Palm Beach, Drinking Societies and Island Hopping
Artist and Designer Aldous Bertram on Inspiration and Collegiate Style
Imagine Bertie Wooster - but in the 21st century, and in Palm Beach, and a bit cleverer, and without Jeeves - oh and Cambridge instead of Oxford - and you have something like Aldous Bertram.
Tell us about life at Cambridge.
Over seven years, I experienced every wonderful cliché and anachronism within Cambridge’s ancient courtyards and along the manicured banks of the River Cam. I awoke, usually hungover, just in time for lunch within Trinity College’s Dining Hall, twice the size of that filmed for Harry Potter in Oxford. Procrastination walks and catch-ups with friends in various libraries followed, before returning to my room to get dressed in suit and gown to attend a raucous formal dinner with various, aptly named ‘Drinking Societies’. To avoid suspicion of fun-loving, I had to submit a 3000-word essay once a week and defend it in often grueling one-on-one meetings where my record awkward silence extended to three minutes. Against expectations I brought my A-game to the final examinations and was able to go on to do a PhD and run through the entire student life-cycle all over again.
What's your PhD about?
It looks at the influence of China on English landscape design developments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including garden buildings and architecture.
How did you get into chinoiserie?
I started with an obsession with Chinese history as a teenager. I read endless numbers of biographies and histories of the country before back-packing from Hong Kong to Beijing in 2003. Daunted by the momentous and often ugly reality of modern China, I found myself drawn instead to the magic of chinoiserie, a term which refers to European-made decorative arts inspired by a fake and dream-like interpretation of China. This is exactly what happened to the original eighteenth-century craze for the ‘Chinese Taste’, which was temporarily snuffed out by the West’s discovery of the Chinese reality during the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century.
How would you describe your clothing personal style?
I like to think of my style as a mixture of collegiate preppy and Miami Beach, where I remembered that I was a sucker for neon. I love shawl collars, oxford shirts, bright colors and comfortable fabrics.
You paint amazing murals and watercolors, how did you get your start?
I was actually only a mural artist for a year, as the result of an accidentally successful commission that my now-employer and friend Amanda Lindroth commissioned as a gambit based on scant evidence of my suitability for the task. It was published in House Beautiful and led to some smaller projects around Palm Beach before I renounced wall art in favor of watercolor painting. In the last couple of years, I have been developing my watercolor painting skills and own personal style as an artist. My work is influenced by chinoiserie, antique porcelain and the tropics. I try to present traditional inspirations in a bright and clean way.
How did you end up in Palm Beach?
I met Amanda during a stint as a tutor in Lyford Cay in The Bahamas, where she has a very successful interior design business. A year later I came to Palm Beach to paint a mural in her Worth Avenue apartment. It seemed a natural step to move permanently into her new Palm Beach design studio as an interior designer. This year I was thrilled to contribute pen and watercolor illustrations to Amanda’s forthcoming design book, Island Hopping, with Vendome Press.
What do you love about Palm Beach?
My apartment is a fairly small hoarder’s paradise, so I like to stretch my legs around the town’s palm-lined streets with their towering hedges and endless parades of luxury houses. Palm Beach also has a great collection of small public gardens and parks which are always blissfully empty of people but stuffed with tropical plants and birds. The best can be found behind the Church of Bethesda-by-the Sea, but my current favorite is Bradley Park right at the end of my street, which has been recently renovated with flowering trees and a fantastic Chinese/Pompeian pavilion.
What do you miss about home?
Apart from my family – I am one of five children – I miss the beauty and inspiration I derive from historical architecture and landscapes. These are best enjoyed on an English Summer Day- a species of weather and atmosphere superior to any other place on earth…unfortunately there are only about 25 per year!
What do you like about Rowing Blazers?
The whole aesthetic behind the Rowing Blazers brand has been exquisitely thought out and developed from historical inspirations via contemporary twists to create certain future classics.
Photography by Isaac Wingold