I have a few places on my list to day trip whilst August limps by. High on this list is Charleston in Sussex, the bucolic getaway of the Bloomsbury set in the 1960s, conjured and nurtured by painter Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf and kindred spirited artist Duncan Grant. I doubt I’ll be the only one as the house is expected to be flooded with tourists following the airing of three part BBC drama about the Bloomsbury group, Life in Squares, which just concluded on Monday. Like most of the reviews, I found the aesthetics more enthralling than the actual storyline and dialogue. The series itself is an indulgent escapist pleasure, much like Charleston was for the likes of Woolf, her husband Leonard, authors E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and artist Roger Fry. Director Simon Kaijser did a fine job at placing all those muted tones of forest green, duck egg blue, dusky pink and burnished yellow into soft focus and painting every surface with the correct post impressionistic brushstroke that Bell and Grant frequently put to canvases, walls, furniture and crockery. It’s hard not to allow style to win you over, despite the fact that Life in Squares continues to peddle the cliche that the Bloomsbury Group did nothing more but romp, swoon over how “ex-quisitely civilized” everything was and swaddled themselves in an aesthete’s cocoon. But hey, why bother with substance when that dining room wallpaper is so covetable and the faux-shabby table setting is just so.
Screenshots from Life in Squares
And so it is that I’m luxuriating in those bohemian painted surfaces in the series and hopefully in Charleston, when I make it down there. Unsurprisingly they make for rich fodder for fash-y types to prey upon. Christopher Bailey has already dedicated an entire collection to the “Bloomsbury girls” with Burberry’s A/W 14-5 collection painted in much the same manner as the interiors of Charleston. But it’s the subtle resonance of the Bloomsbury aesthetic with younger designers that I find more interesting. I was instantly reminded of Charleston’s colour palette, rich and varied surfaces and textural eclectica, when I happed upon Sophie Cull-Candy‘s A/W 15 collection. Lo and behold, her Instagram cites a picture of Charleston’s interior as a direct reference for her upcoming S/S 16 collection. Cull-Candy graduated from fashion textiles at LCF in 2014 and has carried on forging her own mix of knit, print and embroidery, with a particular focus on British crafted textiles. Her A/W 15-6 collection “Into the Wild” was inspired by photographs of Scotland, which she and her family had taken, with the colours and light inflecting in the tactile heavy collection. Apologies if the word grates but I do see a Bloomsbury-tinged type of bohemia in Cull-Candy’s work in the way that the clothes look almost haphazard and well-worn. Comely tweeds and chunky woolens jostle with raw silk and crushed velvet, culminating in a mad patchwork hat. Cull-Candy’s collection almost demands a setting as beautifully ramshackle as Charleston’s. With Cull-Candy’s photocopied taped up photo background, the collection has license to roam free in a less-than-pastoral setting.
I’ve been meaning to talk up Bruta for a while now ever since I saw its debut at Shoreditch boutique Celestine Eleven. Designer Arthur Yates has no formal fashion background but instead hails from the art world. Bruta’s customers are “a community of aloof and individualistic people who celebrate the charms and absurdities of art, culture and humanity.” So far, so very Bloomsbury. Bruta has begun with a collection of ten unisex shirts printed and painted with patterns found on traditional Tahitian loincloths, inspired by one of Bell and Grant’s post impressionist heroes Paul Gauguin. These patterns find their way on to pots that could well sit pretty in the sitting room of Charleston. Go Gauguin go, declares Bruta. Yates even conducted a life drawing class in the basement of Celestine Eleven using its shirts as canvases, to make its connection with art a more concrete one. I myself have one of Bruta’s “Jazz” shirt (bought oversized on purpose) and love the softness of the cotton, similar to a much-loved artist’s smock. I like this small but significant beginning that Bruta has started up. Its almost childish lack of ambition is precisely what’s charming about it.