The house has a feeling of history; walls have been stripped back to reveal fragments of its past, there’s been no plan, and it has all developed organically in a very personal way. It was stuffed full when I inherited it 20 years ago, and I’ve just kept the things I like. That includes a few family treasures from a colonial past on my mother’s side and the kitchen table from my grandfather’s house, where, as a small child, I listened to tales of snakes in the Sudan, fighting in the trenches, the north-west frontier of India. That has given me a strong sense of history. On my father’s side, we are descended from Huguenot silk weavers fleeing religious persecution in 17th century France, and my grandmother worked in a cotton mill in Lancashire. I’m proud I have textiles woven into my blood.
One advantage of raw walls is that I can stick up paintings with gaffer tape, and when they fall down or fall apart, I stick up something else. I like this flexibility and have only a few permanent fixtures, some large, impactful oil paintings by my ex-husband, Jovica Jocic, and 19th-century Chinese embroideries inherited from my great uncle, who lived in Shanghai. I’m passionate about dragons and love having them watch over me.
The velvets and linens used have been printed on a wide-format printer housed at the bottom of the garden. It’s actually hard to commit to using prints for my house as I’m always into the next thing I haven’t actually done yet! I’ve only got curtains at all because a boyfriend complained and forced me to make some. My colours are very earthy. I always like a bit of mud in them—pure, clean colours offend me, unless in small amounts!
I don’t like anything to be obviously arranged; it’s hard to explain, sort of random, but in a way that pleases me. I have an anti-perfection rule and I hate style fascism, I always think a bit of bad taste is healthy.
The garden is small and a wild tangle with a space in the middle I go to when I’m upset or stuck and in need of inspiration. I’m no gardener, too impatient and lacking the necessary nurturing skills, so I let it do its own thing. I believe we attract the plants that we need to heal us, so if burdock or thistle want to grow, I let them, and dandelions and buttercups grow everywhere. I never cut the grass as I love the different grasses and meadow flowers, and my black and white foundling cat, Maisie, loves it too.
Occasionally, I get help to do things like cut back the wisteria before it strangles me, done by someone who understands my live-and-let-live policy.
I’m always blown away by the infinite beauty and endless inspiration of nature.
I studied textiles at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts in London—we developed our ideas from drawing, collaging. We made our own silk screens, mixed dyes, and cut lino blocks. Encouraged to experiment, we were like sorcerers’ apprentices: boiling up recipes in steam-filled workshops, printing with evil-smelling pastes that would burn out the base colour and replace it with a luminous colour, waiting anxiously by the giant steamer to see what magic had taken place as the fabric came out and was unrolled, or sometimes it had it all gone horribly wrong. We learnt about natural dyes, Devoré velvet, paper making; it was hard to leave. All I wanted to do was to carry on printing, so that’s what I did, with my friend Suzy, in my parents’ attic.
We did all sorts of things: sold fabric to Timney Fowler’s shop in Portobello, worked on prints for Paul Smith’s menswear collections with quirky pictorial themes. We whizzed all over London with rolls of fabric strapped to our motorbikes, but things only really took off once we started showing in Paris, with queues of buyers ordering our shirts and scarves in patchworks made from discharge printed silks in soft, earthy colours mixed with Devoré velvet. Timing is everything, and we were making this burn-out velvet before everyone else caught on. Judy Collinson from Barneys bought masses of them for their new Madison Avenue store, and they sold out in three days. She said, “It wasn’t a question of whether to buy one or not, but which one,” as they were all one-offs.
I parted company with Suzy after 11 years and carried on, purchasing an early digital printer and taking my printed fabric out to India to be embroidered, sitting with skilled craftsmen who made my prints 3-dimensional, with subtle mixes of threads, beads, and ribbons. I made rich hippy clothes that I sold through an agent in New York. I look back at some of these pieces now in my archives and wonder what I was on. The work and creativity that went into them was extraordinary, and I never cared how expensive the fabric or lace I used was.
At the same time, I was developing my own technique of patchwork here in London in my workshop, sandwiching scraps of fabric between water-soluble film and stitching the hell out of it to hold it all together before washing away the film. Every scrap can be used, and it creates a beautiful story of textures and colour. I’ve done every conceivable variation with this technique and have a strong following in Japan, where I met a customer who owned over 40 of my scarves.
I can never bear to waste any fabric. I’ve been re-cycling, up-cycling, everything-cycling ever since I was a child. I sat in the attic for hours sewing tiny pieces of fabric together and once annoyed everyone in the household by cutting all the labels out of their clothes so I could sew them together.
“Human joy is the most powerful of things I’ve seen. I’m amazed by it. When you have true joy in your being, you become this radical force, this entity that is so much larger than your body, and at that point, you can change anything.” — Dr. Zach Bush
I’ve been through many phases, and always you have to change, especially working in fashion. Designers all seem to tune into a creative collective soup, at the same time going down our own wormholes. My latest exploration is through still-life painting. I was doing a lot of photographic collages and decided I wanted to get away from the digital image and create more personal prints, which had marks made by my hand, brush marks, smudges. Colours mixed on a palette with paint squeezed out of tubes. As with my house, I like to leave things a bit rough; if I get too perfectionist, it loses something. I enjoy making design repeats a bit irregular, I suppose like Persian carpets are made deliberately not square. As they say, only Allah makes things perfectly. I always think imperfect is more perfect, and I find it more interesting, more personal, more human.
All my prints are now from my oil paintings, which I photograph, collage, and then digitally print, mostly onto silk for my clothing collection. Recently, I decorated a dining room in The Mandrake Hotel in London with a large-scale repeating blow-up of one of my flower paintings onto heavy cotton canvas, and I am now working on a project for a café in Regent’s Park to cover the walls in roses I painted from their famous rose garden.
I think my ambition is to be more me, to express some essence that can be enjoyed by others, that either by wearing my clothes or immersing themselves in my wall coverings, they can express their own creativity and individuality.