From the BBC to Bespoke Art Tours: Cindy Polemis

Above: Cindy Polemis, patron of the arts, craft and home.

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.

Cluttered desk with iPad and computer. Cat peers out from beneath.
Above: Cindy’s desk where the news and her cat, Lola, are always in the background.

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.

Woman looking at Frank Auerbach painting at Tate Britain
Above: Cindy prepares for one of her guided tours in front of a painting by Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain. “I always go around once before the tour just to make sure everything is where I think it is,” she says. “They like to move things.”

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.

Gingerbread iced with smiling woman in front of painting
Above: A portrait of Cindy in front of a painting, decorated for her on a gingerbread cookie by a friend.

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.

Cindy Polemis. Woman in black standing in atrium of Tate Britain.
Above: A rare quiet and still moment for Cindy at Tate Britain.

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.

Four women
Above: Cindy with her three daughters.

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.

Artwork of terraced houses by Victor Stuart Graham hung on bright yellow wall
Above: A row of terraced houses by artist Victor Stuart Graham hangs in Cindy’s kitchen.

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.

Photos hung on yellow wall of kitchen, Marianna Kennedy painting
Above L: “In my own home, I I like to compile an aesthetic entity if you like. Whether that is laying a nice table or putting pictures on the wall in an interesting way. I love the thought behind it.” Above R: A painting by artist Marianna Kennedy sums up Cindy’s kitchen well.

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.

London kitchen looking out onto garden in summer
Above: The view of Cindy’s summer garden from her kitchen table.

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.

Young girl with colourful hat, Guerrilla Girl and Cindy Polemis
Above L: Cindy wearing her infectious smile at the age of twenty seven. Above R: Cindy makes the acquaintance of a Guerrilla Girl last year at the Tate.

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.

A tin of confit de canard, bag of Gilchester flour, tin of tomatoes, two bottles of olive oil
Above: The items in Cindy’s Prescient Pantry uncovered.

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.

Gray sweater jumper with magenta darned patch
Above: A weaver friend recently taught Cindy and her daughter how to darn. “In the old days, everyone used the same colour yarn — I think it’s more fun to use a contrasting colour.”

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.

Cindy Polemis and Rick Wells, Fernandez & Wells
Above: Cindy and her husband Rick Wells. In “Rustic” his book about Fernandez & Wells,  Rick credits Cindy with making the first cakes the restaurant chain served.

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.

 

Illustration of dining table with potatoes, gardening tools, frying pan, yarn, painting and bread. Illustration by Christine Hanway.
Above: Cindy’s Still Life. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Cindy Polemis!

A Lawyer’s Journey: Gillian Budd and Teach First

Gillian Budd of Teach First
Above: Gillian Budd, head legal counsel for Teach First, at home.

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.

Teach First
Above: Teach First strive to increase the chances that every child finds their one great teacher. Graphic copyright © Teach First.

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.

Children with teacher at Teach First.
Above: Engaging the students is the first step to inspiring them. Photograph copyright © Teach First.

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.

Teach First
Above: Teach First work to overcome educational inequality by finding, training and supporting people to become effective teachers. Graphic copyright © Teach First.

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.

Students conducting science experiment at Teach First.
Above: Teach First provide young people with a means to choose their own futures. Photograph copyright © Teach First.

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.

Teach First
Above: “At Teach First, we know it takes time and persistence to change the story of a child’s lifetime,” Gillian says. “We believe that this can start with the dedication and leadership of a great teacher who inspires a child to work towards the future they want. Through our Leadership Development Programme, we train and support new teachers to work in primary and secondary schools serving low-income communities across the UK every year.” Graphic copyright © Teach First.
Tough Young Teachers, Teach First.
Above: Tough Young Teachers was a BBC Three documentary that aired in 2014. The story followed the journey of six newly trained Teach First teachers through their first year of working in schools in low-income communities. Photograph copyright © Teach First.

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!

Teach First
Above: In a little over a decade, Teach First has increased its outreach significantly. Graphic copyright © Teach First.

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.

Clock on wall
Above: The house clock, designed and built by Gillian’s oldest son when he was fifteen. He is now at university studying to be an engineer.

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!

Woman gazing at Austrailan art.
Above: An example of the Australian art that Gillian and her husband collect on their summer family holidays in Australia.

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.

Young girl with brown hair and glasses, girl handing upside down on bar
Above Left: Gillian at ? years in her school uniform. Above Right: Problem solving upside down.

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.

Students with teachers at Teach First
Above: A young teacher relaxes while spending time with the students. Photograph copyright © Teach First.
Above: The building blocks of education. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Gillian Budd!

Textile Tales: Polly Leonard of Selvedge

Founder of Selvedge, a textile magazine, Polly Leonard in front of blue and red textiles. Photo by Richard Nicholson.
Above: Selvedge founder Polly Leonard. Photograph by Richard Nicholson.

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.

Women in brightly dressed saris in front of River Gange on the cover of Selvedge, a textile magazine. Photo by Anne Menke.
Above: “Issue 66: India is our best selling issue,” Polly says. “There is a particularly strong bond between textiles and the Indian people.” Photograph by Anne Menke.

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.

Chinese woman dressed in blue with red had holding a rooster in front of red floral wallpaper on the cover of Selvedge, a textile magazine.. Photo by Shuwei Lui.
Above: “Young Chinese fashion designer Momo Wang’s first collection is the subject of Issue 54: Revive,” Polly says. “Wang is part of a new band of designers whose slow fashion philosophy references traditional techniques in her contemporary clothing.” Photograph by Shuwei Lui.

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.

General store and haberdashery with display of textiles, scarves and ribbons, Selvedge Store, Photo by Claudia Brookes
Above: Part general store, part haberdashery, the Selvedge shop displays many textile treats.

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.

Bendetta Barzini models Daniela Gregis outfit white shirt and blue skirt standing in front of Gio Ponti's Parco dei Principi, Hotel in Sorrento on cover of Selvedge, a textile magazine. Photo by Sara Kerens.
Above: “Issue no 64: Ageless featured the clothes of Daniela Gregis,” Polly says. “The model is Benedetta Barzini who, aged 73, is beautiful. The image is shot against a backdrop of Gio Ponti’s modernist masterpiece Parco dei Principi, Hotel in Sorrento, which was built in 1960.” Photograph by Sara Kerens.

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.

I wear clothes by designers such as Carin Mansfield from Universal Utility and Daniela Gregis. My favourite high street brands are Margaret Howell and Toast.  For shoes I go to Grenson.

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.

Woman's face surrounded by delicately hued flowers on Cover of Selvedge, a textile magazine.. Photo by Oleg Oprisco.
Above: “The cover of issue no 70: Delicate was by a Ukranian photographer, Oleg Oprisco. His surreal, yet real life, analogue images (using Kiev 6C and Kiev 88 cameras) are works of art,” Polly says. “Each scene takes many hours and to my delight often have a textile reference.”

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.

vintage colourful darning sampler in Selvedge, a textile magazine.
Above: A darning sample by C. Keiber from 1841was featured in Issue No. 60. There is a long tradition of creativity in textiles.

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.

Portrait of Polly Leonard from Selvedge, a textile magazine, at aged 17
Above: Polly Leonard at seventeen, just before she embarked on her textile journey.

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.

artwork for selvedge, a textile magazine
Above: Selvedge graphic inspired by quilting. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Polly Leonard!

Finding Stillness in Ceramics: Karen Whiteley of Maud & Mabel

Woman with short brown hair wearing red lipstick and gray sweater in stands in front of a yellow brick wall.
Above: Karen Whiteley, founder and owner of Maud & Mabel.

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.

Black and white ceramic jugs, bowls and vases displayed on a Japanese Tansu shelf at Maud & Mabel
Above: A display of ceramics at Maud and Mabel featuring artists Matthew Warner and Kenta Anzai.

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.

Woman with brown hair wearing red lipstick and gray scarf looks intently at a hand made ceramic mug by Stuart Carey.
Above: Karen enjoys a quiet moment outside Maud & Mabel with a mug by ceramicist Stuart Carey.

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.

Assorted ceramics and wood objects on display on white shelves at Maud & Mabel
Above: The display shelves at Maud & Mabel are forever changing depending on its sales and acquisitions. These shelves show the work of artists Sun Kim, Tim Plunkett, Maria de Haan and Akiko Hirai and Abigail Schama.

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.

Black and white ceramic jugs, bowls and vases displayed on a Japanese Tansu shelf at Maud & Mabel
Above: Finding stillness together.

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.

Wood cutting board by John Tildesely used as tray for ribbed glass jug by Nude Glass Poem and ceramic lace plates by Fliff Carr at Maud & Mabel
Above: A cutting board by John Tildesley can be used as a tray. The glass Water Jug and Glasses are by Nude Glass Poem. The ceramic Lace Plates are by Fliff Carr.

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.

Pared back, minimal shop interior with white walls and gray concreted floor at Maud & Mabel
Above: The pared down aesthetic at Maud & Mabel was influenced by Karen’s years at boarding school and runs consistently throughout the shop.

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.

Blue ceramics on a white shelf and mustard yellow dress by Valigi at Maud & Mabel
Above Left: Nicola Tassie’s Wide Bellied Navy Jug anchors a trio of blue. Above Right: Every season, Karen sells a limited collection of her favourite clothing and textiles. This Mustard Linen Dress is by Valigi.

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.

Black and white photo of young girl in the 1960's sitting on the beach and photo of woman with short brown hair applying red lipstick
Above: A six year old Karen enjoys the beach on a trip with her beloved father. Above: Karen applies some red lipstick, a favourite accessory.

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: What’s in your Prescient Pantry?
KW: Funghi, dried porcini, gluten free pasta, White Balsamic Vinegar by Belazu —I’d be lost without that — arborio rice, pink Himalayan salt, honey and oats.

FF: How do you stay strong and well in body and mind?
KW: Yoga, meditation, a good night’s sleep and healthy food.

Woman with brown hair and black dress stands in front of simple shop front with ceramics in the windows. Maud & Mabel
Above: The new Maud & Mabel shop opened in September 2016 and is located at 10 Perrin’s Court, Hampstead, London. Photograph by Liz Seabrook, courtesy of Maud & Mabel.

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.

Watercolour of bowls and pitcher by Christine Hanway
Above: Karen’s still life. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Karen Whiteley!

Garden Designer & Author of The Dahlia Papers: Non Morris

Non-Morris-The-Dahlia-Papers-Fabulous-Fabsters-20
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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, Self-seeding Tellima Grandiflora| Fabulous Fabsters
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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, two weathered adirondack chairs in garden | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, view up limestone steps | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, overall view of South London garden | Fabulous Fabsters

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. 

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, overall view of South London garden | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, overall view of South London garden | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, Rosa Mutabilis | Fabulous Fabsters

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.”

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, Allium Nigrum, Euphorbia | Fabulous Fabsters

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.
Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, Narcissus 'Petrl', Tellima Grandiflora | Fabulous Fabsters
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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, GENTIANA VERNA, HELIANTHEMUM NUMMULARIUM, STIPA GINGANTIA | Fabulous Fabsters
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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, South London Gallery Fox Garden | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Garden Designer, Non-Morris, author of The Dahlia Papers, Watercolour of Self-Seeders by Christine Chang Hanway | Fabulous Fabsters
Above: Non’s self seeders. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Non Morris!

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams: JoAnn Locktov

Saving Venice— City of Her Dreams, Portrait of JoAnn Locktov, Bella Figura Communications | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Photography by Riccardo De Cal | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Bella Figura Publications| Fabulous Fabsters

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.”

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Photography by Riccardo De Cal, Santa Maria Della Salute | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Mosaic portrait of JoAnn Locktov by Cecelia Giusti | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Cover of Mosaic Design, Cover of Mosaic Art and Style | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Photography by Riccardo De Cal, Mario Botta | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dawing of Torcello by JoAnn Locktov | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Photography by Riccardo De Cal, Louise Noelle | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Dream of Venice Architecture by JoAnn Locktov, Photography by Riccardo De Cal | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, JoAnn Locktov in Venice, Photograph by Saxon Henry | Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Saving Venice — City of Her Dreams, Watercolour drawing of JoAnn Loctov in Venice by Christine Chang Hanway | Fabulous Fabsters
Above: Saving Venice. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to JoAnn Loctov!

The Foodie Bugle: Silvana de Soissons

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle shop front, Artisan Food, Bath England|Fabulous Fabsters

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?

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England|Fabulous Fabsters

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!

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by Jason Ingram|Fabulous Fabsters

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by Gotta Keep Movin'|Fabulous Fabsters
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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by The Foodie Bugle|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by Jason Ingram|Fabulous Fabsters

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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England|Fabulous Fabsters

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 dSI 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.

Silvana de Soissons, The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food, Bath England, Photograph by Jason Ingram|Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: SILVANA ENJOYS AN AUTUMN HARVEST. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JASON INGRAM FOR THE ENGLISH GARDEN MAGAZINE.
Amalfi Lemons for Silvana de Soissons of The Foodie Bugle, Artisan Food | Fabulous-Fabsters
Above: Amalfi lemons for Silvana. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Silvana de Soissons!

The Accidental Lawyer: Kate Gibbons

Accidental Lawyer, Kate Gibbons from Clifford Chance with Labradoodle |Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: ACCIDENTAL LAWYER KATE GIBBONS AT HOME WITH HER DOG OLLY.

Kate Gibbons did not set out to be a lawyer — English Literature and Drama were her great passions. And yet she’s been a Finance and Capital Markets Partner at Clifford Chance, one of the UK’s top five law firms and a member of the elite Magic Circle,  for 25 years. In an industry where women are underrepresented at partner level — according to Gender in the Law 2014 Survey, only 24% of the partners in UK law firms are female and in Magic Circle firms, the percentage is closer to 18% — Kate has garnered respect from clients and peers alike as well as gained herself a hard-earned freedom to forge a unique and individual path in the world of corporate law. So how did this accidental lawyer become the Global Head of Knowledge of a leading international law firm? Join us on our recent visit with Kate in the busy home she shares with her husband, a fellow partner at Clifford Chance, their three children and Labradoodle Olly, to find out.

George Eliot by Sarah Pickstone in home of Kate Gibbons | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: “GEORGE ELIOT IS A FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND HERE SHE IS PAINTED BY OUR BRILLIANT FRIEND AND ARTIST SARAH PICKSTONE,” KATE SAYS. “I HOPE THAT OUR DAILY FAMILY LIFE, OVER WHICH GEORGE PRESIDES, ISN’T TOO PROSAIC FOR HER.

FF – How did you become a lawyer?

KG – My unconventional 1960’s education in an experimental school was fantastic but left me ill equipped for an abrupt transition to boarding school at aged 10. My parents, who were in the RAF, were being stationed out of the country and decided to keep me in the UK by sending me to boarding school where I pretty much fell through the cracks. I didn’t do any work and developed some rather gaping holes in my education. The result being that I was not good at languages, no longer good at maths and sorely lacking in self confidence. The only thing I felt I was good at was English because the one teacher who took an interest in me during this time told me I was. When I was doing my A-levels (English, History and Religious Studies), I didn’t tell anyone that I had intentions of going to university because I was worried they would laugh. No one had any expectations of me and I was more or less left on my own. I wanted to read English Literature at university, but I didn’t think I could do it because as I read through the UCAS book, I clocked that a language at A-level was advised. And then I discovered a subject called “Law” where there were no language or maths requirements and that’s how I ended up applying to read Law.  UCL offered me a place and I accepted.

FF – What was it like reading “law” – this subject into which you happened?

KG – I am afraid I found my Law degree boring and tried to change to English Literature. I spent much of my degree acting in plays — “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello for example. I had hoped that studying Law would discipline my mind but I’m not sure it did. I worked very hard though, stuck with it, managed to get a training contract offer by the end of my second year and qualified at the age of twenty-three.

Skethes by Accidental Lawyer, Kate Gibbons from Clifford Chance|Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: DRAWING HIGHLY DETAILED SKETCHES IS KATE’S UNORTHODOX METHOD OF PROCESSING LARGE AMOUNTS OF INFORMATION AT MEETINGS.

FF – Tell us what it was like being a female lawyer when you started?

KG – I started my degree in 1977, a day into being eighteen, and it was right at the beginning of a cultural shift when women were beginning to enter the profession. For example, when I entered the course, 30% of the students enrolled were women. By the time I left three years later, that figure was up to 70%.

FF – Your favourite part about being a lawyer?

KG – It’s always been about the people for me. I get satisfaction from giving clients expert advice about what I know and the huge sense of team play that exists when you are working on a deal.

Song books | Fabulous-Fabsters

ABOVE: MUSIC IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF KATE’S LIFE. SHE SINGS IN TWO CHOIRS AND PLAYS THE PIANO, WHICH SHE HAS BEEN PLAYING SINCE CHILDHOOD.

FF – When did you realise that you were no longer an accidental lawyer?

KG – After university, I went straight to work in a law firm but kept exploring other avenues of interest outside the day job, including applying to Cambridge to read English Literature and taking evening classes at The Guildhall to become a drama teacher. By 1986, I was working for Clifford Turner, who later merged with Coward Chance to become Clifford Chance, and they needed someone to go to Japan to work on aircraft finance. I volunteered when no one else wanted to go. This was an untested market and at the time they couldn’t be sure about how the Japanese would react to a female solicitor but Clifford Turner took a chance on me. And as it turns out, Japan turned into a great success for me. The Japanese considered me to be a foreigner and therefore their rules of hierarchy didn’t apply to me, which was quite liberating. I took on many jobs that I never would have been given to do in London and began to build a broad and deep knowledge base on anything from general banking to acquisition finance. I was twenty-seven when I returned to London from Japan. Soon after, I remember going for a run and having a rather serious conversation with myself. “Kate, you have never committed to anything,” I said. “Maybe it’s time you did.” And that was when I realised that I was a good lawyer and that’s what I wanted to do. I became a partner at Clifford Chance 4 years later at the age of thirty-one.

Books on shelf | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE WOULD BE ENGLISH LITERATURE STUDENT BELONGS TO TWO BOOK GROUPS. ON HER SHELF: 40 SONNETS BY DON PATTERSON,  THE TRANSYLVANIAN TRILOGY BY MIKLÓS BÁNFFY AND MIDDLEMARCH BY GEORGE ELIOT.

FF – Smooth sailing after that, right?

KG – Not exactly. Three children and a husband with an equally demanding job later, I woke up one day and realised we had created a punishing and unhealthy regime for ourselves. With 7-day work weeks and the demands of family life, I developed into an obsessive workaholic. And with our unpredictable hours and travel schedules, we were told that we were “unnannyable” by a nanny agency. Something had to give and it wasn’t going to be the children so I felt my only option was to resign. It says a great deal about Clifford Chance that they didn’t let me. Instead they worked with me to find a new role where I could still play to my strengths but yet have more flexibility in terms of schedule and working from home.

FF – And what is this role?

KG – As Global Head of Knowledge at Clifford Chance, I lead the firm’s Thought Leadership initiative.  I am responsible for ensuring our lawyers know what we know to serve our clients with the best work and in the best way. (In 2015, Clifford Chance were named the number one law firm in the Chambers Global Top 30 for the third consecutive year.) This is quite a broad brief if you think about it and I absolutely love it. I was always willing to take on anything and developed a wide range of experience while practising an unusual number of specialisations: real estate, aircraft finance, acquisitions, refinancing debt, securitisation and capital markets. This has given me a holistic view of financial law.

Accidental Lawyer, Kate Gibbons as young girl | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE L: RIGHT BEFORE KATE WENT TO BOARDING SCHOOL. ABOVE R: KATE AS A YOUNG LAWYER WITH HER FATHER, BRIAN KEVIN WORKER GIBBONS. “IF MY GRANDMOTHER HAD HAD HER WAY, MY FATHER’S CHRISTIAN NAME WOULD HAVE BEEN ‘LABOUR,'” KATE SAYS. “SHE WAS QUITE SOMETHING. THANKS TO HER THOUGH, MY FATHER WAS A TOTAL FEMINIST. “

FF – How did you cope with the transition?

KG – I enjoy what I do now immensely but at the beginning it was extremely difficult for me to stop and see myself from this new perspective. I had to transition from being an equity partner into a non-billable partner. There are advantages and disadvantages to every situation though and not being an equity partner has given me my freedom, which I cherish.

FF – The key to running your work life and home life smoothly?

KG – I am very organised — I love a good chart. But I also have to give thanks to my husband, Michael, who is the bedrock of everything and our wonderful nanny Victoria, whom we have been extremely lucky to have for the last eight years.

Accidental Lawyer, Kate Gibbons from Clifford Chance |Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: “I WORRY ALL NIGHT ABOUT THE FAMILY AND THANK MY LUCKY STARS WHEN THE DAWN APPEARS AND DISPELS THE FEARS,” KATE SAYS. “I FIND MANY THINGS VERY FUNNY.”

FF – Any Wardrobe Wisdom?

KG – When I went on sabbatical travels and was limited to eighteen kilos of luggage I was torn between books and shoes and only resolved the conflict by purchasing a Kindle. I believed several pairs of stilettos to be an essential part of the trekking toolkit for cocktails in the jungle. In my training period I mentored a summer student who told me I only looked like a proper lawyer when I wore 4 inch heels. This is a lesson that my  5 foot 4 inch (and shrinking) self has never forgotten. My (my husband’s and my daughter’s) favourites are various Jimmy Choos which my husband has bought for me over the years and the 7 inch pair of rope weave wedges I purchased from Topshop several Summers ago. When I wear them there are few I cannot look (nearly) in the eye.

FF – What’s in your Prescient Pantry?

KG – In our family, we all have different tastes. For a  meal taken together chicken and leek pie with curly bits (pastry rolls) is the only thing I can think of which works for everyone. That and the world’s most expensive beef slavered in peppercorns and roasted for an hour — served pink in the middle for them and cooked well at the ends for me. Indispensable pantry items for everyone except my daughter — spices, all sorts, and lemon grass. Personally I can never have enough garlic or coriander. Even a whiff of the latter makes the rest of the family go out for dinner immediately — something to do with the smell.

Clifford Chance Thought Leadership Initiative pamphlets | Fabulous Fabsters

Clifford Chance Thought Leadership Initiative pamphlets | Fabulous Fabsters
ABOVE: EXAMPLES OF THE THOUGHT LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE TOPICS THAT ARE HIGHLIGHTED TO THE SOLICITORS AND CLIENTS OF CLIFFORD CHANCE. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: “NAVIGATING DANGEROUS WATERS”, “BRICS AND MORTAR”,  “BREXIT: WHAT IF THE UK GOES IT ALONE?”, AND “DAWN RAIDS: DON’T BOTTLE IT”.

FF – How do you stay strong and well in body and mind? 

KG – I get up at 5.45 each morning and after unloading the dishwasher, I do 30 minutes of Pilates-based stretching exercises. Otherwise my back goes into spasm because like practically every other lawyer, I know I have back trouble from sitting down and reading all my working life. I like to walk Olly for at least two hours at a time whilst listening to podcasts of In Our Time or talking with a friend. I go on piano courses and typically have several pieces on the go in an effort to prepare the perfect performance. I have never played a piece perfectly and the humiliation is good for the soul. My children are all much better musicians than me – something which makes me very proud and makes up for the misery of years of nagging them to practice. I sing in two choirs and belong to two book clubs for the buzz and the laughter. With my first child at university, the second one going imminently and a busy fifteen year old, it’s getting more and more difficult to carve out family time when we can all be together. We solve this by going on family ski holidays. On these trips, the Jimmy Choos stay home.

Accidental Lawyer, Kate Gibbons from Clifford Chance with Labradoodle |Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: KATE AND OLLY PREPARE FOR ONE OF THEIR TWO HOUR WALKS.

FF  – What else is dear to your heart?

KG – My charitable interests, which are all extensions of my life’s interests and passions; Index on Censorship, an international charity committed to the freedom of expression; Poet in the City, a charity dedicated to finding new audiences for poetry and Pro Corda, a chamber music charity which is committed to outreach work for disadvantaged children and where I do my piano courses. I only recently realised that the three charities I support arise directly from the influence of my parents. My Scottish father was very political and passionate about freedom of speech. My Irish mother was very cultured, loved classical music, had a beautiful voice and inherited her interest in poetry from her father, who owned a first edition of T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland.

Watercolour of Choos v Books | Fabulous Fabsters
Above: The lawyer’s dilemma. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Kate Gibbons!

Burning Down the House: At Home with New York Novelist Jane Mendelsohn

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn, portrait by Nick Davis | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE WRITER AND NOVELIST JANE MENDELSOHN AT HOME. PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK DAVIS.

In her mid-twenties, a few years after graduating from university, writer and novelist Jane Mendelsohn came across a photograph of Amelia Earhart, the American aviator, that shaped the course of her adult life to come. The writer became intrigued by an idea.  What if Amelia Earhart might have survived — even if only for a little while — on a desert island? As she writes in the New York Times Sunday Review, “Perhaps this was because I felt at the time as if I were flying hopelessly around the world searching for land, longing for one of those islands of stability some of us keep looking for in our 20s, a braceleted wrist held up to the face, hand shielding our eyes from the harsh sun of adulthood, not realizing that we will have to build that island for ourselves.”

Inspired by Earhart’s daring spirit to face the unknown, Jane began her adult life by taking on the risk of writing a novel — I Was Amelia Earhart. It went on to become an international bestseller and short listed for the Orange Prize in 1996 — not bad for someone who had never even written a short story before. From there she went on to “build her island”, publishing several more books to critical acclaim, getting married and starting a family. Please help us to congratulate her on launching her fourth book today — Burning Down the House — a gripping tale about a wealthy New York family that is forced to confront itself with very contemporary twenty-first century problems.

We recently visited Jane at home in Gramercy Park from where she works to talk about her favorite subject — women as the heroines of their own lives.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, Amelia Earhart | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE L: A PHOTOGRAPH OF AMELIA EARHART WITH THE PILOT’S SIGNATURE BELOW WAS A WEDDING GIFT FROM A FRIEND. ABOVE R: A POSTER OF THE COVER OF I WAS AMELIA EARHART SITS ON TOP OF A BOOKCASE, FILLED WITH JANE’S LITERARY HEROES, IN HER OFFICE.

FF – You write very strong and memorable female characters into all of your books.  How have the changes and developments in your life affected the way you view and write about your female characters?

JM – This is a huge question.  I’d say my interest in women’s lives and stories has only deepened as I’ve grown and changed through marriage and children.  I’m as interested as I ever was in how women can be the heroines of their own lives.  And, by extension, how everyone can do that, or at least try— to live the most engaged, fully conscious and meaningful life possible.

Novelist Jane Mendelsohn at home, 4 generations of women | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT OF 4 GENERATIONS OF WOMEN. FROM L-R; THE AUTHOR’S GREAT GRANDMOTHER, HER MOTHER, THE AUTHOR HERSELF AND HER GRANDMOTHER.

FF – In your book “American Music”, you write about four generations of women. Tell us about the women in your family.

JM – The women in my family are very independent-minded people who keep life interesting. My mother is an art historian and I spent much of my childhood in Italy and in museums.  My grandmother loved to paint and read and was always learning.  She had a quick mind up until the day she died at 95.  She woke up every morning and smoked a cigarette while she did the crossword puzzle.  She was always thinking up adventurous things to do with her group of friends.  Her best friend, Buddy, called her “Magellan”.  She’d say to my grandmother (Evelyn):  “So what are we doing today, Magellan?” They fully embraced being the heroines of their own lives.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn, Innocence, American Music | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE L: JANE’S SECOND BOOK INNOCENCE, PUBLISHED IN 2000.  ABOVE R: JANE’S THIRD BOOK AMERICAN MUSIC, PUBLISHED IN 2011.

FF – Teenage girls play a critical role in your writing. Tell us more about your teenage heroines in “Innocence” and “Burning Down the House”? What do you feel is important about them and their stories?

JM – I have two daughters and I often think about the struggles teenagers today face, whatever their backgrounds. Adolescence is such an interesting and challenging time of life and I remember it well. Teenagers are dealing with so much and are often given such a hard time.  I’m amazed by what’s thrown at them, internally and externally, and their journeys to adulthood seem to me to be a microcosm of the intense transformations we all go through at various points in our lives.  And maybe the heightened emotions, the almost psychotic state of adolescence, fascinates me because I like to use heightened language and storytelling to get across certain feelings and ideas.

When I think back on the inspiration for my latest book — Burning Down the House — I realise that in many ways it grew out of fear, and a desire to confront my fears. I think we’re living in a time characterised by a lot of fear and I felt a need to address that in some way. I’m always interested in women’s stories and now as a mother, with what lies ahead for my daughters. I unfurled a nightmare scenario for Poppy, the teenager at the heart of the book — the nightmare of what could happen to a daughter if her mother weren’t around to protect her. The fear any mother, any parent, has in today’s world. I suppose I wanted to play out that fear so that I could look at it and hold it, face it, and move through it.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, family photos on wall | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: A WALL OF FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS WITH THE AUTHOR’S GRANDMOTHER, EVELYN, IN THE MIDDLE.

FF – In your New York Sunday Review op-ed piece, you write passionately about women in the 21st century. Please tell us more.

JM – It is being said more frequently, more loudly and with more evidence and conviction that the 21st century is the century of women. Research tells us that by empowering women in developing countries we can end poverty, starvation and war. These are ambitious goals, perhaps unreachable, but clearly worth attempting. Organizations like Women, War and Peace, Girls Rising and the Girl Effect have information that explain more fully about why giving women and especially girls the help they need — leadership development, education, violence prevention and economic empowerment — can change the world.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, Advance Copy of Burning Down the House | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE:  FOR THE LAUNCH OF HER LATEST BOOK “BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE”, JANE WILL BE DOING READINGS IN MANHATTAN, BROOKLYN, MADISON, CT AND WASHINGTON D.C. FOR MORE DETAILS, SEE HERE.

FF – A central plot line of Burning Down the House revolves around the sex trade. How did you become interested in this often considered taboo subject?

JM – I became aware of the issue of sex-trafficking in New York City when a friend invited me to become involved in an organization called Sanctuary for Families, which began as a service for victims of domestic abuse and has several shelters around the city. As I learned more about them, I discovered that they were expanding their reach to deal with victims of sex-trafficking after finding that many of their population were both victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking, and that the problem was right here, on the streets of New York City. This was shocking to me and what I learned struck me on many levels—as a citizen, a woman, a mother, and a New Yorker. The stories are harrowing. The numbers are great. And the problem seems to intersect with so many of today’s issues — globalization, violence, the vast social inequities that disturb so many of us. They are difficult problems with no easy answers, but are very relevant to all of us.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, desk and Aeron chair | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE WRITER’S DESK.

FF: Tell us about what it’s like to work from home.

JM: For many, many years I worked at a desk in the living room.  Then we moved and I got an office at home, where I work on that same desk.  My office still doesn’t really have a door and I like it that way.  My daughters come in and sit on the couch and chat with me after school.  Or do their homework in here while I work.  It hasn’t always been easy to juggle— not at all— I got much less writing done when they were younger— but we’ve found a really good rhythm.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, bookshelf filled with colorful children's books, paper mâché sculptures | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE L: LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER — BOOKS FILL THE SHELVES IN ONE OF THE GIRL’S ROOMS. ABOVE R: A DISPLAY OF HER DAUGHTERS’ ARTWORK IN JANE’S OFFICE.

FF: Any Wardrobe Wisdom?

JM – My friend Ira Sachs made a film called Love is Strange and in it Marisa Tomei played a novelist who works at home.  He asked if she could call me to ask me questions about working as a novelist at home.  I felt my answers about how I dressed were particularly boring.  Jeans, t-shirt, sweater.  Sometimes the same jeans and sweater for days in a row— much to my daughters’ dismay.  On my feet, I usually wear black sneakers or black ankle boots.  I have a weakness for nice black ankle boots.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, drawing by Melissa Marks | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE DRAWING ABOVE THE MANTEL IS BY ARTIST MELISSA MARKS, A CLOSE CHILDHOOD FRIEND SINCE THE 2ND GRADE.

FF – What’s in your Prescient Pantry?

JM – I always have pureed tomatoes with nothing in them (no sugar, no basil), garlic, onions, pasta, and sea salt.  I have some sea salt from this past summer in Maine that I’m still using.  And honey from Maine.  And we seem to eat a lot of fruit in this house.  Bananas, blueberries, and those pretty satsuma oranges with the stems and leaves.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, watercolour by Isabel Bigelow hangs above wing chair | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE WATERCOLOUR ABOVE THE WING CHAIR IS BY ISABEL BIGELOW. “I FIND ITS SIMULTANEOUSLY STORMY/CALM QUALITY VERY APPEALING,” JANE SAYS. “YOU CAN’T TELL WHETHER IT’S JUST BEFORE A STORM OR JUST AFTER AND THAT TENSION AND AMBIGUITY ARE  INTERESTING.

FF – What do you look for in a book?

JM –  I like a book that takes you for a ride, an experience, where the story and the writing together create an extra dimension, a very specific journey that puts you in touch with the writer’s sensibility and states of feeling. I find reading a book to be a meeting of minds—the reader’s and the writer’s. It’s an intimate experience.

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn at home, black and white photo of girl on slide | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: A CHILDHOOD PHOTO OF THE AUTHOR IN A NEW YORK CITY PLAYGROUND.

FF – What’s next?

JM – I’m researching a new novel, but it’s a little early to talk about it! What I’m actively involved in right now is a musical adaptation of my last novel, American Music, in collaboration with the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. I’m working on the book and the lyrics, and as that project developed, art began imitating life: I was finishing up Burning Down the House, in which a character directs a stage musical, so I had some first hand experience of that world. It’s very exciting to be working with some amazing people, but I’m also looking forward to the solitude of working on a new novel. I like the balance of the two.

N.B.: For the launch of her latest book Burning Down the House, Jane will be doing the following readings — March 15 in Manhattan, March 18 in Brooklyn, March 18 in  Madison, CT., April 6 in Washington D.C. and May 4 in New York. For more details, see here.

 

Novelist, Writer, Jane Mendelsohn meme watercolur by Christine Chang Hanway | Fabulous Fabsters
Above: Finding one’s island. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Jane Mendelsohn!

Rewriting British Leather History: Deborah Thomas & Doe

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: DEBORAH THOMAS, THE GREAT GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF CHARLES PEARCE, THE FOUNDER OF W. PEARCE & CO. PHOTO TAKEN AT HOMESPUN CASHMERE.

Deborah Thomas from Doe would like to rewrite British leather history. Beginning with her family’s history, one that is 4 generations rich in the tanning and finishing of embossed leathers. From there, she’s hoping that her efforts will help to revitalise the tradition and reputation of British manufacturing, even if only on a small scale.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE DOE TOTE BAG IN MOREL. PHOTOGRAPH BY WAREMAKERS.

In 1908, at the age of 22, Deborah’s great great grandfather, Charles Pearce, founded W. Pearce & Co., named after his own grandfather who helped him finance the business. By 1925, the company had become the fastest-growing leather company in the country and was expanding into the global market. Eventually the company evolved into one of Northampton’s flagship companies and they moved into a newly built Art Deco headquarters, which still stands today. Winning the Queen’s Award for Export twice, the company boasted the largest collection of leather embossing plates, many of which are in the The Museum of Leathercraft in Northampton.

By the 90’s, the company’s fortunes had turned. Unable to compete with the lower cost of overseas manufacturing, W. Pearce & Co. closed its doors in 2003. Ten years later, Deborah launched Doe, selling her own handmade bridle leather designs and injecting life back into the family history.  From purses to bags every item that Deborah sells comes imbued with a little piece of W. Pearce & Co. history from her extensive knowledge of this traditional British craft to a small exquisite detail that comes straight out of the company’s archives. Read on to find out what this detail is and help Deborah and Doe rewrite history.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: LEATHER SWATCHES FROM THE COMPANY ARCHIVES THAT HAVE BEEN CUT AND WAITING TO BE MADE INTO DOE ZIP PULLS. A DOE CROSS BODY POUCH IN MOREL IS NEXT TO THEM.

FF – Other than the family business, what other experience do you have in leather?

DT – After I graduated from university in the mid-eighties, I went to work for The Regent Belt Company in their Clifford St., London showroom. They made high quality bags and belts in an old Victorian factory in rural Northamptonshire a few miles from where I grew up. My job was to work with designers putting together their own label ranges and checking that everything was then made to specification. I had a fantastic few years working with such diverse UK customers; Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Joseph, Whistles and buyers from stores such as Selfridges. I then moved on to Osprey who at the time had their manufacturing unit in Harpenden and were going through exciting times opening their London store in St Christopher’s place. A lot of the leathers we worked with came from my family’s tannery, which was exciting to me.

In the 90’s we watched many companies in Northamptonshire, who employed many craftspeople, shut their factories. When we finally had to close W. Pearce & Co. in 2003, it was heartbreaking to have to let nearly 200 skilled workers go.  This is one one of the reasons why I keep my production in the UK. Doe pieces are crafted from hand-waxed bridle leather and made near Walsall in the Westlands, an area know for its saddlery skills.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE DOE OYSTER CAR HOLDER IN MOREL LINED WITH PRINTED LEATHER IN A CONTRASTING COLOUR FROM THE COMPANY’S ARCHIVE SITS IN A BOX, WAITING TO BE SHIPPED OUT.

FF – Why did you start Doe Leather?

DT – I started working on Doe in 2010 a few years after we closed the tannery when my father and I discovered boxes of old archive leather swatches that the salespeople had taken around the world — I knew I had to do something with them. I spent two and a half years finding the right company to make my collection and deciding how best to use these precious remnants of British leather manufacturing history.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters
ABOVE: THE DOE LEATHER BACKPACK IN BLACK WITH AN ORANGE ARCHIVED LEATHER ZIP PULL. PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIA BOSTOCK.

FF – And what did you decide to do with these precious pieces of leather manufacturing history?

The collection of archive leather prints feature a wide range of colours and effects dating back to the 1920’s. Every season we select up to a dozen to hand stitch into zip pulls, discs behind brass closures and pen loops and then we integrate these items into our products. Effectively, each Doe piece is part of a collectible and limited edition.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters
ABOVE L: DEBORAH USES INITIALING STAMPS TO PERSONALISE A DOE TWO ZIP PURSE IN BLACK. ABOVE R: SPOOLS OF THE COLOURED THREADS THAT DEBORAH USES FOR STITCHING HER LEATHER PRODUCTS TOGETHER.

FF – How did you come up with the name, Doe Leather?

DT – The symbol of the Buck is featured on the crests of many Leather Guilds. The Worhipful Company of Leathersellers is an example. A doe is the female. It’s my little form of protest. I remember the tannery as being almost all men, both on the tannery floor and in the boardroom!

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE TWO: DEBORAH OCCASIONALLY RUNS LEATHER EMBOSSING WORKSHOPS. FOR THE LATEST SCHEDULE INFORMATION, FOLLOW HER ON HER BLOG AND ON INSTAGRAM.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: AN OPEN PAGE OF MANY FROM A PRINTED SAMPLE BOOK BY W. PEARCE & CO.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: THE COVER OF A COMPANY SAMPLE BOOK OF THE LEATHER SWATCHES THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN AND SHOWN AROUND THE WORLD.

FF – Was the tannery an important part of your childhood?

DT – I have such strong memories of the tannery growing up. My father wafted in in the evenings on a breeze of leather smells- so distinctive. And then when I was older I had a series of holiday jobs there. Making up swatch books was my favourite job. Endless filing and pushing this funny gilt trolley full of 1930s green, china teacups into the directors’ boardroom were my least favourite.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE – “I WOULD OFTEN HAVE TO TAKE MESSAGES TO SOMEBODY IN THE HUGE FACTORY BEHIND THE OFFICES AND THERE I WOULD CATCH GLIMPSES OF MY FATHER DARTING AROUND IN HIS WHITE CHEMIST COAT WORN BY EVERYONE IN THE SPECIAL LAB THE COMPANY HAD,” DEBORAH SAYS. “HE HAD SO MUCH ENERGY, STILL HAS!”
Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters
ABOVE: THE ART DECO BUILDING THAT SERVED AS THE W. PEARCE & CO. HEADQUARTERS SINCE 1939 WAS CLOSED IN 2003. “I VIVIDLY REMEMBER THE TANNERY MOTTO ON A PLAQUE IN THE OCTAGONAL PARQUET FLOORED ENTRANCE HALL, ‘INDUSTRY, INSPIRATION, COOPERATION’,” DEBORAH SAYS.

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE L: DEBORAH’S EVERDAY OUTFIT THIS WINTER — DENIM DUNGAREES. ABOVE R: DEBORAH AS A FLOWER GIRL.

FF – Any Wardrobe Wisdom?

DT – Starting Doe made me ask more questions about how our clothes and accessories are made, the conditions of the workers and the sustainability issues surrounding fast throwaway fashion. I look better anyway in simple shapes and more masculine cuts and my favourite wardrobe staples are old Margaret Howell carpenter jeans that were passed on to me by a friend, black and grey jackets, brogues and plimsolls. As for when the weather turns warmer, I am still looking for the perfect summer dress!

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history, Maran Cross Hens | Fabulous Fabsters
ABOVE: THE FAMILY OF MARAN CROSS HENS THAT PROVIDE DEBORAH’S HOUSEHOLD WITH A REGULAR SUPPLY OF FRESH EGGS.

FF – What’s in your Prescient Pantry?

DT – There are always eggs from our own hens in our prescient pantry and because they roam on grass all day they have the most amazing bright golden yolks. In the summer months we grow our own salad leaves but all year round we are lucky enough to have the best farmers’ markets within a fifteen minute drive away. Oh, and we are big fans of Pump Street Bakery’s bread and chocolate!

Deborah Thomas from Doe, W.Pearce & Co., British leather history | Fabulous Fabsters

ABOVE: SPIDER AND NOAH, THE FAMILY DOGS, WITH THEIR LIFE JACKETS ON.

FF – How do you stay strong and stay well in body and mind?
DT – I think being in your fifties is an exciting time and it certainly feels right to be growing my business now, but it can feel the most challenging decade in a way. Hormones raging, tricky teenagers and ageing parents can seem overwhelming . To keep emotionally and physically well I practise Pilates and also try and walk briskly every day for an hour with our dogs in the beautiful valley we live in. I recently attended a Mindfulness course and attempt short bursts of meditation when I can although this is definitely work in progress! In the summer we all relax by sailing our little bright red day boat ( Ketchup!) on the peaceful River Alde. And I love to read- it’s my escape into other lives and places.

Doe Artwork, Maran Cross Hen with Embossed Leather Zip Pulls |Fabulous Fabsters
Above: The world of Doe — Maran Cross hens and luggage tags. Artwork by Christine Chang Hanway.

A Fabulous Fabster thank you to Deborah Thomas!