|By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
We confess that we thought James Andrew, interior designer and dandified blogger of the “What is James wearing?” site, was going to be insufferably self-promoting but we couldn’t have been more wrong for he is a tender, thoughtful soul who served us pastel-colored macaroons from Payard, specially bought for us. He was disarmingly, sweetly honest about pretty much everything we asked him with really no sense of a bulging ego at all—the daily display of exquisite clothes is, he says, nothing more than a celebration of life, and it wasn’t even his idea.
How did you decide what you were going to wear today?
Well I like this idea of sort of approaching life almost as a cinematographer. And since we’re here, I thought that lavender complements this space so wonderfully. The lavender is very soothing.
|In the foyer a 1940s plaster ram from the Marché aux Puces sits in front of an octagonal mirror from Parish Hadley. The red candlestick lamps were purchased from the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.|
|‘Indigo Ostrich’ by artist Scott McBee dominates a foyer wall.|
|Paintings by Alexander Scott hang on foyer walls covered in Parish Hadley’s ‘Cassavette Stripe’. James purchased the Billy Baldwin chair, originally from Frederick P. Victoria, at a Sotheby’s auction of the Villa Fiorentina.|
|Do you dress each day just as carefully?
Yeah … for me it’s part of the fun of it … obviously there are practical considerations, like if I’m going to a construction site but I’m going to Egypt. A girlfriend of mine does these tours on the Nile. I have this fantasy of recreating a modern day Death on the Nile, you know, during the day more safari-kind of outfits, shirts with epaulettes, khaki, maybe a nice straw hat and then dressing for dinner.
I’m very fascinated by the fantasy of all this—creating your narrative with clothes. How do you face the gritty realities of things? … I’m not saying it’s escape but …
I think it’s more celebration. Like when you go to the opera you have these magnificent performers giving you their heart and soul and you’re in this extraordinary space and I think to dress up is to pay everyone respect, to honor the experience of being there.
|A view into the master bedroom.|
|Looking across the sun-filled bedroom. Curtain fabric is from Donghia.|
|A Panama hat rests comfortably atop the head of a man from Marché aux Puces. The French Directoire chest is from Sentimento Antiques, the hurricane lamps are from John Rosselli.|
|James’s collection of sunglasses is neatly displayed atop a French Directoire chest from Sentimento Antiques.||Tuxedo shirt studs fill a ceramic piece by Dodie Thayer.|
|A watercolor of two whippets by Peter Wescott hangs above a leather bed designed by James.|
|The Bergère chair from Malmaison Antiques is covered in an ikat pattern fabric from Alan Campbell.|
|For me it’s something I did when I was young. As I got older a different narrative was taking shape … it lost validity as a form of portraying who I was.
When I was younger I probably had a lot of feelings that were “less than” and as I became older I probably used clothing as a means of feeling better about myself: maybe if I’m so stylish and dress so well, maybe more people will like me.
I think the point is whether you have the clothes or not, it’s about feeling good about oneself. I can now dress for me. I would be going on a date and I would be wearing a mint green velvet jacket and I would be worrying what they would think of me but now, it’s “who cares?” If he doesn’t like it …
I thought you were going to be cocky and self-promoting. You’re gentler than I thought you would be.
So many people say the same thing about me. I hope I’m modest and humble.
|The bed is dressed with a indigo-and-white coverlet from John Robshaw and an ikat pillow from Madeline Weinrib.|
|In the bedroom corner a painting by Mark Gagnon hangs above a bedside table. A Karl Springer telephone table nearby is stacked with bedtime reading. The 1940s French desk is from Sentimento Antiques.|
|Three photographs by Bruce Weber were out-takes for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign.||An early landscape by friend and artist Alexander Scott hangs in a bookcase designed by James.|
|A French stool purchased at a Christie’s auction is covered in a fabric from Christopher Hyland.|
|Atop the bedroom desk, a mahogany box from Frederick Victoria & Son stands near a Greek bronze and a small vintage globe.|
|Favorite back issues of design magazines fill the bedroom bookcases.|
|How did you start your blog?
The blog idea was not intentional. I would go to the gym … all the trainers would say, “Hey Jimmy, what are you wearing today?” I might have pink pants on or a purple blazer. There were all these straight guys thinking “Oh my God” … they would be like, “Is that Gucci? Is that Tom Ford?” [They were] very playful.
This one guy that I took boxing lessons with stopped me—I was wearing this white and black leather motorcycle jacket—and he said, “This jacket is amazing. You have such great style. You should do a blog.” I was like “Why?”
Has it helped you?
I’m not sure I’ve actually made any money! But straightaway Elle Décor in the UK said that I was possibly their favorite blogger of all time. And then The Telegraph wrote about me.
|Peeking into James closet.|
|A view toward the bedroom entrance.|
|Shoes and more shoes|
|So the British love you.
They said they loved my audacity, in a way. My father is English and I’m a bit of an anglophile in a way.
What about the Americans?
It’s interesting—all my press has been from overseas. The Corriera della Sera has a style magazine and they did a piece on aesthetes and they gave me a full page, and they gave Hamish Bowles a full page and they said that we were the latest arbiters of good taste.
|Bookcases lines the rear wall of the dining area.|
|Halographic silver paper lines emits a rainbow-like pattern from the dining room ceiling.|
|Looking through the foyer into the bedroom closets covered in more halographic silver paper.|
|Do you like being described as a dandy?
Sure. The Telegraph said: “He never leaves home without a pocket square.”
It must be so time-consuming—is it?
No. You can preview all the collections online.
|James carved a separate dining area out of the original living room space.|
|A view across the living room. A zebra-skin ottoman upholstered by A. Schneller is tucked under a 1930s table made for the L.A. department store Wilkes Bashford. The plaster goat’s head belonged to Sister Parrish.|
|One of a pair plaster busts from Paris flanks the entrance to the living room.|
|A mercury ball, which belonged to Albert Hadley, stands atop a 1930s console design for the L.A. department store Wilkes Bashford. The white ceramic frogs are from the estate of Elizabeth Arden.|
|A hunting scene by William Skilling hangs above the pillow filled living room couch. James found the painting in a ‘junk store’. Serge Roche plaster shell sconces from Malmaison Antiques illuminates the soft blue tones of the living room.|
|And what do you do when you’re throwing stuff out? Who gets it? Can we come?
I love to give stuff away. If I found I’ve gotten a bit fat and things get tight, I give it to friends.
I was interested in something you said concerning your spiritual approach to life. You said one of things you want to work against is “the rampant self sabotage of so many people I meet. I want to help them get in touch with their own divinity.” That’s a very big thought. How do you do that?
I’ve learned a lot over the past maybe seven years. Sometimes I think these subtle shifts in consciousness or thoughts … thoughts become things. We determine our reality by what we focus on. In our mind we’re always telling stories … if you say “I’m fat, I’m bald, I’m never going to meet anyone!” Well, it’s probably true!
|Fresh flowers from Plaza Florists in a turquoise opaline vase.|
|A collection of silver boxes and a circle sculpture by Bruno Romeda from Kouros Gallery are carefully arranged atop a custom gilt-silver parsons coffee table.|
|In the foreground, one of a pair of white frame chairs that belonged to Albert Hadley has been covered in a pale blue linen from Claremont. A photograph of 1960s model, Adrienne Grayson by Franco Rubartelli hangs near a paper Moravian star in the bookcase.|
|[Lesley ]It’s very undeluded though. I’m wary of positive thinking. I feel it’s delusional.
[Sian] But it’s okay to be delusional … otherwise we’d all jump out the window.
I realized that a lot of my negative thinking wasn’t working for me. We make a choice as to what we’re focusing on. My therapist once said—I haven’t been in therapy for years—but I was going on a date and I was sort of pooh-poohing and not getting excited about it. She said: “You’re trying to protect yourself by not getting excited about your date because you think you’ll be less disappointed if it doesn’t go well. However you’re missing out on the excitement. And if it goes horribly, you’re going to be just as disappointed. So why not enjoy the excitement?”
It’s a very good point. And it’s the braver choice.
That’s how I choose to live my life. Think big, think all those outrageous, crazy fantasies because you know what? It might just happen!
So how do you avoid the irritating Suzy Sunshine-thing?
You know I have my days. When my dogs passed away I couldn’t be cheery. I had to feel the loss. I had to feel that grief. I had to give myself the time to feel those feelings … at some point you do have to snap out of it. I had to say, “Focus on the joy you had with them, the gift of them.”
|Where is your family?
My mother is in Florida, in Jupiter but she has disowned and disinherited me for being gay. She became a Jehovah’s Witness when I was a child. My sister “outed” me. We’re not close. I haven’t seen my father in thirteen years.
Do you want to include that in the interview?
I don’t mind. I just think maybe for other people who are reading this it might help them not to be afraid of who they are. I can’t change her mind. You have to accept certain things.
So you’ve had to develop your own support system.
Absolutely. You can’t choose your family but I’m really blessed. I have great people in my life.