Joan's Edwardian childhood, when she set Picnic at Hanging Rock, but also the colours of the countryside where she lived as an adult; the sky; the landscapes, and her beloved garden and the flowers.


So you can see how images and visuals come into play in all sorts of different ways. If you really want to see how the professionals do it, however, have a look at the wonderful behind-the-scenes videos about the design of The Milan Book, by Robyn Lea, (outlined above), which show the detail that goes into designing books. Of course, sometimes it doesn't all go to plan. I hated one of my recent guidebooks, especially the headers! But you live and learn. Design is also a subjective thing. Certain images appeal to certain people, while other images take a while to like. And that's what makes the visual world so interesting. We're all on a vertical learning curve in this education of aesthetics. The Perfect Potato, indeed.



(NB These page rough were all done on InDesign. If you like designing layouts and/or want to mock up your own book, it's worth learning ID and Photoshop.)

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