In this series, Justine meets with other makers who share her values, finding common ground and fresh inspiration in equal measure. Tattie Isles is a Dorset-based florist and longstanding JT customer, who made a magical display for our 'Red Celebration' shoot...
“I’m not that into flowers,” says Tattie Isles, which seems a peculiar statement from a florist, “I avoid pom poms, tulips, peonies – and I don’t like ruffles.” What she is passionate about, she tells me, is foliage: seasonal greenery of various colours, lengths, heights and shapes, which forms the basis of her incredible displays.
The display she made for my latest shoot is no exception, an arch of glorious autumnal plants from which you might expect enchanted creatures to emerge – fairies, imps, pixies. I had asked her to make me a wild backdrop, using seasonal plant life to capture the magic of winter. She set to work foraging for the season’s best offerings, using the rusty, golden and fading greens of November bracken – with its leaves that vary from decadent fans to winding tendrils – as a canvas on which to build a subtly festive scene. Rosehips, hellebores, crab apples and pomegranates all made an appearance, and the result was dreamily ethereal.
Tattie, who makes large-scale botanical installations for events, is a longstanding JT customer. She bought one of my early tartan dresses and told me she “lived in it like someone else might wear jeans”. She tells me that her life is very physical, with three kids, several dogs, and thirty chickens, and that her job requires her to be “mostly up a ladder – I’m usually outside, year-round – so I need clothes that are both appropriate for all the elements and which make me feel good.” When she bought another dress from me this year, I looked her up, and a beautiful collaboration happened.
When I think about her not really being into flowers, I realise that I have my own equivalent. I’m not that into fashion! My emphasis is on timelessness and things that last, not clothes that will not only look the part (in style and in quality) for a short period of time.
My dresses nod to the seasons only in terms of warmth – the thickness of fabrics, the length of sleeves, and some colours distinguish autumn/winter from spring/summer. Otherwise I think seasonal fashion is unsustainable, but the opposite is of true of Tattie’s floristry, in which the seasons are all-important. She is, in her words, “all about the moment”, drawing on what nature makes available to her in the place she’s working – be that Sweden in November or Tuscany in June.
Tattie describes her designs as “abundant, earthy yet romantic”, which I think could be a description of my dresses – pretty and practical. She talks about her love of Scotland and its unruly landscapes and about the “strong Celtic spirit” that she feels runs through her. At every family occasion, she says, her father and brother play the bagpipes, and she needs no excuse to wear tartan. The first time we speak on the phone, she tells me she’s wearing triple tartan – skirt, jacket and scarf. My kind of girl!
Our tartan is made especially for us by a small mill in Ireland; our classic Blackwatch tartan changes slightly in size every year, but has become a JT signature. Tattie wore it in the form of our Hackney dress while assembling her display. She also tried the easy-tiered Galway dress in our new “Isabel” tartan – navy-based with red and ecru. I’m glad we got some pictures of her at work, not least because – unlike mine – her creations are so fleeting. “You end up with a masterpiece which lasts a day,” she says, “and then it’s gone. You see it go from nothing to something amazing in a short space of time. It’s creatively rewarding in that way.”