Margaret Howell talks personal taste – Part Two

Greenwich, Vaseline and Constable complete the designer’s desirables

Margaret Howell at her design studio in London
Margaret Howell at her design studio in London | Image: Mark C O’Flaherty

My style icons are Katharine Hepburn, Jane Birkin and Patti Smith. They are strong, independent women and their style is simple and androgynous.

The best gift I’ve given recently is a photograph I took of an old gate with a chain on, at the bottom of a lane on the way to the sea near to where I have a house in Suffolk. It was for my neighbour who, like me, goes to the beach for a swim before breakfast. The gate has now gone and I knew it would have a special meaning for her.

Jane Birkin
Jane Birkin | Image: Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

And the best one I’ve received recently is a very fine, very soft, very dark-navy cashmere scarf. I’ve worn it nearly every day since I was given it. It’s good for travel. But what I really like about it is its hand-woven texture – it feels luxurious without looking so. I can’t remember the specific brand and the label has now been removed.

A recent find is the coffee shop at the Royal Academy of Arts, in the tiny passage between the buildings. I am keen on good coffee, and this was really good: it was hot and strong, and nicely presented in a French press. It was a very pleasing experience. Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 (020-7300 8000;


The site that inspires me is the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. I like its ambience and detailing. They used quality materials to build it – right down to the brass door handles. It opened in 1951 and has survived renovation. Everything was thought about when it was built, even in those austere times: there’s a little room set aside in the women’s loos where you can put your make-up on. Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 (0844-875 0073;

An indulgence I would never forego is the total massage I have at the Hotel Okura every time I go to Tokyo for work. It’s something I really look forward to after the long flight. 2-10-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0001 (+813-3582 0111;

Royal Festival Hall, London
Royal Festival Hall, London | Image: Morle von Sternberg

The one artist I would collect if I could is Constable. I love his small sketches of Suffolk skies that are at the V&A. He said that if he hadn’t been born under Suffolk skies he would never have been a painter. The skies are something I particularly love about Suffolk. V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 (020-7942 2000;

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home would be one of a variety of objects from Japan. I find really beautiful craft when I travel there on business – traditional rice and picnic boxes, baskets and brushes. And contemporary handmade tin tea caddies. I have a collection of boxes that I don’t use for anything; they’re just lovely.

Hotel Okura, Tokyo
Hotel Okura, Tokyo

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Royal Hill in Greenwich, which is where I live in London. There’s a really good butchers – Drings – and a wet fish shop, just called The Fishmonger, run by people who really care about the food. There’s also a very good café, Royal Teas. Drings, 22 Royal Hill, London SE10 (020-8858 4032; The Fishmonger Ltd, The Rear, 26 Royal Hill, London SE10 (07880-541 485; Royal Teas Café, 76 Royal Hill, London SE10 (020-8691 7240;

The beauty staple I am never without is Vaseline. I use it instead of lip balm. I travel light and I don’t believe in any cosmetic stuff. I use two types of Neutrogena moisturiser – one for morning, one for night – and a handmade soap that is nice and oily so doesn’t leave your face feeling tight. We used to sell it in the store but it’s not produced any more. I have kept the rest of the stock for myself.

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly

In my fridge you’ll always find organic natural yoghurt from Blackheath Farmers’ Market, butter, full-fat milk to have with muesli, and all sorts of cheese – nice strong smelly ones and mature English cheddars. Sundays 10am-2pm, Blackheath Station car park, London SE3.

My favourite websites? I don’t use the internet or email at all.


If I wasn’t doing what I do now, I would be a gardener. I like the physical nature of it. I appreciate a naturalist style in gardening, using plants with movement, such as grasses and bamboo. I also like a sort of formality that leads into something more natural. It’s like designing a shop – it all depends on the bare bones you start with.

See also