To the Manor Born

In­side the life and de­signs of quin­tes­sen­tial Brit “It” girl In­dia Hicks

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IN­DIA HICKS hasn’t a clue who Drake is when he walks into One at Toronto’s Hazel­ton Ho­tel fully decked out with en­tourage. The shiny pa­tio crowd is play­ing it cool, like hey no big deal. In fact, it is Hicks who is be­ing mobbed. Her fans tend to be well-heeled mid­dle-aged women who look a bit like her, and they are fall­ing over them­selves on the side­walk to catch a minute with the bo­hemian blond.

“Is he a rap­per?” Hicks asks, her head tilted, quizzi­cal af­ter she has obliged the be­seech­ers with self­ies. “Ev­ery­one in Toronto keeps bring­ing him up.”

Hip (and hip hop) are sim­ply not part of the In­dia Hicks brand. Three years ago, the 50-year-old for­mer Ralph Lau­ren model launched her epony­mous life­style brand, which is a stylis­tic com­ing to­gether of her two worlds: meld­ing the quintessen­tially British aristo-quirk of her child­hood with the chilled-out bliss of Harbour Is­land, the pink-sand Caribbean par­adise she and her part­ner have called home for the past 25 years, and where they have raised five chil­dren.

New York mag­a­zine’s on­line fash­ion site The Cut has a ter­rific se­ries en­ti­tled “I Like This Bitch’s Life.” Be­cause some peo­ple don’t just have it all, but they look fab­u­lous do­ing it and are also charm­ing and kind, so you can’t hate them for it. I can think of noth­ing else sit­ting with Hicks, who is slen­der and toned, brim­ming with en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. She possesses the kind of off­hand flaw­less man­ners that only very well-bred British elites can weaponize, with the re­sult that ev­ery­one she meets feels in­stantly at ease and si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­thralled.

Af­ter all, why hide your fab­u­lous­ness? In­deed, the end sheets of her new cof­fee-ta­ble book, A Slice of Eng­land, fea­ture her il­lus­tri­ous fam­ily tree, start­ing with her grand­fa­ther, Earl Mount­bat­ten of Burma, the last Viceroy of In­dia, who was as­sas­si­nated by the IRA in 1979. Her mother is his daugh­ter, the heiress Lady Pamela Hicks; her fa­ther the iconic in­te­rior de­signer David Hicks, noted for his bold graph­ics, vi­brat­ing colour schemes and for be­ing the first to mix up mod- ern and an­tique in the staid sa­lons of the British up­per crust in the ’60s. Fa­mously ex­act­ing in life – “He could be dif­fi­cult,” says his daugh­ter – his decors were play­ful, plac­ing a Lucite cof­fee ta­ble with a Chip­pen­dale chair, for in­stance.

Hicks her­self first floated into pop­u­lar con­scious­ness in a puffy white dress, topped with a flo­ral tiara. Sec­ond cousin to Prince Charles, who is also her god­fa­ther, and cur­rently 678th – give or take a few new royal ba­bies – in line to the throne, she was con­scripted into ser­vice as a brides­maid at his wed­ding to Lady Diana Spencer, an event that stopped time that July day in 1981. Fa­mous at­ten­dants run in the fam­ily: Lady Pamela Hicks served as brides­maid to Queen El­iz­a­beth at her wed­ding in 1947.

Her child­hood was spent in a num­ber of grand houses, first of all Broad­lands, the home of her grand­fa­ther. The prop­erty and orig­i­nal manor date back to the Nor­man Con­quest in the 11th cen­tury; the cur­rent Pal­la­dian-style man­sion was de­signed by Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown in 1754. Then there were her par­ents’ sto­ried es­tates The Grove and Britwell, show­cases for David Hicks’s tal­ents. There were also va­ca­tion homes in Ire­land and the Ba­hamas – a va­ca­tion home in­spired by the Tem­ple of Zozer in Egypt, a fan­tas­ti­cal project also by her fa­ther on the is­land of Win­der­mere in the Ba­hamas.

But the stiff-up­per-lip life­style didn’t suit re­bel­lious young In­dia – she dubs her younger self as “de­fi­ant” – who, hav­ing been turfed out of Gor­don­stoun for en­ter­tain­ing boys in her rooms, set off at 18 to travel the world. She dab­bled in mod­el­ling, and what she calls “her gypsy life” was chron­i­cled in breath­less de­tail in the so­ci­ety mag­a­zine Tatler. At 25, she met her life part­ner (they have never mar­ried), David Flint Wood, a for­mer ad exec who es­caped that rat race for Ba­hamian bliss. They went on to have four chil­dren to­gether, three boys, Amory, Con­rad and Felix and a girl, Domino, and adopted a fifth, a teenager named Wes­ley, a lo­cal boy who lost his mother to can­cer. “I send my kids away to school,” she says of the British board­ing tra­di­tion, “but when you live on a pink sand beach, you know they will be keen to come home to visit.”

It is back to those for­ma­tive fam­ily houses and the vis­ual touch­stones that in­formed her es­thetic that Hicks has re­turned for A Slice of Eng­land. While her pre­vi­ous tomes Is­land Style and Is­land Life fea­tured the cou­ple’s plan­ta­tion-style home in the West In­dies, the lat­est de­tails how they built their new English re­treat, which they call Amer­ica Farm, in Ox­ford­shire. “It is the house the In­ter­net built,” she says of its longdis­tance con­struc­tion. “Lucky, I in­her­ited some fab­u­lous an­tiques, and David is a col­lec­tor, a hoarder re­ally, so it all came to­gether.”

The books are part of her vis­ual sto­ry­telling tra­di­tion. “It was in­tim­i­dat­ing grow­ing up with par­ents who are fa­mous for their taste,” she says. “No won­der I ran away to find my­self. I wouldn’t even call my­self a de­signer un­til about 10 years ago.”

Ag­ing is some­thing she is much more com­fort­able with, though she did start with some great bone struc­ture. Slim and toned, a fit­ness fa­natic and avid run­ner, Hicks is clearly com­fort­able in her skin, wrin­kles and all. “I couldn’t have done this be­fore,” she says of launch­ing the brand with Ger­man in­vestors.

She had pre­vi­ously done a col­lec­tion of scents and can­dles for Crab­tree & Eve­lyn, plus run a cu­rated shop on Harbour Is­land and some hol­i­day rental units there; she was also a TV pan­elist on a show called Top De­sign out of L.A. for a spell. Once a tabloid wild child, she now plays to that past and has pulled it all to­gether and called it her­itage. The items for sale, which range from smart totes to bee­tle-printed travel bags and palm-printed week­enders to can­dles and scents and skin care (nat­u­ral and or­ganic but with act- ives, she says, “as I’m now at an age where I care that some­thing ac­tu­ally works”), de­signer cloth­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions à la Goop, and jew­elry, fine and cos­tume. Es­pe­cially notable is the line of re­mem­brance to­kens (to mark life’s ma­jor oc­ca­sions, sort of like very so­phis­ti­cated charm bracelets). These pieces, as well as the brand logo, a graphic of ro­tated Hs, all bear more than a pass­ing trib­ute to her late fa­ther. Her mother, with whom she is very close, lives nearby their new farm, and some of the nicest pieces (purses, bracelets) in In­dia’s range are named for Lady P. “I’ve got the life ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on now,” she says. “And my kids are now old enough for me to throw my­self into it all 100 per cent.”

Her army of am­bas­sadors, which she calls her tribe, num­ber some 3,000 strong. Home par­ties, which she at­tends when­ever pos­si­ble or does a “vir­tual pop-in” via video con­fer­ence, are the main source of busi­ness in the U.S. mar­ket. Right now, she adds, sales in Canada at In­di­ are purely on­line, though lo­cal am­bas­sadors, whose num­bers are grow­ing, can hold a party to spread the brand word.

She says the am­bas­sadors, mostly in their 40s and up, are all “en­trepreneurs, smart, savvy women. The re­tail land­scape is chang­ing fast,” she adds, “and I love giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to women who might not have the re­sources to pull to­gether the con­cept, the in­vest­ment and the busi­ness plan from scratch.” Each one is an in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tor, she says, pulling what they like from the line and high­light­ing the goods their own way to their own fol­low­ers.

Hicks her­self speaks flu­ent In­sta­gram. Her feed is vi­brant and full of live tours and in­ter­ac­tive ele­ments. She uses the con­tent from cat­a­logue shoots and TV ap­pear­ances, chats with her mother in her gar­den and fam­ily events to craft a world view blend­ing the Caribbean and the English seam­lessly.

As at home in jodh­purs as she is in caf­tans, In­dia Hicks has mas­tered the art of cool. And just in case you were won­der­ing, the new book solves the mys­tery of what Hicks did with that fa­mous brides­maid dress. It hangs in a glass case, along­side her mother’s royal brides­maid dress, in a bed­room at Amer­ica Farm. “I teach my chil­dren, it is part of my busi­ness ethos, and I want to al­ways re­mem­ber my­self how lucky we are. Fam­ily and home are at the heart of my life and the heart of my brand.”

Some fam­i­lies just have more fab­u­lous mem­o­ra­bilia than the rest of us.

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