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The Stellar Hotelier

Welcome to this edition of Gladstonian Journal, in which we share our passion for journeys, craftsmanship and a love of finely edited elegance. This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to Michael Bonsor, distinguished hotelier and man-about-town.

Michael Bonsor is an unashamed bon viveur. He is internationally travelled, has great taste and is impeccably turned out. He embodies these qualities, empowered by a clockwork sense of efficiency, to run Rosewood London, the beautiful hotel under his wing, and one that bears his unique personal stamp.

Michael is the quintessential subject for our Gladstonian Journal and he has graciously found a window in his hectic schedule to share his fascinating story.

“I guess you could say that hotels are in my blood.

I was practically born into the business! My parents became ‘accidental’ hoteliers. They had bought a real fixer-upper, a very large residential property in Inverness and after realising how much it would cost to build a new roof and floors, they decided to turn it into a luxury hotel to pay for the bills. It was the first of its kind in the area so it was a really significant achievement.

I was only eight at the time and we were all helping to enable it to function. I was actually making beds and cleaning bathrooms and really, really enjoying it. I completely fell in love with hospitality because I was meeting so many diverse people from all over the world.

Looking back, my career path was set. I took a big step – I decided to join Strathclyde University (the Scottish Hotel School) to help build my skills and knowledge. It was a great experience and it helped me understand some of the theory behind my work at my parents’ hotel.

Total serendipity. As part of my course, we’d have careers days where we’d meet with potential employers. At one, during my lunch break, I went for a walk and ended up strolling into the Four Seasons for a mooch around. Purely by chance I bumped into their HR lady. We had a quick chat and within a month, I was working for the group in Boston, the week of my 21st birthday. Boston was my launch pad and I hit the ground running!

“I joined as a management trainee and when I arrived, ended up being a pot-washer. It was a real learning curve and it helped me to have respect for every position within a hotel or restaurant.”

From the ground up. I spent 18 months in Boston, had a stint in Toronto, then in NYC and another in Toronto before heading back to NYC where I went on to open the Joël Robuchon restaurant. All this in a decade. The rest as they say is history!

Back to London and I struck ‘hospitality gold’ joining iconic Claridge’s, and rising to become the Hotel Manager. During this time, the BBC produced ‘Inside Claridge’s’. For a year of my tenure my fellow staff and I were followed by a film crew to document a year behind the scenes of the hotel. The critically acclaimed three-part series filmed by director Jane Treays attracted almost 12 million viewers.

The programme gave a priceless insight to how a 5* hotel operates. The crew became in a way ‘part of the family’. We were all very proud of the production. The series undoubtedly put my career on the map.

My time at Claridge’s helped establish me here in London. Four years on I was invited to oversee the highly anticipated opening of Rosewood London, firstly as Hotel Manager and then, Managing Director.

The exterior of Rosewood London, where Michael is MD

Recognised by our peers. Soon after we opened, the awards started coming in, with eight prominent accolades including Best New Hotel in the World by Telegraph’s Ultratravel, Hotel of the Year London, at the AA Hospitality Awards and the European Travel and Hospitality Awards.

Neighbourhood hotel. At Rosewood London, we’ve made a huge success of being slightly off the beaten track in Holborn and actually play host to many people who visit us regularly who work locally. We talk to the community, and many of our customers in the bar and restaurants work within five minutes’ walk of the building.

The courtyard entrance to Rosewood London, at the heart of its local community

Rosewood London’s architectural heritage is core to its cachet. Following a costly renovation to transform the Edwardian Belle Époque building, the original architectural features were painstakingly restored including the magnificent Grade II listed street frontage and dome, and the grand Pavonazzo marble staircase, which rises up through all seven storeys of the hotel beneath the 166-foot cupola. Guests enter via a grand carriageway which leads to a distinctive courtyard reminiscent of a private manor house.

The grand marble staircase at Rosewood London

“There are many vignettes that make Rosewood London so unique. One I particularly love – the exclusive Grand Manor House Wing welcomes guests via its own private entrance and is the only suite in the world to possess its own postcode!”

The living area in the Rosewood London's Manor House - the only hotel suite with its own postcode!

Go-to favourites, under one roof.

We are famed for our destination hot spots for drinking and dining, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy them. It’s always been critical that we appeal to the local market and many of our visitors are regulars from the neighbouring corporate community. Our Holborn Dining Room serves up Seasonal British cuisine with a twist and combines reclaimed oak with antique mirrors, red leather banquettes. Its famed Gin Bar offers London’s largest collection of gin, featuring over 500 gins and 30 tonics!

Scarfes Bar is named after caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, whose original artwork adorns the walls. The stunning Mirror Room, with opulent jewel box design and floor to ceiling mirrors offers art-inspired afternoon tea.

The Mirror Room where guests can enjoy afternoon tea

Being custodian of a precious hotel means I take one hundred per cent care of my clients and my staff. Covid really brought this home. We closed a week before the government announced hotels to close, said goodbye to our last guest and locked the gates. Then we sent almost 95% of the workforce home awaiting further news from the government.

The welfare of our team at home was paramount. That meant weekly newsletters, Zoom calls with over 70 people on at a time, quizzes, competitions, mental health professional support and translating the latest government announcements to explain how it affected them.

We stayed motivated and connected to the community despite being closed. Our chefs volunteered their time, cooking treats for local NHS hospitals each week. And the team from Holborn Dining Room cooked thousands of pies to sell at a local butchers with all proceeds going to the NHS. This really illustrates how our team operate at the very heart of the hotel.

My Rosewood manifesto. The service we provide must be individually tailored to the specific needs of each guest, who may have as many as 100 interactions with our team members during a two or three day stay. it’s important that that communication is authentic and genuine. That is just one of our USPs.

We love to host events for like-minded businesses. Rosewood London is a beautiful hotel and serves as an elegant backdrop for distinguished launches, receptions and conferences.

Recently, to mark London Fashion week, we hosted a champagne reception for Gladstn London to showcase their Everyday Friends collection and to launch their new collaboration with the internationally renowned milliner J Smith Esquire.

Gladstn and Rosewood London are on the same page. We have journeys and travel in common and our philosophies are synergistic. Gladstn creates luxury handmade leather handbags and luggage and have a passion for bespoke craftsmanship, drawing on quality, creativity, innovation and uniqueness.

Being a frequent business traveler, immaculate accessories and luggage are core to my lifestyle. I’ve seen the Gladstn London range and I’ve fallen for Mad Dash, in Portofino. It really makes you want to go for carry-on only!

Mad Dash from Gladstn London, the perfect carry-on!

Across the pond. My route most-travelled has to be London to New York. I used to live in Manhattan and we have many friends in the city. I fly there on business too – easily six or seven times a year. We’re also blessed to have our glamorous sister hotel there – The Carlyle on the Upper East Side.

Flying the friendly skies. I’ve been a Member of the BA Executive Club for many years. Always a window seat so I can daydream into the clouds. I rest, and catch up on movies on the flight so I can step off the plane stress-free and ready for meetings.

My favourite hotel. It has to be the Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood hotel, overlooking the Place de la Concorde, in Paris – the location is spectacular and the hotel has a timeless elegance.

My greatest feeling. Making my father proud, he was a wonderful hotelier and so supportive and proud of my achievements.

Proud moment. Becoming managing director of Rosewood London. My goal was to be become MD by the age of 40 – and I did that with a few years to spare!

When I do get away, it has to be the Maldives. Every year I make time to visit. It’s the only place I truly switch off.

I have a treasured possession I look forward to seeing when I return home from my travels. It’s a painting of the Queen by celebrated New York artist Hunt Slonem.

One thing though – you’ll never find me in tracksuit bottoms in front of the TV. I don’t do casual very well!

Gladstonian Journal

Michael Bonsor was speaking to Denise Barrett, Guest Editor and author of Handbag Homage.
To find out more about Rosewood London visit the website here.
Missed any of the Gladstonian Journals? Click here to read more.

 

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch

 

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The art of light

Margit Wittig has a rare creative talent. In her career she has organically morphed from physiotherapist to sculptural artist – with her in-depth studies of the human form often underpinning her statement pieces of decorative art, lighting and furniture.

“I originally trained and worked as a phsyiotherapist – I qualified in Munich in 1985. But I have always been artistic.
My mother was an artist and we painted watercolours of our garden. Every year, before Christmas, we’d collect old candles to melt the wax to cast festive ornaments which filled the house with fragrance.

I was born and raised in West Germany, but I’m now based in London. I stopped working as a physiotherapist when we moved to the US in 1997. When I came to London as a young mother of two, I wanted a creative outlet and started figurative sculpting at the London Art Academy which I absolutely loved.

Over the years I have developed my own abstract style.

My core product, lamps, I developed from my sculpted portraits along with other shapes of resin and glass. This became a hobby, and my first orders were from friends, but things took off when my work was noticed by interior designers.

The 'Eos' lamp by Margit Wittig

“I was drawn to three-dimensional arts and abstract paintings, but especially to sculptures by Brancusi and Giacometti. And what a connection that was! It was extraordinary that I would later learn that Giacometti and his brother made lamps in the 1930s and ’40s in order to survive!

Sculpture in bronze, 'Emotion'

“It was my family’s move to London in 2001, followed by domestic issues that proved cathartic. It prompted me to sign up first for a sculpting course and then a metals course. It felt like an outlet for my creativity while I was being a full-time single mother.

“The art and craft of my lamps. My central raison d’etre is to turn lighting into an artform. My inspiration comes from many sources; the forms of my figurines are informed by art, in particular the sculptures of Brancusi and Giacometti, as I mentioned earlier.

Sculpture in bronze by Margit, 'Meditation'

I’m also very fond of texture and I’m always on the alert! On dog-walks or gallery visits, I take snapshots of the barks of trees or zoom into paintings to look closely at the brush strokes. This inspires my own work as I like to create a unique organic texture by applying different layers of patina to add depth.

The textural detail of Margit's 'Moon Gold' pendant light

“I like to fashion assorted materials into my work.

“I use a lot of materials in my work such as bronze, resin and jesmonite but clay is my first choice. It’s wonderfully versatile; you can use it to create shape, texture and really mess around with it. If the thing you’re making gets a bit exhausted or doesn’t work out, you can simply squash it together and start again. I recently designed a new table. The original was made of clay with imprints of tree bark. It is a cube shaped occasional table or stool which I am looking forward to casting in bespoke colour schemes.

“I don’t like wasting material. I use clay to make the moulds for resin sculptures as well as developing ideas.

“I have created many pieces, but a favourite is the ‘multipurpose’ screen I designed, because it is one of my first large-scale creations.

“It is a display of many different sculptural components and can be used as a room divider or just as a decorative piece of functional art.

“The resin elements included in the screen can be rotated to give it a new and changing appearance creating a different ‘look’ every time. As with all my other pieces, you can choose from all the different components and position them to create your bespoke screen.

“I like to collaborate and work with other artisanal designers, but first I had to get noticed. My friend Emma Bleasdale, a business consultant got me started. We got to work, creating a website and an Instagram account. Then we invited around 30 people in the industry to see my collection of lamps. We successfully reached out to Kit Kemp, award winning interior designer and co-owner of prestigious London and New York based Firmdale Hotels. I achieved my first commission!

Kit Kemp once poetically described my designs as ‘curious, intriguing, classical, yet lyrical.’

Personally, I would actually say that my work is sculptural and functional. I enjoy designing new pieces which have a purpose, like lighting, tables, tabletops, door handles and room dividers, but enriching them with artistic components to transform each piece into a unique object.

A pair of Margit's lamps in situ in the Whitby Hotel, New York

Lamp stands will always be central to the Martig Wittig collection, and I love to work through different designs.

In recent years, though, I have branched out into making and designing tables, mirrors, screens and even door handles. I model and cast all my pieces in my East London studio but Ideas for new pieces begin at home in Southwest London. My apartment has large windows and far-reaching views so, by appointment only, it doubles as my gallery. It makes a great backdrop for my work!

I love to craft objets to enhance the home, especially if they harmonise in materials and colour. I like to fine-detail a concept in my signature style, so I choose functional accessories to spark alive a room, a bit like picking out a scarf, gloves or handbag to accent an outfit.

An example is my door handles, they are little individual pieces of sculpture. My organically shaped resin door handles, that come in different sizes, can be cast in bespoke colours with gold & silver leaf or verdigris patina.

Our lamps come in an array of funky designs of wall lights and floor lamps in Bespoke and Studio ranges.

We also do beautiful chandeliers that vary greatly in size, from smaller one tier pieces to larger four tier, twelve arm chandeliers. I use Resin sculptural pieces such as pearls, in a variety of changeable colours are used to accent and complement any interior.

The beautiful 'Elowen' chandelier by Margit Wittig

The Bespoke collection of table lamps are beautiful pieces of sculpture in their own right and enriched by lampshades in exotic jewel colours.

The lamps sit beautifully with our decorative mirrors, whose ornate
frames, cast in resin are shown below in a gold and verdigris finish. They are available in bespoke finishes with antiqued or clear mirrored glass. As you’ll see in the picture, they look stunning with the table lamp.

Margit's mirrors make a stunning backdrop for her lamps

I like working with an eclectic portfolio of sculptural materials, but I can also really appreciate the texture of fine leathers and hides.

I just love the feel of luxury bags and luggage to take me out and about or on my travels. They have to be artisan made, finely crafted and, just like some of my pieces, be ‘sparked’ by a choice of colours.

For me, no there’s no contest. Gladstn London’s bags tick all the boxes. Heritage inspired, they’re designed in London and made in Italy from the finest of leathers. And beautifully finished with signature embellishments.

It’s a difficult choice but If I was going to select just one it would have to be… Case In Point. Colour? Espresso!

Case in Point in Espresso

This pic shows a favourite piece of my work at home that I’d never sell.

And this round table is very special to me. I bought it at an auction house in Vienna when I was 20 and it’s travelled from home to home with me since, serving from study desk, to dining table, and now it is the heart of the studio. I love having flowers in my studio, too, to bring colour and inspire colour in my work.

My first impression of London that I loved and found inspiring was the sheer amount of art and art exhibitions and how accessible they are. I adore Hyde Park, where I love to walk by the Henry Moore ‘The Arch’ sculpture. To name a few favourite galleries, there’s the National Portrait Gallery, Tate modern, the V&A and, more of a hidden gem, but very appropriate, is the Royal Society of Sculptors in South Kensington.

There’s an upcoming exhibition I’m looking forward to;
I’m excited about the Two Temple Place event to see ‘Body Vessel Clay’ celebrating Black women, ceramics and contemporary art.

Looking to my German roots, I love Paul Klee’s cubist work which relates to components of my work. In particular, his painting ‘Senecio’, 1922.

If I’m out and about I love to drop into HJEM in High Street Kensington is definitely my favourite local spot for a coffee and a cardamon bun!”

Gladstonian Journal

Margit Wittig was speaking to Denise Barrett, Guest Editor
To find out more about Margit’s work, visit her website here.
Missed any of the Gladstonian Journals? Click here to read more.
Or click to read Denise’s blog Handbag Homage.

 

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch

 

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A five minute master class on what to look for in a bag

We all have a weakness or two and one of ours is elegant luggage! As many of us are still dreaming of getting back to our familiar everyday journeys, we are increasingly adopting the ‘buy less buy better’ mantra. The aesthetic of a bag must always be about what appeals to your eye – no real rules here except if you want a slimming effect, buy a bag that is more north to south in design rather than east to west!

A number of our customers have asked us to create their forever pieces so we’re often asked about what to look for in a great quality bag – just what are the details that make a piece stand that test of time? For this week’s Gladstonian Chronicles we sat with our Master Craftsman over a virtual coffee and together shared our top tips on what we look for. Here is your five-minute masterclass straight from the craft room on what you need know for the next bag that catches your eye!

Start with good foundations – leather

Leather is a great fabric because it ages so well – it is one of the rare things in life that looks better as it grows older! For that elegant piece, look no further than a grade A first selection leather – a vegetable tanned leather is perfect. Why? Because it lasts a lifetime and develops a beautiful patina.

Vegetable tanning dates from medieval times. Leather skins were preserved in local streams, anchored in the water where a natural tanning process occurred from the surrounding trees. Their leaves, bark and fruits fell into the water and naturally started to tan the leather. Today it remains a natural chemical-free process resulting in a range of colours.

When you’re next looking closely at the bag that catches your eye look for the patina or shine on the leather. If it’s a great quality, it will age well and continue to look more beautiful as it gets older! We also look at the ‘hand’ of the leather – a term used to describe the softness and feel of the leather. And if you are after a name than we look no further than Barenia leather – one of the most precious and beautiful to work with and used in some of the finest Houses in the world. So where next…

Yes we really look at the stitching!

Ok, so you have never paid that much attention to the stitching on your bag. It’s simple – look for six to eight stiches per cm and if you have them on your bag then it shows a finer hand. A beautiful piece of luggage will be created with a guideline before being stitched as it provides a guide to stich alongside.

“The joy of stitching is taking pleasure in the experience of making something with your own hands”
Tilly Walnes

Always look for a good strong cotton – for the best quality, it will generally be run through beeswax first which acts as both a lubricant and will also make the cotton waterproof. Have you found some irregularities when examining the stitches on your bag with not all identical? Lucky you! You’re most likely the owner of a hand-stitched piece. If all of the stitches are identical, it’s likely that the machine has taken over from the hands. But beautiful hand-stitched needs a good handle…

We love a good edge stain

There are more to handles than you might think! Ever purchased a bag and the handles are thick, too tight and hurt when you carry your bag? Chances are the size is wrong for the design or they are not made of the right material. We always look for a handle that is made from rope – it gives you the support in carrying but is flexible to mould to your hand and has a softness with the leather.

But we also look hard at the ‘light’. What’s that? Simply it’s the distance from the top of the bag to the top of the handle – we talk about this all the time in design! Next time you look at a bag look for a good strong light as it will give you the room to carry the bag comfortably in your hand or on the shoulder without leaving those red marks on your skin!

But for a sign of real craftsmanship look for the edge stain – the painting of the leather around the handles and the outside areas of the bag. For our Everyday Friends collection, it’s in red but can be any colour you desire if you are having your own bag made. It shows the competency of the craftsman and is painted lovingly having sanded the leather first. But it would be nice to have a little bling!

Hardware is King!

So we may like a little or a lot of bling on our bags – it’s the hardware that’s always King. We always look closely at the hardware on any bag. It’s all about weight. The next time you pick up a bag, just feel the weight of the hardware on it. It should be weighty, ideally made of brass and then coated in a precious metal. If the hardware is light or sounds hollow when you tap your finger on it, generally inferior materials have been used.

“As bags get ever more absurdly large, so they need to carry more stuff to validate the expense of this huge trunk with chains, buckles and padlocks on”
A. A. Gill

So how many times in a day do you use a zip? Lots. And it’s no different on a bag. We are always zipping and un-zipping a bag to look at the size of zip teeth and the run of the zip. It has to be YKK – one of the best zips in the world. Make sure the zip runs smoothly and is well sewn into the zip ribbon in the bag. Also don’t forget to lift the bag up and look at the underneath. We always make sure it has a minimum of four, ideally six, studs so when in daily use the bottom of the bag is protected from the elements resting safely on the studs. So, for the outside of the bag its leather, stitching, handles, hardware and for the inside……

And finally – take a peek inside…

Our bags are both a private possession and a public statement. Always take a look inside the bag. If you have ever opened a vintage piece of luggage pre c1940 then it would have been most likely lined with leather inside as well or ‘self-lined’. This was very popular but also made bags very heavy for those carrying them.

We look for a soft feel, tough but lightweight material for the lining – it’s called Alcantara and is the must-have lining in any quality piece. Don’t forget to look for at least one pocket zip pocket for those important items and ideally a few more for the technology we carry with us today.

Five minute masterclass

We hope you’ve enjoyed this short peek into the world of the craft of bags and that we’ll make bag experts out of you yet! Although in reality the artisans who make some of the world’s finest bags (including ours) take years to master their craft with an apprenticeship taking six years to complete. Still, at least we hope we’ve helped you to run a more critical eye over your next piece!

Chief Bag Carrier



Gladstonian Journal

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch


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The Gladstone Bag: a time capsule of politics, medicine and travel on the Titanic

At Gladstn London whilst our name is actually not derived from it, there is no doubting our passion for bags is influenced by the quintessential British icon that is the Gladstone Bag.  It has a rich history of association with travels and countless appearances throughout the last two centuries in politics, medicine and literature. 

In this new series of Gladstonian Journal articles, we share just a brief history…

An interpretation on the iconic Gladstone Bag
A modern interpretation of the Gladstone Bag as a travel companion

From humble beginnings

The Gladstone Bag owes it origins to the simple and durable design of the famous Carpetbag used so widely in the US and Europe in the 19th Century by those who travelling in search of opportunity with few possessions to carry. Carpetbaggers as they became known is now a pejorative term because of its association with opportunism and exploitation.

From these beginnings, the Gladstone Bag evolved to become the first ‘hinged’ style icon where leather was built over a rigid frame which could separate into two equal sections. Its tough leather and frame made it the perfect travel companion it remains today.

“The the door burst open. William was there. He dropped his Gladstone bag and took his mother in his arms.”
D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, 1913

A vintage Gladstone bag with versatile 'open mouth' hinged design

From politics to potions

As is widely know, it was named after the British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. The bag was designed and named by the leather maker, J. G. Beard of London, a keen supporter of the Prime Minister who was renowned for his love of travelling. Thanks to Gladstone’s new-world view and liberal approach to politics, more people began to discover and travel.

And so the Gladstone Bag quickly became the epitome of Victorian England and, as medicine become available to the masses, the bag found a new audience – the doctors of the day.

Physicians needed to take their kit on house visits and their traditional medicine boxes and cabinets were bulky and difficult to carry. In contrast, the Gladstone Bag was spacious, well organised and was easily transported and quickly became the popular choice; the final signifier the medical profession had arrived – complete with ear trumpet, stethoscope, sewing kit, lotions and potions.

One of the most famous belonged to the loveable Mary Poppins. She travelled into the Banks’ house with it and surprised the children with the magic inside

Our modern take on the Gladstone Bag from the One That Got Away collection

On board the Titanic

With the opportunity to travel becoming more widely available, the Gladstone Bag began to expand its reach, including on the fateful Titanic voyage.

A Third Class passenger and survivor, Benoit Picard, appeared on the 1911 census as a boarder living in Bethnal Green, London and described as an unmarried Gladstone bag maker.

On board the Titanic, the pursers would store the First Class passengers’ valuables in Gladstone Bags made by Benoit and others for safe keeping – they were the earliest form of the in-room safe, such was the trust and style afforded to this bag. The many important documents, decrees, papers, instruments, love letters and precious treasures that were transported made it an aspirational possession of the time.

The bag’s enduring quality and safe storage were tested when the ship sank. Recovered from the ocean floor were Gladstone Bags that had rested there for years. The tanning methods had rendered the leather resistant to the ravages of the sea bed and the valuable contents remained in good condition.

“What a way for a fashionable painter to travel! A Gladstone Bag and an ulster”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, 1891

As time wore on, the Gladstone became the bag of choice for many with tradespeople finding the hinged construction perfect to carry the tools of their trade:

“For as long as I can remember (as a child) it sat open on the floor just inside the back door from when he walked in at night until my mother closed it in the morning once she had made his lunch and placed it carefully in the bag. If it was closed, we were not allowed to open it as it might contain a surprise. And if it was ever there during a week day, then he was ill, or perhaps on holiday! There was a whole generation of blue collar workers who carried these.”

The onset of the Second World War meant a shortage of leather, zips and metal frames and with the new challenge of how best to conceal an ugly gas mask, bags grew in size. Yet the iconic Gladstone design endured.

“Big bags are best; they suit our mood for being self-sufficient”
Vogue, 1943

Planes, trains & automobiles

Fast forward to today and the Gladstone bag is one which fits an extra pair of shoes, toiletries, diary, keys and all life’s essentials – packed within the frame and its (typically) leather exterior. One day it’s a carry-to-work bag, and another day it’s the perfect travel companion. The hinged design and ‘open mouth’ makes it easy to pack and unpack the contents to this day.

A classic piece that needs to be styled in the most trusted fashion with both vintage pieces and modern interpretations being bold, smart and confident style choices. Nowadays, the Gladstone Bag is highly sought after by those who appreciate the iconic style of this supremely collectable fashion accessory and find great purpose for this wide-mouthed bag.

The requirements and expectations of a traditional Gladstone bag have remained the same. Whether you’re heading on a relaxing holiday or needing a roomy holdall for everyday journeys, the Gladstone will always be the dream bag for travel.

“The Gladstone Bag will always be the dream bag for travel”

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One-Woman Powerhouse

Welcome to this edition of the Gladstonian Journal in which we share our passion for craftsmanship and love of refined elegance by showcasing some of the artists and designers whose work we most admire. This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to Francesca Rowan-Plowden, award winning interior designer, retailer and founder of Design Havens for Heroes.

Francesca Rowan-Plowden is one impressive lady. A kind of Renaissance woman in fact. She’s super creative, arty and passionate about the theatre, but also well grounded, with a savvy mindset for business. A hands-on mum to a young family of four sons and a stepdaughter, Francesca has boundless energy and effortlessly spins umpteen plates at a time. So we were excited that she found time in her busy schedule to talk to us about her complementary design and management skills and how she pulled all her talents together to conjure an impeccable lifestyle concept of interior design and retail.

“I really love being busy and fulfilled and am most happy wearing multiple hats.

At the nucleus of my work ethos though, is creativity and people. That’s always been a constant.

I studied at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) and my theatrical leanings have inspired me in good stead for where I am now with my design, styling and restoration work

I have always loved the theatre. While I lived and worked in London I took on various part time jobs while I was a jobbing actor. One was selling luxury bags, for which I have a passion. I’ll fill you in on my Gladstn favourites later in the story!

Family came along, and it proved challenging getting work as a young actress while looking after two small children

I wanted a change from London and in a light bulb moment I applied to be a National Trust custodian of historic Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex (shown below), once home to writer Henry James. Over the last 125 years The National Trust has grown to become Europe’s largest conservation charity, caring for historic properties and areas of beautiful countryside and with millions of members, volunteers and staff.

I was blown away to be given the position beating 160 applicants

We made the move to Rye 15 years ago and I received some National Trust training in curation and preservation of historic properties. I just loved it – I’d found my niche. With my own interest in interiors, I started to do bits on the property myself and around the same time I had set up my own outdoor theatre company. I took a business course to develop the theatre project, as I wanted to take it national. However, I was swiftly advised to concentrate on my interiors work, as I was increasingly getting recognised for my work on Lamb House while being invited to do other projects.

Rowan Plowden Design was born and was the springboard for my later creative projects FRP Homestore and Design Havens for Heroes

At Rowan Plowden Design we are specialists in period interior design, as well as designing and styling property for landlords and developers in the luxury rental and sales markets. We’ve been designing interiors for over 10 years now and our practice works predominantly with historical stately homes and private residential properties. The experience I gained working alongside the National Trust has proved to be most beneficial in this area.

Taking a ‘modern rustic’ approach: Our renovation of Field View, a luxury beach house outside Rye. The three-bedroom property was completely redesigned and renovated using modern, clean, minimal styling.
We have just completed our most recent project, the renovation and redecoration of Kingshill Farmhouse, on the Elmley Nature Reserve in the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Both the farmhouse and cottage conversion have been extensively renovated and redeveloped and they’re ready to let on the luxury rental holiday and wedding markets.
Along the way we handled the renovation of Goodnestone Park (below) and converted it into a world class wedding venue, and transformed Battel Hall on the Leeds Castle estate into exquisite luxury rental accommodation

As projects go, working at Leeds Castle was an incredible experience and to work on Battel Hall there was an absolute privilege

The whole estate is bursting with inspiration and such incredible craftsmanship. There was so much to draw upon. To be part of its history is truly special.

I must say, it’s lovely to have your work recognised by the media

Rowan Plowden Design has been very lucky to receive some great press coverage. Our interior work has been covered in a host of high profile glossies including Conde Nast Traveller, Elle Decoration, House & Garden, Homes and Gardens, Country Homes and Interiors, The Sunday Times, Tatler, Country Living, The Lady, Homes and Antiques and The Observer.

Working on my own home sometimes feels like a busman’s holiday

It seems to take so much longer to get things achieved on our home renovation, mainly because I’m working on others in tandem. I really need another me! I work in great synergy though with Tom Dunn architects. Tom is excellent in blending historic and contemporary. We worked together on the Elmley Nature Reserve and are now working on my project in St John’s Wood in North London, as well as my own house.

At my home, my grandmother’s dressing table mirror is my favourite, most precious artefact

My grandmother was an incredibly stylish, very English, no nonsense lady and I think of her each morning when I look into her mirror. I try minimalism décor at home but I’m too much of a magpie. So it’s probably more of an eclectic combination.

Francesca's 'magpie' dressing table including her grandmother's mirror

I’m so lucky to be inspired by where I live by the seaside in East Sussex

There are some lovely shops in Rye such as McCully & Crane, Sailors of Rye (both pictured below), Alex MacArthur and fantastic antiques emporiums. Not to mention lots of lovely beach walks followed by delicious food at the Gallivant.

London or seaside?

In my bones I am a London girl, but I have the sea in my veins. I have to have a bit of both!

My first stop when I visit London

When I go back to London I visit my parents first, closely followed by world renowned department store Liberty of London, the V&A Museum, Kensington and the toy department at Peter Jones, Sloane Square.

About those bags

I have a passion for bags and luggage and as a brand, Gladstn London reflects all that I love to be surrounded by, to work with and aspire to – beautiful craftsmanship and quality inspired by history, but progressively moving into the future – and constantly evolving without comprising on design and style.

We can learn so much from the past, but it’s about taking it forward and keeping heritage principles that retain their style whatever the trends. My favourite Gladstn? I love the Carte Blanche in Santorini blue, with the orange and blue striped strap. A true classic with a modern twist – much like my interiors!

Gladstn London's Carte Blanche in Santorini

I’m always looking for ways to explore new avenues to expand our creativity base

This is what happened with the evolution of my sister company, FRP Homestore. While doing my renovation and styling work, people were always asking me where my ‘stuff’ was from, so I thought I might as well make some of it available to the consumer. We started FRP Homestore, our online retail store earlier this year, and it’s really going well and I’m really enjoying the retail side of interiors.

A carefully curated edit of homewares

I’ve curated FRP Homestore as an inspiring lifestyle concept that reflects the canvas, styles and values of Rowan Plowden Design. Basically, it’s an online retail experience inspired by different ways of living and the different styles of properties I work with and design.

Our collections are based around Coastal, Country, and Town Living, along with some unique antique finds within our Historic House Collection, that I love to source for those who are passionate about, and inspired by, the ‘historic home’. Many products can be interchanged through the collections, like the silver-framed vintage Gary Cooper poster.

Our Coastal concept accessories have a relaxing beach house vibe. In sunny and ‘washed’ hues to reflect coastal life and sunshine, there are coral, seashell, palm, bamboo, oysters and fish themes, and bright sunflower and tasselled cushions. Country House Accessories has cosy pouffes, suede velvet armchairs and embroidered footstools to enrich the home. Elegant, opulent chandeliers add a touch of the bohemian. In character, Town House has a more minimalist ‘clean lines’ feel with glass-topped antique-brass coffee table sets that neatly stack, and a complementing antique-brass stacking shelf for favourite objets and photographs. There’s also a stylish marble-top nest of three occasional tables.

In the Historic House section you’ll find beautiful ceramic tableware and centre stage are Pearl Lowe’s sumptuous cotton lace tablecloths. Not just in crisp snowy white (like the one shown below), but in a dazzling array of eclectic colours and choice of size.

Design Havens for Heroes – putting something back

Working in a world of interiors, yet feeling somewhat useless during the pandemic, inspired me with an idea. In April 2020, in response to the Covid-19 crisis we launched the Design Havens for Heroes initiative bringing together a community of talented interior design specialists to create ‘Haven’ makeovers for our vital NHS key workers.

Our goal is to offer the benefit of rest and calm in their own ‘havens’ at home and work place after dealing with the emotional and physical demands of tackling the pandemic. Within our collective we have interior designers, stylists, high profile product suppliers, interiors and homeware brands, as well as skilled makers and tradespeople.

We’re eternally grateful

I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response from suppliers, big and small, and the interior design talent that has come forward to take part. It is our aim to develop the charity over the next few months so that it can still inspire NHS workers for when the Covid crisis is over.

Gladstonian Journal

Francesca Rowan-Plowden was speaking to Denise Barrett, Guest Editor of the Gladstonian Journal and author of Handbag Homage
To find out more about Francesca’s work click here
To find out more about Design Havens for Heroes click here
And for FRP Homestore click here

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch

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Where did you get that hat?

Welcome to this edition of the Gladstonian Journal in which we share our passion for craftsmanship and love of refined elegance by showcasing some of the artisans whose work we most admire. This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to the celebrated milliner, Justin Smith aka J Smith Esquire, a fellow London based brand.

Let’s face it everybody loves a hat. Just like shoes, bags, and one’s outfit du jour, hats make a defining statement. But Justin Smith’s creations are no ordinary hats. They are veritable works of art. And here’s the thing. You or I could pitch up, by appointment, at Justin’s studio for a bespoke, beautiful hat of our dreams. But if we’ve done our homework, we would do this do this knowing we’d be in the hallowed company of Justin’s dazzling portfolio of clients. Global icons from the world of film, fashion and the media. What’s more, we would be afforded the same level of innovation, creativity and bespoke care and attention.

So, how lucky are we that Justin found a space in his busy schedule to talk to us about his beautiful studio, his totally unique craft and his phantasmagorical creations.

“I’m often asked how I ended up where I am now, doing this amazing work. I really feel blessed.

I like to think of my career path as being organic, almost evolutionary. There was no great strategy. I didn’t get up one morning and decide to be a milliner. Actually I started out as a hairdresser. That’s a good place to start though – the two jobs are fairly symbiotic!

I moved to London from Devon and rose to become creative director of Tony and Guy. Here, my avant-garde sculptural hairstyles were featured in photo shoots and working for global fashion brands. My artistic flair and ambition were bearing fruit.

The next stop was my own business, and in 2002 I opened my own hair salon in Soho.

Then, down the line a bit, I had an epiphany. I enrolled at evening classes to study millinery and as soon as I completed my first hat, I was addicted. I began studying part-time, eventually going on to complete my MA at the Royal College of Art. It was seven years of training but worth every minute as I received critical acclaim for my graduation show.

And so, J Smith Esquire was born

I arrived at my brand name which I love as it’s so British and old school. A kind of paradox to my hats and my personality!

Serendipity! I found the perfect location

Through a conversation with a friend-of-a-friend who ran an antique shop in an old hat factory, I discovered that De Beauvoir Town has a history of millinery trade. There was also once a button and a mannequin factory in the area. I knew right away that this was the perfect area for my shop.

Islington’s De Beauvoir Quarter is suitably arty

The area was developed in the mid 19th century, much of it as a carefully planned new town designed to attract prosperous residents. The new town was based around De Beauvoir Square and primarily built in the Jacobethan style. The special character of the neighbourhood has been retained and is recognized by the designation of the De Beauvoir and Kingsland Road Conservation Areas which include many listed and other notable buildings

Justin outside his shop, J Smith Esq, in London's De Beauvoir Town
De Beauvoir Town is a creative, collaborative bubble and I feel so fortunate to live and work somewhere like this. The ethos of my shop, which fits perfectly with the area, is ‘artisanal’, eclectic and olde-worlde. It offers the perfect ‘atelier’ for my work.

The vibe of the area is fun and inspirational


I enjoy the new river walk from Canonbury to Angel. There are so many great independent shops and cafes in the area, especially on Upper Street and increasingly on Essex Road. Too many to mention, but to name a few, I love Storm in a T Cup for clothing and the De Beauvoir Deli for just about everything! And Akari on Essex Road for Japanese is lovely.

Millinery in the making

I make all sorts of hats and caps for artful pieces from film to fashion. I collaborate with a team of wonderful and talented designers from many disciplines, right through to much-loved old headwear that needs remaking for a personal wardrobe. I work in partnership with the person commissioning the piece and that’s what I love about the diversity of the work I do.

Precious heirloom I have a vast array of specialist millinery equipment in the studio, from wooden blocks and hat-stretchers to ovens and steamers. My favourite is the bowler-hat brush, passed down from my great-grandmother, Iris, who was herself a milliner.
The word gets out. My hats take off! From the outset, I’ve produced my own millinery collections, from ‘Dance With Me’, Autumn/Winter 2008, to my latest collection, called ‘Gold’ (the two pieces below are from this collection). Over the past 10 years I’ve been involved with Fashion Weeks all over the world, collaborating with designers from Stella McCartney to Moschino.
I’ve been lucky to enjoy international recognition My work has maintained a constant presence in the press and has been displayed in galleries internationally, including London’s V&A. Several pieces are in the hands of international collectors and museums, such as the FIT in New York. In the movies Having J Smith Esq creations featuring in major motion pictures really is the icing on the cake. Perhaps the most memorable of all the commissions was the ‘horned hat’ created for Angelina Jolie to wear in Maleficent. I was engaged to work with Angelina at Pinewood Studios to create the striking headpiece. She played an active role in the design process as we had fittings with her every day and she would help choose from samples. She was so pleased and said I sculpted the ‘medieval’ head wraps to be strong, unique and iconic. Praise indeed!

It could be easy to get star struck

I worked with Robert Downey Jnr creating his millinery for the movie Dolittle and with designer Michael Kaplan on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The elegant wide-brim cream sun hat I made for Angelina Jolie for By the Sea was the perfect foil for her visceral black headpiece for Maleficent. If you go to the movies and see Cruella, you’ll catch the millinery I designed for Emma Thompson. Here’s a pic of a bespoke hat I made for Alicia Vikander for the movie The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The piece de resistance though – a personal commission – I created Amal Clooney’s hat for her wedding to George.

I so enjoy what I do! I am often referred to as the ‘artist of the millinery world’ pushing the boundaries of the tradition. I aim to passionately uphold the traditions of millinery, whilst redefining classic headwear, challenging conventions and technique alike. That’s how I like to define myself! I love this testimonial:

‘It is very refreshing to see a different point of view in millinery at last. Justin’s hats have culture and they are original.’
Stephen Jones OBE, milliner.

Proud to be bespoke My bespoke commissions are very important to me, and I like to think that my shop window sets the tone from the start. Every J Smith Esquire hat is made to order and hand made and finished in my London studio. A bespoke hat will usually take 2-6 weeks from commission to completion though for some special events hats can be made in a shorter timeframe. A client came to me with a hat from Cecil Beaton’s private wardrobe that he bought in an auction. We had the block remade to the exact measurements to fit the client. These are the five different fabrics we chose for a complete collection for him for his everyday wardrobe. Five lovely trilbys!
Quality is paramount with my millinery I can see a real synergy between J Smith Esq and the Gladstn London brand. Bespoke hand made craftsmanship, creativity, innovation and uniqueness are our shared USPs. My hats would sit perfectly with Glasdtn’s handbags and luggage and I’m very partial to the ‘Hands Free’ in Shark!
I love to have my familiar objets around me My studio is an eclectic mix of much loved treasures from all over the world that inspire me. A bit of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ – people always love to come to the studio as it’s truly unique.

Gladstonian Journal

Justin Smith was speaking to Denise Barrett, Guest Editor of the

Gladstonian Journal and author of Handbag Homage

We love to chat bags, luggage and all things craftsmanship so if you’ve got any feedback on this
edition of the Gladstonian Journal or any suggestions for us, do get in touch
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The toast of the town

The toast of the town

Welcome to this edition of the Gladstonian Journal in which we share our passion for craftsmanship and an eye for elegance by showcasing the journeys of some of the artisans and designers whose work we most admire.

This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to Elwyn Gladstone, founder and owner of Biggar & Leith who make some of the finest crafted spirits. Oh, and he’s the great-great grandson of William Gladstone, the four times British Prime Minister and politician who inspired the Gladstone Bag, a modern interpretation of which is proudly reflected in Gladstn London.

New York based Elwyn Gladstone (what a pedigree!) has curated an exquisite international portfolio of fine spirits brands.

The alchemy of his creative flair and innovative marketing skills is legendary in the drinks sector. Not surprisingly, Elwyn is a very busy man, and he’s back travelling the world now that lockdown permits. But luckily for us, we managed to catch him for a chat when he touched down at his office Stateside.

“There’s no denying I’ve chosen a pretty fun arena to work in, although there was just a bit of serendipity involved.”

How did I start out in the spirits world? Well, way back in the day I was working at Oddbins in Edinburgh, Scotland. (I am British by the way.) For the benefit of Gladstn’s international readers, Oddbins was launched back in sixties London by entrepreneur Ahmed Pochee, who started up delivering ‘bin-ends’ and oddments of wine to the restaurants and clubs of the West End. Fast-forward and the Oddbins estate now owns 300 stores and launched their own brand wine Oddbins Own which sells well over one million bottles a year. What a success story!

The ‘pedigree’ mentioned in this article’s introduction is authentic

I am proud to be the great-great-grandson of William Ewart Gladstone, the four-time Prime Minister of the UK. In fact I grew up in the family house, Hawarden Castle, in Wales.

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), Liberal politician and four times British Prime Minister

My great-great grandfather was quite the man

In 1860 William Gladstone signed the Spirits Act, which allowed blending of Scotch whiskies together. His relatives had all been in the trade as well, back to the 1780s. So, spirits are in my blood! He also inspired the iconic Gladstone bag, a small portmanteau suitcase built over a rigid frame. The bags served him well as he travelled extensively when electioneering. Interesting fact – Gladstone’s original ‘Red Box’, the one that the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds out in front of them when they do the Budget photo – was only recently retired. George Osborne was the last Chancellor to use it, and he deemed it was not longer fit for purpose!

Gladstone and Gladstn, it’s all in the name

Apart from the obvious similarity in names, I see many parallels in our two brands. Our wares are equally comfortable in the landscapes of travel, business and leisure, and our products are crafted with passion, imagination and care. Connoisseurs and bon viveurs are definitely top of mind regarding our customers. As are the qualities of luxury and heritage value and an agility to adapt smoothly to the zeitgeist.

Speaking of Gladstn London, a brand I really admire, if you asked me to make just one choice of kit, that would be really difficult

But, if I have to select just ONE bag, it’s got to be the Late Nights & Lie Ins travel bag, in Espresso. It’s a classic.

It was at Oddbins that I really got interested in wine and spirits

So, I travelled a lot in France with my dad and learned about wine. I decided after university I would go to UC Davis, the wine school of the University of California, and I found it really, really interesting, and as it happened, life affirming.

When I eventually moved back to London, I went to work for William Grant & Sons and we created iconic brands Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. They were really the brainchild of a guy called Mark Teasdale. He was US-based and I was in the UK but we made a great transatlantic team. (And he’s now my business partner!)

Million-bottle Malfy

Next I moved to the US and went to work for Jose Cuervo, the Tequila company. We created a lot of good brands there, like Kraken Rum, but I got itchy feet. So I started my own company called Biggar & Leith and created abrand called Malfy Gin. Amazingly, things took off and Malfy became a huge million-bottle brand in a very short space of time.

The Italian job

Malfy was special because it was quintessentially Italian. Legend has it that gin maybe came from Italy originally with monks adding juniper to alcohol, way, way back, in beautiful Amalfi. Our Malfy was an escapist experience, the concept of the packaging was really ‘sunshine in a bottle’, vibrant in blue and yellow hues, and totally embraced the good life, laid-back culture. It went stratospheric. We went global with it. We got it into about 90 different countries including Japan, Russia and China, It worked all over the world.

The Gladstn London Late Nights & Lies Ins in Espresso

Then mega-brand Pernod Ricard snapped it up

And that was our ultimate launchpad. Since the Pernod Ricard acquisition, we’ve marketed a selection of concept labels under the Biggar & Leith brand. One very important adventure is Gladstone Axe Scotch whisky.

Gladstone Axe is a fun, blended malt brand inspired, of course, by William Gladstone

Gladstone Axe is a premium whisky with evocative packaging. My grandfather was very proud of his Scottish roots and I think this connection amplified sales around the world. He was a great woodsman, and he had a great collection of axes. It was his hobby to go into the woods to help him unwind. We formulated all these conceptual factors around him, not only a great tasting malt, but a beautiful, collectible bottle to communicate the narrative.

I love cocktails too, they have a kind of nostalgic, decadent vibe

We’ve devised a portfolio of nine spectacular cocktails embodying Gladstone Axe. They range from the classic Highball (just add soda & ice!) to the Zeal, which blends Stambecco Amaro and Hotel Starlino Vermouth. 

We’ve a fabulous vermouth called Hotel Starlino

We love this sophisticated, glamorous brand name. We created Starlino with Torino Distillati, an old distillery and bottler, who made Malfy. We’ve become firm friends with the Vergnano Family who owns it as, like Gladstn London, we like to work with family-owned businesses in Italy. The family were making lots of products, but they weren’t particularly well marketed or presented. So we joined forces and contributed our imagination and merchandising expertise, and voilà we polished the formula. I like to drink Starlinos with soda on ice. Tonic is delicious too if it’s good quality one!

I love to think of new categories to explore

We’ve actually just launched a fabulous Hot Sauce brand called FIRELLI. It’s made in Parma from Calabrian Chilli peppers, red peppers, balsamic vinegar and porcini mushrooms. It’s fabulous on eggs, salads, pizza and pretty much anything that needs a little kick. We love inventing twists on classics and trying to be a little disruptive in old industries. There’s a ton out there that are ripe for shaking up!

I really love the UK and London and visit every couple of months

London has got nicer and nicer every year as far as I can see. I don’t missplaces, I just look forward to visiting them again, and more importantly finding new places to visit.

I love walking in New York and London and when I visit I always try to find a really interesting exhibition, an odd restaurant, an interesting food hall or food market – and of course catch up with old friends. I get a real buzz going to a bar and seeing my labels on show. It’s so exciting and fun to work on an idea, make the product happen and then actually see it on sale – and hear someone at a bar actually order your product!

I have a few treasured ‘heirlooms’ of my great–great grandfather

The business cards (pictured above) just say ‘Mr. Gladstone’ – that’s pretty cool – and they have his address in the bottom right hand corner. He was in and out of Downing Street – but being a canny Scot, he didn’t get more business cards, he just crossed out the address and changed it to the new one! He lived between Carlton House Terrace (there is a Blue Plaque there) and Downing Street. I believe that before the era of Tony Blair and Boris Johnson, he was the last Prime Minister to have a child born in No. 10. I also bought, at auction, a seal that he used for sealing wax on envelopes (see below on this page).

It was so interesting growing up in the Gladstone family house.

My great-great-grandfather called his study ‘The Temple of Peace’ where family members would have their height marked on the wooden panels of the bookcases. There are some really tall relatives – up to 6’8”! He used to hold huge rallies at the house, and there are some amazing photographs of him talking to large crowds. He would speak, and then two men with enormous megaphones would shout out what he was saying so the crowd could hear.

At the time, he was one of the most famous men in the world and a great humanitarian. Addressing the he Irish question, bringing attention to the world of the horrific abuses of political prisoners in Italy and the Armenian genocide (he is a hero in that country as well as Bulgaria). He was a liberal in the true sense, a free thinker, and implemented some amazingly forward thinking tax reforms and ways of doing business.

Kicking back, I get more of a buzz from Edinburgh than anywhere else in the world

It’s a very special city for me and has some amazing places to eat and drink. I also love Torino, which is stunningly beautiful, effortlessly stylish and of course has some of the best food and wine in the world.

Culture wise, I love the National Portrait Gallery in both London and Edinburgh. We live near New York and there are two places that we visit over and over – one is the Noguchi Gallery in Long Island City, which is always inspiring – and the second is the Met – again, there is always something fascinating to see, and our children love seeing the Armour collection.

When all is said and done, though, with all this travel, the thing I most I look forward to is seeing my family when I get home. It’s also great to re-engage with my collection of hundreds of sample bottles for new products that we are working on. When our friends come around for drinks they are always amazed by these!