Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Textiles and Fashion Discoveries of Paris and London, Part 1

When you travel for work, it's easy to get stuck into the same old 'the Milk Run' (as a friend calls it) of staying in same trusted hotels, strolling the same favourite routes and neighbourhoods; browsing at the same beloved boutiques; dining at the same restaurants (with friends who love them as much as you do) and even visiting the same museums. 

But every now and then it's important, I think, to step off the Milk Run and discover cities anew—just as you did the first time you went overseas. Changing the pace and the paths you take can renew your sense of wonder at places, and make you fall in love with destinations all over again.

This happened to me this week. 

In the spirit of this new 'Gratitude Attitude' that we're all joyfully adopting, I decided to try and uncover parts of London and Paris I'd never seen. 

I'm here for a few days to source textiles and fashion places for new books, including the Paris book that's been stuck behind a writer's block. For the last few months I've been reluctant to leave my partner at home after a few very sad months, but the state election is on, our house is in chaos because of it (my partner works in politics part-time), and so it seemed like a good time to finally GET OUT OF TOWN and find inspiration again!

As it turned out, the last week of November is the perfect time to travel: Paris hotels are dirt cheap (I found many for $100/n), the Christmas lights are twinkling, and the weather is still gentle. More than that, people are busy and so things that would normally be booked out are available. But the most wonderful thing about getting off the ol' Milk Run is discovering a new side to Paris and London.

Let me show you what I mean.

Every month, the V&A Museum has a tour of its archives. I'd never bothered with it before as it's often over-subscribed, but this week there was a place, so I cleared a few hours to try it.

Oh my. What a textile lover's dream.

Held at Blythe House in West Kensington, the archives are where the museum's collections of fashion and textiles are stored when they're not on show. Our group only saw one room but there were 54,000 pieces in that one room. Rows and rows of vintage Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Chanel and so on... I can't tell you how amazed we all were. The gasps seem to rise higher and higher.

I dare not show you much as I'm not sure how much we're allowed to reveal (the security was tighter than MI5!), but I can tell you it's well worth it. If you love fashion and textiles, it's an incredible place to see. The V&T has always been held in high regard by fashion and textile lovers but this team should be applauded for their dedication to preserving such magnificent history.

Another little-explored section of London—at least for me—is the northern part of Notting Hill, and having heard about the wonders of The Cloth Shop, a fabulous fabric resource in W10, I decided to head north. 
(Tip: If you want to see Portobello Road, go on Fridays when there are no crowds. It's bliss.)

The Cloth Shop is a secret treasure trove of textile goodies in the midst of the bustling markets: a store full of beautiful linens (some as little as 12 pounds) and striped bolts galore.

The staff is also lovely. There's a cat too, who happily sits on all the expensive trimmings.

While you're there, pop around the corner to Alice Temperley, a designer loved by both British celebs and Australian expats for her intricately detailed pieces. (link

She has stores in King's Road and Mayfair, but this is her original, and is still her private atelier.

This house is on the way to Temperley.
 If you look carefully, the brass plaque says 'BANK ROBBER'. 
Clearly a thief with wit and style.

I'd also never really stopped to notice the flower stalls in London before. This as one filled with Christmas bouquets in shades of crimson and magenta. Just beautiful.

More London cuteness. I can't believe I've never seen this side of Notting Hill before.

But perhaps my biggest London 'discovery' has been the bedrooms of Blakes Hotel. 
Which have to be seen to be believed.

Most design lovers and hotel hedonists know about Blakes—it was the first 'boutique hotel' in the world. Like many, however, I'd never really spent much time here. Until now. With cheap November deals (try Sundays and Mondays for the best bargain prices), I booked a night. 

They kindly gave me the red-and-white room. Which was like walking into an urban oasis on a cold London afternoon.

This is the bathrom. Balcony and all. 

(Can you see the ceiling? It's all lined in fabric. Incredible.)

The detail in the curtains, curtain pulls and door handles was enough to make a design lover gasp.

Apparently Lady Gaga stays in a similar red-lined room here. A room that, incidentally, has just been voted The Most Romantic Hotel Room In The World by Mr and Mrs Smith Guides.

Here's another room, which Amelia, the gorgeous reservations girl, kindly showed me. 
The price for this room is incredibly cheap, considering the design.

If you love fabrics, this is the London hotel for you.
Trust me. You'll be as ga-ga as Lady Gaga.

I'm back in London next week, so will post more textile gorgeousness then.

I'm now in Paris for a few days to source fashion, style and design destinations for the new Paris book (just to finish it off), and will post many of my Parisian discoveries this week.

If you'd like to follow on Instagram, the link is here: instagram link

Or here —

I'm only new to Insta, but it's a lovely place to browse pix, so hope you follow. I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Creating A French Picking Garden (Easily)

As many gardeners know, gardening can be addictive. One minute you're happily potting up geraniums  in a couple of blue and white planters you bought on discount in a closing-down sale; the next you're digging into your newly mown lawn to create a perennial flower bed. 

Then you begin to visit open gardens. And the more gardens you visit, the more addicted you become.

 Suddenly, you're out there at 5AM on a summer's morning, quietly dead-heading the roses and hoping you're not waking the neighbours with the watering.

{All photos mine}

This happened to me this year. After visiting the magnificent walled rose gardens of Mottisfont in England (Nat Trust link) (Blog Post), I became obsessed with the idea of creating a picking garden. Or, as a friend romantically put it, a "rustic French rose garden". Only with bush roses, because fancy French ones didn't seem to do well in our Mediterranean-style heat. (Or my amateur hands.) 

Our lovely gardener Geoff had also told me about his former employer Dame Elizabeth Murdoch's walled cutting garden, which was designed to change colours with the seasons. (Cruden Farm link)

Dame Elizabeth wanted a cutting garden rather than a cottage garden, because the former is designed to be picked, with flowers that suit vases (such as roses), and plants that are grown in narrow beds, for ease of access (and cutting).

It was, he said, one of Dame Elizabeth's favourite places.
(How wonderful it would have been to have worked with her...) 

A rustic French picking garden, I thought naïvely, with the enthusiasm of a novice. 
How difficult could it be?

So, on a perfect Sunday in early spring this year we drove up the mountain to Monbulk, where, hidden away behind the myriad nurseries is one of the prettiest rose farms in the state, Newstead Roses (link).

 This week, my mother visited the famous Ruston's Rose Farm in Renmark, the largest rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere, and told me it was looking a little unloved. (Could also be the heat?) There are no unloved buds here at Newstead, where every pot looks like a contender for Chelsea.

If you're a serious rosarian, you need to get your sweet derriere up here, pronto. 

It is truly glorious. You will adore it, I promise.

This is Dave, the head rose gardener. 

He speaks French to his French roses "because it encourages them to bloom". 
His pronunciation of Côte d'Azur (a yellow rose inspired by the Riviera city of Nice) was so perfect, I made him say it twice. Côte d'Azur. 

He was as gorgeous as the roses.

He'll also pick out the most scented cultivars for you.

He's generously written all the roses on little signs at the end of each row, to make selection easier. 

I was after the elusive Christian Dior and Paris de Yves Saint Laurent roses. 
Which seem so rare they could be a myth.

We bought a few roses. Then a few more. 
Then we drove home to inspect the borders.

This was the target. A sad patch of empty garden in our empty suburban backyard. 
Which we originally moved to just so I could have a garden. 

It was time to face the dirt.
(Note: The raised beds have been properly screwed together since then.)

I like pink, so we bought bright, Schiaparelli-esque numbers: Queen Adelaide (above); Princess Anne (a beautiful David Austin); Gertrude Jekyll (one of the highlights of Mottisfont); the Eiffel Tower (very vigorous), Madame Isaac Pereire, and Paradise (below).

Also William Morris (a pretty pale orange rose that reminds me of the designer's muted palettes), Queen Elizabeth, Charles de Gaulle, Brother Cadfael, New Dawn, and to really mix the colour palette up, a rose called (rather worryingly) Sexy Rexy. 

We also planted salvias, dahlias, lilies, lavender, geraniums and other hardy French-style flowers. 

Just in case the roses failed. 
Which was highly likely.

So many salvias...

Then we all waited.

The gravel was laid a day before this photo was taken. It makes the garden look like a rustic French potager but it also reflects the heat onto the underside of the plants. A gardener at Versailles told me this.

 I don't know how true it is but those gardens in our neighbourhood that have gravel on their paths and even in the garden beds grow roses as big as dinner platters.

(NB You're meant to paint your trellises, gates and arbours French blue too, but we choose French grey. It will match the timber of the raised beds when they age.)

The thing about roses is that they don't like a lot of fuss. They actually hate attention. 

Just mix the soil properly and remember your "$5 hole-for-a-$2-plant" mantra. 
(I've forgotten the proper soil formula, but just toss some heavily composted soil together with a little dynamic lifter and manure and water in with Seasol. I throw some slow-release fertiliser on a month later, after the roots have settled. Some people put the fertiliser in the hole first, but it's up to you.)

Roses also seem to prefer the morning sun—at least here in our Mediterranean climate. 

And for some reason, our pale roses like a little shade in the afternoon. 

That's another tip from Dave, the rosarian: choose roses that suit not only your area but also your backyard's microclimate.

Spray for black spot and pests if you need to. (I use garlic spray for the latter, and try to prevent black spot by having little half-trellis boundaries—rather than hedges—to allow cross-breezes. There's some good black spot advice on sprays here—link

The lovely thing about rose gardens is that they teach you patience. And of course humility. (Because not everything will grow like you hope it will.) Wisdom, too.

 I tend to think a lot in this garden. 
I make business decisions and then, doubting myself, think: how can I make this business model (or project / plan / business relationship) work better? Surely, I think, studying the salvias, there's a better way? Then I go back to the business decision and consider it again.

Inevitably the business decisions mulled over here are the best ones made.

Eventually, three months, a lot of heavy spring rains, and some hot, sunny days later, there was some action in the gravel...

The Pinkie roses erupted.

So did the Pierre de Ronsard.

And the Charles de Gaulles in the obelisk beds were enormous.

The thing about picking gardens is that it doesn't matter how much you pick; there always seems to be something left in the bed to rise up the following week. I always feel guilty and leave something on the stems but lately I've noticed that the more I cut this cutting garden, the better it gets. The roses seem to love the pruning.

It's incredibly easy to create a rustic French picking garden. 
If I can do it, with my novice gardener's ineptitude, you can too.

But the best thing about picking gardens isn't the outdoor work. It's filling the vases inside, at the end of the day. That's my favourite part, I think.

Such simple pleasures.
And such unending gratitude.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From Vogue Living to Les Puces in Paris...

Here are a few lovely links and videos from around the world...

Vogue Living's latest issue (Nov/Dec 2014) is full of blue-hued gorgeousness, plus Ilse Crawford, Oman, London, Italian perfumeries, and more. 
Website and Instagram here—link.

Carolyne Roehm's deeply moving tribute to Oscar de la Renta, her employer, mentor and friend for many, many years, is on her blog this week.
Of all the tributes floating around, this is not just one of the most interesting insights into Mr de la Renta's life and career, it's also one of the most beautifully written. (link)

Architectural Digest magazine has just posted a fascinating article online about American photographer Gail Albert Halaban, who has managed to capture glimpses, Rear Window–style, of life in apartments all over Paris for a new book Paris Views. But before you think it's intrusive, all the subjects knew and agreed to being photographed. The rooftop architecture is almost as intriguing as what's going on behind the balconies. Link or link

When Susanna Salk and Timothy Corrigan went shopping at Les Puces in Paris, they were generous enough to share their experience (and tips) via a wonderful video by Quintessence, detailed on the blog here, or here—link 
(And don't miss the great insights into Timothy's French chateau, also on the Quintessence blog.)

Author Diane Dorrans Saeks details interior designer Jonathan Rachman's remarkable space for the Traditional Home Napa Showhouse on her Style Saloniste blog this week. 
Joanthan's highly original theme ‘Strait-Up English Colonial Tasting Room’, was inspired by the Straits of Malacca (hence the play on words), and his childhood growing up in Indonesia. It's a fantastic mix of cultures, motifs and period pieces from Singapore, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Dutch, British and Portuguese trade years, all wrapped up in a classic colonial vibe. 

Just beautiful. (link) 
(All details, images and credits on Diane's blog.)

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