JOCASTA INNES Lesley Blanch's dashingly personal blend of romantic evocation, sharp observation and sheer gusto has echoes of Colette one minute, Lady Mary Whortley Montagu the next ... What I have always admired about Lesley Blanch is the deft way she reconciles femme de tête and femme d'intérieure, independent mind and adventurous person, with a notable talent for making homes beguilingly pretty and social gatherings festive and fun
1973. The 'Nancy Mitford memorial window' — a mouchrabieh
from a Tunisian harem. An icon found in the Greek
quarter of Istanbul.
Henry Clarke © Condé Nast Publications
A Traveller's gros-point
Lesley Blanch's gros-point cushions are coveted by those lucky enough to possess one. They record her travels and varied interests and some were done as gifts, with a motif designed around the friend in question, "For the late Nancy Mitford I worked a large pink-pawed mole, part of her family crest, with a huge sunflower indicating her book, The Sun King, and for the late Violet Trefusis, an evocation of Russia, to recall our shared love of all things Slav."
"My cushions are so many magic carpets transporting me back to faraway places I have known and loved and now re-create in terms of gros-point. As I stitch, they come to life again, and I am once more in the dappled shadow of Aleppo’s souks, in the Pachmakli along the road in Turkestan, or on a rooftop in Delhi … Ah! Needlework thy name is nostalgia!" Her own personal collection of her gros-point cushions was reduced to ashes in the fire that destroyed her house.
The Joys of Comfort
Since the traditional domestic costume of most of the countries where Lesley Blanch has travelled is made for comfort, she will wear it if suitable to whatever she is doing, adapting it to fit into her way of life. So during the day she may dress in a shirt and trousers, but in the evening she would change into a long kaftan. She has worn brocaded robes and cotton kaftans gathered on her travels — from eighteenth century museum pieces to bargains found in the souks of the Persian Gulf or Istanbul —- with velvet slippers, and necklaces of enormous uncut stones, or bracelets like fisticuffs, many years before anyone else even thought of doing so. Her collection of robes and heavy jewellery was destroyed in the fire. Although she can no longer travel, her friends sometimes send her strange garments found in some remote souk.
English EccentricsLesley Blanch, “Ever since I first saw these clothes I never wanted to wear anything else. I wore them long before they became the fashion, and I will be wearing them long after they’ve gone out. My friends used to say, ’Oh, there goes Lesley in another of her funny outfits.’ Now nobody thinks anything of it."
April 1974 House & Garden. Terrace dining chez Lesley Blanch. Henry Clarke photo.
© The Condé Nast Publications Inc. New York
"George Cukor used to call me a real Eccentric Englishwoman when I worked with him for a year in Hollywood. But I’ve always thought of Eccentric Englishwomen as looking rather odd — you know, peculiar hats and no dress sense. George spared me that, and quite encouraged unconventional, mixed-up dressing, 'You don't have to look as if you've been studying Vogue' he'd say, which was sustaining."
A Green Bower
Guppy writes, "An ardent gardener, Lesley Blanch has created a very personal enclosed garden, with fig and citrus trees, jacarandas and mimosas, as well as lesser shrubs and bushes. It is a green bower screened by tall cypresses and bamboos: 'Annihilating all that's made to a green thought in a green shade,' Blanch quotes Andrew Marvell."
After Lesley Blanch’s home burned down in 1994, returning home to England was not an option as the quarantine laws would have separated her from her beloved cats. With great fortitude and her usual sense of humour, she wondered if "maybe it was meant to be." Her cats would creep into the charred shell of the house and sit glumly on the remains of their mistress’ bed, waiting for better times.
She had her house rebuilt, set up her writing desk, and followed a favoured maxim: "Get up and get on with it." Many letters and papers of interest survived the holocaust of the fire, while others were returned to her by friends.
A Love of All Animals
Blanch would remark with a closed expression, "I get annoyed when I am referred to as a cat lady, as I love all animals. I have no dogs now as they require exercising whereas cats can look after themselves."
She describes her new environment as being, “reduced to minimalism. Although I possess nothing of value and my objects are not museum pieces, they are pleasing to me. Each has its own label —- where I found it or how it found me; who gave it to me; and what it represents."
Lesley Blanch's surroundings are far from bleak and eclecticism still reigns.
Smiley © The Estate of Lesley Blanch
Norman © The Estate of Lesley Blanch