Cross Art Deco chic with Scots Baronial grandeur and you get the perfect place in which to talk about the iconic Coco Chanel, a woman who perhaps surprisingly had strong and enduring connections with Scotland.
Last night I was at the launch of Justine Picardie's biography Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life at the Balmoral Hotel (pictured above) here in Edinburgh, and first a word on the surroundings which I noted as I sipped my champagne - the room we were in had parquet flooring, acid-etched mirrors, purple velvet banquettes, that pared down elegance complemented by homely tweed cushions and antlers on the wall. That combination turned out to be very apt, as in her illustrated talk Justine concentrated on Gabrielle Chanel's Scottish connections: as the mistress of the Duke of Westminster, she spent many summers on his vast estate in Sutherland where she turned out to be a dab hand with a fishing rod. Up at Stack Lodge and Lochmore, the soignée designer borrowed her lover's tweeds, donned a Fair Isle sweater and spent her days on the water - and with considerable success as the Lochmore game book (in which she appears next to the Rt. Hon. W. Churchill) testifies. But Scotland gave her more than just congenial company and an absorbing pastime, for as Justine explained, it was in Sutherland that Chanel came to love Scottish tweed and cashmere, both materials she featured in her designs and which are still used by the House of Chanel today.
I happen to have stayed on the Westminster estate (though in a house somewhat more spartan than those in which Chanel was entertained) and I have fished Loch Stack on a wild, wet day and drawn a blank, but things were different in the 1920s! However, knowing that bleak but beautiful landscape, I can imagine the smart Parisienne - albeit out of 'uniform' - relaxed and at leisure there, and the book, which is beautifully illustrated, includes many previously unseen photographs from that period, found in private collections and now made public to offer a glimpse of another part of that famous life and complex personality.
Last night's event was a fascinating and very enjoyable introduction to the biography which I'm now reading with great interest, imagining Chanel in the duke's private train travelling through Waverley Station - in the lea of the Balmoral Hotel - on her way north to the relative freedom of her "Highland sanctuary, hidden by ramparts of cliffs and sheer granite crags, beyond the reach of fashionable chatter or couture collections", and off to the river again.