About a year ago, I searched out a copy of an article from Vogue Australia circa 1987. I was curious as I could remember reading it intently as a 13 year old, and viewing Hardy Amies (the English Couture designer) wardrobe pronouncements on the matters of taste and style as gospel.

Hardy Amies via Getty Images

I had always been disappointed that it was only the second part of the letter that I had read as a 13 year old - I remember wondering what was in the first? What gems of information had I missed? Well… when I searched out the letter in the Melbourne Library archives, I found the first one. Eureka!

Cindy Crawford in UK Vogue 1987

Or not quite. This one gives advice to his goddaughter, Susie, on social matters. Including how to broach the British upper crust. Advice that is slightly questionable, and most definitely hilariously dated in modern day terms. Thank goodness I didn't read this and take it as gospel! For many reasons as you can now read for yourself….

From Vogue Australia, March 1987

Dear Susie,

It was so nice seeing so much of your mother on her recent trip. When you get to my age you treasure old friends. I suppose I've known you all thirty years - it's that long ago since I first went to Australia. I was tremendously flattered when your mother asked me to be your godfather. I fear I have not been a very good one: I always remember your birthday too late to do it justice. I'm grateful that you never hold it against me.

So I've now decided to make amends and carry out your mother's wishes that I should write to help prepare you for your visit to England - and I expect Europe, next year. Of course I'm frightened of boring you; I'm sure I shall tell you things you already know. But bear with me: I am having fun sorting out my own thoughts. At its best I should be giving you advice on how to live, the summing up of experience. I shall be happy recording this, it's something to leave behind.

Remember I was brought up with much less money than you and I've had to fight my way to what I've managed to achieve. I can remember mistakes and pitfalls and can warn you. I can also recall little triumphs and will pass on the secrets. My main school was, of course, the shop. I learned how to understand the rich by waiting on them, like a good butler. Like a good butler, I am a snob.

A good snob respected the social structure: a bad one idolises it. Snobbery does not mean cruelty, unkindness to friends or guests, it means a clear evaluation of social position which is only discreetly discussed for fear of hurt.

Your mother is sending you to England to help your education. You know, they know and I know that everyone hopes you make a stunning marriage.

I seriously suggest that you should start at the top. You already know a good deal about Australian snobbery. The snobs of Sydney and Melbourne are the nicest people there. They have helped to make Australia great and they are determined to do their best to keep it so. It's the same thing in England only it's better organised.

You've heard about Debrett's. It's the most fascinating, incredibly accurate account of English history. Wildly useful, it places you in the world immutably. My tip is, consult Debrett's as soon as you get to London. Don't talk about it - people are self-conscious - they pretend it doesn't matter. But you've only to look at the detail, the family ramifications that are given and which are all supplied and kept up-to-date by the families themselves. It's all taken very seriously but never discussed. This is important for you. It's also importent to get titles right. Never be frightened to ask.

Don't be lazy about looking up people you are introduced to, particularly chaps. It's not necessary to seek out titles: that is unpleasant snobbery. But someone with land or prospects or in Debrett's is very desirable, You know exactly what you're getting. Who's Who is also extremely useful. It gives full scope to the self-made man and to the self-made family, which, of course, all those in Debrett's were originally.

I've just had a thought. The higher you go in the social scale the fewer poofs you are likely to find. I don't know why. All strata of society today are of course very tolerant of poofs. It's very middle class to do anything other than to accept them. They do indeed brighten up the scene everywhere. But I'm not sure I recommend them as husbands. There have been very successful marriages. He will help with the house running, even if he doesn't cook he'll know about cooking. And God, won't he be interested in your clothes. But you'll know the dangers. It takes a very fine athlete to be good at tennis as well as golf.

I am totally in agreement with your mama when she says she thinks you ought to get a job. I think she said that you were keen to. Don't ever give the impression that you don't need the money. But, on the other hand, you can afford to take work which teaches you rather than makes you a profit. Interior decorating, dress designing and even one of those courses at Sotheby's are a bit overdone. Have you ever thought about gardening? Don't faint. It's the great, new, chic thing to do. There are well-run schools in London such as the Chelsea Physic Garden. Then if it appeals to you, you can go to Water Perry which is near Oxford. It would be wonderful to be a real professional and be able to control the gardeners with authority.

Tell dad you must have a little car. He'll understand.

As you're only eighteen you could do the course for six months, then you should consider going to France for a year. You must learn French. That slightly, undisguisable Aussie accent is very attractive, don't  make any mistake, but you must be able to hold your own in French. Don't go to Paris, there's too much English spoken there, as there is in the south of France. You want a fairly well-to-do bourgeois family in a provincial town like Lyons or Tours. I'll talk to you later about it all. It's so easy to learn a language before you are twenty-one. You'll never get such a chance again. The same thing applies to history.

I remember taking you to The Magic Flute about six years ago. You were very absorbed by it and quite delighted with the music. I know you are a sensitive and intelligent girl. So you'll have to stay in what is called upper class society and I hope you'll raise yourself higher. I did it by my work. You will do it by your looks.

If you keep to yourself well aware of the standards of your background - and you're lucky that you have nothing to be ashamed of- you'll find that it's axiomatic that you have a fuller life in the upper echelons than you do in the lower. A full life means creative and provocative friends, an interest in fashion (all its aspects not just clothes) an understanding of music and painting and particularly architecture (with an emphasis on the domestic). I don't have to mention things like cooking and housekeeping. Your mother is a wonderful teacher.

Australian upper class life is without doubt based on European standards: not slavishly of course, but basically. Then to feel at home in Europe you must know as much as you can about European history. Don't bother about the early days of the Plantagenets and the Tudors. The Stuarts are truly amusing and you are bound to come across some of their descendants.

I'll give you some more detail another time. And, of course, I'll allow myself to offer some observations on dress. You will sniff disapproval, I think you must make up your mind how chic you want to be. Being chic is largely a question of discipline. You have to be very strict with yourself and allow no sentimentality - no birthday present bracelets and brooches. You can afford to try to be chic because your sense of humour will soften it all and no freckled redhead like you will ever be frightening. But you'd better get some of those curls cut off. There has never been a chic woman, in my time, with long hair. I embrace you….

For part 2 - click here
entry via "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm"

I'm not usually one to pick a book from the True Crime genre, however when it revolves around the murder of Stuart Rattle, one of Australia's most lauded Interior Decorators then it piques my interest.

For those uninitiated, Stuart Rattle was a highly regarded Australian Interior Decorator in his 50s, murdered by his long-term life and business partner Michael O'Neill two years ago. O'Neill plead guilty to the murder, thus sparing a long, drawn out trial that would no doubt have been filled with salacious detail as their lives were picked apart. He has never divulged exactly what it was that lead to the murder on that night (it appears unplanned), preferring to 'protect' Stuart's legacy. Suffice to say that he is extremely remorseful, is a broken man, and it seems to have been an out of character crime.

Stuart Rattle

The author of this book (who only writes in the True Crime genre) wrote about Rattle and O'Neill's life in a biography of sorts, with the detail provided through interviews with the families, their friends, colleagues and former clients, adding in her own slightly sneering asides (she has no understanding of design/ why people would hire a designer/ how wealthy people live) and distracting personal stories. There is clear sympathy toward the murderer, and she portrays Rattle (whom she had never met in person) in a very unflattering light as a driven, exacting perfectionist and thoroughly nasty person. He seemed to be widely loved by suppliers, clients and his many friends and was charismatic and personable. After reading it all, I felt like having a bath in disinfectant.

Corner of the Library

At first it was essentially an account of a wholesale makeover of a life - from their respective starts in country Australian towns in the 1960s with working class families, the bullying they each endured due to their sexuality (O'Neill quite severely), their respective wholesale makeovers in Melbourne into urbane upper class men about town, and then it gradually evolved into a tale of when business goes bad. Despite being at the top of the tree in the Australian design world, and despite decorating houses for people worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars (and more), Rattle's design business was imploding due to complete and utter mismanagement. When Rattle died, there were 56 jobs on the books - all run by just O'Neill, who acted as his assistant. This is an extraordinary number of jobs to have on the go in an office being project managed by just one person.

The kitchen at Musk Farm

Design itself is a fraction of the overall job as a Designer. Successful execution involves meticulous planning/ checking/ double checking and an awful lot of paperwork and project management. From what was written in the book, it would seem this was not being done well, and things were falling apart at the seams as a result - clients were angry their projects were taking so long or that things were turning up incorrectly made, suppliers were not being paid, clients were not being billed and everyone was confused as to where things were at with budgets. Additionally they were not making a lot of money considering their client base (taking home approximately $300,000/ annum between the two of them, but spending $700,000 on living expenses). 

Outdoor pavilion

As part of the so called "A Gay" scene in Melbourne they were certainly looking the part, mostly due to borrowing money from the business accounts, and utilising the business overdraft facility for their own personal expenses. At the time of the murder they were propping up the bank accounts by syphoning off money from their Superannuation (pension) fund (illegally), had a $130,000 overdraft with the bank and $90,000 on credit cards. The money had gone toward living at a level of perfectionism and luxury in their homes and lifestyles similar to the life their clients lead, the difference being their clients had incomes with many more zeroes on the end. The Melbourne Antique dealer Graham Geddes had some interesting observations to make on the business aspects of working in that world and commented specifically on that point.


It's an interesting glimpse into their lives, but ultimately it was the descriptions of what went into his renowned farm that were the only saving grace in this voyeuristic book. I already have a copy of "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm", a book  written and photographed immediately after his death to memorialise it prior to the house and contents sale. The additional information on the interiors from the "Smoke and Mirrors" book was interesting, especially that almost all the 'antique' furniture in the house was in fact new - made to his exact specification by a specialist furniture maker as Rattle had neither the patience to wait for the right piece to turn up, or wanted very specific sizes and styles which can prove impossible to find in Antiques.

Formal Sitting room via "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm"

I will be upfront and say that I'm not overly fond of the house and interiors themselves - they are too heavily Anglicised for me, and I personally find the house top heavy and awkwardly proportioned due to the conversion Rattle undertook of the structure from its original single story school- house to two story American style farm house (complete with flag over the front door). However, I am clearly in the minority, as it's been widely lauded as a building and interior of immense beauty and style, and it certainly has a sense of place. The gardens are beautiful, and the overall estate is interesting.

Musk Farm

I had a very mixed reaction to the book. As I said upthread, it did leave me feeling like taking a disinfecting bath due to the very voyeuristic information contained within, and the lack of any impartial journalistic- style of the part of the author. I'll be interested to see if there is a biography of Rattle's work and life published by a more sympathetic source in the future, or if the Musk Farm book is the only one we'll see - certainly his family wanted to emphasise to the Author of Smoke and Mirrors (prior to refusing to meet with her again) his natural talent, and the fact that he was completely self taught with no formal education - this was a point of pride to them.

As I have recently read a few books along the theme of Design and Crime recently, I will follow up this post at a later stage with another - next will be the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson, and his celebrated house on a Klong in Bangkok, both books of which I enjoyed and perhaps have less of a mixed reaction to than the subject of this blog post.

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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