In these uncertain times we currently find ourselves living in, dedicating time and energy to artfully arranging your Easter table may not be right at the top of your agenda. But during a period when we are all being forced to spend more time at home, and connecting with our loved ones over a meal has never been more important, it may be just the thing to lift your spirits. Here, we talk to lifestyle doyenne and fashion muse Alice Naylor-Leyland about style, launching a homeware brand and the art of tablescaping.
Whatever the circumstances, there is one woman you can always rely on to have an exquisitely dressed table: Alice Naylor-Leyland. Now the 33-year-old fashion maven and mother-of-three has launched an eponymous homewares brand, where she sells whimsical leopard-shaped candlesticks and elegant glasses that she’s curated from markets around the world, alongside a selection of her own designs – think chic, scallop-edged placemats and velvet napkin ring bows. But the real star of the show? Her beautiful tablescapes, which come with everything you need to create the perfect seasonal table, from themed crockery and matching linens to festive figurines and fake foliage. Her latest comes with everything you need to lay the smartest and (most cheerful) Easter table. Just a month after launching the business in November last year, her Winter Woodland tablescape proved so popular that she ended up creating a second one, the Jolly Nutcracker, just to keep up with demand. Both sold out long before Christmas Day rolled around.
It comes as no surprise that her business has been such a resounding success – if there’s one thing Alice has, it’s impeccable taste. Having grown up in London with an impossibly stylish mother, Australian-born interior designer Serena Fresson, an appreciation of aesthetics was in her blood and she went on to study fashion at the prestigious Istituto Marangoni after reading History at Edinburgh University. Her unique brand of style – part English rose, part rock chick with a penchant for skinny jeans and leather jackets – quickly garnered her a following on social media, where she became something of an influencer, posting pictures of her posing in beautiful gowns with close friends like Poppy Delevingne and Mary Charteris.
Her 30th birthday party, held in the grounds of her Regency-style estate, Stibbington House, in Cambridgeshire, was inspired by fashion photographer Tim Walker’s photographs and featured pastel-sprayed sheep, beribboned alpacas and bunches of multicoloured balloons billowing from the house’s windows. When Anna Wintour saw the photographs of the party online, she was so enchanted that she featured the event in the September issue of US Vogue.
Alice is a regular contributor to Vogue, writing about the glamorous parties she attends as well as her favourite new fashion picks. She has gone on to work on high profile collaborations with brands including French Sole, Aerin Lauder and Misela, and over 120k followers tune in to her Instagram page for daily updates on her latest outfits (usually a floor-sweeping Alessandra Rich or Emilia Wickstead gown) and glimpses into her life with her handsome husband Tom, heir to one of Britain’s most eminent land-owning dynasties, and their three angelic-looking children, Billy, seven, Nancy, four, and Felix, one.
Though she admits fashion has long been a fondness of hers – “clothes really make me tick – I love how they make you feel” – when it came to launching her own brand, she knew it had to be homewares. “I’ve always wanted to do something in this sector, but I wanted to think of a way to make it a bit different rather than just be another person selling another plate,” she says. “So I thought, why not curate and source the whole thing for everybody and sell it all together? The business was organic – I really have always done this for my own tables.”
Indeed, her exquisite table settings have become something of a trademark and another reason for her ever-growing social following, with fans around the world looking for tips on how to throw an elegant summer soirée (Alice’s secret is not to spend too much on flowers – snip some greenery from the garden or use a bowl of lemons as a centrepiece instead), put on the perfect Halloween dinner (plenty of pumpkins, owls and toadstools) or create the ultimate festive spread (add candlelight and glitter-encrusted reindeer).
It’s a skill Alice picked up from her mother, who remains a close collaborator and confidant when it comes to all things tablescaping – Alice is even naming a new collection after her. “My mum brought me up on her own and we’re really close,” she says. “Growing up, she always went that extra mile – even little things like when you have sparkling water and still water, she’d decant them into glass bottles and on the table the sparkling would have a ribbon around it. I never forgot stuff like that. Laying tables brought us together and we’ve always had that bond over it – it’s fun and it’s therapeutic. To me, it’s an art form.”
The business started from her kitchen table at the tail end of last year and she admits that her Instagram profile has been a huge help in getting it off the ground. “I’m embarrassed to say Instagram is the business,” she says. “I’m amazed by the power of it, especially when it comes to international orders – almost 50 percent of our orders are from overseas now, everywhere from Atlanta to South Korea.”
In spite of her past experience working on collaborations, Alice says starting her own business felt completely different. “It was really nerve racking,” she says. “It was hard not having the support of another brand. I just had to call my mother every minute to be like, ‘Do you think this is right? What about this?’” Now the business is rapidly expanding, with her Easter tablescape just landed, filled with colourful fluffy chicks, cockerel-shaped jugs and her hugely popular cabbage-shaped plates in pink and white. Next up she’ll be launching two core collections, the Serena and the Nancy, which will include non-seasonal plates, glasses and linens for everyday use. “We’re going to have to move to a warehouse soon. It’s becoming a lot more real.”
Alice Naylor Leyland's
For now, the kitchen table works well enough for juggling work alongside her young children, though she admits it isn’t always easy. “It’s been…” she pauses. “A balance. Really, it’s about not being too hard on yourself. Strict time allocation is how you survive.” I venture that the children must enjoy the constant stream of sparkly woodland creatures arriving at the house. “They’re actually a bit immune to it now,” she says. “We shot Christmas in October and still had the Christmas tree at Halloween – I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it so I just put orange bows on it and made it a Halloween tree. The only time we didn’t have a Christmas tree was November and then we got it back in December. So my daughter actually did walk down the stairs at the end of Christmas, when the tree had gone, and ask, ‘When is Easter?’”
When she’s not touring markets in Paris and Germany looking for her next best-seller you’ll find her hunting down new fashion designers for herself – Sandra Mansour and Johanna Ortiz are two particular favourites at the moment – or trawling eBay for Staffordshire dogs and vintage Soane fabrics to cover cushions with. She describes the style at her Cambridgeshire home as “old school”.
“We moved into our house when I was quite young, 26, and I remember my friends were amazed at how much chintz I had,” she recalls. “We have a lot of old fabrics and I make napkins and tablecloths out of them – I’m so inspired by people like John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, all the greats who made used fabric a thing. And I like adding layers wherever I can – I probably have 500 plates all over my walls.”
It’s a far cry from her “kooky” flat in Chelsea, where she usually spends one or two nights a week and which is covered in palm print wallpaper. “The London flat is a never-ending thing I won’t finish,” she says. “Now it needs an Art Deco bar, which I haven’t got yet – but I will!” The city is where she comes for work meetings and to catch up with friends. “I love the hustle and bustle of London, but I’m definitely more of a country person now,” she admits.
These days she’s happiest at Stibbington, dreaming up her newest collection or planning her next table. “Think how many hours you put into cooking when you host a dinner – and then you sit down and you eat and it takes all of 12 minutes!” she says. “So why wouldn’t you spend a little time making the environment you’re eating feel nice? When it’s Christmas and I’ve got candlelight and crackers, it makes me feel festive; when it’s spring and I have a table full of daffodils and tulips, I feel fresh. For me, having a decorated space really does make me enjoy my evening that much more.”
To find out more visit alicenaylorleyland.com