Last Saturday, A-Gent of Style travelled to Hackney in North London to attend Cressida Bell’s Christmas Open Studio. A-Gent has always been very much aware of the artist and designer but also Charleston House in East Sussex and of course Bell’s famous lineage, so without hesitation, he enjoyed a jaunt to Clarence Mews,
“a bucolic enclave in the heart of Hackney”.

A-Gent of Style was thrilled not only to see for the first time under one roof the colourful, bold and highly patterned artefacts Cressida Bell is renowned for but also to meet the designer and visit the enchanting studio where she works her magic.

Cressida Bell is a direct descendant of the major members of the Bloomsbury group; her grandmother was the artist Vanessa Bell and her grandfather the critic
Clive Bell, her great-aunt Virginia Woolf and her father, the critic, author and artist Quentin Bell. Bell studied fashion and textile design at St. Martins School of Art followed in 1984 by an M.A in textile design from the Royal College of Art.
Despite being exposed at Charleston to paintings, painted walls, stained glass and textiles all designed by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and being unconsciously influenced by the Bloomsbury artists, Cressida Bell has managed to forge her own identity and style and has drawn her inspiration from many sources such as African and Indian cultures.

The studio is everything you may have imagined and much more. It felt a bit like being in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with its exquisite eclecticism and richly embellished, contrasting patterns and vibrant colours. The overall look and aesthetics of Cressida Bell’s style is also somehow reminiscent of René Matisse,
Jean Cocteau or Cecil Beaton designs who too liked to paint the surfaces of their surroundings and created unique and original pieces of art.

Just as imagine Charleston House to be (A-Gent has to admit he has yet to see the iconic Sussex country retreat of Bell’s well-known Bloomsbury Group forebears.
A road trip last summer was aborted but it is now at the top of the 2014 resolution list), every inch of the studio is decorated or covered by something; painted doors, furniture or clocks, bespoke rugs, sketches, drawings, invitations, announcements illustrations, cookery posters, plates, fabric shreds, test sheets, paint pots, brushes and printing screens. That weekend, there was a plethora of tantalising treasures all for sale such as hand-painted lamp stands and shades, stationery, greeting and Christmas cards, and Bell’s ten-metre long printing table – Bell screen-prints herself – was strewn with silk, wool or cotton scarves, ties, cushions. And last but not least, her ready printed sheets of icing and eye-popping, edible cake decorations – Bell’s latest artistic pursuit – were on display (and feature in her book Cressida Bell’s Cake Designs: Fifty Fabulous Cakes.)



December is upon us and the festive season is already in full swing.

Here is A-Gent of Style‘s noteworthy publications for Christmas stocking fillers.

Don’t forget you can hover your cursor over each image to see the rest of the book cover or click on the image to see it in full in a new window.

All books are available or can be ordered from
The Bookshop at the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour +44 (0) 20 7351 6854 / @blaisemille

And if you’ve missed the previous instalments of Book End, you can catch up and see the other fantastic books A-Gent of Style selected for you over the months:

Book End No1, Book End No2, Book End N03, Book End N04, Book End No5,
Book End No6, Book End No7

Happy reading et bon weekend!



Not content with winning the much sought-after 2013 best Christmas television advert with its animated short film The Bear and The Hare and stealing the nation’s (and A-Gent of Style‘s) heart with its heart-tugging story and Lily Allen’s nostalgic cover version of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, John Lewis and
Peter Jones have surpassed themselves this year with offering its customers and any passers-by brilliantly accomplished Christmas window displays that will capture anyone’s imagination.

This year, expect to see reindeer sculpted from Dyson vacuum cleaners,
spatula owls, wolves made out of lamps, penguins made from kettles,
birds fashioned from cutlery, cleaning utensils bunny rabbits, turkeys made with towels and many other creatures of a woodland and arctic ménagerie.

A-Gent of Style was left wide-eyed and enthralled by the astonishing creations when he walked past the Peter Jones store on Sloane Square, Chelsea, a few nights ago. This magical and playful world of small and bigger animals made out of household products, all available from the department store (of course), is the brainchild of creative consultancy Chameleon Visual and über-genius Billie Achilleos,
‘versatile artist and maker of things’ (according to her website), a Technical Arts and Special Effects graduate from Wimbledon College for Art who has worked in opera, theatre, film, window display, advertising and fashion (you might remember her sensational collaboration with Louis Vuitton). Achilleos and an army of model makers have created 188 animals out of more than 7,000 products which were then produced by Setsquare Staging. The entire process took a year.

Robb Bloomer, retail design manager at John Lewis, said: “This year we want to do something a bit more contemporary, a bit more modern, a bit more fun. We want people queuing around the block, so we had to do something a bit different.”

Marvel with A-Gent of Style at this feat of engineering and
creative tour de force and let yourself be transported to this enchanting world. Christmas comes only once a year after all! And make sure you have a very close look through the window panes. The detailing is staggering.


And for all of the A-Gentees not living in the UK, here’s the now iconic
(with the Marmite effect) The Bear and the Hare 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert (it gets A-Gent of Style everytime):


Another week and another great opportunity was given to A-Gent of Style to experience another inspiring enterprise supporting the excellence of design and craftmanship in the UK .

Last Tuesday, A-Gent of Style attended a private reception for the unveiling of the winning headboard of the Design Grand Prix competition organised by Savoir Beds, one of the UK’s top manufacturers of luxury beds and mattresses, that took place at their King’s Road Showroom.



As mentioned two weeks ago, A-Gent of Style was invited to interview two key speakers at the 2013 Sleep event, the yearly hotel design trade event in London.
After interviewing Inge Moore of The Gallery HBA, A-Gent had the privilege to speak to Catherine Ince, curator of the current Pop Art Design exhibition at the Barbican Centre and also one of the three judges of the Sleep Hotel competition – the brief this year was Pop Art hence Ince’s collaboration with the event – before she announced the winner live from the Sleep Hotel Bar that evening.

Catherine joined Barbican Art Gallery in 2010 and last year she co-curated the brilliant ‘Bauhaus: Art as Life’ exhibition, the largest survey of the school to be staged in Britain in over 40 years. Her first project for the Gallery was
‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’, a retrospective of avant-garde fashion from Japan drawn from the Kyoto Costume Institute collection. She also organised the 2011 Curve Gallery installation Architecture as Air by Junya Ishigami. Prior to joining Barbican Art Gallery, Catherine was Acting Director of the
British Council’s Architecture, Design and Fashion department where she organised touring exhibitions, commissions and special projects about contemporary British design and architecture. As Assistant and Co-Commissioner, Catherine was responsible for the British Pavilion exhibitions at the 2006 and 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture. Previously, she was curator of Contemporary Programmes at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Catherine studied art and design history before completing an MA in Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University.

Art work by Roy Lichenstein

Art work by Roy Lichtenstein

Over fifty years after it exploded onto the art scene, ‘Pop Art Design’ is the first comprehensive exhibition to explore the exciting exchange of ideas between artists and designers in the Pop age. Pop artists commented on the cult of celebrity, commodity fetishism and the proliferation of media that permeated everyday life in America and the United Kingdom after the Second World War.
Radically departing from all that had gone before, artists delighted in adopting the design language of advertising, television and commerce to create work that was playful but often also intentionally irreverent and provocative. In turn, designers routinely looked to Pop Art as a constant source of inspiration. ‘Pop Art Design’ paints a new picture of Pop – one that recognises the central role played by design. Bringing together more than 250 works by over 70 artists and designers, the exhibition includes iconic and lesser known works by such artists as Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Judy Chicago, Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Joe Tilson and Andy Warhol, shown alongside objects by Achille Castiglioni,
Charles and Ray Eames, Peter Murdoch, George Nelson, Gaetano Pesce and
Ettore Sottsass. Pop Art Design also presents a wealth of graphic material from posters and magazines to album sleeves, as well as film, photography and documentation of Pop interiors and architecture.

 Verner Panton, 'Swimming Pool', 1969

Verner Panton, ‘Swimming Pool’, 1969

The exhibition, which runs until 9 February 2014, brilliantly portrays a panorama of the intersection and overlap between art and design and A-Gent of Style is pleased to say that Catherine Ince and her team have nailed it. As you meander through the various, thematically curated rooms on two levels, be ready to be dazzled and enlightened by the colourful, bold and playful art, objects, film and architecture of the influential and radical movement, which altogether provide a cultural experience you should not miss. A-Gent of Style, a self-confessed 20th C antiques fan-atic, was thrilled to see for the first time some unusual pieces by Eames and Sottsass.

Ice Cream 1 by Evelyne Axell, 1964

‘Ice Cream 1’ by Evelyne Axell, 1964


You will be announcing this evening the winner of the competition and therefore you can’t divulge too much at the moment. What are your first impressions of the Sleep Hotel?

I like the diversity of the approaches. I think it is interesting that everybody seems to have made a nod to the conceptual theme of the brief but really pulled it back to make something that is a workable, viable, pleasant environment for a hotel context instead of going too extreme in the other direction to the point of not being purposeful.

Cullinan Interiors & Infinite Architects, winners of the Sleep Hotel 2013

Cullinan Interior & Infinite Architects, winners of the Sleep Hotel 2013

Has there been any surprises in what you have seen so far?

Pop naturally goes with the 1960s so the language gets expanded beyond quotation of Pop; it’s more about that moment in time and this sort of meeting of a modernism from an earlier period with something else with colour, palette and texture. I’ve been enjoying thinking about some of the approaches in that way and also how some of those five design companies with an established visual language and approach have retained their identity but managed to twist it a bit for the competition. But I came with an open mind today.

What do you think of the slick DJ table ‘Apollo’ designed by Evoni on which Michaelango L’Acqua will be spinning his tunes this evening at the networking party? It somehow reminded me of some pieces by Ettore Sottsass.

Yes, it’s rather cool. Not wishing to put words into the mouth of the dead, I don’t know what Sottsass would have made of events like this. Obviously, the equivalent is the Salone in Milan which uses exactly the same as this, people looking to exchange ideas and information about new products. Sottsass was quite spirited, he liked new things and he was always interested in forms of personal expressions not necessarily in a commercial context but in the context of doing something provocative or questioning. But I don’t know what he would have made of DJ decks.
He might have approved!

What would you like the visitors to leave with from the Sleep Hotel apart from an urge to visit the exhibition at the Barbican Centre?

Well, yes of course, that’s the number one, top priority! More seriously, I guess the premise of the show is looking at how pop also had an expression in disciplines and areas beyond purely fine art. People think of Pop culture, fashion and music but actually it did tip over into product design, interior design and these kind of fantastically, total environments that either were proposed as a sort of theoretical idea which played out in the life of certain individuals or with certain projects. I think reminding people that the language of Pop was expressed in different ways is interesting but also this is the point of post-modernism; the interesting thing is the coming together of these different moments in times and being responsive to high culture and low culture and this great mélange of things. I think that’s been interesting in terms of the responses that these particular companies have made; each picked up on quite different reference points and turned them into something contemporary, which I think is brilliant.

Do you think the definition of Pop Art has changed over the years?

Yes, I guess so. Pop Art was very quickly absorbed into the art market. There was a certain sphere of people who would have been familiar with it but what’s interesting in our exhibition is the way it’s infiltrated different types of media. Now of course that there has been fifty years and there’s been lots of scholarship but also people referencing Pop Art in lots and lots of different ways, it’s very much of the public consciousness because on many levels it’s quite accessible. It’s inevitably different because you can look back and you can make different judgements about things.
It’s also having become a movement with very big figures attached to it that people find endlessly fascinating. There has been a lot of reappraisal of Pop Art in recent years and the definition has broadened. I suppose it’s not just located in connection with certain individuals. There’s a show coming up at Tate Modern in 2015 called Global Pop which looks at Pop manifestations outside of Britain and continental Europe and also the US, and it will be very interesting to see how different countries choose to define that particular movement and attitude.
I think it is an attitude, isn’t it, which I quite like.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre

What do you think the young generation will value in the exhibition?

It’s hard to say but I think the opportunity to see art works particularly and lesser known design pieces they may have not ever seen before except in a book. I think the material nature of these works is something that is absolutely wonderful, richly textured and varied and Pop is quite surprising in that sense because there is such a huge variety of material expression and material choices that are incredibly important. It’s not just sleek surface and things that are very distancing but actually there’s a lot of subjectivity and a variety of media; the handmade is something that comes through too. That first-hand experience of seeing things in the flesh and not in a book is fantastic, seeing in reality things you’ve learnt about is great and I think they will be surprised by some of the colours, the vibrancy, the form and the reference of popular culture. I guess it’s not new anymore and hopefully people might be able to think about what it might have meant in that particular time period.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre

Additionally to ‘Pop Art Design’, Christie’s Mayfair ran an exhibition about Pop Art last month called ‘When Britain Went Pop!
British Pop Art: The Early Years’. Why Pop Art now? Why this timing? Is it time to reassess Pop Art considering the last big show in London was in 1991 at the Royal Academy?

The distinction is that, for us, it’s not a pop art survey; it’s looking at very specific connections between the work of artists and designers at that point in time. Those boundaries were collapsing and designers were working in quite an autonomous fashion like an artist; artists were referencing the visual language of the design world and mass culture, mass industry and mass communication so it’s very much reflecting these commonalities and these intersections. Maybe that for us feels like it was a good moment to assess because it’s very much what defines a lot of contemporary design practice. Pop endures as a subject matter because it is not that far away in time; it still feels very fresh, these ideas feel very current and the work feels new in a way. Look at some of the ideas; you see a lot of designers particularly still playing with what Gaetano Pesce started in mid to late 1960s. We’re following on from a big Lichtenstein retrospective, there will be a Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern three days after we close, then this Global Pop exhibition at Tate.
As a subject area, it doesn’t go away and I think it’s interesting there is a depth to the inquiry and it’s blue chip art; this stuff is really insanely valuable. Much of it, Warhol, Lichtenstein and the likes, is associated with ‘corporateness’ now but I think there is a lot of people out there who are still interested in the ways people made work, why they made work and what this particular post-war attitude was about and it still feels quite exciting. I’ve got this great film programme accompanying the exhibition which launches in a couple of weeks. For instance, Kubrick and all of these people were doing very innovative things. When you are programming, you have something that is of subjective interest in you and you think it will be of interest to other audiences but you can’t always be sure and you just hope your passion and interest in the subject convey.

Hamilton, 1956 collage, 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?'

Richard Hamilton, 1956 collage, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’


Do you think British pop artists were overlooked by the public?

Not necessarily. The public has a huge affection for Peter Blake for instance. Figures like Richard Hamilton are having another assessment which is long overdue. Hamilton’s work is not just about Pop, it’s just much more complex than a strict categorisation. Maybe some British artists went out of fashion for a while but there’s lot of people who worked at that time who are still working now and they are in their eighties and they are still making work which has some connection or affinity with what they did at that particular period. Maybe some of the women have been overlooked because the main protagonist who studied at the Royal College with all of these people was Pauline Boty who died tragically at the age of 28. Not only did she disappear physically but her work stopped, therefore there’s a small body of work. There are a lot of people out there at the moment who are trying to re-appraise and re-establish her importance and her stature within this world. I think people see it very much as an American phenomenon but pop culture here was incredibly influential. If you think of the Beatles and underground jazz clubs, the work of lots graphic designers and film makers who were based in London at that time is not something that one can cast aside easily. It’s been responsible for everything that followed.

Colour Her Gone by Pauline Boty, 1962

‘Colour Her Gone’ by Pauline Boty, 1962

This exhibition regroups just under 300 objects, a considerable amount of pieces to regroup and curate.
Where do you start and where do you stop?

Where you finish is when you are actually there in the gallery installing things. There are things that did not get installed because sometimes you think there is enough here. Sometimes it happens with graphic and ephemeral material. Obviously, the practicalities of making exhibitions of that scale is to be thought through and planned meticulously. There is some material which can swim around a bit and you just decide to hang it in a different way to that which you’ve conceived of. The exhibition is entirely structured, it’s looking at these thematic ropings and motifs and methodologies within Pop; it’s a kind of meander through different processes and different ideas that connected artists and designers. It became very difficult knowing where to stop because you could just go on and on, adding and adding because it was so richly productive. There was so much work that was being made. Print exploded at this time, it was hugely exciting, you had lots of fantastic artists working with people who were very well versed in commercial, industrial printing methods, and then there were graphic design agencies publishing and working for companies doing branding. I added the film titles that Robert Brownjohn designed for
‘From Russia with Love’, the James Bond film, because he was a very important designer and art director, an American working in London at this time who was invited to make these titles which were groundbreaking. To me, those works and ideas reflect the energy of all territories and experimentation that one can explore within this period. That would have very direct application in media like film in a very commercial situation. It was hard to rein myself in and not add anymore that I did because so much of it is so great. The density, the layering, the collaging, which is an important medium within the world of Pop, was key.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre

Were there any discoveries for you?

I added a few pieces by Jann Haworth who was an American artist based here in the 1960s and one object that I got to know more was this cowboy that she had made, this life-size, soft sculpture of a cowboy, this very cinematic idea of a cowboy that she had made which references the influence she took from her father who was a Hollywood film production designer. I just delved into her work a bit more and appreciated this kind of filmic quality, this idea of object as prop, something that exists on a film set to tell the narrative and create this sort of fictional world. Haworth did it with this sort of handcrafted, quite feminine process and media.
It’s been fascinating to get to know her a bit more and hear a bit more about that time and the role she played in the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. There are always opportunities to personally enrich one’s knowledge of individuals and their works or things that happened that are lost a little bit in history.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre


Jann Haworth 'Cowboy', 1964

Jann Haworth
‘Cowboy’, 1964


Are there any favourite pieces of yours in the exhibition?

The ‘London Knees’ by Claes Oldenburg! I want to see it installed as this huge public monument on the side of the Thames. That’s absolutely one of my favourite things in the show because, sculpturally, it’s kind of fantastic; his reference points are architectural, archaic but they are also completely contemporary to that period and this very fashionable look that was exploding at this time which London was the epicentre of. It’s a maquette but when you look at the portfolio, the drawings that he had made of the knees on the banks of the Thames were incredible. The knees would have been of an insanely monumental scale. Just thinking that public art could be like that, that would be amazing. Even the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square would be too small. The ‘London Knees’ should be in Battersea Power Station chimneys!

Claes Oldenburg, 'London Knees', 1966.

Claes Oldenburg, ‘London Knees’, 1966.


Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg

The exhibition is coming from Sweden. How much did you have to change it for London?

It’s a partnership between ourselves and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. It draws largely on their collections but we have quite a number of additional lenders. It’s been on a continental tour; it started in Germany then went onto The Louisana then the Moderna and now us. We worked with an architect here in London on the exhibition design. Spatially and aesthetically, the design for the show is very different as we used much more colour and heavy quotation. I added a lot of work by British artists and designers to give that inflection that I felt was important for a showing here in London, a major city at the forefront of all of this work. I might have added 60 or 70 works to the checklist. Quite a lot. Each iteration of the show has changed because of this necessity to sort of reflect different places and different period times. Everybody’s looked at their local, cultural, sociopolitical context to try to draw out things that were relevant, things that they wanted their audience to see. That’s the nice side about a touring exhibition; you can adapt it for your own gallery spaces but also your particular situation and context.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre

And finally, where is the exhibition going next?

In this current form, it won’t go anywhere, there’s a possibility it will travel somewhere else in Europe, maybe to the US but we don’t know.

Picture credits @ The Barbican Centre


There is an exciting host of events complementing the show.
Join A-Gent of Style for the Exhibition Tour with Catherine Ince
on 31 January 2014 at 7pm.

And don’t miss the pop-up Pop Bar at the Barbican Centre. Go and treat yourself to a ‘Warhol’, ‘Cowboy’ or ‘Pow Wow’ cocktail, A-Gent of Style‘s favourite’.

Treat yourself to a Pow Wow, Warhol or Cowboy  cocktails. A-Gent's is a Pow Wow


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