Architecture Art Design Fashion People

Design Museum London + Alexander McQueen + Rebel Show

Rebels With a Cause

The John Pawson redesigned monument to minimalism has taken on a whole new splash of colour and pattern. Making waves at the Design Museum is Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion sponsored by Alexander McQueen. Dynamic, daring and determinedly rebellious, this show invites visitors to get on a Septemberfest rollercoaster of a ride. The press breakfast (avo prods and fruit torpedoes – fashionistas need to keep trim) – is full of everybody one should know on the elite fashion circuit.

Tim Marlow, Chief Executive of the Design Museum, shares with us, “We’re delighted to be collaborating with the British Fashion Council to showcase and explore the youthful energy, creative vision and rebellious spirit that is so central to their NewGen programme. Visitors are going to be stunned by many of the instantly recognisable fashion items on show. We hope they’ll also be captivated by the breadth, depth, diversity and world class talent that has emerged from the London fashion scene in the past three decades.” Caroline Rush, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, reciprocates, “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the Design Museum to celebrate our wonderful NewGen initiative and its influence and legacy over the last 30 years.”

And stunned we are – what a show! All 300 or so designers who benefitted from the rightly celebrated NewGen grant funding programme are referenced. Lee Alexander McQueen was the standout talent from the first NewGen cohort. Archive pieces and photomontages give insights into his – to put it mildly – nonconformist work. ‘Art Show’ celebrates London’s art education establishments and features more talented alumni. But this is no passive exhibition. It’s full on interactive. ‘Backstage’ is all about artificial reality sponsored by Snapchat. Before long we’ve donned designer motorcycle helmets, had our faces painted and entered a cyber world of fun. That’s before shaking our booties to Eric Martin (Technotronic) in the ‘Club’ inspired by those 90s temples of decadent dance, Heaven and Turnmills.

Next comes ‘Runway’ where dozens of mannequins are frozen in time mid strut. Collections by J W Anderson, Wales Bonner, Craig Green, Christopher Kane, Meadham Kirchhoff, Sinéad O’Dwyer line the catwalk. Wait, there’s more! ‘Changemakers’ celebrates NewGen designers doing just that since 1993 – confronting the norms, fighting against stereotypes – in performance and politics. Sarah Mower, British Fashion Council Ambassador, tells us more, “It’s impossible to underestimate the influence London has on Britain’s fashion talent. It’s a city that produces wave after wave of young designers who value originality, wearing what you believe in, and tackling social issues to make a better world. The city’s art schools, clubs and catwalks are brought to life like never before.” Marjan Pejoski’s Swan Dress is one of many eye catching pieces never before on display in London. Born in Macedonia, the designer studied at Central Saint Martins before unveiling his first show in 2001. That same year, Icelandic singing sensation Björk famously wore the dress to the Oscars.

Colour Explosion’ revels in just that. Clements Ribeiro recalls, “Colour was massively unfashionable at the time. Everything was grey, downbeat, raw edged or minimal. We decided to go against it with colour, cashmere stripes, clashing prints and luxury. We called it ‘clumsy couture’. Colour turned out to be our superpower.” Fellow designer Craig Lawrence created huge knitted colourful forms in materials such as sweetie papers. He reflects, “My Ribbons Jumper and Leggings are like a big creamy strawberry marshmallow. That summer I was an ice cream man in Ipswich. Somehow, the extreme lollipop colours, stripes and bobbly bits sort of seeped into my Central Saint Martins holiday project.”

We’re at the Rebel press preview with another super talented member of the Martin family. Carrying on the fearless rebel tradition, Eric Martin’s sister, fashion artist Mary Martin, says, “I’m the middle child, the seventh of 13 children. We’re all very creative. I’m loving this show – it’s absolutely fabulous! I studied fashion at the University of East London and launched my label Mary Martin London in 2018. It’s fascinating to see this record of rebelliousness at the heart of London fashion. I like to see my clothes as carrying on that tradition, flying the flag.” Literally – one of Mary’s early dresses was a reworking of the Union Jack. We check out Russell Sage’s upcycled Union Jack jacket which Kate Moss modelled for a Vogue cover back in the day. Then it’s on to the next show. The waves haven’t stopped rolling in the capital.

Art Design Fashion People

Pavlo + Mayfair London

A Muse in a Mews

Parees is on her way from Paris (via Calais of course) so today it’s all about Ukraine’s Next Top Model. In between shows (it’s London Fashion Week) Pavlo strikes poses, works his angles and delivers for the lens.

Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Design People

Parkstead House + University of Roehampton London

Quotation Marks

Architectural historian Joan Alcock wrote an authoritative guide to the architecture of Parkstead House in 1980: “The main block, which faces Richmond Park, was built by Sir William Chambers as Parkstead House in the 1760s for William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough: this building is illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus and described in the principal histories of Surrey. The Earl used the building as a country house, but on the marriage of his son Frederick, Viscount Duncannon, to Henrietta, daughter of Earl Spencer, he allowed the young couple to live there. Bessborough House, later Parkstead House, became the centre of their social and political life and this continued after Frederick had succeeded to his father’s title in 1793 and had inherited the principal residence in Cavendish Square.” The third Lady Bessborough’s scandalous daughter Caroline would marry William Lamb before pursuing Lord Byron. The 5th Earl sold the property and after a time as a Jesuit college it has been in educational use ever since.

She explains, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa. The prototypes appear to be Colen Campbell’s Mereworth and Isaac Ware’s villa which he built in 1754 for the financier, Bourchier Cleeve, at Foots Cray, Kent, which was a severer version of Mereworth. The first design for the façade lacks an attic storey but its row of Ionic columns and arrangements of windows on the first floor was clearly inspired by Foots Cray. The drawing of the house in Vitruvius Britannicus reveals only two windows on the attic floor. In this case the centre front room would be lit entirely by skylights. One circular skylight still survives, having its original decoration round the rim. The room, however, is a large one and the skylight is needed to give extra light to the rear. The façade certainly has more attractive proportions without the windows, which appear to be rather uncomfortably situated above the portico but they are functionally necessary and were probably part of the original design.”

Joan sums up Parkstead House, “The treatment of the façade is strictly in accordance with Palladian principles as laid down by Lord Burlington and Colen Campbell. If anything, Chambers was more severe, reducing his ornament to a minimum.” Only the façade overlooking the parkland is faced in stone: all other elevations are of dark grey brickwork with stone quoins. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner record in The Buildings of South London (1983), “It was the first of several Palladian villas designed by Chambers in the early 1760s. They belong to the second generation of Palladian houses in England … The prototype for the façade appears to have been Bourchier Cleeve’s Foots Cray, built in imitation of the Villa Rotunda circa 1756; but the obvious inspiration for a villa in the London countryside, that is a relatively modest rural retreat rather than a full scale country house, was of course Chiswick House … In the garden is a circular entablature from the portico of a circa 18th century garden temple (the rest in store).” The simple plan of the piano nobile is replicated on the bedroom floor above. A central three bay room behind the portico is flanked by single bay rooms. These three rooms are three bays deep with shallower rooms to the rear. A square staircase hall is behind the portico room.

Nobody is better qualified to critique Sir William Chambers’ work than architect John O’Connell. One of his many professional achievements was brilliantly restoring the Casino Marino in Dublin, arguably Ireland’s greatest neoclassical building. This distinguished design may appear as a single bay single storey structure but as Jeremy Musson, architectural historian for Country Life, enlightens: “Casino Marino is a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Depending how you count them, there are some 13 rooms inside.”

John declares, “Sir William Chambers’ work at Parkstead House is about refinement, rebooted Palladianism. There is a real sensitivity and finesse at play. The elevations need a parapet though as there is a certain squatness without one. Everything has been sacrificed for the pediment and the fully expressed portico. The ironwork is painted Somerset House blue. That was his first essay in town planning. It is devalued now being away from the River Thames where once it was rather like a Venetian palace. The Embankment cutting it off from the river was the solution to water stagnation.”

Indoors he observes the plasterwork in one room, “That is a very correct cornice and four fantastic urns. It’s so delicately handled.” In another, “The frieze isn’t right and speaks of later Edwardian modillions. There’s a solecism – the garland should be central.” And as a whole, “This house demonstrates a commitment to good materials following the French noble material hierarchy, from the state rooms on the piano nobile to the rustic rooms in the raised basement. The house as temple on a robust scale.” A framed sign dated 1980 on a corridor wall sets out:

  • Parkstead built as a Palladian villa or summer residence by Sir William Chambers for the 2nd earl of Bessborough. The 3rd Earl lived here for much of his life until the death of his wife Henrietta in 1821.
  • The 3rd Earl leased the house to a banker, Abraham Robarts, who made it his permanent home until his death in 1858. Robarts made many improvements, including constructing a well and pump to provide a water supply.
  • The 5th Earl sold the house and estate to the Conservative Land Society for division into smallholdings. However, it was eventually sold, in conditions of some secrecy, to the Society of Jesus for use as their Noviciate.
  • The Jesuits moved in and this began the occupancy which was to last for nearly 100 years. The name of the house was changed to Manresa in commemoration of the place in Spain where the founder of the Society, St Ignatius Loyola, composed the Spiritual Exercises which form the basis of the Jesuit rule. Many additions were made to the house during this period leaving it much as it can be seen today.
  • The Society left Manresa and among their reasons for doing so were the invasion of their privacy by high rise flats and the compulsory purchase of much of their land by the Greater London Council. The house now became part of Battersea College of Domestic Science and it was officially opened by the Right Honourable Shirley Williams MP, who also signed the order for its subsequent closure in 1979.
  • Manresa became jointly occupied by Garnett College and the Putney Adult Education Institute. In the early days, Lady Bessborough had run a small school here for local Roehampton children. The house has been associated with education for the best part of 200 years.”

Lady Bessborough’s educational legacy continues to seep through the walls of Parkstead House: it is now part of the University of Roehampton.

Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Hotels Luxury

McCausland’s Hotel + Malmaison Hotel Belfast


Two decades ago Belfast’s first boutique hotel disappeared. McCausland’s – the scene of lively lunches for a few years – may be missed but thankfully from its ashes arose the phoenix that is Malmaison. But hey, halcyon days are back to stay, today’s the future’s heyday. Malmaison’s trademark extensive use of black allows the architecture to speak. And speak it does. Dropping a consonant (remember the amusing Lost Consonants cartoon in the Saturday Guardian when it used to come with a shelf load of supplements?) between editions, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society published Marcus Patton’s Central Belfast A Historical Gazetteer in 1993 and 22 years later Central Belfast An Historical Gazetteer. Going with the earlier version:

“1867 to 1868 by William Hastings with sculpture by Thomas Fitzpatrick. A pair of four storey stone warehouses built as a pair but with varied detail to suit the two clients: the rival seed merchants John Lytle and Sons and Samuel McCausland. Lytle’s warehouse has a five bay ground floor with arches springing from columns with varied capitals and standing birds at the springing of the arches; a massive rope moulding forms a cil course to the second floor windows, which are grouped as a triple light flanked by duples, with red granite colonettes and freely carved almost Celtic arches and keystones; over the third floor windows, grotesque heads with long tongues form corbels for the cornice brackets which are interspersed with strapwork panels; at the centre of the parapet is a little pediment over a crown and harp (Lytle’s trademark).”

Malmaison is really a pair of semi detached warehouses forming one architectural composition. Looking up from Victoria Street, the lefthand five bays are Lytle’s; the righthand six bays, McCausland’s. Round the corner on Marlborough Street, over a carriageway entrance into Lytle’s warehouse is a carved Chinaman stone head. Complete with coolie hat, drooping moustache and pigtail he is very Fu Manchu. An African stone head rescued from nearby demolished sugar stores forms an unusual talking piece in Malmaison reception.

But it’s McCausland’s warehouse which really goes to town, shouting out its international credentials. Peering over the top of the five ground floor piers along Victoria Street are carved stone heads placed above clusters of fruit and vegetables. They represent the five continents, a conscious and highly visible display linking this business to the great trading houses of the past, demonstrating global trading connections and pride in the Empire. Africa has wavy hair and wears earrings. Asia is turbaned. Oceania is the only female. Europe is whiskered. America wears a feathered headdress.

For two decades before McCausland’s Hotel opened, Belfast’s loudest façade almost disappeared. It was blighted as part of one of the city’s many unexecuted 20th century road widening schemes.

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Café Parisien + Robinson + Cleaver Belfast

Starboard Home

An English visitor to Northern Ireland recently remarked to us how two of Belfast’s key tourism drivers are based on tragedies: Titanic and the Troubles. On a downbeat note, we do miss all the Edwardian department stores in the city that disappeared decades ago: Robinson and Cleaver, Brands and Normans, Anderson and McAuley. On an upbeat note, the thriving city has since become a foodie destination. Manchester, with a population almost twice the size of Belfast, has one restaurant with a Michelin star. Belfast has three. Famously, Robinson and Cleaver had a grand sweeping Sicilian marble staircase with a mezzanine arch leading into a silvery tearoom. Maids in their monochromatic finery served coffee in individual pots. Infamously, the staircase was auctioned and shipped off to the late entrepreneur Eddie Haughey’s Ballyedmond Castle in County Down.

Fortunately the former department store is still intact on the outside. The six storey stone building with its distinctive copper cupolas began life in 1886 as the Royal Irish Linen Warehouse designed by Young and Mackenzie. All is not lost inside. Café Parisien is a two storey restaurant occupying the frontage overlooking Belfast City Hall. Taking its name from one of the eateries on the doomed ocean liner, the restaurant is all saloon class and no steerage.

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Dumpling Library + St Anne’s Square Belfast

Deep Love

Sunday morning opens with a cacophony of hymns on the drawing room family piano deep in the wild west. Things can only get better, as the Belfast singer D:Ream famously once hoped. Eucharist is just sliding into memory at Belfast Cathedral by the time we glide up to the east coast bright lights. Sunday lunch is just a block away in St Anne’s Square. Dumpling Library is a gourmet rather than literary experience. Gucci clad model Janice Blakley joins us for lunch.

Covering most Oriental bases our waitress confirms, “The Dumpling Library is Asian, Canton, Chinese and Malaysian fusion. Sundays are our busiest day.” A solitary unbusy unhurried diner sitting at an island table is reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss under a crimson heart dangling from the ceiling. Fried spinach wontons, Japanese tofu, prawn avocado tempura, salt chilli tofu, sweet potato chips … we’re on a (kimchi) roll at our window table.

Pastiche. Yawn. The most unoriginal cliché. An architectural criticism crime. Every glass building is a Meisian copy you might as well say. Neo Geo is neo Geo is neo Geo which sounds dogmatically Gertrude Steinian and rightly so. An accusation of pastiche – and St Anne’s Square has had more than its unjust desserts – is about as original as claiming somewhere has been “restored to its former glory”. What glory? When? Really? The only glory left is in knickerbocker glory. Jonathan Meades gets it spot on as always in his essay France in the collection Pedro and Ricky Come Again, 2020, “… worldwide scream of accusatory architects: ‘Pastiche!’ The architectural doxa decrees that pastiche is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The collective convention forgets the history of architecture is the history of pastiche and theft: von Klenze’s Walhalla above the Danube is based on the Parthenon; G G Scott’s St Pancras borrows from Flemish cloth halls; Arras’s great squares are imitations of themselves.”

The brilliant critic rants on in his essay Obituaries in the same collection, “Architecture like poetry is founded in copyism and plagiarism – both vertical, looting the past; and horizontal, stealing from the present. The obscure past, of course, and the geographically distant present.” St Anne’s Square has proved an easy target for lazy uneducated reviewers. Completed in 2010, it is Taggarts Architects’ Portland stone and red brick clad with whimsically oversized foray into late postmodernist neo Georgianism. Giant quoins have form in this quarter: Sir Charles Lanyon’s Northern Bank, Thomas Jackson’s Scottish Amicable Life Building and Corn Exchange Building all belong to the bigger is better school. Funky, not fashionable. The buildings of St Anne’s Square are just tall enough and wide enough to create an intimate public realm with a floorplate gap perfectly framing the chamfered ambulatory of the cathedral and its 2007 stainless steel spirelet. Dumpling Library is one of several ground floor courtyard facing restaurants below apartments. This mixed use development also includes a 168 bedroom Ramada Hotel.

At least St Anne’s Cathedral has never been accused of being pastiche. Ever since Belfast architects Thomas Drew and William Henry Lynn drew up its Romanesque origins in 1868, this building evolved over the next 139 years into something quite unique, slightly hard to place yet paradoxically somehow of its place and time(s). Idiosyncratic, not imitative. “The cathedral is a huge moment,” declares Ireland’s leading neoclassical architect John O’Connell. In another church in another country in another discipline Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Oystermouth, tells us at Westminster Cathedral, “The deepest of the gifts to exchange is love.” We’re loving the new Belfast, especially the next generation murals.