What’s the one summer style essential that every mother needs? A basket bag. Actually, forget summer...
This is a year round must-have. But market baskets aren’t as simple as they used to be: these days, we want them to be personal and just like our leather bags, we want to make a statement. Enter The Paradise Catcher’s new range of effortlessly chic basket bags. You can pick your motif (a colourful orange crab, a classic navy anchor or a cool evil eye) and also monogram them with your initials. Founded by ex-British VOGUE associate publisher Emily Armstrong, they come in mama and mini sizes too, so your kids won’t miss out. Armstrong works with two brothers from Bondi on the motif and initial printing. “I use a team of clever, creative brothers from Bondi with a successful business in screen-printing – usually T-shirts and surfboards – but they were up for the challenge and we went through several paint types and processes to find the combination that works, and wears well. A LOT of trial and error. Each piece is hand painted so whether you choose monogramming or motifs, (or both!) it’s a lengthy process for the boys, taking several days and a lot of drying time for each basket,” she says. There are currently four classic market baskets to choose from, all of which vary in size and style: the Marrakech, the Provence, the Capri and the mini Capri (for tiny tots). You can choose to purchase them natural or choose to monogram, or add a motif, or all of the above.
“I have loved basket bags for a long time as I remember my mother using them. I properly fell in love with them on my many European holidays while based in London. A particular holiday to the Luberon region of Provence proved the practicality of the baskets as we were market hauling daily. Basket bags are practical, chic, and timeless, like a Breton top (my other obsession!). They are an enduring classic. There isn’t the ‘it’ bag pressure. They wear well and they hold a lot, and I tend to use a lot more now with three kids as there is always something to carry. They complement every look and send a vibe of endless holidays and fresh market days,” says Armstrong on her passion for basket bags.
We caught up with her to talk beach style, baskets and what the year ahead holds for this glamorous mama of three.
What was your role at British VOGUE?
I was the associate publisher, reporting to the publishing director, managing the commercial side of British VOGUE across all channels.
Can you tell us about your time spent working at British VOGUE?
I worked for British VOGUE, on and off between 2001 and 2014 in various positions from research manager to advertising manager, working my way up to associate publisher. Reporting to the legendary and charming publisher Stephen Quinn, we ran the commercial side of the business and unlike other titles and publishing companies we worked solely on the VOGUE brand. So I lived and breathed it. The 5th floor at Vogue House, the Conde Nast British HQ in Mayfair, was dedicated to VOGUE – so even a trip to the bathroom would entail walking past racks of glorious fashion and bumping into Kate Moss or Mario Testino on occasion! I was so fortunate to work through buoyant and exciting times for British VOGUE, across magazine and digital, and on initiatives such as The Vogue Festival and the preparations for the Centenary, which was celebrated last year. I worked with incredible brands across luxury, fashion and beauty. It was, unsurprisingly, pretty glamorous and I realise now just how much, though as I ‘grew up’ in my 20’s at Vogue House, I probably took it somewhat for granted. A fairly typical day involved breakfast at The Wolseley and tea at Claridges, discussing beautiful brands and big plans. I pinch myself now! I have many tales of what went on inside Vogue House. But what I never found in publishing anywhere else, was an evident flipside to the glamour. There was a grasp of perspective. While of course British VOGUE was wonderful – artistic and beautiful and groundbreaking – there was an understanding that we were certainly not saving lives. Everyone had a life outside of work. That English sense of humour, the self-deprecation and constant intelligent banter lifted the game to rise above ‘most’ Devil Wears Prada moments. The friends I made there are lifelong, and I will always treasure the mentoring from Stephen in work and life.
What about The Paradise Catcher - when did you launch the business and inspired it?
The Paradise Catcher was inspired by the desire to start a blog back in 2010 after my first baby was born. We had moved back to London, and I was in full swing of my interiors obsession. I wanted a name that involved ‘bower bird’, ‘nesting’ etc., and my husband thought that was a bit cheesy (I tend to be that way sometimes!) and researched a tropical bird called The Paradise Catcher that builds a beautiful nest. So the name stuck. I wanted to curate the best in interiors, style and travel to share with like-minded souls. But the blog never took off… as life got busy… I went back to VOGUE full-time, had two babies under two, and it remained just a name. Fast forward to 2014, a fairly sudden return to Australia, a pregnancy and (a tiny bit more) time on my hands and I launched a blog, with associated Instagram entitled The Paradise Catcher. The plan was to travel the world sourcing lovely unique product to sell… Ha! I quickly realised that with three small children one doesn’t travel around the world sourcing beautiful things… or at least I don’t. So the blog became a bit unloved but the Instagram stayed and was a lovely connection with the outside world, and a daily ‘escapism’ hit, from the tantrums and nappies!
Did your personal style change when you moved back to Australia?
Yes. Mainly due to the change from full-time working to full-time mama, and a growing bump. I literally didn’t touch my working/going-out wardrobe for over a year and my casual weekend uniform from London days was largely geared to a colder climate, so needed to re-think my style. My holiday staples were a bit too ‘Ibiza’ for picking the kids up at pre-school so I began to embrace my age and my stage. I still have a bohemian bent but quality and comfort, and a stronger, yet smaller capsule wardrobe is what I’m hankering for now… Stripes usually feature as well as classics like a Gucci loafer and some well-cut cropped jeans and sweaters, or summer skirts paired back with tees that can take me from office to school pick-up. And these days, always flats. The Manolos are still in my cupboard beckoning me, but I can’t seem to walk in them anymore!
Can you tell us about the launch of your new baskets - where did the idea come from and what has inspired the motifs you’ve used?
The idea really came from a long-held love for monogramming. For years I have admired the preppy American fondness for a monogram – whether it be initialed pillowcases in their symmetrical bedrooms, cocktail napkins or large canvas sailing bags bearing family names. I have also always loved French-style market baskets for all-year round use. The two loves collided. When we left Europe in 2014 the monogrammed baskets were just starting (or so it seemed to me), and I thought Australia was the perfect place to launch. Two and half years later, and with my youngest almost two, it’s finally happening!
I think adding motifs to the baskets is fairly unique and although I had a long list of what I wanted to see on the baskets, we’ve reduced them to the anchor, evil eye and crab for the first collection. The obvious choices would be pineapples, a palm tree and heart or star. I won’t rule them out for future collections, and for the little ones in our lives, but these current motifs are a bit less obvious and timeless. They are also personal favourites for me – the anchor for my love of nautical chic; the crab reminds me of the Mediterranean (and particularly the Amalfi Coast for some reason) and I love orange; and the evil eye has been an obsession of mine since my backpacking days, particularly around Turkey.
What’s important for me is that our customers can feel that their basket is bespoke – whether they purchase ‘au naturale’ or choose monogramming with initials or with motifs, even the colour choice can be unique. There are also pom poms and tassels on their way, so you can really customise your basket bags to your heart’s desire. Plans are unfolding for canvas bags in varying sizes with new collections of motifs, monogramming options including family names (e.g Team Armstrong) and quotes.
Can you talk us through the process behind each piece?
I source the French-style market baskets from a local supplier who imports from Morocco. They are authentic, ethically produced and of great quality. One of the big deciding factors prior to launch, was whether I could find someone local to hand paint the baskets. I didn’t want to have to liaise with overseas, wanted to support local and offer a fairly quick turn-around for customers, which form my research isn’t offered anywhere as yet.
SHOP: Emily wears Lisa Marie Fernandez skirt and top, from Pam Pam Swim. The Paradise Catcher ‘Marrakech’ basket bag, $159
What about the different sizes - how many styles are there in the range?
For now, there are four classic market baskets to choose from – varying in size and style – the Marrakech, the Provence, the Capri and the mini Capri. You can choose to purchase these ‘a naturale’, or choose to monogram, or add a motif, or both! You can use 2 or 3 initials when monogramming (or spell your name as a custom order) and choose from the anchor, crab or evil eye motifs. There are currently six colours in the range – black, navy, blue, aqua, orange and white, and red arriving soon. More colour-ways and motif designs will be added in time (shhh don’t tell the Bondi brothers!), and we’re currently sourcing more basket bags.
What are your summer style essentials?
A basket bag naturally, denim cut-offs, white tops and dresses with Broderie Anglais, striped tees, oversized white shirts, gold jewellery (lots), a (fake) tan, Bassike and General Pants t-shirt dresses, Haviainas, Capri Positano and Palmera Menorcan sandals, a Sarah Curtis panama hat, Le Specs sunglasses (as all my designer ones are trashed by my 1 year old). For the beach, a Sunday Somewhere parasol umbrella and rattan beach chairs from The Byron Bay hanging company – the perfect backdrop for my basket bags of course! And I can’t stop thinking about the Lisa Marie Fernandez beach skirt from Pam Pam Swim.
What’s a typical look for you when you’re with your children?
It depends! Getting out the door on time is such a challenge in our house, and I am always the last to dress, and not one to work out what I wear the night before! So in all honesty, it’s often a t-shirt dress with havianas and my eldest pleading me to brush my hair before I walk her into school. In my dreams, I am wafting around in Isabel Marant or Zimmermann, pretty straw hats, large sunglasses and small cross-body bags. The reality is – casual dresses or t-shirts, cut-offs and sandals with a basket bag and a small pouch inside, sunnies and a hat. Always flat shoes, and loose comfy shapes in beautiful, natural fabrics.
Can you tell us about your role at In/Out and what the site’s all about?
I’m Editor for In/Out which is a dream role for me – merging my publishing experience with my passion for interiors, and lifestyle generally. Working with Juliette and Sarah-Jane (the Founders of In/Out and Directors of Arent&Pyke interior design studio) is inspiring and fun. I have been a huge fan of their work for years… so it was a bit surreal when we finally met! We are transitioning from a blog to an independent lifestyle website, exploring how creatives and creators, men and women from all over the world, ‘live a beautiful life’ through interviews, home tours and local style guides. We also deliver a constant curation (mostly through the incredible eye of Arent&Pyke’s Dominique Brammah) of features across interiors, art, design, object, fashion and travel. My role is directing content across the channels and taking our site to market this year, finding brands to partner with in unique content-led initiatives.
What have been some highlights since you started working on In/Out?
In the nine months I’ve been with In/Out we’ve been busy, from a new site design and navigation to expanding our original content and contributors. Collaborating with Juliette and Sarah-Jane is brilliant – they are clever, creative and committed. Working with photographer Julie Adams on our ‘LA Stories’ series was another major highlight – interviewing (from afar!) the mix from George Byrne (I’m a huge fan!) and the incredibly inspiring Jodie Fried, co-founder of Armadillo&Co, to the accessories designer I adore, Clare Vivier… and some LA lifestyle, interiors and fashion inspiration via actress Simone Kessell and stylist Lara Einzig. Another highlight has been working with local stylists such as the wonderful Alicia Sciberras on our still-life content… And of course, visiting the stunning Arent&Pyke studio every week in Surry Hills and being with their amazing team is the ultimate highlight. Love it!
Have you always loved interiors?
Yes. I have inherited my mothers love of ‘home’ and despite choosing a butter yellow for my bedroom walls aged 12 which was vaguely controversial against the floral striped Laura Ashley roman blinds, I have always been a visual person and love to create an environment that expresses my taste or inspiration – whether it be a room interior or an outfit or a table setting. It’s all part of the bigger love of life and creating joy in the everyday. Fashion and travel were my fist passions earlier in my adult life, but when my (now) husband and I bought our first (tiny!) flat in Notting Hill that’s when the interiors thing took over.
Describe your dream room…
So hard! As I’m a chronic dreamer, I have many dream rooms in many countries to appease my love of different interior styles. If I could choose only one it would be a living room with a sunken element… high ceilings, open doors to a terrace with a view. The furnishings would be minimal yet offer personal insights and a feeling of home. The artwork would be off-the-charts amazing and there would be surprise elements with lighting and some furnishings or objet in bright hues. There would be a fireplace of some description. There would be parquet or terrazzo flooring depending on the location. There would be tactile rugs. There would definitely be an oversized cactus in a terracotta pot. Side tables galore. Books aplenty. There may be a Noguchi light. There may be a Gervasoni Ghost Sofa. There would be lots of daylight and soft lamplight in the evening… There would be family and many friends filling the space, music and laughter and all the generations present.
What does the year ahead hold for you?
Lots! My baby girl, my third and my last will turn two in March and I feel I am coming back to me a bit. I feel motivated, embracing a new decade… I will try to embody less of the ‘I’m so busy ‘ badge, and more of the ‘I’m so lucky’ badge. I hope this year will hold some travel, a successful house renovation complete by Christmas, more growth and success with In/Out, baskets being loved by many, and new lines for The Paradise Catcher launching. Most importantly, I dearly hope it holds health and happiness for my little and big families, my friends, and more precious in-the-moment time with my tribe.