A chat with writer, podcaster and shopkeeper Fiona Golfar

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Talking to Fiona Golfar

Fiona Golfar started her journalistic career at Vogue, where she stayed for 25 years as editor-at-large. Her role there has been described as the magazine’s ‘fixer’ – finding and convincing celebrities to appear in its pages, as well as writing, styling and art directing many main features. Since then, she’s become contributing editor for the Financial Times’ award-winning luxury lifestyle magazine How To Spend It and writes for House & Garden, where she gave a guided tour of her home in Cornwall in a recent issue. She’s also co-founder, with Dr Maryam Zamani, of the Guinea Pig Podcast, where the pair discuss their experiences of cosmetic procedures and try new treatments for themselves.

Last, and perhaps most in her present-day life, Fiona runs The Little Shop, attached to Fowey Hall Hotel in Cornwall. Here, she curates an eclectic mishmash of items, ranging from pottery and aromatherapy oils to sheepskins, many of them produced by local craftspeople and all of them ethically sourced.

We took the chance to grab a few minutes of Fiona’s time for a chat over the Christmas break.

How did you get started as a writer and editor?

I was a make-up artist with a moderate talent. I was showing my portfolio to the Vogue bookings department. They were never going to hire me, but as I was leaving the office I ran into Alex Shulman who had recently become editor and who I knew a little bit. I asked her to let me see her office, whilst I was in there I heard myself say I wanted to give up make-up and come and make coffee at Vogue. She knew that I was out and about in London and must have thought there was something in the suggestion because she immediately offered me a three-day-a-week deal as a contributing editor to ‘bring her ideas’. In time I started wanting to write and again Alexandra let me try my hand at it. The first time I handed in a piece it was such a mess. I left school at 16, I had no understanding of grammar or structure. But I was a big mouth and had something to say so I had to learn a lot! 

Did you feel at all daunted about starting at Vogue?

I was 100% daunted. I remember my first day there arriving in an outfit I would never have normally worn. It was the early 90s and fashion was all about grunge, but that day I dressed like I was going to a county wedding. I knew it was a terrible mistake the moment I arrived.

I also had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I could not even switch a computer on. 

Did working for Vogue help define your sense of aesthetics and artistic sensibilities or were they already in place?

My aesthetics and artistic sensibilities were already in place by the time I got to Vogue. I had been a make-up artist for ten years and all the time around the fashion and club scene. I had a strong sense of the things I liked and always had. If anything, I brought my world and way of seeing things to the magazine. That was what was so smart about Alexandra Shulman. She had a real mixed bag of people in her magazine and it was that mix that worked so well. Not just one person’s voice.

Looking back at your time at Vogue are you able to pick out some of your highlights and favourite times?

I had so many ‘pinch me’ moments at Vogue. I think the first Venice Biennale I went to was a high spot. When we shot a portfolio of artists and celebrities and I spent a morning photographing Cy Twombly, Richard Serra and Larry Gagosian was a really special moment. Many of the best times, like when I shot a similar portfolio at the Oscars, were so good because the pressure was so intense and the adrenalin was off the chart. You have to use all of your personality to get people to relax and open up in a very short space of time. I loved that aspect of the job. Communicating and being creative.

In running The Little Shop, do you feel you’ve found your perfect role?

I think The Little Shop represents a part of myself. It’s a natural extension of so many of the things I’m interested in. Interiors, fashion, books, art, food. All the things I have in my shop, from the shop fittings from a local antiques centre to the things I sell, I would happily, and mostly already do have, in my home.  

Any firm personal favourites among what you stock?

I like everything I sell in my shop. I really love my Dee Sandford Aromatherapy oils. I have used them for years and actually get excited about people discovering them. I just bought a painting for myself by an artist Andrea Allen who I met through Katie Hillier, who did a J&M Davidson collaboration with her. Her paintings of the countryside have a naive folk art quality which I really like. I also really like Oyuna, a cashmere brand designed in the UK by Mongolian born Oyuna Tserendorji. She produces her collections in Mongolia and works collaboratively with the nomads to help preserve the land and traditions. I also love and adore the local potters I stock. Jennie Hale, who paints the wildlife she sees every morning whilst walking on Bodmin Moor onto her gorgeous ceramics, is my current obsession along with old favourites Cris Prindl and John Webb. Thanks to Bernard Leach, Cornwall has an amazing reputation for its potters. 

Was it worrying to open a small retail business at the height of the pandemic?

If I stopped to think It might have been daunting. I had a lot of support from the hotel. They believed in me and let me get on with it. I would not have been able to do it any other way. I was given an old carriage house in an old stable yard. I painted it white with blue floors like my kitchen at home and strung up some pendant lights. I think lighting and smell are really important in any space. I wanted it to feel cosy and welcoming. A refuge in a way. As ever, I just ran on instinct and adrenalin. I think, if anything, the lockdown helped me. I got in touch with so many people I have worked with over the years and asked them if they had any stock they hadn’t been able to sell due to closing over the early months of lockdown. They were all really happy to have a Cornish outpost. So I had Mouki Mou, Caramel, Katie Hillier, Tate Books, Celtic & Co and many more who, thanks to pre-existing relationships, were happy to stock The Little Shop.  

Has it helped you feel much more part of Cornwall?

I think the shop represents the way I feel about my life in Cornwall. I am from London, so much of what I know and love is from there and further afield, but I love Cornwall too and spend the majority of my time here. So much of what I sell is made by people I have met here, and so much is from my other life. That represents who I am too. In a way, a shop is rather like a magazine, there has to be that mix. For me it’s always been about having a really broad range of interests and contacts. 

Do you now consider Cornwall home?

Cornwall is home when I’m here, London is home when I’m there. I’m the sum of both parts. 

What are some of your favourite spots in Cornwall?

My favourite walk is along the cliffs in the south from Lansallos to Lantic Bay. Cornwall is huge and every corner has a story to tell, but that is my patch. It comes with my husband’s family growing up here and it holds my heart. 

Fitzroy Of Fowey and North St Kitchen opened last year and changed our lives. The owners have Westerns Laundry in London and the fresh sustainable menu is always incredible. 

St Agnes is where my best friend lives. It has a great surfing beach and we walk up to Canteen and have lunch whenever I’m there. The whole village has a great laid back surfer vibe. 

How do you choose what you stock in the shop?

The shop is a cornucopia of all the things I love. I follow my nose. I find things, I listen and track things down, Instinct is everything. Sometimes I wake up in the night and think “What if no-one else likes these things and nothing sells!!!!” But time will tell and so far, so good!

Who are some of your favourite artists and craftspeople, both locally and further afield?

I long to sell Lin Lovekin in my shop. She’s a Cornish basket weaver. I’m a real fan of her organic shapes but she is a one-man-band and I have to be patient. 

Shizu designs are a Japanese mother and daughter who, using traditional Japanese basket-making techniques, transform rocks into art. They use rattan and cane to tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. I am completely obsessed by the strength and fragility of these rocks. I have collected them for years and I give them as gifts to my good friends. They represent the strength and complexity and fragility of relationships to me. 

How did you spend the lockdown?

I was in Cornwall for all of lockdown. It was the most beautiful I have ever seen it. Being in one place and watching the seasons unfurl was amazing and beautiful. I was actually very productive during lockdown. I was writing a lot of journalism and developing some drama projects I’m working on. Between that and the endless cooking I was very busy. 

How would you describe yourself and what you do at this point in your life?

I would describe myself as more creatively stimulated than I have been for years. When I left Vogue I wondered what I would go on to do, but I have realised that I spent 25 years being trained to do anything I put my mind to. 

What does the future hold for you?

Anything I make of it. I’m excited about building The Little Shop. I’m excited about a TV show I’m working on with Alexandra Shulman set in a fashion magazine in the early 90s. I love writing for How To Spend It and House & Garden. There is a lot going on….

Images

The little ceramic plant pot is by Tina Vaia. I love her candlesticks and egg cups. She is a friend of Andrea Allen’s, whose layers of cutouts and paints make up this beautiful Cornish beach scene. The mittens are by And Daughter and the candles by British Standard (I discovered them on Collagerie!).

The exterior of The Little Shop with hand-woven straw and wool Berber rugs, large shoppers from Maison Bengal, rugs from Pendleton and cushions by me.

Lamps and hand-painted shades by Rosi de Ruig. I carry books by friends. Rupert Everett’s new autobiography, Alex Shulman’s Clothes and Other Things That Matter and Nigella’s Cook Eat Repeat. The teapot is by Prindl pottery and the beautiful big blanket by Stone came via Mouki Mou. I sell lovely timeless knitwear by And Daughter and Extreme Cashmere.

My good friend Skye Gyngell of Spring Restaurant has collaborated on a delicious selection of jams and preserves for us. The tea is by ex-editor of T magazine Deborah Needleman. She left her big job to learn craft. She makes exquisite things including this tea from her famous garden.