Author Linda Jane Holden to Release New Mellon Style Book Fall 2021

Written by Shayda Windle

“Timeless,” is how author Linda Jane Holden responded when asked to describe
Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon’s aesthetic, so poignantly portrayed in her latest
book, “Bunny Mellon Style.”

“Bunny was an influencer on so many levels — from landscape design to art, horticulture, and the homes she designed — her style was timeless,” she says. “She took into special consideration space and light both in the garden and in the house. Bunny Mellon’s motto was ‘nothing should be noticed,’ the ethos that everything should blend together as if God had created it.”

© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Used with permission of Isabelle Rey

Holden, a long-time garden historian, first met Bunny Mellon in 2009, after reaching out to the Oak Spring Garden Library for permission to conduct research on the White House Rose Garden. To her amazement, Mrs. Mellon’s staff not only gave her permission but arranged a meeting between her and the American style icon. From their initial meeting at Mrs. Mellon’s Oak Spring Estate, the relationship blossomed, and as Holden began to learn more about Bunny Mellon’s influence on American design, her curiosity piqued. Holden’s quest to learn more placed her on a journey that introduced her to a whole new world of design — one that crossed the lines between horticulture, art, and architecture, for over a century during Mellon’s lifetime.

“Bunny Mellon Style” examines some of the most pivotal relationships throughout Mellon’s life which influenced her timeless aesthetic that still lives on today. Between her endearing relationship with her grandfather, who always pushed her to be herself, and her friendships with some of the world’s most elite, including Jackie Kennedy, Hubert de Givenchy, and Cristóbal Balenciaga, Bunny Mellon reflected a style of understated elegance drawn from the people and places she was surrounded by.

But it wasn’t just the people in her life that influenced her. From her earliest years, Mellon was enamored with the beauty of the natural world and spent summers on her grandfather Arthur Lowe’s farm in New Hampshire, where he nurtured her interests in nature and books. “Bunny Mellon Style” explains how her grandfather “took her on trips to Concord, Massachusetts, to learn and study the world of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne” […] “These early experiences with ‘Grandpa Lowe,’ had been her inspiration for the library she later built at Oak Spring, as with almost everything else in her life,” Holden writes.

Left: Courtesy Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum; photo by Paredes/ Right: Courtesy Thomas Lloyd

Susan Leopold, executive director of United Plant Savers, who worked with Mrs. Mellon on writing and illustrations for “Herbaria,” described Bunny as a woman who was “ahead of her time” and had a “strong sense of style and intuition.” She recalls, “the books were tended like a garden.” Bunny’s library was “created slowly and painstakingly,” as were her gardens; and like her father, she never considered a project done “but always evolving in the process of creation.”

A natural introvert, Mrs. Mellon avoided the spotlight as much as possible, despite the world’s overwhelming interest in her life. “Bunny Mellon Style” takes the reader into the designs of Mrs. Mellon’s many homes, including the Oak Springs estate, her New York City apartment, the flats in Paris, and her homes in D.C., Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Antigua. Her King’s Leap estate on the Caribbean Island is now home to fashion designer Tory Burch, who was “struck by its immense beauty and felt an immediate sense of calm” there, citing that “Mrs. Mellon’s perfectly imperfect approach to her houses, and to her gardens, is a triumph of restraint.”

Throughout the Mellons’ homes and gardens there was not a surface of the properties that didn’t have a touch of Bunny’s influence. In each space, one gets a feeling that there is a cohesive blend of American design with European flair; one that allowed the Mellons to display their overwhelmingly impressive art collection which included thousands of masterpieces, now a part of the National Gallery of Art.

When it came to fashion, Holden writes, “Even today, if you speak to a local Upperville or Middleburg resident, someone who knew Bunny, they will hesitantly admit that her clothes were ‘awful.’” It was during a trip to Paris where Bunny was “introduced to Cristóbal Balenciaga, the Spanish master tailor and great couturier.” After Balenciaga retired, he introduced her to Hubert de Givenchy, who became her primary wardrobe designer and lifelong friend.

“Givenchy would be fitting couture for Mrs. Mellon while conversing about all they had in common — things like art, wine, design, and travel. The conversations would last so long Bunny would have to nudge him, ‘Hubert, get back to the hem!’” Holden shares.

Left: Bunny in the “Basket House” at Oak Spring giving a tour. Middle: Designer Billy Baldwin works a crossword puzzle at the Mellons’ Antigua estate. Photo by Thomas Lloyd.

Mellon and Givenchy became so close that when he became president of the World Monument Fund in France, he sought her expertise in restoring King Louis XIV’s garden at the Palace of Versailles. Holden says Givenchy thought so highly of Bunny’s ideas that they embarked on a project together to understand how these old gardens were developed, created, and could be restored. Mellon funded the restoration of the central basin and the original gate that King Louis walked through. During the restorations, Bunny befriended the gardeners, where she learned from them, and put her skills to practice.

Friends share a picnic [in Antigua]: Hubert de Givenchy, Billy Baldwin, Phillipe Venet, Bunny.

The book includes several journal entries from Bunny, and one, in particular, she writes about the importance of creating “an atmosphere that inspires and one can relate to,” […] she continues, “There must always be a feeling people can take home, even copy or remember later with a positive and thoughtful recall.” This applied to every structure that had been graced by her gentle touch, including the church she had designed and supervised the building of in nearby Upperville.

As Holden writes in the closing, shortly after Mellon passed away in 2014, “auctioneers diverged onto the properties of this twentieth-century arbiter of taste and emptied the contents of her rooms, her closets, her shelves, even what was under her bed” and sold it off at what was dubbed the “Auction of the Century.” Holden questions the success of the auction as a matter of happenstance or “how Bunny had spun the details of harmony, balance, scale and proportion, and the details of her life with results that had turned the design world on its head.” Whichever it is, “Bunny Mellon Style” leaves it to you to decide. ML

“Bunny Mellon Style” is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and is set to launch on November 16, 2021. Holden will be hosting two book signings in November. The first will be held at Creme de la Creme in Middleburg on November 18 from 1-5 pm and the second will be at Second Chapter Books on November 20th from 1-5 pm.  Find out more about the author, Linda Jane Holden, and her other books about Bunny Mellon and horticulture at lindajaneholden.com.

This article first appeared in the October 2021 Issue.

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