Woman who swapped London fashion scene for a Kenyan warrior

Married in a mud hut, Anna Trzebinski speaks out about the prejudices she and her husband faced

Meera Selva
Thursday 09 August 2012 04:52
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Few who know Anna Trzebinski thought her wedding would be like this, for she is a woman more often associated with the London fashion scene. Kate Moss, Jemima Khan and Princess Caroline of Monaco all wear clothes designed by the woman who spent her formative years in leading British public schools and universities.

Trzebinski is the wealthy daughter of Kenya's white elite, a class that dominated the colonial era and became known as the Happy Valley set thanks to some of its members' excessive lifestyles. But she has stepped out of the metropolitan social whirl to marry a semi-nomadic tribal warrior.

Now she has spoken out for the first time about her married life with Loyaban Lemarti, who hails from Kenya's remote plains. It is a union that has sparked controversy in Happy Valley, not only because of the clash of cultures, but because Ms Trzebinski's first husband was shot dead four years ago, when he was on his way to visit his Danish mistress.

The story made global headlines. The Trzebinskis are one of Kenya's most prominent white families and Ms Trzebinski (born Anna Cunningham-Reid) is herself a distant relative of the Delameres, Kenya's colonial pioneers.

Antonio Trzebinski's murder - which remains unsolved - eerily echoed that of expatriate Briton Lord Erroll in Kenya in the 1940s. Erroll's killing formed the basis of the film White Mischief, which portrayed the antics of idle rich Britons living abroad during the Second World War.

The 40-year-old designer dealt with her grief in dramatic style. And white Kenya views the life she shares with her new husband as, at best, rather odd. She regularly attends fashion shows in Europe and society events in Nairobi. But in between may be found spending evenings outside a mud dwelling under the starry skies of the African wilderness.

When the marriage was sealed earlier this year, Ms Trzebinski wore four kilos of beaded jewellery around her neck. Mr Lemarti wore a toga, hung loosely from his waist. Knotted about his calves were thongs of lion skin. "The wedding ceremony was powerful; life-changing in the most incredible way," Ms Trzebinski said. "I feel a new life is unfolding in front of me."

The pair met when the designer was on a long, therapeutic walking expedition on the shimmering Laikipia Plain in the Rift Valley after the murder of her husband. She was contemplating how to deal with her grief and protect her two children, Stas, now 13, and Lana, 12.

Mr Lemarti was working as a guide and tracker, and the two were soon meandering for miles together, talking in a mixture of English and Swahili. They were both acutely aware of their different backgrounds and spent weeks circling each other before admitting their feelings.

Ms Trzebinski describes Mr Lemarti as a man with "incredible presence". "I was struck by his sense of self, total lack of ego. I could actually feel his strength, his sense of right and wrong. I immediately felt safe by his side ... his community have been so accepting of me - I think it would have been harder if I'd married someone who was white but from a different religion or something like that."

Her former mother-in-law, Errol Trzebinski, 67, was not quite so elated. Before the wedding she said: "I am very unhappy about it ... this man cannot read or write. He is a tribesman. He does speak some English and he may be fun for the children, but I really don't think he is the right person to be a father to them."

But Ms Trzebinski insists that, after a few initial doubts, her family is pleased. "My mother wanted to come to the wedding but it was in the middle of nowhere and she was undergoing serious dental surgery at the time, which is why I told them not to attend. He's part of all our lives now, and they love him, and my kids love him."

The family spend most of their time in the designer's elegant house in Karen, an upmarket suburb of Nairobi, surrounded by giraffes and warthogs. A few cultural differences remain - Mr Lemarti does not drink and often feels his English is not good enough to hold his own at dinner parties - but overall the two seem to have built a life together.

In the months since the wedding, he and Ms Trzebinski have been busy attempting to turn their lifestyle into a luxury brand.

"The customers who buy my clothes are often interested in my whole philosophy. They want to know about Kenya's beauty, and I know they would love to see the country for themselves," she said. Part of her strategy is to turn a home built on land given to her by Samburu elders into a luxury lodge for select guests. She will design the furniture, and Mr Lemarti will look after the guests, taking them on walks deep in the bush to see animals and meet Samburu communities.

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