A Southern Style Manifesto
Robert Leleux & Sissy Farenthold.
When anyone asks me how I first thought of Southern Style Now, I say I had too much to drink at lunch one day, and drunkenly declaimed, “There ought to be a festival for Southern designers!” It was an outburst fueled by vodka, no doubt, but also by my growing dismay at the way Southern tastes are so frequently depicted. You must know what I mean, without my even saying it. Checks and ruffles and rickrack and polka-dots, hairbows and hairbands and hairspray and animal prints. Pillows with little legends inscribed on them like (these are real-life examples, I assure you) “Paris” or “All I Need is Jesus and Biscuits.”
My grandmother once told me, “In the South, there are only two kinds of people. Those who use Hellman’s in their chicken salad, and those who use Miracle Whip.”
I consider each of the bête noirs listed above to be the aesthetic equivalent of Miracle Whip.
Now, I’m sure there are Southerners who adore everything I’ve just mentioned, and I’m sure they’re perfectly darling people. But I’ve never met them, and I’m certainly not related to them.
I’ve never known anyone more elegant than the Southern women I admire, and with whom I grew up in Houston, Texas. I’m talking about people like Dominique de Menil (Parisian by birth, Houstonian by choice), Lynn Wyatt, Lois Chiles, Sissy Farenthold, Ann Richards, and, of course, my beloved mother and grandmother. All of these women, by the way, were/are brilliant, engaged, socially conscious, and vastly cultured, in addition to being stylish—another stereotype shattered.
"I’ve never known anyone more elegant than the Southern women I admire..."
The de Menils' Houston home.
My grandmother JoAnn Wilson was my Auntie Mame. Her house was in a constant state of redecoration; she’d worked her way through Proust and Julia Child; she drank champagne at breakfast; and always ate off the good china. On the first of our countless trips to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, she marched me up to a Van Gogh, and whispered in my ear, “Touch it, baby. They can kick us out of here, but you’ll never not have touched that painting.” I can’t imagine a superior education for any child.
My point being, these are not the Southerners one sees on blogs and television. The Menil Collection is not what one immediately thinks of when one thinks of “Southern style.” But this is exactly what I wanted to evoke when I founded Southern Style Now. I wanted to draw attention to the Southerness of such icons as Bunny Williams, Albert Hadley, Charlotte Moss, Michelle Nussbaumer, Richard Keith Langham, and Julia Reed.
"I wanted to draw attention to the Southerness of such icons as Bunny Williams, Albert Hadley, Charlotte Moss, Michelle Nussbaumer, Richard Keith Langham, and Julia Reed."
Michelle Nussbaumer's Dallas home.
This year, as Southern Style Now moves into charming Charleston, one of the country’s most elegant cities, I couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come in our short life, and of the national attention we’ve drawn to legitimate Southern design. And I couldn’t be more excited about what (and who) I see as the future of Southern design—a future that will be shining brightly in the hundreds of designers, manufacturers, vendors, and design aficionados joining in this year’s festivities.
Hallelujah. Hellman’s users all.