Architects Architecture Art Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Old Union Yard Arches + Bala Baya Restaurant Southwark London

Behind The Music Box

It’s a long time since Gilbert and George sang Under the Arches (1969) and an even longer time since Flanaghan and Allen did too (1941). These days, railway arches are – like every square metre in London – hot property. The Low Line. Theatres, restaurants, bars and community hubs fill the stretch from Union Street to Surrey Row known as Old Union Yard Arches.

But before the arches were redeveloped, there was, and very much still is, The Music Box. The capital’s most exciting apartments and music college scheme. Developer Taylor Wimpey Central London had the vision to commission the exciting young architecture practice Spparc (now in full bloom) to design a building that entwines architecture and music in a standout standalone standing ovation on Union Street.

A mezzanine divides the archway of Bala Baya into two levels. The ground floor is achromatic in deference to the White City of Tel Aviv. Upstairs, the exposed brick vault lends a more rustic allure. Owner Chef Eran Tibi – you guessed it – is Televivian. Interior designer Afroditi Krassa added bright terrazzo slabs from a Haifa factory. Eran says, “I wanted to walk on floors that remind me of home.” Tableware comes from one of Jaffa’s famous flea markets. The rear wall of the mezzanine is built up in perforated breeze blocks of the type you see just about everywhere in gardens in Israel. But the biggest import is the custom built pitta oven from Israeli manufacturer Jagum.

The rumble of trains overhead provides an accompaniment to dancey music. Six years old, Bala Baya still strikes the right chord with a cacophony free lunch. Putting that oven to good use, pitta is served with mezze: Pink Tamara (smoked roe, extra virgin olive oil, chives). Fish Clouds (smoked haddock fish cakes, pita crumbs, poached egg, white taramasalata, apple, fennel) are a reminder of Tel Aviv’s western coast. ‘Bala Baya’ means ‘mistress of the house’ and the pudding Lady Baharat (pink lady, salted caramel, Baharat cream, wonton) proves to be a woo worthy sweet symphony. Israeli wines are labelled “from home”. Pale straw coloured Carmel Selected Sauvignon Blanc 2020 carries aromas of tropical fruit notes against a backdrop of cut grass. Like The Music Box, the wine is aging well.

Unsurprisingly Eran is a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi. Michael Kaminer explained in his 2017 review of Bala Baya for The New York Times, “Before he became a global brand, Yotam Ottolenghi introduced Londoners to modern Israeli food – a minor trend that has become a phenomenon.” Bala Baya is part of this movement from minor to major, taking it up another octave. Encore! Encore!

Architecture Art Design Fashion Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Campbell-Rey + The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia London

Club Fenderland

The multi use lobby of The London Edition was a popular concept when it first opened. A decade later, the vast space is still buzzing. It encompasses workspace, a bar, a lounge area next to an open fire, reception, billiards and – from tonight – a Christmas tree designed by Campbell-Rey. The design studio founded by Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey takes a seasonal bow to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s 1816 set design for The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with its oversized Murano glass baubles in colour and mirror finishes dangling between decorations hand painted to resemble lapis, onyx, marble and malachite. The gilded star atop the tree comes straight from one of the artistic Prussian polymath’s Queen of the Night’s Hall of Stars drawings. To celebrate the unveiling of the Christmas tree, guests are serenaded by a haloed cappella choir while devouring canapés and downing cocktails.

Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Design Developers People Town Houses

Gunnersbury Park House + Gunnersbury House West London

All Features Great and Small

Why are two mansions standing cheek by jowl in west London? It must be the only park in the capital with a pair of very substantial houses almost touching each other. A complicated history of dual and overlapping ownership is the answer. It all began in the 17th century when lawyer Sir John Maynard commissioned Inigo Jones’s amanuensis John Webb to design a large square house inspired by Palladio’s Villa Badoerin in Venetia. The defining feature of this red brick with white stone highlights building was a five bay double height recessed balcony above a ground floor breakfront and below a massive pediment.

A later owner was Princess Amelia, second daughter of George II. The Temple (reflected in the Round Pond) and the Bathhouse are the two most significant extant works she had carried out. Her Royal Highness bought the house and estate in 1762 and lived there until her death 26 years later. The Doric portico fronted Temple in red brick and white stone to match the house was probably designed by Sir William Chambers in circa 1760. The Bathhouse is another estate folly, later described in 19th century sales particulars as “an ornamental diary in gothic style with a cold bath”. In 1801 the house was demolished and the estate sold in lots. Builder Alexander Morrison accumulated the lion’s share of 31 hectares while timber merchant Stephen Cosser acquired a cub’s share of three hectares.

Fashionably rusted freestanding signs strategically positioned across the park inform visitors of its history. One reads: “The Temple. The magnificent 18th century Temple is thought to have been built for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II. She used it as a place of entertainment, enjoying views that reached as far as the Kew Gardens pagoda and beyond. Alexander Copland, the estate’s next owner, played billiards and ate desserts there.”

Alexander appointed his cousin the well known architect Sir Robert Smirke to design Gunnersbury Park House (now called the Large Mansion). A few metres away from the Large Mansion and sharing the same building line, Alexander’s neighbour Stephen built Gunnersbury House (now called the Small Mansion). This long two storey building has bow windows on either side of a lawn facing verandah trimmed with Chinese bells below the eaves. After banker Nathan Rothschild bought the Large Mansion in 1835, he commissioned Sir Robert’s younger brother Sydney to enlarge his house. The three storey Large Mansion lives up to its current name. An enfilade of lawn facing ritzy reception rooms backs onto a cast iron galleried atrium. Both buildings are stuccoed.

Around the same time as designing the Large Mansion, Sir Robert worked up drawings for the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall. The previous decade, he had designed Normanby Hall in Lincolnshire for the Sheffield family. Samantha Cameron, Britain’s former First Lady, was brought up at Normanby Hall and her father Sir Reginald Sheffield is still squire of the manor. Sir Robert is best known for the British Museum. The next generation of the Smirke dynasty would design many of the town mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Pharma fortune maker Thomas Farmer bought the Small Mansion in 1827 and appointed father and son practice William Fuller and William Willner Pocock to extend the house. The Pococks also designed the Gothic Ruins Folly below Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse. In 1889, the Rothschilds bought the Small Mansion and Gunnersbury Park once again fell under single ownership. After the renaissance years of the Rothschilds (their heir Evelyn died fighting in Palestine in 1917) the estate and its buildings were bought by the local councils.

A plaque in the arch between the two mansions states: “Gunnersbury Park. Opened for the use of the public 21 May 1926 by the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain MP Minister of Health. Purchased by the Town Councils of Action and Ealing one fourth of the cost being contributed by the Middlesex County Council. On 1 April 1927 the Brentwood and Chiswick Urban District Council joined the Action and Ealing Councils in the ownership and management of the park.” The Large and Small Mansions were converted to community use. The former building is restored; the latter, under restoration. Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse, the Temple (exterior only), Orangery, Round Pond, Horseshoe Pond and Gothic Ruins Folly have all roared back to life. Sydney Smirke’s East Stables lurk in the shadows waiting their turn.

Design Fashion Hotels Luxury People

The Londoner Hotel Leicester Square London + Hale Zero

You’re Driving Us Crazy

“Would you like Champagne?” proves to be the perfect entry to the perfect party. This is gonna be epically crazy – we can tell already. Do you remember when the festive season started in December? Or when Christmas trees had red and gold decorations? And the weekend began on a Friday? Well deep breath. November is the new December. Black and white is the new red and gold. And tonight, Monday is the new Friday.

Fashion designer Huishan Zhang dreamt up the most monochromatic Christmas tree imaginable for The Stage (isn’t that the world?) bar of The Londoner Hotel, Leicester Square. The black and white party dress code has been mostly adhered to with a few notable exceptions. Glam squads have been busy. Lady Elspeth Catton (played brilliantly by Rosamund Pyke in Emerald Fennell’s baroque comedic thriller Saltburn) with her “complete and utter horror of ugliness” would approve.

After black cod lime and Bloody Mary avo tartare entrées, Yasmine and Yuzu Margaritas, Lychee Rosé and Monte Velho Branco are pumped into us and before we know it we’ve been swept up to Eight (the height’s in the name) bar. What fresh heaven awaits? Celestial socialites and power creatives Pippa Vosper and Susan Bender Whitfield are getting ready to fill that penthouse dancefloor. Troops! You have your marching orders! Get to it!

Hale Zero is whipping up an absolute musical storm. Fresh from playing at the Beckhams’ Netflix party, the trio is always raring to go. The brilliant Brixton brothers get to the remixes, the grooves, the mashups, all the tunes with that vigour of tonight we are all “forever young”! And then without warning the whole floor erupts into synchronised dancing to Beyonce’s Crazy in Love. “Would you like more Champagne?” For the first time ever, no, we’re too busy dancing! As Lady Elspeth likes to say, “How wonderful!”

Architects Architecture Country Houses Luxury People Restaurants

Ardtara House Hotel + Garden Upperlands Londonderry


If there is a commodious Victorian country house which sums up gentry living in Ulster it would be Ardtara House. Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of the village of Upperlands, this two storey stone house is all that is good about late 19th century domestic architecture. Timewise, the original 1896 house was extended in matching style 17 years later so contrary to appearances it strictly speaking isn’t all Victorian. No architect is recorded but it’s very similar to Ardara House in Comber, County Down, which was probably designed by the popular architect Thomas Jackson. Ardara dates from the 1870s with a 1900 matching extension and is also a two storey house of roughly rectangular plan with plenty of canted bay windows. It was built by the Andrews family who were flour and flax millowners.

Ardtara was built by linen millowner Harry Clark. In 1699 the English Parliament had enforced the Wool Act to protect the English wool industry by preventing the Irish from exporting it. To offset the economic damage, Parliament encouraged the development of linen production in Ireland. Linen is a strong natural fabric made from flax plant which grows on wet fertile soil – so suited to the Irish climate. Harry’s ancestor John Clarke of Maghera considered building a mill on the River Clady on a site he referred to as his “Upper Lands”. His son brought the idea to fruition by building the mill. In 1740 the first beetling engine began turning. William Clark and Sons Linen is one of the oldest continually running businesses in the world.

Ampertaine House was the Clark family seat on the edge of Upperlands village. It is a five bay two storey late Georgian house with a large wing. Harry decided he wanted to build his own home for himself, his wife Alice and their six children. He died in 1955, a year after his wife’s death. One of the children, Wallace, would later say, “People from all over the world came to stay in our house. There were visits from cousins and friends from Australia, New Zealand and North America. There were also agents from the 40 or so countries where linen from Upperlands was exported.” The house (and 33 hectare estate) fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1990 by Maebeth Fenton Martin, entrepreneur and Director of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for North America. She opened it as a hotel four years later. Maebeth had impeccable taste and restored the fenestration, plasterwork, panelling, chimneypieces, garden, lake and so on.

In 2014 restaurateurs Marcus Roulston and Ian Orr purchased Ardtara. It is a rural hotel addition to their urban restaurants portfolio of Eighteen Ninety Four in Portstewart and Browns Bonds Hill and Browns in Town both in Derry City. They have retained the period splendour and comfort. The top lit billiard room is now the restaurant; the pair of drawing rooms remains just that with the insertion of a bar; the conservatory has been reinstated as a function room; and nine bedroom suites are on the first floor. The terrace outside the drawing rooms has been put back and the Victorian garden restored. The garden is a dreamlike sequence of outdoor green spaces around a lake.

Marcus explains, “We have lovingly restored the house, combining romantic Victorian architecture with all the modern comforts you would expect in top class hospitality. Our idea for Ardtara was always for it to be a gourmet destination.” He and Ian have revived Ardtara’s early 20th tradition of self sufficiency of food supply supplemented by products from trusted sources within an hour’s travel. And now, to echo Wallace Clark’s words, “People from all over the world come to stay in the house.” Musician Phil Coulter, actor Bill Murray and singer Ronan Keating have all stayed at Ardtara House (although not at the same time).

Art Design Luxury People

The Hideaway Sloane Place Hotel Chelsea London +

The Zone of Influence

Sloane Square is “the centre of the world” according to Ann Barr and Peter York’s Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. This essential 1980s guide was in effect an expanded update of Nancy Mitford’s 1955 “U and Non U” essay on what is upper class and what is not. Linguistics were tricky back then: “chimneypiece” was U; “mantlepiece” Non U. We sat beside Peter York at Nicky Haslam’s private gig in The Pheasantry, King’s Road, and he did emphasise it was all a bit tongue in cheek.

Sloane Square Hotel on Lower Sloane Street is equator hot in Handbook terms. It’s the launch party of The Hideaway, a basement speakeasy under Sloane Place. The Peter Jones crowd are here but everyone is more diverse less shibboleth reliant these days. Jazz musicians Bandini not to mention gallons of Moët and Chandon (thankfully the Prohibition theme isn’t taken too literally!) mean the intimate dancefloor is soon filled. The goat’s cheese macaroons are definitely U.

Architecture Art Country Houses Design Fashion People

The Lenox-Conynghams + Springhill Moneymore Londonderry

Living Life on the Hyphen

Last of the line to live at Springhill was Mina Lenox-Conyngham. She was known as a great storyteller, even if occasionally recollections would vary, and recorded her memories for prosperity in her 1946 pot boiler An Old Ulster House and the People Who Lived In It. The delightful Springhill, now owned by The National Trust, never looked better than at dawn two springs ago. It is pure three dimensional reticent charm, falling somewhere between a grand farmhouse and a modest country house; like its last owner, living between two worlds and two words.

Stephen Gwynn provided the foreword: “Here is a book to rejoice anyone who desires to see light thrown on Irish history nonetheless revealing because it traces through nine generations the fortunes of a leading Ulster family and of a great Ulster house. The Conynghams, who became later Lenox-Conyngham, acquired land in County Derry and managed to hold it. As the years went on they were linked up with almost every prominent family in the Province and had their part in all the outstanding events.” The Lenox-Conyngham family came to Ulster from Ayrshire so really they were Scots-Irish rather than Anglo-Irish.

“Or again we have a full inventory of the plenishing – indoor and out – which furnished out Springhill in George III’s day,” ends Stephen. “In short here is a whole mine of information which tells us above all what sort of lives a representative Ulster family lived once Ulster became what we mean by Ulster – and lets us know also what kind of men and women it bred.”

Lyn Gallagher has written about the house a couple of times. In A Tour of the Properties of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 1979, she notes, “‘To build a convenient house of lime and stone two storeys high’ was one of the obligations put upon ‘Good Will’ Conyngham when he married Miss Anne Upton in 1680, and it would seem that the charming house of Springhill dates from this period. To the rear of the house is the Bower Barn, one of the earliest buildings to be erected at Springhill, and the long narrow windows in the walls show it to have a purpose for which easy defence was not an insignificant factor. It is a house of enormous simple charm, and the warm atmosphere of old wood in the interiors is not dissipated by the fact that Springhill boasts one of the best authenticated ghosts in an Ulster home – seemingly a mother who lost seven children through smallpox still moves around here.” Dorinda, The Honourable Lady Dunleath, who spent many a childhood summer here, rolling her eyes, was more sceptical: “Aunt Mina had a good imagination!” Dorinda was not impressed when the bedroom she always stayed in at Springhill was designated “the haunted room” by The National Trust.

In Castle Coast and Cottage: The National Trust in Northern Ireland, published 13 years later, Lyn along with Dick Rogers writes, “It may be fanciful to say that a house is friendly and welcoming, but if any house fits that description, it’s Springhill, just outside Moneymore in County Londonderry. A straight avenue leads to the simple, open façade, flanked by two long, broad pavilions, with curved gables which look as if they are holding out arms of welcome. The house has an immediate charm on the affections of the visitor; it is something to do with its age – 300 years of one family’s occupation – and something to do with the scale and the charm of small details, like the arched gateway, with a curly iron gate, at the top of a flight of worn steps leading from the carpark into the wide enclosed forecourt, with immaculately raked gravel.”

They’ve more to offer: “Springhill is essentially an Ulster house. Architectural historians have commented on the slightly hesitant way in which the basically classical front is treated – with narrower, two paned windows in the centre, a typical 17th century Ulster feature – and have noted how the 18th century bow extensions give it more assurance. One commentator, Alistair Rowan, describes it as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster, not grand or elaborate in its design, but with very the air of a French provincial manor house.’ Its lack of pretension is its hallmark, and the rear of the house is described as ‘a comfortable jumble of roofs, slate hung walls and chimneys … with a big round headed window on the staircase the most prominent feature.’” A vintage photograph shows the window frames painted fully black rather than just the outer frames black which created an even more distinctive appearance and greater contrast with the white walls. The photograph also shows the pavilion wings were left unpainted which emphasised their subsidiary role to the house.

“Fabulous finials!” exclaims Nick, a character in Alan Hollinghurst’s 1998 novel The Spell. He could have been talking about the roof decorations of the pavilion wings of Springhill. The finials encapsulate the dichotomous essence of the house: they are grand but are embellishing functional farm outbuildings. Author and former Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine, Jeremy Musson, told us when researching Springhill he learned that Mina Lenox-Conyngham had reversed her mother-in-law’s arrangement and swapped the more recent furniture on the main two floors with all the “old fashioned 17th century furniture” stored in the attic. “The family never threw anything out!” Jeremy records. The library collection of over 5,000 books (some with calfskin covers) on everything from theology to ornithology is one of the best of its kind in Ulster. On the raised ground floor, the contrast between the 17th century entrance hall, staircase hall, study and library with the 18th century drawing room and dining room is one of scale, grandeur and decoration. Dark panelling and lowish ceilings in the former; chunky cornicing and high ceilings in the latter. Jeremy’s piece on Springhill was published in “the recording angel of country houses” (his words) of Country Life in 1996.

We first visited Springhill 30 odd years ago, armed with a polaroid camera. That photographic record, which shall remain unpublished, was of mixed result. Our second visit, in 2010, this time armed with a Canon camera, was on a particularly unphotogenic day of pale grey skies. Thank goodness for the sun blessed spring of 2022. You can never have too much of a good thing, so our latest visit is on another sun struck day, this time in the autumn of 2023. A walk round the gardens; a browse in the second hand bookshop; a look at the costume museum; a tour of the house; coffee and cake in the converted stables. Life at Springhill is immeasurably good.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Africa Fashion Week London 2023 + Mary Martin London

Angelic Forces at Work and Play

Mary Martin London headlined this year’s Africa Fashion Week London. Mary’s fashion is never superficial and always thought provoking, making statements on social and historic issues from class to slavery. She explained to us, “My collection this year is called Divine Intervention. It’s about a dream I had of the angels in heaven. Everything was cream and gold – it was an amazing experience. So my collection is all cream and gold. My final catwalk piece this year was the Ozone Dress. Swiss model Aïda wore a white wig with twigs coming out of it symbolising the clouds of pollution rising from the earth. The glittering dress is a copper earthquake. This is what is going on in the world. We need to stop it or the human planet will look like that!”

Two other models walking for Mary Martin London were six footer mother and daughter team Renée and Janeé Knorr. As well as being an international model, Renée is the founder of Global Women Wealth Warriors. “Our ultimate purpose is to help others to become whole in finance and spirituality as well as mental and physical wellbeing.” Based in New Orleans, Renée uses her 14 years’ banking experience to teach financial literacy. She recently told Peachtree TV, “The meaning of being a global woman is to harness beliefs that allow you to soar without any regrets. I am a global impact thought leader in fashion, finance and wellness.” She flew from Tanzania via Dubai to be at the fashion show. “Connecting with the motherland is so important. But I’m grateful to be here right now in London!”

International model, basketball player and burgeoning businessperson Janeé, who is based in Atlanta, added, “Other countries underestimate the power that African fashion has. I watch many top designers at work and when it comes to African designers they truly are about energy and innovation. Mary has that vibrance and power too. I am so proud to be wearing clothes from the latest collection. Her dresses move so beautifully on the catwalk. They’re so elegant yet easy to wear. I’m excited!”

And sure enough, the Divine Intervention Collection is earth shatteringly heavenly. The word “angel” is mentioned 290 times in the Bible. It looked like a few were visiting the human planet as the models glided down the catwalk in a glow of effervescence. Renée did fierce in one of Mary’s famous masks. “This is very appropriate,” she had told us backstage. “We love mask balls in New Orleans!” Janeé strutted her genetically blessed stuff. And then came Aïda Ouro Madeli. Time stood still as she posed in the Ozone Dress. This dress constantly changed colour as it reflected lights and cameras flashing. It appeared to spark and ignite. Mary is all about the metaphor. The Ozone Dress reflected all of us; we are in this together; and we all can have our angelic moments.

Architecture Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Africa Fashion Week London 2023 +

The Heritage Generation

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Africa Fashion Week London upped sticks from Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden to the Institute of Directors Pall Mall: from the Grand Lodge to the Even Grander Lodge. Three days packed to the Corinthian cornice. The ground floor was filled with a bazaar, the staircase became a photoshoot set; upstairs, it was all about the gallery for socialising, Abura Cocktail and Art Bar (Procero gin from Nairobi or South Africa Xwai rum anyone?), another bazaar; makeup salons and changing rooms popped up in the ancillary wing; and of course the vast saloon looking across Waterloo Place to The Athenaeum Club was – lights, cameras, curtains pulled, action! – transformed into the coolest catwalk in town.

Dr Mark Prince OBE, CEO and Founder of the Kiyan Prince Foundation, spoke movingly to us all at the opening of the conference on his work supporting young people. The charity was borne out of tragedy in memory of his 15 year old son’s murder in 2006. “This is God’s creation!” he exclaimed opening his arms to the room. “We feel like family tonight. I was misplaced – I was homeless at 15 yet I changed my life around. God put Kiyan on earth to do good things and we are still doing good things through the Foundation in Kiyan’s honour. My best friend now is the Master of the Universe.” Charity and fashion can go hand in hand.

After this thought provoking speech, Queen Ronke, Founder of Africa Fashion Week London and the Adire Oodua Textile Hub (which empowers female entrepreneurs), introduced a panel probing the most pressing questions of the day. Is Africa fashion’s final frontier? Is there a growing consumer market in Africa ready to buy? Can Africa realistically serve the international market? Whatever the answers are, Africa Fashion Week London is playing a leading role. The four Corinthian columns of this movement are African Sourcing for African Development Sourced in Africa, Made in Africa, Trade in Africa and Build in Africa.There were over 30 spectacular catwalk shows. Creative Director of Iffizi and human rights lawyer Sandra Vermuijten-Alonge stormed it in high energy style. Taking a bow, she put the run into runway, somersaulting down it in truly acrobatic style. Sandra bears more than a passing resemblance to the singer Pink so she was on form in her pink top, skirt and matching trainers. She lives in Victoria Island, Nigeria. Sandra shared,

“Iffizi is made to measure fashion for bold and fabulous ladies: made in Nigeria, designed in Belgium. We use African fabrics and tailoring infused with European style. Iffizi is for women who embrace their own identity and want to dress with elegance, grace and a big smile! There’s no ideal shape as ‘big fashion’ would have us believe. Iffizi puts women first, delivering exclusive custom made clothes that fit women and not the other way round. Our fashion is what I want to wear to work and to go out, feeling confident and feminine. Iffizi exudes a positive – we are one people. Let’s make this world a brighter place!” As for the name, Iffizi combines Efizy which in Yoruba means “cool, trendy, stylish” and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which represents European historic culture. One third of Iffizi’s profits are reinvested in youth employment schemes training tailors and providing master classes in fashion. The handshake of charity and fashion once more.

There were so many other memorable catwalk moments. Mumini’s unveiling of the Sierra Leone flag; Elpis Megalio’s skeletal frame skirt; Ruby Dawn’s leopard skin short shorts; Enadia Igbin’s sheer red dress; Hertunba’s model designer fusion; Abaake by Equip’s age is no barrier. Menswear was well represented too. David Wej revealed his latest men’s collection. He established his eponymous brand in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2008. His seventh international outlet is on Great Portland Street London. Hanging high up on the wall of the saloon in a gilt frame, Sir Luke Fildes’ 1908 portrait of Queen Alexandra stared down with unmoving eyes.

Music played an even bigger role at this year’s event. Live drummers kept us all in party form. DJ Homeboy rocked the catwalk with Afrobeats and remixes from trance (for Elpis Megalio’s show) to chilled (for Ik-Pen’s). Old school favourites added spice such as Abba’s Xanadu (for Iffizi) and Alice Deejay’s Better Off Alone (Pa Masu). Best of all the final and most fabulous of all the designers – who could that be? – had her own theme tune by DJ Déjà Vu. Mary Martin London shares her knowledge and skills with the elderly at a local community centre in southeast London, when she isn’t working on her latest haute couture collection. Her charitable efforts in educating young people in Ghana has earned her the honorary title of Queen Mother bestowed upon her by Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Art Fashion People

Africa Fashion Week London 2023 + Portraits

The Fashion Despatches Have Begun

A day at the face track.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Queen Ronke + Lavender’s Blue

Haute Monde

Ife is an ancient Yoruba city in southwest Nigeria believed to date from between the 10th century BC and 6th century BC. It has a population of just over half a million and is located about 220 kilometres from Lagos. Ife is famous as a centre of the arts, especially for its ancient bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures. Queen Ronke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi of Ife is the contemporary embodiment of this creativity, in serene and regal form. Her Royal Majesty was born into royalty as a Princess (her great grandfather was Ooni Ademiluyi) so marrying the 51st Ooni of Ife, counted first among the Yoruba monarchs, continues her life in palaces, when she’s not travelling for work.

After studying law at Thames Valley University she decided to follow her passion and work in fashion. “I’m in love with Western designs but I look to Africa for inspiration,” Queen Ronke shares. “Africa has 3,000 tribes and each tribe has its own unique fashion culture. In Nigeria we have around 500 ethnic groups all with their own fashions. I think we are only scratching the surface so far with African fashion!”

One of her royal roles is as Cultural Ambassador and in 2016 she visited President Bola Tinubu (then Lagos State Governor) to explain the initiatives of African Fashion Week Nigeria which she had just established. “Immediately he supported it,” Queen Ronke confirms, “and also reached out to others who could support it because he believes in the creative sector. He knows the development a nation can gain from small and medium enterprises. If you look at the fashion, hair, makeup and music industries you can see how the value chain grows our national wealth tremendously.”

Queen Ronke is at the Institute of Directors on London’s Pall Mall for Africa Fashion Week London which she launched 12 years ago. It has grown from strength to strength year on year and now hosts 30 catwalk shows, a conference, an awards ceremony and retail outlets. Her Royal Majesty looks suitably resplendent in her own designs. She confirms, “My position comes with my appearance as the wife of the King. You must keep up that appearance because you’re representing your husband wherever you are. If you’re dressed in jeans or not dressed in a proper manner it would have an adverse effect. People feel that being born royal I must always know better.”

Africa Fashion Week London is now Europe’s largest showcase of design from Africa and the African diaspora. “It’s a collaborative catwalk, exhibition and business development programme,” she summarises. “I want to highlight emerging designers and bring awareness of Africa’s burgeoning fashion industry to the international market.” The life and work of Her Royal Majesty Queen Ronke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi of Ife combines beauty and intelligence, style and substance, heritage and commerce. And she knows how to make an entrance.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Design Museum London + The Offbeat Sari

Indian Spring

Unravelling its forms, revealing it as a layered metaphor for the subcontinent, an exhibition at the Design Museum London brings together 90 of the finest saris of our time from designers, craftspeople and wearers in India. The sari is an unstitched drape wrapped around the body; its unfixed form has allowed it to morph and absorb changing cultural influences. Versatility is key: it can be wrapped, knotted, pleated, tucked or divided in two, either highlighting or concealing the body. Contemporary designers are experimenting with hybrid forms such as sari gowns and dresses as well as innovative materials like woven steel and distressed denim.

Curator of The Offbeat Sari exhibition Priya Khanchandani says, “The sari is experiencing what is conceivably its most rapid reinvention in a 5,000 year history. It makes the sari movement one of today’s most important global fashion stories yet little is known of its true nature beyond south Asia. Women in cities who previously associated the sari with dressing up are transforming it into fresh everyday clothing. For me and for so many others, the sari is of personal and cultural significance. It is a rich dynamic canvas for innovation, encapsulating the vitality and eclecticism of Indian culture.”

The most striking piece was made for the billionaire businessperson Natasha Poonawalla to wear to the 2022 New York Met Gala. An embroidered tuile sari with a train designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee was worn over a gold Schiaparelli bodice, bridging the gap between fashion and sculpture. This was stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania’s interpretation of the Met Gala dress code Gilded Glamour. All bases are covered at this exhibition from haute couture to street fashion. There’s even a sari for rock climbing.

The exhibition isn’t just about the finished products: Ajrakh is an ancient method of hand carved wooden block printing that traditionally uses motifs based on Islamic geometry. Sample blocks are on display. A silk sari may be typically designed using a dozen or more blocks and then will undergo a complex process of printing and dyeing using natural pigments. The Offbeat Sari is yet another revealing fashion exhibition at the Design Museum London.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Mary Martin London + Sustainability

Harbour Lights

Back at our home from home, Chelsea Harbour, we catch up with the Queen of Fashion. It’s the eve of Africa Fashion Week London – she’s headlining a catwalk of Africa and the African diaspora’s very finest. Before all the glitz and glamour, funk and fantasy, jazz and pizzazz, Mary talks to us about the serious side of her fashion artistry: sustainability. At the most fundamental level, her clothes are made to last. But there are multiple layers (pun) to her green credentials.

“I care passionately about sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency and nature. My eponymous fashion label Mary Martin London (MML) reflects these passions. MML could easily stand for Materials Made for Life! I also greatly care about Africa and again my clothes reflect this interest. While many of my models are either from Africa or the African diaspora, I employ and attract a diverse talent: one of my first catwalk models was Polish while I also have mature female Irish clients.”

“I am from a family of 13 siblings and am the second youngest of six sisters so as a child I got used to wearing ‘hand me downs’. I would give these fifth hand clothes my own spin by adding individual accessories. I have been collecting old fabrics from the 1970s. I recently bought factory leftovers of linen which I will use for my next collection.”

“My Queen of Africa dress is an aesthetic interpretation of the countryside: the colourway of this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun. My Cecil the Lion dress came about when I heard the tragic news story from Zimbabwe of a lion maimed and killed by a recreational big game hunter. Layers of tulle around the neck and shoulders represent Cecil’s mane. The back of the dress has got the silkiness and fineness of the lion’s body.”

“I also draw and make my own prints. For my first men’s collection, I designed a print called Slaves in the Trees. I researched the Himba Tribe in Namibia and discovered they use a lot of orange face paint and hair mud. Orange is for the vibrance of earth and black is for the unseen missing elements. Orange represents the sun, the happiness outside. The print also commemorates the suffering inflicted during the slave trade.”

“Many of my dresses have historical inspiration which ties in with the sustainable use of recycled materials and reimagining vintage pieces. Last September I organised a fashion shoot of The Return Collection at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This collection was in part inspired by Georgian costume and aristocracy. Except in my imagination the black models are now the reigning grand aristocracy! The Grand Staircase and Durbar Court provided the perfect backdrop for these extravagant clothes. The collection reuses sequins from old costumes.”

“I continue to research and look for new methods to reinvent old materials in exciting ways. My passion for sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency, nature and of course Africa drives me to be ever more creative, stretching my imagination and skills. I make clothes to last: they represent the antithesis of the throwaway culture. Mary Martin London is all about making the world a better, more exciting and more caring place for current and future generations.”

Design Fashion People

Pavlo + Piccadilly London

Always in Season

London Fashion Week has barely ended before Africa Fashion Week London begins. Just enough time for a shoot with Pavlo in the park. It’s the September and October issue really.

Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Nate Freeman + The London Edition Hotel Punch Room Fitzrovia London

The Second Age of Umber

“You must not ever stop being whimsical.” Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

When New Yorker Nate Freeman, ArtTactic podcaster and Vanity Fair writer, comes to town where does he go and what does he do? Why, he fills the Punch Room in The London Edition with 100 of the capital’s brightest. Punch and conversation flow while supper is served. Gruyere and thyme tartlets and tuna kimchi seaweed canapés to be precise. Waving goodbye to Nate and the revellers, the following morning it’s the Sheraton Grand Park Lane Hotel for Women Leading Real Estate. And for breakfast? Canapés of course.

“And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.” Still Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

Art Design Luxury People Restaurants

The Portrait Restaurant St Martin’s Place London + Richard Corrigan

The Artists as Youngish Men

Chop chop! Who’s slicing and dicing and spicing the veg? Grand Chef Richard Corrigan himself. Next thing he’s marching over to our table: “Here’s mash to celebrate being Irish!” There’s mash and there’s Made in The Portrait by Richard Corrigan Mash. Its sunny complexion is what Nancy Lancaster would call “buttah yellah”. Picture perfect. The best olive oiled potato money can buy and even better when it’s on the (pent) house. Funday Sunday set lunch is best eaten while floating above the Mary Poppins roofscape over Trafalgar Square in a cloud of fervent luxury.

Richard’s menu is imaginative and concise with just four or five options per course. Keeping it vegetarian, today’s choices for lunch are burrata (peach, fennel, pistachio), conchigliette (cauliflower, Spenwood) and goat’s milk ice cream (English cherries, Riesling). This top floor new restaurant really is the English cherry on the icing on the cake that is the revamped National Portrait Gallery. Chop chop! It’s time to go dancing.

Architects Architecture Art Design People Town Houses

Asamhaus + Asamkirche Munich

The Maximalists

It’s amazing what Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam managed to pack into just 176 square metres of Munich cityspace. Visual feast … aesthetic wonder … treasure trove … dusting nightmare … phrases fail to fully describe the interior of Asamkirche. This is late baroque at its most brilliant. Built as a private chapel adjoining Asamhaus, their home next door, after popular demand the brothers opened it to the public.