In an orchard with poppies in bloom, a birthday party in the Cotswolds

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It was a perfectly crafted bag that brought together Melissa Morris, the American founder of London leather house Métier, and Silka Rittson-Thomas, art consultant and creative consultant. About four and a half years ago, Rittson-Thomas (who is also editor of T) bought a Métier Private Eye bag – a chic, roomy style in lightweight leather, with ergonomic spaces for a laptop and other essential elements. She immediately loved it and soon after went to meet Morris in person at the brand’s store in Mayfair. They have been friends ever since. So when Morris mentioned to Rittson-Thomas that the brand’s fifth anniversary was coming up and that she wanted to throw some sort of summer party to mark it, Rittson-Thomas suggested she hold the event at Walcot Gardens. House, his house. in the Cotswolds which she shares with her husband, photographer Hugo Rittson-Thomas.


These gardens wrap around the stone Rittson-Thomas Mansion – part of what was once a much larger property built in the 16th century and at different times in its history owned by the ancestors of the present Earl of Liverpool and the present Duke of Marlborough. (It is believed that in the 18th century the then Duke of Marlborough demolished parts of it to provide building materials for nearby Blenheim Palace.) Exploring the extensive grounds, which Hugo – who bought the property about 20 years ago – and, later, Silka transformed, feels like walking through a series of open-air rooms, each with a slightly different personality. There are walkways lined with manicured yew hedges; a cutting garden currently teeming with hollyhocks, nightshades and heirloom roses; and a thriving vegetable garden, whose rosemary-framed beds grow everything from sorrel to Tuscan cabbage to ornamental pumpkin. These last two areas provided goods for the intimate dinner (prelude to a more formal affair that took place the following night) which Morris and Rittson-Thomas eventually launched, with the help of Cotswolds-based caterer Caroline Gibbs , on a warm evening earlier this month.

Planning the event was not such a leap for Morris. In 2013, after working for brands such as Helmut Lang and Belstaff, she felt disillusioned with the world of fashion and its relentless pace, and considered applying to a cooking school and perhaps eventually opening a cafe. . She had first discovered a passion for cooking after moving to San Francisco in 2005 and discovering, as a newcomer to the city, that hosting dinner parties was a way to make meaningful connections. But before pursuing this potential path, funding came for her own line, a line that would allow her time to perfect each product, and she jumped at the chance. Indeed, Métier products have a reputation for being as thoughtful and meticulously crafted as they are beautiful. Made with carefully selected materials and designed to last a lifetime, they have compartments in all the right places and an innovative modular sensibility: the brand’s smaller bags and pouches clip neatly inside larger ones.

Dinner guests – friends of the brand old and new, including interior designer Charlotte Rey, creative director Betty Bachz, artist Tej Adenuga and model Anna Roborough – first mingled over a section of the lawn which houses sculptural pleated lime trees which can also be seen on the surface of a reflection pool. Here, they sipped a variation of a bramble cocktail incorporating Yola mezcal and homemade nettle syrup by Rittson-Thomas, and sampled fresh parmesan, jamón ibérico and snow peas that they eaten directly from the pods. The group was then led to the corner of a walled orchard with an enchanting carpet of poppies and a large dining table, made from a single trunk of Scotch elm, which was set with white linen napkins, lanterns of a vintage hurricane and, at its head, a vase of lady’s mantle flowers.

The only dish Morris knew she wanted on the menu was branzino al sale, or sea bass cooked in salt, which seemed like a nice way to pay homage to Italy, where Métier’s bags are made, and which, according to her, would give the guests the feeling of being on vacation with their loved ones. “When I think of the best thing about summer and vacation, it’s always this dish,” she said. “You get a bite to eat and it’s very communal – and it’s so fresh and simple.” That simplicity, however, means it has to be perfectly prepared (there’s nothing you can hide “under a certain sauce,” Morris said), but under the supervision of Gibbs, who worked closely with Chef Sean Enslin, it absolutely was. The fish was accompanied by a traditional salad of tomatoes and basil dressed only with olive oil and salt, as well as ricotta beans, lovage and shiny nasturtium flowers, and parsleyed new potatoes buttered. These dishes, too, showed the kind of restraint that demands confidence in its ingredients and its execution. Morris takes a similar approach with Métier, paying attention to the smallest details – she’s found zippers that move like butter, gave her bags slightly rounded bases so they don’t dig into the side of the support and have their designs tested in a facility that simulates 20 years of wear and tear – and lets them add up to something special.

As the sun went down and the poppies started to close (“It’s like they were dancing with us,” Morris said), a crostata topped with wild strawberries and scoops of cream came out in sweetness, a sweet end to a memorable evening. “Just made with love,” Morris said of the dinner. “With everything that’s happened over the past few years, one thing we’ve all learned is that you should stop and celebrate when you can.” Here, she and Rittson-Thomas share their entertaining tips.

Personalize, personalize

Instead of place cards, leather tags in the shape of letters, tied loosely around napkins, let guests know which place is theirs. Inspired by a mid-century stenciled typeface, the tags doubled as bag charms and gave everyone a little something to take home. Morris also had custom cushions made for the benches. Their fabric, produced outside Lake Como, Italy, featured geometric patterns in a dark colourway. “I thought it would be nice against all the red poppies,” says Morris.

Opt for elegant touches

As Rittson-Thomas sees it, silver is an easy way to elevate any tablescape. During dessert, additional creme fraiche to be poured over the crostata was served in antique silver jugs of satisfying weight, which contrasted attractively with the natural grain of the wooden table and the wildness of the environment.

less is more

It pays to heed this oft-repeated but often ignored advice: “Never cook when your guests are around,” says Morris. “If you’re worried about something burning, your guests will feel it.” Along with taking the time to plan carefully and prepare ahead of time, she recommends sticking to a simplified menu. “Keep it simple,” she says. “Then you don’t need to do the same.”

Let the season guide you

Morris lived in Berlin for a period, during which she adopted the typically German and sometimes fanatical penchant for seasonal produce, a penchant that Rittson-Thomas, originally from Germany, shares. Berliners speak breathlessly, for example, of the arrival of Spargelzeit (“asparagus time”) and Erdbeerzeit (“strawberry time”). For dinner, the women chose to make the fava bean dish because there was an abundance of leafy legumes in Walcot’s garden, where the berries for crostata were also grown.

Less stress

Once you have prepared, arranged and organized as much as you can, there comes a time when you just have to relax and sit back with the possibility of any eventuality, be it bad weather or plates fallen – and, most importantly, have fun. Remember that guests are there because they want to be. And, adds Rittson-Thomas, if you’re hosting in your own space, try not to worry about how others might perceive your choices. “I just think you shouldn’t worry too much about how you entertain yourself, because it’s your home, you know, and your home is you.”

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