Monday 26th June 2017

Marrakech with Philomena

An old friend of mine who has written on Neon Cactus quite a few times, is opening a Riad in Marrakech, she worked alongside the talented interior designer Romain Michel Meniere and here she shares her story with us. A small glimpse into their Riad and her tips on Marrakech..

How long have you been going to Morocco?

I have been going to Morocco for seven years now and no sign of the famous seven year itch as yet!

Tell us a little bit about what state the house was in when you found it?

The house was much as it is now in terms of layout but we entirely renovated it and added the master bedroom suite to that was previously a terrace. Despite the fact that it was just a renovation project it somehow still managed to take years until we got everything perfect.

What was your inspiration whilst decorating it?

I worked together with a brilliant interior designer, Romain Michel Meniere, but in a funny way we had no initial inspiration or moodboard. The house always had a very calm feel even before we renovated so we brought that out even more by keeping the look quite minimal and white. It has really become a very calming and relaxing space.

The color palette (or lack thereof) –quite unusual for jewel colored Morocco – was offset by the 1950s furniture we found in the flea markets there. It all started with a metal and glass table actually and the rest of the decoration sort of followed from that.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on integrating our two acres of farm – which is forty-five minutes out of Marrakech – into the Riad Mena concept. It is a fully functioning permaculture farm, so all the amazing organic fruit, herbs, vegetables, cold pressed olive oil, jams and honey from our bees will be brought to the Riad for guests to enjoy there.

Guests can also spend the day at the farm sitting amongst the olive trees, enjoying a raw food picnic lunch, rooftop yoga classes with amazing mountain views or guided meditation in the gardens.

I am really excited to turn theses places into a creative and holistic hub that people can dip in and out of and leave feeling grounded and re-inspired.

What are you top tips in Marrakech?

A secret tip that isn’t in any of the guidebooks is dinner at the private home of a wonderfully sparky Japanese lady called Umiko. She cooks an incredible seven course Japanese meal at hers, by which hers is an old Riad converted to look like a Florentine church, decorated in opulent style. You feel like you are at one of Henry VIIIs banquettes and the food is amazing. It´s a great place to go with a group of friends.

Where do you live at the moment?

Home is where my hat is at the moment, but I am spending a lot of time between Marrakech, Stockholm, Munich, London and Paris.

Favorite restaurant?

In London I truly love Trullo. The food is amazing; seasonal and inventive but not overdone. All the staff working there are real foodies so you always get wonderful recommendations with a perfect wine to match. Ask for a booth in the vaulted ceilinged basement, super fun for a Prosecco and food overdose with friends.

Where is your perfect holiday destination?

New York for an energy / inspiration fix and Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos for a full on relax.

What inspires you?

I find that when I do a lot of yoga I become very inspired as I am more in flow with everything. Ideas and people have a habit of coming to me when I am in this state of openness towards life.

What are your current obsessions?

Bees! I am so excited to have my own beehives in the country and start making lots of different types of delicious honey.

Favorite Film?

The Little Mermaid. (remnant from my childhood…)

You can wear 3 designers for the rest of your life. Who are they?

Christoph Lemaire for Hermès. Understated, amazingly crafted, timeless.

Issey Miyake. His pieces never fail to stand out whilst still letting the wearer stand out more. Plus they are amazingly easy to pack for all my travelling!

by Thiel jewelry. It hasn’t even launched yet but I am desperately awaiting my first necklace, which is of a Buddha head & Karma wheel. The jewelry is all about balance and each piece has an amazing energy. Beautiful talismans for life!

The Riad is currently being feature in the latest copy of Wallpaper magazine!


Anne Koch

Anne Koch, the sister of the wonderful Elisabeth Koch is an ultra hip New York based artist. Koch gives us an insight into her world and shares with us some of the film stills from her eat film series, as well as some of her installation works. I will feature her exclusive jewelry works in the next couple of weeks so keep tuned!

What do you do and how did you end up doing it?  I do a lot of things: on the side of my work as a Production Designer for fashion magazine and advertising campaigns, I also create my own wearable sculptures out of precious metals. I have my own line of luxury silk bedding called Anne Koch by Kumi Kookoon, and am expanding this to include wallpaper + home goods. I am a filmmaker and a performance artist, the most recent film showing at Miami Beach Art Basel in December 2011. I can’t really say how I started something as they are all intertwined.  Everything starts with a thought. And then I execute it.

[Anne Koch, above]

What are you working on at the moment? I just finished filming a few of my art performances in India, so am editing these. Designing my Fall/Winter bedding collection, rugs, wallpaper and upholstery. Of course photo shoots are always a constant.

Who are your favorite artists/designers at the moment? I adore + strongly admire Laurie Anderson + Kate Bush ; they really paved the way for performance artists and they deserve credit as such. John Maus is a musical + lyrical prodigy, and to behold him on stage will blow you away. Cindy Sherman. Marina Abromovic. Giorgio Di Chirico is a huge inspiration of mine. As for fashion designers….. My top three current collections are: Celine SS12, Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2012,  + Miguel Androver FW12 .

What makes you laugh? Animals, and people with a wonderful sense of humour + humility.

How would the people who know you best describe you? You should ask them.

Who/What is the love of your life? Sir William Sugarplum, my rescued German Shepherd dog – he was abandoned at the age of six months, he is such a wonderful soul.

Perfect holiday destination? Hm… that depends on my feeling at the time.  Two months ago I was in Canada dogsledding, which was a perfect holiday destination. A few weeks ago I was devouring my experience at Fort Ahilya in Maheshwar, India, in all its full glory. Another perfect holiday destination.

What’s your favorite New York hangout?  I have to say it’s still the Boom Boom Room.  I will never get over the view, the décor is pure decadence, dripping with lust, with just the most perfect lighting. I just take a corner by the fireplace + on champagne bubbles float away…

What annoys you? Smokers, animal cruelty, misleading purposefully.

What is the best advice you’ve received? To follow your heart. Our parents taught us this.

What are your current obsessions? Mylar balloons, masala chai + ikebana!

You can wear three designers for the rest of your life. Who are they? I incorporate quite a few designers into my life daily. I am a collector of Rei Kawakubo’s (Comme des Garçons) work, I love Martin Margiela, Viktor + Rolf, Bernhard Wilhelm. ThreeAsFour have a beautiful philosophy that I resonate toward.

Last fashion disaster? I don’t really have them. I always really like what I wear at the time.

What can we find in your fridge? I eat mostly raw, living foods, so you will always find organic vegetables like celery, arugula + baby lettuces. Occasionally cheese, which I really cannot live without, and organic milk chocolate – probably due to my Dutch genetic-makeup system!

What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you? Wow – what a question! Probably LIFE!  Life really is the most exciting thing to have happened as long as I can properly remember, I mean – we are on one of the most magnificent planets in the whole universe! There are SO many colors + textures, so many different shades of light… so many ideas + shapes to shift…  I can go on + on… we live in a very exciting time!

What is your guilty pleasure?   I don’t consider pleasure guilt.

What’s on your bedside table? I am currently reading ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins + Christopher Bird which is honestly the most amazing documentation + research by scientists in the 1970’s about the emotions given + received by living plants. They know everything about us! Watch out + be kind to them.  And ‘The Way of the Explorer’ by Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who journeyed into outer-space on the Apollo and ventured back with an uncommon wisdom of our minds. He is incredible.Those books and a glass of white lilies – their perfume lulls me to sleep.

What do you talk about with your hairdresser? I cut my own hair.

Who do you admire? My incredibly talented brother Bastiaan Koch, who is an Oscar-winning film-maker in San Fransisco, and my beautiful + successful sister Elisabeth Koch who was working a corporate job in Brussels in order to find her real calling as a hat-designer in Beijing! All that + raising two children – I mean… I take my hat off to her.

What can we expect from you next? I am creating an installation and will be performing at the Allegra LaViola Gallery in NYC this summer, and I am continuing to create my short art films, + jewellery, some of which can be seen here. My brother and I are writing a film together that he will direct, and that I will act in. Of course I will continue to production design for fashion photo-shoots throughout – So happily busy!

Balloon installation, 2009

Public art installation “shaped lines” october 2009 NYC (above)

Still from eat (caviar) Monte Carlo, Monaco

Still from eat (pizza) London, England, UK

Still from eat (caviar) Monte Carlo, Monaco

from “eat (egg)” at the Dia Arts Foundation, in Chelsea NYC

Still from eat(apple) Bikaner, India

Still from  eat (ice-cream cone) St. Petersburg, Russia


Erin Barr

Erin Barr is a New York based fashion designer. Her clothes are impeccably cut. The collection shown below is for Fall Winter 12, and the inspiration behind the collection is the idea of this Angel who has fallen to the Earth, and is stuck in purgatory at the Boardwalk. There is this contrast between the dark and light, the soft and hard, and the pure and impure. Most of the fabrics are luxury silks, wools, and cotton blends. The lace is a silver embroidered lace, and the embroidery is hand-cut leather and silk paillettes on top of Indian tulle.

Erin was very much into the idea of contrasting this darker girl with the pure, honest one, in this collection. There is still the sense of ease that you saw in the Spring Summer 12 collection, but this time she brought a bit more softness into the mix, which was inspired by the fabrics and the moodboard a lot, as well. Here we catch up with Erin for a little bit of personal insight into her life.

[Erin Barr]

What do you do and how did you end up doing it? Fashion designer- womenswear.
Gradually the steps I took in previous years led me to the ultimate ‘ah-ha’ moment when you know you are just supposed to do something. First, I went to college for fine art (painting/sculpture), but then I started doing hair and makeup after attending Aveda in Minneapolis. Being from Wisconsin, fashion design wasn’t really a career path accepted there. I gravitated towards it by doing hair/makeup because I would look at magazines constantly and just be enamored by the editorials I would see. Then I moved to NYC, and it just became obvious that I wanted more, and that I COULD do more. So I went back and finished my BFA in Fashion Design. It was risky to do, leaving my career behind, but it’s the best decision I’ve made so far.

What are you working on at the moment? Right now we are starting Fall ’12 production, while simultaneously starting the Spring/Summer ’13 collection… which I am so excited about!

Who are your favorite artists/designers at the moment? My favorite artists are Rauschenburg, Frank Stella and Cy Twombly. I love their works. As far as fellow fashion designers, I’m always watching what is happening. Lately I can’t get enough of J.W. Anderson out of London. I want all of those clothes!

Where can we find your clothes? Right now Spring/Summer ’12 can be purchased on wondermode. Then Fall/Winter ’12 will hit a few stores in the US and in Jakarta in August/September this year…

How would you describe your design process? I’m such a visual person, so I always start with loads of inspiration (photos, tear sheets, texture, etc.), then I move to into deciding color and fabric. And I go from there!

What makes you laugh? My dog, Birdie. He is the funniest little guy and has so much personality.

What are your 4 favorite things about living in NY? The fact that I don’t need a car and can just ride my bike or the subway anywhere, the great food/restaurants, the access to amazing art/museums, and of course, the fashion.

What’s your favorite NY hangout? Mother’s or Pete’s Candy in Brooklyn.

Are you a tea of coffee person? Coffee, definitely.

What inspires you? Travel, films, music, family, and friends.

Where’s your perfect place to get down with a good book? My perfect place is in my bed, pajamas on, all noise off.

Best advice you’ve been given? Who was it by? My brother once told me, ‘just do what’s best for YOU’, because I can tend to be a ‘people pleaser’ and it stresses me out. It’s important to have control over your life, and I try to remember that.

Favorite film? “Lost In Translation”

You can wear 3 designers for the rest of your life. Who are they? YSL, J.W. Anderson, Celine.

Last fashion disaster? My favorite Rag & Bone silk top ended up in the dryer recently and shrunk two sizes. Oops!

What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you? It would have to be when my fiance, artist Anton Zolotov, proposed.

What’s on your bedside table? A biography on Peggy Guggenheim.

What do you never leave the house without? My cell phone and keys.

Whats the craziest thing you’ve seen in NY? I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in the 8 years that I’ve lived here. And this isn’t necessarily crazy, But the one that comes to mind right away is a homeless girl drugged out on heroine holding a puppy on the subway while she nodded off. And the puppy just kept licking her, like he really loved her. Just the contrast of her being homeless, nodding off on drugs, but then this puppy had all of this love…that’s the stuff that just throws me.

Whats your token dish that you cook for friends? I don’t have a ‘token dish’, but I do make a mean Margarita, which are great for the hot NY summers.




Sara Blake

I caught up with artist and illustrator Sara Blake living in New York about her tatoos, beautiful works and life in general.

When did you get your first tatoo?  I got my first one as SOON as I turned 18. I’m such a sucker for love so my first one was this terrible celtic love knot on my shoulder given to me by the first love of my life. I learned my lesson very quickly, thank goodness… no more tattoos that mean things about other people. That one has long since been covered up.

What inspires you for them? Now they are mostly just aesthetic for me. They are just big decorations. I love all the color. My artist Steve Boltz is known for his really clean, bold lines and amazing use of color so I think, first and foremost, I’m inspired by him and his art. I’ll have to caveat that I do have a couple small ones that mean something. On my wrists I have “since feeling is first” after my favorite E.E. Cummings poem. I’m ruled by heart, for better or worse, and for the most part I’ve learned that I always know what is right in my heart before my head. It’s a reminder to feel everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly—to let my feelings guide me.

How many more can we expect? As many as it takes to fill up the rest of my skin! I have my stomach, ribs, feet, palms, some fingers, and my neck left. If you ask my mom though, I’m trying to keep some negative space.

What stories do they tell?  I don’t intentionally get tattoos with meaning, so not much. All my stories have been in the experience of getting them, hanging out at the shop and Steve’s apartment, and from wearing them out in the world, which for me is more exciting than trying to force meaning into something. They have meaning based on when I got them in my life and the people who got to know them with me first.

[Profile of Sara Blake and her collection of tatoos]

What do you do and how did you end up doing it? I’m an illustrator or an artist, whichever you prefer. I’m not sure exactly how I got here other than I’ve always known I wanted to do art since I was a wee person. It’s just something that I always need to do for myself. I’d do it whether I got paid for it or not.

What are you working on at the moment? Nothing. I’m taking a break. Just kidding, that’s not true. I still have 87 more girls to draw for my 100 Girls series and I’m working on launching a scarf line that has been taking forever since I’m managing everything from the marketing to production to the packaging myself. We’re on the home stretch though! A few more weeks…

What makes you happy? Running brings me joy. Finishing a new work brings me a sense of peace. I think I’m still trying to figure out what it is that makes me happy. Maybe balance?

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Recently it has been the opportunity to try and grow. The hope is that good work will naturally follow, but work cannot be the focus. I think I’ve been putting the cart before the horse for a long time.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Right here in New York—or in Paris. Paris, Paris, Paris…. one day.

What’s your favorite hang out in New York? My coffee shop on Sullivan Street called Local. I’ve gone there every day, twice a day for years. It’s my little happy place.

What annoys you? Indecision, both in myself and others. Loud noises.

What inspires you? New experiences. People who live according to their own rules and beliefs and help others realize it’s possible for all of us. People with passion and drive and energy. Nature. Music. Fashion. Food. Anything that awakens pleasure points on a visceral level.

What are your current obsessions? Trying to get a full night’s rest. Taxidermy. Standing desks.

What would you eat for your last meal? My mom’s carrot soup.

What makes you laugh? Ridiculous, stupid, innapropriate potty humor. Really silly looking happy animals that are oblivious to the rest of the world. Experiencing a new sensation for the first time that we don’t have language for.

What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you? It’s always falling in love and always will be. That’s what it’s all about. I think it will be really exciting to fully learn how to love one’s own self too, but I think that’s a lifelong experience. I of course love cheap thrills too. Walking along SkyTower in Auckland was pretty fun (and touristy)! Traveling alone in general is incredibly thrilling.

Who are your favorite artists/designers at the moment? Classics I always turn to: Gustav Klimt, Ernst Haekel, and Wolfgang Hutter. My friends are pretty inspiring too: JP Thurlow, Sougwen Chung, Joshua Davis. Lately I’ve also been loving Serena Cole, Pat Perry, and Yael Balaban.

What’s on your bedside table? Antique fan, moleskin, pencil, phone charger, headphones, water.

How would you describe your personal style? Fashion wise, I’ve been told I dress like a Sith and I took it as a great compliment. All black, sometimes grey or brown. Art wise, I guess freestyle or whimsical, which I think is a product of never trying to be too prescriptive. I don’t really sketch too much before starting a piece. I also love color, so maybe I siphoned all the color out of my closet so I could put it in my work.

What is your personal hideout place/ inspiration location? Wherever my evening run takes me. Usually along the waterfront, and if I’m lucky, right as the sun is setting.

What do you never leave the house without? My glasses (or contacts) and my keys but that’s pretty much about it. I usually have my phone and headphones. I have this giant bag but it doesn’t have much in it. There is something really liberating about running around the city with nothing on you. I think we gals need to start utilizing our pockets more and ditch our purses!

To see more of her work go to her website. 


The Independent Art Fair

Spring weather and a plethora of art fairs hit New York last week, resulting in even more running around this city than is usually done in order to take it all in. The most established of the fairs – The Armory Fair – proved a disappointment for many but there was light at the end of the tunnel in the form of The Independent Art Fair. Tucked in a small building at the bottom of 22nd Street in the midst of Chelsea, the calm atmosphere of The Independent proved the perfect antidote to the large tents in which most of the other art fairs found themselves. With galleries such as Bortolami, Gavin Brown Enterprise and Sprüth Magers taking part, the fair showcased some of the best that contemporary art has to offer at the moment, a refreshing alternative to the more staid atmosphere of the more established galleries. Combined with a rooftop serving great coffee and a view of the Hudson, The Independent is the one to watch when the art world circus starts again next year!

About Philomena : London born German Philomena Schurer Merckoll has finally settled in New York after trying out various cities including Paris, Dublin and Berlin. She is currently living and eating well in Manhattan whilst studying for an MA in Contemporary Art. She will be contributing on everything from current New York events,  insider tips of the city as well other locations around the world. Welcome to Neon Cactus Philomena!

Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham is a New York based fashion photographer, who obsessively documents the streets of Manhattan. At the age of 81, Bill has a hugely impressive portfolio of work, not to mention that his photographs are featured weekly in the NY Times.

“More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It’s the total scope of fashion in the life of New York.” - The New York Times

I watched this documentary last night, I highly recommend it. Bill Cunningham has the most amazing energy and passion towards what he does, he is an anthropologist, a fashion expert and an incredible journalist, this documentary is nothing short of inspiring.


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