At Home With Marcelle Symons
Marcelle Symons of London-based brand One Vintage shows us around her treasure trove of a home filled with the kind of eclectic curiosities reflected in her striking designs. Crafted using reworked vintage textiles, her extraordinary handiwork features in an exclusive collection of one-off pieces for Browns...
On her background…
Growing up, my mother was always knitting, crocheting, painting and cooking; there was a big emphasis on manual work in our household and she taught me to make things by hand. Every summer, my whole extended family of over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles would spend idyllic two-month long holidays in Italy to escape the city. My parents encouraged me to socialise and stay curious and I would craft braided jewellery and sell it on a stand at a nearby beach. The women in my family are very glamorous and the opulent style of the 80’s and 90’s that they embodied has always stuck with me: bold embellishments, shoulder pads, open toe shoes, big hair, grunge and strong perfume. Since the age of 15, I have collected trinkets, fabrics swatches, beads, anything beautiful and unusual really, that I continue to use in my work to this day!
On setting up her own label…
A lot of responsibility was thrown at me from an early time in my life. After graduating from university, I got a job at Prada before opening my own boutiques around London. Though I loved what I did, I was floored at the excess that fast fashion produced and wanted to add value back into products. The word ‘sustainable’ gets thrown around a lot in fast fashion but in my mind a product can only be sustainable if it’s repurposed and recycled, there is nothing eco-friendly about mass production. I had an idea based around reworking antique fabrics, laces and silk prints into contemporary silhouettes to create one-off pieces. The topic of sustainable fashion is so important to us now, but when I first founded my brand, promoting garments as eco-friendly wasn’t considered a ‘sophisticated’ proposition. Despite that, my initial experiments in garment making ended up being huge sell-outs and in 2005, I opened my One Vintage shop on London’s Ledbury road.
From its inception, One Vintage garnered a wonderful clientele, including Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns who put forward the idea of me working on an exclusive capsule of 100 pieces for them. The project has been an artist’s dream, producing my artisanal garments was a labour of love and reinforced my belief that in this quickly evolving fashion whirlwind - working slow and steady can be better than fast and furious. I was immediately drawn to piano shawls, silk lamés and organza skirts for the line, which were suffused with equally sumptuous Edwardian tape work skirts, authentic French silk flowers, Victorian corsetry, black jet beading, incredible feathers, 40’s Japanese naturalistic shapes, 30’s frills and 20’s sequins…all things pretty. In fact, one of the three stories that form the collection is called Return to Pretty, the others being All Out Black and Summer Whites.
On feeling at home…
My home is like a constantly shifting mood board of my tastes and obsessions. Throughout my travels, I have collected antiques and objet d’arts that fill every room including the outdoor space. The established garden at my place in Queens Park is my pride and joy, I’ve nurtured it ever since moving in five years ago and grow everything from rare plant specimens to vegetables and herbs, there is a wonderful peaceful energy to the area. My cocker spaniel, Chill and tiny Pomeranian Lupa, love it too and accompany me when I go out to cut and press flowers that I’ve grown to be framed and hung in the bedrooms. Nature is a constant source of inspiration in my work, I love the juxtaposition of delicate foliage against obscure, dark backgrounds. My husband and I don’t go out much, we’re real homebodies, but we often have people over for dinner and I use my eclectic mix of possessions as backdrops to the meals which I love to construct. Cooking is an equally big passion of mine and preparing food for loved ones is my idea of fun. In fact, my fabric laboratory revolves around my kitchen. It’s a creative space with rails of clothes travelling through the studio area all the time and out into the world before something new catches my eye.
On her design process…
My home studio is total chaos! There is no rhyme or reason to anything and I prefer it that way. I know where everything is in there, baskets and baskets are full of references, designs and samples and nobody is allowed to touch anything besides me. I am incredibly lucky to have the space at home to facilitate all my creative paraphernalia. I am very drawn to working with opposing visual aesthetics, the contrasting notions of florals under hard studded jackets, for example, or black beading and sheer organza. You will always find botanical illustrations, wild animals and undersea creatures running throughout my pieces and for my collection with Browns, I amplified everything tenfold. Using C18th silver thread I formed giant peacock motifs along with tigers stitched using a ‘couch work’ technique and C19th raised floral needlepoint. One particular piece, a dress covered entirely in hand embroidery, is complemented by images of sea life and algae picked out in beads that decorate the garments surface.
On her things…
This winter, to alleviate the darkness of the evenings, I filled a whole bookshelf with over 100 small faux flickering candles, it was so gorgeous. Experimenting with my surroundings is important to me and I am forever moving decorative objects around the house to achieve different effects. I recently hung two decadent, distressed Chinese silk embroidered panels next to the sink, though I’m not sure if they will be in the same spot by next week. One of my most treasured possessions is a large, framed perspex photo of my kids, shot by my friend Eliane Fattal along with a large bench made from water skis that I bought at a New York flea market - t cost more to ship it back to the UK than it did to buy! A set of three 18th century, gilt dining chairs are some of the oldest piece that I own, they are very precious and their elegant lines mirror my large collection of vintage Pucci dresses gifted to me by my mother in law. She is a true fashion maverick and has flawless style, I wore one of the gowns she bought me for my civil wedding and lunch. The gowns are so special that I have them all zip locked in airtight covers to avoid moths nibbling at them.
How do you relax at home?
I head for my bed, get under the duvet and open my book… there is nothing better than reading from the comfort of a blanket.
Modernist box or rococo mansion?
Neither, I am more of a tree house kind of gal.
Who do you most admire and why?
Doctors, nurses and caregivers.
Do you believe that houses can be haunted?
Worst and best current interior trends?
Worst: Fluorescent chairs, it's headache inducing.
Best: Carpet layering and indoor plants.
What’re some of your best flea-market finds?
So many I can’t count but some particularly noteworthy items include two daisy shaped garden chairs, a Victorian gentleman's top hat in its box, a feather showgirl costume, a 40’s suede bag with an inbuilt lighter and a 19th century set of perfume bottles.
Is there something that you’ve created and now regret selling?
No, parting with the pieces is intrinsic to the process of making for me.
Which room do you spend most of your time in?
My open plan kitchen and studio room.
What’s been your biggest fashion faux pas?
I definitely experimented with looks in my 20’s, there are too many to list and there are no hair colours or hair styles that I haven’t tried!
What building would be your dream home?
Ian Fleming’s home, Goldeneye, in Jamaica; I felt so at home there when I visited.
What’s your best tip for hosting at home?
Light lots of scented candles.
Where do you find inspiration in London?
Portobello Market, Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair, Hammersmith Antique Textiles Fair and Frock Me! Vintage Fashion Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall.
Photographer: Henry Gorse
Words: Ross Aston