“And though it is much to be a nobleman,
it is more to be a gentleman.”
– Anthony Trollope
Hello Chris, we’re grateful you agreed to this little interview! You are one of the most exciting people – a true gentleman – I have ever met, and therefore, I am honored to introduce you to our fans and musketeers as well.
I will never forget the garden party in the Old Town of Tallinn where one of our musketeers, Peep Vähi, suddenly came to me with flaming eyes and insisted I follow him. “Joan,” he said, “there is something you must see!” I followed him through the crowd to the very corner of the garden, where an open door and a hallway with candles on every step quietly greeted us. As I stepped into the most fantastic apartment I have ever seen, I saw the whole place was lit only by candlelight!
We entered the apartment – I don’t know where we got the rudeness – and I remember how fascinated I was by your wondrous curtains – that were woven in the same Italian factory that once used to make curtains for the Yusupov palace in Saint Petersburg, as I later learned. I remember admiring the unique interior design, the little antique elements, and all the inviting spines of the books… in fact, the whole place looked like melting out of one of your nature morts. I remember the music, Robert – Ange et démon – and the room’s smell. It was heavy with candle wax and lilies and… cigar smoke. You had stepped in and greeted us with a loud “Well, hello there” and a warm laugh. For me – it was a love at first sight.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege to discover this colourful world of yours full of adventurous tales from exotic lands, history, cuisine, and culture.
1. Would you tell us a bit about your background? About your heritage, profession, and countries you’ve lived in?
My family background is in shipbuilding, where prior to when I was born, the Devonshire-Ellis’s made ships under the John Brown & Co name. These included some of the most famous vessels of the era, such as the Queen Mary, Lusitania, QE2, and the Royal Yacht. The business also built the English Embankment in St.Petersburg, a couple of Dreadnought class battleships for the last Tsar, the first line, and 13 stations along the Moscow Underground. But all that had disappeared by the time I came along. Although not surprisingly, I have been a keen yachtsman and enjoy horse trekking in wild places.
My career has been in Asia, where I built a professional services firm with 40 offices and several hundred staff throughout China, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I spend my time between homes in Sri Lanka and Northern Europe.
2. What shaped your taste in art, food, interior design, and – fashion?
I’m very musical and love the Russian imperial and Soviet classics. Composers from Tchaikovsky to the sadly forgotten Estonian masters, such as Eller, Karindi, Raats, and Tubin. Food, given all my travels, I’m very liberal – I cook myself and have wide tastes. As long as it’s fresh, you can’t really go wrong with any cuisine. But an Indian curry has to be spicy while classic French, and Italian cuisine is always wonderful. British cuisine is underrated, but many fine restaurants in London are recreating old dishes. The post-war US Marshall plan did a lot of damage to British traditional tastes. We had Italian tomato sauces. WTF is Ketchup?
Concerning Interior Design, the space needs to fit the purpose. Minimalism belongs to the poor, the unintelligent, and the uninspired. Fill space up with light, paintings, flowers, plants, and lots of candles for the evenings! Especially for Northern European winter nights. I like contemporary takes on classic tailoring.
It’s good to be well dressed. It’s the external portrayal of an individual’s inner intellect.
“It’s good to be well dressed. It’s the external portrayal of an individual’s inner intellect.”
3. Do you remember your first visit to GUILD? What were your thoughts?
I think my initial thoughts were that this store is going to be dangerous for my credit card.
4. You have some pretty incredible pieces from us already – how do GUILD clothes make you feel?
Well dressed, and elegant. And appropriate for wherever it is I am going. It’s also about what other people feel. There will be admiring eyes.
5. What’s your favourite GUILD product?
I really like the work that GUILD does with Tweed. All those Northern European winters again. Comfortable, stylish, and warm. Perfect for wearing when having a good Malt Whisky.
6. What would it be if you could bring back any fashion trend?
I believe things all went downhill from Eve’s ideas. Naked reigns. But stop that nonsense after 40. No one wants to see nudist 70-year-old Grannies and Grandpas playing nude volleyball on the beach, wobbling all their bits about. Put some clothes on! Go to GUILD!
7. You have a home in Tallinn – what brought you here? What do you like about Tallinn, and what could we do better?
Love brought me to Tallinn, which is just the way any new home should be experienced. It’s been ten years now. The love is now on its third attempt, but Tallinn remains constant.
8. I know You’re a big reader – is there a book that changed your life?
Probably an early 1960’s ABC. Then Ladybird books, the Famous Five, the Moomintrolls, Batman comics, and all the way forward from there. The Russians are the best, though. Pushkin was a genius, and the Master & Margarita is like Harry Potter for grown-ups. Don’t stroke the cat!
9. If you could have any historical figure over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve?
My Mother. She died when I was very young, and I have no memory of her. She was French, so Champagne and a grilled fillet of sole. I would cook.
10. What’s your guilty pleasure?
I’m too embarrassed to say it in public, and if I could, then it wouldn’t be guilty either. Or illegal, which it probably is.
11. What is the most useless talent you have? And the most useful?
Useless talents are fantastic opportunities just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, like good talents, I don’t have any.
12. Three songs that sound like you? We love music recommendations!
If you need to hear Angel sing, look for Maria Callas. If you want a Dark Angel, go for Dmitri Hvorostovsky. If you want a romance, George Ots. If you want to hear how classical music sounds today, check out Igor Balakirev. All are on YouTube.
13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had?
“Don’t go to China, Chris; it’s dirty, communist, nothing works, and they’ll rip you off.” That was in 1991. Like all the best-intended advice, I completely ignored it. It was correct, too, except not to any terminal degree.
14. Is there a message you’d like to give to the world?
Please don’t stop turning. We need to save the Penguins and Leopards.
15. Anything else you’d like to say?
Run your life on love.