Marcelle Savage walks to work. It’s a brilliant arrangement. Her home is only a few blocks away from the clothing store she opened 20 years ago in Cape Town’s Claremont. Studio 8 is an idiosyncratic designer-imports boutique, which over the years has proved that boundary breaking and commercial viability are not mutually exclusive.
There’s nothing predictable about Marcelle or her cosy little cottage. She greets me in what she considers workwear – a black leather-fronted zip-happy fishing jacket from Paris fashion house Damir Doma; a black drawstring-waist knee-length dress by Belgian designer Dries van Noten; and black Prada boots over black tights. ‘I dress mostly in black. It’s my favourite colour,’ she says with an amused shrug.
You wouldn’t think so, judging by the vibrant tones with which she’s surrounded herself at home. They make a glorious medley of jostling contradictions in the living room. ‘I don’t have set ideas about colour,’ she says. ‘If I see a colour I like, I go for it.’
‘I’m quick with my decisions. I choose colours that make me happy, that are comfortable and warm. It doesn’t matter if they clash.’
Somehow they don’t. She places orange, red and yellow plush velvet cushions on a turquoise sofa with a tropical paradise pattern, and they look just as good as the other velvet cushions in vivid colours against black – bold prints with bird plumage and pomegranates – that she puts on chairs done in an even brighter turquoise. The Chinese cabinet hiding the TV is red lacquer, the French country-style cupboard bright green. Pulling it all together are her richly patterned Anatolian rugs with flowers ranging across the rainbow spectrum.
‘I’ve always loved the theatrical magic of fabrics and clothing,’ she says, attributing this to the box of stage clothes passed down from a great-aunt while she was growing up. ‘They were eight sisters and they were all musicians and actresses; quite eccentric. So for me clothes became about dressing up. It hasn’t changed.’ Except that now she plays the dressing up game with labels such as Victoria Beckham’s.
Her family is still what you might call arty, and they’re all there, past and present, on the walls of her home, some pictured in striking photos in distressed wooden frames. They include her sons Simon, who ran the London branch of Studio 8 for seven years until it closed, and Jon, a Cape Town musician and radio personality. The boys didn’t grow up here – Marcelle lived in England for 13 years, where she started off in fashion – but the house is very much a home for her extended family.
When she bought the cottage about 16 years ago it was in bad shape. Fortunately an interiors guru came into her life who could help not only with the renovation but also with sourcing whatever Marcelle was too busy to track down. ‘When I first saw Salomé Gunter’s shop in (Cape Town suburb) Chelsea, Wynberg, I knew we would get on,’ she says. ‘She’s very uncontrived, like me.’
‘I’m not trying to be something I’m not. What you see is what I am.’
Marcelle has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the interior designer ever since. Together they restructured various spaces and have carried on updating them. Walls have been cretestoned. Tongue-in-groove ceilings have been patched and painted. Strip floors have been sanded and given a dark limewash, and the ruined floor in the kitchen replaced with cement and underfloor heating. ‘Cool in summer, warm in winter,’ says Marcelle.
With a dresser holding old family photos and fine crockery, this comfortable kitchen is where she eats, at a long battered farm table Salomé says everyone covets.
In summer when the extended family comes to Cape Town, Marcelle hires trestle tables and turns the long stoep overlooking the pool at the back into a pop-up eating area for the season. ‘There are around 20 of us and growing,’ she adds. ‘I love seeing my two sons together, and my nephews and nieces catching up. Magical.’
Originally published in HL March 2015