“There are little nods and big gestures to Cruella throughout the afternoon tea,” explains Annabel. “Cruella is very Vivienne Westwood – 1970s punk rock and anarchy. She’s a super chic sassy gal with anarchic attitude. It’s all rock and roll and a little bit mad.” The egg and cress mayonnaise sandwiches and mint yoghurt and cucumber filled may be classics but they are placed alternatively on the plate with white and dark bread. The striped effect is of course inspired by Cruella’s two tone hair. All very Daphne Guinness.
Every plate is full of devilishly delightful signature pieces. “The Lanesborough is very dog friendly,” praises Annabel P. “When I arrived a bed with a couple of treats was set out for Winne my mini wire haired dachshund. “I’m sure Cruella would approve!” This season is all about reinvention of the A line and afternoon tea. And killer heels of course. It’s all brilliant, bad and more than a little bit mad.
Quite simply there’s nothing as mad as a well spent afternoon in Dublin before or during or after The Races. Sometimes one brings the madness; the party will always follow. Several of her famous original racy set including a former Taoiseach and his sweetie lover have long since kicked their proverbial buckets but Noelle Campbell-Sharp is well and truly alive and very much kicking ass. The Charlie Haughey era is now banked, vaulted and sealed history. Today, Noelle captures the essential present face of a hugely successful Dublin art gallery and wildly far flung County Kerry artists’ retreat. Her face is exquisitely framed by sharp green glasses and fiery red hair complete with a yellow flame curl. Aged 77 now, she would still pass for Vivienne Westwood’s hotter more fun sister. Not many people, back in the day blonde, could outshine Jerry Hall. “I remember that was quite a party!” She’s getting ready for the latest private view in her relocated Origin Gallery. “The key is attracting some of the brightest artists in the world.” Like its forerunner the gallery is behind a Georgian façade in the Irish capital. That’s where the similarity ends. Abruptly. Her new gallery is… drummer boy roll for understatement… calmer. Wedgwood blue ceiling, deep navy carpets, virginal white walls.
As for the original original Origin… oh yes, time to talk about Noelle’s very steamy love affair with Napoleon. Perched above the piano nobile gallery, her just below the nursery floor eaves library was once a full blown homage to the homme. His heraldic birds and heroic bees were sewn into the carpet and painted onto the shutters while spreadeagled eagles boldly crouched on the bookcase columns, spreading their wings ever wider in an ever increasing ever encroaching clockwise span swooping over easy prey… “pray tell us more!”. A double barrelled stripy fabric billowed across the ceiling like the last sails of the French General’s ship. Among the miscellanea on display was an original drawing of the Imperial Arms of France. “What any French museum would give to get their hands on all this!” envied Karl Lagerfeld when he clapped eyes on her loot. A jib door in the trompe l’oeil wall slid through to a very sweet en suite decorated with the naughtiest mural in Dublin if not Ireland. It was enough to make sailors blush, although seemingly not the Napoleonic soldiers engaged in lots of action.
“I’ve totally fallen out with Napoleon. When I was a child I discovered tea chests in an attic brimming with his letters, jewels and toy soldiers. They sparked off my obsession. Actually I still sleep in an attic! I like to surround myself with antiquarian books. I can’t pass them by. William Butler Yeats, Empire Period, Irish folklore … alright maybe I am still just a bit in love…” Noelle is soldiering on with her autobiography. Five chapters completed so far. She counts Karl, Yves Saint Laurent and David Bailey among the many entries in her not so little black book; Robert Maxwell definitely doesn’t appear: he owed her £10 million before he toppled over portside; and with rock band manager, press baroness, socialite, conservationist, arts patron and gallerist filling her résumé, presumably there’s enough material for at least five more chapters?
Noelle’s forever dashing. An ostrich feathered fully plumed hat and sapphire laden museum quality choker necklace was once her fashion du jour. Tomorrow she’s off to Cill Rialaig, the abandoned rural village she transformed into an artists’ retreat with the help of celebrated architect Alfred Cochrane. “It’s on the last road in Ireland. New York is caviar compared to escaping to Kerry!” That doesn’t stop artists coming from far and wide – Argentina, Italy, Russia and so on. “There’s a selection process, but really it’s down to whoever spins the best yarn.” The Emerald Isle’s most recognisable Rolls pulls up on the street outside Origin Gallery. Ms Campbell-Sharp has left the building. Somewhere, across the city, a mad party is about to begin before or during or after The Races.
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” croons Lisa-Marie Presley. You ain’t. And you won’t. Not yet. For Mary Martin London is busy sewing up a storm for her forthcoming fashion feat: The Return Collection. This comes hot and heavy on the haute heels of her last extravaganza Blood Sweat and Tears. This time it really is all about power dressing. And the corridors of power are about to be torn up by the thrust and throttle no room for boondoggle of a Mary Martin London show. “If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility,” writes Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam, “then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.”
Show. Not merely catwalk, for Mary will as ever be mixing decks in between directing the lighting, sound, photography, choreography, and always, laughter. There is really only one space that can hold its own for her solo show. Enter Durbar Court. “I like that the heads of the East India Company leaders will be looking down on my catwalk!” Mary howls laughing. “History and all that!” The Court was first used in 1867 for a reception of the Sultan of Turkey. King Edward VII threw his Coronation party here in 1902. Ms Robinson again, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment.” More recently, President Trump gave a speech here; Victoria Beckham showed last summer; Vivienne Westwood before that; but this is a first: a black female designer holding court in Durbar Court.
There’s so much art and sculpture and history layered with meaning and misapprehension in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. En processional route to Durbar Court is the Muses’ Stair. An octagonal glass lantern lighting the Portland stone staircase is decorated by Canephorae, Roman goddesses of plenty, floating over cherubs representing Roman virtues. Portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie hang between red Devonshire marble and grey Derbyshire marble Corinthian columns.
“Dare to be you!” Reverend Andy Rider preached in his last sermon as Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields. Over 100 years ago Lady Sybil Grant wrote in her self hagiography, “Provided that we are a star we should not trouble about the relative importance of our position in the heavens.” Fastforward a century or so and Mary is confident of her place in the firmament. And daring to be Mary Martin London. The creation of Eve. “We should be thankful that our cinematographic life in London still affords the quality of mystery and unexpectedness,” proclaimed Lady Sybil. Big statement.
Big statement architecture requires big statement fashion. Another interjection from Marilynne Robinson, “It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” First there was The Black Dress: “I see through a dark cloud of black mist.” Then The Red Dress: “The tainted bride is no longer a virgin.” Next came The White Dress: “I dream of memories when I was a Queen.” There’s only one dress left. The Rainbow Dress: “It’s finally coming – the biggest and the best! The Rainbow Dress will open The Return Collection!” the fashion artist declares. “A world champion ballerina will combine Tai quan dao and African dance on the catwalk. I’m bringing it in a bit different! People haven’t been out so I’m going to give them an amazing show. The Return to Africa. I’m out of the box!” Out of the box and into the Court. “Just A Dream” mourns Lisa-Marie Presley. Not for Mary Martin London. She is all about turning dreams into fantasies into realities into myths and truths. An uncommon wealth of talent.
Chicks with Bricks Founder Holly Porter introduces three inspirational preprandial speakers. Award winning interior designer Tala Fustok starts, “Interior design is so much more than pretty trimmings! We enhance people’s lives and experiences. I lived in Paris for six years and gained a huge level of experience. I came back to London and set up my own studio four years ago.” Tala’s projects include The Mandrake Hotel in Fitzrovia and a 26 metre bespoke barge.
We are swept through reception on a French flow of impossibly suave direction, past achingly orgiastic triple epiphanic inducing ceiling tipping floral arrangements – lavender’s lemon – through Le Galerie to our table d’haute. Normandy born David shares, “As someone who loves nature, it is important for me to work with the wonderful products of the French regions. My cuisine has a particular elegance and subtlety, and my take on the product can be appreciated in both its taste and visual appearance.” He further describes his cooking as “a traditional French contemporary cuisine of elegance, refinement and femininity”.
“There are little things that thrilled me more… it is one’s own discoveries – an etching in a bookstall, a crooked street in the Latin Quarter – a quaint church in some forgotten corner, these are all the things one remembers.” Samuel Barber
The interior of L’Orangerie is as starry as its culinary accreditation: a crystalline prism presents a welcome foil to the solidity of Lefranc + Wybo’s original Art Deco white stone architecture. Designer Pierre-Yves Rochon used 2.5 tonnes of glass, 160,000 pieces of Carrara marble and a few Lalique lamps to up the ante, to max the effect, to dazzle with pizzazz. L’Orangerie overlooks the Marble Courtyard; it’s perpendicular to Le Cinq and opposite Le George (the third restaurant). We could easily get distracted by this visual feast and that’s before the feast on (textured, sculptured and abstract) plates arrives. There’s a new axis tilting lunch menu and Charles, the Monsieur Divay variety, Directeur of L’Orangerie and Le Galerie is here to explain, “We’ve more vegetables and seafood on our new menu.” Fantastique! We want to savour the vegan and pescatarian savouries.
Incidentally, the sixth Michelin Guide published by André Michelin, the 1926 edition, set out its raison d’être: “For a certain number of important cities in which the tourist may expect to stop for a meal we have indicated restaurants that have been called to our attention for good food.” Restaurants were graded in three categories, as they are today, from one star “simple but well run” to three stars “restaurants of the highest class”. La Tour d’Argent was one of the first Parisian restaurants to achieve the ultimate recognition.
“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter… but now it’s spring… Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway
Very incidentally, second floor apartments attract a premium in Paris. Much of the city was rebuilt in the 19th century under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann. A uniformity of design meant the ground floor of blocks was usually commercial with the shopkeepers housed immediately upstairs. The wealthy lived on the second floor or “étage noble”. Far enough from street noise but not too many stairs to climb. The most generously sized apartments with high ceilings and long balconies are still on this floor. Monsieur Haussmann blessed Paris with four square streets of gold, a little bit of heaven come early. The lost and found generation. Paris is always worth it. Sequins of events on a glittering grid.
“The copper dark night sky went glassy over the city crowned with signs and starting alight with windows, the wet square like a lake at the front of the station ramp.” Elizabeth Bowen
It’s hard to believe that not much more than a decade ago Christ Church lay derelict, the congregation meeting round the corner in Hanbury Hall (where Charles Dickens once performed readings). The timely arrival of Reverend Andy Rider in autumn 2003 more or less coincided with the restoration of the church. At least from ground upwards. Christ Church the building was reborn. Then came the congregations. Plural. Now there’s an 8.30am Book of Common Prayer service for early risers (everyone heads to Spitalfields Market for breakfast afterwards), two hours later a family service, a Bengali service at 4pm and The Five for late risers. “It’s used a bit like a cathedral,” Andy observes.
The services become livelier, younger and better attended as Sunday progresses, culminating in a congregation of several hundred mainly 20 to 30 somethings by the evening. A lunchtime service for city workers is held every Tuesday. Diverse in worship and worshippers yes, but there’s a common thread: theologically sound, intelligent, life changing sermons. One service it might be Andy on “A Joyride through Philippians”. The next, Darren on “The Holy Spirit of Promise” (Ephesians) or Antje a German born lay preacher on “Sent to Make the Deaf Here” (Mark) or Pieter-bas a Dutch born lay preacher on “Sent to Change Hearts” (more Mark). In between Sunday afternoon services, the nave is open to the public. Described in the Evening Standard as “the best building in London”; breathlessly praised by historian Harry Goodhart-Rendel “it remains doubtful whether of its date and kind there is any finer church in Europe”; and haled by all as Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, it’s unsurprising this horizon piercing Grade I landmark is an international visitor attraction.
Christ Church has only taken three centuries to complete (usual build period of a contemporary London development rarely tops 24 months). Wren’s student Hawksmoor laid the cornerstone in 1714 but the builders focused on completing the above ground work. Below, throughout the passage of time the crypt remained a sculpted unfinished shell, a ribbed skeleton in need of fleshing out and dressing up. The guardianship of Reverend Rider and his accompanying holystic vision changed all that. Meanwhile, above the crypt, Europe’s finest baroque organ (once played by Handel) recently thundered one fine Sunday morning, notes marching ‘cross the aisle, filling the nave, floating up through the clerestory, ending four decades of silence after a multimillion pound restoration by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields.
“The biggest challenge of the crypt project was having no obvious financial provision during the first seven years of my ministry here,” says Andy. Over £3 million was needed. “We still appointed architects and moved the concept towards design. It was when the finance became available through the generosity of The Monument Trust that our biggest challenge was overcome.” Nothing is incidental or accidental; minutiae were agonised over by Andy and the property team. Midnight oil burned in the Fournier Street Rectory while taps were chosen, lights selected and rugs argued over. “Above all,” he states, “I am proud of the church family members who gave themselves to the property team who I believe God deliberately brought to Christ Church for this chapter of its history.”
Dow Jones Architects were tasked with lending the labyrinth meaning, cracking the carapace, unleashing the dust of myriad wooden voices, listening to Andy and the property team. Wearing her erudition ever lightly, Biba Dow expounds on the challenge: “We began by stripping out all the partitions so that we were left with just Hawksmoor’s structure. We revealed the stone piers and beams. The brickwork vaults were limewashed to dematerialise the existing structure into light while retaining the form and texture of the material. Then we inserted a series of oak rooms into Hawksmoor’s space. We wanted to maintain a sense of the scale of the crypt. This is apparent when you walk down the ramp into the crypt and see along its length and then arrive in the café and see its width. We also wanted the windows to light the public spaces and connect them to the city outside. The oak rooms have an outer set of glazed doors and an inner side of oak doors. This allows them to be used in different ways… The oak walls to the main spaces have staggered boards – a contemporary version of plank and muntin panelling. The back of house spaces have narrower tongue and grooved oak walls.”
Another paragraph worthy quote from Biba, “Our concept came from the position of Spitalfields within the mythos of London. It’s a transitional zone, culturally and physically, beyond the city walls. Hawksmoor stacked two triumphal arches on top of each other to form the church’s west front. The city gate is an architectural type that reconciles the centre with the edge. Hawksmoor’s façade explicitly expresses this marginal condition. It’s a juxtaposition which has brought and continues to bring an extraordinary cultural dynamic to the neighbourhood. We wanted the crypt to be part of Spitalfields. The wide ramp entrance brings the York stone pavement down into the space to make a public place. Our idea for the oak panelling was to make something which defines the place in between the edge and centre. The oak sits within the structure of the church building, making a place of habitation. We wanted the new fabric to be clearly contemporary and reversible so that you understand the primacy of Hawksmoor’s space.” Metalwork is bronze. Fabric is from Bute.
Criss crossed crypticChristian chrysalis. A northern light, a southern kirk, an eastern revivification, a western Gesamtkunstwerk. Take the chapel door. Leading glass artist Nikki Cass was commissioned to create an artwork of fired coloured collaged glass to be inserted into the door of this thin place. “Your grace abounds in deepest waters,” goes the Hillsong hit Oceans. Biblical verses delivered divine inspiration as blues and greens and reds and yellows flowed. “The river of the water of life as crystal flowing from the throne of God” (Revelations). “Whosoever believes in the stream of living water will flow from within him” (John). “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit” (John again). Nikki’s artwork has even spawned an accompanying book. Then there’s the kitchen – a stainless steel work of art worthy of a double Michelin starred restaurant (Comme Chez Soi, anyone?).
“We cannot leave Christ Church without mentioning the curious detail of the windows (which is echoed in the street-facing wall of Truman’s Brewery, Brick Lane) – the pull that is set up by the sequence of small circular portholes above tall narrow lower windows. This is the symbol at the heart of Munch’s iconography – and relates to a whole chain of meanings and resonances – the grail-cup above the lance – the cauldron and the sword – female and male – the setting sun and the molten light over the waters – the pill about to be dropped into the test-tube – stylisation of the phallus and generative spurt – volatile/active – demanding the leap of energies – repeated symbols of the unconsummated – invitation.” Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair.