Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Modern Lady with Panache

Mr. Peacock has introduced you to different male peacocks who live their lives to the beat of their own drums, but I will now introduce you to an extraordinary lady with panache—Lisa Borgnes Giramonti. This former advertising writer (Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather, and McCann Erickson) burned out on advertising about 10 years ago and has since tried to live her life in the most meaningful way possible. Art, literature, friends, food, laughter, and travel give Lisa contentment in her busy life.

Above: Lisa in her Wellies, enjoying a moment in Scotland.

This talented lady with panache, in addition to being a wife and mother, is a serious adventurer whose travels and experiences have taken her around the globe. She chronicles her adventures and experiences on her lovely blog, A Bloomsbury Life. Los Angeles is Lisa’s current home base and she’s usually up by 6am brewing copious cups of coffee with her Moka pot. Each morning she loves hearing the chirp of the birdsong and the gradual stirrings of life in her house and neighborhood. It’s a peaceful time...until her son wakes up! Lisa also finds time to embroider beautiful modern tableau vivants and samplers—indeed, a lady with panache!

Above left to right: Lisa's son, Luca, noshing in the kitchen. Mr. Peacock loves the wonderful tartan cushions and Timorous Beasties wallpaper; Lisa in Cairns, Australia, part of her National Geographic around-the-world trip.

Mr. Peacock: How would you describe your own style?
Lisa Borgnes Giramonti: I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to style. I am a big believer in buying what you love and making it work. Your home is a visual expression of your personality, and quirks are what make it unique and distinctive. I don’t like perfection. In terms of interior design, I am drawn to everything from bohemian textiles to modern interpretations of traditional prints, like Timorous Beasties “London” Toile de Jouy. I am currently fascinated with burlap—as upholstery, as curtains, as pillow; its coarseness and texture feel very modern to me.

Above: The "Bloomsbury Life" dining room...the table is set, the lights are low, the candles are lit, and Lisa's "Original Fake Bookcase" wallpaper is glowing—readied for a wonderful meal with family and friends.

My overriding principle in creating a great room is to think of it as though you’re inviting guests to a cocktail party: you don’t want everyone from the same company or wearing the same outfit. That would be boring. The mix is what creates tension and vitality. In my dining room, I have hand-tinted “Original Fake Bookcase” wallpaper by Deborah Bowness (see photo above), a mid-century Danish dining table and an iron horseshoe bench with a white goat fur cushion (see photo below), all grounded by a faded and slightly threadbare antique rug. It all works because although the pieces have vastly different provenances, they each have enough personality to stand on their own.

Above: Lisa snapping a self-portrait in her gorgeous bathroom; the amazing horse-shoe bench, draped with a goat fur, in her dining room.

MP: Where did you grow up?
LBG: I was born in Brussels, Belgium and grew up in Oslo, Stockholm and London. I loved Europe and remember it vividly. When I was nine, my Norwegian father, who worked for Ford of Europe, was transferred to world headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. It was a blow, to say the least. No offense to the people who live there, but I spent the next ten years dreaming up ways to escape.

Above left to right: Vanessa Bell; her sister, Virginia Woolf, and Vanessa a young women; a Vanessa Bell painting.

MP: Who's your style icon?
LBG: I adore Vanessa Bell, one of the founders of the Bloomsbury Group (namesake of Lisa's blog—A Bloomsbury Life). Her house at Charleston is a perfect reflection of the values she deemed important in life: art, literature, friendship, and beauty. She lived an unconventional life by Victorian standards (married amicably to Clive Bell, her deepest relationship was with Duncan Grant, father of her daughter and good friends with Clive) and despite the deaths of her sister Virginia Woolf and her son Julian, she kept on keeping on, striving to find meaning and beauty in life despite its tragedies.

MP: Who or what has been the greatest influence on your style?
LBG: Definitely my two eccentric English roommates, Mary and Jane Brannigan, who I lived with in Williamsburg, Brooklyn after college. Mary was a couturier who specialized in neo-Edwardian fitted suits, and Jane was a music promoter/Jill of all trades. They were Pre-Raphaelite beauties with a thrilling ability to find glamour, drama and humor in everyday existence. From them, I learned that style isn’t about money, it’s about attitude. We lived in a Civil War-era carriage house that was always freezing; once I came home to Mary, in high heels and red lipstick, sawing up a dining chair to use as kindling. When it rained, you had to use an umbrella in the bathroom. We draped velvet throws over threadbare sofas and planted real moss on the mantelpiece. It was a bewitching time.

My bedroom faced a Polish sausage casing factory, not the most scenic of views, so I transformed it into a Moroccan fantasy, with dark tangerine walls and a navy-blue ceiling with cloudlike swirls to conjure up a brooding night. I hung a mosquito net over the bed and decorated the room with vintage fabrics and cushions. It was all very "Sheltering Sky."

MP: Any book, film or song that changed your life?
LBG: Pippi Longstocking, the one starring Inger Nilsson (see photo, above left). As a child, I remember being struck by her ability to live life on her own terms, her disdain for petty-minded bourgeoisie, and her passion for travel. I also remember being quite taken with her house: it was a colorful hippy-bohemian Marimekko paradise.

Above: Peter Dunham "Samarkand" curtains framing the windows in Lisa's warm and eclectic living room.

MP: Do you have a favorite brand, designer or shop?
LBG: I think everything that Peter Dunham designs for his showroom, Hollywood at Home, captures that elusive mix of aristo-bohemian globetrotting chic to which I aspire. It’s very Jackie Kennedy in Jaipur, Amanda Harlech in Devonshire and Jemima Khan in San Tropez.

In London, I make a mad dash for Liberty and Co. the moment I land.

Above left to right: Lisa's friend, Belinda, perusing tote bags at the famed Chandni Chowk market in India; a stolen moment at an Indian textile shop.

In Delhi, I love Chandni Chowk, the legendary outdoor market in Old Delhi. I found the most amazing eco-shopping bags emblazoned with Bollywood movie posters for 50 cents each that I gave to all my friends.

I am a big believer in visiting the local supermarket of whatever city you’re visiting. They always have the best cheap finds. Last summer in Normandy, when the euro was ridiculously high, I was despairing of finding gifts for friends until I found the most amazing sea salt at the local supermarche in a canister shaped like a lighthouse, for about a dollar apiece.

MP: You've lived in 3 amazing cities: Los Angeles, Manhattan and
London. What do you adore and abhor in each city?

LBG: Los Angeles
• Love the Hollywood Hills with their endless hiking trails, the scarlet bougainvillea and the star jasmine bushes, which give up their scent as night approaches.
• Love driving along Mulholland Drive (above right) at night—it becomes a two-lane country road on top of a mountain, with a glittering city of dreams spread out below you.
• Love the old-school restaurants in this town: the restaurant at Chateau Marmont (above left), the Tower Bar, the Polo Lounge (above center), Musso and Frank’s, Dan Tana’s—Old Hollywood is alive and well.
• Hate the sun in high summer, because it turns into a relentless Klieg light over the city until September.

London:
• Love London cabdrivers and the roomy black cabs (above right); love the ancient streets, lane and alleys that haven’t changed since Roman times.
• Love all the museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum especially (above left), with its amazing cafe and gift shop.
• Love Rules Restaurant on Maiden Lane (above center), which has been consistently operating since 1798, and has the best sticky toffee pudding in the worldbe sure to ask for a side of custard to pour over it.
• Hate the traffic.

New York:
• Love Freeman's restaurant (above right), the Bowery Hotel and lower Manhattan, which is one of the only areas that, to me, still feels linked to its past.
• Love the Gild Hotel (above left), deep inside Wall Street, it was a revelation to me on my last trip—the buildings are so close to each other down there they almost block out the sky. It felt mysterious, exciting and very "Gangs of New York."

• Hate the provincial attitude of some of its citizens who believe that NYC is the epicenter of the world and never bother to get a passport and expand their horizons.

MP: What is your favorite city as a travel destination?
LBG: Right now, I’m loving Bruges (see above) in the off-season, when it reverts to an elegant medieval town. The interior design there is fabulous—it’s Axel Vervoordt with a dose of English bohemianism thrown in. Lots of dark painted woodwork, colorful threadbare kilims and pattern-on-pattern. Very Dries Van Noten, actually.

MP: Any trips/travels that unexpectedly exceeded your expectations?
LBG: India, India, India! I can't say enough about it (see above). It's ironic, because until I visited it, I had NO desire to go there. It is a revelatory place in so many ways. Yes, it's chaotic, yes, it's dirty, yes, you will see things that horrify you. But somehow amidst all the confusion, your soul is at peace. There is an amazing sense of stillness and centeredness that surrounds and envelops you. I feel much more relaxed there than I ever do in Manhattan. The beauty, the people, the food, the temples…do anything you can to go there!

Lisa's keen eye captures wonderful moments from her global journeys including, clockwise from top left: a woman with a llama in Cuzco, Peru; an elder woman at Angor Wat, Cambodia; the iconic sculptures on Easter Island.

MP: Any favorite treasure or treasures from a trip?
LBG: I went on a month-long around-the-world trip with National Geographic via private jet in 2007 and we traveled to Macchu Picchu, Easter Island, Cambodia, Tibet, where I picked up some wonderful mementos. But my favorite treasures are my photos from the trip—I experience a visceral rush when I look at them and am immediately transported back to the moment.

Above: "Apartment in NYC"—Lisa's painterly embroidery captures the essence of a past home in the 1990's.

MP: When and how did you start creating your unique modern embroideries?
LBG: I began my embroideries about fifteen years ago after becoming obsessed with The Bayeux Tapestry, a medieval embroidered “cartoon strip” that tells the story of the Norman Invasion. I wanted to create personal pieces that reflected my life in the same way. I usually base my pieces on photos that I have taken. I look for images that have a strong perspective, clean lines and lots of visual interest. Once I’ve chosen a subject, I draw a rough outline onto linen, attach the fabric to a stretcher and begin the process of choosing my color palette.

Above: "Purly Wurly Takes a Picture," has the same verve and vitality as a Vanessa Bell painting—note all of the thoughtful details in Lisa's embroidery work.

MP: Do you find needlework and embroidery to be therapeutic?
LBG: Absolutely! I stream BBC Radio 4 or put on a good podcast and sit down to sew, and before I know it, it’s time to go pick up my son from school.

MP: What's your favorite food or meal?
Aperitif: Campari and soda with a splash of orange juice.
Main course: Moules meuniere, frites and a salade verte.
Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding
Afterwards: Single espresso and a small thimbleful of port.

MP: What male peacock has the best style today?
LBG: Hands down, Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir and modern-day dandy. His grandparents are Gianni and Marella Agnelli, so good taste obviously runs in the genes. I know he’s had his share of shady indiscretions, but come on, a blameless life is a bit boring, don’t you think?

Above: A modern-day dandy—Mr. Lapo Elkann.

MP: What city has the most stylish men?
LBG: I’m partial to Milan. My husband worked there for years and I found the men there to be sartorial geniuses, all of them. They’re not afraid of color or pattern-on-pattern, which I love. Those classic navy quilted jackets. Beautiful cashmere sweaters. Bespoke shirts with bold silk ties. Chunky dark sunglasses. Handmade leather shoes. They don’t miss a detail.

MP: Do you "collect" anything?
LBG: Yes, I collect friends, stories, laughter and experiences. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”

Mr. Peacock is in awe of Lisa Borgnes Giramonti's creativity, talent and joie de vivre. Treat yourself to a tea break this afternoon, and stop by Lisa's blog, A Bloomsbury Life, for a lovely read. Thanks Lisa for sharing your inspirations, travels, and artwork!

9 comments:

Meg said...

What a gorgeous interview! I love Lisa's blog and I really enjoyed reading more about what inspires her, her interets, travels etc. Loved hearing about the Bayeux Tapestry, I've seen it before and I remember also being quite mesmerized by it's size and beauty! Thanks for sharing! Meg

Joslyn said...

Wow...she is insanely fabulous.

jezebel said...

Oh, I love to see 2 of my very favorite bloggers joining forces!

C.T. said...

WoW!Thx for sharing....loved it!

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview! Great questions, great story..

Bart Boehlert said...

Good choice Mr. Peacock! I'm a big fan of Lisa's blog.

Courtney said...

Gosh, this interview makes me wish I could sit down with Lisa and just listen for hours. She seems like one of those people who can pull inspiration from by literally just standing next to her. But I think what most impresses me is the way she really lives life to the fullest. Great post!

Laura [What I Like] said...

I love her blog! I've only ever conversed with her over email, but from the tiny bit that I know of her from that exchange, she seems like the most lovely woman.

Mr. Peacock said...

Thank you everyone...
yes, Lisa is truly a
"Lady with Panache!"