A room of my own: Fashion designer Jemima French opens the doors to her home studio
Saturday 09 January 2010
Jemima French launched her fashion line Frost French with childhood friend Sadie Frost in 1999. Since then, Kate Moss, Helena Christensen and Jerry Hall have all modelled for the label. French, who is 44, lives in Camden, north London, with her boyfriend, Francis Ridley, and her four daughters, who are aged between seven and 19. Frost French has two London shops, in Islington and Soho. For details or to shop online, visit frostfrench.com
Our home is pretty civilised up to the third floor, and then it deteriorates. There are six bedrooms in all, spread over five levels. The house starts with the kitchen in the basement, which is all cool limestone floors with big doors opening out on to a large garden. But by the time you reach the top floor where the kids reign free, it mutates into a scene of teenage horror. Occasionally I pop up there, have a nervous breakdown, and retreat.
My studio has a tall main window overlooking the street. The space is divided into three work areas. The main space is the desk against the window, where I do most of my design, and spend hours gazing out at passers-by. Then there's the area for my computer and techie stuff, where I tend to the business aspects of the job; and finally, there's the floor. I spend a lot of time here, lying on my stomach, surrounded by fabric swatches, drawings, books and all the different things which melt into whatever I'm designing at any given time.
This room has a number of original features, including the cobwebs. But at some point there has been an attempt to update the grate of the stone fireplace, which I have cleverly disguised by propping up pictures and bits of bric-a-brac. The bust of Queen Victoria there was always in our family home when I was growing up. I went to my parents' house recently and found it had been relocated outside to a corner of the vegetable patch. I was so horrified by this drastic demotion that I cleaned her up and took her home with me.
Francis rather fancies himself as Serge Gainsbourg and me as Jane Birkin. He's always buying me romantic portraits of couples in love. There is plenty of Jane and Serge in this room, including the 'Cannabis' film poster in the corner. Behind that is a loving photo of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Then, in the fireplace, I keep June and Johnny Cash. In another nod to romance, plastic figurines of the Barbapapa cartoon characters have pride of place on the mantelpiece. There is something so adorable about the familial set-up. I had to go to Paris to find them, but I think they look happy to be here.
Sadie [Frost] and I are both on the toilet in the big black-and-white framed photo of the two of us which stands in the grate, though you can't tell. I gather photos, paintings and oddities in this room. Among these are a small Louise Bourgeois print, a tea-cup wine glass, and an empty packet of Vishwa sandal incense on the fireplace. I was given the incense by a receptionist at a hotel in India. Sadie and I were on holiday there and spent a week trying to work out what the nice smell was inside the lift. The staff thought they knew exactly what we meant and came back one day with a present – a bottle of Brasso which they use to clean the parts of the lift. Eventually we worked out that the smell was actually the incense wafting in from the hallway. Once we explained, the receptionist gave me a packet of the stuff, which now stands over me as I work.
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