The first interview in this series focuses on the influences, motivations and aspirations of writer Natalie Smith. Her former website So Much To Tell You chronicled a spirited and thoughtful range of subjects balancing the arts, advice and obsession with not an ounce of ostentation. Pouring over the pages was a reading rite, schooling a class of women yearning for knowledge of the sui generis sort.
Now, Magic Surrounds continues in this manner but with a countenance of untempered originality and ease, it's simply beautiful to look at too.
Natalie, you're a down girl.
Where did you grow up and how did that shape your formative years stylistically?
I grew up on a farm in an isolated, rural area of New Zealand. We had chickens, a pony to ride, lambs, calves and a large vegetable garden.
I think spending my formative years somewhere so quiet made me very good at making my own fun, at creating interior imaginary worlds, reading, writing and making. Television was a rarity, so I developed an indiscriminate and voracious reading habit from the age of four. Having a father whose record collection spanned The Stones to JJ Cale and Lou Reed meant music was an early and enduring fascination.
I’ve a fascination and great love for quite romantic, bucolic surrounds, and will always aspire to own my own country hideaway one day. I feel most comfortable in nature, forests, gardens and I’m very much drawn to imagery of flowers and botanical prints. I suppose, also, I prefer things, whether clothing, packaging or surrounds to be slightly disheveled and imperfect, warm and natural rather than minimal as it reminds me of my childhood.
Tell us a little about the places you've travelled to, are they reflective of your aesthetic and sensibilities?
I suppose so, yes. But at the same time, the places I’ve visited have shaped me too, and always surprised me. I’ve learnt to travel without preconceptions, and with the most minimal of plans. I’ve spent time in Japan, mostly Tokyo, which I appreciated most for the sense of calm, of attention to detail and design, the love of, for lack of better word, fun. And the most wonderful vegan food – an unexpected highlight. A trip around California, through Big Sur, Los Angeles and the Joshua Tree was the most magical – my love for wide open desert spaces, Fleetwood Mac, Gram Parsons and Henry Miller meant this trip felt like a sacred pilgrimage.
Most recently I’ve spent time in Beijing, London and Prague. All such different cities, but all so engaging and charming in their own way.
Beijing’s food and hustle; Prague’s fairytale architecture and sense of romance; London’s history and mélange of different cultures and styles. I think everywhere has somewhere to teach you, and something exciting and interesting to discover.
Tell us what you love about your current home and what you could live without.
It’s a strange time for me to answer this question, as a month ago I changed my life somewhat dramatically. If you’d asked me this then, the answer would have been very different — I lived in a quaint suburb in Auckland, New Zealand; in a sweet, one-bedroom Art Deco apartment. I was surrounded by books and plants, had many possessions, a car, a cat and a business.
Then, I sold or stored almost everything, ended my lease and bought a one-way ticket to London! My home, right now, consists of two suitcases – the bare minimum. Just favourite clothes, lingerie, miniature cosmetics and two books. Only five pairs of shoes! It’s such a huge change for me, one that is certainly impermanent but in a way utterly luxurious in its simplicity.
At present, my head rests in the spare room of a dear friend’s home in Dalston, London. I love the house, the area, and I’m falling in love with the city as I navigate the lanes, bars and parks, markets and galleries. As I begin to look for a home of my own, I seek, as always, light, space, warmth and character.
Where would you like to explore next?
I’ve a trip to Morocco planned for early next year, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for such a long time. Also, Paris, soon, and the South of France in summer. Then, India.
How have you been spending your days of late? Take us through your typical weekday & weekend.
On a weekday, I get up at 8am, have a green juice and a black coffee, settling down to check emails and peruse my favourite websites. I’ll spend the first few hours of the morning looking for a dream job in London, speaking with recruiters and planning meetings and interviews. I usually meet a friend for lunch, trying out one of the cafes in my neighbourhood or nearby, and spend the afternoon visiting a gallery, museum or exploring part of London that I haven’t before. I spend evenings with friends, sharing a meal at a new restaurant or cooking something delicious with my housemates.
Weekends often find me shopping for food and treasures at one of London’s markets – Borough Market is a favourite. I feel strange if I don’t have a few hours of dancing at least once a week, so I’ll try to make sure that’s part of my weekend, as well as a big walk or bicycle ride, a long and lazy brunch, weekend papers and visiting a gallery or museum.
What's involved in your creative process? How do you like to work?
A long, slow period of research, reading, note taking and inspiration followed by a frenzied burst of getting things done. This is not how I’d like to work, ideally, but it’s how I am and I’ve given up fighting it!
Describe your ideal project, collaborators and workspace.
I love pulling together the best team for a project. Currently, I’m really enjoying creating websites and publications for different brands, making something that meets their needs and adds to what they create or sell just perfectly. I enjoy coming up with a structure for these, then introducing the right photographers, stylists, designers and writers to make something really amazing together. I’d love to work with a brand such as Aesop, as I adore their measured, intelligent approach to marketing their products. Even if one wasn’t to buy their skincare, you could wholeheartedly enjoy their magazine and newsletters – they’re always fascinating.
Can you tell us a little about what you're working on at the moment?
I just finished the art direction, costume and set design of a music video for an artist called Watercolours (http://chelseajadeiswatercolours.bandcamp.com/). It's released on the 13th of this month, and I can't wait to share it with the world! I’ve also just finished a series of short stories, my first collection of fiction. I’m starting to revise and edit the first draft – a difficult process, but one I’m finding quite rewarding!
Who are the artists/authors/auteurs/albums that have most influenced you.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Joan Didion, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Francoise Sagan, Anais Nin, Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens.
Patti Smith ‘Horses’, Fleetwood Mac ‘Rumours’, Television ‘Marquee Moon’, Arthur Russell ‘Love is Overtaking Me’, Cat Power ‘You Are Free’, Sonic Youth ‘Goo’, Brian Eno 'Here Come the Warm Jets', Bat For Lashes, Pulp and Jarvis Cocker, Songs, Karen Dalton.
Tauba Auerbach, Gerhard Richter, Colin McCahon, Pina Bausch, Lee Miller..
Woody Allen, Jean Luc Godard, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Agnes Varda, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch.
What are your everyday essentials, ensemble, beauty, health, inspiration?
Slim cut jeans in various shades of blue and black; Isabel Marant shoes in many styles; a well cut jacket, blazer or coat; something leather – a pair of slightly cropped black leather skinny pants, a 3.1 Philip Lim black leather skirt or a beaten up biker jacket; soft teeshirts in plain colours or stripes; silk shirts in every hue. I dress very simply unless I'm out for the evening.
Bioderma H20 cleanser to cleanse and remove makeup, and an Aesop moisturizer, mixed with the Aesop Fantastic Facial Oil at night. I wear minimal makeup unless I’m out at night - Nars tinted moisturizer, a little Smith’s Rosebud Salve and some mascara. I have worn Agent Provocateur scent for years, and always come back to it even if I like to dabble with Byredo Gypsy Water from time to time.
A green juice or smoothie at least once a day; a glass of red wine most evenings; a happy outlook and lots of sleep and water (with lemon in the morning); walking as often as I can; apple cider vinegar; unsweetened yoghurt each morning; Vitamin D in winter, magnesium and vitamin B all year round; no sweets in the house; only one coffee a day; love.
Looking, reading, listening. I subscribe to The Gentlewoman, Acne Paper and Apartamento; read The Guardian, Pitchfork, The Paris Review, Open Culture, Arts and Letters Daily and all sorts of different blogs each day. Favourites include Jessica Stanley’s Read Look Think series, Decade Diary and Manger by Mimi Thorisson. I always have a good book in my handbag; I disconnect from Google Reader and my iPhone on Sundays.
Real life is terribly inspiring, I think I learn the most from friends and observing on the street, going to galleries and having conversations with new people.
What have you been coveting?
A Contax T3 camera to capture my adventures on film. A day in the spa at Cowshed in Shoreditch House. A pair of Carven’s Turkish Carpet pumps. Miu Miu’s cream shearling collarless coat. The entire back catalogue of the Criterion Collection.
How has your taste evolved? What did you like as a child, in high school, college?
Dreamy, emotional, bookish – always. Certain heroes have remained with me as I’ve discovered them – Patti, Stevie, Alison Mosshart, Richard Hell have been idols since my teenage years and they shan’t ever leave. However, my taste has naturally become more refined, less rebellious as I get older.
I am more thoughtful, less inclined to enjoy the obvious. I think it takes some time to learn to appreciate designers such as Dries Van Noten or musicians and writers who are perhaps more challenging. I didn’t understand the work of Scott Walker when I was 16, I loved Nick Drake as I could comprehend what he sang of. I still love Nick Drake but I suppose I’ve evolved to appreciate hidden meanings and layered, slightly off kilter creations much more.
What next? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I would love to be settled in London or New York, working as a creative director with clients I love on projects that inspire and entertain me. A warm home, a family of my own and a big, friendly dog would be nice too.
Philosophy on life and love?
Kindness, hard work and honesty will get you everywhere whether it’s in a career, with friends or in love. Also, never forget that there’s a little magic and fate in everything. Once your heart and mind is open to new possibilities, I’ve found they tend to happen.