News in Interviews

Q&A with Rebecca C. Tuite, author of Seven Sisters Style

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As part of our project with Rizzoli New York and Puckhaber Decorative Antiques, we've had the chance to get nosy with some of Rizzoli's best-known authors. Here we talk to author of Seven Sisters Style, Rebecca Tuite, about the ladies that pioneered preppy. 

Tell us a bit about what drew you to the subject?

I was lucky enough to study at Vassar College in 2006, and I’ve been writing and researching about the colleges, their histories and style ever since! I grew up in England, and while I knew about a few iconic Seven Sisters women (Jackie Kennedy attended Vassar, Sylvia Plath went to Smith), it wasn’t until I was immersed in life as a Vassar student that I started to become obsessed with all aspects of Seven Sisters history.

As a fashion historian (and, at the time, a fashion journalist), it did not take me long to realize that so many aspects of fashion today are clearly derived from various on-campus trends – especially this American preppy style that never goes out of fashion and has enjoyed a real runway renaissance in recent years. And of course, there are all these style icons, from Ali MacGraw playing Radcliffe girls in movies like Love Story and Goodbye Columbus; to Betty Draper, the Bryn Mawr graduate in Mad Men; and even Baby in Dirty Dancing – we know the style, the garments, and can recognize so many real-life and fictional style icons from the schools, but the Seven Sisters connection sometimes gets lost along the way. So I wanted to give some real credit to the women of the Seven Sisters for their enduring influence on fashion.

Which five words best describe Seven Sisters style?

Classic. Independent. Fun. Elegant (sometimes!). Timeless. OK, that’s six, I guess, but hopefully you’ll forgive me!

Talk us through the wardrobe staples of a Seven Sisters girl?

I think that we could probably list the top 5 Seven Sisters essentials:

1. First and foremost, Bermuda shorts – no question! Rain or shine, winter or summer, Bermuda shorts were a must-have. In warmer weather, they were made of cotton, linen, or the preppiest of fabrics, madras. In the winter, they would be gray or navy flannel, or a good quality Black Watch tartan. And regardless of season, they would be worn with socks and classic loafers.

2. Next up, a good sweater. There’s no question that Seven Sisters students loved their sweaters. Newspapers and magazines from the New York Times to Vogue marveled at their devotion to finding (and hoarding!) lambswool, crew-neck sweaters, preferably oversized men’s ones that the students wore either draped around their shoulders or with the sleeves pushed up (after all, it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it!). Smarter cashmere twinsets were the order of the day on weekends, though.

3. Jeans were probably the most controversial garment in the Seven Sisters wardrobe, but undoubtedly they were a staple on campus. Seven Sisters women championed denim at a time when a woman wearing trousers, let alone such casual trousers as jeans, was a major no-no! Jeans were worn with a loose-fit, rolled at the ankles, and an air of defiance!

4. Button-down shirts were always on hand – either a Brooks Brothers shirt borrowed from a brother or father, buttoned loosely with shirttails left flailing or tied at the waist. Or a slimmer fit McMullen, floral print cotton blouse for smarter occasions.

5. Finally a good weekend dress for all those dates, proms and parties. A good cocktail dress from Peck & Peck was always popular.

If you could go back to a time and place in the history of the Seven Sisters colleges, when and where would you go and what would you be wearing?

I would go back to Vassar in the 1950s and become friends with some of the amazing Vassar women of that era that I have met and interviewed in recent years. We would go to the Alumnae House for “Vassar Devils” (a very sickly chocolatey treat), go to as many classes as physically possible and spend weekends at Ivy League parties, museums in NYC or playing bridge in my dorm room! I’d be wearing Levi’s rolled at the ankle with a men’s Brooks Brothers button-down shirt (not too far from my off-duty style today!), but on the weekends, I would get my hands on as many classic, full-skirted Lanz dresses, cashmere cardigans and strings of pearls as I possibly could!

The book is full of wonderful photographs, do you have a favourite? One that epitomises Seven Sister style for you?

So difficult to choose just one! I am completely head-over-heels for every woman and outfit featured in this book, but there is one photograph of Mount Holyoke students gathered together in a dormitory and blowing bubbles in 1945 that always makes me smile. They are wearing the best example of unfussy, classic Seven Sisters Style: Kilts, flannel skirts, crisp white button-downs, classic preppy saddle shoes, loafers and socks, crew neck sweaters and strings of pearls. But I just love the spirit of the photograph; this sense of solidarity, fun and friendship, not to mention impeccable and completely irresistible preppy style - that’s what Seven Sisters Style really is to me!

Who is your ultimate all-American style icon?

It has to be Jackie Kennedy. Whether we’re talking about her younger debutante days, her Vassar “equestrian-chic” looks, her simple and elegant First Lady style, her perfectly preppy off-duty fashions for casual summers on Cape Cod, or her devastatingly chic later New York City days, she is a barometer for all that I adore about American style.

You studied at Vassar in New York, one of the Seven Sisters colleges, tell us about the Seven Sisters experience?

It is very, very special. I found my time at Vassar to be very inspiring and transformative, and even though the Seven Sisters schools have certainly changed a lot since the heyday of the style in the 1950s, there is a heritage, history and spirit that is still treasured and respected by students and alums.

Attending Vassar and living in New York, has a bit of the all-American spirit influenced your personal style?

Absolutely! I had always leaned towards the tomboy preppy style, always "borrowing" my Dad's Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger button-downs and crew necks, which I know drives him mad and he keeps the good ones under wraps these days! But a lot of that was my first exposure to the whole idea of American preppy fashion growing up in London. So there was plenty I had in common with the Seven Sisters women when it came to fashion, but it has really been satisfying to reconsider a style I gravitated toward so naturally, despite my distance from its East Coast origins, and think about all this history and all these traditions that we can trace back to the Seven Sisters.

What do you think it is about the look that makes it as relevant and appealing today as it was yesterday?

I think because it’s about so much more than just clothes, it’s a look that has this rich history behind it and is rooted in an appealing spirit of drive, ambition and inspiration. It’s also really universally relatable and flattering, these are classic clothes that feel great and have effortless style, which is always going to be a winning combination. Whether you grew up on America’s East Coast or in Winchester in England, the preppy style has something for you!

Finally, if we were visiting New York, where would you take us shopping?

In terms of fashion, we would first visit the Kate Spade store on Madison Avenue. It’s a full townhouse filled with amazing preppy goodness! It’s like someone took all my favorite styles and then put them inside my dream home! Of course, we would pop into J. Crew; I always like the Columbus Circle store to pick up a few classic preppy essentials, like their Toothpick jean (my go-to), a perfect shirt (their pop-overs and button-downs are my uniform) or one of their oversized cashmere sweaters (check out the men’s department).

In terms of jewellery, I like super thin, super delicate styles, so I’m always obsessed with something from Catbird in Brooklyn. I love shopping for my kitchen more than anything else, so I would also take you to Fishs Eddy downtown to find the most eclectic, fun and affordable kitchenware. And Sur La Table is dangerously close to my home, and another place I like to browse when I should be writing! After all that shopping, I’d take you to my all-time favorite restaurant in NY – Rucola in Brooklyn. It’s this tiny place, very rustic and the food is extraordinary – you have to have their crispy Brussels sprouts if they are on the menu!

Q&A with Ben Olins, co-founder of Herb Lester

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This way if you please. Herb Lester have just delivered new additions to their fantastic range of "witty, pretty, curious and opinionated" guides. We're working our way through London: A World of Eating and heading off into space with Out There, a guide to the solar system for tourists. High time we thought to talk to co-founder Ben Olins and find out a bit more about the wonderful world of Herb Lester. 

Tell us a bit about the original inspiration behind Herb Lester?

We wanted to try to get back a sense of discovery for ourselves and for others. To find interesting places in the real world rather than just online, and then to share them.

We love the name, but who is Herb Lester?

You'd really need to ask him, but he just stepped out of the office.

Describe your typical working day?

Planning, writing, researching, emailing stockists, sending orders, making lists, talking about food. Fact-checking, sending invoices, paying bills, gazing out of the window at all the empty offices and new buildings going up.

Who or what couldn't you work without?

Pencil, paper, computers.

What do you like most about what you do?

Research – finding new places to visit. Working with talented, interesting people.

Tell us a bit more about the map-making process and how it's evolved since your first map?

The process is the same as it always was: it’s about a lot of research and then making
choices so that we end up with a list that feels representative of the city and that’s a good mixture of all the different aspects we enjoy. That's the hardest thing to get right. Then we work with a designer to make it look great and be usable.

What has been your proudest Herb Lester moment to date?

Any time someone tells us they used one of our guides and had a great time thanks to our recommendations feels fantastic.

What has been the most important lesson learned?

There’s always something else that can go wrong. Pubs are at their best at 4pm.

Who or what inspires you?

Margaret Howell. Bon Appetit magazine. The New Yorker. Garden & Gun magazine. Marimekko. Vitsoe. Osbert Lancaster. Kate Simon. Betty James. The A-Z.

Do you have a favourite Herb Lester map?

Maybe our first New York guide, How To Find Old New York – it was fun working with
Jim Datz and it felt like a huge step for us at the time. It's stood up well too, so far we've only had to replace one entry.

What is the Herb Lester team's guilty pleasure?

Unless it's something terrible like pulling the wings of butterflies, we try not to feel guilty about anything that gives us pleasure. There’s so much to feel bad about, but eating a couple of Jaffa Cakes isn't among them.

And finally, where will Herb Lester be taking us next?

We've already been to outer space, wasn’t that exciting enough?


Image of Ben Olins © Garson Byer

Q&A with Jackie of Puckhaber Decorative Antiques

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Puckhaber Decorative Antiques have been supplying us with beautiful vintage furniture for many years now so we knew to expect something pretty special when we invited them to take over our project space. We weren't wrong. Last week, Jackie and her son Martyn transformed the space into the most exquisite reading room. In between hanging paintings and positioning armchairs, we took the opportunity to quizz Jackie about the fascinating antiques trade - and those top secret buying trips! 

How did you get started in the decorative
antiques business?

Around 1984 with two toddlers to look after I decided to do a table top sale in Wivelsfield Green near Haywards Heath to get me out of the house and raise some cash. I had been interested in antiques since I was a teenager and had been collecting a few bits here and there. So with my modest collection we set of for the table top sale and managed to take £80... a lot of money in those days. I was hooked from that moment.

Describe your typical working day?

Everyday is different, that's what's great about the business! But typically we are either on buying trips in France, selling in our shop on Lillie Road in London, driving to our restorer in Hove, or delivering to The Hambledon.

What do you like most about what you do?

Buying furniture / pieces that I love and selling them to customers who appreciate them just as much as I do, if not more. It's very rewarding to see our pieces find good homes.

Are you able to give us the lowdown on your favourite market or destination to go buying?

Strictly top secret I'm afraid! But we generally find our most exciting pieces in Paris
or the South of France. France borders many countries so lots of furniture from
all over Europe turns up there. As a result we have an eclectic mix of French, Swedish, English, Italian and other European pieces.

It's a family business and you work with your son Martyn, tell us about working together and how you make your buying decisions?

Martyn and I always go buying together and we will only buy something if we both love it. It's important for us to have someone to bounce ideas off, I've got over 30 years experience in the trade and he brings a fresh eye to it. It seems to be working and although we don't agree on everything our tastes seem to compliment each other.

What has been your most exciting find to date?

There has been too many to mention but from a girly perspective it was a genuine Hermes Kelly bag that I found in a French market for 100 euros!

How has the decorative antiques trade changed over the thirty years you've been in business?

Similarly to clothes, antiques go in and out of fashion, certain pieces that I would buy 10 years ago I wouldn't be able to sell now, luckily the decorative market is still strong. We're finding that internet sales are become more prevalent so it is important for us to cover all avenues with a good website, shop space, and exhibiting.

Who or what inspires you?

It might sound like a cliche but everything inspires me. I take inspiration from my
surroundings, magazines, galleries, nature... I have always been drawn to quality whether it's furniture or clothes or anything.

If you could go back in time, when and where would you put yourself?

I don't think I would go back even if I could. I'm a 21st century girl!

What would you like to do in the future?

Simply we want to expand the Puckhaber brand as much as possible.

And finally, what trends can we expect to see coming up in decorative antiques?

A few years ago mid-century was quite hot but in a recession people want to buy investment pieces so we have seen the antiques fighting back. Also smart brown furniture is starting to swing back. We seem to sell a lot of paintings if that means anything?!


The Puckhaber & Rizzoli project runs 4 April - 31 May 2014.

Q&A with Emily Current & Meritt Elliott, authors of A Denim Story

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As part of our project with Rizzoli New York and Puckhaber Decorative Antiques, we've had the chance to get nosy with some of Rizzoli's best-known authors. Here we talk to celebrated LA-based stylists and designers, Emily Current and Meritt Elliott, about their beautiful book, A Denim Story.

So where did the love affair with denim begin for you?

Denim has always been part of our lives - from young girls in overalls in rural Northern California to collegiate comrades in matching denim now!

How did you meet and come to bond over denim?

We met as students at UCLA. We spotted each other in vintage bell bottoms and made plans to head to the local flea market together that very weekend to search for more indigo treasures!

Tell us a bit about the jeans past and present we would find if we were to rifle through your wardrobes.

We both have extensive denim collections personally, and even more in our styling and design studio. We collect everything from deadstock Levis 646s to Wrangler blue bell jackets, and treasure anything thats been mended or personalised by someone else. Every jean has a story!

You've worked together for years, how did A Denim Story come about?

We continued to reference the same imagery for years and years that inspired so many of our creative projects - from art direction to styling and design. We realised that these inspirations, paired with our own work with the amazing Hilary Walsh, defined our aesthetic perfectly. It's our bible and our diary!

We love the themed chapters. Tell us how these themes developed.

Through our collecting of archival imagery and our own styling work, we were continually seeing themes and "strories" emerged. We were constanly running everything through these creative filters, and found that it made for an interseting literary journey.

What was your favourite moment in shooting the book?

We shot a beautiful model in super relaxed vintage denim paired with some irreverent costume pieces that resulted in a perfect juxtaposition. Hilary, Emily and I were drinking iced tea in Hilary's back yard during a lovely sunset, playing dress up, and sharing stories of our favourite pairs of jeans.

The book includes many iconic images of stars in denim. Do you have an all time favourite denim moment?

We all are really smitten with Marilyn Monroe wearing some crisp blue jeans, unapologetically cuffed, lifting weights on set. We also love the androgenous yet remarkable aesthetic and dispotion of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.

If you could go back in time, where would you go, and what jeans would you be wearing?

We would be living in the imaginary world of The Boxcar Children, where their sense of imagination and childlike freedom breeded the ultimate creativity. We would most likely be wearing a worn chambray dress or rolled up overalls.

You talk about every pair of jeans telling a story. Can you recall your first denim memory or a pair of jeans that evokes a specific memory for you?

Meritt: I remember taking a train into Berkeley, California as a young girl and buying a pair of men's Levis. I brought them home and mended the holes using old patches my mom had saved from my childhood. I still have these jeans! They remind me of a time when I really discovered the joy of being resourceful.

Emily: I feel like my life is defined by a string of denim moments, from growing up as a scrappy kid in overalls, my first pair of Guess jeans with zippers at the bottom in junior high, stealing my dad's 501s and cutting them into shorts in high school and scouring flea markets for the perfect bellbottom in college.

Finally, if you could live in one pair of jeans for the rest of time, which would they be?

Emily: A pair of vintage 501 button fly jeans that have been altered to be a slouchy skinny - really soft with lots of wear.

Meritt: A vintage high-waist elephant bell that have been hemmed to wear with flats.

Beci Orpin: A Day in the Life of...

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She's Australian design royalty, famed for her inimitable style, geometric designs and gorgeous use of colour. Her second book Home has just arrived in store - pages stuffed with inspiration, artwork, much-loved objects and fab projects - and we're now even more smitten. Welcome to Beci Orpin's wonderful world.

Beci Orpin

Q&A with Charlotte Farmer

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Charlotte Farmer's distinctive designs have been right at home in our homewares department for several years now, so we thought it was high time to catch up with the lovely lady behind our favourite mugs and tea-towels, to talk peas, pyjamas, screen-printing and being the boss. 

Describe your typical working day?

I try and get up early and go running or swimming, just to make sure I leave the house at some point! Then I get back make coffee and draw things. I usually spend a bit of time removing my cat from my laptop as it's one of her favourite places to sleep. The alternative version of my day is getting up early to go to the studio in Bristol where I do my screen printing.

When and where are you most productive?

It's when I'm screen printing as there are not so many distractions. I only stop for coffee.

Who or what couldn't you live without?

Work wise, it's carbon paper and 0.3 pencils, Spike print studio in Bristol plus constant noise from the radio or music. I'm definitely not someone who can work in silence. Currently, I can't stop listening to the new Warpaint album. 

What do you like most about what you do?

I like that every day is a bit different and that I'm the boss!

Who or what inspires you?

Music and thinking about the noises that things make (I know that sounds a bit weird but I was thinking about this earlier and I realised it's the starting point for so much of my work.) I also love the RCA etchings of Davis Hockney and the surface quality of a Cy Twombly painting…I also spend too much time looking at Pinterest.

Tell us something we're unlikely to know about Charlotte Farmer.

I don't like peas and I think that's why I can't use the colour green!

Which project, commission or achievement are you most proud of?

I loved doing my MA at Saint Martins and my favourite commission is some maps I did for Elle magazine last year. My favourite screen print I've ever made is one called Bananas, full of exotic animals.

What has been the most important lesson learnt?

Work hard. Try and leave the house at least once during the day and don't stay in your pyjamas (those two go hand in hand really - or you'll get funny looks from passers by).

What would you like to do in the future?

I'd like to do some illustrations for packaging and have an assistant to keep me organised.

Which 'naughty but nice' teatime treat would we find at Charlotte Farmer HQ?

I love dark chocolate digestives, and I have to admit to being a dunker. Also, if I'm pushing the biscuit boat out, then it's got to be chocolate covered gingers.

And finally, your top three Bath must see/dos.

1. Coffee at Colonna & Smalls - made by the award-winning barista
2. A browse in Mr B's book emporium
3. A boat ride along the canal - but only when it's sunny

Mr Jason Grant: A day in the life of...

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He's the Australian interiors stylist we fell in love with when his gorgeous book, A Place Called Home, found its way onto our shelves. He calls Bondi his home, can't start work without coffee, loves a pop of colour and doesn't like things too matchy matchy. When he's not styling up a storm for the cameras, you'll find him swimming or sun baking at his favourite place of all, the beach. Meet Mr Jason Grant's sunshiney life.

Day in the life of Jason Grant

Q&A with Lyn Harris, Founder of Miller Harris

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We talk to the lady behind our favourite fragrances, Lyn Harris, founder of Miller Harris and Britain's leading classically trained perfumer.

What inspired you to become a perfumer? 

I must always credit my parents and grandparents. We use to spend all our holidays in the depths of the Scottish countryside. My grandparents had a small holding where they grew all their own fruits/ vegetables and my grandmother’s great walled flower garden to this day inspires me every day! I would wake up with the smell of the fire and my grandmother’s home made cooking. She made bread, cakes, jam and even a tisane from her berries! My grandfather was a carpenter and was amazing with his hands as they were both were! These smells are engrained in me to this day!

My love of France came from my parents who always had a house out there which enabled me to embrace the French culture! I was very lucky and my parents made me always believe I could do anything I wanted!

Who or what couldn't you live without?

Tea! I drink tea all the time. My friend was importing the most amazing teas and I helped him with his earl grey and then I created my own which I can never be without! I even take them on holiday! It's less perfumery than a normal earl grey. Again, my style is always to work with the integrity of the materials and this time it was tea!

What do you like most about what you do?

I love having the ability to create beautiful smells for people to wear. I feel very privileged and blessed to be have this ability and I really feel each day, each year you perfect your knowledge and grow and evolve; it never stops it just gets better and better. I also love and can’t believe I created some my earlier pieces which is why ‘the perfumers library’ is so important to who I am and my work over the past decade.

What has been your proudest Miller Harris moment to date?

Meeting some of the people I have over the years and creating fragrances for them. I was very proud to create for Manolo Blahnik as his taste and vision is so impeccable. It was a great moment to work with him, especially when he said how he loved my work.

Do you have a favourite scent?

From Miller Harris, I love them all at some point or I wouldn’t bring them out. My favourites
are Citron Citron, Fleur du Matin, Terre de Bois. Otherwise I am in love with Mitsouko
and Jicky! Jicky and Eau Sauvage.

What do you have coming up in the future?

A lot! I've been busy and you could say I'm in a good place creatively! Perfumers library is my master piece as well as what I've done to refresh the brand after 14 years! We're growing up and at last Miller Harris is finding its own individual strength and personality.

And finally, tell us a bit about the new fragrance, Rose en Noir...

As with all my florals I didn’t want to create a rose that was too girly or sweet. This was created originally for Liberty perfumery in 2001. It was for their big opening on Regent St. We were one of the first brands to create exclusively for a store and it was a huge hit from day one. We even had with a waiting list! It’s got a prominent fruity note with violet/raspberry and damscones (a constituent of rose oil) fused with peach and tagete with a heart of deep red roses (rose ess turkey) iris abs , black pepper, patchouli, musk and a hint vanilla. Warm, sensual, velvety, cocooning and very dark!

Ashkahn: A day in the life of...

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He's our greetings card supremo all the way from LA. Graphic designer, fine artist and all round bon viveur. He loves bananas, poopheads, coconuts and burritos, and when he's not at work in his design studio he can be found serving up Hawaiian style shaved ice at the coolest parties in town courtesy of his new project on the side, Lono's Sweet Shop. This is Ashkahn life.