It's been difficult to take myself offline over the past six years of running Style Bubble. This means not using the laptop, not checking emails and resisting the urge to blog. Port Eliot Festival is therefore one of the few opportunities where I've been able to well and truly go offline. It may only be three days but that feels like a century for an internet fiend such as myself who literally walks around the street, with my laptop open, seeking out wi-fi signal. There was wi-fi at Port Eliot but I chose not to use it. The only time I glanced at my phone was to send texts to friends who were on site. If your reaction is "So what?" then you've clearly underestimated my addiction and compulsion to red beeps on Blackberries and open laptop lids. The short of it is that Port Eliot definitely has some kind of magic going on that makes me want to abandon the laptop, something that many a far-flung location around the world hasn't even been able to do.
I experienced Port Eliot's magic for the first time last year and therefore came charging into St Germans with high expectations. Survey says that I'd be disappointed. Instead, I had an even more fruitful time because I now knew the lay of the land. I knew how long it would take to walk, from one part of the estate to another. I knew what sort of food options I'd have. I knew what the showering/washing facilities were like. Some of these practical elements were also, incidentally ironed out because this year, I got to stay in a more central location near the Wardrobe Department within the walled garden.
My impressions of this year's edition of the festival barely stray from my thoughts last year. Whilst Port Eliot isn't the most famous or obvious festival choice for the summer, it is something of a unique opportunity to be able to freely roam around the grounds of the St. Germans estate, catch a band by the river, listen to a talk deep inside the woods, participate in one minute discos and enjoy copious amounts of good (yes, I repeat good‚Ä¶) food on-site. I'm past the age of being primarily concerned with jostling around with people, who are supposedly "my" demographic. Yes, there are lots and lots of kids (I've come to think of that as rather a good thing). Yes, the music programming isn't really what I'd be listening to on a daily basis. Yes, it is all very VERY middle-class, something that the event comperes and observers would wryly acknowledge every day. When all is said though, Port Eliot is lovely. The reasons why will be clear when you scroll through the photo heap here.
Ascot has nothing on Port Eliot when it comes to headgear and this year it was down to the busy bee hands of milliner Piers Atkinson, accessories designer Fred Butler and two other budding props/accessories designers Rosy Nicholas and Keely Hunter. Using flowers and plants from the grounds of Port Eliot, they had pretty much all the female (and a few male) heads adorned with hydrangeas, ivy and lilies. I sported two different bun holders courtesy of Piers. I'm now convinced there is definitely a niche market in decorating top knots.
On the first day, I contrasted Tatty Devine's perspex flowers with Piers Atkinson's real ones. The synthetic and the natural – yeah, it's symbolic, that. The second day, I went for slightly less ornate bun holder with an orange lily taking centre stage.
My dried hydrangeas on my Ostwald Helgason sweater started off the hydrangea-themed weekend.
Some people bought their own millinery to the festival. This OMG headpiece is by Bundle McClaren, who made a lot of the headpieces for the Royal Wedding last year. I snapped a few that go uncredited here but feel free to claim your hat if it's your design.
Louise Gray was once again back in her teepee with Topshop make-up to dab our eyes with vibrant colour and glitter. I bow to her infectious style which always combines her own pieces with vintage and other designers' samples so seamlessly well. On Saturday, I got the signature painterly dabs of colour on my eyes‚Ä¶
My friend Isobel got her eyes glittered up‚Ä¶ and we accidentally posed together as though we were making a record cover.
On Sunday, I went for a few under eye spots of lilac to counteract my curtain of a heavy fringe.
I loved style-stalking James here, who was helping out Louise for the weekend and is definitely a Louise Gray disciple through-and-through.
Mary Katrantzou also came back to Port Eliot to have a chat with Love Magazine's Alex Fury (his idea of festival appropriate footwear was a pair of metal-heeled Marc Jacobs brogues) about her processes as a digital print designer and how she has built a solid business over the years. Her talk was accompanied by a quite stunning quad of sisters by the names of Octavia, Imogen, Aggy and Bee Warren, all wearing Mary Katrantzou's designs. Her Port Eliot dresses which she made last year as a collage of the house's artefacts and rooms were hanging in the house once again.
The founders and illustrators Delisia Howard and Chris Price of Hazard Books, who created the In Biba book, were in the Wardrobe Department encouraging people to draw out fantasy characters that they'd most like to be to compile into a Port Eliot illustrated compendium for 2012. I've not bought any of their tomes but their wall of illustrations definitely drew me in with its monochrome lines and text annotated style.
Luella Bartley was also back with illustrator Zoe Williams to contribute to this Port Eliot compendium.
Other illustration antics include this chalked up tent, illustrated by Joanna Walsh of the delightful blog Badaude.
There was a lot of Marie Antoinette-ish pastel hair wafting around Port Eliot thanks to Stephen Jones and the girls at Bleach. Bumble & Bumble had created four specific Port Eliot hair powders in lilac, mint, peach and candy pink for the weekend's hair activities.
Stephen Jones very diligently looked at all the portraits and paintings by the likes of Reynolds and van Dyck that were in the Port Eliot house, which inspired the hairstyles for the day. The lucky people who got appointments were sketched by Jones himself and then hair maestro Neil Moodie recreated the sketch using the powders. I love that Jones took each portrait extremely seriously but still created each portrait with an effortless flourish. I'm just going to go with the pun and say that I take my hat off to Jones, one of the nicest people I've met who's at the top of his game.
On Friday and Sunday, Alex Brownsell of Bleach used the hair powders to do their signature hair stencils and dip-dyed tips. Funnily enough all the kids were into the tips more than the stencils which goes to show how far dip-dyed hair has come on as a mainstream trend, something that Bleach is hugely responsible for. Their salon in Dalston has just had a revamp and I'm planning on going in to take the Bleach plunge.
Emily Cronin from Elle UK and I had a bit of fun with some of the sprays ourselves. I love the effect of the powder and the way it looks like a layer of crushed up chalk pastels has landed on your hair. No word on whether the products will come to market or not but Bumble & Bumble are thinking about it‚Ä¶
There were a lot of knitting crews going on in courtesy of a lot of different knitting initiatives such as the knitsuke at the Dovegreyreader tent, the Knitterati tent and the Keep and Share knitting tent. The most impressive display of knit was this giant piece of yarn bombing courtesy of the Graffiti Grannys of Cornwall who call themselves "urban woolerists". My Christopher Shannon shirt, which I wore on Saturday wanted to be at one with the tree.
The great thing about Port Eliot is that many of the event participants don't necessarily have to conduct a talk about their main vocation. Supreme fashion hairstylist Sam McKnight for instance came into the Port Eliot kitchen to bake a Union Jack Victoria sponge with style author Camila Morton alongside, asking him about the therapeutic joys of baking. It really was a delicious sponge. Apparently a drop of milk is all that's needed to keep it moist.
General big brand presence at Port Eliot is thankfully still fairly minimal and this time, it was Anthropologie, who bought their aesthetically charming tent to an appropriate target audience. They weren't here to sell any product but instead they put on a series of workshops that got the festival goers involved in pottery modelling with Jacqui Roche, upcycling vintage plates with Lou Rota and creating marbled silk scarves with CharlotteTaylor. I got stuck in with some marbling with quirky fashion print designer Taylor. Sadly I wasn't quite vigorous enough with my ink throwing so ended up with quite a subtle design. The other marbled silk specimens were much more impressive.
The Rubbish crew were also back with their antics of a newspaper couture fashion show, using the Anthropologie newspaper that they have created and the hilarious Rubbish Olympics, which was the last thing we saw before we waved goodbye to Port Eliot. The games were hosted by Christopher Biggins and games included a roly-poly challenge, a pencil throwing contest and a round of musical statues. The Rubbish team formed a human podium for the winners to stand on and a middle aged dad got a crown of hydrangeas for his efforts in partaking. All in all, the games were actually the opposite of Rubbish and actually, rather great.
In addition to staying right by the Wardrobe Department, I was also fortunate enough to be sleeping in a Field Candy tent, designed by Basso & Brooke. Fred Butler and Piers Atkinson were also right by me with their patchwork and watermelon printed tents. Field Candy is fairly new but they aim to give the olive green and grey blur of camping gear a vibrant make-over with their richly saturated photographic prints on well-made tents. Don't be fooled by the designs. This is no novelty product. I definitely got a much better night's sleep this year than I did last year when I was camping in a bog-standard tent.
Taking a breather from the blog was conducive to taking in thoughts that aren't fashion-related at all, something that I fear my brain is getting less and less of. In addition to experiencing all that the Wardrobe Department had going on, I also got to see more talks this year that has resulted in a Port Eliot take-away reading list summarised below‚Ä¶
Dan Kieran, The Idle Traveller – Dan Kieran hasn't taken an airplane in over twenty years. His book extols the idea of slow travel; that enjoying the challenges of the journey is far more rewarding than trying to get to your destination as fast as possible. He looks at travel in an epic way that need not be physically far-flung. You don't have to go very far to feel like you've really travelled, he says. I'm half-convinced. The book might enlighten me further.
The Gentle Author, Spitalfields Life – You might have already come across the blog of The Gentle Author, telling us the stories about people whose lives feel bygone but still very much exist in the hidden depths of the East End. He's now compiled them into a book. These are tales to warm your cockles. Whatever warming your cockles actually means.
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident – On the basis of Beauman's critically acclaimed Boxer, Beetle's debut, which he read from at the festival, I'm definitely picking this one up. Oh, and we weirdly used to work together for a short period of time, when I was at Dazed & Confused. Believe all the heap of excited praise for this young author and his energetic and rambunctious writing style.
Tim Burgess, Telling Stories – Aging rocker who has found himself through transcendental meditation after years of drug addiction may sound like too much of a zzz cliche. The Charlatans frontman tells his story with humour and wit though based on the few excerpts he read at the festival. It also helps that I still harbour strangely fond memories of all things Brit-pop and Heavenly Recordings, through my tail-end experience of Camden in my teens.
Ben Masters, Noughties – We didn't catch the full reading of Ben Masters reading from his "chap-lit" debut (isn't that category name enough to put you off?!) but his short story about a teenaged boxer and his crush on a girl on the 43 bus was definitely mesmerising. Plus it sounds easy enough to relate to the book's preoccupation with 21st century university culture.
Oh and if you've fallen in love with Port Eliot Festival through this coverage or by hearsay, unfortunately the festival is taking a gap year next year. The grounds of the estate and the organisers apparently need a rest but It will return in 2014. If one year was too short a period to plan for this exuberant weekend, then two years will surely be enough.