Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Friday, October 3, 2014

News, Shoes, Dior and More...







PARIS: A WORK IN PROGRESS

As mentioned briefly in previous posts (ever so briefly, for fear of boring people), I've been busy writing and designing the next Paris book, due to to be published by my lovely publishers MUP in April 2015. My apologies if you've emailed and I've not replied: the book is now behind deadline and that's never professional, so it's become a priority. But it's coming along – albeit in fits and starts – and all remaining emails will be returned this weekend!

If you've thought about writing your own book, be it on Paris or another subject, I'll do a post on pitching ideas and designing mock-ups next week. You do have a better chance with a publisher if you can do a 10-page mock-up: publishers – like most people in this Instagram age – now think in images.

Publishers are inundated with proposals, but there are ways around the fray!


GLORIOUS DIOR

For those who love both books and Dioresque glamour and grandeur, a new title by the New York-based Pointed Leaf Press offers wonderful insights into this legendary French fashion house.

Monsieur Dior: Once Upon A Time is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into the ten years Christian Dior ran his esteemed label, and includes some beautiful images of both his designs and the models (mannequins) and society names who paraded them.

Author Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni interviewed dozens of people who had a direct relationship with the designer such as Olivia de Havilland, John Fairchild, Pierre Cardin, and many others, including his vendeuses, clients, models, and muses. 

It's a lovely look at the flip side of the fashion business.

Published by Pointed Leaf Press in October.


CUSTOMISED FERRAGAMOS

There has been much talk in the media lately about shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo's latest offering to its clients – customised designs. The Ferragamo heel, particularly the Vara (shown), has been a staple in many stylish wardrobes for years, but the designs can sometimes feel a little... dowagerish. Well, now you can 'Amal' them up a little with your own personalised take on the classic lines. 

Stripes... polka dots... juxtaposing tones. Ferragamo doesn't mind. They'll even do a little plaque with your initials on the sole. 

The service is now available in the Sydney boutique and many other stores.
It's a great idea if you want your own unique design – or create something special for a wedding or another event.


THE FRENCH RIBBON

Pointed Leaf Press has also brought out a new book that fabric and passementarie fans will love. It's called The French Ribbon and it celebrates France’s deep-rooted tradition of ribbon-making from the time when ribbons were used to express individuality and style in both dress and everyday life. 

There are ribbons made from cotton, silk, satin and velvet, as well as metallic threads and other materials. It's an unusual subject to produce a book about, but with increasing numbers of fabric, textile, and fashion lovers out there, it's certain to be popular. 

Published October 2014.


LUXE AND LONELY PLANET'S PUBLISHER

Do you use Luxe Guides? I do. They're easy enough to slip into your handbag and read on the plane. The copy can be catty –  some narratives sound like they're written by a funny gay friend after a G&T or three – and some of the places are a bit too cool and edgy (cool doesn't always = the best), but their researchers are pretty much on the ball when it comes to knowing their destinations.

Well, former Lonely Planet publisher Simon Westcott has recently bought the company from founder Grant Thatcher (who's since retired to England), and the former has plans for digital expansion. Westcott was involved with Mr and Mrs Smith (another stylish guidebook company), but bowed out when he bought Luxe. Will be interesting to see where the brand goes, digitally speaking...

The problem with guidebooks is finding one you like. I find Luxe's font is slightly too small to read. Some friends use marked-up Google Maps; others rely on crowd sourcing (Trip Advisor, etc). I like the tips in the Financial Review newspaper,  The Australian, Conde Nast's Traveler or New York Times' T magazine, but the best bet is to find someone whose aesthetic you like and mine them for info. (I have a couple of lovely friends who travel a lot and are generous with their insights.) Frommer's was also good before Google all-but-destroyed it, while foreign correspondents and well-travelled friends like to call on Bradt's.


AMAN AND LOUIS VUITTON

Finally, the LVMH Group, which owns Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Guerlain, Bulgari and many more high-end fashion companies, is reportedly looking to purchase Amanresorts International. 

Widely regarded as having some of the world's most beautiful hotels (George and Amal were married at Aman Canal Grande Venice), Aman properties have always been noted for their architecture (Ed Tuttle's designs have their own followers) as much as their prices ($1000/n). LVMH has only just started expanding into the hotel market with two small properties, but this acquisition would push them into the big time. It makes you wonder if LVMH will subtly decorate the Aman interiors with their own products? Vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunks in the luxury safari tents? Guerlain fragrances offered in gift shops? 

Could be LVMH's idea of cross-pollinisation...?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Remembering Deborah Mitford...


Those who love literature – and literary families – will be greatly saddened to hear of the death of Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (also known as Deborah Mitford), who passed away on Wednesday morning, aged 94.

The youngest daughter of the Mitford siblings – arguably the defining family of their time – Deborah may have, in her early years, been overshadowed by a highly creative, highly productive and sometimes highly eccentric clan, but in the end she made her life her own. And in doing so, perhaps became the most impressive Mitford of all.


Deborah Devonshire's métier was managing Chatsworth, the family home of her husband Andrew, the Duke of Devonshire, and one of the largest private estates in England. They moved to Chatsworth in 1959, after Andrew inherited it and half a dozen other Devonshire-owned estates, including Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Compton Place in Sussex, Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. (Before they moved into Chatsworth, Debo would often quip as they drove past: "Oh, look at that lovely house, I wonder who lives there?" To which Andrew would reply, "Oh, do shut up!"). 

It may have seemed idyllic but the task before them was enormous. For a start, the house had 175 rooms, 17 staircases and 3,426 feet of passage, and much of it required renovating. To make things worse, the couple was already saddled with a staggering debt. After Andrew’s father, the 10th Duke, died, the family faced death duties amounting to 80 per cent of the worth of the estate: £4.72 million, with interest to be paid at a rate of £1,000 per day. However, Deborah, who had inherited her mother's business sense went to work. One estate was given to the National Trust, thousands of acres were sold, and many books and works of art auctioned off. The final debt was finally cleared in 1974. 

Deborah always credited her mother for her frugality. Sydney (known by the Mitford girls as 'Muv') had been a meticulous housekeeper who had recorded all the family's expenses in a small book. "My mother’s account books were fascinating," Deborah once confessed in an interview. "She always wrote down every penny spent on household things, every penny. She loved figures and adding up." 

Deborah also revealed that her sister Nancy had not inherited the Frugal Gene. Once, when the siblings were receiving housekeeping lessons, they were given an imaginary budget of £500 a year and asked to budget for heating, food and so on. Nancy wrote, 'Flowers £499. Everything else £1.’


Deborah's money-saving ways even extended to clothes. She loved fashion and photo shoots often featured gowns by Oscar de la Renta (the perwinkle blue one on the above cover is by Oscar de la Renta) and Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquirè. However, when it came to day-to-day gear, she preferred hardy garments bought from agricultural stores. Fancy gardening gear purchased from Harrods and other fine establishments never lasted, she claimed – and always cost far too much anyway.

After Andrew passed away, she moved out of Chatswoth to make way for her son Peregrine, the 12th Duke, and his family. "I was 85, it was high time to go!" she said, with dignity. Together with her beloved butler Henry, who had been with the Devonshires for more than 50 years, and her personal assistant Helen Marchant, who had been with them for 25 years, Deborah moved into the smaller residence, Edensor House, on the Chatsworth Estate. She also took her beloved chickens, which were so cherished they were featured on the cover of one memoir. (When John F Kennedy visited Chatsworth to pay his respects to his sister's grave – Kathleen Kennedy has been married to the Duke's elder brother – Kennedy's helicopter blew away some of the chickens and Deborah said she never saw them again.)


Last year I wrote to the Dowager Duchess to see if I could interview her for a new book on horticulture, haute couture, and high society. A mutual acquaintance at Heywood Hill bookshop in London (which I often shop at and which the Mitfords own), kindly passed her details on.

(This same acquaintance told me the wonderful story of how Nancy Mitford worked in the bookshop in the 1940s, turning it into a lively social and literary hub for friends and book lovers. Unfortunately, she lacked the sense of her younger sister, and one night forgot to lock up. The next morning she arrived at the bookshop to find people everywhere, chatting, offering recommendations and trying to sell books to each other. The Devonshires were majority shareholders in Heywood Hill until last year, when Andrew's son Peregrine 'Stoker' Cavendish, bought the bookshop outright in order to save it.)

So I wrote a humble letter to Deborah at Edensor House. I'd been told that Elvis (her idol) was the key to  gaining an audience with her and so I mentioned how a lovely friend in California had once dated Elvis when she was young, and relayed a funny story about him – which he no doubt would have approved of, too. The request was a few months too late. Deborah had already become frail and the request was politely declined, although I didn't realise how serious her health was. Her beloved butler Henry had even been allowed to retire. 

I thought of her life, her legacy, all those memorable memoirs – and her energy! It seemed unthinkable that she would ever pass away. 

There are some people in our lives, and in history, that we wish we'd met, even briefly. I would have like to have laughed with Robin Williams (and perhaps given him a shy hug), chatted to Churchill, and shared a stroll through a French garden with Nicole De Vésian. I would have been awed to have been in the same room as Givenchy, and still pay my respects to Hemingway whenever we go to Key West. But for many of us, Deborah Devonshire remains the one person we wished we'd had the opportunity to meet, even for a few minutes. She just seemed like so much fun!

Let's hope the Mitford girls are now happy to be together again, laughing in Heaven.


One of the best books about the Mitfords is Letters Between Six Sisters, featuring 75 years of letters between these witty, humorous siblings. The book was edited by Charlotte Mosley, Debo’s niece, who clearly knows the family better than anyone.

Another great insight into the sisters is The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford's bestselling novel, which was, in her own words, "an exact portrait of my family". Both are still available on Amazon, as are Deborah's books, including The Garden at Chatsworth. {Above images from her books.}

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Beautiful Story of a Lost Garden




I want to tell you a story about a garden. 
It's a good one. You'll like it.

In June, I was visiting some of the rose gardens of southern England when I heard about a garden called Heligan. Or more accurately The Lost Gardens of Heligan {LINK HERE}

Some of you may have heard of this place, just as I had, but I didn't realise the depth of sorrow that's buried in its flower beds. 

Heligan is a garden that lost its soul to the war.


Owned by the Tremayne family for more than 400 years ago, the thousand-acre estate of Heligan in Cornwall was once a garden to rival the greatest in the world. The Tremaynes had fallen in love with horticulture and spent a fortune on sourcing new plants from around the world. 

One after the other, four generations of Treymaynes fell under the garden's spell, and each spent a considerable amount to develop it. Two garden plans from 1777 and 1810 show the development of the Italian Garden, the Rhododendron Garden, the Walled Garden, the Northern Gardens, the Flower Garden, the Lost Valley, even a Melon Yard, among other areas. Prior to the First World War, the family employed 22 gardeners. 

Then, just as Heligan reached the height of its beauty, the war broke out. 

It was August, 1914.


Just before they were all called up, Heligan's gardeners decided to etch their names into the wall of the old outdoor lavatory ("the thunderbox"), with the date – August 1914. 
A month later, they had all gone off to battle. 

Heligan's garden paths were empty; its wheelbarrows still.

The fighting would not be kind to them. 
Of those 22 gardeners, only 6 lived to return to Cornwall. 

Without its extensive horticultural staff, Heligan slowly lapsed into decay. Its owner, John 'Jack’ Tremayne, was so heartbroken by the news of his staff that he turned his family home over to the military and moved to Italy to live out his days. 

“He couldn’t live with the ghosts,” recalled one gardener.


Over the next 50 years, a blanket of bramble and ivy grew over Heligan. The once-beautiful beds and grand allees were claimed by nature and were soon out of sight. Heligan became a sleeping beauty, lost to the world. 

The garden had died alongside its gardeners.


When Jack Tremayne finally passed away, the Heligan estate came under the ownership of a family trust. One of Jack's descendents, John Willis, lived in the area and happened to know a businessman called Tim Smit. John invited Tim to explore this newly inherited property. 

As the sun set over the Cornish coast one gentle evening, they discovered a gate, almost hidden by greenery, and past it, in a corner of a walled garden, the decaying old thunderbox, almost buried under fallen masonry. Drawn to the tiny shed by forces they couldn't explain, they discovered the names of the lost gardeners etched in barely legible pencil, followed by the word 'August 1914'. 

They still don't know what made them look in that particular place.

Moved by the words, John and Tim began to restore Heligan, which had been hidden for almost 50 years. "We were fired by a magnificent obsession to bring these once-glorious gardens back to life," they said. They also wanted to find out more about the gardeners, whose skills had clearly contributed to Heligan's beauty. "We were struck by the idea of all these gardeners going to war."

What they found was that Heligan’s doomed gardeners had taken wildly divergent paths. Charles Ball, a “gentle giant” of a gardener, had enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment and died on the Somme. William Robins Guy, who tended the vegetable garden, had joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and also died, near Lille. Others met their fate in other fields; other devastating ways. 

As they sunk into the mud, their treasured garden was probably the last thing they imagined. Or perhaps it wasn't? Perhaps they thought they were finally going home, to their beloved paradise?


The story of Heligan's gardeners, and of the forgotten, haunting Thunderbox Room, has become so famous that the Imperial War Museum made it a “living memorial”. The building, and the gardens – now restored – have been celebrated and recently commemorated as part of the anniversary of the war. In fitting tribute, Smit and his present-day gardeners have planted a meadow of poppies.

Those who visit Heligan often come away with a sense that its gardeners are still there. Many claim it's haunted; and indeed strange things do happen in the rockery, the melon garden, and the fruit store, as well as the Lost Valley. Heligan's current gardeners believe that the old gardeners are still around, tending to their plants and beds. 

Heligan may have lost most of its gardeners to the war. 
But they ended up returning, after all.


If you'd like to know more about Heligan, buy Tim Smit's fascinating memoir, which details the years he spent restoring Heligan, and also the ghosts he and his gardeners came into contact with. 

It's a beautiful book, albeit unnerving in parts.

It just goes to show gardens do have a soul, after all.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Glamour In Manhattan: Travel Insights




Unlike Paris, New York doesn’t seduce you with its Haussmanian sophistication or its seductive wardrobes and ways. It doesn’t have the history, dignity and grace of London, nor the sunny glamour of Sydney—although it does have its own unique sheen. What it does have is confidence and unending energy, and with that drive and determination New Yorkers have built one of the most thrilling and inspirational destinations in the world. If you're feeling tired, overworked, in need of new direction or creative/business ideas, or just want  a glamour boost, this is the city for you.

Most of the creative professionals I know go to New York several times a year, and not just because they can claim the trip on tax. It's stimulating, reinvigorating, inspiring, and enlivening. 

A week here will turn you into a new person. 


Furthermore, New York is going through enormous aesthetic changes at the moment as New York entrepreneurs revive once-staid neighbourhoods with glamorous new hotels and spectacular new stores.

Three of these rapidly changing neighbourhoods are the Flatiron, the Garment District and the Upper East Side. All three are going through a kind of revival, although the Flatiron is attracting the most attention. Named for its ironic (and much-loved) cheesegrater-style building, this bustling quarter has become the city's new design hub, with gorgeous home stores, edgy hotels, and whimsical boutiques. (Don't miss the Marimekko fabric store, the elegant new J Crew store, which has a mini bookstore, and Rizzoli's stylish new bookstore due to open in spring 2015.) 


Here are a few travel insights to help you discover the most memorable sides of Manhattan.


Oh – and my lovely publishers have said to tell you that if you'd like to buy the new New York in Style book directly from them, they'll give you a 30% discount.  
Just go to www.mup.com.au and enter the promo code NYSTYLE30 on checkout.
'

NEW YORK TOUR

Of course, if you really want to know where the great little fashion museums, design stores, fabric stores, vintage Chanel stores, flea markets, fashion boutiques and fabulous restaurants and bars are, come on our Gardenesque Tour in late April 2015. Numbers are limited to 15 people per tour, and we've already had serious interest from five times that number, so it's likely to fill up quickly.

Alternatively, you could book the New England tour (see previous post), and tack on a few days in New York before or after the New England tour.


WHEN TO GO
My favourite month to experience Manhattan is late April, when the streets burst into blossoms and the park break into bulbs – it always surprises me how many flowers there are here in spring and how a metropolis of skyscrapers can be softened by all those beds of perennials down below. 

{Our Gardenesque tour is scheduled to see New York in April – when the city is at its best.}


WHERE TO STAY

The NoMad was one of the first to inject a modern dose of glamour into the rapidly changing and newly fashionable Flatiron 'hood. Other places, such as the Shake Shack, The Ace and Eataly had already moved in, but The NoMad seemed to pave the way for a whole lot of new high-end retailers and businessman. (Even Rizzoli's new bookstore is moving downtown to the Flatiron quarter.) Service can be a bit off-hand at the NoMad, but the fabulous interiors and furnishings are worth it.

Other new hotel openings schedule for 2014 include: The Archer Hotel, which will pay homage to its Garment District location with a mix of fabrics (6 Times Square; www.archerhotel.com), the Knickerbocker Hotel, which will re-open to show off its glorious, Beaux-Arts architecture, literary links and distinctive mansard roof (142 West 42nd Street; www.theknickerbocker.com), and the new SLS Hotel New York – another newcomer to the NoMad/Flatiron neighbourhood  444 Park Avenue. www.slshotels.com But perhaps the most anticipated newcomer is the luxurious Baccarat Hotel, which opens late 2014. Housed in a 45-storey glass tower opposite the MoMA, it’s the first US Baccarat Hotel and likely to be as shiny and fine as its sister restaurant in Paris. 20 West 53rd Street. www.baccarathotels.com

If you want to fork out for a truly memorable hotel room, book into the F. Scott Fitzgerald Suite at The Plaza. Designed by Oscar-winning costume designer and Baz Luhrmann’s other half, Catherine Martin, this dramatic Art Deco space was inspired by Scott and Zelda, both devoted patrons of The Plaza. The suite features photos of the duo, Scott’s complete works, documentaries and movies, and beautiful coffee-table books that evoke languorous summers on Long Island and New York in the roaring twenties. 768 Fifth Avenue. www.plazany.com


WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

The NoMad's Library Bar (above left) is one of the most beautiful spaces in Manhattan. 
Other must-sees include Balthazar in SoHo (above right), Benoit, Caffe Storico, Harlow, Eleven Madison Park, and The Lion

We'll also be visiting a few secret and extraordinarily beautiful rooftop hideaways with gorgeous views on our Gardenesque Tour. {www.gardenesequetours.com}


WHERE TO SHOP
Quite possibly one of the best sources of vintage Chanel in New York is Jewel Diva, situated within the equally wondrous New York Showplace. It’s a tiny stall, barely bigger than a Chanel earring, but the owner is clearly well connected when it comes to vintage designer jewellery—and clearly informed. You can tell she knows her stuff: the last time I visited she was carrying a lot of vintage Chanel pendant necklaces, which are very ‘in’ at the moment. She also stocks Dior and many other fine French jewellery pieces, some of which date back to the 1920s. Her tagline is ‘From deco to disco, Victorian to modernist, Haskell to Chanel’, which sums it up, really. 40 West 25th Street – but check hours, weekends are often closed.

Other great places to source gorgeous things include Ralph Lauren's Home store (above), where you can find elegant accessories to luxe up your flea-market finds, Anya Hindmarch’s new Upper East Side store (which now offers a bespoke handbag service), the D&D Building (a fabric lover’s mecca), and ABC Carpet and Home (a must for interior design lovers). {All details in New York book}


WHAT TO LOOK UP FOR
New York is mostly a city where you try and get high in order to look down, but here's one place where it pays to look up! A signature feature of the Fifth Avenue skyline, The Pierre's ornate Mansard roof (above, building on left) is an architectural treasure. It was once the most glamorous ballroom in Manhattan—and a place for high society to escape Depression-era New York. The ballroom was shuttered in the early 1970s and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Lost to time, it was regarded by Pierre staff of as a kind of ‘grand attic’ to shove unwanted furniture. It was finally sold in 1988 to Australian heiress Lady Mary Fairfax, who converted it into one of the most opulent private residences in the city. (It included a 3500-square-foot ballroom, a Belgian marble double staircase, a 20-foot-high Palladian windows, a curved 23-foot ceiling and huge terraces overlooking Central Park.) It was later re-listed for US$70 million; at that time the highest price ever for a New York residence. It was such a symbol of wealth that the makers of the film Meet Joe Black cast the penthouse as the residence of Anthony Hopkins’ character. To locate it, look for the French-style Mansard roof on Fifth Avenue. 2 East 61st Street.

Hundreds more New York insights are available in the new book New York in Style out next week, or on our Glamour & Grandeur Tour – 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gardens, Glamour & Getaways of the US East Coast


You know how some places in the world sneak under your skin and into your heart and never really leave? Well, I have a few of those, and particularly in the US. There are some corners of America that are so startlingly beautiful – so unexpectedly beguiling – you can understand why some Americans don't feel the need to travel far.

In fact, when my two kind-hearted but slightly bossy business partners (and fellow tour guides) suggested I needed to do a post on our fantastic US tours in 2015, I was a little reluctant to reveal these travel gems. (It's also only fair to keep some 'secrets' for the tours.) But they persisted. And so I'd like to show you why everyone should visit the US at least once in their lifetime. Even if you're a diehard Francophile, places like New York and Nantucket will seduce you in ways you couldn't have anticipated.

This is my love song to a country I never thought I'd like as much as I do, and now can't bear to leave.  

Oh – and if you're thinking of travelling somewhere next year and don't know where to go or have anybody to go with, come along with us on our Gardenesque Tours. 
Please visit GardenesqueTours.com for more info and some lovely testimonials.


NANTUCKET & MARTHA'S VINEYARD
Nantucket is arguably one of the prettiest villages in the world. It is so perfect, it's like a stage set. You almost can't believe a place can be so sublime.


It's island neighbour Martha's Vineyard is rather fine too, but first let me show you why Nantucket is worth a peek. Put your walking shoes on. We're going for a wander.


The island has one main town (confusingly, both are called Nantucket) and its stunning streetscapes will test your camera card. The place has a timeless feel, with cobblestoned streets and authentic architecture: even the lampposts have a gas-light look when they glow. The island has done a superb job of preserving its past, despite the challenges.


There are dozens of grand Neo-Classical, Greek Revival and Federalist mansions (most still private homes) lining the tiny beach lanes, all built by ships' captains, and all now being bought by people like John Kerry and Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

I heard a great story about a local who owned one of these beautiful mansions. This man received a phone call one morning asking how much he'd sell his house for? Nonplussed, he plucked an unrealistically high figure from the air. "Done!" said the person on the other end and the house was sold.
It turned out to be Google's Eric Schmidt.

I don't know how true the story is, but Eric's wife Wendy bought the local bookshop to save it.
I think that's more impressive than the first story.


Nantucket is the kind of place you can wander (or cycle) for hours. Rose-covered cottages and sandy lanes lead to more hydrangea-filled gardens and dolls-house-cute dwellings – complete with wicker baskets on front doors for postmen to drop mail into. 


The wharf area is lined with gorgeous waterside cottages, some with names like 'Mostly Quiet' or "Almost Happy', while in one street – 'Joy Street' – all the houses are called 'Joyful' or 'Jump for Joy'. Don't you just love the sound of that?

There are also a lot of great bars down on the wharves, which have fantastic views out over the water, and the boats, and that soft sea light.



I've been lucky to have visited both Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard four times now for work, and have befriended a few gorgeous people – one of whom is a wonderful designer who's going to show our tour group around. She's Hilary Clinton and Martha Stewart's favourite milliner. 

This is her studio, above, which her son now manages. Gorgeous, non?


 There's a gentle rhythm to Nantucket; a lovely, languid island feel to the place.


Sure the boutiques are stylish, but you can tootle about on a bike in flip-flaps and nobody cares.

In fact, despite the huge wealth, it's surprisingly egalitarian. My friend, the designer Gary McBournie, has a house on Nantucket and says his summer parties are a mix of tradesmen and businessmen/politicians, gay and straight, rich and happy. Apparently they're a blast. 


Our tour group has a whole weekend on Nantucket, staying at this beautiful new hotel with a side trip to Martha's Vineyard. 

They're going to love it. 



If you think Nantucket is lovely, wait until you see Martha's Vineyard. 

Larger and with more villages to explore, it has a different 'feel' – it's less intimate than its neighbour and harder to get around, but full of contrasts. 

Edgartown is full of black-and-white houses that will make an architecture lover gasp.



The island's beach houses, meanwhile, will make you mute. 

This one was one I photographed for a book on beach houses. 
Such a treat to see inside, but you can gain just as much from the beach. 

I actually preferred the colourful cottages of Oak Bluff. But people are allowed to make up their own mind. I suspect our tour is going to have a great time...


NEW ENGLAND

New England as a whole is homespun America: authentic, mostly untouched in its landscapes, and utterly beguiling in its simplicity. At first glance, the poise and lack of pretension is refreshing. It's the original beauty queen; the America of lobster bakes and red buoys and rosy lighthouses; of postcard harbours and charming hotels with sailboats bobbing out front. It's dignified, and understated. Vegas is a long, long way away. 



Perhaps my favourite parts of New England are the gardens. 
They're worth flying across the world for. Honestly.



Legendary New York designer Bunny Williams, who opens her garden for charity every year (our tour group is going), is so ambitious it's breathtaking. Her head gardener told me she came home from Villandry and announced she wanted to design something similar. So he did.

Just look at her chicken coop, above. 
Wait until you see her pool house. And her garden library.



Many of the owners of the grand mansions and homes in Connecticut kindly open their gardens each year for charity. This was one we visited. The garden was astonishing. 
(Our group will be visiting four just-as-beautiful private gardens.)


New England's villages, particularly those in Litchfield and the Sharon corner, are also charming to the point of ridiculous. 

One village is so famous for its idyllic homes and stylish shops that New Yorkers make the weekend trek just to buy garden gear.


This was my favourite store. 
Look at the beautiful chartreuse colour of the walls. 
It reminds me of Nicole Kidman's controversial Galliano dress at the Oscars one year.


Even the village waterfalls are spectacular.


But there is heartache here too. 

The story of author and heiress Edith Wharton's tragic life will make you pensive, and grateful for your own happiness, health and home, however humble.



If there was one thing she had that brought her joy, it was her enormous garden. 
In fact, I think Edith Wharton was a better gardener than a writer. 

Before she left the US and fled to the French Riviera, she created a haven of formality and grace in this corner of Massachusetts. Her mansion is serenely elegant and full of delicate colours (and alarming ghost stories), but it's her garden where the magic really happens. 
(This is on the tour too.)




Two other unmissable places in this corner of the US are Trade Secrets and Brimfield. 

The former is a gardening fair, a horticultural hideaway loved by Carolyne Roehm, Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart and more. The latter is an antiques fair – the largest outdoor antiques fair in the world – where stylists from Ralph Lauren and J Crew stores trawl the stands for quirky vintage bits and pieces. Great info is here.

They're difficult to get to, and it pays to have a guide to organise the logistics. But they're fantastic places to pick up unique treasures.

They're on our tours too. Come with us; we'll chauffeur you there.


NEW YORK

And at last we come to one of my all-time favourite places, New York. You haven't seen the world until you've been to New York. 

I adore New York, particularly the flip side of the city, away from the tourists and cliches. This is the 'real' New York you need to see: the secret gardens and the sweet little fashion and design museums; the gorgeous cafes (just Google Caffe Storico), and the glamorous under-the-radar hotels.

New York is a city that, like Melbourne, takes a little while to get to know. Just as you can with some people, you can get the wrong end of the stick here, but don't let the wrong impression put you off. Try again.

 Just as people do, New York will surprise you.


'Rome may be a poem pressed into service as a city,' as Broyard once put it, but New York is an energised, entertaining and stimulating editorial, bashed out with Carrie Bradshaw-style zeal. It's a collection of cliches and exclamation marks that surprised and enlivens you in equal measure. 

If you're looking for inspiration, this town's your place. 

In fact, go over and claim the trip as tax! (R&D) You'll get all sorts of ideas and inspiration here. 


I first saw New York when I was eight: my adventurous schoolteacher parents had taken us around the US for 2 months, but all I remember was getting lost in a Shaker village called 'Intercourse' and arriving in Manhattan. I understood neither, but was thrilled by the names all the same. 

Anything can happen in New York and always does. Once, a town car stopped when he saw me trying to hail a cab. It was one of Martha Stewart's regular drivers. He said she was lovely, and told me stories that made me admire her all the more, despite her faults and failures. Then he told me how he'd recently driven Rod Stewart around, accompanied by two blonde hookers in states of undress. They all wound down the windows and sung 'Forever Young', very loudly, as they drove uptown.

That's New York for you.


New York's going through a huge revival at the moment. The Flatiron Design Quarter has become a buzzing neighbourhood, Bryant Park and the Garment District is being reinvigorated with fabric-focused hotels and great hideaways, and the Upper East Side has found its old glamour, after a few years of being pushed aside in favour of downtown. (The UES is FULL of great houses, architecture, museums, boutiques and gardens. Don't miss it on your visit!)


I'll post some some of my New York places on the blog this weekend, in case you're considering going next year. 


So pop into the blog this weekend. 
We'll get rid of those "little town blues" for you!


www.gardenesquetours.com


(Or buy the new book, which MUP is offering 30% off via their website. 
Go to www.mup.com.au, and enter the promo code  NYSTYLE30  on checkout.)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...