Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The World's Best Fabric & Textiles Stores

I was in a favourite fabric store yesterday, which has the charming name of Odette. It's the smaller sister store of the hugely popular Scarlett Jones in Hawthorn. [] The charming girls and I struck up an animated conversation about our love for linen, as they explained the differences between French, Belgium and Irish. (French is thicker; Irish is finer.)

Then the most glamorous, elegantly svelte woman wandered in, wearing a linen ensemble so fabulous we all stopped talking immediately. She revealed that the long, narrowly cut linen pinafore and pants had been made by Amanda Tabberer (daughter of Maggie and the author of My Amalfi Coast), and had long been one of her favourite outfits. She'd owned the two pieces for years, she confessed, and had even worn them gardening. (My friend Fiona laughed at me on this blog the other day for suggesting linen for gardening, and I admit I was sceptical until I saw this woman's outfit: it was incredibly beautiful and clearly hardy after years of dead-heading the roses.)

The glamorous linen lady then told us what the colour of her outfit was – "Humble Potato".

"You should have seen the other colours – fuchsia and such, ugh," she said as she twisted her nose in horror. I wanted to say: "I would have like to have seen the fuchsia" but didn't dare. Clearly Humble Potato was the only colour one should be seen wearing. (See colour palette above.) I sense I have a lot to learn about the world of linen.

Curiously, the most popular post on this blog was the one on fabrics late last year. Obviously there are lots of other fabric lovers out there. 

So here are a few textile links, fabric sources and stores around the world to inspire you.

(3 images above from my linen pile. Store pix from Odette.)

NB If you're attending the Trade Secrets Garden Fair in Connecticut in May this year, be sure to wear some linen there. It's a linen lover's kinda place...

Blog post on Trade Secrets here – link
or here:

PS I do love a bolt of fuchsia linen... 
But will no doubt be struck from The Linen Lover's Club now.









Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Classic Style of Stripes

Did you know there are rules about stripes?

I discovered this when I learned that Ralph Lauren's headquarters in New York trains its employees in The Art of the Stripe. Yes, newbie RLers have to attend Stripe Class, according to someone I know who did it.

Apparently it's quite difficult. Apparently there are huge differences in 'styles' of stripes. There are awning stripes, and deckchair stripes, and French Breton t-shirt stripes, and couture ballgown stripes (think Audrey Hepburn in her black and white gown in My Fair Lady), and of course ticking stripes. There are thin, elegant stripes and bold, wide stripes, and stripes that vary in size – like those beautiful French canvas fabrics you sometimes see in Provence or Australia, made by Les Toiles de Soileil.

There are so many different stripes, and so many ways to do them, that Ralph Lauren has a 'Stripe Manual', according to this same friend. (Could be a RL urban myth. But sounds like it might be true.)

Author Maggie Alderson is so fascinated with stripes that she once did a post about them in her Good Weekend column. It had a huge response. People still remember it. She spoke about "the precise ratio between stripes", having measured many of her stripey clothes to see if there was some kind of formula. Some stripes, she found, were of equal width, meaning the gap between the stripe and the space was of equal width. Others had a narrow band between the stripes. Some stripes were 13 millimetres wide while others were five millimetre. After much tape measuring and collecting of data, she still couldn't ascertain a formula for the perfect stripe.

Confusing, isn't it?

No wonder there are Stripe Classes for the uneducated among us.

Here are some favourite (stripey) photographs from photo shoots over the past few years...

Parisian Stripes.

More Parisian Stripes.

Miami's fine lines.

The newly renovated Roger Hotel in New York.

Island stripes in the Bahamas.

More island stripes.

Humble stripes at home.

Paul Smith wallpaper in a boutique hotel in Versailles.

Ribbons from France.

The markets in Nice.

Garoupe Beach, on Cap d'Antibes.

Flowers in Provence.

Madeleine Weinrib in Manhattan.

And home-grown produce from our potager. 
(The only thing that grew in the entire vegetable patch...)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Book About Books

Just before Christmas, we met up with my lovely sister-in-law and her husband. He'd come to Melbourne to see Wagner's 16-hour opera The Ring. But they'd also come to Melbourne to buy books. Lots and lots of books. 

This bibliophilic vacation is a bi-annual pilgrimage for them. Once we all made a road trip to the annual Clunes Book Fair in search of hard-to-find and vintage titles. (Well worth the drive. Even Malcolm Fraser was there. Although I doubt he was digging through the same boxes as we were.)

Anyhow, although this divine duo are both lawyers, they don't just throw their money at glossy bookshops and front-of-store displays. Oh no. That would be too... easy.

Instead, they search out the dusty old secondhand bookstores with the creaky old floorboards; the places where the sunlight fades the window displays and the elderly gentleman keeps his favourite first editions behind his desk so nobody else buys them; the places where boxes of books (and usually a library ladder – always a sign of a good bookstore) block your way as you're shuffling down the narrow gap between towering timber shelves.

These are the bookstores they love. These are the bookstores they browse the most.

Earlier last year, I called them for some legal advice regarding the Garden Tour. (I eventually had to pay lawyers to keep everyone's money safe in case the travel agency dissolved or was sold, but won't go into that here.) Being family, they generously didn't charge a fee, so I thought I might buy them a book as a thank-you gift. But what you do buy two barristers whose library is so enormous, so much like those glorious old bookstores they frequent, that it's now threatening to push them out onto the street?

Then I found this: a book about books.

Thames & Hudson's sumptuous new release The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce.

The Standard in the UK voted this book as one of The Books of the Year for 2013. And rightly so. Architectural historian James Campbell and photographer Will Pryce traveled the globe together, visiting and documenting over eighty of the world's most magnificent libraries and the result of their travels is not only one of the first books to tell the story of library architecture around the world but one of the most superb books about books ever produced.

NB The Huff Post has a great article here.
And The Telegraph has a great read here.

If you're into books, this is a book to buy. Although many of the libraries are grand designs with priceless titles, their beauty – and their obvious devoted to books – is still apparent. It is one of those books you flick through time and time again, shaking your head at these magnificent tributes to the printed page.

But not all of it is gilded grandeur. This was my favourite photo: a snapshot of a group of bowler-hatted gentlemen browsing a London library after a Blitz bomb had destroyed the roof. 

Don't you just love them? What dedication.

And then there was this: The Tripitaka Koreana of the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea. This is one of the oldest and most remarkable collections in the world. The items on the shelves are not books, but wooden printing blocks – more than 80 000 of them. Set high in the mountains, the library's cool winds have helped to keep these blocks in perfect condition for more than 800 years.

The Baltimore Library was profoundly beautiful too. Don't you love the way it soars to the heavens? It seems to go up and up and up. It's almost an spiritual experience, really. A cathedral of books.

As you can see, it's a very good book. So we've decided to purchase a copy too. If only we could find one. The book was so popular at Christmas, it's virtually sold out. 

Let's hope Thames & Hudson have decided to reprint it.

Inspiration From A Writer's Library

Writer's libraries are always scarily messy affairs.

At the moment, my study is overcrowded with piles of research for new book projects, plans for our forthcoming US Garden Tour in May, tax receipts to reconcile, a huddle of watercolours to be used for the page designs for the New York book, an overwhelmingly – I mean frighteningly high – pile of archives, notes and interviews for the Picnic at Hanging Rock book (almost as high as the rock itself!), a smaller pile of ribbons and other passementerie for a new Paris book, a medium pile of bits and pieces for the new magazine, and an almost hidden cluster of clippings and ideas for a new company I'm working on. (Which is a pile that keeps getting pushed to one side, so I may have to remove it from the others altogether.)

And in between all these terrorising, intimidating piles, are books. Piles and piles of books.

I tell you, this study is not a safe place to be.  

(NB I'm not showing you as I'm quietly ashamed of the chaos. It's organised chaos, but nonetheless, there is an element of alarm at the sight of it all)

But what I wanted to write about was the curiosity we have for other people's studies, libraries and private spaces.

An ex-boyfriend once told me that when he started dating a girl, he would look in her bathroom cupboard for clues, but I think you'd find out a lot more about someone by looking in their library.
Books are revealing things. I'm sometimes ashamed when high-brow literary friends come over because we don't have many high-brow literary titles. (Have you ever done the bookshelf shuffle when you've had guests? It's such panic, isn't it?) First editions are another sign that someone has a fine mind. (We have a first edition that's worth $10,000+, but it's the only one I have and I've hidden it so well I can't find it. That says volumes about us.)

Anyway, this post was inspired by another writer, the brilliant Australian-New Zealand author Diane Dorrans Saeks who's now based in San Francisco. 

A former staff writer for Vogue Living and Vogue Australia, Diane has written more than two dozen coffee-table books on design, architecture and style (above).

Her blog [link] is always fascinating: a curious compendium of travel, design, ideas, books and style. It's like walking into a bookshop and finding the owner is one of the most interesting people you've ever met, full of sage advice about people to read and places to go.

She's rather well-known but she's also endearingly humble. (Anyone who goes to Luang Prabang is not pretentious.)

This week, she did a post on her library. It was astonishing. I wish I knew her better so I could email her. Do have a peek: book lovers will go ga-ga.

It gave me dozens of ideas for new and vintage books to buy. It also made me think: Why isn't there a blog that shows pix of people's private libraries? It would offer such wonderful inspiration for new book buys, don't you think?

And so here, in something of a confessional, are some images of our book 'piles' around the place. I hope it offers you all some bookish inspiration for 2014. We all need to buy more books – new ones, old ones, vintage and classic ones, bestsellers and small sellers, high-brow and low. Thank you Diane for showing me the beauty of books again.



This is one of the best books. Ever. If you love gardens and particularly French gardens and their design, buy this new tome on Le Notre, the talent behind Versailles. It's surprisingly inexpensive. How they put it all together, with the garden plans, illustrations and text, for this price, I'll never know. It's an extraordinarily beautiful volume of work.

Le Notre: In Perspective
(Published to coincide with the current exhibition at Versailles.)


Audrey: The 60s
This was a Christmas gift, along with Le Notre. (I was so lucky. I received lots of beautiful books from family.) This is one of the most beautiful books about Ms Hepburn that's ever been published. And the 1960s fashion is sublime. (Especially on her.)


The Sun King's Garden, by Ian Thompson
Life in The French Country Home by Mark Girouard
and Côte d'Azur: Inventing The French Riviera by Mary Blume


Robert Polidori's huge, three-volume Versailles, 
which shows the behind-the-scenes restoration of the palace in beautiful detail.
Danish fashion designer Marlene Birger's Life & Work
And some of Tricia Guild and Christian Liaigre's titles...


Manolo Blahnik's Drawings
Bare Blass: Bill Blass
and The Golden Age of Travel by Alexis Gregory


Anything by Lily Brett or Justine Picardie


The Garden in Art
Just superb.


Anything by Adam Nicolson (Vita Sackville-West's grandson)
or David Hicks' My Kind of Garden


Bunny Williams' An Affair With A House
Heritage Gardens: The World's Great Gardens Saved by Restoration
Sara Midda's In and Out of the Garden
Garden Mania (a gem for those who love garden plans)


Vintage Swimwear
Capri Style

Anything by Images Publishing (my old company), particularly the New Classicist series.

And of course my new publisher, MUP, which produces beautiful books. 

Although in the end, it doesn't matter what you read, as long as you keep reading...
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