Sarah Pickstone always knew she was going to an artist. “I don’t remember having much choice about it,” the London-based mother of three says. “Art was all I wanted to do from a very young age.” After receiving a degree in Fine Art from the University of Newcastle, the Manchester native moved down to London to do a post graduate degree at the Royal Academy of Art before winning a Rome Scholarship, enabling her to round out her seventh year of art studies. Following that came the studio at Cubitt Artists in Islington — where she still is — marriage and three children, the oldest of whom is completing his first year of university. On the eve of her current show, ‘Other Stories’ at CGP London The Gallery, we talk to Sarah about how motherhood has influenced her work and career as an artist.
N.B.: ‘Other Stories’ is on at CGP London from 26 April – 4 June.
Fabulous Fabsters: Why did you want to be an artist?
Sarah Pickstone: I have been really single minded about wanting to do art from a very young age — not because I was the best but because it was really important to me. I remember how it felt to make things like papier-mâché ashtrays and how it really mattered to get the colour right and what it felt like to get it wrong. It really mattered.
Whatever I’m working on, I always have this feeling that it’s a work in progress and there’s this incessant urge to do better. Being dissatisfied all the time is so annoying because it would be nice to be really pleased with yourself. Self criticism comes from within and it doesn’t ever really go away. Thankfully, in my case, it goes hand in hand with a tremendous sense of optimism that I will do better next time.
FF: How did having children and raising a family affect your work and your sense of being an artist?
SP: I know that I have definitely become a better artist for having a family because the kids enabled me to become better connected with myself. When they were younger though, I did struggle with finding enough headspace for them and my art. I suppose my solution was to pretend I wasn’t working when I really was by reading and drawing. But even then I could feel quite divided and at those times, I would just give up on the career aspect of my art and didn’t concentrate on showing my work. It takes a lot of energy to show and to self promote.
FF: What were you reading?
SP: Instead of focusing on showing, I turned my attentions to thinking about the creative process. I looked at what other women were doing, which was really important to me. I was reading female writers and it seems to me that they manage to continue with their writing while raising a family more easily than female artists can with their art. There weren’t many female artists that I knew with kids who were managing the whole thing.
FF: What and where were you drawing?
SP: When the children were young, I often found myself in Regents Park. It could have been any park, really — the different layers and meanings of a park interest me. So there I was literally drawing trees because I couldn’t exactly draw elaborate landscapes in the playground. And in making the best of my situation and acknowledging where I was, my work started to get better.
In parks, I enjoy observing human interaction with a nature that is slightly artificial and I take elements from it. If I need a rose, a branch or a pigeon for instance, I can take them from my drawings and put them into a painting at a later date, like I am composing with them.
FF: After reading female writers, you were inspired to paint ‘The Writers Series’, which turned into a show at Roche Court. How did that come about?
SP: While I was doing my paintings from Regents Park, I started reading a short story by Ali Smith. The Royal Parks Foundation had commissioned Ali to write a story about Regents Park, ‘The Definite Article’. There’s a paragraph in her story where she recalls the writers who have once been connected to the park and asks, “Could any place be more historied and less ghostly?”
So I took up the baton and imagined the lives of those writers in my paintings. Elizabeth Bowen and Sylvia Plath both cite Regents Park in their work and I also discovered that George Eliot had written “Middlemarch” while living in a large villa to the north of the park. And of course, we know that Virginia Woolf was walking in and writing about the park. It just seemed like a lot of women inhabited the space.
FF: Do you think these female writers used the park as a source of inspiration?
SP: I like to think they did. I started wondering about where women used to work. They didn’t have studios or offices. They weren’t allowed to go to university. I like to think that they might have been in the park. I certainly was — pushing prams and thinking. The novelist and historian Marina Warner calls it the font of female creativity and she talks about stepping inside metaphorically. I drew on that thought for sustenance in trying to find my own identity as a female artist.
FF: Why has it been important to you to find your identity as a female artist?
SP: It’s only occurred to me quite late in life that being a female artist is different from being a male artist. When I was growing up, the art world was a very masculine place — we were taught by men and all the work I was looking at in museums was by men. Museum directors and art collectors tended to be men. I was slow to understand that the potential of a female aesthetic could be different. The optimist in me can see that shifting now. Every year there are more female museum director appointments and female collectors are emerging as a force as well.
FF: Tell us about your first major show after having the children?
SP: In 2012, I won the John Moores painting prize for ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ (Sarah was the first woman to win the John Moores painting prize since Lisa Milroy in 1989). The New Art Centre at Roche Court in Salisbury then invited me to exhibit and luckily I had this back log of about 4 years worth of work — quite large scale pieces that I had been working while the kids were young, ages 7 – 11. These pieces including ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ are what eventually became ‘The Writers Series’.
FF: And ‘Other Stories’, your current exhibition at the CGP Gallery. Tell us what excites you about this new show.
SP: This time, I had to respond to the challenge of preparing several large scale pieces in a short amount of time. I didn’t have the cushion of 4 years of work behind me like I did the for the previous show. The exciting part is that now that the children are older I noticed I felt completely differently because I suddenly got my focus back and felt much more confident about the job I had to do.
FF: Why is it called ‘Other Stories’?
SP: ‘The Writers Series’ has never been shown in London and at least half of the pieces from that series are on show here. We have even managed to borrow ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’ from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. So this show will be paintings from ‘The Writers Series’ and ‘Other Stories’.
FF: What ‘Other Stories’?
SP: I’m back in the park again and this time I am responding to the gallery’s surrounding Southwark Park with its adjacent rose garden. I started studying roses in 2015 and was intrigued by this symbol of Englishness and yet roses actually come from other places, China, the Middle East — Syria. Migration, general upheaval, I started to get cross, which is probably reflected in my recent work.
The political turbulence of this past year comes out in another new painting ‘The Tempest’, inspired by Shakespeare’s play, which is one of my favourites. I am very interested in the connection between theatre and painting. In ‘The Tempest’, Prospero gets to put on a cloak like a creative act and then he makes magic. This appeals because new forms are exciting to me and they motivate me — I want to put things together in an original way.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
SP: I like block colours, good shapes and the unusual — Marni, Zara, vintage and young London designer Florence Bridge. If I had a default though, it would be a pinstripe suit and I would wear it with a tailored shirt that had a good bow in the front.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
SP: Coffee, champagne and chocolate in that order. And I really like salad with a good Italian Romaine lettuce and all those herby leaves like rocket.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
SP: I meditate. Acem Meditation is absolutely fantastic for anyone looking for an easy meditation because it’s straightforward. It’s a Nordic meditation where they give you a mantra, which you repeat for thirty-five to fourty minutes a day. I often do it in the studio when I have come to the end of something or am waiting for a bit of paint to dry. It’s about letting things be and not concentrating in a really focused way. It goes well with the unconscious. You’re the action, which is repeating the mantra but your mind is going elsewhere. Over time the unconscious comes through — a bit like painting. Freedom comes from doing the action.
FF: If you have any messages to your younger self, what would they be?
SP: Don’t be self-conscious or worry about what people think of you.
FF: Other than your family, what do you hold dear to your heart?
SP: Political and personal freedom and education. I am thankful to be living in London in a democratic country and have the freedom to be an artist and to be able to make choices as a woman.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Sarah Pickstone!
Food has always been central to Jessica Seaton’s life. The proof is in TOAST, the name she bestowed upon the lifestyle brand that she co-founded with her husband, Jamie Seaton, twenty years ago. From its inception, the brand has always stood out for its thoughtful and functional clothing (him) combined with a distinct and evocative imagery for which their catalogues and look books are infamous (her). The clothes are a firm favourite amongst creatives like Polly Leonard, the founder of Selvedge Magazine and Deborah Thomas, of Doe Leather.
With the launch of her first solo project, recipe book “Gather Cook Feast, Recipes From the Land and Water”, Jessica explores her fascination with the relationship between food and the landscape from where it comes. And acts boldly on her desire to create, “a plate that feels like a place”. The book’s recipes — over one hundred and twenty — and its accompanying photographs transport you to a world where the body and soul are forever noursished. Think TOAST but this time with an edible result. The offer and Jessica are difficult to resist. Read on and see why.
Fabulous Fabsters: Your creativity is inextricably linked to your family and surroundings. Please tell us a little about how that started.
Jessica Seaton: I have built two businesses with my husband, Jamie. The first, a knitwear business, started as a very small seed of an idea, but after a couple of years, through coincidence or application, we found it developed its own momentum. That business opened our eyes to the world. And when the momentum faltered we decided we needed a change and so we started Toast, which has been our life and inspiration since.
FF: What was your inspiration for your first solo project, “Gather Cook Feast”?
JS: It was really about the coming together of two things that I deeply love – food and landscape. When asked what sort of book we might like to publish the idea came from nowhere with such conviction that it couldn’t be ignored. Thus I can now combine my work at Toast, working with photographers and designers with my love of food, cooking and landscape. “Gather Cook Feast” is about food as an expression of landscape – a plate that feels like a place, if you will. I am interested in food and this sense of place, the tingle down the spine, loving life, discovery and the reward of a job well done, science, a new world, arranging words, empty spaces, Japanese aesthetics, the wilderness, gloomy music, the profound, making a new world, cherishing the natural world, being buried on a bed of wild flower hay.
FF: The images in the Toast look books consistently evoke a “sense of place”. Can you discuss how this developed into “a plate that feels like a place”?
JS: It is true that Jamie and I have always wanted to build a sense of place into the books Toast has published over the years. It was never a plan, we just responded to the beauty we saw, especially seen through the eyes of some of the amazing photographers we have worked with.
We have always thought that the making of the clothes and taking of the photographs as two halves of the work – a completion of the work if you will. It becomes more than just making a pair of trousers or a dress. And we always wanted to express something amazing: something to open the eyes and heart. This the aspiration — how much we succeed is up to others to decide.
And so with “Gather Cook Feast” it is the same impulse applied to food. I wanted to create a deep connection between place and the foods you take into your body and are sustained by. There is an intimacy to eating, the play of texture and taste in the mouth and I love it when foods evocatively betray their origins: a flinty wine from a limestone plateau; the sweet-salty taste of lamb grazed on the sea marshes; the intensely autumn-y taste of a meaty cep. It’s all wonderful to me.
FF: The relationship between the landscape and food is a powerful idea that you explore in depth in “Gather Cook Feast”. Please elaborate on how you expressed the inextricable ties between the two in your choice of images and words.
JS: The book is arranged into six chapters that take you through the year; ‘Freshwater’, ‘Saltwater’, ‘Home Ground’, ‘Field & Pasture’, ‘Heath & Wood’, and ‘Upland’. For me each place had a felt atmosphere and I wanted to communicate the individual feeling of each — a time of year, its colours, its flavours. And so, for example, the ‘Saltwater’ section is not only about fish and seaweed, which come from the sea; but also about brining, lemon and pickles, which feel somehow like the slap of a sharp wave when swimming. In another example, the opening chapter, ‘Freshwater’, is full of green — that vibrant spring growth, which is sometimes so green it can hurt your eyes.
Each chapter starts with a list of words that express these feelings I have for each place and are interspersed with ingredients that are from each place. There are also photographs of each landscape, taken by our son, Nick Seaton. He captured these images by touring the country over the course of a year.
FF: Please tell us how this relationship between the landscape and food clearly nourishes your mind, body and soul.
JS: I have been thinking about this a good deal lately and am cautious about being too evangelistic. But I think many people feel the need to have a relationship with the natural world and that living in cities where it’s hard to see the sky and stars can weaken that connection. Your eye cannot roam the distance and that makes it hard to step out with an uninterrupted stride.
FF: How does foraging fit into this for you?
JS: In “Gather Cook Feast”, I intentionally use a selection of foraged ingredients. Mostly because foraging is an enjoyable practice — getting out into the open air and eating foodstuffs packed with nutrition and complex compounds that have been bred out of many domestic cultivars. It’s very rewarding and the foods you can find are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as tasting, well…. more alive and wild.
FF: How might the uninitiated begin to forage?
JS: To begin foraging is to reconstruct a knowledge that has, until quite recently, largely been lost to the vast majority of people. If you don’t know your way around the British flora, it will be best to take a course first and then to equip yourself with some good foraging books — I recommend some courses and references in the book. And finally practise, practise, practise. The easiest plants to start with are some of the more well-known ones: blackberries, nettles, elderberries and elderflowers. They are also some of the most delicious.
FF: Your memories of your childhood home are, thanks to your mother, filled with “the scent of cooking and the energy of possibility”. What memories do you think your children have of you and food?
JS: The memories of my mum’s food are quite simple really. Her food wasn’t elaborate but she cooked very well indeed and was always curious about new tastes and new ideas. There was a wonderful generosity to the way she cooked – whether it was a wonderful impromptu picnic with roast chicken, crusty bread, tomatoes and red wine or a Sunday tea with the lightest of sponge cakes’ oozing cream and fruit. She made the best trifle I have ever tasted and when I was very young and hanging around stables, the other stable hands used to plead with me to ask her if she would also make them the two-layer, over stuffed baguette sandwiches that she made for my packed lunch. She did too! All this was years ago when sandwiches were mostly made with a sandwich spread that came from a jar.
I had to ask my children what they remember. Rachel said she remembers artichokes, and skate with capers and beurre noir. Nick said he remembers the sounds of my cooking when he played in the garden on summer evenings and school packed lunches that were embarrassingly smelly.
FF: What would you like the reader to take away from “Gather Cook Feast”?
JS: I would love them to just enjoy cooking and eating the food, to feel a sense of space and open air and to be tempted to try something new.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
JS: A good while ago I embarked on the Marie Kondo de-cluttering and suddenly realised what my style was! I would recommend going through this process to anyone who is unsure about their style. The remaining items left on my rails and in my drawers were very consistent and clear in their simple shapes, style, proportion and neutral colours.
And buy better if you can.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
JS: Neal’s Yard Yoghurt, nuts of all sorts, good sea-salted butter, best Tuscan olive oil, bang fresh free-range eggs, a good block of very well made artisan cheese, a loaf of sourdough bread, a bowl of tomatoes kept out of the fridge, a large bulb of garlic and anchovies.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
JS: Yoga, pilates, walking and Buddhism.
FF: If you have any messages to your younger self, what would they be?
JS: It’s OK, honestly.
FF: What do you hold most dear to your heart?
JS: My family.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Jessica Seaton!
Do no harm. Rethink. Recycle. Redesign: The tagline of Sian Evan’s Instagram account is an apt introduction for her individual style of “slow jewellery”. Ever thoughtful and enquiring, the award-winning, London-based jewellery designer and former Central Saint Martins lecturer explores ideas and concepts across continents as well as traveling back through history for inspiration. Steeped in narrative, her jewellery collections draw you in with their poetic names such as Sands of Time, Perpetual or Antumbra. “One of my first collections was called ‘In the Garden of Earthly Delights’, an homage to Bosch’s painting,” she says.
Borne into a creative family — her father is a painter, her mother is a retired humanities teacher and her brother is an artist — Sian grew up exploring the beaches and countryside while “fossiling” near the world heritage site of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Her enduring passions for geology and archaeology developed on these walks and have influenced her work in a multitude of ways.
We recently joined Sian in her Clerkenwell studio to learn more about Sian Evans Jewellery, the company she started straight after finishing her jewellery design course at The Cass in 1986. From fashion jewellery to slow jewellery, the company has evolved like the woman behind it.
Fabulous Fabsters: How did you become a jewellery designer?
Sian Evans: When I started my foundation course at the Bournemouth College of Art, housed in Mary Shelley’s lovely house by the sea, I thought I was going to be a painter. But then I decided that I liked making 3 dimensional objects. Having grown up in an area steeped in archaeology, I had been going on digs since I was eleven and was interested in artefacts and past cultures, particularly in how making things changed over time with technological advances.
I was also very interested in fashion, so it was a bit of a toss-up. But because my best friend was obsessed with fashion and went on to do her BA in fashion, I couldn’t do the same — obviously.
Knowing that I wanted to work with metals — blacksmith, silversmith, jeweller — I applied to several courses with wide remits rather than a single focus and I was given a place at my first choice at The Cass.
FF: You started SE Jewellery in 1986, when you had just completed your jewellery degree course at The Cass. What was your impetus for starting a business so quickly?
SE: I graduated when I was 23 and while I really enjoyed my course, I was a misfit and was nearly thrown off several times for not following the assignments. Being both young and really cocky, I thought that many of the assignments were stupid. While the course taught me traditional making skills — brilliantly I might add — I wanted more. I wanted to be a designer — like a fashion designer — and study jewellery in the context of cultural history and how it might fit in with fashion. I filled these gaps in myself but I was really angry at the end of my course because it didn’t give me what I felt it should have.
So I set up my business immediately after finishing my course because I wanted to show my family and my lecturers that I wasn’t a failure. I had a vision that they didn’t understand.
FF: And what was this vision?
SE: My goal was to design and produce jewellery that would be sold along side the work of my two fashion heroes back then — Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett. I wanted my jewellery to be in the same shops that their clothes were in. That idea of having a multi-brand design boutique had only just taken off then. There were a few others, like Dinny Hall and Tom Binns that had graduated a few years before, who were repositioning jewellery into what eventually became “designer jewellery”.
FF: And were you successful in your vision?
SE: Yes, from one perspective, I was really successful. By the mid-90’s, my jewellery was selling in the States, Japan, Europe. In order to produce 4 collections a year for the fashion weeks in London, Paris, and New York as well as for New York’s inter season fashion week, I was employing more and more people — at my busiest I employed 8 people. I had definitely achieved my vision of selling my branded jewellery all over the world in designer shops.
FF: And then you began teaching jewellery design at Central Saint Martins where you taught for fourteen years from 2001 – 2015. Why?
SE: For several years, I had been asked if I was interested in teaching but I kept declining because I was too busy here with the company. Eventually I accepted and I think one of the reasons was that I had become very disillusioned with what I was doing. I have a very enquiring mind but the success meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to design or to make. Instead, my job was to manage the company. I was burned out and didn’t have the freedom to create or the time to enable me to create. Doubting my ability to create, I became depressed. The whole experience kind of crushed me.
FF: And what did teaching do for you?
SE: Teaching opened me up to so many new possibilities. In teaching you also have to keep learning, otherwise you carry on teaching exactly the same thing. Jewellery design is not fossilised, things move and change. Suddenly I had good reasons to go to all the exhibitions and shows and learn about celebrated jewellers’ practices and what they were doing. This was completely different from when I was in my own practise and my primary aim was to produce the best work that I could at the time to sell at Paris fashion week. Being at Central Saint Martins made me realise that I didn’t have to work in that way.
FF: So teaching helped you regain your old self?
SE: Yes, I suppose. But it wasn’t really regaining my old self. It was more like there was a new me. That bubble that I had got stuck in was like an echo chamber where I was feeding myself the same pieces of information. Working in an academic situation — one of the best in the world — you are constantly bumping up against all sorts of brilliant minds. I am a sponge and the constant stream of different stimuli was fantastic for me.
FF: And meanwhile back at Sian Evans Jewellery?
SE: Back at the office, I let the staff move on when they wanted to go and I didn’t replace them. The practise got smaller and smaller until eventually it was only me. This was wonderful because I no longer had to feed the machine and keep producing collections to maintain the turnover required to maintain the wages. I could actually come to my studio and be creative which liberated me from the shackles I had created for myself.
FF: Since you stopped teaching 2 years ago, you have worked solely on your own. What is your focus now?
SE: To do my practise, my way. My work was compromised when I was trying to feed the beast. I don’t care now. I just want to do the things I want to do and there are very specific things I want to do.
FF: Such as?
SE: Instigated by my passions in geology and archaeology, I have great concerns about what we as humans are doing to our planet and it is one of the reasons why I decided at a young age that I would not have children.
And in jewellery production, we encounter a particular set of problems. The primary one being that no one needs jewellery to survive. We need to eat and we also need shelter but we don’t need jewellery. And yet we have these urgent needs to express ourselves by what we wear — it’s part of being human — and this is where jewellery comes into play. Jewellery is a luxury and I’m fascinated by the fact that we don’t need it but yet we do. From a cultural anthropological perspective, the need to adorn is completely related to rites, rituals and placing oneself in society — social status.
I accept that people have a need to adorn, but since coming back to the practise 2 years ago after teaching, I have been working in a different way. I am very interested in where the materials I use come from and I use a lot of recycled materials. It’s not one hundred percent but it is something I am working towards. And from this way of working, I am receiving a good number of commissions from individuals who have old family jewels that are either broken or in a style not to their taste. I take and rework these old pieces into new jewels. So my clients are relying on my design skills and ability to make things, but I haven’t done anymore damage to any ecosystem or at least as little as I can. Yes, I am still using electricity and gas to make things but no one has had to mine anything or has had to suffer because they have been working in terrible conditions in the middle of the amazon jungle, digging gold out of sweltering pits.
Also, I have been found by the fashion industry again. So I’m doing special projects with fashion companies, which is not recycled. It’s great fun and tests my skills in a completely different way. Clothing brands that show at Milan or Paris fashion week come to me to design jewellery for their catwalk shows. It’s a completely different design process — usually very quick at a larger scale. The end game is different. By the back door, I might end up doing some wholesale again but this time I’m working on my own terms.
FF: What do you want people to take with them when they own one of your pieces?
SE: A sense of permanence — a jewellery piece that they will treasure for the rest of their life. In the work I do now, I invest my time and skills in good quality making and in doing the best I can with the materials that I am given to work with. Most of the time now, I’m working with a client who has seen my work and likes it. They are sharing a vision that I have. The things they’d like me to make for them have a relation to the things that I have made before. Each time I get a commission, I can test a little more about how far that story can go. Permanence — which is the opposite of fashion.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
SE: Keep it simple. If I really like something, I will buy more than one so I that look pretty similar. Most of my life, I’ve worn black. I did go through a slight Goth period but I don’t consider myself a goth — it’s fashion black! It’s partly practical as well because I’m in the studio all the time. Jewellery making is a dirty business.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
SE: I like making things so that extends in to the kitchen where I do a lot of cooking. I even bottle pickles and make jams. I mostly cook from scratch and I buy good quality ingredients. I eat meat and am a cheese monster. I don’t eat much sugar, which is helpful.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
SE: I stay sane because my practise allows me to focus and get into a flow. I do suffer from anxiety but when I’m in the studio and I’m making or drawing, the anxiety completely goes. It’s a huge huge pleasure to be able to have your life’s work the thing that keeps you well. I have also kept fit the whole of my life through meditative exercise. I walk to and from the studio — 4 miles — in the summer and I do yoga.
FF: Any messages to your younger self?
SE: Don’t worry so much. It will all be all right.
FF: What do you hold most dear to your heart?
SE: My freedom.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Sian Evans!
It’s difficult to keep up with Cindy Polemis. In any given week, this former BBC journalist may be guiding art lovers at the Tate or giving bespoke art tours around London, sitting on the board of the Geffrye Museum, lecturing in history of art, tutoring children in the East End, cooking, gardening, or even making flower arrangements for her husband’s restaurants, Fernandez & Wells — a London-based café chain. Her admiration and awe for the human spirit and her passion for the home propels her into a multi faceted life where all the dots seem to connect together seamlessly.
Cindy’s first stint at the BBC in the mid-eighties as a cub reporter was to cover the miner’s strike in North Yorkshire. She then came back down to London and worked her way up through the World Service as a producer, editor and presenter — all the time honing her communication and organization skills. A husband and three grown daughters later, Cindy has been using these skills ever since to promote the causes she believes are important for nurturing the soul. With her infectious smile and enthusiasm leading the way, she takes us through one of her weeks.
What gets you out of bed in the mornings?
I’m afraid once a journalist, always a journalist. Despite leaving the BBC over twelve years ago, I can’t get up in the morning without tuning into the Today Programme. And I am still glued to my newspapers, much to the despair of my family who tell me I get far too worked up about things — especially at the moment.
I first worked for the BBC World Service from the mid-eighties to the end of the nineties (Cindy later worked at the BBC from 2003 – 2005). As many horrible things that were happening — Lockerbie — for instance, there were also so many positive things emerging around the world. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989, the Cold War was beginning to crumble and then Nelson Mandela was released in 1990. If you think about what our lives are like right now in Europe alone, in terms of integration and free movement, those days were seminal. It was a great time to be at the BBC because they had such a fantastic reputation for world reporting and getting the news out. I met so many nice people who are still good friends, my husband included.
After the BBC, you enrolled to do a BA in Art History at Birkbeck University and enjoyed it so much you eventually completed your Masters five years later. Tell us more.
Going back to university was one of the best experiences of my life. I had read history at Oxford and reading history of art seemed like a natural progression — it was something I had always wanted to do. I knew I enjoyed art but I wanted to know more about the stories behind the art works. So there I was in mid life, staying up until 2 in the morning, writing essays to meet deadlines. It was all a bit frantic and my kids thought it was very funny.
What did you take away from this experience?
I am a great advocate for mature learning — well, all learning actually. But as we age, there’s a terrible temptation to think we no longer need to learn. When you learn something new, it makes you think in different ways and encourages you to become less rigid and opens up new possibilities, which I find very exciting.
Tell us about some of your new adventures after the BBC.
Interestingly, they all have to do with learning. While I was doing my BA, I signed up to be a volunteer art guide at the Tate. The waiting list is very long so I knew it might take awhile and had actually forgotten about it when they called me up four years later. The Tate were recruiting more guides in view of the opening of Switch House, Tate Modern’s new extension. After 3 months of training, I qualified last May. Off the back of that, I have been teaching an Introduction to Modern Art course to the staff of a London-based interior design company as well as giving bespoke art tours around town.
For the last three years, I have been working with Into University, an educational charity that supports the learning of underprivileged children. Every Thursday afternoon, I mentor and tutor children, ages 11 – 16, at one of their centres in Bow in the East End of London. In a way it’s like a glorified homework club. Depending on their needs, I help them with a variety of things centred around their school work. In reality, though I am helping them build their confidence. I find with girls especially, and I know this because I am the mother of 3 daughters, that they can be self-effacing and constantly worried that their work isn’t good enough. It’s a very interesting and rewarding 2 hours out of my week.
And in May 2015, I became a trustee at The Geffrye —Museum of the Home.
What is it about the “home” that you feel is significant?
I have always been drawn to making sense of what makes a home. The Geffrye was originally set up as a museum about homes for the middling classes, but its remit is much wider now. When you ask the question, “what makes a home today?,” people will give you many different answers depending on their circumstances. There is a basic need to make a home wherever you are. The plight of the Syrian refugees in Turkey, who are living in tents that serve as their temporary homes, schools, restaurants, medical clinics illustrates this point. Everything they have is in these tents. I deeply admire the way that The Geffrye catalogue the artefacts and stories of the home, giving you a sense of the development of what makes a home.
It’s an exciting time to be part of The Geffrye. They have a new director and a capital program underway to build an extension, adding more space to show its permanent collection. It’s definitely a place to watch in the next few years.
And how does the Geffrye tie in to your personal love of the “home”?
I have always been drawn to the intersection of art and utility. My Master’s dissertation was about the mid 18th century French painter, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin and his sill lifes about food. These are beautifully understated private paintings about domestic objects. I love what his portrayal of cultural artefacts around a home tells us about this period of French history.
Another area where art and utility intersect for me is in craft that is generated for the home. Before I was consumed by my studies, I used to hold small craft exhibitions in my home and got to know some wonderfully creative artists. I like nice simple things that have been well thought out. We use them everyday, and I think these things add to your human spirit in a way.
How do you get creative?
For me it’s all about cooking and gardening. I do them both to decompress. My garden is an extension of my kitchen and nothing makes me happier than looking out at it every morning at breakfast, even at this time of year when I start planning for spring. This year, I really only want to grow potatoes — perhaps some lettuce and rhubarb because it’s so beautiful to look at. I’m actually not even a big potato eater but there is something about digging up your own potatoes and eating them straight from the ground. They are truly a wonder of the world.
As for cooking, well, I guess it’s in my Greek blood. My mother taught me to cook for which I will always be grateful. I have recently learned how to make sour dough bread and it’s become a bit of an obsession now. I just find it totally amazing how you can make a loaf of bread thanks to the natural chemical reaction of flour and water. It’s pure magic, but then I again, I think that a lot about cooking.
Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
I have come to avoid recognisable labels and instead seek out things that are a bit eclectic. I don’t really know what my style is but I do love a classic white shirt and often find myself opting for the work wear look. I’m on my feet a lot and always moving so I stay away from high heels and favour comfortable shoes like brogues or Chelsea boots. And also, nothing is more important than a good hair cut! I have been getting my hair cut for more than twenty five years by Richard Stepney at Fourth Floor in Clerkenwell.
What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
Good olive oil — I get mine from friends at the Oil Merchant — garlic and tinned tomatoes. And the best complete meal out of a tin is Confit de Canard — it is the ultimate fast food. And flour for my sour dough bread, of course. I now have bags of Gilchester’s Organic Wheat Flour.
How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
I love cycling and bike around London except in the rain and around big roundabouts — too scared. I try to go to the gym regularly because I think it’s important to do strength training. I also do yoga and circuit classes. But the thing that keeps me sane is weekend wild swimming in the Highgate Ponds with my husband — I go to the Ladies’ and he goes to the Men’s. We do it all year round even in the winter — yesterday it was 2 degrees Celsius — bloody cold but so much better than any therapy. At first, you think there is no way you can get in all the way and then you do. “Wow, I can do this,” you think. It’s a sort of psychological and physical leap of faith and you are on a high for the rest of the day.
If you have any messages to you your younger self, what would they be?
Caution is way overrated. There are many things I could have done when I was younger and didn’t. I do regret that. And learn how to do something with your hands whether it’s cooking, sewing, knitting, kneading bread — something creative.
What do you hold most dear to your heart?
Sitting around a large table with my husband and three daughters and closest of friends, eating, drinking, laughing.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Cindy Polemis!
My days at the school gates may be in the distant past. But for lawyer Gillian Budd — a mother whom I met for the first time when our now university age sons were just starting Year 1 — her school gate days will continue indefinitely. As head of governance, legal and compliance at the charity Teach First, Gillian and her “wonderful but tiny” team work hard everyday to help fulfill the charity’s mission to end educational inequality. This busy mother of three boys has always held the interests of children close to her heart, working continually to develop her legal career around helping young people to achieve for themselves and future generations. She shares her story and her passions for education and Teach First with us here.
Fabulous Fabsters: What attracted you to becoming a lawyer and what do you enjoy most about it?
Gillian Budd: There were no lawyers in my family nor did I know any so it was a total leap of faith! I planned to read history at university but for some now forgotten reason I began to think that law might be interesting. I was attracted to the problem solving, real life aspect of the subject. When I arrived at university and was required study Roman law though, I was less sure. Once we got into the other topics like judicial review, human rights, labour law and I could see how one might be able to challenge public decisions, things became more interesting. Being a lawyer has given me the power to help people. If any of this is worth doing, it is for this.
FF: You read law at Cambridge both undergraduate and masters (LLM), after which you qualified and became a solicitor at a large commercial law firm, Slaughter and May. What did you learn there that you took with you?
GB: At Slaughter and May, I was able to try out a range of legal work. I loved the variety and was not pigeonholed or particularly limited in the projects that I took on. The obvious next move for me was to work “in house” for a company where I would be expected to handle whatever legal issue comes across my desk. I made that move to Cadbury Schweppes, a major “fast moving consumer goods” company that produced food and drink. I had a great time protecting some of the most popular brands in the UK, buying and selling businesses across the world and working on creating the National Lottery. I very much enjoyed being an adviser — getting the company and employees out of difficult situations or even better, avoiding them.
FF: How did your work at Cadbury Schweppes influence your eventual work in the charity sector?
GB: The company values of where I work have always been important to me. At Cadbury Schweppes, a company started 150 years go by a Quaker family — the Cadburys — there was a strong sense of good corporate behaviour which was tangible. Well before the days when “corporate social responsibility” took off, the company had a charitable foundation which captured my interest along with working on areas like ethical procurement and labour conditions in the Ghana cocoa plantations. Through this work, I was increasingly becoming drawn to working in the charity sector.
FF: And then?
GB: So, after many years of loving the life and work of a corporate in house lawyer, I joined Save the Children UK and never really never looked back. From there I went to Plan International — a child rights organisation — and now for Teach First, a fantastic, ground breaking English charity.
FF: Tell us more about Teach First.
GB: Teach First is the youngest organisation I have worked for. Slaughter and May, Cadbury Schweppes, Save the Children and Plan International had all been operating for over seventy five years. Teach First is only fifteen years old. In a little more than a decade, Teach First has helped make change happen. Our mission is to eradicate educational disadvantage by helping to give children in low income communities across England and now in Wales the education they deserve. I find the situation of NEETS (Young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training) tremendously upsetting. From their point of view, they have no viable way out. I worry constantly about what we are going to do about providing skills for future generations.
FF: How did you join Teach First?
GB: I look back and realise that joining Teach First was my fate. When I worked as in house lawyer to Cadbury Schweppes, I heard about this new concept of getting the best university graduates in the UK to commit to teaching in schools with the highest proportion of pupils on free school meals. I remember, very clearly, thinking “that is the most brilliant and simple idea – what can I do to help?”. I volunteered as a coach to some of the young people becoming Teach First teachers. They were all wonderful individuals – driven to make a difference, wanting to be part of a movement for social change, passionate for their pupils to succeed and have aspirations – and without Teach First they would never have been in the classroom. About 6 years later, having taken up a very different career myself and working very happily as a lawyer for an international development charity working to change children’s lives in developing countries, I received a cold call from Teach First saying that they needed a legal/ governance head and was I interested? I said very honestly that I loved my job and had it been any other charity than Teach First I would have said no, not interested. But since it was Teach First, we had to talk!
FF: What do you love most about what you do?
GB: The constant variety – I fear I am an adrenaline junkie. I enjoy solving difficult issues for an organisation that has a sense of charitable mission and purpose. Hearing about children’s lives changing because of what the charity does is very satisfying.
FF: What is your advice to anyone considering a career change?
GB: Talk to as many people as possible. I did that a lot when I was working out if I could even make the move. People are really approachable usually and each of those conversations I had helped in some way, either by generating ideas or making me re-evaluate. I do that a lot for others now – often young lawyers in law firms – who are attracted to a job as a charity lawyer. Also apply for jobs even if you don’t seem to fit the bill exactly; you might need interview practice and it will make you work up your CV. You also meet some interesting people and get a clearer sense of what you want and whether you really want to take the plunge.
FF: How difficult is it to juggle the demands of family life with your career?
GB: I have tried every combination of working week ( 2 days, 3 days, full time, shorter days ) and feel incredibly lucky that my last 4 employers have allowed me to work flexibly and part-time with a long break in the summer, when we go away as a family to Australia to visit my husband’s family. I was at work in the “bad old days” when maternity leave was short and everyone was filled with guilt about staying away longer than the norm. I think we lost so many talented women to the world of work in those days and that loss of diversity of views and perspectives was damaging to employers. It is so much better now — though having just read about the requirement for women on reception desks in professional services firms to wear a certain height of heel, the battle is far from over!
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
GB: Pilates and fiction. I cannot have a day without reading a novel or watching a play or a film and preferably all three. Currently, I am also obsessed with my number of daily steps and Fitbit. I cherish time with my boys (husband, 3 sons, 1 male cat) and our Augusts in Australia, which is as far from my London life as it could be except the language and good coffee are the same.
FF: What is it about your early education that you would hope all children would be able to access?
GB: I think the answer is simple — fantastic teachers. We all have a story about a teacher who did or said the right thing at the right moment, who was on our side or taught us something that made us engage with that subject in a different way. Children in schools in low income communities need to have access to the best teachers too. I credit Mr Wells, who taught me at Ingatestone Anglo European school in Essex, with getting me to apply to Cambridge. I will never forget the way he spent so much of his own time to support me.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Gillian Budd!
If you are cultish about cloth, you probably already know Selvedge magazine. You have pored over its beautiful photographs while enjoying the feel and smell that come off the thick pages of this sumptuous bi-monthly textile magazine. Polly Leonard, its London-based founder, has built up a mini empire around her belief that textiles are fundamental to who we are as humans. After studying embroidery and weaving at The Glasgow School of Art, the Yorkshire native received an MA in Fibers at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. From there she was off on her search to delve into every warp, weave and stitch in the world of textiles. Consumed and enthralled, she founded Selvedge in 2003 to inspire other textiles lovers around the world from those in the industry to amateur makers and collectors alike. Thirteen years later, with 25,000 subscribers in almost every country in the world, the textile magazine has developed into an authoritative, albeit quirky and collective, voice. As part of its mission, Selvedge runs seasonal fairs, workshops and an online shop along with is bricks and mortars store. “I always wanted Selvedge to be more than a magazine,” Polly says. “I wanted for it to be a hub for everything to do with textiles.”
N.B.: Polly and her team team are launching the first Selvedge Advent Festival, which will run from 26 November – 3 December in St. Augustine’s Church Hall and the Selvedge Store on Archway Road, London — a week of textile-inspired events and festive workshops for Christmas shoppers and makers. See details on the Selvedge website.
Fabulous Fabsters: How would you describe Selvedge to someone you have just met?
Polly Leonard: The magazine is about everything and anything to do with cloth. It’s visually beautiful and packed full of content – much more so than other magazines, in fact it’s more like a book. You could say it’s the textile version of National Geographic.
Our audience covers textile professionals, amateur makers, collectors, curators, academics, students. I think Selvedge appeals to anyone of any age and across any culture. There’s a little gem inside for everyone – everyone is drawn to the physicality of cloth.
FF: Please tell us how you came to name the magazine?
PL: Selvedge is a bit like a secret club, I suppose. People who know about textiles know what the name means, others won’t necessarily know the meaning. Selvedge is the unfraying edge of a piece of cloth, it’s where historically the designer’s name is printed. We have a definition for Selvedge at the front of the magazine: finished differently.
FF: What was the impetus for founding Selvedge?
PL: I was working for the Embroiderers Guild editing their magazine, which was something I could combine with having a young family because I could do it from home. I found that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and once I had a few issues under my belt, it gave me a bit of encouragement that there was room for a beautiful magazine about textiles that a lot of people would find interesting.
When I had come up with the concept for the magazine, I made an A4 piece of paper with details about me, my Selvedge vision and the offer of a free copy of the first issue. I handed it out at a textile trade fair and managed to build up a database of five thousand to whom I sent a free copy of the first magazine. From this I got enough subscribers to enable me to make the next issue and things have grown from there. I guess you could call it early crowd funding.
FF: And the gorgeous covers of the magazine seem to have a life of their own. How do they come about?
PL: My favourite cover is always the next issue. In magazine publishing you can’t stand still, you have to keep moving forward. Each issue starts its life over a year before its completion, as a combination of stunning images and engaging articles gradually come together. I spend my time searching for the perfect images, most of the time I find them but sometimes images aren’t available, there are too many to choose from, or the perfect image is over our budget. Either way the search for the perfect issue could go on forever so I’m always pleased when I get the chance to make the next one even better.
FF: Future plans for Selvedge?
PL: As well as the textile magazine we now run seasonal fairs, workshops and an online and bricks and mortar store. We also have more ideas in the pipeline. I’d love to develop textile tours in the future. We’ve just started a workshop programme in our store, and I am looking forward to expanding these.
Finally, I’d like to run smaller fairs in more places, possibly one in Paris and New York.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
PL: As I’ve grown older I’ve found that my body shape has changed. I am now four inches shorter than I was 30 years ago and my feet are two sizes smaller. That takes some getting used to.
I’m much more sensitive to the feel of clothing now than when I was younger. I look for super simple shapes, trapeze style dresses that hang from the shoulder in neutral colours and interesting fabrics. At present I am obsessed with contrasting textures, tweed, velvet, linen and metallic leather.
More recently I’ve become hyper aware of provenance. I look at my kids and it makes me angry to see that they can buy a t-shirt every week as a kind of consolation prize but will never be able to afford to buy a house or something that really matters. I feel that society has conned that whole generation.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
PL: When I turned fifty, I stopped eating bread, potatoes and pasta – which was surprisingly fine. I save my carb indulgence for occasional sweet treats. My favourite thing is Turkish delight. I’m attracted to it’s exoticism. I also love lavender cake. For savouries I like Daylesford Organics.
I don’t drink alcohol so I’m always looking for delicious cordials and especially love homemade elder flower cordial.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
PL: I have recently started running. I also love knitting and have just bought some rare breed wool for my latest knitting project. I think knitting has huge health benefits – it’s a bit like mindfulness. Knitting has been around forever and is far better than therapy. It’s healthy in every possible conceivable way.
There’s a woman called Kate Davies who had a stroke 10 years ago and recovered partially and then went to live in north of Scotland. She took up knitting and it has now healed her and she also runs a thriving small business around knitting.
I feel the same way about sewing, weaving and quilt-making. These things are physical and there’s the satisfaction of creating something.
FF: What messages do you have for your younger self?
PL: Have more confidence and say, “yes”. You tend to regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do do.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Polly Leonard!
In 2011, Karen Whiteley opened a small ceramics gallery — a stall in a covered market with three shelves and a table in the village of Hampstead, London — and named it Maud & Mabel. Over the last 5 years, the gallery has grown quietly and confidently acquiring an international audience as well as a new shop front around the corner from the original stall — referred to by the villagers as their “shopping sanctuary”. Read on to see how Karen’s life’s experiences culminated in the calm serenity of Maud & Mabel.
Fabulous Fabsters: Why do you think people are drawn to ceramics?
Karen Whiteley: Ceramics are little pieces of beauty, talent and thought. In modern life, we can get very dragged down by daily distractions and interruptions, and I think people are seeking relief from that constant feeling of being on edge or on the move. Ceramics can provide that refuge, even if only for a fleeting moment, because they remind us of where we come from. They invite us to pause, and when we hold them, we can feel the weight of the love, passion, thought and talent that went into their making.
This morning while I was sipping my tea from one of Stuart Carey’s mugs, I suddenly became aware of the lightness and comfort of the handle as it moulded to my hand and I felt so grateful for the giving and sharing that went into his making it so. The stillness of ceramics allows you to be in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.
FF: What influences in your life informed your vision for Maud & Mabel?
KW: I was greatly influenced by my education. I was at an all girls English boarding school from the ages of 5 – 15. My family life was complicated and boarding school was my home for ten years. The old fashioned, minimal, pared back, simple and disciplined lifestyle I experienced there had a huge effect on my life. In fact, my home now is like boarding school in a way. Everything is very down at heel. Having said that, I have to have a really good bed, sofa and hot water.
For whatever reason, the woman in charge of my next school in Switzerland was seriously into meditation. And the principles on which she ran the school were guided by these beliefs — we were all taught to meditate through yoga. This was just what I needed in my life at that point and it gave me such inner strength at a very young age. I was very lucky. Being fully present helps you be aware of what you are doing and what you are using. My love for ceramics comes from being present.
FF: When were you first introduced to ceramics?
KW: When I was a young mother, I wanted to do “my thing” and be in a creative environment while raising my family. After I had my daughter, I went to work one day a week for Pan Henry at the Casson Gallery in Marylebone. Studio pottery was thriving and she was showing the works of some great British ceramicists like Lucy Rie and Hans Coper. It was here that I learned about the weight, balance and surface of ceramics and where my love for ceramics was ignited.
FF: What was your impetus for starting Maud & Mabel?
KW: I think I was ready for a change. I had been a yoga teacher for 20 years and felt it was time for me to do my yoga alone. And while I was finished with teaching, I was definitely not finished with working. All of it just came together for me at the same time — my love of the handmade, my experience with Pan and my desire to create a calm and quiet atmosphere. I had a real sense of confidence about the aesthetic that would work well for me and Maud & Mabel and I was absolutely clear that this was how it would be. There would be no deviation and no drop in standards — I am very strict about that. In Maud & Mabel, I feel like my body, mind and soul have come together.
FF: How did you come up with the name, Maud & Mabel?
KW: Even the name was influenced by experience at boarding school. “Maud” and “Mabel” are old-fashioned girls’ names that could have come straight out of the comic books. It felt so right and everyone loves it.
FF: Over the last five years, how has the vision for Maud & Mabel developed?
KW: By moving from the stall to a shop, I have been able to take on more artists and develop my passion for the tactility of fabric and my love of fashion and style. I owe this passion to my super stylish father who was a well respected figure in the garment industry. He taught me that clothing is more than just fashion —it’s about beautiful garments that are well made from high quality materials. This is why I feel so comfortable having beautiful, stylish clothing at Maud and Mabel. I also think that they work well with the ceramics.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
KW: Clothes with pared down aesthetics and neutral tones, I have to feel confident and comfortable in my clothes. And accessorise with lipstick — lashings of red lipstick. I think everything looks better with it. Album di Famiglia one of the labels we carry is an all time favourite. For shoes, I live in my Marsèll boots and in the summer I wear K. Jacques or Birkenstocks.
FF: What messages would you want to pass on to your younger self?
KW: I love this question and I have to say, it made me cry. The younger self was not pretty. It was a difficult time. So I would say, “Believe in yourself, trust your instincts and pause before speaking and acting on impulses.”
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
KW: Yoga, meditation, a good night’s sleep and healthy food.
FF: What do you hold most dear to your heart?
KW: My family. I have been with my husband for forty years and our son and daughter have brought us much happiness. Last year, I was blessed with my first grandchild — a beautiful little girl who just celebrated her first birthday. I try to spend as much time as possible with her.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Karen Whiteley!
ABOVE: NON MORRIS, GARDEN DESIGNER AND AUTHOR OF THE DAHLIA PAPERS, ENJOYS HER GARDEN IN A MATCHING SHIRT BY ONE OF HER FAVOURITE DESIGNERS, ISABEL MARANT ÉTOILE.
London-based garden designer and garden writer Non Morris, author of the blog The Dahlia Papers and co-founder of Fraser & Morris, is partial to self-seeders — plants that seed and sow on their own with no direction or guidance whatsoever. For a busy mother of three teenage boys, including a pair of twins, anything that takes care of itself has an obvious appeal. But what Non finds most interesting is where the self-seeders manage to end up and in particular, what it is they actually do when they get there.
Curious about self-seeders potentially running amok in her Camberwell, South London garden, I recently stopped in for an afternoon chat and found a glorious and calm oasis in the midst of displaying its late spring finery. The renegade self-seeders — Libertia grandiflora – with sword shaped leaves and bright white flowers along with the pale green bell-flowered flowered Tellima grandiflora — had found homes for themselves amongst the handmade brick pavers, making their own unique contribution to the blooming revel. Discussing plants and parenting, Non kindly shares her thoughts about how the two integrate and intertwine in her garden designs.
ABOVE: A WISP OF THE SELF-SEEDING TELLIMA GRANDIFLORA BEGINS TO POKE THROUGH A GAP IN THE GARDEN CHAIRS.
Fabulous Fabsters: Garden design is a second career for you. What did you do before this?
Non Morris: After reading History of Art and Modern Languages at Cambridge, I worked in film and TV production developing scripts and producing drama for an independent production company. I enjoyed the work immensely, began writing scripts myself, and thought I would continue working in the industry when I had twin boys twenty years ago. After they were born though, something shifted for me. We also happened to be in the process of renovating a Victorian house that had been stripped down to the bare bones and lived in as a squat — I realised I couldn’t do it all. I wanted to be with the boys and at the same time, I felt strongly about wanting to work with the earth.
ABOVE: TWO WEATHERED ADIRONDACK CHAIRS MARK A QUIET SPOT FOR AN AFTERNOON CHAT.
FF: How did you realise that you were meant to be a garden designer?
NM: Camberwell Grove the street where we live is known for its magnolia trees against white stucco houses. When we were renovating the house, I started to research magnolias for the garden. One day in the middle of reading an article, I had one of those amazing moments when I came to realise the extraordinary scale and subtlety of the plant world — enough to keep you going for a long time. When my third son — now age sixteen — started nursery, I retrained in plantsmanship and horticulture at The English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden. In 2009, I started a garden design practice Fraser & Morris, with Helen Fraser, a fellow student I had met on my gardening course.
ABOVE: VIEW OF LIMESTONE STEPS LEADING UP TO THE MAIN PART OF THE GARDEN FROM THE LOWER DINING TERRACE.
FF: Tell us about the gardens that you and Helen design?
NM: As you might expect, the principal focus of each of our gardens are the plants! These are our materials and we use them in a careful and thoughtful way to shape and form our clients’ gardens and to create atmosphere, a sense of place.
ABOVE: THE LONG AND NARROW LONDON GARDEN IS STRUCTURED AROUND A BRICK EDGED LAWN, SURROUNDED ON ALL SIDES BY LUSH PLANTING WHICH PROVIDES CHANGE AND INTEREST THROUGHOUT THE YEAR.
FF: How do you start a designing a garden?
NM: We always start by asking our clients questions. How are you going to use the garden? Which time of year is most important to you? Do you have a favourite garden or perhaps a favourite memory of a garden? Do you want to grow things to eat in the garden? Do you have time to work in the garden? What about colour, scent, places to play, places to sit? From their answers, we aspire to work out what it is they really want from their garden. It’s about matching their expectations with what we can do and they can maintain. A client may hanker after a Tudor herb garden and beds of rare fruit and vegetables but what they may need is an elegant low maintenance garden which creates first and foremost a sense of privacy. The best part of the job is when clients ring you up the following spring to say how thrilled — and often how surprised — they are with the garden that seems to have suddenly emerged.
ABOVE: THE VIEW FROM THE REAR OF THE GARDEN LOOKS ONTO THE PLAIN AND UNADORNED BACKS OF THE TERRACED HOUSES.
FF: What do you think about when you are working out a planting scheme?
NM: Our ideal gardens are ones that evolve during the course of the year. Creating a planting scheme which maintains year round interest but which offers change too is complex. Keeping the colours and heights in mind along with various bloom times is like planning a journey. And of course, every site has its own specific conditions. For instance in townhouses with their long and narrow gardens, one of the challenges is to keep the planting in balance — one side is nearly always going to be sunny and the other shady. In country or more rural settings, there are different considerations. In Sussex, we designed a new area of a large country garden and enjoyed the chance to use native plants and trees to extend the existing woodland and native marginal plants to make the new pond look as if it had always been there.
ABOVE: HONEYSUCKLE CLIMBS AROUND ELEGANT SQUARE-FRAMED ARCHES WHICH DESIGNATE A PATH ON THE SIDE OF THE GARDEN.
FF: Your biggest tip for a successful garden?
NM: Be disciplined when developing a planting scheme, repeat plants and limit your palette rather than use too many different things. Go to the trouble of sourcing exactly the right plants, prepare the ground thoroughly, plant well, go back and keep going back. It’s important that our clients understand that garden designs are not static. They will change and that’s not a bad thing. The key is to continually nurture them, much like children. If something doesn’t work, change tack, introduce something new and step back and watch what it does.
ABOVE: “THE ROSA MUTABILIS IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ROSES, ” NON SAYS. “AN AIRY SHRUB ROSE WITH BRILLIANT YELLOW BUDS WHICH OPEN OUT TO SINGLE FLOWERS OF PALE PINK THAT AGE INTO CRIMSON. ROSA MUTABILIS WILL OFFER A BRILLIANT FLUSH OF FLOWERS IN APRIL/MAY AND WILL CONTINUE TO FLOWER GENTLY UNTIL CHRISTMAS.”
ABOVE: THE JUST OPENING BUDS OF THE FLAT BOTTOMED WHITE ALLIUM NIGRUM COMPLEMENT THE GLAUCOUS FOLIAGE OF EUPHORBIA CHARACIAS — “A FANTASTIC EVERGREEN SHRUB FOR A WELL DRAINED GARDEN, ITS HUGE HEADS OF CHARTREUSE GREEN FLOWERS LIGHT UP THE ENTIRE GARDEN FROM JANUARY TO MAY,” NON SAYS.
ABOVE: “NARCISSUS ‘PETREL’, A MULTI HEADED SMALL WHITE NARCISSUS WITH A POWERFUL SCENT SITS IN A POOL OF TELLIMA GRANDIFLORA — “A WONDERFUL PLANT WITH ELEGANT STEMS OF TINY PALE GREEN FLOWERS WHICH ARE FANTASTIC AGAINST A VELVETY YEW HEDGE OR FOR LIGHTENING UP A SHADIER PART OF THE GARDEN,” NON SAYS.
FF: Tell us more about your blog The Dahlia Papers.
NM: My starting point was the treasure trove quality of Edward Steichen’s archives on plant breeding known as the ‘Delphinium Papers’. Steichen was a top US fashion photographer for Condé Nast in the 30’s but was also a passionate plantsman and breeder of enormous, towering Delphiniums (up to 7 feet) even creating a show for MoMA – the first and only show dedicated to flowers in the museum. My good friend Charlie Lee Potter’s blog Eggs On The Roof was another inspiration. As a writer and a cook, she writes about her two great passions, literature and food. The Dahlia Papers is a journal of what I am looking at and thinking about — it’s about plants and gardens but also about art, photography, design, architecture and the environment. I was delighted to be one of the three ‘gardening bloggers you should be following’ according to Sunday Telegraph journalist, Francine Raymond earlier this year.
ABOVE: THE VIEW FROM NON’S OFFICE ONTO THE TERRACE OF HER GARDEN PROVIDE HER WITH YEAR ROUND INSPIRATION.
FF: What have you enjoyed most about writing The Dahlia Papers?
NM: I love the freedom of writing a blog because it offers me a very fluid approach to thinking and writing about gardens. I combined a post about Edmund de Waal’s white porcelain with my thoughts on the use of white plants in the garden and at Sissinghurst in particular. And my ever increasing interest in working out why plants thrive in the right place led me to travel to the Apennines this May with botanist, Dr. Bob Gibbons, to see hillsides of wild narcissus and wild tulips for myself. I have met all sorts of people through blogging. I have made new friends from around the world, met new clients who are interested in the same ideas and established new relationships with head gardeners and garden designers from all over the UK.
ABOVE L: WILD FLOWER HUNTING IN THE APENNINES — SPRING GENTIAN (GENTIANA VERNA) AND ROCK ROSE (HELIANTHEMUM NUMMULARIUM) HUG THE HILLSIDE. “I LOVE THE PATTERN THE GENTIANS AND ROCK ROSE MAKE WITH THE BRIGHT WHITE LIMESTONE ROCKS,” NON SAYS. ABOVE R: “IN A SHELTERED WALLED GARDEN IN SUFFOLK, IT WAS EXCITING TO CREATE AN EXUBERANT MIDSUMMER PLANTING SCHEME USING THE GORGEOUS FIREWORK OF A GRASS (STIPA GINGANTIA) AS THE KEY PLANT,” NON SAYS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY NON MORRIS.
FF: Are there any Fraser & Morris gardens that we can visit?
NM: The South London Gallery Fox Garden, which is one of the gardens we feel most proud of. We love the idea that it is accessible to anyone throughout the year. It is a real garden, properly and sensitively cared for. It surprises people coming away from the bustle of Peckham Road because of its lushness, its powerful midwinter scent, its rich and changing seasonal colour and because of the way it is literally used as an extension of the Gallery – currently as part of a major Latin American exhibition ‘Under the Same Sun’ in collaboration with the Guggenheim.
ABOVE: PLANTING SCHEME DESIGNED BY FRASER & MORRIS FOR THE FOX GARDEN AT THE SOUTH LONDON GALLERY. THE RED-BERRIED ‘HEAVENLY BAMBOO’, (NANDINA DOMESTICA) PLAYS A VITAL ROLE WITH ITS STRONG COLOUR. THE WHITE FLOWERED LIBERTIA GRANDIFLORAL LIGHTS UP THE CURVED PATH.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
NM: My uniform is slightly baggy jeans with a simple Doe leather belt by my good friend Deborah Thomas, and either a fall-in-love-with shirt (perhaps from Isabel Marant Etoile or Cos) or a navy blue polo neck cashmere jumper from Margaret Howell. I wear my favourite clothes until they fall apart. My treasure trove is The Cross at Clarendon Cross where I buy Samantha Sung summer dresses in bright blue and white, the black three quarter sleeve English Weather cashmere jumper that gets me through the winter with my A-line black leather skirt and the crinkly Dosa skirt in navy blue silk that has lasted for years. When I need something more dressy than Converse or Birkenstocks, I go to Robert Clergerie for perfect, completely plain back suede boots in winter or slightly wild salmon pink and khaki platform sandals in summer.
ABOVE L: PREPARING FOR HER GARDENING CAREER AT THE AGE OF 5. ABOVE R: STILL IN HER GARDEN AND STILL IN BLUE. PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK CROSS.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
NM: The key ingredients are always lemon, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil most often with good bread, pasta, salad, wine. Pasta with a puttanesca sauce – made with tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, chilli, olives, bay and capers with a salad of raw fennel dressed with lemon juice and olive oil is possibly my favourite supper. I like simple, peasant food — often vegetarian but then I will happily succumb to a good tagliata, steak cooked with lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil sliced over a rocket salad. Diana Henry is the Goddess of tagliata. Breakfasts are taken pretty seriously at our house – even if there are only two of us. A properly laid table, pink grapefruit in winter and cantaloupe melon in summer, coffee and German rye bread from the General Store in Bellenden Road or toast from the square white loaf you can only buy in the Cheese Block on Lordship Lane. I mail order jars of marmalade by the dozen from Wendy Brandon.
ABOVE L-R: HENRY, NON (IN VINTAGE CHRISTIAN DIOR), NICK, ARTHUR AND LLEWELYN CELEBRATE NON AND NICK’S FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY AT THE SOUTH LONDON GALLERY. PHOTOGRAPH BY FREDDIE REED.
FF: How do you take care of yourself to stay healthy and strong?
NM: As well as working in the garden and a weekly Pilates class with Jo Blake, a former dancer and wonderful teacher who has taught three of us at home since we had our youngest children sixteen years ago, I keep fit by walking. I try to walk everywhere now – I know how far it is from home to the Garden Museum (3 miles) or the V&A (6 miles). I have just walked 26.2 miles of the South Downs Trail – from Brighton to Beachy Head to raise money for the Type 1 Diabetes Charity JDRF. Five girlfriends and 9 hours of beautiful countryside, exercise and chat.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Non Morris!
ABOVE: PUBLICIST AND PUBLISHER JOANN LOCKTOV.
This week my Instagram feed has been awash with exciting, real time images from this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, making it quite timely to tell you about JoAnn Locktov and her Fabster’s journey — one which culminates in her valiant campaign to save Venice, the city she first fell in love with twenty years ago.
ABOVE: “VENICE IS AN EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE OF HOW MAN IS ABLE TO ADAPT THE ENVIRONMENT TO HIS OWN NEEDS, IMPROVING LIVABILITY AND CREATING A HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NATURE AND TECHNOLOGY.” QUOTED FROM ITALIAN ARCHITECT CARLO RATTI IN DREAM OF VENICE ARCHITECTURE. PHOTOGRAPH BY RICCARDO DE CAL
San Francisco-based publicist and publisher JoAnn Locktov of Bella Figura Communications has never been shy about exploring her interests in art. From the moment she graduated from UC Berkeley with her parent approved albeit, thinly veiled Economics degree — obtained in spite of taking more classes in Art and Art History than in Economics — she has always worked in a creative industry. From “un”- covering the actor Kevin Costner to writing four books, two on mosaics and two on Venice, her endless curiosity has knocked on various doors. Armed with her friendly and generous soul, every door she’s gone through has led to the opening of another, resulting in a journey of chance encounters that have shaped her life path significantly.
ABOVE L & R: THE COVERS OF DREAM OF VENICE, PUBLISHED IN 2014 AND DREAM OF VENICE ARCHITECTURE, PUBLISHED IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 2016 VENICE ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE.
Her most recent book, Dream of Venice Architecture is a collaboration with film director and photographer Riccardo De Cal and the sequel to Dream of Venice a collaboration with photographer Charles Christopher. These two books tell the story of Venice as a living city through the words of contemporary writers and architects. “The books are a labor of love; they are conceived from a deep desire to inspire relevance to a city that is over 1,500 years old,” she says. “Come and see the Venice of my dreams.”
ABOVE: SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “WEDDING CAKE” CHURCH WAS DESIGNED BY BALDASSARE LONGHENA IN 1630 AND COMPLETED IN 1687. “IT WAS BUILT AS AN OFFERING TO DELIVER THE CITY FROM A DEVASTATING OUTBREAK OF THE PLAGUE,” JOANN SAYS. “I LOVE THE SPIRIT OF GRATITUDE THAT PERVADES VENETIAN HISTORY.” PHOTOGRAPH BY RICCARDO DE CAL.
FF: One of your first creative ventures involved Kevin Costner. Please explain.
JL: When I was at Berkeley I met a film student. We decided to make a movie, he would direct and I would produce. We raised independent financing and then had to hire a cast. We had the worst time finding the lead actor until one day a young, handsome stage hand walked in, he was still wearing his tool belt. His name was Kevin Costner and the camera loved him. He starred in our film, which happens to be one the worst films ever made, but Kevin, the director, Jim Wilson, and the writer, Michael Blake, went on to Hollywood success. I left Los Angeles (a pluviophile doesn’t do well in relentless sunshine) and returned home to the Bay Area where I became a development director for PBS, raising funds for their national programming. Love, marriage and two babies ensued.
ABOVE L: A PORTRAIT OF JOANN BY CECELIA GIUSTI, A MOSAIC ARTIST IN MODENA. ONE OF JOANN’S CLIENTS COMMISSIONED THIS PORTRAIT OF HER FROM HER TWITTER AVATAR. ABOVE R: A YOUNG JOANN ENJOYS A BOOK.
FF: Tell us about your obsession with mosaics.
JL: We lived in a little vernacular bungalow with a brick fireplace. I decided it needed to be covered in mosaic, but had no idea how to get this done. Endlessly curious, I wrote two books about contemporary mosaic artists. I never became a mosaic artist myself, but I was fascinated with the craft. The first book was in 1998, and my publisher wanted me to include international artists. Somehow I accomplished this before the World Wide Web was a daily fact of life (I remember we sent a lot of faxes). I still live in the house with the mosaic fireplace.
ABOVE L: JOANN’S FIRST BOOK MOSAIC DESIGN WAS PUBLISHED IN 1998. ABOVE R: HER SECOND BOOK MOSAIC ART AND STYLE WAS PUBLISHED IN 2007.
FF: How did you transition from being a development director at PBS to a publicist?
JL: The cover artist of my first mosaic book was a Venetian artist. We met several times and became friends. His family had a mosaic foundry in Venice and he decided to open a mosaic school and house students in a B & B that he added to the family palazzo. But in this case, he built it and no one came. So, he hired me to promote his school and the accommodations. It was a match made in heaven. I loved Venice, and I loved mosaics. I was a founding member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists, so I had a community to involve in this exciting Venetian opportunity. I had never done PR before, but it is a very logical profession. The “P” actually stands for perseverance. I was referred to other clients in Italy and eventually clients here in the US. I’ve been a publicist for eleven years and my specialty is design.
ABOVE: “MORE THAN ANY OTHER CITY, VENICE EMBODIES A DEFINED URBAN FORM, COMPACT FABRIC AND UNITARY BODY COMPOSED BY SUCCESSIVE HISTORICAL TRANSFORMATIONS. COMPOSING AN EXTRAORDINARY STRATIFICATION OF THESE AGES AND DISPARATE CULTURES, VENICE TODAY PRESENTS ITSELF AS A PRIVILEGED PLACE, RICH IN HISTORY AND MEMORY.” QUOTED FROM ITALIAN ARCHITECT MARIO BOTTA IN DREAM OF VENICE ARCHITECTURE. PHOTOGRAPH BY RICCARDO DE CAL.
FF: Venice — what brought you to the city the first time?
JL: I first came to Venice in 1996. It was one of those “big” birthdays and I decided to treat myself to an adventure in Italy. Venice was the first stop and I was completely unprepared for my reaction to the city. I was the walking embodiment of the Fran Lebowitz quote, ““If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is — Venice is better.” I was determined to find a way to incorporate Venice into my professional life. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, so this aspiration was completely pazza. But the universe has a lovely way of turning dreams into reality. The Venetian mosaic artist hired me in 2005, there it was, a professional life that incorporated Venice.
ABOVE: ON HER FIRST TRIP TO VENICE IN 1996, JOANN DREW THIS SKETCH OF TORCELLO, A SPARSELY POPULATED ISLAND AT THE NORTHERN END OF THE VENETIAN LAGOON.
FF: How did the Dream of Venice books come about? And how did you go from publicist to publisher?
JL: Fast forward to 2011. I had visited Venice many times since that first starstruck trip. I kept falling deeper in love with the city, unable to resist her siren’s call. I met Charles Christopher on twitter (yes, don’t laugh) and was riveted by his photography. Venice may be one of the most photographed cities on Earth, but to create images that tell a new story is actually very challenging. Charles took photos of the city that revealed her secrets and I asked him if he’d like to do a book together. We wanted to present Venice as a living city and asked contemporary writers to share their thoughts. The book would be an anthology of words and images. After over 40 rejections from traditional publishers, it became very clear that there was only one person intrepid enough to publish this book and that’s how I started Bella Figura Publications. Dream of Venice came out in 2014, and we sold out in 10 months (and have since re-printed).
The second book in the series Dream of Venice Architecture launched on May 28, in conjunction with the 2016 Architecture Biennale. Riccardo De Cal photographed this book and the process was different. We first asked architects and architectural writers to send us their thoughts about Venice. And then Riccardo took a photo for each essay. He will be the first to tell you, that Venice is the most difficult city to photograph, to find her soul.
ABOVE: “NEAR MIDNIGHT, THE BELLS OF THE BASILICA OF SAN MARCO TOLL IN A PARTICULARLY INSISTENT WAY: THEY CALL THE FAITHFUL TO THE RESURRECTION MASS. IT IS THE END OF HOLY WEEK IN A VENICE OVERFLOWING WITH TOURISTS AND ONE FEELS IN THE AIR THAT SPRING HAS ARRIVED — THE BRONZE CLANGING IN THE SILENCE OF THE FULL-MOONLIT NIGHT HAS A RHYTHM AND PULSE THAT DRAWS ME TO THE GREAT PIAZZA AND I ENTER THE TEMPLE.” QUOTED FROM LOUISE NOELLE, THE FORMER EDITOR OF ARQUITECTURA/MÉXICO IN DREAM OF VENICE ARCHITECTURE. PHOTOGRAPH BY RICCARCO DE GAL.
FF: What does Venice mean to you?
JL: Venice is fighting for her survival; she is besieged by tourists, corruption, and environmental negligence. I find it impossible to be idle while I witness her destruction. I want the books to reveal a vital city that is too remarkable to neglect.
ABOVE: “VENICE WAS BUILT WHERE NO LAND EVER EXISTED. WATER RUNS THROUGH HER VEINS. BRIDGES, PALACES, CHURCHES, EVERY STRUCTURE IS A TESTAMENT TO THE RESILIENCY OF IMAGINATION,” JOANN SAYS. “IF WE CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT VENICE OFFERS US, WE WILL RESPECT HER FRAGILITY. WE WILL CONTINUE TO LEARN HER LESSONS, AND CHERISH HER EXISTENCE.” PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICCARDO DE CAL.
FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom — Venetian style?
JL: I long ago discovered the ease of a black wardrobe and will add white reluctantly if it is over 70 degrees. I believe in incorporating the hand crafted into all aspects my life, and have invested in the work of several Venetian artisans: hand painted velvet from Fiorella Mancini, hand crafted shoes from Giovanna Zanella, and modern glass jewelry from SENT.
ABOVE: JOANN DONS AN ELEGANT BLACK OUTFIT ON THE STREETS OF VENICE. PHOTOGRAPH BY SAXON HENRY.
FF: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
JL: It is so strange that we will think nothing of spending $30 on a bottle of wine and yet, hesitate to spend $30 on superb olive oil. I’ve learned that a robust, authentic olive oil is a basic necessity of life. Frances and Ed Mayes name each of their Tuscan olive trees and I’ve joined their Bramasole Convivium so I will never be without their liquid poetry. There is always a bottle of prosecco in my fridge. With olive oil and prosecco, you are ready for anything.
FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
JL: I create, read, work, and walk. I eat oysters as often as possible. And of course, there’s always Venice.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to JoAnn Loctov!
ABOVE: SILVANA HOLDS A BOWL FILLED WITH A HARVEST OF FRESH APPLES. PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON INGRAM.
As evidenced by the name of her online journal and shop, The Foodie Bugle, Silvana de Soissons likes to shout — in the nicest way possible, of course — about artisan food and her adopted hometown of Bath, England. Born and raised in Eritrea of Italian descent, Silvana created The Foodie Bugle blog in March 2011 to write about artisan food production, focusing on ordinary people and their wares. The following year, The Foodie Bugle won The Guild of Food Writers New Media Award, which garnered her a great deal of attention. Through social media, Silvana’s digital bugle if you like, her readers told her they wanted a print edition. She complied and published Reveille 1 and Reveille 2. Feeling their hunger for more, she tested the concept of a Foodie Bugle shop with a pop-up in her home and soon after in December 2014, she opened her bricks and mortar shop on Margaret Street in Bath — only 3 ½ years after starting the blog.
Tireless and always in good humour, we recently caught up with Silvana to look behind the scenes at her success story and how her digital bugle has enabled her to shout her message around the world. With over 22.5K followers on Instagram and Twitter, we are also delighted that she is sharing her personal social media tips with us. Thank you, Silvana.
ABOVE: THE FOODIE BUGLE SHOP FRONT AT 7 MARGARET’S BUILDINGS IN BATH. PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON INGRAM.
FF – How did you first become interested in food?
S dS – When I was a small child my Lombard parents once took me to the food shop Peck in Milan. There from the ceilings hung prosciutti, on wall to wall shelves sat plump wheels of cheese, tall jars of artichokes in oil, metal tins of Cannellini beans, slender bottles of olive oil and terracotta vats of olives, capers and anchovies. My three year old’s eyes were wide open and could scarcely take it all in. The smell of fresh Amalfi lemons, Sicilian blood oranges, San Marzano tomatoes and ripe peaches stayed with me — I was born in an Italian family where fresh, simple, homemade food was very important every day, and it is no wonder that I pursued a career in food.
FF – What does food mean to you?
S dS – Food is everything – it is the holistic tapestry that holds the threads of life together. Sharing good food, looking after your body, looking after the environment, eating well and safeguarding farming’s future – surely these tenets are central to the fundamentals of life, culture and society?
ABOVE L & R: AN ARTICHOKE — BEFORE AND AFTER. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JASON INGRAM FOR THE ENGLISH GARDEN MAGAZINE.
FF – Please tell us about Eritrea and how your family came to live there from Italy?
S dS – My family came to live in Eritrea after the first world war – my Mamma’s family is from Milano and my Papa’s family is from Bergamo. The Italians colonised Eritrea and there was a large community of farmers there. Asmara, the main city where we lived, was known as Little Italy. My father was in sugar farming and my Mamma is a really excellent cook – it was from her that I inherited a great love of cooking and fresh ingredients.
FF – When and why did you come to the UK?
I came to the UK thirty-five years ago to study Economics at Bath University. It was a great shock to go from a hot continent with bright blue skies and have avocados growing in your garden and mangoes for tea, to a country where it is winter nine months of the year and the main diet is root crops and beef!
ABOVE: FORCED RHUBARB FROM START TO FINISH. TOP PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN INGRAM. BOTTOM PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE FOODIE BUGLE.
FF – What did you do after university?
S dS – After university, I decided to work, very briefly, in the City. Everyone in the mid-1980s was going into banking. I hated it, but they gave me an expense account to take customers out to eat and so I dined in the some of the best places in London. Learning about new types of food and gastronomy was inspiring. After that, I worked as a food writer, cookery teacher and food stylist, as well as a private caterer. I started to become very interested in small artisan food production and the slow food movement. It was this interest that led me to start The Foodie Bugle.
ABOVE: SILVANA’S FAVOURITE AMALFI LEMONS. PHOTOGRAPH BY GOTTA KEEP MOVIN’.
FF – What was your intention in starting The Foodie Bugle?
S dS – Cooking is treated as a competitive sport by the TV channels and so much of food writing is London-centric – so I wanted a blog that featured ordinary people making extraordinary food in rural areas and also abroad.
FF – What are the three best things about starting The Foodie Bugle?
S dS – Meeting talented artisan suppliers, eating the best food and drinking the best coffee, and working for myself.
ABOVE: THE SHOP OFFERS RELAXED COMMUNAL DINING. PHOTOGRAPH BY THE FOODIE BUGLE.
FF – Why does the city of Bath features so prominently in your Instagram feed?
S dS – Bath is a really beautiful city, a Georgian spa city that attracts nearly five million visitors who come from all over the world to see the architecture, the Roman Baths, the Abbey and all the lovely galleries, museums, parks and shops. I like to show the secret wonders of the city as well as the better known places – my Instagram followers love seeing the city from all of its angles, not just the tourist traps. As in many cities, rents and rates have pushed independent businesses away from the city centre, but Bath refuses to be another chain store town. We have so many streets, like Walcot Street, Bartlett Street, Margaret’s Buildings, London Road and Kingsmead Square, where small, family owned enterprises are beginning to make a progressive impact on a sizeable scale. These places are not really on the main tourist map. I use my Instagram platform to show the artisan shops, the small cafes, the private tearooms and the interesting events that are blazing trails away from the centre to everyone around the world.
ABOVE: VINTAGE PLATES, WHICH SILVANA IS ALWAYS ON THE HUNT FOR TO USE AND SELL IN THE SHOP, ARE IN KEEPING WITH THE GEORGIAN ARCHITECTURE OF BATH. PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE FOODIE BUGLE.
FF – Tell us about how you developed your distinctive Instagram voice?
I have an honest voice — owning your own business means facing a tsunami of worry, ambition, risk, hope, expense, joy and more every hour of every day. I tell the truth on Instagram — what it is like to face a day when it rains non-stop and hardly any customers come in, when you spend a Bank Holiday Monday deep cleaning your shop instead of enjoying yourself with your family, when you have to advertise again for a job vacancy because staff have let you down and so on. It is not all pink cherry cupcakes! I like to tell stories — using photographs and words, I love reading other Instagrammers’ narratives, seeing other lives in other parts of the world transported in cyberspace. I suppose I am quite good at it because I love it — and my business depends on it. So many of my customers have come to this shop from all over the world because of my Instagram account.
ABOVE: SILVANA SHARES DAILY SHOP KEEPING TIPS ON HER INSTAGRAM FEED.
FF – What are your top social media tips?
S dS – If you are just starting out as a new business and want to set up an Instagram account I would give you the following tips:
1. Tell your story, own it and be proud of it. There is only one you, one of your business. Tell the people. What do you do, when, how, why and where?
2. Shoot in natural light, using a simple iPad, against a white or simple background if possible, trying to keep the frame as clean, light and bright as possible.
3. Follow the like minded tribes. There are people in the world who bring oxygen into the room as opposed to taking it out of the room. The naysayers, detractors, narcissists and selfie brigade are to be avoided — follow the tonics, the energisers and fabsters, because your work and life will be richer and happier for it.
4. Promote the work of others as much as you can — good karma goes round in social media and if you collaborate and cooperate it will bring its own dividends many times over.
5. Look at the beauty of the world around you — from fresh produce to herbs, vintage china, cakes, architecture, nature and meals, I am surrounded by beauty all day long. So many of us live in unique environments — show the world your world.
ABOVE: AN EXAMPLE OF SPREADING GOOD KARMA ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
FF – Any Wardrobe Wisdom?
S dS – At Foodie Towers we wear a very utilitarian uniform: blue and white stripey shirt, blue aprons, flat shoes, hair tied back and no jewellery. It’s a scrubbed look because we are dealing in food. But if I wasn’t working and the means allowed I would happily dress myself in Margaret Howell, Old Town and Carrier Company. I love sturdy clothes, preferably made in Britain, that can stand the test of time, can be worn forever, do not need ironing and make you look like you have just dug up an allotment.
ABOVE L: SILVANA PREPARES KALE FOR COOKING. ABOVE R: A FOODIE BUGLE APRON IN CLASSIC BLUE AND WHITE STRIPES. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JASON INGRAM.
FF – What’s in your Prescient Pantry? This should be interesting given your shop is a veritable pantry!
S dS – My pantry would be north facing, to keep it cool, and it would be very organised! There would be Anna Lisa Tinned Pomodori San Marzano Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans, anchovies in oil, arborio rice and carnaroli rice, cous cous, 00 fine milled Italian flour, Billingtons Raw Cane Sugar, dried porcini, Sardinian olive oil, Tellicherry Black Peppercorns, Isle of Skye Sea Salt, Rummo Pasta in all its shapes, Tupperware containers of my own homemade passata, sourdough loaves made by Duncan Glendinning and The Thoughtful Bread Company, wrapped in hessian bags, Peter’s Yard crispbreads, Ocelot Chocolate, Easy Jose Coffee, Campbell’s Tea and our own Seville Orange marmalade. There would also be an Iberico ham covered in a muslin gauze and a cave aged Westcombe Cheddar by Tom Calver. There, that’s dinner — sorted.
ABOVE: SILVANA (SEATED) AS A YOUNG GIRL WITH HER BROTHER AND SISTER.
FF – How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
S dS – I eat plants – lots of them. I drink gallons of fresh water and herbal tea. I eat a little bit of what I fancy every day, in moderation. I do not sit still. I work like a pack horse. I try not to let the darkness, the demons and the detractors get to me by going outside into the light, breathing deep, counting my blessings and being grateful.
ABOVE: SILVANA ENJOYS AN AUTUMN HARVEST. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JASON INGRAM FOR THE ENGLISH GARDEN MAGAZINE.
A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Silvana de Soissons!