- Words By
- Deborah Brett & Frankie Graddon
- Photographs By
- Eva K. Salvi
The master of holiday festivities? It has to be Deborah Brett. W.ICONS’ editor-at-large and long-time friend doesn’t hold back when it comes to celebrations, and she always knows how to pull them off with panache. Think the perfectly decorated tree with a side of iced gingerbread house (served on her own ceramic plate, of course), topped with a spot-on outfit. Yep, DB knows how to do Christmas.
Half-hearted really isn’t in Deborah’s vocabulary. Go hard or go home could well be her hosting motto as every party she throws is done so with gusto. Whether she’s baking a showstopping centre piece, laying out her handcrafted crockery just-so or dressing the room with decorations as joy-giving as they are stylish, no event element is left unattended. As for her winter wardrobe? Timeless knits, beautiful dresses and fabulous accessories with a playful touch.
We spent a festive afternoon at her West London home to discover more about her holiday style and how she makes the season magical.
“My family in Germany took decorating their tree incredibly seriously and the joy of having a traditional one hasn’t left me. We buy ours early in December so we can enjoy it for as long as possible. First, it’s the lights – a warm, non-flashing variety. Next, we hang the baubles we’ve collected over many years while singing along to carols. Then come the beaded garlands, which remind me of my Omi (grandmother) and the faux candles – a nod to my Opi (grandfather) – and finally the bows. This year, I swapped my usual deep burgundy for tartan. The final touch is a velvet robed fairy to sit on the very top.”
“I love dressing up for Christmas lunch, but it’s often very cold. So, mixing something cosy with something glamorous is a great combination. Winter-white cable knits are a favourite, so much so that I designed this sweater for Wyse London. It works casually with jeans, as well as tulle, and a fun shoe for a touch of party spirit.”
“I’ve started making ceramic ornaments as gifts for friends. Half are for Christmas and the other half are for Chanukah. I like including both cultures in our celebrations. It’s really important for my family.”
“I love the frivolity of a festive shoe – something with glitter, a pom-pom and especially a bow. They can make a simple outfit really sing. These metallic heels from Loeffler Randall were bought for my son’s bar mitzvah. I danced all night long in them. The stack heel makes them super-comfy and the pleated fabric and bow detail adds a glamorous edge.”
“This red dress, from my collaboration with Wyse London, is based on my cotton-poplin summer versions. The fine cord is super-soft and warm, making it perfect for winter. I’ll layer it over fine-knitted polo necks and cowboy boots during the day. I wanted to add a belt to transform the dress into an evening look, so I designed an Obi style, with one side in the cord and the other in a satin. It can be tied with a knot at the back or a bow at the front, or however suits you. The sheen of the satin really adds a touch of festive elegance. It would work for any party, or Christmas Eve or Day.”
“I am a big fan of dressing up. I spend so much of my time in overalls and aprons when I’m working on my ceramics, so it’s fun to make the effort. Saying that, I also want to be cosy, so I’ll layer up different fabrics such as velvets, cashmere, tulle and herringbones. During the festive season I reach for red and tartans, as well as deep midnight blues, teals and greens. I love to add a touch of sparkle with an earring or hairband and a great pair of shoes, preferably with a bow. Lipstick in deep berry-red also livens up an outfit, as well as a tired complexion.”
“My obsession with Nordic knits and Fair Isle sweaters continues each season. Maybe they remind me of my childhood in the Alps, but they’ve gone from feeling stiff and scratchy to being incredibly soft, warm and chic. My favourite is a chunky Anya Hindmarch one in peach and aqua, which I bought when she did clothing. This year, Max Mara Weekend has done some great versions, including a ski jacket with Fair Isle panels. I resisted, but only just! I wear them with chunky cords and jeans or over a satin evening dress on New Year’s Eve.”
“Christmas-morning breakfast consists of copious amounts of tea and a buttered crumpet. If I’m still feeling peckish I will nibble on my homemade gingerbread house until lunch. We start eating it on Christmas Eve and carry on until nothing is left!”
“I’ve gone big on tartan. This season, it covers everything from the bows on my trees to my tablecloth and this hairband from Born In The Sun. I change my rings each day, but there will always be one from my mother. It makes me feel close to her.”
“I fill my ceramics with pine cones and poinsettias, as well as mounds of Quality Street. We pick one a day – like an advent calendar. I pepper paper ornaments from Paper Dreams along my mantelpiece and on the kitchen island and table. This year, I have little baubles and trees in various sizes. I’ll also light a scented candle from Verden.”
“Every year, we bake a gingerbread house and every year it gets bigger, bolder and more bonkers. These things take three days to make from start to finish, but they are such a labour of love and the kids savour it. This year, I wanted accents of Tiffany blue and red-and-white candy canes. I always bake the gingerbread myself and decorate each piece before assembling. It gets topped off with velvet bows and more sweets than you can count.”
“I love collecting special pieces of jewellery from all over the world. My turquoise necklace was bought during a camping trip in Arizona this summer and it’s become a treasured piece. It’s made by Native Americans and beautifully constructed. The bobble rings are from a friend who sadly no longer designs jewellery and the earrings are new, from Isabel Marant. I like how they all work together and each have their own memory. When I keep the colour and shape of an outfit simple, I tend to layer on more jewellery but keep to one metal or tone.”
“I started making ceramics almost six years ago and it’s amazing to see how my work has developed. I still love making my bespoke pieces for clients, but working with a factory in Stoke-on-Trent has been amazing. I’ve taught the decorators there how to use my blue bubble glaze, and having a full range of pieces, including platters, plates, serving bowls, bud vases and napkin rings, is a huge step forward. Now, my clients don’t need to wait for weeks to receive a piece, they can just click and buy. I can’t wait for January – my head is already buzzing with new ideas, from different colours and glazes to adding new shapes.”
“I love sharing food, so the centre of my table is always filled to the brim with platters and bowls of deliciousness. When I’m setting my table, I tend to place little bud vases and candles down the centre. I group them in threes and then, when the food arrives, it’s easier to create space to slot my platters in. I’m going for linen napkins this season and I’ve made bespoke ceramic napkin rings with each guest’s name on them as a keepsake.”
“This velvet dress has been worn non-stop all season. I like the simplicity of its shape and the emerald colour is beautiful. I’ll layer a striped polo neck underneath and wear it with trainers or pop a sweater on top with boots. For the evening, I keep it simple with a coordinating pair of strappy heels. The knitted cape with pearl buttons from Needle & Thread is the perfect cover-up. It’s so warm and practical but incredibly elegant. It’s a real statement piece but will go over trousers as well as an evening dress. And I can wear it inside until I’m warm enough to reveal my dress underneath.”
Adding honey to your mixture will make the biscuit sturdier.
Decorate each panel when it’s flat and assemble when all the sweets are stuck on.
Stick each panel together using caramel, which holds in seconds.
Conceal messy joins with piped royal icing.
Take your time. I split my time into baking, decorating and construction; this way you don’t get overwhelmed.