Happy New Year! 2017, how time flies.
Aesme's new year begins with a new website. We hope you enjoy mooching around our new online digs.
We were being industrious elves right up to Christmas, which was relaxed with family in London. I tend to try to ignore Christmas until it is actually happening, how ridiculously early all the decorations go up nowadays, the way stores induce their present-buying mania.
This Christmas we had an event on the 21st - a lavish, Victorian-inspired cocktail party, and naturally the previous two weeks were a flurry of activity and accumulation - baubles and ribbons and candles and orange and clove pomander-making, and amaryllis-warming. I housed a hundred stems for a few days until the giant buds burst into tropical displays of colour, streaked and striped, flame-red and alabaster.
The party was hosted at the Reform Club on Pall Mall, a palatial Italianate clubhouse built in 1841 and designed by Sir Charles Barry, who allegedly took inspiration for the façade from Michelangelo’s Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Unsurprisingly the Club is a magnificent, imposing hulk of stone and symmetry, high gilded ceilings, elaborate scagliola and mirrored glass. The interiors are impossibly gold and there is a lot of deep red, plush carpets, elaborate cornicing.
The party was held in the first floor gallery overlooking Waterloo Gardens. You couldn’t call it a room exactly, it was the length of several tennis courts; a camera couldn't capture the half of it. Down the central section of the space we decorated a banqueting table with an undulating display of seasonal flowers at different heights - tall pedestals, low vases and bell jars with a large footed urn at the middle stretching up to the glass droplets of a central chandelier.
As is traditional, we used an overall palette of rich reds, creamy whites and dark green, but split them into two groups so that half the arrangements were sumptuous shades of burgundy, blood red, taupe and pink while the others were a wintry range of whites, creams and coffee with the odd hit of citrus orange.
We compiled the most beautiful flowers we could buy - highly perfumed roses, anemones, ranunculus, amaryllis, French tulips, cyclamen and hellebores, and merged them with decorative fruits - bunches of grapes, pomegranates, pineapples and artichokes - and English foliage - sculptural winter branches, ivy and viburnum and mistletoe thick with gleaming berries, puffs of old man’s beard on vines of wild clematis, spindle peppered with berries, tangled rosehips, dark spruce and fragrant feathery pine. The arrangements were loosely strung together with intricate coils of winter-flowering jasmine and trailing ivy.
The banqueting table was hung with garlands of fresh conifer and at the centre of the room we decorated a magnificent marble fireplace with the same, studded with orange and clove pomanders and cut-glass vessels of Cornish paperwhites and white hellebores. The fireplace and tables were dotted with antique cut-glass storm lanterns and candleabra to create a sea of flickering candlelight.
Perhaps the most challenging and most enjoyable aspect of the whole project was the tree. Tasteful Christmas decs are hard to come by, and tasteful Victorian-style decorations in wood or glass even more so. We had a 12 foot tree to decorate, and 12 feet of tree requires an awful lot of dressing. After much hunting we found some beautiful hand-painted baubles, and a few other elements - painted wooden soldiers and nutcrackers, glass bugles, little woollen toys, etc. But in the end, after a lot of research, we made the majority ourselves, as the Victorians would have done. We gilded walnuts and pine cones, strung bells and sweets on thread, made ostentatious bows of silk taffeta and cornucopias of yellowing sheet music for Christmas carols. Intricate little paperchains, hand-painted acorns, fragrant dried lavender in miniature lame sacks, bundles of cinnamon sticks. It was the Christmassiest lead-up to Christmas I can remember since childhood, and it was nostalgic, somehow, to focus solely on making and creating, rather than just acquiring.
Discounting the usual hitches synonymous with event work (i.e. getting stuck in an underground carpark and suppliers that let you down at the last minute) all went swimmingly. Largely this was down to having an amazing team of talented freelancers that we were lucky enough to bring on board, Ash, Micky and Holly, who worked calmly and tirelessly through a frenetic week. Thank you, girls - we are taking you out for wine soon!
The following day - a clear, glittering, beautiful one - I drove the majority of the flowers down to the client’s country house so that she could enjoy them over Christmas with friends and family. Bucket after bucket after bucket of flowers and metre after metre of garlands. It was a lovely thing that they weren’t just taken down, that they weren’t just enjoyed for those two hours of cocktails and forgotten about, and it made the heartbreak of takedown easier to bear. They had a new home, a new backdrop, new admirers. After a relentless few weeks, that was the last journey of the Aesme van of 2016. Despite an almost delirious exhaustion, I enjoyed the five hour round trip enormously - crossing the QEII bridge, weaving down into Sussex, the villages getting smaller, the lanes narrower, the trees denser. The sun shone and the radio blared carols, and the cab of the van smelt of jasmine and cedar.
Christmas was followed by a week in Oxford - a week of quiet, of magazines and scant light on golden stone, hot baths, Quod hot chocolate, gentle ambling, naps with cats on laps. I spent New Year with friends at a cottage in Dorset, singing Auld Lang Syne and drinking Bollinger at midnight from a plastic tumbler in the town square under the misty ruins of Corfe Castle. Back in London, I didn’t have the heart to take down my little tree so I honoured the real twelve days of Christmas, and kept it till the 6th.
I look back on 2016 as a year of ebb and flow, a year of tentative but steady growth, experimentation, awkward growing pains, and a lot of laughter. It was also luxurious, in so many ways, and I am well aware of what a luxury time is, and what a privilege it is to have had that time to experiment and refine and be creative. And how unrealistic that is, too, in a way. As I stand here at the beginning of 2017, a year in which Aesme will go through some fundamentally pivotal changes of its own, I find myself staring into an unwritten chapter. It’s a peculiar feeling. Ultimately I know where we are headed; generally I know the dream we want to realise. But in my mind 2017 is that next step, only it isn’t a step, it’s a leap, its like catapulting oneself into the darkness hoping there’s solid ground on the other side. It’s as if Aesme, once an innocent and somewhat naïve notion, is beginning now to take on a defined form. Once just a vague chimera, it is now growing up and away, becoming independent of us. This it must - to survive, to become self-sufficient, to become ‘real’ and a viable business, rather than just a small creative venture. It must be like this to take your first kid to their first day of grown-up school. That same feeling - ferociously proud, but also frightened. And while it's taken so much hard graft, so much elbow grease and perseverance to get this far, we are only just scratching the surface; we've reached the first plateau, and now there's the mountain to climb. Doing all of this, facing the high and lows, the triumphs and the setbacks of starting a business with my endlessly upbeat and tenacious little sister is the greatest privilege of all.
We really worked on some amazing projects this year. Glorious weddings in London and the home counties. Photoshoots, a collaboration with Violet + the Vicarage, a short film with Katy Lawrence. We did our first trade fair, a press event at Spring, a fashion show for Christopher Kane. We taught workshops and 1-2-1 classes and flowered a perfume launch for Jo Malone at Charleston Farmhouse. We bought flowers and plants from anyone and everyone we could and we had our first season of using our own flowers from our Hampshire cutting garden. We visited some enchanting houses and gardens, among them Kelmscott, Claydon House, Mottisfont Abbey, Nymans, Chiswick House, Helmingham Hall and an intoxicating rose garden in Rome, the Roseto di Roma Capitale.
It was a year of momentous changes for us both individually, too; we moved cities, we finally realised our dreams of becoming homeowners, we renovated and decorated. As a child I dreamed that as an adult I would live in a Victorian-conversion flat and be something very grown-up, like a librarian, or something to do with books at any rate. I had a very specific idea of what my home would look like - high ceilings, a bay window with shutters, waxed wooden floors, views of green trees. I would be very independent and have lots of interesting friends - no husband - and a cat of dubious breeding. I would wear silk and a lot of black and my hair in a chignon, and drink whisky very elegantly and arrange flowers in beautiful glass vases all around the place. That was my ultimate dream. This Christmas, the first in my new home, I thought a lot about that, how dreams come true, sometimes very specifically, but so often not in the ways you’d expect. I think my eleven-year-old self would approve, not of the husband, or the hair-do, or the lack of cat (to be remedied this year?), but of the ceiling height certainly, and the whisky, and the flowers.
J and I are taking a break for the last two weeks of January. The quietest month of the year, it’s an ideal opportunity to get away, switch off and recharge both physically and creatively. We’ll be back when the days are a little longer and the nights a little shorter, ready to take on 2017, which is already shaping up to be an exciting, busy and very flowery year! We’re going into it enthused, inspired, and most of all, hopeful. Till then, friends!