Tension is rising in the Elle Decoration office. We have been invited to style the Oxford Street windows of Selfridges, 12 in all.
For a magazine more used to entertaining its readers by showcasing the latest interior trends and inspirational homes, retail design is a challenge. In an insane moment we rejected simple room sets and so are now faced with installing a Swarovski ball chandelier, a carpet of 2,000 real roses plus the latest technology to create moving images.
As I write, the stylist in charge is sitting at her desk, phone in one hand, her head in the other – something to do with dismantling a wall to get the chandelier in. And I am wondering how to tell the finance director that despite Swarovski’s sponsorship, we are already way over budget.
The windows loom, but there is still the December issue to finish – get set for pampas grass Christmas trees.
The first job of the day is rearranging the wall (miniature copies of the magazine pages stuck on the wall in running order) to ensure the look and pace of the magazine are balanced.
Squishing bits of Blu-Tack (it’s all hi-tech here) helps to keep my mind off the fact that in a nearby studio three vintage Murano glass birds are being photographed for Eye Candy, the last page of the magazine, which showcases objects that are deeply beautiful but terrifyingly expensive.
At £2,300 each, these birds are not cheap and if they break we pay.
They arrive at the shoot chaperoned by a PR for Paul Smith, who is selling them, so we can only hope they don’t get into any trouble.
I sign off December’s cover. It’s always a balancing act between the commercial demands of the newsstand and cutting-edge design.
The birds made it.
Finally, after months of planning, night falls and the Selfridges installation begins. We are “bringing the pages of Elle Decoration to life”, which means replicating a 10-page feature in the November issue, but adding interactive elements by playing with perspective. More than 1,200 people walk past the windows each hour and we want them to stop and stare.
I am part of the team installing window six, “natural evolution”, a grass-planted chaise longue that will grow over the three weeks, surrounded by a rose carpet that will die.
At 10pm, we start painting the walls a lovely shade of forest green. At 11pm, it’s on to beheading 2,000 roses. It is strangely therapeutic. Despite a few glitches, everything seems to be going well. I reckon I should be out by 4am.
Famous last words. At 3am, six men unload the ball chandelier, carry it, shuffling frantically, to its window and slowly winch it into position.
As the protective cloth sleeve is peeled away, we all stare in complete horror – despite being tied in sections for transportation, the majority of the strands are a tangled mess. A team settles down to sort it out. As time ticks on, fingers become numb and eyes crossed. I manage half an hour before losing the will to live. Go back to window six and finish the rose carpet. I escape home at 7.30am.
Back at work at 2pm. The office is almost deserted. Most of the team were at Selfridges until 9am -untangling the chandelier took six people working non-stop for five hours – and have gone home to recover.
I check proofs, decide on a couple of headlines and then, clutching a coffee, head off to the Geffrye Museum to judge the Bombay Sapphire Prize 2003 for the best in glass design.
My fellow judges include Tom Dixon, creative director at Habitat and the designer of the chandelier (grr), and Ron Arad, one of the industry’s most influential designers. The winner of the prize, worth £15,000, is decided upon: Paul Cocksedge, who made neon lights – hanging handmade glass tubes filled with neon gas that are charged with current to create a beautiful tangerine glow. Cocksedge is a Deco favourite, not just because of his talent, but also because he is rather dishy. For weeks after meeting him, the team embarked on a campaign to get the magazine to publish a story on the most gorgeous designers.
Sit on a stone bench outside Selfridges and watch people walk backwards and forwards in front of the lenticular window – similar to a hologram, where the image changes as you move past it. Others take pictures, while hip young things phototext their friends. Fantastic.
In the evening, I have dinner with executives from Elle Decoration’s parent company, Hachette Filipacchi MÃ©dias, who are over from Paris for a couple of days. Around the dinner table the conversation is in English and French and the wine flows. The night ends with the French commenting that Brussels is taking away national sovereignty. Not just a British complaint, then.
Make a speech at a breakfast for advertisers at Selfridges. As well as publicising the magazine, the windows give us a chance to emphasise Deco’s USP: a magazine that represents the best and most inspirational in design.
I return to the office to discover I have been nominated for editor of the year in the BSME Awards. An absolutely fabulous week for Elle Decoration.