“On the way to the nursery in Provence I saw all these gorgeous grasses, so I stopped, ripped them out and stuffed them into my car until it was filled with plants.” James Basson is explaining how he created the incredible Provencal garden, complete with wild grasses, olive trees, poppies, lavender, snail shells and rabbit droppings, that went on to win a gold medal at Chelsea Flower Show. (And if you’re worried that he was ripping out rare wild flowers, worry no more – it was the day before the compulsory strimming of roadside greenery, in order to prevent wildfires) A collaboration with Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane, the Provencal beauty company that took over the world with its bars of Shea butter soap, fragrances and now more sophisticated skincare lines, the garden looks like it was air-lifted from Provence and carefully dropped into place in a neat little rectangle between the cafe and the crowds.

Obviously it wasn’t that easy. “We had 30 volunteers,” says Basson, “A real mix of talent. And my big thing was to allow them to express themselves. I’d show them a photobook of how I’d like it to look, and then let them work on a tiny area, before bringing in someone else to work on it. One pathway alone took at least two week’s planting work, with five different pairs of hands in there.”

Would a garden like this work in England? “It’s not right, it would look out of place, but yes technically, although the lavender needs a metre deep of gravel. I buy all my lavender plants from a nursery in Montpellier in the south of France and they tell me that about 90% of lavender plants don’t survive because they don’t get enough drainage. You see them growing really well in France, and really quickly, but then three days later they’re drooping and half-dead. You need monster drainage so the roots go down really deep and they get lots of air in the soil.”

About 100 years ago I wrote an article in ELLE about the new innovators in beauty. One of them was Poppy King, a bright-eyed 18 year old from Australia who wanted to change the way the world wears lipstick. Poppy’s dazzling shades of red were inspiring, as was she – something of an anomaly with her pale complexion and stark red mouth, she was a stylish and refreshing contrast to the surfer girl looks that we more typically associate with Australia. She stood out. There was a book about business, and a few reinventions including a stint at Prescriptives in New York at Estee Lauder HQ, but she always stayed true to her story, and lived up to her name of Lipstick Queen.

She’s still true to her story – even more so. The second I sit down at the table, never mind the fact that we haven’t seen each other for many years, her first question is: “What’s that lip colour you’re wearing?”
“Marc Jacobs,” I say, pulling out a mini-sized Le Marc Lip Creme in 210 Blow, a deep dark burgundy, “matted down with fingers and a tissue; reduced to almost nothing with a coffee; then reinvigorated with a quick slather of This Works tinted balm.” (This Works Energy Bank Tinted Lips which has just the right amount of burgundy-pink in it).

“Reason I ask,” she says, “is because it’s not totally dissimilar to my new invention.” She pulls from her handbag a black lipstick with a lace pattern over it. “This is about a fairy-tale,” she explains, “because I love stories, so I went off and wrote one, and there’s an animated video to accompany it.” For a few minutes we watch the video, which is beautiful, but inaudible as we’re at The Botanist, it’s rammed, and the acoustics aren’t great for fairy-tale videos.

Later I try the lipstick. It’s black, sheer with a little bit of glitter in it. The idea is you wear it by itself, to which it lends a certain modern gothic quality to any look, but you can also wear it on top of other lip colours. It follows on neatly from her green Frog Prince lip gloss. Who would wear green on their lips? (It reacts with your lips’ own natural Ph by the way, so the end result is the pink that suits you best – clever). Who likes black?

And that’s the point. Beauty has for so long been about transformation, but somehow that message has gone a bit skewed – it’s been hi-jacked by the contouring tutorials and the magazine editorials about how we’re all in search of perfection. “When I look at the beauty industry now, I see a world that’s polarised,” says Poppy. “It’s about solutions or storytelling. You’re either in the business of convincing people they have problems they need to solve with this miracle product or that one; or you’re capturing their imaginations with stories that engage them.”

It transpires that those who would wear green; those who do like black; are growing in their numbers, or they will be if the likes of Poppy (and myself) have their way. Perfection is boring. Being on your A-Game all the time is exhausting and makes those of us who aren’t, feel like.. well, crap. So it’s time to reconsider. And to help you on your way, here’s her film, Black Lace Rabbit – Why not?

By the way, all of Poppy’s quotes were paraphrased. I forgot my notebook,and it was too noisy to record. So yeh, not perfect. And rarely on my A-Game.
It’s an oldie but a goodie but in a week that was wonderful and hideous in very unequal parts, I found this brilliant keynote speech by James Foster Wallace supremely helpful. So for anyone else whose life wasn’t like a Tampax commercial this week, I’m passing it on. It’s about all manner of things, but mostly it’s about the freedom of being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over without feeling like you’re in some rat-race. “The kind (of freedom) you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying…”
It’s not preachy, it’s not self-helpy, but it is highly entertaining – and essential.

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