Introducing Alphabetville

I’m pleased to introduce onto my blog this week illustrator Mary-Louise Hussey.  I have followed Mary on Twitter for a while now – her little creature drawings that make up Alphabetville, remind me of illustrations that used to be in my fairytale books as a child.  Her illustrations and the animal characters are delightful –  such a lovely way to introduce ABC.  I caught up with Mary-Louise recently to talk about her illustrations, Alphabetville and  life in the 1970s! Hi Mary-Louise!

Hello, my name is Mary-Louise Hussey and I was brought up in West Sussex in the UK.  I had an unusual childhood living in the wing of a grand old Victorian mansion, a preparatory school for boys.  I don’t remember being lonely, but looking back it was an insular existence to begin with spending long days in the nursery, or playing in the garden under the Old Lime Tree with imaginary friends, mostly of the wildlife kind.

When I left school I was sent off to various ‘courses for young ladies’ in London preparing me for life! One of these was Lucy Clayton modelling school, which taught me how to glide down a ‘cat walk’, and though tall and lanky apparently ‘my neck was too short for modelling’, something I am still self conscious about! Luckily this led me to look down other avenues.  Working in a glamorous fashion shop in Knightsbridge, the ‘heart of smart’ in London, gave me a lust for the latest fashions.  Mary Quant, Biba, miniskirts, hot pants, buckets of makeup and Beatles music were all the rage.  Inspired by this experience and with a small legacy from my grandmother I opened ‘Sheba’, my clothes ‘Boutique’ and fashion mecca in a charming little country village.  The 1970s were dizzy days and my confidence blossomed.

Later married and with two young daughters, we moved away to rural Herefordshire. Glorious countryside and friendly people, I took up painting once again.  With an urge to set up another business I fell into my new career.  Sheba Designs, a mail order catalogue selling ‘Personalised Gifts for Children’, most notably ‘Illustrated Name Pictures’.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Animals at Work’ who live in Alphabetville?

I’m so glad you asked me this as the memories are still quite deep. You remember the Old Lime Tree I was telling you about in our garden – I loved that tree?  Sadly in 1987 there was a hurricane which ravaged the countryside in the South of England.  We went down from Herefordshire to my old home, and I wept when I saw my Old Lime Tree had been whipped up and flung down, broken. Right then and there I determined that the memory of this beautiful old lime tree and the happy times spent under it with my imaginary friends should not be lost. On returning home I immediately set about designing my little animal alphabet ‘Animals at Work’ who now live in Alphabetville.  The design was a huge success in my business and when a Japanese wholesaler asked me at my trade stand at an exhibition if I had written stories around the characters, I crossed all fingers and said ‘YES’.  At home I feverishly created characters for my little animals and gave them the village of Alphabetville to make their home.  And that is where they are to this day making children everywhere happy.

You have written and illustrated 2 children’s picture books based on the antics of the animals of Alphabetville.  Can you describe Alphabetville in a nutshell and how the books can help young children in mastering their alphabet?

I love this question, but how to fit Alphabetville into a nutshell, and how to crack it without shattering the illusion? I’ll do my best.

The village is down in a little dell….not far from you actually!  Tarquin and Tarqueena the slightly eccentric Royals who live in ‘The Royal Oak Palace,’ leave all the essential running of the busy village to ‘The Animals at Work’.  From the School, the thriving Gift Factory and the Railway Station and Farm, to the Corner Shop and Church all is run fairly smoothly.  It’s not always a tight ship, but it’s fairly average really except that it is run by ANIMALS. Oh and did I say that they get into quite a pickle sometimes, well who doesn’t?

Our plan is at this early stage of learning the alphabet, for The ‘Animals at Work’ to become your children’s best friends – simple.  You see each animal’s name cleverly starts with a different letter of the alphabet. Ie.  Albert Mole head teacher of the village school, Boris Bear the chef who loves hot and spicy food,  Clarrie the caring nurse,  ‘Dodge’ Dougal the village policeman etc. So while the child becomes familiar with the characters and their names they soon begin to recognise the accompanying letters…. Here is the first tentative and enjoyable step towards learning their ABC.

I love the Alphabetville animals – my favourite is Gloria Gussey – a stunning lizard who is a super model with brains who hopes to become a doctor!  Have you got a fondness for any particular character?

I just have to say Emmie the talented faMouse artist or she would clobber me – because she is ME and my alto ego.  One major difference being that she has 12 little ‘mouselings’…. and I don’t!  I blame Emmie (Emeraldine) for the painting of all the pictures in my books, which sort of lets me off the hook a bit. Furthermore In a corridor in the Alphabetville village school you can find ‘Rogues Gallery’ where Emmie’s portraits of each of the pupils hang on their leaving.  She is now proud to have over 10,000 followers on her Twitter account. Have a peek @AnimalsatWork

When did you start designing and hand painting illustrated name pictures?

Both my daughters had started school and I took up painting again in earnest.  But one day trying something new, I illustrated a name picture with wildflowers for my goddaughter Amanda. It seemed to be a hit with those who saw it and I capitalised on that by taking a few orders from friends, then from coffee mornings, charity fairs, school functions and so on until I brought out my Mail Order catalogue and started advertising and even ventured into the wholesale market.

I can tell you are an animal lover – but are you scared or wary of any particular animal in real life? (I’m wary of cows and ants)

Yes, I love animals but I have to admit to being nervous of horses.  I was ‘plonked’ on a pony at the age of about 7 years and told to hold on tight.  The novice teacher led four of us off across a field at a trot.  Soon out of control I tumbled off and was promptly ‘plonked’ on again, whereupon the pony took off back to the stables with me hanging on for dear life. I love them but I have never trusted a horse since.

Growing up, did you always hope to have a career connected with art or were your dreams directed elsewhere?

I rather fancied myself as a pop star when I was in my teens.  I used to strum along on my guitar with friends and we spent hours recording ourselves on a big old fashioned recording machine, we were pretty awful but had lots of fun. I will soon be recording the songs I have composed for The Animals at Work.

Where do you prefer to read – in bed, in a comfy chair, in a library surrounded by books or elsewhere?  Do you prefer hardback, paperback or Kindle? Favourite genre?

In a deckchair in the garden with the sound of birds singing in the trees, however that’s nearly impossible unless on holiday.  So as my husband goes to bed before me I crawl in to my side of the bed with my Kindle under the bedclothes and read till my eyes close. One of my historical novels will keep me awake like this for a short time but I usually find the Kindle still there when I wake up early the next morning.

Where can people purchase your Illustrated Name Pictures and books?  Is there worldwide availability?

Both through my website www.alphabetville.net                                                                                                                              The books and (eBook to come) –  self publishing at  https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/862c                                                                                                   Twitter @AnimalsatWork                                                                                              Facebook  –  Alphabetville

Personal now – What outfits and shoes would you normally be wearing?

With long legs but rather thick ankles I normally wear trousers to flatter/hide my shape.  Colour is my thing, so my tops are many and varied.  Well cut shirts for style in linen or cotton, or silk skimming the hips, printed over tops, often with a matching scarf. Casual but neat flat shoes mainly or boots in the winter.  I’d be more wacky if I could find fun clothes for my age group.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

That’s a bit difficult really because I pick up clothes wherever I find them.  I used to be very fussy having had my own shop in days gone by, but now I seem to find clothes are all too classical for me and not adventurous enough.  It’s not fun anymore and after shopping in shops or online I seem to end up with the same dull old things.

What next on your clothes/ shoe/accessory wish list?

I am now a blond haired person in a previously dark haired person’s clothing!  So I need to reassess my wardrobe completely really and go for subtle colours and soft flowing materials with drapes to hide unwanted lumps and bumps.  Flattering warm brown and light caramel colours with splashes of burnt coral. Short donkey brown boots and a large cashmere shawl to dashingly fling round your neck.  That doesn’t sound at all like ‘old me’, but then I’m not the ‘old me’ any more.

Boots or Shoes?

A good pair of stylish boots… or two, will take you anywhere and hide the thick ankles.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc. so that readers can find out more about you and the Animals at Work in Alphabetville.

Website: www.alphabetville.net

Facebook: Alphabetville

Twitter: @AnimalsatWork

Books:  1.  Animals at Work in Alphabetville,  2. Albert’s Birthday Surprise

Ahh…the hurricane of 1987..I remember it well as I had moved to my first house away from my parents who lived in London, to a small village in coastal Essex that very day the hurricane struck. We had a tree hang precariously over the bungalow but it was safely removed and thankfully, no other lasting damage! Sorry to hear of the demise of the Old Lime Tree, though.

Thank you for taking the time to chat to us about your beautiful illustrations and  Alphabetville – it has been a real treat! 🙂

Linda x

All illustrations/photos have been published with the very kind permission of Mary-Louise Hussey

 

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Problem Solving In The 21st Century

According to a recent Carphone Warehouse Survey of over 2000 adults in the UK, 83% turn to the internet for help – whether it’s to solve a personal problem, self diagnose an ailment, read up on facts, getting a DIY tip or recipe, get career guidance, find love and friendship.  I know in my household, that for awkward homework questions and project work in general, “Google” is our friend rather than the set of Encyclopedia Britannica and World Atlas that used to occupy my bedroom shelves in the 1970s.  I do still have an updated World Atlas in book form and I do enjoy poring over the maps in a geeky kind of way – however, there is no denying that for fast information, the internet is kingpin.

In order to highlight some of the changes in problem solving in the 21st century, Carphone Warehouse also commissioned a set of 5 fun illustrations, reimagining the storyline of 5 iconic pre-21st century movies for the digital age:

BRIEF ENCOUNTER….

According to the results in the survey it seems that the internet gives us social courage and, in some cases, a silver tongue.  25% of Londoners look for help finding friends online.  16% of men are more likely to look for help regarding their love life than women (9%).

PSYCHO…

Before going to any hotel, motel or inn, do you check out the place nowadays online before booking? Do you read the reviews?  I know I do! 

PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS…

How many of us shop online or use auction sites such as eBay? To sell & buy used items locally it used to be an advert placed in our local village shop window … and hastily try and find a pen & paper in your coat pocket to note down a number or address of the item you wanted.

SCHOOL OF ROCK…

With sites such as Link’dIn and Facebook, how many of us check somebody out online before meeting them?  You can be sure that nowadays employers check out potential employees before interviewing them …. their appearance, credentials and lots more besides! I read some wise words in a meme recently that said “Never post anything onto your Facebook/Social Media profile that you wouldn’t want your granny reading!” …

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT…

Got to go to a new destination? Finding locations and addresses and directions is so much easier with Google maps, SatNav devices and smartphone apps that can locate your position easily if you get lost.  

Isn’t it just amazing how quickly society has absorbed the internet and how much we rely on the internet! Other interesting data findings from the survey found that 45% go online for meal inspirations; 56% of women are most likely to be looking for health and wellbeing advice; 49% of men are most likely to turn to the internet for help with their personal finances; and 73% of respondents find it easier to approach their crushes online. 

Interesting stuff! What  problem solving help do you use the internet for?

LINDA x

My thanks goes to the Problem Solving CarPhone Warehouse Campaign & Study for giving me permission to publish both the data findings and the commissioned illustrations. https://www.carphonewarehouse.com/broadband/internet-problem-solving.html

Header/Pin photograph by Linda Hobden.

 

 

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An Interview With Max Lemari

Using the finest Italian leather, Italian shoe makers Max Lemari, have added to their collection of the classic Italian male staple shoe, the driving moccasin,  and are now offering customised driving loafers.   These shoes are extremely stylish  – all hand constructed, hand stitched and hand painted.  I was lucky enough to interview the brand CEO Max Guidi about his brand, his obsession with shoes and to ask, if there was going to be a female version of the driving loafer …. Hi Max!

Hello. My name is Max Guidi. I’m CEO of Max Lemari. I’ve been working all my life in the fashion industry.  I was chief product and development officer for Gucci, Armani, Burberry, Dior and collaborated with many more high-end brands. Max Lemari is the union of two names: Max is mine and Donato Lovito Lemari is the artisan responsible for the shoes’ manufacture.

What made your company decide to concentrate on driving loafers?

Because it’s the shoe category that exalt our expertise. Lemari has been manufacturing loafers for over 40 years for some of the most expensive brands in the world. When we handcraft loafers, we are sure that we have the best quality on earth.

In your latest collection, I like the look of the Capri in yellow & blue  What styles and colours are most popular amongst your customers?

During last summer our best seller was the Ischia Taupe & Yellow

https://maxlemari.com/product/ischia-taupe-yellow/

Have you got a favourite style & colour from your collection?

Yes, I love the exclusive silk calf leather and I wear the Salina Mucchina

https://maxlemari.com/product/salina-mucchina/

How can a customer get his loafers customised?

From our website product pages, you can automatically put your initials in our drivers and we will engrave it for you. If you want a total customization, a special number or something else, you can contact us and we will do our best to make it happen.

https://maxlemari.com/contact-us/

Hypothetically speaking, which famous male, dead or alive, would you love to see as the “ambassador” for Max Lemari?

Giorgio Armani – I’ve been working with him and I remember that he was always very elegant yet casual. I think he would have loved our mocs.

Growing up, have you always been obsessed with shoes and been interested in a shoemaking/ designing career?

Actually, my first dream was to be a pilot. Maybe that’s another reason why we are making drivers 😀

At the moment you are only manufacturing driving loafers for men. Have you got plans in the future to design similar footwear for women?

Yes, we want to launch a women driver as well. We are already developing the first prototypes, but for now we’re keeping them secret.

You are based in Italy – are your shoes available to order overseas?

Yes, we want to be global. Customers will have to wait a couple more days for the shoes to arrive, but we are doing our best to ship everywhere.

 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

During the week I usually wear high end sneakers. They are really comfortable.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (apart from your own!)

I like Hermes very much.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

It’s the Dior jacket with the bee sewn on the heart.

Boots or Shoes?

Shoes. Italian weather is not so cold and I’m happy wearing shoes all year long.

For pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Max Lemari and your range of driving loafers for men.

The best place is to visit our website:  http://www.maxlemari.com/

Thank you Max.  My youngest son has ambitions of being a pilot and he does like looking his best… perhaps his future lies in the shoe industry too!  I look forward to those driving shoes for ladies – the men’s styles are fabulous and such gorgeous colourways!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Max Guidi  (Max Lemari)

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An Interview With Melissa D

Described as having “the style of Karen Carpenter with the whispering of Melissa Etheridge”, my guest on the blog this week is singer/songwriter/recording artist and down to earth nature girl Melissa D from the New England state of Vermont.  Hi Melissa & welcome….

Hey, My name is Melissa D and I am a recording artist and singer/songwriter. I do Americana Folk Rock.

What made you decide to pursue a solo musical career as an independent singer/songwriter?

I have been in bands for years and have always written songs on my own but never had the courage to perform/record them.  As I got older, I realized that my worst fear was that I would die with my music inside me so I started taking steps to make these dreams come true.  I live in a rural area and I am an independent artist so I cannot do it in the conventional way (big tours and major record deals), but I am finding my own way in a grassroots/on the ground kind of way that feels so empowering and enjoyable! The internet has made it possible for independent artists to have a voice and get themselves out there. I am so grateful for this!

Your single – “Love Of My Life” – was written for your husband, Alan.  You kept the single a secret until your wedding day, when you surprised him by having the recording played at your wedding. How romantic! Obviously your husband was the inspiration behind this particular song – but your your other tunes, where do you most often find inspiration?

My inspiration comes mostly from being out in nature.  I love the quiet and calm of sitting by a river or smelling the night air and looking at the stars. It helps me to think and process things.   I also get inspired by road trips and doing mundane household tasks like dishes or cleaning.  I like to write about life experiences and other people’s experiences.  I have had a lot of relationships gone bad before my husband Alan, so this gives me lots of material to work with…lol

You are currently a solo artist, but in the past you were a former rock front-woman for The Alley Katz and a previous member of CHILL, an acoustic act.  What are the main advantages & disadvantages of being a solo artist?  Do you miss not being part of a group?

Being solo is cool in that I don’t have to run my ideas by a bunch of people. I can do what I want.   I tend to be a people pleaser (I am working on curing that….lol) and I would do songs or stuff I didn’t want to do to make bandmates/band leaders happy.  Also, it is challenging as a woman being in a male dominated industry when you are in a group. Often your ideas can get dismissed or you are seen as “just the singer” or you get hit on.  But on the flip side of that there is a challenge when you are solo in that as a woman you feel more vulnerable plus I am an introvert (which means I tend to be more reserved and quiet and I need alone time to “recharge my batteries”) so that heightens that sense of vulnerability.  This has been a challenge but the immense freedom and excitement that I feel being solo is amazing.  I have a wonderful network of musician colleagues that I continue to work with in terms of gigs, recording and jamming so I still get to grow professionally but at the end of the day, I feel more empowered than I have ever felt with my music.

You are a classically trained vocalist – but, what were your musical influences growing up?

Oh so many! John Denver, Stevie Nicks, Karen Carpenter, Amy Grant, Linda Ronstadt, hymns and Christian music that I would sing in church, Pretty much most 80’s pop.  James Taylor and Melissa Etheridge songs were the anthems of my young adult years!

Have you always wanted to be a musician or did you have any other career in mind?

Music is a calling  and I have always done it at some level. Its just what I do.  For my “day job” I have a master’s degree in counseling and I work in the helping profession, which I feel is another calling for me.

Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to perform a duet with any singer, dead or alive, who would you sing with and what song would you pick?

Wow, tough one to pick….I would say, John Denver – Leaving on a Jet Plane.

What genre of music do you personally listen to?

I pretty much listen to and am open to all genres except for hardcore rap, but tend to gravitate mostly towards 80’s rock, Americana, folk rock, blues, blue grass, meditation, ambient music.  I also love instrumental piano and guitar, gospel and Gregorian chant (accepela music).

What was the last concert you attended?

Enerjazz, my brother’s jazz band.

Imagine you are driving through your country lanes of southern Vermont – what song would be top of your list to croon to whilst playing car karaoke?

“You got a friend” – James Taylor

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I love jeans and t-shirts and hanging out clothes like cozy flannel shirts, but I also love anything with bling and bright colors and lace like when I am dressing up.  I think my favorite outfit is a well broken in pair of jeans with a cool, funky shirt with a bit of bling.  For shoes, I love hiking boots, pretty little flats and of course cowboy boots! I am not one for heels, never have been but admire them but more like a piece of art…lol

Do you have any favourite designers?

Not really, I just buy what is comfortable and looks cool!

Boots or Shoes?

hmmmmm, well living in Vermont, you have to have boots, that’s how you survive the long winters, but I do have quite a few shoes.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more you & follow your career.

I am giving away a “care package” of 4 songs plus access to my Kindred community @ vermontmadesongs.net  My website is melissadmusic.com.  All the links to my SM are on there.  I also have a facebook group for Introverts and Empaths called “Innies who love music & stories”: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1984956098449512/?source_id=563170250437106

Great talking to you Melissa – fabulous choice for car karaoke – “You’ve Got A Friend” is one of those tunes I belt out (badly) in the car too!

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission of Melissa D

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An Interview With Turban Designer Veronique Salagean

I’m privileged this week to introduce onto the blog the world’s first turban designer – Veronique Salagean.  VS Turbans is an exclusive London based label founded by Veronique in 2015.  Veronique aims to dispel the controversy that surrounds turbans – the origins of turbans relate actually to royalty and not religion.  The earliest evidence of a turban dates back to the 1st century BC in Persia. Enjoying a brief renaissance amongst jet setters in the 1960s, turbans are becoming trendy again with celebrities such as Beyoncé and Eva Mendes recently rocking the look.  Finding the subject of turbans fascinating, I couldn’t wait to ask Veronique about her love for turbans…. Hi  Veronique….

 

Hi! I am Veroniqué Salagean, the world’s first Turban Designer.

What inspired the passion for turbans?

My style, creativity and uniqueness.

Have you always had an interest in fashion?

As a child I’ve been always dressed up to appear on stage – my mother was a seamstress – and at 6 years old I fell in love with textures. At 7 years old I had my very first tailor that I remember visiting for fittings. Even my casual hat at that time was made of the same cotton as my whole outfit. Afterwards I received clothes item gifts from my grandmother every weekend. From then to now I have had bespoke made clothes. 

What made you decide to turn your passion into a career and launch your brand, VS Turbans?

First of all,  I turned it into a brand because I walked into a room selling the turban I was wearing and that was the moment that gave me the realisation I was made for it. But personally speaking, my insane love for creating and wanting many babies, so many babies and now I have hundreds, made the actual empire. This is the way I see it and my creations (turbans) are my babies. This love of turbans backs up any loneliness, frustration or hurt I experience.

Your turbans range from simple drapes to drapes in silk, raffia and leather. Have you got a favourite from the range?

I do love working with anything based on 100% silk fibres but my actual choice that I truly love, is beaded fabric. It’s a very heavy material, but lush and alluring.

This season’s colour palette include latex silver, basis cream, lobster red, emerald, light calico, basis kaffee and gold.What colours is most popular amongst your customers at the moment? 

Basis kaffee and gold. 

Each turban is individually handmade to fit the client like a crown. What has been the most extravagant turban you’ve designed?

Creatively extravagant has been The Snake Ground designed for myself. It has got 21 rows of 1 and a half metres of black pearls hanging – an absolute artwork. The 1 Million turban was extravagant in terms of wealth.

As you are based in the UK, are your turbans available to purchase overseas?

Absolutely. My turbans travel worldwide.

Previously the look of jet setters in the 1960s, Turbans have become back on trend with stars such as Beyoncé and Eva Mendes rocking the look. Hypothetically speaking, which famous lady would you love to be the “face” of VS Turbans?

It’s a very good question and I must admit I’ve always seen myself until 120 years old posing and being the face of VS Turbans. But if I have to choose a person that will be Sheikha Moza bint Nasser only because I discovered her when I was 14 years old and pinned her image as I was fascinated by her beauty. Another person would be Rihanna as she is an unique, confident woman.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

My daily appearance is an elegant casual approach that feels comfortable. I go for trousers and shoes with low heel when working in the studio making turbans.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own)

I do shop from matchesfashion but favourite shops in particular I haven’t got. I tend to have bespoke made clothes.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I am sharing with you my actual new autumn/winter look and I hope you can imagine it.  It will be black latex high rise boots with jodhpurs and short fur jacket accessorised with an extravagant version of The Snake Ground (made of leather in warm colour with gold crystal necklaces hanging on the back to the floor level – about 21 rows). This look is for afternoon time towards early evening worn on public appearance, short meetings or shopping time.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots if it’s autumn or winter or on a changeable day in the summer time. My shoes are mainly with a low heel. I love comfort when working as I need no pain. However my wardrobe is dominated by heels!

For pinning later

Fancy a Turban?

Visit the VS Turban collection – http://www.vsturbans.com

VS Turbans collection range from £400 to £2,000

By appointment at Wellbeck Street, London, W1G 8DY

Web:http://www.vsturbans.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/vsturbans

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/vsturbans

I really love the sound of your Autumn/Winter look, Veronique! Your designs are very elegant and lush – you are extremely talented and it’s great that from a young age your love of textiles has shone through to shape your career! Thanks for sharing your creations and thoughts with us.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with the kind permission of Veronique Salagean.

 

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An Interview With St James Whitting

This week my blog is heading down under to chat to Australian interior design company, St James Whitting.  In the Southern Hemisphere, spring has descended and there is no better time to revamp and redecorate. Not to be left out, the Northern Hemisphere’s Autumn/Fall season is a great excuse to check out the fabulous rugs and cosy interior ideas. And the artwork is fab too! Welcome…

Catherine on the left; Kate on the right

Who are “St James Whitting”?

Kate St James FDIA and Catherine Whitting AssDIA, are two designers passionate about creating eco-friendly, sustainable interiors and products that are healthy for people and the planet.
London born Kate is the founding editor-in-chief of Grand Designs Australia magazine, Home Design and several additional magazines, a role she held for 16 years before co-founding St James Whitting.  Prior to her editorial role, Kate ran an interior design practice for more than 15 years in Brisbane and Sydney. 
Along with co-founding St James Whitting, Sydney-based Catherine also lectures interior design at The Design Centre, Enmore, Sydney’s pre-eminent college for interior design studies.  Catherine also ran her business Décor Instyle prior to co-founding SJW. The company creates interiors for residential and commercial projects. It also has a range of homewares called The Elementals Collection which includes five designs for Designer Rugs Australia; 147 paint colours across 21 palettes coloured by Resene paints and seven designs for fabrics with Hemp Gallery Australia and a range of products for social enterprise company, Vida.  There is also a fine art collection of limited edition Giclee prints, represented by The Curious Art Bar.

What was it about interior designing that made you want to pursue interior design as a career? What was the motive behind setting up St James Whitting?

Interior design allows us to indulge our creative sides, but it is also a practical skill.  Creating beautiful, well-designed spaces for people to live and work in is an exciting opportunity. We both understand how spaces affect the way people live and work, and how architecture and design can influence our lives in a positive way; and we love finding solutions to problems,and making people happy! St James Whitting came about after we met at an industry function and spent many hours talking about our passion for eco-friendly design and how we would love to design an eco-resort. While the resort is yet to be realised, we have created many beautiful residential and commercial interiors and look forward to continuing to change people’s lives through great design.

Inked Up pure wool rug by St James Whitting for Designer Rugs shown with the Inked Up Palette from the paint range

I love the custom designed rugs that you do. To date, what has been your most popular art work or item?

The most popular rug in the range has to be Alcatraz, although all designs have been well received in the marketplace.

What’s your most favourite item in your collection?

Our favourite piece in the rug collection is Inked Up.  We lovethe swirling pattern and the way in which the design suits both classic and contemporary styles.

When it comes to interior design, I do like pale clean walls (currently favouring pale silver grey and aqua shades of blue) with brightly coloured accessories.  What colours/styles do you tend to favour?

There are no specific colours or schemes we use as each new project comes with its own brief and we use colours that provide the best outcomes. For us colour is under, or poorly used in many situations and it is our mission to bring a greater understanding and use of colour to our projects. We created our own range of paints with Resene paints this year.  There are 147 colours in the range and we love them all!

Walls painted Teal Terrain from the SJW Elementals Collection coloured by Resene. Quilted bed topper in Ripples designed by SJW for Hemp Gallery Australia; cushions designed by SJW for Hemp Gallery Australia including Wildflowers, Ripples, Kindling Sticks and Firespike.

Kate, you’ve written 3 e-books on sustainable design & interiors; Ian is a passionate advocate for sustainability and the creation of low impact, sustainable urban communities. What ideas could a person incorporate when designing their home to make it adequately sustainable?

My top tips for creating a more sustainable home are:

  • Use passive-solar design principles when creating a new home design or renovation
  • Insulate – floors, walls and ceilings
  • Use double glazing to thermally control temperatures
  • Use zero VOC paints, glues and grouts, board and materials for a healthier interior environment
  • Select furniture and furnishings that do not contain or are manufactured with toxic materials
  • Provide good ventilation
  • Use as many natural materials as possible including FSC timber, hemp fabrics, eco paints, pure wool carpets and textiles, linen bedding and products with a clear provenance and chain of custody.

Growing up, did you all have dreams of being interior designers or did you have other career plans?

Kate: In my teens  I studied classical music and wanted to be an opera singer. However, a move to Australia halted those aspirations. I pursued a career in journalism in the early 1970s but after meeting husband to be, Ian who was studying architecture, I turned my sights to interior design.

Catherine: I studied art and painting; my  lifelong passion.  After teaching art, I moved into design and now I teach interior design when not designing for clients.

Nantucket Sunrise I & II by Kate St James and Catherine Whitting. Limited Edition fine art giclee prints of original mixed media

As St James Whitting is based in Australia, are your products available to purchase worldwide?

The rugs, fabrics and artworks can be shipped worldwide. We do not yet have any overseas stockists, but we’re working on that!

If you could visit any place in the world to get inspiration for a new interior design collection or artwork collection, where would you go and why?

Catherine and I have been talking about Avignon of late, and we are also planning a trip to Italy next year. Both places would provide lots of inspiration.  But there’s nothing like the Australian landscape with its diversity of flora, fauna and topography, not to mention light and colour, to provide inspiration for our designs.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Kate: We both have a penchant for natural fibres including hemp and linen.  I love red and Catherine loves shades of green. My shoes  are flat and heels for Catherine.  We both wear black and love to dress this up with scarves from our collection with Vida, and jewellery by MisSMash.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

We both try to shop locally, in small boutiques where quality fabrics and local designers are represented. We rarely buy clothes online.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Kate: With summer on the horizon, more linen and casual pieces in soft colours and neutrals.  I love espadrilles as I live near the beach.  Catherine: I love hats – so perhaps one or two summer ones may find their way into my wardrobe. We are both very conscious of not buying too many clothes and prefer to buy quality over quantity and recycle them wherever possible or give them to charities.

 Boots or Shoes? 

Kate: Boots in winter, shoes and sandals in summer, for practical reasons.  I like tailored styles.

Catherine: I have a penchant for Victoriana; with laces!

For Pinning Later.
Elementals Collection coloured by Resene colour chart

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebooketc so that readers can find out more about St James Whitting

www.stjameswhitting.com

www.facebook.com/stjameswhitting

www.facebook.com/stjameswhittingart

www.instagram.com/stjameswhitting

Thank you for chatting to me ladies and I do so love your artwork and vision! I share Catherine’s love of Victoriana lace up boots too! Something very elegant about those boots… 

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kate & Catherine (St James Whitting).

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A Visit To The Orla Kiely Exhibition

Earlier this week, fellow blogger Carol Cassara and I met up in Bermondsey, London to visit, among other things, the current Orla Kiely exhibition “A Life In Pattern” being held at the Fashion & Textile Museum.

The Fashion & Textile Museum was founded in 2003 by the zany, iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes – who happens to be one of my favourite designers ever! I was very tempted to knock on her studio door just a few yards away – perhaps another day as this particular day Dublin -born designer Orla Kiely was the focus of my attention.

Orla Kiely’s career really started when she was commissioned by Harrods to design wool felted hats – but she very quickly expanded into bags.  And what lovely bags! As soon as Carol & I entered into the museum foyer, there was on display of the most gorgeous private collection of big, bold Orla Kiely bags. I loved them all. Carol headed straight to the gift shop to purchase a bag or two… disappointingly for her, no bags were available to purchase at the shop.  As Orla Kiely products are available in over 33 countries, we quickly googled & found an outlet to ensure we get our “bag fix” another day! 

Orla Kiely’s textile patterns are very distinctive – she is recognised globally as the designer of the iconic “stem” pattern…as well as various flower designs.  Not only are the patterns replicated onto bags but on a range of other items including scarves, shoes, pumps, flower pots, notebooks, and even a birdhouse ( which Carol took a liking to).  

Orla shares my love of the colour green – she uses every shade of green known to man (!) from moss green to seaweed.  The colours she uses reflect her Irish background – the greys, browns, and mustard yellow represent the Irish skies, the rolling hills and the gorse & wild flowers of the roadside verges. I did wonder about the splashes of orange, though. I then read in the book that accompanies the exhibition, that her colour preferences were also influenced by her family kitchen that had olive green worktops and  units …and a vivid orange shiny ceiling. Mmm… not creating a delightful picture to me but I can understand where the orange colour fits in! I wonder if she had an avocado green bath too?!

 

The main room of the exhibition that really stood out was the “Alice In Wonderland” room. Hanging from the ceiling were enormous dresses and coats, made of fabric. Along the walls were dolls wearing the same outfits but miniature versions of them.  Really well thought out and fascinating.  The outfits themselves were very much of the late 1960s/early 1970s era – very Mary Quant – I remember my mum wearing similar styled dresses when I was very young.  Carol & I both preferred the colourful trench coat – the  colours & pattern were eye catching – great to wear over a black polo neck top,  black drainpipe jeans and black knee high boots! 

The museum had a cafe (delicious cappuccino) and a small gift shop  which sold lots of knick-knacks (sadly no Orla Kiely bags) – but they did have a superb collection of fashion coffee books  including the book published to accompany this  exhibition – “A Life In Pattern” by Orla Kiely, published by Conran Octopus Publishing.

The Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey was a little gem. The museum receives no public funding – it holds exhibitions such as this one, and hosts some fabulous workshops instead. The museum was founded by Zandra Rhodes, but is owned by Newham College London (one of Europe’s largest further education colleges).  It is the only museum in the UK solely dedicated to showcasing developments in contemporary fashion. It also provides inspiration, support and training to those working in the industry.  Lying south of the River Thames, close to the Shard and between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, it is definitely worth checking out next time you are in London.

The Orla Kiely exhibition runs until 23 September 2018. The Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am.  The next exhibition will be “Night And Day: 1930s Fashion And Photographs” from 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019. 

For more details check out the website: www.ftmlondon.org

All photos are by Linda Hobden.

 

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An Interview With Shoes By Shaherazad

It’s been far too long since I’ve featured footwear and so I’ve decided to remedy that situation by introducing onto the blog the lovely Shaherazad and her sparkling shoes.  Inspired by flamingos, designed with love and pzazz, these heeled shoes epitomise both comfort and elegance – ideal for weddings, parties, barmitzvahs and whatever other social occasion you may want to flaunt your footwear! And you will definitely want to flaunt these shoes! The brand is all about empowered women of today supporting empowered women of the future…. Hi Shaherazad!

Hi! Im Shaherazad.  A self-confessed shoe addict; business addict and flamingo enthusiast.  I work for fun and have fun when I work.  Geeky I know but thats exactly who I am!

What was it about flamingos that inspired you to design your luxury heels?

I had always marvelled at how flamingos are able to stand for hours on end on one leg.  I was intrigued to find out their secret as to how they find this comfortable and what it is that makes this a universal trait on flamingos.  And so I set about to find the answer.  I wanted to discover how they live with such poise, grace and elegance.  And so, Shoes by Shaherazad were created inspired by the mathematics of how a flamingo stands.

My favourite style in your latest collection is the Blush Pink Time To Bloomheels.  What styles are most popular?

The best seller by far is Stand Tall Sister.  It was a hit as soon as it was launched as it can be worn stylishly strapless to elongate the visual length of the leg or with a strap for a pretty boardroom to bar look.

Have you got a favourite style from your collection?

Ah yes.  Mine is Dream then Doin Gold.  It is the first one I designed which I put in to production and so it will always have a special place in my heart.  The name of shoe was inspired by Deborah Rodriguez who wrote The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.  Her book inspired me to take action on my idea.  In fact, if you check out this design on line you will see a quote from the book alongside it.

Your brand, Shoes By Shaherazad, is all about empowered women of today empowering women of the future. Every purchase of Shoes By Shaherazad heels directly supports the wellbeing of a woman or girl living in poverty through the Solidarity By Shaherazad programme.  What projects has the programme covered so far?

Oh so many!  But the main ones are based in Pakistan, Palestine, Kenya and Peru.  Ive picked projects which support females who are living in extreme poverty to gain an education.  This means that they can gain the skills they need to lift themselves, and often their entire families out of poverty.  As a woman, I believe that I have a societal duty to help negate the gender equality imbalance in the world.  Through my company www.shaherazad.com a woman who can afford luxury shoes empowers a woman who cant to gain an education.  To me, thats true shoe romance!

Many celebrities have been advocates for your heels – Charlotte Tilbury & Alexa Chung to name a few.  Hypothetically speaking, which famous person would you love to see as the faceof Shoes By Shaherazad?

Angelie Jolie.  And not because of her Hollywood fame, but because of the wonderful work she has done in raising the profile of refugees and people living in poverty.  Her book Notes from my travelsis truly inspiring and when Im feeling sad about the inequality and poverty in the world I often use Angelinas ambassador work to inspire me to action.  Angelina, if youre reading this I would love to meet you.

Any pair of your heels can be worn plain or sparkly through your unique shoellery(shoe jewellery) concept.  Can you explain a bit more about the shoe jewellery concept?

I wanted to create a pair of shoes that was not only comfortable from boardroom to bar, but stylish as well.  Thats where the shoellery concept comes in.  The shoes can be worn plain by day and then by night a shoellery strap is added to add crystal shine to any outfit.  The shoellery can be carried in a little luxury pouch which is supplied in your handbag throughout the day so theres no need to store extra heels at the office.  It also means that a woman can buy one pair of heels and any number of shoellery designs to transform her look – no need to keep buying lots of new heels.  The heels become kind of a forever shoe, especially because theyre very classically designed.

Although you are based in the UK, is your footwear available to purchase overseas?

Absolutely.  I deliver worldwide and won an award earlier this month for being Exporter of the Yearas recognised by the National SME Awards in Britain.  It was a hug honour and I currently export to over 21 countries.

When thinking about designing footwear, do you consider popular styles, current trends, customer feedback/suggestions or bits of all those?

For me, its always about style over fashion.  Shoes have to look good and stand the test of time.  Fashion comes and goes so its less of an imperative for me.  I design from the heart.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I love wearing printed suits – trousers and jackets make dressing so easy and yet so smart.  I also absolutely love photo print dresses.  And of course, both of these outfit styles can be teamed well with my 18 hour heels.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (apart from your own!)

Im a big fan of Folli Follie jewellery.  Its so pretty, especially the rose gold designs.  I also love Valentino as their dresses are so fairy tale like.  And of course, there has to be Gucci!

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A feministslogan T shirt I can wear to work, days out and drinks with friends.  I also love yellow so perhaps a bright canary yellow dress; Im not a fan of the mustard colour thats everywhere this year.

Boots or Shoes? 

Shoes – theyre chic-er!

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Shoes by Shaherazad.

www.shaherazad.com

@18hourheels (twitter, instagram)

ShoesbyShaherazad (Facebook, Pinterest)

Ooh … I loved the book “The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul”! I also loved the fact that you, Shaherazad, had studied flamingos enough to try and recreate a comfortable heel that still epitomises elegance. Wishing your venture every success!

Linda x

All photos published with kind permission of Shoes By Shaherazad.

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An Interview With Vartan Melkonian

I am privileged this week to talk on my blog with renowned composer, musician & conductor, Vartan Melkonian, who also happens to be UN Ambassador for Street Children.  Vartan’s life story is one of courage – he was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon, orphaned soon after, became a street child in Beirut, fled to the UK in the 1970s – but even on the streets of Beirut his musical abilities began to emerge… Hi Vartan!

Hello. I am Vartan Melkonian. I am a composer and musician and I work as the UN Ambassador to Street Children.

You are an UN Ambassador for Street Children. What does being an ambassador entail?

My work involves certain countries – developing countries – who ask the UN to give them advice on street children. The UN takes a team of experts to those countries. As I am a key-note speaker – I open and close the conference about life on the streets. I encourage the developing countries to adopt the programmes the UN suggests.

You were born in a refugee camp in Lebanon – your parents died when you were very young- you then lived in the Birds Nest Orphanage until you were 8 years old. You must have felt very lonely & anxious being an orphan in a strange country.  When you were 8 years old, did you flee the orphanage or was care only provided until you were 8?

I was 8 years old when I left the orphanage, to live on the streets. I was there till I was eight because boys had to go to the army compound to make room for new children. I chose not to work for the Lebanese army and took a cattle-train to Beirut. That’s where I started my life.

After leaving the orphanage, you then lived rough in the slums of Beirut. What was the worst thing about living on the streets?

People take moments of pleasure by looking at the sunset. For us, for me, it was the worst time of the day, there was nowhere to go. I had to find any alcove to sleep in. We, the children of the streets, were often chased away with sticks and stones (even by the police) so we were not seen on the streets, as if we were some sort of living plague.

 

Teaching your fellow street children how to hum in harmony so as you could all make some money by busking… how did you discover you had a musical talent? What other jobs did you do in order to survive? 

At the orphanage, I was chosen to be a member of the choir. I had a severe speech impediment but when I sang there was no problem. My musical skills must have been in-born – the gift of music.

I did many jobs to survive from shoe shining, selling chewing gum and shovelling sand onto lorries to illegal fishing and being a mechanic.

When civil war came to Lebanon in 1972 you fled to the UK and began to work as a singer, at the beginning on the Northern Clubs circuit – eventually at West End nightspots.  What sort of music genre did you sing?  What influenced your song choices?

I used to impersonate Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones!

You wrote a symphony that was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – and later you came to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, and many other world-class orchestras in London’s most famous halls and around the world. When you started to busk as a young lad on the streets of Beirut, did you harbour musical ambitions? 

When I was in Lebanon I used to play the guitar, and I thought I was really good. Arriving in the UK in the early 70s, I went to Kings Cross Station and I saw a busker playing the guitar and my eyes widened. I thought ‘I know nothing!’ It was like being born again at the age of 26.

Looking back over your incredible life story so far, what do you think helped you to survive the conditions you faced? 

When you don’t have things, your imagination flourishes and when you achieve something, you’ve already lived it. If you want to, you will finish a race, not necessarily first, but you will get there if you aim for it.

Being a refugee is hard, I know.  What are the toughest things you face being a refugee? 

I was happy to leave Lebanon because it was the 1970s and the conflict was starting. I went from sunny Beirut to Skegness. The UK is a wonderful place. I am a guest in the UK. And I feel very welcome.

When you give speeches worldwide about street children, what are the main messages that street children would like to convey to the public in general?

The children of the street are not the problem, they are the assets of the country. Invest in them and they grow up to become someone like me who provides good things for the community.

Links you would like to share:

http://vartan-melkonian.com

Untold Stories – Animation of life of Vartan Melkonian

Thank you so much Vartan for taking the time to talk to me today about your life and your mission as ambassador. 

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission of Vartan Melkonian.

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An Interview With Incredibly Cool Events

Embarrassingly, I had always associated cheerleading competitions with America – along with baseball and American Football – until recently, that is, when I discovered that cheerleading competitions are alive and kicking in the UK too!  I’m delighted to introduce onto my blog this week, Kimberley Mason, founder of ICE (Incredibly Cool Events) who gave me an insight into the cheerleading scene in the UK. Hi Kimberley!
Hi! I am Kimberley Mason I was born in the West Midlands and was raised on dance classes and competitions.

What inspired you to start up ICE (Incredibly Cool Events)?

After running my community interest company and working in sport for disadvantaged communities I felt there was a big need for affordable accessible cheerleading and dance competitions.

ICE organises cheerleading and dance competitions, workshops & Coaching. What would a cheerleading team expect if entering an ICE event?

They would get a help from a friendly team during the lead up to the event, affordable prices and all the support needed to get their teams feeling confident so they could give their best performance on the floor. There are big trophies, a medal for each competitor and a beautiful back drop to perform in front of. We have a highly trained judging team that offers constructive feedback at each of our events.

When did you start “cheerleading” & what was it about cheerleading that attracted you ?

I started Irish dance at the age of 7 and although I loved it the heavy shoes were not for me. I then tried freestyle dance and loved it. Dance became my passion from then onwards and I took part in competitions on a weekly basis. I found cheerleading at the age of 18 and the more I learnt the more I fell in love with it. I loved the fact that it was a team sport and the way the competitions were organised. The cheer spirit and the team ethos were definitely the main attraction.

What are the benefits of cheerleading?

Cheerleading has many benefits; it improves fitness, helps with life skills such asworking as team work and co-operation, it helps build confidence and there is a fantastic social side.

Is cheerleading suitable for everybody?

Yes all ages and abilities, cheerleading is done on a level basis so there is a level suitable for everyone. There are different elements to a cheer routine, dance, tumble, stunt and jumps.

Do you enjoy any other genre of dance?

Yes I enjoy all styles of dance, we offer pom dance, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop and next season we will be offering Acro.

Although you are based in the UK, are teams outside of the UK allowed to enter your events?

Yes of course we welcome everyone.

What ICE events are planned for the rest of 2018/2019?

We have lots of dance and cheer events lined up for the next season and they take place all over the country :

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

At the moment I’m pregnant with my second baby so a big maternity dress with expandable sandals for my swollen feet. When not pregnant you will find me in leggings and jeans and flats, usually covered in George’s (my toddler) latest  meal.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love ASOS because there is so much to choose from and outfits and shoes for every occasion.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I would love some fashionable day wear but I have a feeling with baby boy number 2 on the way it will be a while until I make any major investments into my wardrobe, although I will be investing in some winter boots at the start of the winter season.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots, they look lovely and are very comfortable plus there are lots of different styles, long, mid length, ankle, flat etc so there is something for most occasions.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IncrediblyCoolEvents/
Website: www.incrediblycoolevents.co.uk
Twitter: @ICE_Events1
Intsagram: incrediblycoolevents

I wish you the very best for both your impending nappy event and your programme of events, Kimberley. I think the name of your company is incredibly cool too….

Linda x

All photos published with kind permission from Kimberley Mason (Incredibly Cool Events).

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