You can see my Steller Story of this post with extra videos here
At the beginning of this year I had a meeting with Professor Tilli Tansey to talk about working on a creative digital project connecting to The History of Modern Biomedicine…I was really excited as I’m fascinated about the connections to be found within science and art and also it’s not your usual Instagram project, so I jumped at the chance.
Tilli Tansey OBE is a Professor of the History of Modern Medical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, and for the last 5 years has been working on a research project funded by The Wellcome Trust, “The Makers of Modern Biomedicine: Testimonies and Legacy”, recording oral testimonies from people who have contributed significantly to modern medical science.
My job was to find a way to illustrate some of these testimonies visually; creating photographic compositions to share on Instagram, here and Steller Stories and create opportunity for more people to access and read about this research particularly at The History of Modern Biomedicine website. Over the next 3 weeks I will be sharing my photographic illustrations as well as a bit of background around them and what stories interested me.
To be honest medical and science-ey things often make me feel a bit uncomfortable as I don’t feel the aesthetics oozing out of them like I do with plants and colour, so I knew the project was going to be a challenge…I fundamentally wanted to create images which draw you into a wider context and which also pull out details which not just science based people could connect to.
I read Volume 50 of ‘ Witnesses to Modern Biomedicine”, An A-Z’, to work out which stories sparked up images, or an interest which may provoke an image.
( You can read it by clicking on this link here and as it’s an A-Z you’ll be able to find the corresponding stories to the images I’ve created really easily ).I can honestly say that the project made my brain work overtime on a creative level, as some of the witness statements cover subject matter that most people don’t encounter, and probably don’t want to encounter, on a daily basis…but it has led me to actively think about science, and particularly the researchers and what they have achieved for the greater good over the last century and specifically over the last 50 years. I have discovered connections with my own artistic processes, Roman history, the benefit of passions, and a dedication to vocational work; all of which have made me a lot more able to engage with health issues which can be difficult sometimes, and at times frightening.
Some of my mother’s best advice to me, and she still says it, is that if you’re scared of something you have to make yourself become fascinated by it; look at it in detail, find the colours in it, understand exactly what it is, and even make a project out of it.
I remember desperately trying to heed that advice during my emergency c-section in Lewisham Hospital; trying to be really interested in what was going on rather than being scared by it…I have to say it wasn’t a massively successful task that night, but it did give me a focus!
So, knowing I have a tendency to be slightly squeamish ( which I wanted to overcome through gaining a more defined interest ) I started with some witness statements which, although quirky, did not freak me out completely and were actually incredibly interesting…
As some of the research has been put into an A-Z of witness statements, one of the first stories I discovered was…
In the 1970s we were looking at the effects of small amounts of alcohol on driving performance – this was before the breathalyser came in – and I set up an experiment around the streets of Cambridge. I was using the dual-task method for measuring peoples’ performance, giving them a subsidiary task to do as they drove around, and I set this up with a local car club. All car clubs met at a pub somewhere in Cambridge and we would go along and the people who volunteered would be there and I would say, ‘While I am telling you what I would like you to do, because we are developing this method of measuring drivers’ performance, would you like a glass of sherry?’ One of my colleagues, by the way, paid for the sherry, not the Medical Research Council, and I was able to do a proper experiment by treating the subjects, some of them to one glass of sherry, and some to two glasses of sherry. Naturally I had to join them, so it didn’t look phoney, and then we went out and ran the experiment. They would show that even after one glass of sherry there are ways of measuring small changes in drivers’ ‘reserve capacity’, as we called it at the time, but it was a bit naughty.
I found it fascinating to learn that research data had been obtained in such an informal way, and it seems that a lot of research over the years was obtained like that, and sometimes these methods got very useful results easily, whilst some of the basic research experiments have definitely been helped by progress…
Booth: The method you used in the early 1950s for measuring the severity of a cold was simply measuring the weight of a number of tissues was it?
Porterfield: Not so much weight as quantities. There were several different markers. How many handkerchiefs they used, whether they were sneezing and coughing; these would be recorded for each volunteer and then at the end of the trial these would be totted up.
Another piece of wise advice my mother always advocated from my late teens was to make sure I always booked that appointment for the thing which makes every woman I know shudder…the cervical smear!
How incredible then that this way of testing has proved so invaluable to women over the years and has become such an important part of identifying early cancerous cells. So it was incredible to learn that when these tests were first offered to women in 1964 there were actually no formal plans of how it should be done and basically every pathologist became responsible. However as the job was so time consuming the pathologists were willing to take on people with basic training, on a trial basis, during which time they were given no office and no desk. Professor Dulcie Coleman ( consultant cytopathologist ) remembers having to set up her microscope on the mantlepiece of the fireplace where she was left to get on with it.
Mrs Marilyn Symonds ( cytologist ) describes below how important the early cytoscreeners were:
To start with, we had people who were formally training to be laboratory technicians and then I think it was probably in the 1970s that we took on a group of women, mainly part-time, who became cytoscreeners. They were different to the people who were qualified with the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS); they didn’t have any formal qualifications, and they were often derided and called shopping-bag screeners, but they were absolutely fantastic at what they did. They were able to sit down quietly and concentrate and look at every cell that was being passed under the microscope, and I can say that that group of women now are nearly all retired, and it’s extremely difficult to replace them. The IBMS now think that we should have biomedical scientists with degrees and formal qualifications in cytology, but I can honestly say that on the whole they are not nearly as good at screening as those women from the 1960s and 1970s.
And so, on to the last witness statement for this week which is one which I found kind of jaw dropping, so much so that I had to Google it ( you can see an interesting wikipedia page about it here )…although by the time I had reached the ‘P’ section I was more interested in the stories than horrified..Placentas ( witness statement below by Professor Alan Emond ALSPAC )
It was common practice, but not widely known, that maternity hospitals used to sell placentas for cosmetics. It was traditionally viewed by the midwives as a bit of a perk, and the money that was gained, I think in most hospitals, went into what was effectively a slush fund for midwives to use. It was only a small amount of money per placenta and I suspect the cosmetic companies made huge profits out of it. The important thing was that most women who delivered didn’t know that that was going to happen, and the hospitals were, in my view, unethical in not telling them. So when ALSPAC came along and wanted to take the placentas away, this was a potential barrier to the midwives’ participation. I’m not sure how we managed it, but we managed to pay 50p per placenta.
Next week I’ll share more images from the field trip I took to Wales, which was inspired by a lot of the Fieldwork and research which took place there.
You can look at the visual Steller Story version of this post with extra images from ’the cutting room floor’ here , my instagram posts here and some of my Pinterest inspiration for the whole project here.
You can also find out more about The Modern Biomedicine Research Group funded by The Wellcome Trust, on their website here , their Facebook page here , their YouTube Channel here and their Twitter account here.
Paper Mistletoe by A Petal Unfolds Hand Cast resin Bangles by Tiki Brighton Veneta…a wonderful Restaurant in St James Market, London
Christmas Lights in Jermyn St, London by Floris Christmas windows at Fortnum and Mason, London Wrist Worms by Sandra Juto
Each year at my Artist’s Open House in Brighton I create an installation in my shed/studio…themes over the years have included Shipwrecks, Pioneer’s Cabin, Nesting, Frozen in Time and the White Shed.
Earlier this year when I was working on the #myStJames project I visited Floris in Jermyn St, London; the oldest perfumers in the country, and I was absolutely fascinated with how a perfumer almost seems to paint with scent. ( you can read an earlier post about it here )
It made me become incredibly preoccupied with scents and memories which is why I decided I wanted to crete a space where people could almost smell their past and to ‘dress’ the shed with a feeling of nostalgia and personal history; something smell and scent gives immediate access to.
When I told Floris what I was going to do they kindly provided me with lots of scent samples which I was then able to subtly place within drawers, boxes, tins, jars and even a couple of handbags and a book; sometimes on their own and sometimes combined with other elements…I was also so chuffed when Susan Beech from A Petal Unfolds agreed to let me include some of her incredible paper flowers and Cable and Cotton gave me extra lights for the ceiling.
Also as a synaesthetic artist I often paint smell ( and taste ) and so also included within the installation some paintings which depict scent. When I was little my mum put a scented sheet of purple paper into a drawer in the spare room…I used to go in on a rainy day just to open it and take in that smell.
I can still recall it; not in a very tangible way, but more like recalling a dream; one of those you never forget…
As an abstract painter I enjoy emotional responses rather than representative, and was completely taken by surprise when I found myself weeping at the scent of ‘Iris’ having emotionally revisited one of the happiest times and places of my life 30 years ago, for a matter of seconds.( the handbag above contains ‘ Madonna of the Almonds’ by Floris as well as a dusting of talc, the small top box contains ‘ 1962’ scent by Floris and the glass jar contains ‘Lily of the Valley’ by Floris )
( the binoculars case below contains Scent ‘No. 127’ by Floris, blended in the 1800’s. It’s one of my favourites because it is like directly smelling history ) ( drawer above contains ‘Palm Springs’ scent by Floris ) ( drawer above contains ‘Cerifo’ scent by Floris ) ( drawer above contains ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ scent by Floris ) ( drawer above contains ‘Honey Oud’ scent by Floris ) ( bag above contains ‘Mahon Leather’ scent by Floris ) ( above is some of my mother’s old cream from the 1970’s and a box with pencil shavings inside ) ( drawer above contains ‘1988’ scent by Floris ) ( lilies and a painting of their scent behind )There are 75 smells in the shed which you can experience in boxes, jars and drawers ( anything containing a smell has a little round sticker on unless it’s a plant ).
You can pick and choose and let the smells take you back to places you’d forgotten or never even thought about.
The identity of the smell itself shouldn’t be important; it’s where it takes you in your memory which should be savoured.
So far people have had some incredible responses and everyone has come out telling me stories of smells from their childhood or past…some of my favorites so far have been:
‘I’ve just smelt a ghost’
‘That smells like an old lady’s chair’
‘Oh my God, that’s the school soap!’
‘I’ve just visited my Grandpa’s front room’
( tin above contains ‘White Rose’ scent by Floris )( incredible hand made paper flowers inside a drawer with the scent of Floris’s ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ from A Petal Unfolds )
I’ve also included some smells which are not so nice…not many, but I wanted people to experience a range, so if you visit, beware of this tin…it contains asafoetida!!There’s nothing quite like opening a drawer or a box which not only has some interesting bits and pieces inside but which also has a specific scent…I have absolutely loved putting this installation together and I think it is only the start of a new phase for me of working artistically with smell!You can visit the Open House and experience The Scented Shed, in Brighton during the last 3 weekends of November 11am – 5pm, and you can follow the accounts @64sandgate on Instagram and Facebook for more details
Deciding where to go on holiday has never been my forté…I research things a bit, usually heavily relying on images, but then I always get a bit overwhelmed, suddenly convinced I don’t have a clue and just want a magic wand to be waved; all decisions made, rooms booked, flights sorted, and then when the time comes to basically be transported in a Star Trek like way to where it is I have to be in order to relax…( and it’s the pressure to relax that usually cripples me after about 3 days into a holiday! )
So this year, I was definitely enticed by some beautiful images that kept popping up of Hotel Monteverdi in Tuscany…I wanted that nature, the hills, the calm interiors…and of course a swimming pool and fantastic food!
We wanted to split the holiday between a short hotel break in the hills and renting the amazing Casa Guidi in Florence ( which you can see here ) and so we decided on Hotel Monteverdi in Castiglioncello del Trinoro and after a straightforward car journey from Florence airport we arrived at the beautiful village. The hotel is basically the entire village with a collection of stunning gardens and rooms, housed in original rustic buildings, overlooking the Val D’Orcia region of Tuscany towards Montepulciano and Siena.
There are loads of wine tasting and foodie type trips which you can go on, with amazing locations, but to be honest all I wanted to do was quietly read a book in a gorgeous garden, and really I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing hotel garden than this…it was personal, not too large, scented, shaded and very quiet… I’ve always been an early morning person; and the breakfasts at Monteverdi really were the best! Before the sun gets too hot, sitting on the terrace with coffee, orange juice, croissants, pecorino cheese, local salamis and perfectly boiled eggs was my idea of breakfast heaven!
I found the best bit of being in the hotel village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro was quietly mooching around and ‘investigating’, ( as my brother and I used to call it ); punctuating reading and dipping into the pool with short walks, listening to cicadas, watching little green lizards disappearing into walls, smelling the lavender, and just looking at everything…at the views, the textures, the colours, the plants. I find it really difficult to actually ‘stop’ and the practice of really seeing and sensing where I am always calms me down…
Although doing nothing was our priority, we did also drive out to Montepulciano, ( and Chiarentana en route where we tasted absolutely amazing olive oils ), as well as Sarteano, the traditional, local town only 10 minutes from the hotel where we also ate some evenings…
But one of the other wonderful things about this hotel is the space…it’s a village after all, and during peak season in Tuscany everywhere was crazy with people, but Casteglioncello del Trinoro isn’t at all…the village is a complete sanctuary from the bustle of Summer tourism… Apart from their fine dining restaurant there is also the lovely Enotica where you can have a quiet bite to eat, a glass of wine, wonderful cakes and ice creams, ( as well as daily wine tastings! )
And… they also have a Spa!
A spa session in the hot, late afternoon was such a treat, and the only time I have ever laid outside in a carved marble bath, water sprinkled with lavender from the gardens, listening to the cicadas…I think that this was probably the peak of my doing nothing and stopping… But it was the Tuscan sunsets which completely blew me away…I have never seen such wonderful purples and pinks descending over hills, every evening…it was absolutely incredible and like some sort of natural magic trick…
And then to be able to sit in the Oreade Resteraunt in the evening watching these sunsets was amazing.
I absolutely loved the restaurant, and the Maître D, Fabio, was brilliant, as was Simone…they were so helpful and always made our meals feel very personal. On our last night, after the amuse bouche, which were like delicate pieces of taste art, we shared such an incredible local steak, carved for us at the table, with locally sourced vegetables. In fact so much of the food is locally sourced including, obviously, wines and even their beers.
I’m usually predominantly a savoury person, but I have to say that the deserts here were some of the best I have ever tasted…it wasn’t just what they were, it was how they were put together; the combinations of tastes and textures, and their chocolate orange desert is something I would now demand as a last rite!
But, as I’ve said before, it was the pottering at Monteverdi which I really loved…the doing of nothing!
( I found an old Siamese cat there too! ) But one of the biggest treats of all was when Costanza, ( who puts together all the beautiful and very natural flower arrangements at the hotel ), brought me a box of hand picked fruit and flowers for me to ‘play’ with…this was the absolute highlight of my stay!
…and you can see what I created with this box on this post here
So at the end of the week, although we were excited about going on to stay in Florence for the last part of our holiday, it was also a bit of a wrench having to leave our Monteverdi sanctuary…
You can have a look at the Steller Story here and more about Hotel Monteverdi here
this is one of my Shelter paintings inspired by my visit to the Calais Jungle…if you feel you can donate something to The Worldwide Tribe, you can via their donating page here, or if you wanted to buy one of these paintings 50% of the proceeds go to The Worldwide Tribe and you can see/buy them here
You can see the Steller Stories app version here
I thought that I’d visit just a few more places for this last blog post, but then each place I visited in St James basically deserved more space than just within a blog post. A blog post would only give a flavour of some of the really fantastic businesses and buildings in the area and I am genuinely so pleased to have been able to discover an alternative part of central London with a very distinct character.
So in this post I will share some of my photos from visits to Paxton & Whitfield, Tricker’s Shoes, The London Library, Dover Street Market, The ICA and Fortnum’s Gallery Restaurant for a lunch, but I have also put up individual stories on the Steller app ( which is brilliant by the way if you don’t already have it ) so you can see an clutch of concentrated images for each place which I’ll put a link to as and when I mention them in this post…Firstly I’ll start with lunch at Fortnum and Mason’s which was really wonderful and rather unique as there was a Northern Irish menu being served. Northern Ireland isn’t a place I immediately consider when I’m eating out, so I used the opportunity to try a Northern Irish eel and bacon salad to start, an Irish rump steak for my main course and then Varlhona chocolate mousse with raspberries as a complete pudding treat. I adore eating out and can’t bear it if the waiting staff don’t seem to want to be there, but we had a really brilliant waitress called Maja who was a complete joy and made the whole experience even more special, especially when she brought me a bag of goodies which included a tin of their Royal Blend tea!
Next up was The London Library which I have to say absolutely exceeded my expectations and now I’m trying to convince myself that gym membership should be forfeited ( and added to! ) for London Library membership!
I was given a tour by Alisdair, ( who was very patient with my photo taking and question asking ) and he explained that the library has always functioned without funding and is run independently utilising memberships, donations and legacies.
The London Library has existed since 1841 and was founded by Thomas Carlyle, and now houses over a million books with over 17 miles of bookstacks, as well as having reading and study rooms ( you can find out more on their website here )
I’ve put together a Steller Story here so you can see all the photos and get a real sense of the atmosphere, which is the element I was really taken with; some parts like The Bookstacks, spread over 4 floors, almost felt like the backstage of a theatre and the steel floored stacks form part of one of the first steel framed buildings in London…and apparently if the books there were taken away, the building would rise 6 inches!
When I was about 6 I was asked at school what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my answer was a librarian; I wanted to stamp books and be very important… however I think I’d overlooked the element of silence which I always found difficult!
The following week I visited 2 places which had been at the top of my list since starting this project…Paxton and Whitfield cheesemongers and Tricker’s Shoes.
Firstly I adore cheese… even though I’ve been trying to cut down over the last few months due to my trousers suddenly not fitting during last summer, and secondly I adore brogues, so these trips were always going to be a treat and they certainly didn’t disappoint.I started at Paxtons, which was great because after the visit, it meant I could have one of their pork pies in St James’ Square for lunch!Paxton and Whitfield was established in 1797 and has been in it’s current spot in Jermyn St since 1896.
I met Hero Hirsh; cheesemonger and manager, who gave me a ‘tour’ of their 150 artisan cheeses, two thirds of which are from the UK and 25% of which are French with others from Spain, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and one cheese from Norway; ‘Geitost’. we drove around Norway for a family holiday when I was 8 and I remember the vast arrays of cheese at breakfast in each hotel. We loved trying all of them, but geitost remained in my taste memory as one of the few cheeses I didn’t like…it was like it had tricked me; it wasn’t a cheese, it was surely fudge, or something sweet anyway, and after nearly 35 years I was offered it again…all the memories came flooding back; the family shock at the discovery there was a cheese we didn’t like, the strange, sweet taste of this boiled whey goat’s cheese and although I still felt exactly the same about the taste, I LOVED the fact that it was in the shop, and that it has apparently been a good seller for years!I also learned that a double Gloucester is ‘double’ because it has a combination of cow’s milk from the morning milking as well as the evening milking. A single would just be from the evening…seems so simple but I’d never really thought about it before… It’s a truly wonderful experience to visit this shop, particularly if you’re into cheese, and I guarantee you won’t leave without a small selection…and maybe even a pork pie in the park!
You can read more about their heritage here on their website and see more of my photos from the visit here on Steller.I then visited Tricker’s, knowing that It was an inevitability that I would be desperate to save up for a pair of their shoes the moment I caught a whiff of a leather brogue. And of course that happened, but I hadn’t anticipated how welcoming Eamon and Clive in the shop would be; making it almost impossible to leave.
Tricker’s was established in 1829 and they have been making shoes in Northampton in the UK ever since. Not only is there evident pride in the shoes themselves but also in the shop in Jermyn Street which has original fittings from 1939; cupboards I can only wish I possessed which would keep a vast collection of handmade, customised or bespoke brogues…what can I say; I LOVED this shop, the shoes ( and the 2 men in the shop! )
You can see more of Tricker’s on their website www.trickers.com and more of my photos here on Steller. So from the very traditional, I was about to venture to the very contemporary, although I couldn’t resit the old traditional Chequers Tavern near Mason’s Yard as well as the gent’s hairdressers to the other side of the yard…
I wanted to visit Dover Street Market…I didn’t know much about it at all, but now I feel like I’ve discovered not only a new tea and cake stop in the midst of exciting, and sometimes strange fashion, but it’s a brilliant place to have a wander around in. It made me feel inspired, just how fashion inspired me when I was in my late teens; discovering Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper in about 1991 ( I was very proud of a pair of white sequined hot pants I bought there… )
You can see the Steller story with a few extra images here
…and what better other contemporary space to visit, just down the road, is the ICA.
Again I was reminded of my late teens/early 20’s when I performed in a devised physical theatre piece at the ICA, but this time I was going to look at typewriters at the launch of Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function; a small exhibition which I loved. There was also an artist’s film biennial happening there that evening and an exhibition by Guan Xiao. I also love the shop there and came away with 2 great books including ‘Badly Repaired Cars’, as well as some1920’s Dada films for my teenage son who’s always up for a bit of surrealism.
I have SO enjoyed discovering the St James area of London and I thoroughly recommend that if you fancy a day in town, make it a day trip there, and allow yourself time to wander around exploring and looking… Take away any thoughts of pressure to buy a hand made cashmere dressing gown, because whether you come home with a couture hat from Lock and Co, a bespoke scent from Floris, a hand cut shirt from Budd’s Shirts, or simply a crystalised tangerine piece from Fortnum and Mason ( and maybe some Stinking Bishop cheese from Paxton & Whitfield ), I guarantee that you’ll feel like you’ve had an experience, rather than just an aimless look into the ordinary high street shops a couple of streets away along with everyone else…this is an area not to be missed and one definitely to be explored!
I was expecting a perfume shop with an old fashioned interior, and maybe some old fashioned perfumes…what I wasn’t expecting was an appointment with their bespoke perfumer and how incredibly affected I would be by their scents; how massive memories came flooding into my head at the mere whiff of Iris and Lily of the Valley and how I felt like I was almost time travelling via my olfactory system…
I am acutely aware of my senses and how important they are having synaesthesia and have been painting my interpretations of sound, taste and smell for a number of years, creating abstract representations of how I see smell in terms of colour, texture and shape ( you can see a post about a recent fragrance project here and some of my flower scent paintings here ) and have realised what a meditation it is to really focus on what a smell is, but when I’m painting I’m focusing on what it all looks like, not how it makes me feel.
And so the reason that my visit to Floris was such an incredible experience was in part due to the fact that for the first time in ages, I was smelling and feeling, rather than just concentrating on what it was, and I really hadn’t anticipated what an emotional experience that would be…
When I arrived I was introduced to Carim who gave me a tour of the shop, whose mahogany fixtures and fittings are all original from the Great Exhibition in 1851, as well as their fragrances… which totally took me by surprise.
One of their classic fragrances is No.127 which was the first bespoke scent ever blended for the Russion Emperor in 1890 ( and which later became a favourite of Winston Churchill and Eva Peron ). Smelling it was like suddenly experiencing time travel; I was smelling what someone had smelt like in 1890 and I found it extroidinary and quite emotional. We can all look at antique clothes, objects and buildings and imagine what life was like in a different age, but to actually smell what part of life was like in Victorian London, felt so alive; almost like smelling a ghost…It was truly wonderful, and since my visit it’s the one scent I can’t stop thinking about and suddenly smelling out of nowhere.
‘Lily of the Valley’ also made me well up…they were my late father’s favourite flowers and just having a smell of this scent made his memory suddenly so present and close by.
Carim also showed me the back of the shop where there is a collection of Floris’s history. Floris was established in 1730 by it’s founder Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth and they began selling perfume, combs and shaving products at 89 Jermyn Street where the shop remains today and which is still the heart of the business and run by their descendants with Edward Bodenham being 9th generation and the ‘nose’ of Floris.
There’s a wonderful display of old perfume bottles, hair combs ( for which they received their first Royal Warrant in 1820 ) photographs and letters from customers including one from Florence Nightingale in 1863.
After my tour around the shop I was taken to the back room where appointments for bespoke fragrances take place where I met perfumer Penny Ellis…
Apart from the sheer magic of the room, I was completely fascinated by the chemistry of the whole process. I loved the combination of musical and visual language which goes into describing smells; base notes and accords. Smell often comes and goes, and I really like the fact that somehow it’s like music in the air, something you have to just be with and quietly acknowledge, but something you can’t hold or touch or see in front of you.
Penny let me smell some of the base notes and I was so surprised at the delicacy of musk and the sweetness of amber. I hadn’t realised that the accords were the complimentary smells which go into blending, what seems to me to be a work of art..I think a bespoke perfumer is really a scent artist, something I hadn’t ever considered before, but something which has really inspired me artistically and something I want to focus on in my painting.
I chatted to Penny about smell and memory; about how when I was 13, I had had a life changing and wonderful experience working at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon for a year, and when the play, ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream ) finished I kept some of the make up we had used and used to go and smell it occasionally to make my happy memory real again which was always a bitter sweet moment. She told me she had a scent, a note, she thought I’d like; Iris…and this was the one which really made me cry: I was suddenly back in 1986 in a dressing room overlooking the River Avon with an overwhelmingly lovely feeling of such an exciting, innocent and fun time, and then almost in the same moment it was too much to bear. Those beautiful moments in my life were suddenly there and yet not there, all at once…it was chemistry, memory and magic all at once, and although it made me cry it was also something I felt comforted by, knowing that I can in fact go back in time, even if it’s just for a tiny moment…
So I can totally understand why bespoke perfumery exists..it is the most wonderful sensory experience ever…
…and these are the Floris ledgers, full of fragrance orders from John Profumo to Lady Olivier.So this week I went back to Floris, as I really wanted to photograph some of the bottles with flowers from my garden as well as extra Lilly of the Valley and sweet peas…
I used one of their earliest fragrances ‘Limes’, first blended in the 1700’s and used by Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War ( who also wore ‘White Rose’ along with Admiral Nelson ).
‘Lily of the Valley’ was also first blended in the 1700’s and ‘Rose Geranium’ in 1890 ( famously worn by Marylin Monroe and Isabella Blow ). ‘Edwardian Bouquet’ is a Floris classic and was blended in 1901 and ‘Fleur’ is one of their more modern fragrances.
They have a little table at the back of the shop which I used to create the images below… As I mentioned before, I feel really artistically inspired by this visit which genuinely caught me by surprise as I had been focused on just taking photographs…sometimes it takes something out of the blue to reconnect things in your brain, and this experience certainly did that…
Floris doesn’t just feel like a shop, it feels more like an immersive experience and the staff are also brilliant and so committed to what a gem of a place they work in… …and I certainly have a new art project in mind and many hours smelling ahead!You can see the Steller Story version here
In this second part of the #mystjames project, I’ve been exploring more of the St James area more and visiting some of the bespoke shops. I’m particularly enjoying having a glimpse into a working history round every corner and seeing the traditional skills which are still thriving in the businesses there.
I love finding new, quiet and beautiful outdoor spaces in London, and over the past month St James’s Square has burst into Spring colour…Last week when I was coming up from Brighton on the train, the weather was so amazing that I knew I had to pay a quick visit to St James’s Park before walking back up to Jermyn Street because the blossom was out…there’s something about the pretty impermanence of blossom; it’s short life, that when you manage to see it on a bright day it feels like a special occassion ( you can see a post purely about blossom here )…The walk I usually take from St James’s Park up to Jermyn Street is past St James’s Palace…across Pall Mall ( I always think of endless games of Monopoly with my brother at this point )……and up into St James’s Street past Boulestin ( as well as the amazing Lock and Co Hatters and Berry Brothers and Rudd )I was visiting Budd Shirt Makers in Piccadilly Arcade. It’s a small shop specialising in shirt making and they are a very traditional business having a small workshop in Andover, as well as a cutting room right above the shop and virtually everything you can buy at Budd has been made in this country; even the socks are made in Leicester…
The Cutting Room is led by Head Cutter John Butcher who has worked at Budd for over 45 years, and there are also cutters Darren Tiernan and James Macauslan who are all on hand to fit bespoke customers and take them through their styling and cloth options…( have a look here at just the collar options!! )
Having a theatre background myself I have always loved theatre Wardrobe Departments; seeing costumes being designed and made is always a piece of magic I love; their workshops always look so creative and alive, and similarly to when I visited Lock and Co last month, I felt like I was taken ‘backstage’ at Budd’s when I was shown upstairs to their cutting room…
I had no idea that knives were used for some of the incredible precision needed to cut shirt fabric…and the shears they use are enormous…some of them are nearly 40cm long!I loved it in the shop and although they don’t make women’s shirts I wanted the pyjamas, the linen night shirts, cashmere dressing gowns…and beautiful pocket squares all with hand rolled edges…They also have a range of silk pocket squares and bow ties designed by Claire Gaudion who uses outdoor landscapes as inspiration which you can see hereThe silk woven ties are a 1960’s classic, made in Italy with colour combinations chosen at Budd, and as a lifelong fan of colour charts and pantone books, it was a joy to see one of their silk shade cards…Budd’s manager Andrew Rowley has bee there for over 35 years and the whole team really couldn’t have made me feel more welcome…A brilliant spot to sit and stop for a sandwich sort of lunch is St James’s Square which looks amazing at this time of year, even on rainy days . It’s beautifully cared for by The St James’ Square Trust and is open open weekdays 10am – 4:30pm and there are SO many tulips there at the moment it’s incredible!
I also always love having a wander around London picking out colours and textures so it’s great for me to explore a new area for hidden details… above, by The Cavendish Hotel Car Park this amazing Bill Mitchell releif mural
below, outside Dover Street Market on the Haymarket On St James’s Street there is a beautiful traditional chemist’s which was established in 1790 called D. R Harris . I love a browse around a chemists but this takes soap, lotions and personal grooming to a whole different level which reminds me of the smells and pleasant places my grandparents used to frequent before the onslaught of Superdrug! They have fantastic collections of all sorts of traditional bits and pieces; shoe horns, beard combs, hairbrushes, razors, shaving brushes…
…they can even make a soap on a rope look and smell good! Their Windsor range was my favourite; it smells so clean and fresh, and basically how I’d like to smell every day after a shower…and their packaging is to die for!
I also visited New and Lingwood in Jermyn Street and when I arrived I was still enthusing about the blossom in the St James’s park…the men in the shop hadn’t seen it, and I suspect wouldn’t have been quite as obsessed with it as I was, but with the blossom in my mind and the most extraordinary array of colours and textures to play with, I decided to focus an arrangement on outdoor blossomy shapes and colours…
New and Lingwood were established in 1865 to serve the scholars of Eton College by Elizabeth New and Samuel Lingwood and in 1922 they bought the shop in Jermyn Street, and although that premises was destroyed during the Blitz, their shop now is just a few doors down from their original one on the entrance to Piccadilly Arcade ( they have 2 shops either side ). I was particularly drawn to their amazingly colourful accessories which have, as they say, an ‘occasional eccentric wink’…Their fabrics are so beautiful and they specialise in silk dressing gowns, ( their Peacock gown was recently worn by Hugh Laurie in ’The Night Manager’… )( Mark Rylance gave me my first opportunity to exhibit my voice paintings at Shakespeare’s Globe, so I loved spotting this gorgeous picture of him and his daughter Juliet amongst the polka dots )There’s also a shoe servicing area and a selection of Poulsen Skone shoes…as well as incredible shoe polishing box…but it was the bright colours and the silks which really appealed to me; they were so vibrant and fresh……and I also loved their pet dog guarding the door! Just behind Jermyn Street is Duke St where there are a lot of art dealers…
( this one was closed when I walked past but liked how the Elizabethan young man had a jacket which matched mine! )I walked down Duke Street and suddenly came across a new exhibition of Emily Young sculpture at Bowman Sculpture, which is absolutely incredible and which I highly recommend…
I studied Classical Civilisation at A-Level and became obsessed for a while with Greek architecture, particularly the caryatids on the Acropolis, and these modern stone carvings have a real sense of those ancient pieces. A sense of being worn down and damaged over time, revealing that the texture of the stone is just as beautiful as the original carving itself…A few weeks ago I had been walking around St Pauls and was really taken with her enormous stone carved Angel heads outside the cathedral, so it was a joy to see some of her powerful work so close up……and we all need a little cup of tea at the end of the day and I discovered that Osprey have a really sweet hide away place hidden at the bottom of their shop!
There is so much more I’m excited to see in St James’s, particularly the ICA and White Cube, the London Library, Paxtons, Berry Brothers and Trickers and which I’ll write about next month, and tomorrow I’ll be putting up a post about my new favourite sensory place; the perfumer’s Floris in Jermyn Street which has suddenly inspired me!
You can see the Steller Story Version here
Visiting Lock & Co., the oldest hat shop in the world, established in 1676, and which is still a family run business, is like visiting a museum intertwined with a gallery. The women’s couture hats, designed by Sylvia Fletcher, are such beautiful works of art, that you really can’t say that this is just a hat shop…Lock and Co. is a glorious world of traditional hat making, history and beauty, and also where the bowler, or ‘Coke’ hat was born…
The shop front on St James’s St has one of the oldest shop doors in London, which once opened enters you into a small, quiet and quite unassuming room, surrounded by hats and an extremely old grandfather clock…
There are 2 small corridors lined with hat boxes and then tweed caps… …and which lead to the back room, where you discover some of the history of the shop and also where you can see some of the head shapes of prestigious customers from Winston Churchill and Roosevelt, to Jackie Onassis and Tracy Emin…as well as Admiral Nelson and his famous hat which was made there. ( a purple background denotes a Royal customer, red are politicians, yellow are sportsmen, green are the armed forces and the others are simply very prominent people! ) All head shapes are very different, so to get an absolutely perfect fit for hard hats, Lock and Co still use the conformateur which was invented in 1852, and it’s from this device that these paper head shapes are made… …and stored alphabetically in drawers in the workshop.When I was taken through a small, ‘Private’ door, it felt like I was going backstage at the theatre…this was the place where hard hat magic happens; just behind a door and right in the heart of the shop.
I think we’ve generally come to accept that most of our clothing and accessories, or at least many of their components, are now made all over the world, so to see hats being made in a very traditional and long standing way, only minutes away from Piccadilly Circus is really wonderful… The shop building itself was a coffee house and Tavern with lodging rooms at the back before James Lock took it over in 1765, and the original staircase is incredible…it’s known as a ‘coffin staircase’ because back in the 1600’s lodgings were often up many flights of stairs which were not only so steep and narrow that it made it impossible for a coffin to be removed from an upstairs room, but also you would be charged accordingly on how many floors the coffin had to travel down, so this staircase was built to fit coffins; lowering them down to ground level through the central space shaped like a coffin, avoiding any stairs. The space is actually really small which is a reminder of how much we’ve grown over 400 years!
…and once up this staircase and on the first floor, I was basically in couture hat heaven!
I don’t think I’d realised how much I actually truly love hats; how much I want to wear them, and rather mourn their absence in general daily life. I’ve always been in awe of designs by Irene in films like Easter Parade, and stepping into a room full of Sylvia Fletcher hats felt a bit like I was in vintage Hollywood…
I’m not really a selfie person, but these hats just made me SO happy!! I could have stayed in that room for hours…it was such a lovely experience, and I was incredibly lucky to have both Sue Simpson and Ruth Ravenscroft arranging and re-arranging hats on the mantlepiece for me to photograph…
Ruth then took me to the workshop at the top of the building where these hats are made…Again it was like entering a theatrical and magical world of felt, feather and ribbons… and even the dying room was wonderful… …particularly this Dickensian London view!I left Lock and Co with a massive smile on my face and a deep determination to acquire one of Sylvia Fletcher’s couture hats…I love original art and ceramics but only have a few pieces, but I now desperately want a piece of millinery art; a beautiful creation which I can wear!
The trip also inspired today’s table composition with the Beatrice Baker hat I wore when I got married; my Mum bought me the hat and it inspired my whole outfit design, and which I still adore… even though I’m divorced!! From my teens and into my early 30’s I always loved wearing hats, but I’ve sort of drifted into just wearing beréts, which I don’t really consider a ‘proper’ hat; well at least not a couture hat anyway, so after my visit, I unearthed a few of my own collection and, including berets, counted over 40!
I also dug out some of my own outfit designs from years ago, which often featured a hat ( I used to make lots of my own clothes )… and this is one of my personal favourite vintage hats…
( The hats below include my wedding hat in the middle, my father’s school boater, my grandmother’s green feather hat which she wore to my parent’s wedding in 1968, my prep school Panama, a vintage black straw hat and a feathered creation made by me over 15 years ago! )If you find yourself in London, in or near the St James’s area, you really must make Lock and Co. part of your visit, if not the reason for it!
You can see my Steller Story of the visit here, and I’m on Snapchat as: five5ftinf with table compositions and inspirations