Tag Archives: design

Interview with artist Kristjana Williams

KSW Portrait Sep 2013Welcome to Kristjana S Williams studio! True to the spirit of its owner, it is full of vibrant colours, delicate patterns, fabulous maps and magical creatures…

Kristjana Williams was brought up in Iceland. She first studied Electrical Engineering in Iceland but maths wasn’t her calling. Her passion was art, something she had felt was not viable enough to pursue seriously. But when Kristjana had come to London, she enrolled in a design course with City Lit (which offers evening and weekend adult learning courses). And then she got into Central St Martins to study graphic design and illustration at the age of 25. It’s fair to say, Kristjana never looked back.

Today she is a equally successful as a fine artist and a commercial designer collaborating with such brands as Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s, Liberty, Paul Smith and Cole & Son.  Kristjana exhibited her work at London’s V&A, Design Shanghai, created art work for the Connaught Hotel and is currently working on her biggest commission to date: a giant map of London for the Shard.

It’s a five-metre map of London with Kristjana’s signature colourful collages, exotic flowers, historic characters and pieces, juxtaposed against black-and-white Victorian engravings. “The work that goes into scanning, printing and cutting all the patterns is incredible”, explains Kristjana who has three more designers in her studio to help her. I am leafing through the Victorian engravings book of royal menagerie from the 18th century, while marvelling at the contrast between the sleek outside image of Shard and the delicate design, paying homage to London’s history, being created by Kristjana for one of its interior bars.


In addition to the Shard commission, Kristjana is also working on a ceramic range for Fortnum & Mason, which will be out for Christmas 2015.

“I love that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself, say, as a fine artist. I can also making a living by doing commercial work that is also affordable to the general public: prints, wallpaper, cushions,” says Kristjana. “I also love collaboration. It’s a fantastic experience to work with craftsmen such as upholsterers, furniture makers, embroiderers.”

Kristjana’s love for colour goes back to her childhood in Iceland, where she craved light, colour and magic during long and dark Scandinavian winters. Quite unlike traditionally calm and understated Scandinavian design, her work is always vibrant, vivid but also delicate in its attention to detail.


What is your greatest achievement? Apart from my children, it must be The Connaught commission. It was a true labour of love. The brief was to capture the spirit, richness and magic of the unique Mayfair hotel. It’s a two by three meters collage artwork with traditional Victorian etchings, which took six months to create.

What are you good at? Coming up with ideas. My only problem is that I never seem to have enough time to realise them all…

What is your weakness? I want to do everything… I get a fine art commission which is an enormous project in itself but at the same time I also take on commercial projects I am excited about so it becomes overwhelming. I think this thirst has held me back as much as it has pushed me forward. Now that I am forty, I am finally better at pacing myself but it’s been a journey and a half…

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Calm down! Be less anxious… I also wish that I saw the opportunities available to me as a creative, because I did not see them as a 15-year-old. My creative drive was strong, but I could not see it as a profession, only as a hobby.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? Go to the Moon! That’s the first thing that popped into my head. I don’t really want to go into space. I’d rather get a diving boat especially designed to travel deep down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the world at the core of our planet.

MaskTo find out more about Kristjana’s work, please visit http://www.kristjanaswilliams.com


“Who Made Your Pants”? asks Becky John

Becky John, founder of Who Made Your Pants?

Becky John, founder of Who Made Your Pants? at the Women of the World festival in March 2015

Who made your pants? Whether your underwear has a M&S or an Agent Provocateur label, chances are, you have no idea where exactly it’s been made, who took care of the stitches and whether the company used the profits to give something back to the community rather than just to its shareholders. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much in favour of developing emerging economies and helping to raise the standard of living in poorer countries, but from now on I’m buying my underwear from a cooperative founded by Becky John. I hope to convince you to do the same by telling you a story.

Becky John has been an activist all her life. At 15, she organised a petition at school against animal testing by L’Oreal; a year later she collected signatures for banning Nestlé’s products sold at her school canteen to protest against their aggressive marketing of baby products. In addition to her passion for fairness and ethics in business, Becky has always been good at sales. Perhaps selling sweets at the Rugby Club at the age of eight had something to do with it.

In 2008 Becky realised that having a decent job in retail and a good social life just simply wasn’t enough. She wanted to make a difference, start a business, which would be fun, make the most of her skills and have a social purpose. Who Made Your Pants? is a lingerie company, with a core purpose of creating jobs for disadvantaged women. The cooperative, which was founded at the end of 2008 in Southampton, employs, trains and supports local refugee women.

Who Made Your Pants? makes gorgeous and comfortable undies for everyday wear buying surplus fabrics re-sold by large underwear companies at the end of each season. The quality of each item is exceptional (my pants have survived an industrial laundry treatment in Colombia!), the designs made from leftover fabrics are unique, but it’s the ethos of the company that really makes a difference.

“I love beautiful underwear”, says Becky “but the products we make are irrelevant. We could be making furniture or cakes, as long as it means creating jobs, investing in training, improving quality of life for the women involved.”

Who Made Your Pants? is still a very small brand, employing less than ten women. Each woman receives thorough training, counselling and general help. Some women are keen to improve their English, others are grateful for advice of how to register their children at school or how to manage utility bills. The profits are reinvested into supporting the staff. While Becky crowdfunded £110,000 last year from the existing fans and customers to help manage the company’s cashflows, she still needs to improve her sales to make the business sustainable.

“I hope that by spreading the word about Who Made Your Pants? I can build a loyal customer base, who would be happy to spend £15-£18 on a pair of high quality underwear, knowing that they are changing other women’s lives.”

WMYP1      WMYP2Needless to say, I am in. I hope that you too can support Becky by treating yourself to a new pair of underwear online.

On resilience “I have never doubted my course, but of course being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. I do think it helps to have a purpose. I always remind myself that I have a responsibility towards the women who had trusted me to help them. It gives me resilience. A failure is not an option.”

On challenging yourself “If you want to pick a challenge, make sure it’s a big one. My challenge is to connect women who buy pants with women who make them.

Asma is from Afghanistan and has been with us from the very start. She’s a very talented seamstress. Batol is from Sudan. Batol did a lot of cutting for us, but she was keen to learn the sewing machines and now she is brilliant at fiddly jobs like finishing seams. Sacdiya is from Somalia and has seven children. She often has beaufitul henna on her hands. Every piece we make has a story. Every piece we sell supports a woman in need.”

Becky is an incredible woman who is remarkably resilient and has a uniquely strong sense of purpose. I asked her about her achievements, aspirations and advice.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Don’t be blown off course – you know who you are. Carry on.

What are you good at? I’m good at organising, planning, big picture thinking and looking at tiny details (not at the same time!). I’ve been told I’m good with people and it must be true since I’ve always worked in retail.

What is your greatest achievement? Getting here. It seems I like setting myself deliberately tough challenges but I’m OK with that. I am very proud of what I have achieved with Who Made Your Pants?

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d launch Who Made Your Pants? in every country, providing jobs and and making ethical products.

Who inspires you? My team – phenomenal women who have been through so much and yet they appear happy and laugh all the time. I feel really privileged to be working with them.

For more details and to get your own ethical pair of underwear, visit www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk.

Kresse Wesling MBE, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse_024

Kresse Westling was born in Edmonton, Canada. She studied Politics and Chinese in Montreal, before travelling to Hong Kong where she worked in venture capital. Kresse has always been interested in environment, and her first own venture was a start-up, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry. Kresse met her now fiancé James Henrit (nicknamed Elvis) and moved to the UK.

In 2005 she attended a course on sustainability where she came across the London Fire Brigade. She learned that after 25 years of service, fire hoses were scrapped, rather than recycled. The couple came up with an idea to ‘upcycle’ discarded fire hoses into high-end lifestyle accessories. Elvis & Kresse was born.

On politics… Elvis & Kresse is based in Kent, and I thought that we lived in a constituency of Nigel Farage! I told Elvis I was going to stand as an independent MP! It turns out Farage’s constituency is further away, and realistically I do not have time to take politics seriously with all the projects we are taking on at the moment. Still, I get very passionate when someone mentions UKIP!

I needed a new challenge… My first business, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry, was successful and profitable. The trouble is, it became boring, I needed a new challenge. When I heard a story about fire hoses being simply dumped into a landfill after use from the London Fire Brigade, it bugged me. I got home and told Elvis we had to do something about it! Elvis is a product designer by background. We thought long and hard about possible ways to recycle the hoses: we brought a heap of them home, cleaned them up; we considered using them for roof tiles, but the cleaning process is too laborious to be cost-effective.

Our ultimately successful idea was to create a range of luxury accessories: belts, iPhone, iPad and laptop covers, washbags and wallets. Each product is really well made – I can guarantee a wallet won’t fall apart a year later. The business took off. Cameron Diaz was photographed wearing a white dress and our red belt in Vogue. Consumers are after unique accessories; they want quality and they want a story.

We also give 50% of our profits back to the Fire Fighters Charity which tells you something about operational margins of luxury products!

We are ‘designers backwards’… IKEA has recently approached us about helping them with creating a range of products from their customer returns. I’m immediately thinking: what’s the best possible way to re-use this or that element? Designers are not trained that way – sustainability is an optional module in most design schools. I am not a designer, of course, I read the New Scientist, not fashion mags.

I want to change the whole world into a circular economy… I want to change how people think about their clothes, furniture, houses, food, waste, etc. There is a story to every product: if you no longer need your garden table, what can you do to write the next chapter of its journey? I love rescuing discarded materials. Elvis & Kresse HQ is built using many upcycled products. I want to inspire the whole world to do just that and find the best possible way to recycle things.

On MBE… It came out of the blue really. I got a letter from Her Majesty, which got my future in-laws very excited. I was awarded MBE for the services to corporate social responsibility. I am pleased, of course, because it helps me to get my sustainability message across to schools and universities, business forums and professional networks. There is not enough being done for tackling waste problems in the UK, yet alone, globally. I want to change that.

Elvis & Kresse is a social enterprise, providing employment, looking after the environment and giving back 50% of their profits to charity. If you’d like to support Elvis & Kresse, please have a look at their range of sustainable, beautifully crafted products. I am a fan!

KresseWestling_landscape copy

A story of a milliner, Claire Howeson, Penmayne of London

Claire Howeson

Claire Howeson thinks that perhaps she was born to be an entrepreneur. Her father had a cheese business, and she remembers imagining that she too would one day run her own company. As it happens, Claire went to study biology, then law, before becoming a solicitor.

In her own words, Claire craved something creative. She came across a millinery course and signed up. Every Monday after work she went to learn how to make hats. She learned the basic skills – and patience.

Claire Howeson

Claire Howeson with her hat block and the very first hat she had made

Whilst still practising law, Claire began thinking of taking her hobby a little more seriously. At that time wedding hats and occasional hats grew in popularity. “Making hats is extremely labour-intensive, so I had to find a way of how I could scale it.” It was then that Claire looked into fedoras and trilbies.

“I don’t do things by halves.”

With that Claire set herself on a mission to bring back beautiful hats as everyday accessories.

Claire left her corporate law firm in the City to study with milliners Edwina Ibbotson and Noel Stewart. She learned how to make hats but also about wholesale trade, supplies and other aspects of the hat-making industry. After six months at the end of 2012 Claire felt ready to launch Penmayne of London

Penmayne of London hats are shaped by hat-blockers in the UK and then hand-trimmed and finished by Claire and her small team in her London studio.

“I have a tendency to run before I can walk…”

Claire started selling her fedoras at Christmas fares to test the concept, and before long Penmayne of London hats appeared at Wolf & Badger, a store, showcasing independent designers. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, Harrods invited Claire to pitch to them.

“What I have come to realise is this: you cannot learn whether you are good at something or not, whether you like it or not, before you try.” 

I watch Claire brushing a beautiful fedora trimmed with a wool braid and laugh: she says that sometimes she misses her law office. She explains: “I miss being told “Well done” on occasion, leaving the office at 6p.m. and switching off. You don’t get that as an entrepreneur.” It is true. But it’s the spark in Claire’s eyes that tells me her ‘leap of faith’ has been worth it. Claire Howeson hat

Julia Dobson, co-founder of Village England

Julia Dobson is one of those women you’d be happy to cross the mountains or start the business with – she has bountiful energy, a true sense of vision and an ability to think on her feet. She is also a multi-tasker, something that comes, perhaps, with becoming a mother, and Julia is a mother of two. As I caught up with her at Best of Britannia fair in London’s Clerkenwell, Julia was fixing up an overhead lantern to create a spotlight effect over her collection of stunning leather bags, Village England.

With background in managing luxury brands, such as Celine and Acqua di Parma at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and inspired by such mentors as Robert Bensoussan of Jimmy Choo (now CEO of L.K. Bennett), she has been mulling over starting her own business for a while. She shared her thoughts with a Eddie Knevett, then Head of Accessories at the House of Fraser, and they discovered they had shared similar values and thirst for entrepreneurship.

Image credit: Evening Standard

Image credit: Evening Standard

Eddie and Julia wanted to create something different – beautiful, top-end quality yet practical and affordable accessories, inspired by a uniquely English sense of style.

“I really care about the quality and attention to detail you get when you buy a luxury brand, but when I left my job to start my own business, I quickly realised that without a brand funded clothing allowance but with two children and a start-up, my perspective had changed: I still wanted quality and style, but I wasn’t prepared to swallow the prices anymore – I just had other things to spend my money on. Like school fees. When Eddie and I looked at the market, there was nothing that I wanted to buy for the money I was prepared to spend.”

“You’ll find a great selection of Village England bags at £250 with some items priced at a higher end. We’ve managed to achieve reasonable pricing despite designing much needed pockets every woman needs, buying amazing Italian leather and finishing our bags with luxurious lining.”

Julia and Eddie actually started the business just after Julia’s second son was born. She was amazed at her ability to simultaneously type, Skype and breastfeed, but equally, she discovered that “doing your own thing” cuts out a lot of “politics, pointless meetings and chatter”, leaving Julia and Eddie focussing on developing their brand and products.

Village England brown

Village England has been inspired by craftsmanship, farmers’ markets, the importance of community. Our customer is a woman who values quality and style but lives in a real world, which means she should be able to throw her bag on the back seat of a car or take it on the Tube.”

Later I caught up with Julia’s business partner, Eddie, who designed a beautiful wooden display to showcase the bags at the fair. He told me about his design vision for the brand.

“The design of our bags and accessories is infused with an English sense of style: eclectic, understated and colourful, but in a subtle, rather than a loud way.” 

It seems incredible that the brand was launched just a year ago. Village England is available in select House of Fraser and Anthropologie stores, and the bags are also sold online via the company’s website. Julia and Eddie have launched their second collection Autumn-Winter 2014, grew a team and have delighted many happy customers. Clare Balding is a fan.

burton-agnes-square--170x170   Aysgarth    Datchet-Orange-2-170x170

Lili Millar, a woman who never stops


Lili was born in Bannockburn, Scotland, a site of the famous battle where the Scots won a landmark victory over the English in 1314, as Lili proudly slipped into the conversation. She studied Film and Communications in Edinburgh, before moving down to London. It went like that:

“My brother lent me his kit bag, I got a train to London and found a place in Brixton, which was a cheap area to live in after the riots of 1985.”

Lili got a job with the Red Wedge, a collective of musicians and artists, working to engage young people in politics and to support the Labour Party. Lili made banners and posters, met lots of interesting activists and took part in political marches, her own heart synchronised with the quick pulse of London.

In the following years Lili dedicated herself to art. She did a foundation course at Central Saint Martins and kept studying art until she joined a bespoke furniture making workshop.

Her next reincarnation, if you permit me to borrow this theological term, was becoming a booker in the entertainment industry. Lili lived on a boat in Chiswick, booked stylists and make-up artists for commercial fashion shoots and roamed around Soho.

At some point she discovered yoga, visited and fell in love with India and did a yoga teacher training course. I met Lili in 2005, when I was just trying out different styles of ancient discipline and different teachers. I knew I had to look no more. I thought Lili had been practising yoga for decades, and at the same time she was trying out new postures and breathing exercises, experimenting and challenging her class, which is what I liked.

“I see yoga as a craft. I never stop learning it, and I soak up inspiration from my students.”

Lili has now been teaching yoga for 15 years but she cannot help but keep reinventing herself. Over the last few years she fell in love with cycling and indoor spinning. She now specialises in personal training both on a bike and on a mat, putting together rehabilitation programmes for clients, overcoming sport injuries.

Over the last few months Lili and her business partner have been working on a new project and have come up with a range of underwear for female urban cyclists. In Lili’s own words, Bike Nicks are sporty, but nice. Lili has also designed unisex bags for yoga mats.

“Yoga is my path but I like to keep challenging myself. I’ll never stop.”

At that point my jaw dropped because Lili is showed me her foil – that’s right – she is currently studying fencing.

“Fencing is so graceful, I love the fluidity of it and you’ve got to stay focussed all the time. Lots of Russians and Eastern Europeans are doing it – you should try it.”

As soon as Lili finished talking about the differences between foil and sabre, she launched into filling me in on her longer-term plans. In no particular order, they include travelling the Amazon, crossing Siberia and taking part in the Burning Man.

“Women are just not pushing themselves enough. Don’t let your fears stop you!”

That was Lili Millar, a Lady Who Impresses.

If you like to connect with Lili, please have a look at her blog.

Lili in a wheel

Meet social entrepreneur Elisicia Moore, founder of Petit Miracle Interiors

Elisicia Moore

I must confess, I love people with genuine smiles – people who ooze energy, positivity and goodness, whose enthusiasm is contagious, and I just want to stay in their aura forever. Elisicia Moore is just such a person, and it is my absolute pleasure to tell you her story.

Elisicia grew up on the West Coast of Canada. Her mother was an interior designer, and Elisicia recalls herself pretending to be sick just to “stay at home and help mum with her work”. At first she did not follow her mother’s footsteps and instead got involved in the social sector, looking after vulnerable people. In 2005 she came to London for a short stay. Feeling restless, she got in touch with Thames Reach, a charity, working to help homeless and jobless people in Britain.

The charity was looking for a decorating manager to teach vulnerable people valuable skills. Elisicia did not realise that in Britain “decorating” meant “painting”, rather than “interior design” and applied for the job… The interview did not go well, but she did not give up. Elisicia called up her would-be boss and said: “Hire me, you won’t regret it.”

Over the next few months, Elisicia was instrumental in helping Thames Reach educate and give practical life skills to many vulnerable people. The initiative was funded by the government, which meant there were targets to hit, and decorating classes did not help to engage women. It was at that point that Elisicia came up with an idea to host interior design workshops, appealing to both men and women.

In 2009 Elisicia launched her social enterprise Petit Miracle Interiors, which creates beautiful bespoke furniture, upcycled from hand-picked salvaged vintage pieces and sold at affordable prices. Elisicia teaches furniture restoration, interior design and basic DIY skills to those needing help to get back into work.

ChairsPetit Miracle Interiors is based in West12 Shopping Centre just outside Shepherd’s Bush station. Elisicia’s scouts tell her about furniture pieces, left on the streets of West London, the Job Centre sends unemployed people, who have been out of work for many months. In addition to selling beautiful furniture, they host upcycling workshops, taught by a brilliantly enthusiastic young man, Elisicia helped to start a new life.

At the workshop    My table

I am happy to say that Ladies Who Impress Club did a Saturday workshop with Petit Miracle Interiors – the yellow table I upcycled sold at once! Fear not, I am sticking to the day job, but would encourage everyone to have a go at furniture restoration, if only for therapeutic purposes of having a real sense of achievement, restoring unwanted junk into a beautiful piece.


Every year Petit Miracle Interiors gives valuable 4-week work experience to c.70 people out of work. Only over the period of last 12 months, they have restored 18 tons of furniture. Recently Elisicia launched a new initiative offering beautiful pop-up space for entrepreneurs, looking to retail their products, championing makers and crafters. The retail space is next door to Petit Miracle Interiors, so if you are interested to find out more, get in touch.

Elisicia at workIf you have been inspired by Elisicia’s story and want to help out, here is what you can do: 

1. Donate furniture if you live locally

2. Sign up for a workshop and/or buy bespoke pieces of furniture from Petit Miracle Interiors

3. Say hello on Facebook or Twitter

4. Spread the word about new pop-up retail space in Shepherd’s Bush for crafty entrepreneurs

Michaela Jedinak, stylist and dress designer

Michaela Jedinak was born in Czekoslovakia, but her family moved to Germany when she was a child. Perhaps, being an immigrant shaped her ambitions: she wanted to become an actress, a barrister, work for the UN and have her own vet practice – all that by the age of 30! At the very least Michaela wanted to travel so after graduating with a law degree, she moved to Prague where she worked for the Cosmopolitan, then to Italy where she learned product design and finally to Britain, where we landed a role in advertising.

Michaela’s sense of style was inherited from her mother, who insisted that she should never looked scruffy, put on occasional wear on Sundays and be aware of her body shape when choosing clothes. It came to her as a surprise that women in Britain would rather spend money on celebrity fashion and try to dress as Kate Moss than find quality clothes that would accentuate their personal styles.

“It was strange to find that there was no professional wear in the UK that would be durable, comfortable and truly feminine.”

Encouraged by her husband, Michaela trained as a stylist and spent the next three years helping women navigate the world of fashion. To supplement her income, she worked as a sales assistant at Escada, where she previously shopped.

“I sacrificed my comfortable lifestyle but it was worth it. I learned a lot and hatched a dream to create my own range of dresses for women, matched to a variety of body shapes.”

Michaela thought she lacked authority, so before she turned to product design, she founded a website, Joy of Clothes, offering style advice, styling tools and shopping recommendations. It took her two years of coding to build a virtual styling avatar, allowing women to create a model for their body shapes and try on different looks online. With Joy of Clothes fulfilling an educational mission and becoming one of the most successful styling websites globally, Michaela felt ready to design her dresses.

She found high quality Italian wool, a small factory in Britain, designed seven dresses matching seven female body shapes and launched her collection of “desk to dinner” dresses online. Each dress (priced at £495) is made-to-order within seven days and is aimed to create a “signature look” for a professional woman.

Just one year on, Michaela Jedinak dresses are worn by such TV personalities and businesswomen as Fiona Bruce, Arianna Huffington and Cilla Snowball. The brand has been praised by the Wall Street Journal, Grazia and The Times, and Michaela launched her second pleat collection with flattering tailored fit.

Behind every great, stylish product, there is a Lady Who Impresses!

Michaela Jedinak with Arianna Huffington

Michaela Jedinak with Arianna Huffington

Fiona Bruce in Michaela Jedinak

Fiona Bruce

Leap of Faith, a Ladies Who Impress celebration

Leap of Faith was the 7th(!) Ladies Who Impress event, celebrating courage and ingenuity of women who brave new territories, once discomfort with the status quo overweighs the fear of the unknown. We’ve talked about entrepreneurship, but also eyewear, travel and opera..!

Nadine Mortimer-Smith, Claire Goldsmith and Marianne Cantwell

Here are the highlights of the celebration…

For Nadine Mortimer-Smith it seemed the most natural thing in the world to write a business plan of how she would become an opera singer. Indeed, even with the most dramatic career changes, it pays to play to your strengths, and Nadine’s financial background in the City helped her find an investor to sponsor her for the first few years.

Jana Bakunina with Nadine Mortimer-Smith

Jana Bakunina with Nadine Mortimer-Smith

Nadine also revealed that she had got her first role before she received any formal training – her audition was impressive enough. If you are holding back because you don’t feel you are qualified to do something, just give it a go. You may surprise yourself…

At the end of her interview Nadine challenged five people in the audience to stand up and take on new challenges there and then. Five enthusiasts came up with fantastic ideas in the spirit of the moment, and if they think everyone’s forgotten all about it by now, they are wrong! I’ve put their pledges on a post-it note and even framed it!

Pledges Leap of Faith

You may like to visit Nadine’s website and sign up for her newsletter.

Marianne Cantwell admitted that a ‘Free Range’ career may not be for everyone, but she is certainly making the most of it, roaming around the world and inspiring people, stuck in career cages, to build their own businesses, based on their strengths and passions.

Marianne advised to be honest with yourself and remember that ‘Free Range’ life is a journey, with its inevitable ups and downs, changes and even u-turns. Once you’ve taken a ‘leap of faith’, you will probably continue ‘leaping’ every week but you won’t feel stuck…

Please visit Marianne’s website to find out about her Friday’s Love Letter, her courses and her book  Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills.

Claire Goldsmith told a story of how she revived an iconic eyewear brand, worn by such fashionistas as Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine and Grace Kelly. What’s interesting is that she made us think of a brand as a person: “No one likes arrogant or unpredictable people and the same applies to brands. Make yours likeable and consumers will follow.”

Claire certainly got it right for Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses, now worn by Kate Moss, Yoko Ono, Damian Lewis, Kate Beckinsale and Lady Gaga, to drop a few names…

Claire also asked the audience, whether they spend more money on shoes or optical glasses – it’s some food for thought, given that most people first look at our faces not shoes… If you’d like to invest in a pair of glasses, you’ll find some ideas and a list of stockists here.

Claire Goldsmith

Claire Goldsmith

It’s been another great celebration – thank you so much for your continuing support! If you are not yet friends with Ladies Who Impress on social media, please join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. It’s where I post links to interesting, relevant articles, updates on Ladies Who Impress I’ve interviewed previously and share thoughts and inspiration on a daily basis. All photos from the last week’s event are also on Facebook.


Anat Stern, a story of an architect with a great sense of balance

Anat Stern was born in Israel, where she studied architecture, and worked in Israel, Belgium and the Netherlands before meeting her British husband and moving to London. She did her Masters and worked for a small, but prestigious firm for a couple of years before an opportunity presented itself: Zaha Hadid Architects was looking for an architect to join the Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion project.

Back then Zaha Hadid did not have 950 projects in over 40 countries and employ 400 staff, yet it was already every architect’s dream to work under her creative leadership. Anat applied and got the job.

“Zaha is a true visionary and is incredibly charismatic. She works hard herself and expects high standards from the others. Everyone in our industry has an opinion of her, but from my perspective, I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities to work on some truly exciting and challenging projects.”

Indeed, Anat’s latest accomplished project is the beautiful Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park, unveiled at the end of 2013. She was one of the lead architects who worked on the project for three years. The challenge was to preserve the existing XIX century brick structure and to create a new space in harmony with the existing building and the surrounding park.

Serpentine Sackler GalleryZHA_Serpentine Sackler Gallery_02_Luke HayesImage credit: Luke Hayes

Previously, Anat also worked on the Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion, spanning river Ebro in Spain, a project commissioned for the Zaragoza Expo in 2008. The pavilion’s structure, combining a pedestrian bridge and exhibition space, is fluid and dynamic, in tune with the Expo’s 2008 focus on water conservation and sustainable development.

FG_Zaragoza bridge_040_Fernando GuerraZaragoza bridge Fernando GuerraImage credit:  Fernando Guerra

Anat was also one of the lead architects who designed a private villa for a Russian oligarch but that’s another story… 

But professional accomplishments is not what I find most impressive about Anat. It’s the balance she managed to create between her ambitions as an architect and her family life. Anat is married and has two children. She was, in fact, the first woman at Zaha Hadid Architects to return to work after maternity leave. Anat works four days a week, she practises yoga (almost every Wednesday), she even found time for a tapas dinner with me…

It is often thought that harmony at home must be sacrificed for an ambitious career in a high-pressure environment or vice versa. Yet some women make it work and achieve that precious balance. It is so easy to dismiss something as impossible, but it’s possible to try and maybe prove naysayers otherwise.

Anat Stern with her children