Africa Fashion Week London 2019 + Mary Martin London

More Than Many Sparrows

Mary Martin London stole the 5pm show with a colourful menswear collection.” Africa Fashion Week London official spokesperson

Multi award winning fashion designer Mary Martin took the capital by storm at this year’s Africa Fashion Week London. In a truly electrifying performance – for performance it was, combining art, design, choreography, fashion and music – she set Freemason’s Hall in Covent Garden alight. It may have been Mary’s inaugural men’s collection but the Queen of Couture couldn’t resist adding a showstopping feminine finale. Wrapped in a body stocking covered with one of Mary’s own prints, ‘Slaves in the Woods’, Aidia strutted her stuff to thunderous applause. The crowd went wild!

Only Mary would have her very own soundtrack. Music’s in the veins: her daughter Celetia is a singer songwriter (vocals for Groove Armada; lyrics for Janet Jackson). Freemasons’ Hall rocked hard to an Afrobeats hit by Déjà Vu. The song? ‘Mary Martin London‘. She acknowledges it’s been a lot of work designing and making her first ever menswear in the space of a few months. “Blood, sweat and tears!” The raunchy collection is dedicated to the 400 year anniversary of the first African slaves landing in America.

One of the designer’s favourite models Howey Ejegi closed the men’s show to yet more thunderous applause. The crowd went even wilder! Mary Martin Men, both on and off the catwalk, is brave, bold, brilliantly conceived. It somehow simultaneously captures movement and silhouette, definition and intangibility, light and shade. Just as she revolutionised the couture dress, so Mary has produced a collection that celebrates the male form through novel and exciting reinventions. The interplay is very very sexy.

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Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Tshiyoyo Muata of the Bakwa Indu People of the Luba Empire Kasaï Democratic Republic of Congo + Lavender’s Blue

Remember Us This Way

In the midst of the boldness and brilliance that is Africa Fashion Week London, Her Royal Highness Queen Diambi arrives peak afternoon with Her Royal Entourage. The African Queen graciously shares her wisdom: “It’s a beautiful day to be alive, to be in London. So I am a female king. I want to give the people of the world the type of entrepreneurship and creativity we have in Africa. The image of the woman in Africa has for too long been dictated by the western idea of beauty. We went into a path copying France and Italy thinking it is only acceptable to wear a suit to a business meeting. But we are very colourful. The time has come – we can be unapologetically African!”

Africa is really the most ancient continent in the world, the start of civilisation and that includes fashion. Mathematics started in Africa. The fundamental principles of all types of science – architecture, urbanism – have their source in Africa. Check out the pyramids – they’re still standing! Africa is still to be discovered in so many ways. The world is playing catchup with Africa. We don’t have to play catchup – we can take the lead!”

“Today is a great time to be alive. A day of assessment. Now is the time to go back in time, to reclaim our wisdom throughout the centuries. To reclaim where we belong. To determine our own path. To redefine the parameter of our own development and prosperity. Our African image is of great value in terms of a development asset. If we are proud of who we are, wear our motifs and not fit in with the mainframe, then we can also sustain the fashion economy – we can make our own business prosperity.”

“If we are not promoting our own who are we promoting? How we look is a political choice. Experience is something they can never take away from you. They can take your things but not your history. We have to lead by example. We are really one African family – we have an obligation to tear those walls down. We have to start tearing the barriers down.”

“All these things and the fashion bring us together. We are all coming from the same home – my European brothers are not so far from Africa. Africans are not just dark skinned. Africa is the motherland for every being. Look after your mother to be blessed! We are one global economy – we need to be our brothers’ keepers to make it. Together we thrive. I am because you are.” And with that said, the drum rolls and Her Royal Highness Queen Diambi departs into the deep night with Her Royal Entourage.

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The Grange Estate + Festival Hampshire

Cono Sur  

It is one of the greatest flowerings of Greek Revival architecture in Europe. Yet it wasn’t purpose built: it’s a radical remodelling of an earlier building. This is the story of how a Restoration house in rural Hampshire became a Greek temple (make that two Greek temples: minor and major) and after a few additions and a few subtractions became a theatre and a theatrical backdrop for an opera festival.

“My father bought the estate in 1964,” recalls the Honourable Mark Baring on a private tour of the house (it’s not normally open to the public) accompanied by The Grange Festival’s Chief Operations Officer Michael Moody. “The Grange was out of Baring family ownership for 30 years. As a six year old I remember rooms with huge great pillars and bits of plaster in some disrepair. My father had a sale of contents which included the fireplaces. The stairs were sold and curiously they came back! My great grandfather had sold all the pictures.” In 1975 English Heritage took over the grey elephant that is The Grange. Mark has managed The Grange Estate, which his family own, since 2014.

He relates, “My father the 7th Baron Ashburton bought back the house and park for £157,000. That was for 660 acres and a crumbling house. Big houses were impossible to live in then under taxation rules. The house now gives so much to the feel of the opera!” Michael agrees: “It’s all about the setting in the landscape.” The inaugural opera festival was held on the estate in 1998. Four years later the orangery cum picture gallery (minor Greek temple) was opened as a theatre. Studio E were the architects for the conversion. The conservation architect was John Redmill who cleverly advised reinstating the Robert Smirke façade. “This reconnects the two temples,” John explains, “and acts as a screen to hide the modern building behind.”

When Mark’s ancestor Alexander Baring bought the estate in 1817 he commissioned Robert Smirke to add a single storey west wing and Charles Robert Cockerell to terminate the wing with a conservatory cum dining room (which would later become the orangery cum picture gallery). Robert was a pupil of George Dance and a leading light in the Greek Revival craze. His younger brother Sydney, also an architect, designed several Italianate villas stuccoed to the nines in Kensington Palace Gardens, London.

The main block of The Grange (major Greek temple) – is the work of architect William Wilkins. In 1804 then owner Henry Drummond appointed the trailblazing Greek Revivalist to transform his Restoration house into a Greek temple. The Doric portico (which swallows up the entire east elevation) is based on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. Michael explains, “This drastic transformation resulted in some windowless rooms!” The introduction of a high entablature meant the servants’ quarters in the attic lost their dormers. Form didn’t always follow function. Henry Drummond wasn’t impressed and sold up.

“The 1664 house was designed by William Samwell, one of Charles II’s three Court architects, for Sir Robert Henley,” says Michael. “It was all about very clever maths. The double height entrance hall was like the hall in the Queen’s House, Greenwich. It was a 27 foot cube. The bedrooms on either side were 18 feet square. The corner closets were nine feet square.” A Running Times Master Sheet is pinned to the wall of the basement kitchen cum dressing room, the last room on the private tour:

  • Le Nozze di Figaro Run Times
  • Monday to Saturday
  • 17.30 – Curtain Up Part One (1 hour 37 minutes)
  • 19.07 – Curtain Down Part One
  • Interval (1 hour 40 minutes)
  • 20.47 – Curtain Up Part Two (1 hour 37 minutes)
  • 10.24 – Curtain Down Part Two

  • Sunday
  • 17.00 – Curtain Up Part One (1 hour 37 minutes)
  • 18.37 – Curtain Down Part One
  • Interval (1 hour 40 minutes)
  • 20.17 – Curtain Up Part Two (1 hour 14 minutes)
  • 21.31 – Curtain Down Part Two

  • Falstaff Run Times
  • Monday to Saturday
  • 17.30 – Curtain Up Part One (1 hour 15 minutes)
  • 18.45 – Curtain Down Part One
  • Interval (1 hour 40 minutes)
  • 20.25 – Curtain Up Part Two (42 minutes)
  • 21.07 – Curtain Down Part Two

  • Sunday
  • 17.00 – Curtain Up Part One (1 hour 15 minutes)
  • 18.15 – Curtain Down Part One
  • Interval (1 hour 40 minutes)
  • 19.55 – Curtain Up Part Two (42 minutes)
  • 20.37 – Curtain Down Part Two

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Mary Martin London + Mary Martin Men


Mary Martin London Graduation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My God is my foundation in whom I serve,” declares fashion designer Mary Martin. And what God given talent she possesses – in reams! Electrifying the catwalks, flooding the fashion spreads and raining down pure glamour on clients in recent years with her haute couture dresses, all that’s left is one small step for a woman, one giant leap for mankind. Yes, the long awaited much anticipated greatly hoped for men’s collection. Tah dah! Mary Martin Men is finally launching! And you saw copyrighted glimpses of it here first. The official landing will be at Africa Fashion Week London.

Mary Martin London Best Fashion Designer Award © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

But first, it’s the Saturday morning Vernissage. Not your ordinary time for a Private View but this is no ordinary designer. The venue? Screw art galleries. Stuff museums. Why it’s Mary’s Victorian townhouse cum fashion house cum studio. A framed music award on the staircase winks at Mary’s past: she was a successful pop music manager. Rhythm is a dancer in the blood. Her brother is Technotronic’s MC Eric of ‘Pump Up the Jam’ fame. There are plenty more awards in the drawing room. More of them later. Lot’s more. A quick peak into the first floor kitchen confirms this is no ordinary house: check out the maquette mannequins and metallic cupboards.

Mary Martin London Queen Aidia Fabric © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Onwards and upwards to the top floor. Music is blasting, models are changing, agents are calling, photographers are facetiming, and somewhere in the midst of the mayhem Mary emerges, looking sublime and very summery in a wrap dress. The mercury has surpassed 30. Aidia, the Swiss top model and a Mary Martin London favourite, is on her way. The final fittings are next week. Like, hours away.

Mary Martin Men Screen Print © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Time for the big reveal. The inaugural collection of Mary Martin Men commemorates the quadricentary of the first African slaves arriving in America. ‘Slaves in the Woods’ is her principle pattern. She has screen printed it onto vintage silk which itself has an Ancient Egyptian pattern. “Egypt was where it all began,” observes Mary. The joker pattern is used for lining. “I may be the Queen of the Catwalk,” she nods, ”but I like to have a laugh!” Another pattern she uses in the collection is ‘Mary Scissorhands’ featuring female heads as scissor handles.

Mary Martin Men Bomber Jacket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mary Martin Men Jacket Detail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mary Martin Men Haarlem Trousers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mary Martin Men Fabric © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mary Martin Men Coat Pocket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“It’s all about original ideas,” says Mary, “nothing old fashioned. I’ve taken the Haarlem trousers to another level!” The legging material around the thigh emphasises the male form. The fly is on the outside. “This is the new 2019 fly – on – the – side! It’s amazing!” A man bag in the detachable outsized coat collar is one of many other innovations. Injecting yet more urban chic into the collection is a retro bomber jacket. No show is complete without a Mary Martin London statement dress. Mary goes for it: “The lady is going to look naked! My Slaves in the Woods print will be on a body stocking looking like a tattoo! I’m going to do her hair like Medusa. I’m using my signature fluffy tulle to give her a surreal Afro! I see the visuals in my head. I dream I’m making the freedom woman!”

Mary Martin Men Mary Scissorhands Pattern © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

As always, Mary’s fashion is imbued with multiple meanings and enriched with multilayering. Take the dominant colours (or rather one colour and one lack of colour) of the collection. Mary relates, “I focussed on the art of design and print… it’s a very natural feeling. I researched the Himba Tribe in Namibia. I discovered a lot of orange face paint and hair mud. It was very exciting! Orange is for the vibrance of earth and black is for the unseen missing elements.” Later she will comment, “Orange represents the sun, the happiness outside.” It’s official. Orange and black are the new black.

Mary Martin Men Pattern © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Remember those awards in the drawing room? Well, what hasn’t Mary won? Numerous International Achievers Awards (Best Female Designer; Fashion Icon 2018, International Achiever 2017, Innovator of the Year 2016), two Fabulous Magazine Outstanding Contributions to Fashion Awards, Cancel Cancer Africa Recognition Award, Inspirational Fashion Couture Special Award 2018, Mercedes Benz African Fashion Festival Best Designer 2015 and Miss Jamaica UK Best Dress 2013. Her most recent prize recognises her growing worldwide status: Scotland’s International Awards Best Fashion Designer 2019.

Mary Martin Men Jacket Pocket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“It’s been a whirlwind year!” exclaims Mary. “You should always have challenges in life!” As well as launching her first ever men’s collection, she graduated from the University of East London with a Fashion and Textiles BA. “Draw how you can draw,” advised her lecturer Emma Ceary adding, “you have a natural talent!” Another lecturer, Lesley Robertson, told her “I’m really proud of you and all of your achievements.” Dr Sian-Kate Mooney of the University said, “It was an honour to teach you Mary. You have worked hard and listened and learned and have given yourself the gift of knowledge.” Mary danced her way across the stage at the graduation ceremony.

Mary Martin Men Egyptian Silk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“And that’s the show and that’s my excitement! Thank you Jesus!” praises Mary. She knows those who look to him are radiant. And really, radiance is key to Mary Martin Men. It’s a sumptuously rich collection. There’s more. Things have come full circle. These days Mary may be “styling high class singers” but she herself is the subject of an Afrobeats hit by Déjà Vu.

Mary Martin Men Collar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Pullman Dining Car + Great Western Railway


In another of life’s satisfyingly alliterative moments, we’re punch happy on the Pullman from Paddington to Penzance. Great Western Railway calls it “one of Britain’s best kept secrets”. This is the West Country’s very own Orient Express. Starched linen, silver service, tarted up, it’s quite simply the only way to travel to Cornwall in style. Our dinner arrives – drinks in Didcot, mains past Minehead, puddings through Plymouth:

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake Great Western Railway Pullman Carriage © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Wigmore Hall London + Marilynne Robinson + Falmouth Cornwall

Soulmates | Gyllyngvase

World class musicians violinist Lana Trotovšek and pianist Maria Canyigueral set the Wigmore Hall alight on Monday night. Such stunningly contained performances. Their recital opened and closed with Beethoven sonatas. A staggering volume of stamina was required to launch into Prokofiev’s demanding Violin Sonata Number 1 in F Minor Opus 80 straight after smashing the rediscovered work Intermezzo Romantique by the 20th century Slovenian composer Lucijan Marija Škerjanc. While Maria is Spanish Catalan, Lana was born in Slovenia but is London based. Afterwards she tells us, “Slovenia is beautiful but London is where it’s at!” The much called for encore was the well chosen Second Movement of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata. What a start to the week! Afterwards, the virtuosic pair arrived in the Wigmore restaurant to a standing ovation. Sitting next to us at the supper, Lana explained, “Wigmore Hall allows you to build up your own programme. I chose Prokofiev as a highlight. He’s very theatrical!” Food for the soul. American writer Marilynne Robinson believes: “the mind is what the brain does… Still, it is the soul that appraises what the mind integrates.” Our week concludes in soul stirring Falmouth, inspired by the roaring spirit of the sea.

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St Michael’s Church Creeslough Donegal + Liam McCormick

A Response to Place

Really, it’s the ultimate expression of architecture as sculpture as terrain. The design of St Michael’s Catholic Church in Creeslough, County Donegal, owes as much to its humpbacked Muckish Mountain backdrop as it does to Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp and abstract art. It is one of seven churches in the county designed by Liam McCormick in the second half of the 20th century.

Dr McCormick said in 1978, “I like to go and absorb the characteristics of the site, to steep myself in the quality and the character of the place and pick up some element which will give me a clue for the building.” The rugged landscape was clearly the clue to designing St Michael’s.

In place of the traditional cruciform layout, St Michael’s is an innovative fan shape, physically drawing the congregation together into one democratic space. The architect was particularly adept at capturing light in unexpected ways. Cue an idiosyncratic wall-to-window ratio and relationship. For example, a cluster of small windows filled with stained glass by artist Helen Moloney on the northeast elevation contrasts with great expanses of white rendered wall on the south elevation.

The single storey flat roofed residence next door to the church is surely by Liam McCormick as well. Its simple form and punched window openings, a reinterpretation of the vernacular cottage, would make a good prototype for contemporary dwellings. In the early 21st century MacGabhann Architects are keeping the torch lit | carrying the mantle | upholding the tradition of thoughtful design in County Donegal.

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Doe Castle Donegal + Rory O’Donnell

Adhere | The Fight of the Earl | To Crown It All

The 19th century German traveller Johann Kohl maintained, “Irish ruins generally wear a very picturesque look.” That may bear some truth but if left entirely to nature’s devices, ruins disappear. Professor Finola O’Kane Crimmins, lecturer at University College Dublin, is a specialist in Ireland and the Picturesque. “There is an insouciance in English paintings of ruins,” she believes. “They are often used as framing devices. But ruins in Ireland have always been political in light of the country’s history.”

Doe Castle, sitting on a promontory jutting into Sheephaven Bay, County Donegal, is as picturesque as they come. It looks for all the world like a Scottish Highlands shortbread tin lid. Even more so recently, thanks to the addition of a striking high pitched roof bravely accentuating its silhouette. The roof is one of several daring interventions carried out by the Office of Public Works. Limewashing the keep and constructing new plinth walls are two others.

Doe” is derived from the Gaelic word “Tuath” meaning territory. The castle was for a time the stronghold of the MacSweeney Clan who had three territories stretching from Rosgoill in the east to Gweedore in the west. It is first mentioned in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1544 although the four storey keep is probably older. Naturally it has a history as bloody as a Donegal foreland. “The iterative cycle of land,” observes Professor O’Kane Crimmins. Historian Brian de Breffny wrote in 1977, “For many years the ownership of the castle was fought over and disputed incessantly.” Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, was granted custody of the castle by Royal Warranty for a fleeting three years at the turn of the 17th century.

There’s more. Adopting a portmanteau, Brian de Breffny also wrote, “The Government then compelled the Earl to allow Sir Basil Brooke to occupy Doe and its lands. The Earl of Tyrconnell sailed for the Continent from Lough Swilly in 1607, never to return, and Castledoe was once again in Crown hands.”  Beyond the battlemented and buttressed and buffeted bawn, in sight of the haunted keep, sloping down to the water’s edge, is a well kept graveyard. The tombstone set in a wall of the wife of Captain John Sandford who bought Doe Castle in 1614 reads: “Heere Lyeth the bodie of Anne Sanforde Late Wife Vnto Captain John Sanforde Who Desesed The 13 of Jvly Anno Domeni 1621 For Whose Sake This Chapell was Ercted” [lots of sic].

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Boyeeghter Bay + The Murder Hole Donegal

Where Morning Dawns and Evening Fades

It’s been voted Ireland’s best beach and it also boasts Ireland’s best beach name. The Murder Hole’s alternative name – somewhat less dramatic if more alliterative – is Boyeeghter Bay. It could also easily be Ireland’s remotest beach. Directions from Downings, the nearest town, are: turn left, turn right, left, right, slight left, continue straight, left, stop. Cross a field or two, jump a gate or three, slide down a sand dune, and hey presto! It’s The Murder Hole! Yes! So many hard rocks. So many shallow pools. And the fastest tidal current of the Atlantic. There are only invisible footprints in the sand.

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Downings Pier Rosguill + Mevagh

Shore Thing

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835 record: “The villages of Downings and Doagh are the principal fishing places. Some few persons give themselves up entirely to the trade, not having any land, and send their fish to Letterkenny and Derry on ponies and asses.”

Rosguill, historically known as Mevagh, is one of several peninsulae off the north coast of County Donegal. To its west is the gentle watered Sheephaven Bay; to its east, the rocky waves of Mulroy Bay. The 15 kilometre Atlantic Drive loops round its dramatic coastline. Downings is a low key tourist destination on the western shore of this far flung tip of Ireland.

Again, The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835: “The climate is very moist and changeable, the parish being mountainous and exposed to the vapours from the Atlantic Ocean.”

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