I last went to Brighton in May with William, it being a cloudy but warm day. Brighton is the classic place for a May Bank Holiday for any South Eastern Briton, and I felt very welcomed into the fold. Having been to glamorous British resorts such as Blackpool, Llandudno, Southport and New Brighton, the original felt an obvious box to tick.
The pier brings thoughts of every beloved sitcom from those mythical last decades of the last century. The interiors have an aesthetic that is very 1985, but it is neither kitsch, nor is it retro: William told me it looked that naff when they were new in 1985. This family-friendly lack of irony is so heart-warming and much needed in a cynical world, and I loved nothing better than becoming one with its primary colour colour-scheme.
Such classic tourists! Take note of the sensible, comfortable shoes I’m rocking. It’s all about attention to detail, folks!
Being around family-focussed day-trippers is always the most wonderful feeling. I think a place like Brighton Pier is so determinedly uncool, an effortless feeling of ‘going with the flow’ takes over and we felt like little children again, humming “Oh we do like to be beside the seaside”, the tinny song providing a soundtrack for our day.
The charming but gaudy décor of the pier is matched by the formidable Brighton Pavilion proving a visual feast for history lovers and those with discriminating tastes (William said it’s the most hideous building he’s ever seen.)
The Prince Regent, George IV, commissioned the building of the palace in 1787 as a seaside retreat for His Royal Highness, built in the fashionable ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style, popular in India at the time. This is a fascinating bookmark in history, exoticism being highly fashionable at this time, inspired by the ultra-wealthy Maharajah’s courts that must have caused many a dropped European jaw at the time. In a post-colonial era, this deference to Eastern architectural styles is indeed a historical phenomena, but an example of its continuation is the passion for classical European architecture and interiors in newly-wealthy countries such as China and those in the Middle East, proving how this exchange of cultures continues in the realms of the global elite.
The Brighton Pavilion is an opulent, if at times vulgar (more often than not), display of wealth and a rather affected worldly sophistication. It is the Regency era’s equivalent of the Playboy Mansion, a man with plenty of cash and perhaps a superficial knowledge of aesthetics wishing to create the most extravagant home for all his hangers-on to admire. A man known as a real party boy, all of Brighton’s members of ‘fashionable society’ would kill to be seen dining under the light of its glittering chandeliers, the light bouncing off the rather saturated and mismatched interiors, which one hopes did not cause too much queasiness as they enjoyed the lavish banquets put on.
The months have flipped by and we’re now in February, and I rise early, the winter sun peaking behind the horizon as I ready myself for a day of solo exploration.
I am visiting Sally, a dear old friend I met whilst volunteering at Oxfam, who is house-sitting in Henfield, her parents gallivanting in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Liv, a friend I also met in Oxfam, Liverpool, is too staying with her boyfriend, Barney, whom I met through Liv at her 18th birthday party on the Wirral. Funnily enough, we discovered months later that we went to the same school! The school was Byrchall High School in Wigan, where I lived from eight to sixteen, starting at the school in 2005, after he’d finished in the same year!
From past experience of exploring the grand old cities of Blighty, those old-world streets are best tottered down solo, the corners and bends best guiding those with a curious nose and independent spirit, so I booked my train for 9:12 am from London Bridge station.
I arrive safe and sound, impressed that I almost missed my bargain train (£7 return, people!) by seconds. I spend the journey peering in my mirror, applying makeup, pinning up my hair and basically getting dressed, something I was obviously far too lazy to do before I left my flat.
Britain’s great termini provide the perfect environment for the fertile imagination of a 21st century aesthete, of which I am the prime example, and I melt into visions of aristocratic ladies with feathered hats and bustled dresses gliding to their friends’ country estates for a séjour by the sea, their town-houses locked up for the long weekend.
The walk from the station to town along Queen’s Road is slightly uninspiring, the Pound Land and William Hill not quite the old-world boutiques I was pining for, but marching face-on into the wind, determined not to be blasted off my feet takes up most of my concentration.
Brighton’s Bond Street leads off to the left. I smile, its similarities to the London equivalent ending at the fact that it’s a shopping street! The street is full of independent boutiques, not a Chanel or Cartier in sight, and I pop in and out, perusing their wares but not finding anything too inspiring.
I see a gallery, with white bright light and an open plan, large prints adorning the walls. The ladies who work there are very friendly and charming, answering my questions of what’s hot in Brighton with passion. I compliment them on their obvious love for their city, taking a written list of recommendations and an invitation to a private view for artist Magnus Gjoen, which I had to politely decline as it was the week after my trip!
Perusing the shop windows, I spotted some fine footwear in my signature hounds tooth at Gresham Blake, and I spent a good half hour gushing about the merits of dressing fabulously with the shop assistants. I design some Gucci inspired loafers, with black crocodile skin and gold snaffles, having an aesthetic orgasm in the middle of the store. Starting at £250 for a bespoke shoe, my dreams are dashed, for now, so I bid the gang farewell and decide that some history and culture is a fine way to cultivate my day of window-shopping.
I enter through the main entrance, the Indian tiled walls a continuation of Georgie’s Eastern theme, two sweet looking guides deep in conversation about the orchestra, playing famous sci-fi themes, who would perform that evening. I interrupt them and ask them what the Brighton Dome actually is, and they explain it’s the city’s largest museum, which I’m welcome to explore.
So I do just that!
This is an exquisitely curated exhibition of the changes in interior styles, starting from the Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century. The style originated in Paris, and was a reaction against the often shoddy, cheap and mass-produced furniture, a product of the industrialisation of Western Europe. For the wealthy, this new style was a celebration of the artisan, a true craft that stands as a formidable transition between Historicism, a classical revival style popular with the new bourgeois classes in the earlier decades of the Victorian era, and the later Modernist movement. In the world of interiors today, the new ‘hipster’ ethos in recreating the old-world look of barbershops and restaurants of the mid 20th century as a reaction against the linoleum, concrete belief in utilitarianism is identical, an enlightening point in regards to the timeline of cultural movements. The aesthetes of the Art Nouveau era were similarly parodied, their determination to attain the ‘correct’ style of Eastern furniture that era’s version of the hipster’s determination to attain the ‘correct’ style of shabby chic, punctuated with the scent of ‘flat whites’.
Art history is a new passion of mine, which I use as a great means of procrastinating from doing work for my actual degree of Russian & Spanish. The luxury and devotion to the craft enthralls me, having recently made the easy transition from vintage clothing collecting to vintage art and furniture collecting.
All this devouring of high brow culture had left me puckish – one must feed the body that feeds the mind!
Having first been introduced to the wonder of the Museum Café by Grandma Davies before I’d reached double digits, William reintroduced the hushed institution to me at the Royal Academy of Arts. The gentle clattering of silver spoons on china and pearls on pearls of old ladies’ necklaces (and mine) fed into my yearning for that elusive timeless elegance. I ordered Welsh rarebit (did you know I’m a quarter rarebit) and a pot of Indian Darjeeling, which arrived in a divine silver pot. I spent my little luncheon messaging Sally & Co about that evening’s plans, before taking my leave and continuing my day of exploration!