The Aesthete: Bay Garnett’s black book of style

The stylist and Oxfam adviser is embracing the Brontës, Talking Heads and the hope of a new global movement for change. By Maria Fitzpatrick

Bay Garnett at her London home
Bay Garnett at her London home | Image: Tom Craig

My personal style signifier is wearing a long black skirt, usually with trainers – mostly by Nike, Adidas or Vans – and always a big, thick cashmere sweater, probably in pink or black. I had a thing for Phoebe Philo’s when she was at Celine, and I still wear those, among others. As I get older I love wearing looser clothes in general, and I think of cosy sweaters as “Bay blankets”. It’s an understated, like-it-or-don’t sort of look, but it’s me.

The last thing I bought and loved was a brilliant tie-dye T-shirt that I found at Portobello Market just before the lockdown. The T-shirt beside it had a tatty old label that said “Love Bay” on it, so it caught my eye. It’s a pre-worn ’90s cotton piece, really soft from loads of washes, with exactly the right kind of arms and a sort of Haçienda vibe – it’s proper rave. 

Garnett’s Miss Lanvin dolls by Alber Ebaz
Garnett’s Miss Lanvin dolls by Alber Ebaz | Image: Tom Craig

With time on my hands, I’ve been throwing stuff out, rearranging the kitchen and watching Normal People. My sister’s the head of BBC Films, which optioned it, and she’s been talking about it for a long time. I knew I would love it. Although I’m still working, I’ve finally got around to reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a self-help book for reinvigorating your creativity that I’ve owned for years. It’s like a course that involves writing a diary every day; you do three pages of the book each morning when you wake up. Some days I can’t face it, but it’s a start. 

An unexpected pleasure was discovering beautiful painted paper flowers at The Green Vase pop-up at Cutter Brooks, just before the shops all closed. They’re made by Livia Cetti, who’s based in the Bronx. I thought they must be really under the radar, but it turns out she’s very big in that world. It’s given me so much enjoyment over the past weeks, I’d love another one. 

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Right now, I would love to be sitting around a wooden table in the south of France or Italy, eating a big, delicious lunch with friends and family. Somewhere you can get to by train, definitely – and a place where you can really feel the spirit of the company you’re with, in the purest way. That whole celebratory thing of just eating with people you love now feels so luxurious… a privilege. 

The best souvenir I’ve ever brought home was a little tapestry of a rainbow that says “Love” in a 1970s typeface. I found it on a road trip round New Mexico, where I was looking in all the thrift stores. We were in this Salvation Army store for so long we didn’t hear the announcement to move our car from the local gas station and it got towed away. It sums up everything that’s great about thrift stores: it’s this little arbitrary homemade thing that someone had no use for, but it spoke to me and I couldn’t leave without it. I have it in the sitting room and I love it – simple as that. 

Her Christian Lacroix wallpaper
Her Christian Lacroix wallpaper

The best book I’ve read recently is Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I didn’t even know it existed until a friend recommended it, knowing that Jane Eyre is my favourite novel. It was a total treat to go back into that gothic world that the sisters created.

I’ve been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel. I’m not sure what that says about me! And Talking Heads – True Stories, all that – who I haven’t listened to in years. It’s weird that I’ve got so into them again. I think they’ve got an apocalyptic thing going on that has brilliantly suited my mood. 

Garnett at her London home
Garnett at her London home | Image: Tom Craig

The best gift I’ve given recently is a weekly veggie box from the Organic Delivery Company that I leave at my mum’s home. It doesn’t sound super-exciting but it’s become part of a funny little ritual. She stands at the front door, I stand at the gate and we look each other up and down each week and say, “Gawd, I’ve put on weight again, haven’t I?” From £11.95

And the best gift I received recently was a hastily drawn note on Mother’s Day on a sheet of A4. It was like a contract that said “I, Billy…”, with all sorts of promises of breakfast in bed and little luxuries. 

One of Garnett’s beauty staples
One of Garnett’s beauty staples

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is a double-breasted grey Gucci blazer with sharp shoulders from the new collection, which I wear for smart meetings and evenings out (remember those?). I love it. When I wear it, everyone – to a person – comments, and I feel all, “Yeaahhh, Gucci, baby!” I went back and forth trying cheaper blazers and in the end I thought, “I’m never going to find a better jacket.” And I’ve never looked back. £2,490, from matchesfashion.com

I’ve recently rediscovered a shirt that I had made many years ago for a Vogue shoot and had forgotten. It’s a classic, plain white shirt by Thomas Pink and I had this big “B” embroidered on the pocket in a swirly font. I found it hanging on the back of something else, and it’s still in mint condition. I love it. 

Paddy, Garnett’s “bear without a home”
Paddy, Garnett’s “bear without a home” | Image: Tom Craig

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is probably Fra Angelico… or Hans Memling. Definitely something Early Renaissance Dutch. These paintings just touch me. It’s the belief that emanates from them – the beautiful detailing in the wings, the dresses, and the colour and relief. I wouldn’t want a triptych or altarpiece – just one of the little jewel paintings to gaze at endlessly.

In my fridge you’ll always find lettuce, ketchup, maybe some Manchego cheese. I’m not a foodie. I’m fine at eating it, but I’ve never been a creator of it; it’s something that’s definitely lacking in my life – and my family’s.

The picture of a leopard in gold leaf made for Garnett by a friend who paints Russian icons
The picture of a leopard in gold leaf made for Garnett by a friend who paints Russian icons | Image: Tom Craig

This year, I’ve come to appreciate how fortunate I am. So much of life is a roll of the dice, isn’t it? I hope this time has made me more compassionate and patient, and I just hope we can all come together a bit now for meaningful – even radical – change. If anything, this time has given us proof that we can change things overnight if we really have to. I recognise the complexities of tackling something like climate change, but I’d love to think that now we’re all engaging with the cleaner air, and birdsong, maybe… just maybe…

The beauty staples I’m never without are Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream moisturiser, Magic Night Cream and the Magic Away Concealer. Charlotte’s been a friend for 25 years and she’s my beauty guru – she showed me how to wear make-up properly and I love her attitude: she won’t let me be lazy. She’ll say, “We can do better than that!” in the kindest way, and she’s right. I also wear Chanel No 19, which I love. But sometimes I forget to put scent on, which is a shame because I always think it’s such a lovely touch when someone wears scent well – it’s so soignée. Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream, £75 for 50ml; Magic Night Cream, £100 for 50ml; Magic Away Concealer, £24. Chanel No 19, £113 for 100ml EDP

Recent listen Simon & Garfunkel
Recent listen Simon & Garfunkel

My style icon is Anita Pallenberg, who was a good friend of mine. Everyone thinks of her as that rock ’n’ roll queen, but for me she just had the most incredible style. I did my first Vogue shoot with her and for my 30th birthday she knitted me a sweater with big bay leaves on it. We used to go thrifting a lot together, and she made clothes and style a fun game. She really brought it alive for me. 

I have a collection of Miss Lanvin dolls by Alber Elbaz. But my main collection is animal print. I’ve always loved the richness of leopard print, particularly. I like the way Yves Saint Laurent did it in his home. The style was really refined, but then there’s a leopard-print stool in the middle of it. It comes from a high place. A good friend who paints Russian icons made me a beautiful little picture of a leopard in gold leaf, and I’ve got lots of postcards of them, and a drawing by my son. There’s animal print on my stairs and a tiger-print carpet in my bedroom. 

Her style Inspiration: Anita Pallenberg
Her style Inspiration: Anita Pallenberg | Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On my wishlist are some beautiful floral sheets since I’ve been home and much more mindful of the ritual of making the bed. I’m getting a lot of pleasure from tracking the right ones down. I’ve been thinking, “I can’t, I can’t,” but I’ve gone back to Schweitzer Linen so many times I doubt I’d regret it for a moment. And maybe one of the pre-loved Hermès Médor clutch bags from Vestiaire Collective at Selfridges.... I usually buy a bag every two years and this is it. Hermès Médor leather clutch, £1,650. Schweitzer Linen sheet set for double bed, $455; schweitzerlinen.com

The podcast I’ve been listening to is Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time – especially if I’m a bit bored or restless. I love that you can go for a walk and learn something quite concentrated and fascinating about Rousseau or Marie-Antoinette you’d never otherwise discover unless you went out of your way to find it. Knowing even just a little about lots of disparate things can be such a pleasure. 

Painted paper flowers by The Green Vase
Painted paper flowers by The Green Vase | Image: Tom Craig

My favourite app is Vestiaire Collective, which I mostly browse. I love typing in “fringe bag” or whatever and just devouring the results.

The tech I couldn’t do without is my lovely PURE radio, which has a really big sound. I often choose to work from my bedroom, which is quite full on, with paisley-pink wallpaper and a tiger carpet, and it’s a big part of that set-up. I put on Classic FM and it makes me so content. Pure Evoke H4 DAB+radio, £139, from coolshop.co.uk

Virgin Annunciate by Fra Angelico
Virgin Annunciate by Fra Angelico | Image: Alamy Stock Photo

My favourite room in my house is my bedroom, because I’ve really gone for it – it’s cosy and stylish and, although no one sees it, I really care for it. I’m always moving the pictures around to get it all just right. The house isn’t big, but it’s distinctive, with Christian Lacroix black-and-blue leopard wallpaper in the TV room and a baby-pink sitting room. I’m always changing it up. Laissez-faire doesn’t apply here.

An indulgence I would never forgo is cuddling my dogs. Sounds ridiculous, but when I’m up off to do something important and they look up at me, I can’t help but go back for 10 minutes with my face in their neck. Paddy, our “bear without a home”, is a Bosnian mountain dog – she was a rescue and totally traumatised; she’s come so far. 

Chanel No 19 – another beauty staple
Chanel No 19 – another beauty staple

If I weren’t doing what I do (and if I’d had the right brain for it), I’d love to have been someone who studied space – an astronomer. I think maths and physics can be super-creative if you reach that level where it’s like another language. I wanted to be a brilliant novelist too. My mum’s a writer, and my uncle by marriage was Seamus Heaney, but much as I admire it, I can’t. 

I’m planning a big secret project with Oxfam and Selfridges in September, which is really exciting. But that’s all I can say…

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