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style icon: florence broadhurst

by Amy Azzarito

So far, out of all my style icons ladies, Australian designer Florence Broadhurst was the toughest nut to crack. And I guess it’s not surprising. She did have plenty of secrets. For Helen O’Neil, author of Florence Broadhurst: Here Secret & Extraordinary Lives, getting to the bottom of what was true about Florence’s life and discerning the truth from embellishment was one of the most challenging parts about writing the biography. O’Neil says that, “One unassailable was is that Florence Broadhurst delighted in making a scene.” The patterns that she became known for – those bright bold flowers – certainly do make a scene. –Amy Azzarito

Image above: Florence Broadhurst photograh and patterns from Signature Prints

Florence Broadhurst was born in Australia on July 28, 1899, in an isolated area of south-east Queensland. Her father worked to create a more genteel life for his family – the Broadhurst girls played tennis and learned needle work. But it soon became clear that Florence had a particular talent for singing and performing. She took private singing lessons 66 miles away from home (she had to take a train to get there!) and loved performing for family and friends. Florence auditioned for and was cast in an international touring theater troupe called the Smart Set Diggers. She was given the nickname Bobby and played the male roll in the troupe. At 22 years old, it was her ticket out of Australia and the start of her personal reinvention.
Image above, clockwise from left: striped blazer $43.49 (on sale!) (similar blazer here), fillsta pendant lamp $29.99, yellow framed mirror $475, wood peacock sculpture $1175, roped in cluster ring $78, faux bamboo chair $695, chinoiserie pillow $64.99, yves saint laurent red lipstick $32, green enamel stone and bamboo bangle $22

After traveling all over the world with the Smart Set Diggers (she even started a dancing school in China for a bit!), Florence settled in London where she opened a dress shop (taking on a French persona). Unfortunately, the dress business was not as lucrative in those years following the stock market crash, and Florence returned to Australia with an English husband and son in tow. Initially, Florence tried to begin a career as a painter, but when her first exhibition received critical reviews, she changed her course and began focusing on public speaking. It was now the early 1960s, Florence and her husband divorced and she changed course again. This time, she opened a wallpaper factory.

Image above: Horses Stampede from Signature Prints

The factory happened by accident. John Lang, a young eighteen year-old artist, was renting a shed from Florence and was short on his rent. When Florence questioned him, she learned he was starting a screen printing business. The story is that Florence immediately told him that his colors were all wrong – that what would sell was bold, bright colors and she decided that instead of rent – she’d take a wallpaper business. After a failed attempt at finding the right printer, eighteen year-old David Bond was hired. He became utterly devoted to Florence and the business, working twelve hour days, six days a weeks. (Added benefit: he was also completely unruffled by Florence’s temper.) Of course, Florence was also a workaholic – sleeping only four or five hours a night. The wallpapers became wildly popular and Florence hired additional designers, but she was always involved – particularly in the color and pattern choices. Florence began having vision problems in the 1960s – she could barely read a restaurant menu.  She would push her designers to make patterns bigger and brighter – quite possibly so that she could actually see them! Even as age was catching up with her, Florence was a vibrant part of the wallpaper company.

Then on Saturday, October 15, 1977, Florence Broadhurst was murdered in her wallpaper factory. She was 78 years old. Her murder remains unsolved. Yet, her patterns remain just a vibrant and desirable today as they were in the late ’60s. Kate Spade recently did a fantastic collection with Broadhurst patterns, and if you love these bright, bold patterns, you can still wallpaper your home with Broadhurst wallpaper.

Image above, clockwise from left: chinoiserie pants $198, brass peacock letter opener $98, chinoiserie wallpaper – palais chinois by osborne & little $90, bobby desk lamp £18.00 (A little nod to Florence’s nickname), gold chinese garden stool $129, brass bamboo console $669, sundry retro brooch $38, laura lamp $475, white mirror $275





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