Sandra Shmith

 

Look Who's Cooking: below, Shmith with her son, Woody, in the kitchen, and the displays of ceramics that she has created for the launch of her new collection, Mrs Shmith. The designer wears a Vince top, Bottega Veneta necklace and Scanlan Theodore pants.

Photography SEAN FENNESSY      Editor VICTORIA COLLISON

  1. Makeup by CAMPBELL RITCHIE   Words by NATASHA INCHLEY

It's a rare treat to spy inside an editor's home, particularly when the space is a marriage of unexpected layerings and collectibles. With a passion for art, fashion and film – not to mention bold decorating gestures – Sandra Shmith has imbued her stately Melbourne house with the spirit of cool elegance. But as this dynamic and down-to-earth designer and stylist will attest, the space is first and foremost a cosy family home she shares with her husband Justin and their children, Aurora, 19, and Woody, 16. 

As a preview to Shmith's new collection, a line-up of divine Mrs Shmith cashmeres, embroidered silk sundresses, found objects and the prettiest ceramics, we asked the tastemaker to share her inspirations – from her time living in London and Shanghai, to her career working on the pages of Vogue Australia magazine.

Through The Looking Glass: above, Shmith in the sitting room wearing a Marni top and Prada pants. She says: “This room has always been my favourite in the house, it feels very comfortable to be surrounded by so many favourite things.”

  1. What ignited your love of good design?

  2. I had a wonderful great aunt who was married to a furrier and they lived a very glamorous life traveling the world on ships. She had this amazing collection of clothes, furs and jewels and I think my love of beautiful things stemmed from that, it all seemed especially alluring when I was little. Later, I was always interested in fashion and worked for a bit on films in the costume department, which in turn led to a job at Vogue. A friend suggested I go along for an interview at the magazine's Melbourne office, and I remember my brother advising me to: ‘tell them that you’ll work for free!’. I did and that was the beginning.
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As Fashion Editor, what did you love most about your time at Vogue? 

  1. There are so many brilliant and funny stories of shoots, disasters and things that got lost along the way. Most of all, I loved the camaraderie and the creative energy, working with extraordinary people, coming up with concepts and then sourcing what you needed in order to create the story; it was always very exciting and we did have so many laughs. I remember my mentor arriving in at work after a weekend’s dinner party where the topic of tutus had come up. She began to relay to the table with great enthusiasm all the details from her most recent shoot, which featured tutus dressed down with T-shirts and cross-over cardigans, and suddenly the guests fell silent. They had been referring to Desmond Tutu. There were some fun moments and I think we were all able to laugh at ourselves.
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  3. How does your love of design inform your own aesthetic and way of dressing?
  1. I don't really have a formula and I tend to mix it all up. I dress up and down. In terms of my favourite look, I think Italians do it best: I love their loose sexy glamour and their nonchalance. I’ve always admired the way Franca and Carla Sozzani dress, and I tend to think that if you want to look good, you either have to have heels on or good hair – you’ve got to have one or the other. I do love Prada, in particular the experience of visiting the store in Milan where they treat you so beautifully, right down to the coffees served on trays with tiny linen napkins. I also love Céline, Bottega Veneta, Scanlan Theodore, James Perse for T-shirts and Vince for everyday casual.
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All The Trimmings: above, a vignette featuring the artwork of Vivienne Shark LeWitt, left, and Barbara Weir. Fresh Approach: below, Shmith in her kitchen wearing Louis Vuitton and Scanlan Theodore boots.

Modern Romance: above, the silk wallpaper in the dining room is Shmith's own design, made to measure and available to order. Turning Heads: right, Shmith says, “We discovered this Oriel Harwood ceramic vase when we were living in London and I really treasure it. It currently has white blossom in it, but I fill it with taller or smaller arrangements and it always looks pretty.”

  1. art obviously provides you with great inspiration, can you explain?
  2. I have worked in the arts doing voluntary work and I also used to run an art course, so I have oscillated between fashion and art and have always been very interested in both worlds. I actually see interiors, fashion, art – and even cooking, to some degree – as a variation on a theme; to me they all mix. You have your eye and your focus, and that eye doesn’t necessarily change from one medium to another. The plates that you serve your food on can be colours that you like in other aspects of your life, too. So at home, much like the way I dress, there’s no real formula. My husband Justin and I have collected a lot of pieces from our travels; objects that we are passionate about. I think your collected objects are the sum of you – where your life has taken you, who you've met along the way, a situation or moment in time that has touched you. I can look at a piece and it can bring back a memory and I think the warmth radiates through. 
  3. in 2005, you moved from melbourne to Shanghai – it must have been intoxicating yet challenging at the same time?
  4. We lived in Shanghai for three years and it was a great time to be in China, it felt as though you could do anything. I loved living in the city; it is very dynamic and we quickly made wonderful friends. Whilst I was there I opened a shop called Platane together with a French partner in the former French concession area of Shanghai. We named it after the elegant rows of Plane trees and it was all about East meets West: we brought in beautiful soaps and body washes; Luxe guides and cookbooks; and then had small ranges of cashmere, stationary, lighting, vases, ceramics and soft furnishing made in China. The response was quite amazing. Now, having moved back to Melbourne, I wanted to continue my own style of retail experience by launching Mrs Shmith. I think of it as a little bit like traveling to Shanghai but without all the leg work. I want to give customers the experience of being there, visiting the antique markets, the dressmaking workshops and the tiny hidden boutiques.
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Art class: above left, gold ceramics and vases from Shmith’s shop in Shanghai, and above right: Shmith says, “We bought this piece at a Christie's Continental art auction when we lived in London. It's by an anonymous artist and I adore their Cuban heels”; Another World: below, Shmith wearing Prada with Marni earrings, with her Aurora dress and pom pom beach towels.

  1. Your latest collection combines silk dresses and luxurious cashmeres with the chicest finds, how did it all come together?
  2. I am a very good hunter and gatherer and people have always asked: 'where did you get that from?' and how could they experience my Shanghai. I enjoy the sourcing process and this new incarnation of Mrs Shmith is an extension of that: some things I picked up along the way, other things I have had made such as my Aurora dress which I designed in silk, broderie anglaise and fine silk cotton. It is a very sophisticated yet simple dress. Then there are the artefacts and ceramics that I have collected in very small quantities. So in essence, this is a very personal style of retailing, like coming along in my suitcase.
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  4. travel is a great passion that you, in turn, have passed on to your children:

  5. In the beginning, we had concerns that Aurora [then ten] and Woody [then seven] would resist the idea of moving to another city such as Shanghai but they definitely enjoyed it and I know that being exposed to different cultures has enriched their lives in so many different ways.

“I am a very good hunter and gatherer and people have always asked me: ‘where did you get that from?’ and how could they experience my Shanghai. So in essence, this is a very personal style  of retailing, like coming along in my suitcase.”

on motherhood, how would you describe your parenting motto?

  1. ​Again no big plan or formula – I just try to do my best and my family has always come first. I encourage the children to do the things that they're hesitant to do and then I try to support their choices, but I also figure that as a parent you’re going to eventually be blamed for something! We're bound to get something wrong along the way.

AND IN YOUR OFF DUTY MOMENTS, HOW DO YOU LIKE TO RECHARGE?

I enjoy yoga one or twice a week, I walk Stella my dog each morning, and I would have a massage every day if I could – one of the joys of living in China was that you could go and have a foot massage after dinner, and I became very comfortable with that.

 

 

  1. SHMITH'S STYLE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
  2. DAILY UNIFORM: Whatever catches my eye. I tend to dress very quickly and I don’t put too much thought into it. FRAGRANCE: Amyris by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. BEAUTY ESSENTIAL: By Terry lip gloss. FAVOURITE RESTAURANT: I really like Tonka and Bar di Stasio in Melbourne and Saint Crispin, the new low-key degustation restaurant in Collingwood. My favourite destination for dumplings is Din Tai Fung, it is my aim is to eat at each one throughout Asia. I also love The Wolseley in London for its egg and soldiers and chicken soup, and I have recently discovered Osteria Di Chichibio in Polignano a Mare, it was the best Italian seafood I have ever had. LATEST READ: Currently it’s Pleasure by Gabriele D'Annunzio, however my all time favourite book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. THE FILMS SHE LOVES: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and Swept Away, the 1974 version starring Mariangela Melato.