Coucou Loulou Frou Frou
Paris was a dream that autumn, a beautifully drawn dream.
Changing the Narrative
It’s the time of year for females to be out in force. And a few feisty males. Celebrating women in property and construction is what makes Chicks with Bricks tick. The pre Christmas highlight is a fundraiser for The Prince’s Trust held at The Ned, London’s answer to New York’s NoMad or LA’s The Line. All three destinations share the definite article and definitive kudos. The Tapestry Room on the top floor of Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens’ architectural masterpiece is sequinned shoulder to tuxedoed shoulder with the Capital’s finest such as top recruiters KDH Associates Kirsty Hall and Lucie Cox. Cucumber and tofu canapés top up a bubbly reception.
Chicks with Bricks Founder Holly Porter introduces three inspirational preprandial speakers. Award winning interior designer Tala Fustok starts, “Interior design is so much more than pretty trimmings! We enhance people’s lives and experiences. I lived in Paris for six years and gained a huge level of experience. I came back to London and set up my own studio four years ago.” Tala’s projects include The Mandrake Hotel in Fitzrovia and a 26 metre bespoke barge.
The Prince’s Trust is represented by Young Ambassador Sadiya Yasmin. “It’s a wonderful charity,” she begins. “With everything in life you’ve got to have a good foundation. The Prince’s Trust has helped me become the best version of myself. Just to say I’m a caterer. Shout me! Everyone has to eat!” Jo Richardson, newly elected Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Housing, takes the stand. Professor Richardson’s passion for housing stems from working as a volunteer when she was 18 for the homelessness charity New York City Relief. “We cannot live a stable life without a stable home.” Dinner is served:
The postprandial auction led by Charles Hanson of Hanson Auctioneers begins. Wild and wonderful lots are up for grabs. There’s a romantic weekend hideaway with a cookery lesson in The Gardener’s Shed at Mello View in rural Somerset. “It’s the most beautiful place,” says Kirsty. “It’s really special. If you love pigs you’ll love it!” A digital print of Dame Vivienne Westwood by Tideart and an etching Sitting with You by Donald Urquhart are just two of the avant garde artworks stimulating auction fever. Carriages can wait.
The Four Score Nations
Robin Sheppard, Co Founder of Bespoke Hotels, calls it, “A star studded, must attend, essential date in the world’s perpetual calendar.” The ninth World Boutique Hotel Awards takes place, as ever, in Merchant Taylors’ Hall in the City of London. The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors gained its first Royal Charter in 1503 and is one of the 12 Great Livery Companies. It started life as an association of tailors (the Threadneedle Street address is an historic clue). Quite apt too, considering the guests’ fashion on show tonight from black tie to national costume. The world and their partner really are here. The livery hall reads like an architectural encyclopaedia covering the 14th to 20th centuries.
A lavish setting for a lavish gala. It’s a high octane international evening of accolades and industry recognition, of competition and celebration, of flowing wine and fine cuisine. A reception of award winning Tenuta Montemagno Relais and Wines precedes a cocktail party courtesy of “intricately realised” Silent Pool Gin (which turns out to be blackberry and damson gin liquors). Laura Scampini, proprietor of Tenuta Montemagno Resort, comments, “It’s a very nice occasion to be here this evening. Our resort is quiet, calm, very comfortable. We produce our own wine there.” The suspense gains momentum during the three course dinner (globe artichoke of course) before the ceremony truly gets underway.
It’s a serious global operation. Director Schlomo Gabbai explains more: “There are many awards in the world of hospitality. But remarkably the World Boutique Hotel Awards is the only one of its kind that takes the time, care, and in all honesty, pure joy, to visit each and every prospective winner. We don’t judge from afar. We feel the full experience – the rooms, the grounds, the lobbies, the private islands, wilderness tents and castles. We see the attention to detail in every stitch of fabric and every crumb of food. Most importantly, our judges are always moved by the extraordinary people behind each establishment, by the people who pour their hearts and souls into creating timeless memories.” This year there are 300 nominees from 80 countries.
The roll call of honours begins… Fond Doux Plantation and Resort in Soufrière, St Lucia, wins America’s Most Ecofriendly Hotel. It’s owned by Lyton and Eroline Lamontagne. “What I really like is that boutique hotels are niche – they’re all completely different and very personal,” believes Eroline. “They’re about hospitality. We own a plantation hotel in St Lucia. It is the heartbeat of the island. We do our bit for the island. There is nobody like us. It’s a working plantation. You can see how cocoa grows on trees and is then fermented before becoming chocolate.”
Villa Sostaga in Gargano, Italy, is awarded Europe’s Most Stunning View Hotel – it revels in a breathtaking panorama of Lake Garda. Owner Francisco Seresina reports, “It’s a 19th century building my family and I renovated in 2004 and opened the following year. Villa Sostaga is cosy and romantic and most of all has the real taste of a home. My wife and I personally look after it seven days a week. We are surrounded by a 40,000 square metre park. It’s kind of unique!”
Bradley Goian and Antonelli Puglisi are joint General Managers of Wild Retreat which won Most Sustainable Restaurant in the World 2018. “We’re on the far west coast of Vancouver Island,” describes Bradley. “We’re 45 minutes by sea plane. We’re in the middle of the wilderness!” Antonelli adds, “It’s very much like an African safari in the northwest Pacific. There are killer whales, otters and eagles. We run an indigenous detox destination.” One of the 2019 winners is Mestyle Garage Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. It wins Southeast Asia’s Most Inspired Design Hotel. “We have a garage theme of course,” says owner Phatthamon Sangratkanjanasin. She jokes, “My surname is quite long!”
Elisabeth Visoanska, Founder of eco luxury skincare line Visoanska, is a sponsor and judge at the 2019 World Boutique Hotel Awards. She says, “Every winner stands for making their dream come true and each founding story could make the synopsis of a film. It is all about sharing your passions and executing them in the best way forward.” Wanderlust fills the air. Writer Cheryl King hails from Tennessee but now lives in Costa Rica: “South America is all about the food and the people. I want to see it all!” This year’s keynote speaker is CNN travel journalist Maureen O’Hare. Originally from Northern Ireland, Maureen is based at CNN’s London bureau. “Travel is exciting!” she proclaims. “It’s real life but better.” And now, for the overall winner… silence… drum roll… applause on standby… envelope opening… Awarta Nusa Dua Resort and Villas in Bali, Indonesia, is crowned the World’s Best Boutique Hotel 2019. Adieus! Goody bags! Carriages!
Lots of Fun
The first charity ball of the season interlocked the party circuits of London life. After being bagpiped into a drinks reception flowing with Champagne Irroy and Bergerie de la Bastide 2015, Robert Davis MBE, Chairman of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, welcomed guests to The Nine Kings Suite of the Royal Lancaster. There was much to celebrate. The Sir Simon Milton Westminster University College in Pimlico built by Taylor Wimpey Central London is up and running with bursaries funded by the Foundation. The Annual Tea Dance is now a fixture on the calendar for older Westminster citizens. Before the four course dinner began fellow Chairman John Barradell OBE said grace and Major General Matthew Sykes, Chief Executive of the charity, raised a glass to the Loyal Toast.
Entertainment, heard and unheard, carried on through dinner. The Silken Strings, a female electrica strings trio, top conservatoires’ finest (they’ve performed with Sir Elton John, Queen, Rhianna and Take That), looked like models, played like angels and danced like dervishes. A silent auction included Christmas dinner for four at No.50 Cheyne (guide price £300; sold price £500). William Edwards fine bone china (used on the Belmond Orient-Express and at The Queen of Afternoon Teas in Café Royal) was a corporate supporter. The vast room was wall to wall with luminaries such as Lady Lucy French OBE, Executive Member of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, and doyenne of PR Maureen Sutherland Smith. A tribute band, Abba’s Angels, got everyone on their feet. Actor Christopher Biggins compèred the auction, declaring “Some tables here have stronger finances than Greece!”
The Importance of Being
It’s not every coastal town that has a restaurant run by a descendent of the lover of the greatest wit of the 19th century. But Deal in Kent isn’t just another coastal town. It’s chockablock with listed buildings without being chocolate box boring. The upwardly mobile relaunch of The Rose (firmly prefixing gastro to pub) complete with Tracey Emin prints hanging on the walls is simply the latest proof in the pudding (St Émilion chocolate torte tonight) of Deal’s rising status as Battersea-on-Sea. Roast Jerusalem artichokes with shallots and hazelnut dressing provide more memorable menu moments.
On a rainswept late Friday evening, The Black Douglas along Deal’s esplanade is an atmospheric hive of joyful activity. “My name’s pronounced ‘DL’,” says owner Dalziel Douglas. There are a few visual giveaways. One is the sepia soaked photographs of distinguished aristos in court dress – lots of ermine on display. Another couple of clues are Dalziel’s cheekbones to slice Manchego with and her piercing blue eyes. She is of course the great great niece of Lord Alfred Douglas, the dashing poet better known as ‘Bosie’, Oscar Wilde’s amour. “My great great great uncle, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, invented the Queensberry Rules of Boxing!” smiles Dalziel, pointing to one of the photographs. The Douglas clan motto is Jamais Arrière which means ‘Never Behind’. True to form, Dalziel confirms, “We were one of the first places to open in Deal of this nature. We’ve been here for 14 years and it’s given other people confidence to open up similar businesses.”
Just as The Rose and The Black Douglas have weekend dinners down to a tea tee, Deal Pier Kitchen upholds the great British breakfast tradition with a twist or rather lots of vegan twists. Eating the first meal of Saturday to the rhythm and splash of lapping waves is a must. Suspended over the sea at the end of a 1950s concrete pier, the café is in a timber and glass pavilion designed by Níall McLaughlin in 2008. The architect has continued Deal’s centuries old dedication to romantic maritime architecture.
The Munificence and Counsel of Steel Magnolia
Surrounded by a sea of sails, Harbour Hotel itself is tiered like a mega yacht, ship shape, a frozen avalanche of balconies cascading down to the pier. HGP Architects’ expansive use of glass walls and extensive rows of perimeter decks and extravagant square meterage of terraces exploit and expose nautical views to the hilt. The five star Harbour Hotel is the highlight of Ocean Village Marina. Patron Chef Alex Aitken runs The Jetty Restaurant which is on the ground floor of the ‘bow’ of the boat building. Daily catches fill the sea-to-plate menu. Alex’s plaice meunière affirms his mantra “fresh, seasonal and local”. For the more adventurous there’s always Poole Bay Oysters with Black Cow Vodka to sample. The top floor Harbar enjoys the best panorama of pontoons in Southampton. Sea Breeze cocktail, anyone?
Fragrant with Myrrh and Aloes and Cassia and Lavender
Henry Mulholland, 4th Baron Dunleath, may have been referring to musical events but his erudite musings could easily apply to Murlog Church: “Excellence is not an exclusive right of the metropolis, quality is not necessarily governed by quantity and mood need not be dependent on magnificence.” Dedicated to St Patrick, this rural building is the epitome of restraint, of architecture and art pared down to elemental presence. It’s the second – and largest – of acclaimed architect Liam McCormick’s seven County Donegal churches. Two decades of building starting in 1955 produced Milford, Murlog, Desertegney, Burt, Creeslough, Glenties and finally Donoughmore.
Liam’s patron at Murlog was Parish Priest Anthony McFeely, later Bishop of Raphoe. In 1959, prior to commencement of design, they set off on a mini Grand Tour visiting new churches in France, Germany and Switzerland. As a consequence, Ireland’s most northwesterly county was blessed with Continental influenced state of the heart ecclesiastical architecture. Liam described Father McFeely as, “A client who was not just precise about the brief but one who having reacted against the gimmickry in much contemporary Irish church architecture, made a point of going abroad to see the best European churches and assessing their spiritual quality.”
A green apron of gradient slopes down to the site along the road between Lifford and Raphoe. Like all his other Donegal churches (except Burt which is stone faced), Murlog is painted roughcast plaster (once white, now custard cream). A covered entrance walkway links the bell tower to the main body of the church. The architecture has a distinctly Continental appearance, defined by geometry rather than decoration. A stone tower in the car park is all that remains of the Victorian church.
The layout is a variation of the traditional cruciform plan with splayed walls and chevron headed extremities drawing the congregation towards the altar. An octagonal roof lantern lights the crisscross of the nave and transepts. Liam selected six artists to work on the interior. Patrick McElroy, who designed the tabernacle and baptismal font cover, recalls, “He was like the conductor of an orchestra, and you had to fit in with his idea… he certainly wanted original works of art… you got your area where you were to work, and all the artists knew each other… and Liam became a great friend to us all. He was a great man for having a night out!” Patrick Pollen created the largest expanse of stained glass in any Liam McCormick church. The windows are chevron headed, reflecting the floor plan. Stripped of sensuous frills and casual thrills, the architecture and art work together towards a sacred Gesamtkunstwerk.
Talks and Walks
It’s the most deliciously distinguished date of distinction on London’s August calendar – the Capital’s not-so-quiet summer month. The largest annual African fashion event in Europe. Yes, for one weekend Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden plays architectural host to catwalk shows and exhibitions complemented by an African souk and food village. Welcome to the Grand Temple of African Style! A new addition this year is the Business Fashion Forum powered by EPG Media. Insightful talks and informative panel discussions feature guest speakers from the Mayor of London’s Office, Department of Trade UK and the V+A Museum not forgetting British perfume sensation Azzi Glasser.
Princess Ronke Ademiluyi is the esteemed founder and owner of Africa Fashion Week London and Nigeria. Known informally as “Rukkies”, she is a London trained lawyer. So how did she gracefully make the transition from Suits (law) to suits (fashion)? Her Royal Highness: “When I was in the university whatever I wore to school used to get a lot of compliments. At some point I thought why not make a business out of it? I often bought stuff for some of my fellow students, dressed them up and styled them. That is how the whole fashion thing came about.”
Both London and Nigeria have been absolute runaway successes. Princess Ronke reveals, “Africa Fashion Week Nigeria has by the grace of God become the biggest driver in Nigeria for emerging brands. The London event is very mainstream in the sense we have a lot of mainstream media, fashion buyers and organisations who attend to see the latest coming out of Africa because it involves the 54 African countries. It is still promoting our culture as well because our fashion is our culture – it translates our cultural identity.”
Joseph Farodoye, CEO of EPG Media announces, “This is a moment in history. We are an amazing bunch of people – beautiful, resilient! My mother says, ‘If you know better do better!’ Africa Fashion Week London has celebrated over 900 designers. When Ronke set it up it was for aspiring designers who are now established designers. “It’s now the largest and longest running culturally diverse fashion and trade exhibition in Europe. Let’s begin to change the narrative of the landscape – we are a vibrant people!” There’s liquid refreshment too seeping through all this glamour: Amarula. This drink is made from the Marula fruit of Sub Equatorial Africa. The Marula spirit is distilled and aged in French oak for two years then blended with a velvety cream to create the smooth taste of Amarula. Yesterday’s dream.
South African fashion designer Vanessa Gounden believes in merging creativity and business to be sustainable. “My husband and I are activists involved in the liberation. I’ve always had a passion for fashion!” she exclaims. “What is my actual USP? It’s an activist expression of wearable art – the very essence of how we can be more feminine and responsible. I’ve created an integrated atelier proud of ‘Made in South Africa’ goods that can compete in the international luxury market.” Vanessa Gounden is now open in Soho London’s Ham Yard Village. Today’s fashion; tomorrow’s vintage.
Elisabeth Murray, Curator of Modern Fashion at the V+A, says the museum is “an amazing resource for designers and makers”, adding, “there are around 80,000 fashion and textiles objects”. Janet Browne, Senior Producer of Audience Development at the V+A Learning Academy, predominantly works with black audiences at the museum. Her aim is to “celebrate difference and tell the difference through narratives in the collections”. There are around 4,500 objects from Africa and its diaspora. Janet confides, “My favourite is the bust of a black youth made in the 18th century which stands proudly in the Europe Gallery. He has no collar so he wasn’t enslaved. We believe he was probably a gondolier who worked for himself in Italy. The bust is made of marble with glass buttons. I love him!”
Africa Fashion Week London is packed with other fashionable dignitaries taking part. To name just a few: Her Royal Highness Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Tshiyoyo Muata of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi, First Lady of Ekiti State, Nigeria; and Her Excellency Mrs Olufolake Abdulrazaq, First Lady of Kwara State, Nigeria. August isn’t August isn’t august without Africa Fashion Week London. And Christmas isn’t complete without Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. As for the First Lady of Fashion, Mary Martin, after triumphantly showcasing her premier menswear collection at Africa Fashion Week London she’s flying off to present the highlights of her show at Africa Fashion and Cultural Week, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
A Sense of Theatre
A private paradise. A secret world. A hidden kingdom. Cloistered glory. The very essence of exclusivity. If luxury could be bottled… heavenly scent. A multiple epiphanic realisation of complete beauty and tranquillity. Not even a Gallic Frances Hodgson Burnett could dream up the discreet walled splendour of La Divine Comédie. Although Colette comes pretty close in Gigi: “Such a beautiful garden… such a beautiful garden.” Its only outward expression, an enigmatic public face, is an ivied arched wooden gate at the end of a laneway off Rue Sainte Catherine or is it Rue des Bains or Rue Saluces? Such is the labyrinth that is old town Avignon. Corrugations of sunshine ripple across the lawn and climb over a card table. Gigi again, “What about a game of piquet?”
“We called it La Divine Comédie after the many theatrical connections of Avignon,” explains co owner Amaury de Villoutreys, a former financier. There are two theatres – Théâtre Golovine and Théâtre du Chêne Noir – within Galilean binoculars view of the house. A diorama of a stage in the dining room reinforces the theme. Distinguished architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell reckons, “As Chaucer is to English, so Dante is the father of spoken Italian. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, referenced Dante when he quipped there is a ‘special place in hell’ for certain politicians.” This could well be the beginning of always.
Five guest suites breathe and stretch and spread and sprawl across three uncrowded bedroom floors, louvred shutters flung open to the birds tweeting leaves rustling church bells peeling. The Cat by Colette, “Above the withered stump draped with climbing plants, a flight of bees over the ivy flowers gave out a solemn cymbal note, the identical note of so many summers.” Last used as a school, the stone house – dating from the 18th and 19th centuries – is so tall yet not as tall as its smothering of ancient plane trees. Remnants of the 14th century palace of Cardinal Amédée de Saluces, ghostly tracery of the past, are imprinted on the garden wall. A 15 metre swimming pool lies hidden behind dense bamboo woodland. The perfumed aroma of musk and civet intensifies with the heat of a lost summer afternoon. Piquet time.
La Divine Comédie is the outcome of a revelatory seven year conversion and restoration programme. The interiors radiate confident good taste: the other co owner Gilles Jauffret is a leading decorator. Antique pieces, vintage finds and contemporary artworks are mixed with bravura under rococo’d ceilings. There’s an elephant in the (sitting) room. Pictures in the staircase hall are hung as close as stamps in the style beloved by Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors. Light selectively permeates the spaces through internal French doors and rooflights. The Cat once more: “The zone of shadow… the zone of shadow…” Persian siblings Gaston and Simone curl playfully on matching grey chairs. Thédule the Weinheimer blends in with the suede cover of a garden seat while alfresco quail’s eggs breakfast is served. Such pedigree.
Like the writer Susan Sontag, we choose to view the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. And nowhere more so than in the City of the Popes amidst the swags and swagger of such forceful architecture. A busker with a cat plays an organ in Place de l’Horloge. “Look,” the busker says pointing to the cat’s bed under the organ, “he lies on an iced blanket to keep him cool in the heat. I have 29 cats altogether.”