The Photographer, the Film Star...and the Fabrics
PUBLISHED: 17:22 07 April 2011 | UPDATED: 21:31 20 February 2013
What is the connection between Cecil Beaton, Greta Garbo and the small town of Tisbury? Lesley Bates finds out
Cecil Beaton adored Greta Garbo. The society photographer and the reclusive Hollywood beauty were unlikely lovers one behind the lens but happy in the spotlight, the other in front of the camera but famously publicity-shy. But their affair endured on and off for many years, and Garbo visited Beaton at his Wiltshire home at Reddish House in Broadchalke on a number of occasions, signing her name in his visitors book there on her last visit shortly before his death in 1980.
Her beauty entranced him, but her eyes fascinated him, and he drew repeated sketches of them in his scrapbooks.
As for her eyes, he wrote in 1937, there have never been such before, in expression so quizzical, compassionate and languorous, so deep-set and of such unforgettable blue; they have large, dark irises, and boast lashes so long that it is impossible to believe that they are real.
Now Garbos eyes feature as one of the quirkier designs in a collection of fabrics and wallpapers inspired by Beaton and lovingly recreated by self-confessed Beaton fanatic, designer Andrew Ginger. With partner Roger Barnard he runs the interior design company Beaudesert, which has a shop front in rural Tisbury just down the road from Broadchalke and opposite a bookshop aptly called Beatons.
Beaudesert is a picture of bijou elegance, dominated by a sumptuously draped four-poster, its walls decked in beautiful fabrics reeking of expense... but dont let its tiny size fool you. Although a relative newcomer to Tisbury, Beaudesert has been creating bespoke four-poster beds alongside its own interior design service for close to 25 years. It has a manufacturing base in Newbury and runs an international operation with agents all over the world.
For years, its main staple was the bed business, backed by gorgeous hand-printed fabrics with a classic feel. But a purchase on eBay six years ago led to the creation of The Cecil Beaton Collection, which has caused quite a stir in the interior design world.
Explains Andrew: Around 2005, I was very keen to have something else which was more contemporary but still had a historical aspect. Weve both always been passionate about the work of Cecil Beaton, and by chance I happened to discover a scarf that he had designed printed onto silk chiffon with a large-scale red rose design. The scarf came from a lady in Scotland who included a lovely note saying that it was actually rather important and that it had appeared in the 1987 Ascher exhibition at the V&A. And that was the starting point.
Shortly after the Second World War, designer Zika Ascher had commissioned headscarf designs from artists like Matisse, Cocteau and Henry Moore. Beaton was among the first he approached, and he evidently enjoyed the experience, going on to produce more designs for Ascher and others.
I never knew that hed done anything in the area of textiles, says Andrew, carefully unveiling the original scarf from its tissue wrapping to show me. Beatons visual understanding was so strong that he could easily design fabrics for a repeat whereas others found it more difficult.
Talks with the Ascher family resulted n the launch of the first Beaton Collection in 2006, concentrating on Beatons floral designs.
We havent changed a thing, says Andrew, showing me a picture from Harpers Bazaar of 1950 of a model wearing acres of Beaton rose-printed fabric. The rose bloom designs are big and bold, handprinted onto silk, cotton, linen and wallpaper, in a variety of colourways including blue, hot pink and red. Most designs are also available as cushions and lampshades. Its pretty colourful, big-scale, theatrical stuff, admits Andrew. Beaton was a big, colourful theatrical personality its a celebration of life and colour, a bolt of energy.
The Beaton signature runs through the repeat pattern and this again, says Andrew, was very Beaton, laying claim to his work in whatever medium.
Besides the florals, there are brush-stroked stripes, checks and tic-tac-toe the latter, says Andrew, a demonstration of Beaton just having fun he loved surrealism and he had a playful approach.
What Beaudesert has created, he says, is fine art and couture meeting interiors, and it has certainly found favour with the likes of pop star Rachel Stevens and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who both now boast Beaton bathrooms. Interior designer Laurence Llewellyn Bowen is also a convert.
Next, Andrew approached the National Portrait Gallery to access some of Beatons graphic work, and a second collection, Sketchbook, was launched using Beatons fashion illustrations and sketches as the basis for a totally new
set of wallpaper and fabric designs. Here you have society ladies from 1929, saucy sailors in jolly seaside colours, and Balenciaga and Dior catwalk couture models, where you can almost hear the rustle of the silk gowns.
Then there is Garbos eye.
We wanted something with a bit more edge to it, says Andrew. Its odd, its quirky, and it looks fantastic made up.
Andrew is currently working on a new collection drawn from Beatons stays in New York, when he worked for Conde Nast and designed Broadway shows like My Fair Lady and Gigi.
With the lack of formality in life these days, there is a pining for glamour, which you can access through these beautiful drawings, he says. You feel he had just dropped in and drawn it for you. He hopes it will launch in the Big Apple at the same time as a major Beaton retropective later this year or early next.
Beaton is very now, says Andrew. He never imagined that a little sketch he did for Vogue would end up on a cushion, but doesnt it look fantastic? I think he would be delighted to be relevant again.
Visit Beaudesert Ltd in The Square, Tisbury, beaudesert.co.uk and cecilbeatonfabrics.com.