“You never quite know what you’re doing until you get there.”
Post haute couture and pre ready to wear weeks, I’m indulging in some much-needed down/me time. I’m off to Los Angeles tomorrow for over a week where star-gazing, looking at the sea for long periods of time and driving through empty stretches of roads are on the agenda. Then I’m going down to Port Eliot festival, which is back after a one year hiatus, where haphazard happiness can be found in spades as my previous experiences in 2011 and 2012 can attest to.
To get into the right frame of mind for what promises to be four days of gentle debauchery, bacchanalian feasting and drinking and nourishment for the brain set on the beautiful grounds of a beautiful Grade I listed house in St Germans, Cornwall, I spoke to Luella Bartley, who is an avid supporter of the festival and aptly sums up the experience with the opening quote to this post. She returns to Port Eliot this year to launch her labour of love collaborative book called The Girl Who Fell to Earth – a story written on-site at Port Eliot in 2012, accompanied by the illustrations of Zoë Taylor, who also worked with Luella on her English Style book. Over the course of four days she dipped in and out of the festival to get inspiration and went back to her writing tent to work with Zoe on the illustrations and text.
It’s a short but sweet tale about a celestial Princess, who feels confined and trapped by her home planet and family, as they are ruled by science and reason. She falls through space and lands on Earth, right into Port Eliot festival where she goes through a magical process of enlightenment and self-discovery. It’s basically a love letter to Port Eliot and reading it, makes those that have been, yearn for it again and those that haven’t, want to give it a try. “Port Eliot feels like a nicest side of life and humanity – it’s books, music, drinking, food – and in some hippy way, it’s how life should be but isn’t,” explains Luella. “I wanted this girl to land on Earth in Port Eliot and experience the poetry, the readings, the music – it’s this innocent and romantic view of what life on Earth could be.”
Whilst the Princess character isn’t necessarily based on anyone in particular, she represents the sort of girl that Luella references time and time again, in both her former own label and now currently at Marc by Marc Jacobs with Katie Hillier. “I’m always interested in that moment of a girl’s life – when she’s coming of age and there’s this rebellious moment in her life,” says Luella. “It’s a simple setting about a girl who fell to earth but behind it there’s this slightly feminist rite of passage where you’re rebelling against the patriarch.” Is Luella herself this entirely free-thinking risk-taker? She pauses. “I’m more of a preacher of risk-taking,” she says measuredly. “I would like to be that person. When I’m designing, I’m designing for the girl or women I want to be.”
Luella and I are on the same page when it comes to Port Eliot. It is an idyllic and slowed down respite, from the daily grind that is deeply enriching for the mind. This short illustrated book about A Girl Who Fell to Earth is an entirely creative endeavour that has barely any relation to Luella’s “real job” and likewise Port Eliot itself is also an escape from that reality. “Everything these days has to be done for a reason, so it’s quite nice to do something personal and sweet,” says Luella. “It’s important to do stuff like this because it fuels the real job. I would love to do more and work with Zoë again – her hand is very dreamy and ethereal and she unlocks that side of my personality. Away from the machine that is Marc by Marc Jacobs, which of course I love, it’s nice to exercise other muscles.”
Zoë’s spaced-out dreamscapes can also be seen in Marc by Marc Jacobs’ latest resort collection so you can physically channel that girl who fell to earth.
On one of the pages, where the Princess comes across Stephen Frears and Geoff Dyer’s talk about the topic of failure, one of the quotes stuck with me: “Failure gives you freedom.” And obviously with Luella too. “‘I’ve certainly failed a few times,” admits Luella. “That was a really inspiring talk. It’s a really really important thing to remember. If you succeed at everything, then you don’t have any perspective and to be able to embrace your failure, that’s great. I quite like that it relates back to the story. That the Princess is learning all of this on the way.”
Luella’s gushing about Port Eliot is free flowing and speaking to her, I’m itching to get back there. Still not convinced. Heed the words of Sarah Mower then, who has once again come up with an amazing schedule for The Wardrobe Department. “We have four walls, a garden and only one rule: that everything we do could only happen here,” says Mower. “This is where transformation scenes happen and magical ideas are planted to spring up all over the wide world of fashion.” Barbara Hulanicki is back to teach little peeps (and big ones) how to draw. Louise Gray and Alex Brownsell of Bleach are back to transform face and hair. Stephen Jones and Piers Atkinson will hat you up on the spot. Dominic Jones is teaching you how to grow in terrariums. Mower will be in conversation with Simone Rocha. Penelope Tree and Suzy Menkes will be talking about the clothes that changed their life. And of course Luella will be present to launch her fairy-tale. On top of all of that, there’s the music, food and literary line-up as well.
Tickets are still available if you fancy it. I’ll be there with flowers, twigs and strokes of neon on my eyes.