Fashion journalist and That’s Not My Age blogger
It’s only been a couple of months, but I much prefer 50 to 40. At 40, I was single, no kids and miserable. Now I’m happily living with Mr That’s Not My Age and have a blog (which is a bit like having a child), and both of these things have changed my life.
Gone are the wobbly, ‘is-this-it?’ days of my forties, I feel happier in my own skin, more confident than my younger self and a lot more settled than I have done for some time. I love blogging, it continues to be both an adventure and an education and I’ve met some fabulous, like-minded women online, such as Kristin. And occasionally, virtual friends become real friends.
Having worked for many years as a fashion editor on women’s magazines, I’d much rather be on the other side of the camera lens. I’m quite self-conscious and hate having my photo taken. Though strangely I had no qualms about doing this shoot, that’s the Carpe Diem attitude kicking in. After spending years peddling all the tired, old fashion rules, I’m a firm believer in just wearing what you like, whatever makes you happy. Like the sale bargain, M&S sequin skirt I wore on my 50th birthday – a low-key celebration with a handful of family and friends in New York – and my gorgeous leather biker jacket: a birthday present from Mr That’s Not My Age.
I know it’s a bit of a cliché but 50 really is fabulous. Obviously health, wellbeing and taking good care of yourself are important, but as Oscar Wilde said, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’
What are you seeing?
I’m seeing lots of fabulous women in their fifties and beyond – like Michelle Obama, Ines de la Fressange, Emma Thompson, Christine Lagarde – these are my role models, and they ‘re reinventing midlife.
What was the impetus to start your blog That Not My Age?
To celebrate the creed ‘style begins at 40’.’ The fashion industry is notoriously youth-obsessed and I wanted to provide an alternative to this. To celebrate gorgeous, talented, stylish people of a certain age who aren’t Botoxed to the hilt or trying too hard. Also, having written in a ‘house style’ for years, I wanted to write as me. To talk about life and style in an honest, light-hearted way, the way I talk to my friends
We all have a vision of ourselves as an old woman, even if it is a glimpes, what is yours?
Running the marathon at 90
Textile and Surface Designer
December 11, 1960
The recent discovery that my grandfather was, in fact, half Indian – and that he had felt the need to disguise his heritage in order to fit in – may explain a bit about a lot. It may explain why I used to wonder whether my sister was adopted (her skin being so much browner than mine) and it may explain my love of the exotic and all things foreign and different. It may also explain my love of ambiguity in colour (is it blue or green? is it ugly or beautiful?) and my love of mixing unrelated things from different cultures and then making them into something new and striking.
With hindsight this interest in visual order and patterning was evident in my earliest enthusiasms too. I loved collecting shells, feathers, pebbles, postcards, sweet wrappers, anything that caught my eye. My earliest memories involve the thrill of finding new things to collect. As a child of divorced parents my childhood may have been a little chaotic but I received great solace unpacking my collection of prized objects and arranging and rearranging them on a shelf or bedside table. I found tremendous joy in forming visual order out of chaos. And I am still at it today.
There are other things I’m still at. When I was at boarding school I would dive under the bed covers after ‘lights out’ and draw by torchlight with a very fine Rotring pen. I have always needed these moments of retreat, of burrowing under. It was so funny to find myself diving under the table in Kristin’s shoot. I’m sure it came from the same place, the same instinct that had me diving under the covers at school. I know I’m lucky that my creativity has given me an inner life to retreat to.
My shortsightedness has ironically also given me a rich polarity in how I see the world. Before I discovered that I needed specs, aged eight, I had to get very close up to see anything with clarity but was rewarded with a wonderfully magnified view of fine detail. Marks on a shell or a flower or map held a wonderful intrigue. They still do and they provide important details in my designs – but, equally, the blurry forms of distance viewing have given me a valuable sense of the power of the abstract. Nothing was what it seemed in those early days without specs! And I like to keep it that way.
From an early age I also loved that feeling of serendipity and would happily wander off the beaten track, whether it was on a walk in the country or visiting a foreign city, in the hope that I might chance upon something surprising. This is exactly what happened when I took a wrong turn in the V and A museum in 1980 and found myself face to face with a wonderful dot and crescent pattern from the 15th Century Ottoman Empire. These bold modern looking patterns were as striking to me as my favourite Russian Avant Garde paintings of the early 20th Century. They opened up for me a whole new world and changed the course of my career. On leaving the V and A I got the bus straight back to college, barged into the Principal’s office and petitioned to change my degree course from Graphics to Textiles.
When she was shooting me for This is Fifty Kristin says she felt that I was unselfconsciously aware of the shape I was making as part of the overall composition of the shot, that I was I was naturally approaching this strange experience of being photographed in the same way as I would one of my own designs. That my body was both the pencil as well as the subject. That I was retreating as well as revealing. I was as concerned about the gaps as I was about the shapes.
As in art as well as in life, it’s the absences, the bits that are missing, that are as important as the roles we inhabit – and what matters, in the end, is the connection between them.
What are you seeing?
After the exhibition last summer at the Queens Gallery I am drooling over In Fine Style The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion by Anna Reynolds. A visual feast of textile s and fashion. Just saw the mouth watering jewellery from the Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of London. Booked and looking forward to Ghosts by Ibsen at the Almedia as well as Manon at the Royal Opera House.
What are you reading?
Anton Joseph by Salmon Rushdie, just finished Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer and Keats biography and love letters by Andrew Motion. Waiting in the queue by my bedside table: The Hand Made Loaf by Dan Lepard. An honest, simple book about the real passion and craftsmanship of bread making from around the world. A great Christmas present given to me by a friend.
Who are you listening to?
Lorraine Hunt singing Handel arias from Theodora La Lucrezia and Serse.
The embroidered coat is from Frederique Birkenmeyer a Moroccan designer along with Rajesh Pratap Singh in Delhi, my favourites. Day uniform is jeans, pumps and tailored shirts so I am delighted to have recently discovered Chavret in Paris.
I was born after a very long labour with the help of Milk of MagNESIA to induce me! I was christened Camilla but the nick name Neisha stuck. Funny it is an Indian name a bit of fore shadowing here!?
Advice to a young design student?
Always have your head fixed on doing things that feel fresh new and surprising.
Oct 8, 1958
Textile Designer, Co Founder Creator of FForest
What was your experience of being photographed?
I don’t like being the centre of attention and so my first response on being approached by Kristin was to say NO! Then I thought about it and quite tentatively agreed and then, as the time approached, I began to really look forward to it. The actual experience was quite playful, full of make believe and adventure, dressing up in blankets, pretending to be an Indian squaw, floating downstream in a canoe on a early autumn afternoon. In the end it was a lovely opportunity to sit and reflect on the passing river of life and consider where and who we are now.
What are you reading? What are you looking at?
I used to read a lot but now I find it much more difficult to stay awake! I love cookery books and the latest good find is ‘The Ethicurean Cookbook’ There are recipes here and stories of completely delicious food and drink which are all pretty much grown and lovingly prepared by a group of friends in a walled garden outside of Bristol. They truly are cooking with the British seasons and brilliantly. They press their own old varieties of apples for juice and cider, plus they make their own Vermouth. It’s very inspiring.
Who are you listening to?
‘The Staves’ is what I am loving to listen to at the moment. A British acoustic folk rock trio of sisters. Beautiful, clear and perfect. Angels.
What’s good for the body? for the heart and soul?
We moved to West Wales from the centre of London eight years ago. Here there are fewer cultural activities, but we are surrounded by nature.
Every day I notice the light on the trees, in the sky, through the clouds, on the sea – it’s constantly changing. I notice the seasons passing, little by little. These things I truly love. They feed my soul.
My favourite thing to do is to spend the day with my family and friends. We walk over the cliff tops or pootle by boat across the sea to a secret beach and then set up a camp, collecting drift wood, making a fire, diving for spider crabs. We then cook over the coals and eat. We swim, we paddle and play games till sunset, then we head for home. This is as good as it gets.
Cooking and eating, laughing and being outside with those you love is blissful for the body, for the heart and soul. Despite the everyday toils and challenges of work, I feel very blessed and very lucky.
Clothing: All well worn workwear / vintage and new blankets from the FForest shop.
Jewellery: From Northern India, collected and given as presents by James (as in J see above)
Follow Sian and the FForest family (and be transported to another world) on Instagram
Martha 1: Why on earth am I standing on the hood of my car?
Martha 2: I’m happy! I’m reveling in the light by the water. I wanted my red velvet opera coat to make friends with my old blue Chevy.
M 1: The Chevy that breaks down. The car that doesn’t let me know how much gas is in the tank.
M 2: She’s pushing 60. She needs tender loving care.
M 1: All those rust spots!
M 2: She still gets me to where I need to go. So what?
M 1: They remind me of my own spots. I’m haunted by the red spots multiplying on my aging body.
M 2: But they’re part of the map of me. I played dot to dot with India ink. I liked the dots after that. How wonderful that I can run and stretch and swim and hug, all my limbs alive.
M 1: My body’s growing old.
M 2: I’m growing up, inside and out. My heart’s getting bigger.
M 1: But my bum isn’t really that big. It must be the lens of Kristin’s camera, right?
M 2: What a shape, whatever the lens! A bum that big behind the wheel of the Chevy? That’s a very happy car.
Martha 1: I give up. I’m on your side.
Martha 2: Hooray for the Marthas in me. Let’s go for a drive. We’ll catch the light at sunset. And find it again in the morning.
February 10, 1957
What are you reading?
Plays, plays and more plays by: Lanford Wilson, Tracy Letts, Jez Butterworth, David Lindsay-Abaire, Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel, Horton Foote.
What are you seeing?
Artist William Kentridge charcoal drawings as animation, sculptor Ned Smyth turning to photography with his powerful large-scale portraits of stones.
Who are you listening to?
Michael Franti’s song ‘I’m Alive’, and Treetop Flyers first CD, The Mountain Moves.
What’s good for body, heart and soul?
All of these and more, in any and all combinations: Eating almonds and blueberries, walking my boyfriend’s dog on the beach (boyfriend included!), running instead of walking, visiting my mom and my sisters and brothers (US and UK), watching my sons take flight, writing every damn day.
Who is your favorite fictional character?
Oh, I try hard to knock her off her post, but it’s still probably Holden Caulfield’s little sister Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye.
In my friends I treasure:
BEING THERE, with energy and openness and a sense of humor that pulls me out of my own little world.
An obsession with second-hand clothing shops that started with my French Canadian grandmother hunting for wool to make her braided rugs. My Givenchy opera coat was a 40th birthday present from my father-in-law and his wife (note to self: must wear more!); and Viva stocked me with vintage treasures from the Covent Garden Market.
The Roles I Play
As a child growing up in the south of Spain my favourite pastimes were those spent playing make-believe games with my friends. Julia, still a close friend, and myself had three favourites, which we liked to share with anyone interested; bike detectives, librarians, and baptism organisers. The latter was a bit risky, as it involved sneaking into the church with our friends’ dolls and performing a ceremony by the holy water font. I don’t remember ever getting caught by Father Quintero, but I do remember a member of the group wetting herself in fear at the thought of it.
I left Spain with my mother and came to live in England aged nine. It was a complex departure. I was leaving my sister and brother, my close extended family and all my friends to join my recently emigrated father in London. I was excited beyond words, nervous, sad and apprehensive. The awareness of a new beginning, a new sense of responsibility filled me. I was no longer the youngest child; I would have to fulfil a new role, and this role would be significant. Stepping on the plane I began to shed the first skin of childhood and create the first layer of the confident young adult.
What the role would entail began to unfold as we landed in England and were held up in emigration. My mother and I were not English speakers, we could not understand the customs official’s words but I began to understand their gestures, we were going to be sent back, we were not welcomed. A sudden flurry of doors, the emergence of my father with an English speaking friend and a handful of papers soothed the situation and before I knew it we were on our way to a new home. I had made a mental note – learn the language quickly. Within three months I was fluent and the new role had come to fruition; that of interpreter and rent manager for a small Spanish community living in a run down house in Bayswater.
It seems clear to me now how at the age of eighteen the decision was made to embark on a career of continual role-play. The foray into drama clubs and the school plays had awaken what by now had become a natural pastime, that of inhabiting qualities other than my own and placing myself in difficult situations. In comparison to real life scenarios this was much more manageable, and the discovery of these characters through others words an absolute joy and relief.
I can look back at the Shakespeare heroines, the exotic foreigners, the lovers the mothers, the adulteresses, the political activists I have played with the realisation that their light would have been duller without the full beam of life experience running beneath them and now, in my 50’s, along with the portfolio of roles that life has graced me with, (mother, lover, counsellor, coach, teacher, friend, nurse, etc.) I look forward with optimism to the many parts being written at this very moment for me to play. For one thing is sure, the older I get the younger the child in me becomes and the more I long to play.
November 5th 1960
What are you reading? Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, recommended and passed on to me by my daughter
What are you seeing? Grey Gardens both the documentary and film. I discovered them of late and am now obsessed!!
Good for the soul? Silence
Good for the body? Dancing
Good for the heart? Family and friends
What fictional character have you most enjoyed playing? I played Gertrude in Spain, in Spanish, last year and it was a great challenge, but the first character that came to mind was Leni in Altona by Sartre.
What fictional character do you hope to play in the future? There’s a long wish list but at the moment if I could play anything written by David Greig I would be estatic. I’ve loved everything of his I’ve seen.
Shawl and Peineta are from my mother; they are used in the south of Spain on special holidays- religious processions and fairs.
Black vintage dress comes from a second hand clothes stall on the Prince of Wales Road, which no longer exists. I befriended the owners while I was at drama school and they would leave things they thought I liked to the side so that the dealers didn’t get them first. I once had a collection of 30′s 40′s and 50′s clothes, which through time have been given away or disintegrated. Bought in 1979.
Black fishing mac: Given by old friend
Bird necklace: was given to me by my sister, it’s a wooden dove representing peace and freedom.
Dungarees: Left by my brother in law ten years ago and confiscated by me.
Beaded handbag, jumper, blanket etc – all either given by family and friends or bought in charity shops. I love recycled clothes, especially those handed down by people I know and love. It makes me feel close to them.
Founder/Owner Loop, London
1960’s Started as a kid running around NYC, surrounded by new pop songs and Motown and singing with brooms to the Beatles with my mom and brother. Sundays meant smoked fish from the Jewish delis and trips to art museums and central park for kite flying. Each summer we went up to the bungalow colonies in upstate NY and that was filled with eclipses of the sun, outdoor drive-in movies and chubby grandma’s pot roast and onion cookies always cooking. Screen doors slamming. Jones Beach and transistor radios and my dad teaching me to play cards. I started taking painting lessons and my parents divorced. My dad encouraged me to read the Sunday New York Times book review at an early age and when I said I didn’t understand half the words he got me a little notebook to write down the meanings of words. My brother had a notebook filled with pages and pages of detailed notes about dinosaurs from our visits to the Natural History Museum on the upper West Side. He grew up to be a geologist.
Both of them said I could be what I wanted to be as long as I worked very hard and was passionate about what I did. This to an 8 year old. I guess it stuck. We lived in Queens, NYC and played handball against the sides of apartment buildings and rode our bikes around the streets. I could sense change all around me as the Vietnam War, and its’ accompanying protests, was played out on TV and men landed on the moon. There was a feeling of so much hope and good things to come.
1970’s (11 years old to 21 – how significant a decade is that?)
A big cheer went up in assembly when it was announced we could wear jeans to school. I won the school spelling bee for a few years. I never forgot how to spell ‘squirrel’.
The bungalow colony summers gave way to sleepaway camp in upstate NY and for this NYC kid woodland cabins and the smell of campfire with s’mores came as a revelation that has stayed deeply seeped in my soul. I still can go gooey-eyed at the sight of acorns, the smell of pine forests or a swim in a lake. When I was 10 we drove across country, 4 of us with Eileen, my dad’s new wife, in a VW bug from NYC all the way to California. (it was blue and the top came down- so glamorous to me then, though now I don’t know how we did it) I saw the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Giant Sequoias and incredibly long trains running across the American landscape and got a breadth of how sweepingly huge and beautiful the country was. My dad cooked steaks by the side of the motel pools and I had my first taste of wanderlust. I was in heaven driving across endless landscapes with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell on the radio.
My mom went back to art school to study Interior Design and there were always mood boards strewn around our apartment and stacks of design magazines. I was dragged around the Museum of Modern Art and the D&D building in NYC on weekends. She saved up to get a pair of Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs and then started weaving. Suddenly there was a huge wooden loom in our living room and hanks of yarn drying in the bathroom which she had dyed with cochineal and plants that she sent off for. I think I must have become a designer and textile junkie by osmosis.
I went and stayed on a commune in Kentucky the summer I was 15 and suddenly high school seemed irrelevant. It was all farming and meditation and living with people pretty much older than me. Life was good but I missed having the time to read, paint and the long dinner conversations of my upbringing terribly. I wound up staying less than a year and moved back, briefly, to NYC with my mom before heading off to California to be with my dad before heading off again with my New York high school love to go plant trees and pick apples in the Northwest. I started knitting again.
It wasn’t long maybe 2 years, before NYC was calling to me again and I got into art school and started studying Textile Design at The Fashion Institute of Technology and then The School of Visual Arts for Graphic Design. These were years of being in love with falling in love, feeling crazy with creativity and dancing at night with friends in clubs and art openings and NYC felt like the Rome of its’ day.
I met my husband of 22 years in a club on the lower east side in my last year of Art School. He – an Englishman living in NYC and our young marriage and my first designing job straight out of art school at Conde Nast.
When homesickness struck him we moved to London and within a year I had my first baby – a gorgeous girl, but everything had changed and I felt so isolated- everything that could change, did change. All of a sudden I was a young mom, away from NYC, family and friends. It wasn’t a great time for me and then there is the pressure to feel like it is a great time because you have become a mom. I loved up my baby every day but was longing to sweep her up and get back to Brooklyn.
The following years gave me two more blessed babies – boys – and I free-lanced as an art director and designer while we raised our three children. I loved my work. I fell for London and made some great friends at work and in the school yard and felt blessed that my husband was my best friend. When he met me from work I still got a little shudder even though we had been together for over 14 years. We took our kids around the world on a million trips. To this day they are great travellers. I look back on those years of our young family with incredible happiness and some wistfulness. I sometimes long for those years. For their warm little bodies clambering up onto me and falling asleep in the sun.
My forties feel a little blurred.
My dad’s wife died and a few years later he met another incredible woman who I came to love. They bought a cabin in upstate Pennsylvania and it quickly became one of my favourite summer places to go, to hang on the big porch, mooch around antique barns & auctions and have ‘movie-night’ with fresh corn-on-the-cob and ice cream pie.
Our children started to get older and began to stretch their wings. I started to get restless with magazine design and dreamt of opening a knitting shop. Yes, me. Once I thought of it I threw myself into it like a fever and within a year I had opened a shop in Islington selling gorgeous knitting supplies sourced from all over the world. I loved meeting talented people working with textiles; I loved the tactileness of the craft and the colours to play with. That my shop has been voted one of the best shops in a city like London for a few years and three books. How crazy fun is that?! It has been an amazing journey growing a business, a community in a sense. I’m proud of what I created and feel honoured to know and work with some incredible people.
My husband suddenly left me after 22 years of marriage and I was all in pieces. My 40’s ended in a very bad way. It felt like I had lost my best friend as well as my husband. It took me a long time to recover- years really. The pain was unbearable but I felt blessed I had had a long marriage that was mostly great and all the wonderful years we had together. All of a sudden those soppy love songs, even the corniest country and western ones, seemed to resonate.
Something like that – betrayal by the one person you love most in the world – leads you to irrational thoughts. Self-doubt. Feeling not pretty enough- not thin enough and not the young self that you were when you first met all those years ago. But of course you’re not, and yet somehow it felt like I should have been.
My ex-husband and I have retained a good friendship – he still lets me know when stuff is on that he thinks I would like and comes over for the big family gatherings. Niall is making his music and DJ’ing. He is still in love with the same wonderful girlfriend he had at 16. I am proud that I have raised a son that knows how to love someone fully. That all the children are close to me and yet still question everything. That they give affection with huge hugs and kisses happily. Of everything, I am most proud of them.
At 53 I met an incredible man who I adore. It has been almost a year and this feels like a new chapter in my life. A different part of my ‘older’ life but just as special, and something to be cherished. Someone who loves my fifty-something self. I would not have thought it was possible to love this way again. But there it is. Someone who ‘gets’ me, is happy to mooch around antique fairs, makes me laugh, reads to me, shares my love of good design and quirky movies, loves me so well and who I love spending every second with when we are together. I feel like I am living in a state of grace. He even loves my crazy hair and ‘dangerous’ curves.
I am looking forward to these things in my future years:
Becoming a Nana. I can’t wait to hold fat baby legs in my arms again.
Making a home with my boyfriend and getting a Wheaton Terrier.
Many road trips with the radio blasting, Japan, Bali and more trips to India and the cabin in Laceyville.
Things that make me inexplicably happy:
Finding the perfect lipstick
Sinking into the world of a great book
The smell of Eucalyptus trees in California
Going to the cinema and Chinatown on a rainy Sunday afternoon
Mauve and grey. Mauve and chocolate brown. Mauve.
Having my whole family around me, from near and far, in my home for a great family dinner – when I walk in the room and see everyone there my chest just swells with love for them all.
Lacy Crider Holtzworth
The Wild Child: My Story
June 1962: Life began in a small Kentucky town, a wedding gift for college bound sweethearts. Dad quickly distinguished himself in the field of wildlife biology. With Mom’s coursework sidelined, she became his assistant. We spent my first decade collecting data for waterfowl conservation in complex wetland ecologies from the Canadian border to the Andean flood plains. I slept in pop-up campers and ate sardines and crackers in the back seat of a jeep with a Labrador retriever and siblings. I missed a few years of traditional schooling. Instead I learned Spanish, rode Gaucho ponies, and scouted for duck nest from the Florida Everglades to Argentine Pampas.
Domestic Struggles: In the 70’s we settled in a university town in northern Florida. Dad, enlightened by scientific findings, picked up his guitar and began a new life writing and singing environmental folklore. When he built us a home out of driftwood above a vast swampy lake, Mom moved to town and finished her degree. They both began new families. Soon I was the oldest of 8; resources were scarce. I had intrinsic knowledge in natural systems, honed observational skills, understood the value of aesthetic communications, and could sketch a convincing spacial perspective. This did nothing for me in high school, but showed promise for continuing my education; unfortunately, I severely lacked discipline and direction. I found those qualities in a boyfriend whose own hard knock story was survival thru self-motivation. I fell in love at 18.
Setting Course: In the 80’s with Tom at the helm, we loaded our pick up and set sail for Santa Cruz, California. He landed a job as an Engineer and I finished my degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Davis. We married, and I began my career as a Park Planner for Santa Cruz County.
In the Groove: In the 90’s, I found my professional niche: working with sensitive natural resources along the Pacific coastline, and developing recreational opportunities for underserved populations in agricultural valleys. I traveled, drove convertibles, and sailed the Monterey Bay, until age 36 when my biological clock began to tick. Among my Kentucky lineage, real women were mothers, I had our first baby, and priorities changed.
Reproductive Fitness: The new millennium found us down the road, through the woods from grandpa in his driftwood house. We quit our jobs, liquidated everything and moved back to the wilds of Florida. At 40, I was pregnant and barefoot with our second child. Forfeiting a mortgage, we bought an old house trailer on 15 acres of brush and trouble. I spent the decade, nurturing that tin can into a home with a heart, that troubled land into a garden of delight, and with Tom raised 2 beautiful children into their teens, and still growing; steeped in creativity, and nature’s wonders.
Finding Balance: At 50, still following my instincts, I see my role changing from the dutiful mother to wizened mentor. It is my family, friends and my clients that I assist with finding balance: I try to help folks value and understand the wild and the domestic, the science and the arts. It is a life long endeavor to balance dreams with responsibility, as well as retrospection, and it is important to get started. In nature there is no excess, there is no waste, nature seeks a balance, and it is a constant adjustment.
Favorite Reads: Anything by Barbra Kingsolver; “Pattern Language”, by Christopher Alexander is my design bible.
Favorite music: I love it all, but tend towards folk… Tim O’Brian, Laurie Louis, and all the old stuff from Chuck Berry to Janis
Good for the Soul: Mentoring our youth, respecting our elders.
Good for the Body: Green Gardens and lots of Garden Greens.
Good for the Heart: Sunshine and sweat, then a long soak in salt water.
P.S. The dress was found in my stepfathers great aunts attic. It was given to me because…. I would wear it.
It was the late 1970s and I was 17. The high Summer heat was just beginning to subside but this being Florida we would still have barely been dressed. I was waiting for the bus to take me to school. Already the humidity was making its mark on my damp skin.
I had moved away from my hometown further south, away from my parents’ divorce, away from high jinx, from trouble. I had big plans. I was in transit, on my way to fashion college in New York City and this was just about finishing my last year of high school without getting into too much trouble.
It was meant to be a sort of drying-out time – like that temperature controlled room in Padua you are directed through before being allowed into Giotto’s Chapel to see the famous frescos, the actual thing. A cleaning up time, a time to go straight. A decompression chamber.
So there I was - at this bus stop waiting. At 17 I was waiting for life to begin. Up until now it had all been a dress rehearsal, or so I thought. Next year, in the big city, it would be real.
Now, if you are an Instagram user, put your ‘early bird’ filter on. The one that washes everything with the beam of daybreak. Here comes Lacy – that’s her – my new best friend. Everything sort of slows down when I think of it. Maybe I just go into Southern time. The girl standing next to me at the bus stop straightens herself up, arches her back, and with a swish of the hips, a bat of her lashes and the softest drawl asks, ‘Hey, aren’t you in my class?’
The Spanish Moss, hanging like a veil, begins to sway in the breeze, almost in rhythm with Lacy’s hips. And that was it. That year I was never going to be alone at a bus stop again.
Well, that’s how I remember it. Oh and the crickets – there would have been crickets – the soundtrack to my childhood.
Later I would learn that Lacy is just a natural born flirt – she flirts with everyone and everything; my mom, the guy at the grocery store, even the rocks and plants she now works with as a landscape architect. And we all react to her energy.
So she took me under her wing. She was a local and I was just passing through. Only it turned out that instead of a stop-gap year best friends fling, this friendship and this place would be a place I returned to again and again. It was a touchstone time and place and Lacy had helped guide me to it. She took my broken lost débutante soul and lead me to the swamp – to the earth. She has ever since been my guide to nature, to touching the soil. Sometimes it’s only by getting dirty that we begin to get clean, to heal.
We have now lived thirty three autumns from that first bus ride. There were other trips. The following autumn, with my Mom, we drove together the 1100 miles to New York City. We showed up at Studio 54 together in our crochet tops and gauze skirts – disco heels from the thrift shop (Lace) and Burdines (I was always the big spender). Lace leaned to me as the bouncer gave us the once over and whispered ‘I think we look like a couple of Florida girls’. He still let us in.
Life had begun.
I returned to the swamp the next summer and her dad’s homegrown music studio was our cabin. We lived off the land like a couple of pioneers. No bathroom, we showered in the open, stole corn from the fields, made blueberry honey sandwiches. Maybe now I can be in the city, I can tolerate the grey and the cold, because I know Lacy is living my alternative life, back in the Florida swamp. On a cold grey London day when the sky looks like slate I know she is there, digging in the sun, getting dirty, flirting with the alligators.
Best friends, they change everything. I hope that I will still know some of the women I am meeting now in thirty years time. But will our friendship have the patina of how I feel about that year – that girl – my new best friend? That all consuming, no holding back, first-date thrill? Like a sister without the blood, like a lover without the bed?
And it has got me thinking about friends and about this blog and what it has to do with being 50? Maybe that is part of what I’m seeking – new best friends! Mine are now scattered – SF, NYC, FLA. And I’m wondering: whom of the women I now know will I still be friends with at 80? Or is it about standing at the bus stop waiting to set out on the long journey of life? My husband feels like a best friend at times. He certainly is my ‘go to’ guy – but with all the complications of, well, just that: he is a man. But were those early friendships a sort of dress rehearsal for marriage? A rough draft for intimacy? A first unlocking of our deep longings for connection?
The thing is I still want that, at 50. Does one ever grow out of it?
- Dress – Toast
- Cream silk necklace and shell belt – India
- Embroiderd bag – car boot sale
CURRICULUM VITAE - The ‘courses of life’ that have shaped me into who I am today.
1960s - NAUGHTY
How could I not be. I was the youngest of 5. 4 girls 1 boy. The house was always teeming with kids. The older ones got it all wrong and I just sat and watched. My parents slept in separate beds and I thought that was normal. Nonetheless I was a tomboy with a lot of confidence and a great lust for life, and a niggling need to be seen. Difficult sometimes through all the crowds. I wanted to perform. I loved dogs and horses, sherbert fountains, blackcurrant licorices .
1970s - BIT NAUGHTIER
Now at an all girls school, parents divorced and living with my dad, I still loved horses and hunting and Biba and Fiorrucci and shoplifting and Cosi and Tarka and Fiona and generally getting into trouble. All my friends then are still my best friends now. Punk rock the kings road, boiler suits …. Boys still not number 1 interest but creeping out of bedroom window late at night and sneaking into Legends starting to become a habit and Pete Duel and Ben Murphy compulsive TV viewing!
1980s - HICCUPS BIG ONES
Lots of failures, lots of disillusions. I didn’t get into RADA, huge blow as my whole life had been predicated on going to drama school. My heart got properly broken. I escaped to LA and US university. America was a shock , the kids were different. I needed something to ground me, to call my own and that was my dog. I stayed 4 years I graduated with my dog Atalanta, a rescue german shepherd. Real life and death in the 80s. A mad time but survived it and moved back to London and met the father of my kids. Got pregnant, got married, got my first job at the Royal Court in a play with Marc Rylance. Life was many shades of grey. Lots was possible but having Jake finally made me soar. I fell deeply in love and with all the trials that the 80 s had put me through the arrival of Jake in 1989 made everything possible and more.
1990s - MORE BOYS AND DOGS
Dreams came true. As a kid I just wanted boys and 1995 gave me the last of my 3 sons. The 90s felt like the non stop 90s, with uninvolved husband I reared my three lads pretty single handedly and I had a ball. Work became harder to navigate as a mum and I gave up acting to direct. It happened seamlessly through writing and I ‘ve never been happier. With the boys, it felt like we were navigating the world as a motley troupe of actors. We watched plays, travelled, ate laughed skied surfed played football. I was a shoulder to lean on and they were the best support anyone could have hoped for. Heavenly 90s.
2000s - THE MOVIES
And the boys grow and so do I. I go through traumatic divorce and terrible pain and eventually out the other side. Working, film festivals, not working, arguing struggling loving but always laughing and crying and juggling and eating and meeting new amazing special people and learning to be more independent and walking the dogs.
2010s – ORPHANS
Mothers and Fathers dying and understanding that death is ok at a certain age. More and more examples of the cycle of life are offered up to me and boys grow and leave and make me burst with pride not only at huge achievements but at the tiniest of shared moments.
Having reached 50, I have more to say about life, more experience, am slowly accruing some wisdom but not nearly enough. I remember to always relish the process and not dream of basking in the end result. That’s when egos and narcissism get in the way. Time to move on and keep on moving. I have a healthy thirst for more, a daily education in love and feeding and honouring my love and respect for my partner. My aspirations are to keep letting go of the ties that bind and yet no longer bind, as my boys fly and soar and I stand quietly (we hope) and watch.
Good for the Soul - Hampstead heath with my 3 enormous mad lurchers. Big family meals and amazing theatre.
Good for the Body - Yoga and more walks in the park sometimes late at night round the Serpentine with the dogs .
Good for the Heart - Delicious red wine and Hylton Nel plates that my friend Moira has turned me onto and that I now avidly collect. Simple, naïve designs or drawings on fine ceramics fired in amazing colours … naked men or women or children’s drawings or fiery statements adorn his plates and they just make me happy. I know that when I go, my boys will treasure each and every one of them.
Required Reading - Ian McEwan and Alan Bennett and well, Gabriel Garcia Marquez just ‘cos I have fallen in love with South America and one thing I do plan to do when my youngest Dash leaves the nest in the not too distant future is a road trip across South America.
Watching - Haneke, Jacques Audiard, Almodovar and Carlos Reygadas… I guess I like a mix of film directors
Listening - Citizen Cope and Rodrigez
Dress - GEMINOLA my sister in NYC has an amazing downtown vintage store. Wish I could say levis 501s but they never did look good on that arse ….in my dreams and at 50, I am still dreaming.
Shoes - Lanvin but since the dogs have eaten them I am back to Clarkes boys lace ups.
Gaby’s latest Film ABANDONED comes out on VOD in April.
Creative Director of Studio M
CURRICULUM VITAE - the ‘courses of life’ that have shaped me into who I am today.
1960′s - NO CARES … NO WORRIES
I discovered I had a talent for drawing, inherited from my father, and a talent for needlecraft inherited from my mother. I also inherited her sense of rhythm and expressive energy and spent hours in the front room, practising my dance steps with my brother and sister. Our life in Midlands suburbia was punctuated by long summers spent with the extended family in lovely remote West coast Ireland.
1970′s - EXPLORING AND DEVELOPING MY INTERESTS
Significantly I was bought a sewing machine age 12 and proceeded to use my family as dummies for my 70′s designs. My inspiration? Jackie magazine and a range of TV sitcoms, from The Monkeys to Love Story. I made them wear some seriously bad creations; my catwalk was Mass on a Sunday walking up for Holy Communion.
I became aware that I was leading a double life. One the one hand I was the eldest daughter of Irish immigrant parents from a tight-knit community holding onto our heritage with Ceilidh dances and folk evenings, on the other hand I was beginning to get a taste for British Youth Culture. Punk music entered my world.
On the advice of my Art teacher, Mrs Bradley, I applied to Art School and it changed my life. For the first time I was surrounded by kindred spirits. I knew myself for the first time and what I wanted to do.
1980′s - MAKING IT HAPPEN … A LITTLE SCARY
I did well in my in Fashion and Textiles degree. I also met Stephen, my man. Working as an illustrator and then a designer, we began Studio M (our shared initial), moving into an old warehouse in London’s East End.
Living and working merged; we lived together; we worked together; we travelled the globe together, visiting cloth mills and clothes factories. Maybe because our lives merged so closely, I still kept my group of girlfriends: our cocktail clubs.
Towards the end of the decade we settled like pioneers in a beautiful vicarage on upcoming London Fields. To top off the decade our son Luke was born in 1989, our greatest joint achievement so far.
1990′s - ALL ABOUT FAMILY … JUGGLING
Laura was born in 1992, the joy of her birth contrasted sharply with the loss of my father who died that same year. Work life balance had to be addressed so I took a step back and began to work 3 days a week – with the help our lovely nanny, Madge. Our very own Mary Poppins, she was key to keeping it all together.
2000′s - ALL GROWN UP
We brought in the new century on the roof of our Studio at London Bridge and in a new family home just North of the river. My work was becoming more focused with time to create a new venture in the Studio, developing a bespoke colour textile service, MLab working with Design graduates.
Just when I started to feel my Mama role was getting fine tuned, life moved on again. Luke left home for University in 2008. I thought my heart would break as we said goodbye and left him in the Halls of Residence. It had all gone by too quickly.
2010′s - NEW DIRECTIONS
Now in my early 50s, secure in my relationship, in finance, in style and getting used to my independence again . . . but somehow missing the mayhem and exuberance of an earlier life. What is next? Making plans and looking to the future. Watch this space.
Music for the Morning - Bill Callahan the American singer songwriter and Francios Hardy especially Le temps de l’amour from the beach dancing scene in Moonrise Kingdom.
Coat - from a vintage market in Paris
Dress - a vintage slip from an amazing shop La French in Florida situated between a cigar stand and tattoo parlour.
Shoes – Pierre Hardy at Dover Street Market
Good for the Soul - Water. Its clarity, capacity for reflection and sense of infinity.
Good for the Body - Fish oils! I’m well oiled, I’ve got no creaks!
Good for the Heart - As a family, organising and planning our annual party. We throw open our doors and hopefully also each year our hearts to old friends and new.
Good for the Soul - A walk in Primrose Hill
Good for the Body - Pilates; my fountain of youth
Over the last eighteen months I have been on the move.
My elder son has started at university in Scotland and my younger son is busy planning his gap year in the States. Having spent the last ten years on my own ‘gap year’, I have recently remarried and moved into a working vicarage. In the process I have acquired a whole new set of roles as well as a beautiful step daughter whose love trials have taken me back to my own eighteen year old self.
In the midst of these shifting life plates I have experienced my own deep murmurings.
I have turned 50.
In the move I came across a photograph of my teenage self in one of those boxes that I hadn’t opened in years. It was taken at my debutante party – my ‘coming out’ party – at the yacht club in Vero Beach on the east coast of Florida in the 1970s. I am sitting beside my grandfather. While I glance self-consciously to my right, maybe a little anxiously, my grandfather stares straight ahead, on top of his game, like a mafia boss contemplating a hit.
It touches me.
When I was turning from a girl into a young woman there were social conventions and peer group expectations. There were grown-ups to dodge my way around and also to help me negotiate my way through. There was the promise of adventure and there was lovely day-dreaming. There were parties.
But now, standing on another threshold, I face an unknown future with few signposts. And the places to which I have always gone for inspiration – the films and magazines and fantasy characters that played such a key role in the creation of my younger self – have simply disappeared. They have dried up. I feel bereft.
What does it mean to be newly married again at this age?
What do I take with me and what do I need to let go?
Who now are my role models and my muses?
I am still a little anxious, looking over my shoulder for clues. Only now the girl in front of the mirror at 18 stands there at 50. Maybe less wilful, she is still wondering what lies ahead.
I want to open up a new conversation with my younger self in order to reconnect with how I got to where I am today. To make sure that she comes along with me. I don’t want to loose the spirit of the girl inspired by adventures of Huckelyberry Finn, or the teenager with her Singer sewing machine who spent hours making creations more inspired by Cosmo Cover girls than Simplicity patterns. Much to my parents’ horror.
In these get-ups I created at fifteen for my lanky hollyhocks body, just coming into flower, certainly nobody ever thought I would end up a vicar’s wife. Least of all me.
I’ve been playing all my life. But do I have to stop?
Can I still play the romantic lead in my own life?
Where do I look for inspiration and guidance?
Something tells me I am going to have to dig a bit deeper. I’m going to have to use my wits and my skills in a different way. I’m going to have to look in new and surprising places.
As a designer, stylist and more recently a photographer I’ve spent my career trying to create beautiful things. Now I realise it’s not about fashioning beauty but finding it. And finding it in the everyday things around me. When I look now at women in their 50s I see so much beauty. And I want to know their story.
I was never a great reader – until recently – but I have always been a keen looker. I see whole stories in images. The placement of a hand, the curve of a back, the colour of a room: these are my clues to the narratives. So I’m going on a journey to learn about some of those stories and then recount them in this blog. I’m going in search of my peer group.
As I did in my debutante year I am still looking to my gang to show me how to navigate towards the next horizon. Still my age and older, the women in my gang will now show me how to be 50 with style and grace.