Katerina Furrer—Writer, Strategist
Katerina Furrer—
Writer, Strategist

Oh, Sofia!

I’ve only been starstruck once. The incident, as it’s come to be known, occurred at the LA Film Festival in 2017 – a screening and Q&A with Ms. Sofia Coppola. Throughout the dialogue her self-effacing attitude mesmerised the crowd, riffing about her “lonely trophy wife phase” aka her marriage to auteur Spike Jonze aka her own directorial masterpiece, Lost in Translation.

This came as no surprise. I was, nonetheless, enraptured.

After the main event, my long-suffering husband had to tether me back to earth like a wayward balloon. We headed out to the foyer through a corridor, a kind of waiting in the wings moment as I regained my composure. Wrong (or right?) move. It was there that I encountered Sofia in close proximity, glass in hand walking in my direction. My reaction? An ineloquent gasp followed by a minor cardiac event, swallowing my tongue, and subsequently, my dignity. In the space of 10 seconds I had experienced pure euphoria followed by the blushing shame of celebrity fan-girling.

Naturally, I’ve daydreamed of a do-over. Would it be possible for me to hold a casual conversation with a woman I so admire without melting at her feet? Should you compliment her on her shoes (cute, obviously) or do you shoot your shot and try to convey the immense impact said hero has had on your work, your aesthetic, your interests… your entire identity? In retrospect, my social ineptitude was perhaps preferable to full stalker mode.

I read The Virgin Suicides in highschool, echoing the ages of the characters that hovered over Jeffrey Eugenides’ pages. Coppola’s redux struck a chord. To say Lux Lisbon’s teenagehood was different to my own is a gross understatement. Perhaps I was fantasising about having illicit liaisons on my rooftop but I certainly wasn’t attracting those affections from anyone in my orbit, nor was I held captive by ultra-conservative parents with a fetish for ditsy florals. I was, however, navigating my own brand of fucked-up-shit happening at home. Through Sofia’s lens, the world felt a little more poetic and slightly less alienating.

My interest piqued and crescendoed with the releases of Lost in Translation, Marie Antoniette and Somewhere, films I’ve rewatched to the extent that they feel like memories. As a former fashun gurl, being a Coppola fan eventually came to imply a sense of basic-bitch ubiquitousness, but I was undeterred. What’s wrong with something being so good that everyone likes it? These stories felt that they had been created for me personally – that Sofia has distilled the essential truths of my human experience into gauzy, meandering narratives that made it all make sense. The result always felt ineffable and yet hiding in plain sight. An ability to say nothing while saying everything.

Think what you will of The Bling Ring, witnessing Emma Watson riffle through Paris Hilton’s home in search of Herve Leger bandage dresses and red-soled Loubs was a moment. Who else could we trust to immortalise the insanity of post-Y2K hedonism? To me, the parallels with the 18th century French Court were implicit. Both were dystopian, absurd, unimaginable. And once again – cute shoes, obviously.
As Coppola has matured and evolved, my own trajectory has undoubtedly felt her influence. She’s flirted with fashion and photography, managing to navigate male-dominated gatekeepers without conceding her own viewpoint. Admittedly, her pedigree has greased the wheels of these notoriously cloistered industries, but what nepotism giveth, it can also taketh away. Decades of consistent output are a testament to her doggedness, which I find equally intimidating and encouraging.

As a true disciple, my adulation extends beyond her body of work. If you haven’t seen the lilac Alaia confection she wore when marrying Thomas Mars, it’s time to take a detour via Google Images. While you’re there, it’s worth checking out her ‘90s street style, or better yet, the “I heart booze” baby tees she created for her label, Milk Fed. It was a different time! A different world! But always Sofia making an indelible mark.

From my vantage point, Coppola’s approach to all things in life is one of diligence. Whether she’s on a red carpet, on a film set, or trying to parent a wayward teenager in the age of social media (yes I am avoiding unpacking this entire tangent because it’s a rabbit hole I’m not sure I can extricate myself from), she seems to favour privacy, hard work, mutual respect and a level of human sensitivity that has historically evaded most male directors. Who amongst us can deny this is a yardstick worth aiming for?

I imagine Sofia is a dependable kind of friend. Someone who might show up at your doorstep unannounced with a bottle of hard liquor. These sporadic and unanticipated interactions would keep friendship alive over the decades. No, I don’t have a framed picture of her on the mantle quite yet but you’re not far off. And while I have literally no personal connection with this woman, I do feel that I’ve benefited from the presence of many others that seem Sofia-like to me.

Several years ago, when I suggested theming my doomed nuptials around The Virgin Suicides, a wise girlfriend advised me that perhaps I might rethink the relationship as a whole. Smart because adolescent demise isn’t exactly synonymous with matrimonial compatibility. I feel like every city I move to, I invariably find a new gaggle of women who are equally obsessed with her Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton era. Coppola’s work hasn’t been transient entertainment. For many of us it has been something beautiful to carry one through the inevitable ennui of modern life.

Now in her 50s, Sofia continues to captivate me. There’s a patent curiosity to see her newest work though I’m equally engaged combing through the snippets of interviews and off-handed comments from her collaborators. In a recent interview with The Guardian she is quoted as saying her greatest achievement is, “Making films exactly how I wanted.” Frankly, I can’t aspire to anything more than that. Doing what I want, how I want. So while I might still be a dithering mess were I to encounter her again, I’d hope I could at least spit out a polite “thank you Ms Coppola” and leave it at that. ▪

On Cultivating a Beginner’s Mindset

In the immortal words of Kermit the frog, it’s not easy bein’ green. Fraught with a plethora of meanings, it’s a color that infers different things to different people. One can be green with envy, green on an accomplice, be a green activist, or even green out entirely. My interest in this intriguing hue is its reference to a lack of training or experience, as in, as green as an apprentice searching for a left-handed screwdriver.

Green, when used in this context, seems to carry an inherent negativity – too immature, too naive. But maybe it’s worth reconsidering. What’s wrong with being new, what’s wrong with having none of the answers?

This whole line of thinking came about when I received a telepathic message from Tilda Swinton, imploring me to learn to ride a bicycle. Conceivably a stretch, but after reading The Post and Courier’s interview with the actor, I was beguiled by her attitude towards her career. “What I need is this feeling of not knowing what I’m doing,” she said. “This feeling of a beginner’s mind, constantly.” Curiouser and curiouser. How could this lauded professional, renowned collaborator of Derek Jarman and Luca Guadagnino, still view herself as a novice? Why was that important to her craft? And how did she convince me that my inability to ride a bike was thwarting my creative wingspan?

The pursuit of creativity runs parallel to a desire to do something new. In creating, we transmit our innermost selves and often become susceptible to criticism. We might say, “Hey, I made this thing, now tell me what you think.” Whether you subscribe to the opinions of others or not, making something out of nothing can put us in a space of vulnerability. I find I question myself constantly, mulling over every labored decision, convincing and re-convincing myself of my approach.

This lack of certainty, while challenging, reaps its own rewards. We learn to swap steadfast assurity for wobbly inquisitiveness. And with that, we might be persuaded to look at things differently. Fresh eyes allow us freedom, so why are we so apprehensive to be anything but an expert?

Fear appears to be the obvious stumbling block. We’ve all experienced the unsteadiness of being a beginner – that oh-my-god-I’m-completely-out-of-my-depth lurch in your stomach. Trying something new can feel like a disorientating mix of discomfort and excitement, a perverse ambition to humiliate oneself that simultaneously stokes the embers of resilience you’d forgotten you had.

And so, at the tender age of 35, I bought a bike. When it arrived at my doorstep, I hid the giant box for a week before summoning the courage to unpack it. Honestly, I began to think that the physics involved in balancing on two wheels was some kind of Herculean witchcraft. Before a foot even graced a pedal, my entire emotional being set about convincing me that I was completely out of my depth.

Turns out I had forgotten an inscrutable tenet of the human experience. Sometimes, you will have to do things you suck at. And the only way to suck less, is to get used to sucking regularly, over and over.
Begrudgingly, I put on my big girl pants and took to my back alley with the caution of a retiree on a zimmer frame. Let’s be clear, I was the antithetis of grace in motion. The imaginings I had of gliding along happily from the get-go were quickly alaid. If this cumbersome contraption and I were going to make music, it would take its sweet time.

One particular afternoon I hit a wall, both figuratively and literally. “I can’t do this!” I yelped, exasperated and thoroughly convinced I was missing the bike-riding gene. I proceeded to storm inside and repeat my new mantra until I collapsed in tears. The day’s battle was over, but the war had not been won.

On the next attempt, I was determined to regain control. I groped that unwieldy bicycle like a handsy teenager. It would not defeat me! Until wait, I was back on my ass again.

To spare you the boredom, this went on for months. Afternoons of buoying up my spirits, minute improvements, and then embarrassing relapses. I watched toddlers on scooters whoosh past me and envied their fearlessness. A friendly(?) neighbour even decided to help by jeering his commentary out an open window... “You’re not doing it right!” he cried, to which I almost replied, “No shit, buddy.” Instead I licked my wounds, watched Orlando and rued the day I ever encountered Tilda’s worldly insight.

Then one uneventful afternoon, I just did it. For dramatic effect, I wish there was some emotional breakthrough or labored meditation technique that allowed me to cross the final hurdle, but honestly, I just moved my feet the same clumsy way I had done for weeks and it worked. The wave of disbelief followed by euphoria was indescribable. A natural high! I told every human I came into contact with – I reached out to childhood friends and regaled them of my conquests. I waxed lyrical to my postman. I even decided to move to Amsterdam! Bike riding had become my new identifier, a lifestyle choice as much as a mode of transport.

The point of this long-winded diatribe is that I put myself out there. I failed, repeatedly and without consequence. For years I convinced myself that something as pedestrian as riding a bicycle was beyond my abilities, and in proving myself wrong, I was able to re-evaluate other areas where I might be limiting my potential. I held up the proverbial mirror and saw the cowering of shame replaced by a flicker of pride.

After all, being awful at something isn’t so bad. Now I quite relish the opportunity. What’s far worse is constantly being the smartest person in the room, with nothing left to learn and no secrets left to be revealed. Someone like that doesn’t seem very collaborative – they already have it all figured out, so how can we come together to find new solutions? I’d much rather surround myself with haphazard misfits, such as myself, who have little to no idea what they’re doing. Together, we might just stumble upon buried treasure. Something new that no-one has done that way before. Perhaps that’s the magic that unfolds when we look at things through the eyes of a beginner. ▪

On Underrated Accessories

Socks have a special place in my heart. Ever since my husband introduced me to the joys of well-crafted hosiery, my devotion to the humble sock has known no bounds. They are the ultimate in hygge, maintaining the optimal degree of toastiness while adding a certain panache to any outfit. Be they ribbed, marled, cashmere or of slippery silk, finding the right sock for any occasion can be an elaborate affair, a quest for the podiatric holy grail, if you will. 

Nothing says home comforts quite like a knobbly woolen pair indoors during the winter months. They feel synonymous with roaring open fires, hot chocolates and snogging. Conversely there is no greater sorrow than that of wearing cheap, synthetic socks inside your boots when it starts to rain. As your feet turn to frozen blocks, you rue your stupidity. One could almost say that good socks are an act of self care!

On a trip to London, I acquired a personal favorite – Shetland crew length socks from Anderson & Sheppard. Not, one would say, the most seductive of accessories, but they stand alone my most sensible and beloved holiday souvenir. Their caress is akin to a warm hug; a reprieve from the truculent world outside.

Holey socks are a sign of neglect. I beg thee, give those handworking foot mittens the respect they deserve. Marie Kondo forbids her devotees from even folding them. “The time [your socks] spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest,” she proclaims. “But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension.... What treatment could be worse than this?”
And it’s not just our foot-loving friends that seem underappreciated. Think about the elegance of gloves and how these beauties have been denigrated of late. These days, fingers are woven with tech patches or bizarre openings to facilitate our constant compulsion for cell phone usage. Our hands are no longer swathed in leather and lace as an act of decorum, but instead they seem to have become perfunctory stumps, acting as iphone accessories.

And whatever happened to the muff? (A sentence that even as I write elicits an involuntary chuckle.) The muff was a cylindrical hand warmer popularized in the 1570s, often trimmed in fur to further heighten the cosiness. Looking at Francesc Masriera’s Winter 1882, I think they look simply delightful and I can’t quite fathom why they fell out of favor. Perhaps it has something to do with their reincarnation in the 1940s as Hippo Hands, an iteration developed for frosty motorcyclists which attached to their handlebars. If you ask me, the muff market is primed for “disruption”, as the millennials say.

In a world accelerating full throttle into mindless overconsumption, fuelled by an insatiable thirst for newness, I’m profoundly aware that we’ve never been surrounded by more stuff. Conceivably, in cultivating my own obsession with certain accessories, I’m hoping to imbue these items with greater importance in my daily life. Yes, a pair of socks is perfunctory, but the right pair can most certainly induce love. Or at the very least, a connection between garment and wearer. And in this way, I hope any item can be elevated from functional to something more – something that adds value to my experience of the world, something that cannot be easily discarded. ▪

On Ray Eames & the Art of Entertaining

The Eames’ were not like most mid-century couples. Charles was not the sole breadwinner, Ray was hardly Mrs Happy Homemaker, and they did not live in one of the ticky-tacky houses that proliferated Los Angeles at the time. They were pioneers in many ways, their life and work a distinct reaction to the post-war growth spurt burgeoning around them.

And while they are most well known for their furniture and design philosophy, the more I familiarized myself with Ray’s approach to life in general, the more intrigued I became.

Ray, while often overshadowed by her husband in the press, was an independently creative modern woman. She studied painting under Hans Hoffman and eventually went on to become a founding member of American Abstract Artists in 1936. The New York collective included Josef Albers, Burgoyne Diller and Alice Trumbull Mason amongst others, and set about cultivating an appreciation for stateside abstract art. They were bold modernists who knew that opportunities to exhibit their work would be hard to come by, and so they rolled up their sleeves and built a framework within which to exhibit their art themselves.

Once Ray met Charles, an up-and-coming architect teaching at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940, the pair explored a plethora of new pursuits. From furniture design and architecture, to film making and toy construction, they developed an incredibly collaborative practice that blurred the lines between their individual contributions. They worked as one, seamlessly and without ego.

Ray’s undoubted gift for color and composition guided her every decision. And while some of her contemporaries felt that she had forgone her art, she was quick to reply, “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.” She seemed thoroughly unphased by the opinions of others, eager to forge her own path.

My first physical encounter with the duo’s work came about when I moved to Los Angeles and visited Eames House. I was fascinated by this quirky couple who seemed to march to the beat of their own drum in a period that was distinctly marked by homogenization. Within a year, and with thorough training provided by the Eames Foundation, I found myself a docent, guiding visitors through the property, imparting tidbits about the lives of the humans who made their home there.

The more I observed the house, the more I became transfixed by small details. In particular, the kitchen seemed to be a space that people were magnetized to. There is something unifying about the domesticity of a kitchen – a reminder that no matter how profound a person’s work may have been, they would still sit down three times a day to commune over a meal. And as I was already familiar with how nuanced the Eames’ design practice was, it came as no surprise that Ray was equally as fastidious when it came to entertaining.
The role of the host was at the forefront of Ray and Charles’ approach to everything. Their desire to anticipate the needs of any guest meant that the opinion and experience of every person was considered, be it when designing a chair or preparing a sandwich. Ray, in particular, was meticulous when it came to keeping notes. Not only was she interested in direct feedback, but she paid attention to what people did not say and what their body language revealed.

For instance, when hosting a dinner party, Ray would pay attention to which dishes each guest consumed, what they had been served last time, and what aroused audiblue delight when it arrived at the table. She preferred serving a myriad of dishes on innumerable small plates, meaning everyone at the table could easily reach what they wished to try and politely avoid what they preferred to decline. Tables were festooned with hand-painted place settings and smatterings of flowers in small vases, so as not to obstruct conversation. Outwardly she projected carefree jubilance, whilst always maintaining a watchful eye, eager to understand exactly what worked and what she could improve upon next time.

None of this should be seen to imply that Ray herself was a keen cook or dutiful homemaker. In fact, it seems that her cooking skills were somewhat rudimentary, meaning meals were often a melange of cold cuts, picnic favourites and finger foods. Yet instead of being discouraged by this shortcoming, it fortified her impeccable devotion to her guests’ pleasure and enjoyment. When I imagine a summer picnic in their Pacific Palisades meadow, friends playing with toy prototypes while noshing on cheeses and chocolate cake, I’m reminded that the simple pleasures in life are those that often bring the most joy.

Entertainment was another element of most soirées. Both at the Eames’ home and at the office, visitors were often privy to impromptu film screenings. Ray and Charles always seemed to be tinkering away at something behind the camera and any feedback would of course be catalogued, considered and then incorporated into new edits.

I think the pair both recognized that great ideas can come from anywhere. And as an incentive for constructive conversation, they were both eager to ensure everyone had some fun along the way. That unlike the more pedestrian nine-to-five grind, work could be leisure, and leisure could be wonderfully fruitful.

There is something about Eames House itself that feels innately welcoming. Perhaps it is the enormous panels of glass that allow visitors to soak up every inch of its interior, the happy swathes of primary colours above the front door, or even the location itself; an open field of green, dotted with wildflowers in the summer. It is a space that says, “Hi there, thanks for swinging by! Why don’t you come in and stay a while.”

As the only residence the couple ever built, it remains a testament to their way of working. A beacon of collaboration and a home that to this day feels as though it lives and breathes. Ray had the foresight during her life to recognize the importance of preserving the space, not as a museum, but as an example of another way to do things. For me, it reflects how important she felt the responsibility of the host was – one that centered around entertainment, play and participation. And in a world that feels increasingly marked by digitization and social isolation, her legacy acts as a reminder that human connection is the root of all good work. ▪