Monday, February 22, 2010

An Australian Rose and the Big Apple

I was flicking through an old Vogue Living the other day and came across an article about Australian interior decorator Rose Cumming and her rise to fame in New York in the early 20th century. Whilst Florence Broadhurst might be well known both in and outside of Oz, this name was new to me. But apparently her name will be well known soon, as her great-niece Sarah Cumming Cecil, also a New York-based designer, is working on a book to be published this year. And some of Rose's classic fabric designs have also been re-launched.

Rose Cumming's entrance into the design field was unexpected. She grew up on a sheep farm outside of Sydney. Fiercely independent, she left the pastures of Oz for the avenues of Paris to find a husband, but wound up in New York, single. She fell in love with the fashion crowd of the 1920's and sought career advice from her friend Frank Crowninshield, the then editor of Vanity Fair, who asked if she wanted to be a decorator. “Perhaps I would, but first tell me what it is,” she reportedly answered.

According to the Rose Cumming websiteCummings revolutionized the decorating business when she opened her New York store on the corner of 59th Street and Park Ave. Her work was eclectic and bizarre, often with a nod to surrealism. She loved everything from Gothic, Venetian and Austrian Baroque to early Oriental furniture. But her most enduring legacy was her love of mixing bold colors. “Parrots are blue and green,” she remarked. “Why shouldn’t fabrics be?"

She brought color to chintz and purportedly invented metallic wallpaper. She also designed her own furniture and by the 1930's, her store was a favorite of the well-heeled, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev, Jacqueline Onassis and Babe Paley. With her purple hair, enormous hats, wit and outspokenness, Cummings became a darling of New York society and a legendary eccentric figure.
Her own townhouse was an eclectic mix of fabrics, colors and furniture styles.

Probably her most enduring fabric was the Delphinium chintz which has now been re-leased through Design Founir Companies in Kansas of all places. 

And for a more modern look, you could try "Zebrine," a blue and white zebra print as seen in the house of designer Ashley Whittaker.

Cummings even gets a nod in Mark Hampton's book, Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century. 

I look forward to uncovering more eccentric Aussies who "made it" in this town.

Images: Architectural Digest, The Peak of Chic, Little Augury, Amazon

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