My dream is to write a book about the anthropology of colour.
Francesca Wezel is a colour artisan. She's made shades for everyone from Birkenstock to Prince Charles. When creating her colour collections, Francesca is inspired by landscapes and architecture of foreign countries. It's all about the psychological effect and cultural significance of colours.
Owner of Francesca's Paints Ltd, manufacturer of traditional paint finishes and colourist
LONDON IS …
eclectic, international, inspiring, surprising and exciting
LONDON IS NOT …
MY FAVOURITE MUSIK:
chilled and relaxed
MY FAVOURITE MOVIE:
"A Fish Called Wanda"
MY ROLE MODELS:
Swami Vishnudevananda, Nelson Mandela, David Beckham
A GOOD DAY STARTS WITH …
a walk in the park with my dog
I´M HAPPY WHEN …
I swim in the sea
I WOULD NEVER …
Francesca’s Paints the Somerset Collection
Francesca has always had a powerful relationship with colour, and she learnt to express this talent and awareness through making paint when she was living and working in Sydney in the mid-1990s. She was trained in her craft at Porter's Paints, a Sydney-based company that, since the early 1980s, has made premium paints based on the formulas of the founder's grandfather (Fred Porter). When she left Australia in 1996 and decided to live in England, she interviewed with Farrow & Ball, one of England's oldest paint companies. But the company wanted her to work with what they already had, rather than creating anew. 'I am a colourist - I need my creative freedom.'
I am a colourist – I need my creative freedom.
So she decided to start her own business. Her first collection, Original, was electric with colours inspired by her friends' favourite hues. Pigi's Piggy Pink, Esmerelda's Emerald Green and Donato's Eau de Nil are shades from a fairytale, created in her workshop. Every year, she makes a new collection - the latest is Somerset. 'My boyfriend is from Somerset and we've been walking there a lot.' Bossington Pebble and Selworthy White evoke the county's terrain and architecture.
Francesca Wezel, founder and creative director of Francesca's Paints, is wearing a randomly paint-splashed apron. 'People have wanted to buy it!' she says. It's testament to the hands-on nature of her craft. There's a little paint in her hair and nails, and she's justifiably suspicious of the clean artisan. 'You need to have a little bit of a paint spattering somewhere - it means you're using the product.'
The story of the colour is its formula.
Francesca is a colourist who makes bespoke paint. She and her business partner Camillo - with her much-loved Tibetan Terrier, Bubu, underfoot - have their office and workshop at the Battersea Business Centre. Inside the studio, she is looking hard at a little red box. There are pigments on her worktable, and the red on one of the cards is, to the naked eye, an absolute match. Francesca has a very good eye, though she always invites clients to her studio to discuss colours. 'I have so many clients who have a piece of fabric at home, and they come and talk to me and they say, "this colour is identical to my fabric", and they go back and they're miles off.' She's a meticulous record keeper, as, without a formula, a particular shade can be lost forever.
Spitzkop, Namib Desert, Namibia. Photos taken at 12, 2, 6pm.
White, unsurprisingly, is anathema to her - which is why, after returning to Europe from Australia, she chose to live in London. 'I never thought of going back to live in Italy, because in Italy these days all the interiors are white, so I wouldn't have any reason to be there.' She is fascinated by the way colour use in fashion impacts on interior design. 'There is a lot of black in fashion. Europeans, as people, we have wanted to become invisible. You wear black; you're not so noticeable anymore. As a result of this, interior decoration has changed. We have gone to white, to grey; they're anonymous. Grey is beautiful because it can be so versatile. But white, brilliant white, it's...' She shrugs.
In Italy these days all the interiors are white, so I wouldn't have any reason to be there.
The key to using colour, she says, is to use tonal colours that flow. 'I always say to my clients, "if somebody comes to your house and they go, 'wow', you have done too much."' Her own home is painted with earthy colours. 'Brown, orange, terracotta - my bathroom is shocking pink.'
Born and raised in Italy, Francesca is a world wanderer and her travels inspire her colours. Namibia is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen in my life. It is the most incredible country of "nothingness", where colour is the most important thing. The arid landscape is brought to life in her Namibian Sands collection, with colours called Etosha, Spitzkop and Dune.
Namibia is the most incredible country of "nothingness" where colour is the most important thing.
Many of her products are environmentally friendly: Eco Emulsion and Chalky Emulsion are lead free. The pigments she uses, whenever possible, are natural: red oxide yellow, ochre, burnt umber, raw umber and sienna. To simplify the creation process, she uses the pigments in a liquefied form. In Cameroon she was interested to see people using plants to colour paint. "I saw a plant cut, and a beautiful blue came out. There is great fascination to think that the locals still do things with plants."
It's not just the appearance and psychology of colour with which she is concerned. 'Colours in different countries mean different things... My dream is to write a book about the anthropology of colour.'
Colours in different countries mean different things... my dream is to write a book about the anthropology of colour.
A favourite London place of Francesca's is the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, where she practises and, after training in France and India (a country for which she has a passion), teaches. A holiday in Antigua brought an epiphany about movement and its health benefits, which led her to yoga. 'Yoga is the thing that has had the greatest change and influence on my life.' Yoga has its own colours: yellow is the colour of learning. 'Orange is the colour of burning the ego, which is why Swamis wear orange.' The centre is painted with a special collection by Francesca's Paints, called Sadhana. The colours have Sanskrit names, translated by Francesca into English approximations. Another passion is dance. 'Modern dance is a continuation of yoga.' In particular she admires dancer Carlos Acosta, whom she has seen perform numerous times at the acclaimed Sadler's Wells Theatre in Islington.
Working with other creative minds is important to Francesca. 'I do believe, incredibly, in collaboration.' She has worked with Aleta Bartel-Orton, of Aleta Artisan Fabrics, who wanted to be able to sell paint alongside her textiles: the collections Mughal Spring, Indian Summer and Monsoon Rains are the result.
The Tin Shack collection, inspired by the hinterland of Byron Bay, Australia, was her first collaboration with the noted interior designer Miv Watts. Miv shares Francesca's passion for India, and the result was the duo's exquisite work on the Victoria Hotel, Holkam, Norfolk - inspired by Queen Victoria's relationship with her friend and secretary Abdul Karim. Sadly that hotel is currently closed for refurbishment: 'the thing about paint is you can be deleted in three seconds...' Would Francesca like to see people use more colour? 'In nature there are big strong colours with contrasts. But then people are afraid of living with that. I think it depends on the medium- if you use something chalky, something absorbent, you can dare to use colour.'
Text by Clare Carlin Photos by Peter Clayman, Francesca Wezel