Duncan Grant's studio at Charleston Farmhouse
Photo via here
Be still my heart. As most of you know, I am a big fan of the Bloomsbury Group. Last week as I was looking through the Style section of the New York Times I was stopped in my tracks by an article that almost leapt off the page. You don't often hear the names Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf mentioned in a piece about high fashion. It was a review of Fashion Week in London where the biggest star was the Burberry Autumn/Winter collection inspired by the art of the Bloomsbury Group. This article was a review of the collection which is called "The Bloomsbury Girls." Fashion and Bloomsbury have come together at last.
A door painted by Duncan Grant at Charleston
Image source unknown
The garden room at Charleston
Photo via here
I have often thought that the imagery and style of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of friends made up of some very famous English writers and artists working in the early 20th century, would be a great muse for fashion. After all, the country retreat where some of them lived and most of them hung out -- Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex -- is literally bursting with sunny and garden-inspired art which happens to be very pretty. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved there in 1916 and lived together for fifty years; during that time they covered the walls, furniture, bookcases, doors, and ceramics with their own decorations. Their friends (who spent a lot of time there) included Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, and Vanessa's sister Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. It was a happy, bohemian, and messy kind of place, a hive of creativity and friendship, and one that so obviously contained artistic and unconventional souls. Their style has inspired interior decorators for years and I am so happy that the fashion world has taken notice.
A painting by Duncan Grant
Image source unknown
The Burberry fashions from this collection capture the exuberant feeling and the loose and fluid brushstrokes of Bloomsbury art, its recognizable shapes and patterns, and the delightful decorations that fill Charleston. They hark back to an era when very exciting things were happening in art and literature. I learned that all of the items in the collection -- shoes, handbags, dresses, shawls, etc. -- were in some way hand-painted. Christopher Bailey, the designer for Burberry, decided to go back to a time when things were being done by hand. He was inspired by the romantic vision of nature and flowers that he found at Charleston. Take a look at these beautiful clothes. They will remind you of an English country garden with a distinctly Bloomsbury twist. Go here to see the entire collection.
These clothes are eccentric and beautiful with a quirkiness that feels very British. All of the items capture the bohemian, handmade and crafty feeling of Charleston. The designer has done an amazing job. Rarely has high fashion felt so cozy, domestic and romantic.
After doing a little research I learned that this isn't the first time that Christopher Bailey of Burberry has been inspired by Bloomsbury. His Autumn 2009 collection was inspired by Virginia Woolf. (How did I not know this!) But this time the connection will be made official. In the fall Burberry will become a patron of The Charleston Trust to help protect its creative and cultural heritage for the public. What a boon for Charleston! If you ever find yourself in this beautiful part of England where the house is located, be sure to visit. You will be amazed to see a place in which the inhabitants painted everything -- bookcases, doors, fireplaces, you name it. As Christopher Bailey said, "It has this beautiful effect, as if all these objects have a little bit of soul." And there is also a lovely garden and pond. I have never been to an historic home that reflected its owners more vividly than this joyous and magical place in the Sussex countryside of England.