KDHamptons: How long have you been coming to the Hamptons? Why do you love it so much? Do you come out all year round?
Dianne Benson: I’ve been an East Hamptonite for nearly thirty years. It was the fullness of the seasons and the beauty of the place that captured me…and eventually turned me into an obsessed gardener. If I had to choose the best time of year, it would surely be early spring when our glorious 75 year old magnolia tree is in bloom and everything around us feels so tender. Although I would feel bereft without our Beekman Place city apartment, East Hampton is our home. As proud President of LongHouse Reserve, and also actively involved with many other things like The Watermill Center, the LVIS, various garden tours and St. Luke’s Church. Plus our 16 year old daughter, Skye Qi goes to school here and my gardening etail business (diannebbest.com) is based here, so…. life really revolves around East Hampton.
KDH: Describe your Hamptons home and decorating style?
DB: Our home is a wonderfully eclectic mix of ancient artifacts, contemporary photography and art, carpets gathered from around the world and mostly comfortable furniture from many periods collected in many places. Our huge master suite that looks over the Nature Trail was once a glass-covered olympic- sized pool. A plethora of books makes up four libraries: Literature and Poetry in the official library room, Archaeology and Religion in Lys’ writing room, art and travel covers one high wall of the bedroom and, natch, gardening and fashion in my office.
KDH: Personal style: do you have a Hamptons “uniform”? Which designer do you wear the most?
DB: My personal look is not very different from our home — a diverse collection of designers, accessories and put-togethers — some old, some new, some ethnic — that I switch and change and wear simultaneously. Some of my favorite designers are still those once sold in my Dianne B. stores: Gaultier, Comme des Garcons and Issey Miyake; and I newly like Rick Owens and occasionally splurge on Hermes or Marc Jacobs for Vuitton. It is seldom that I wear any color that is not natural, white or black. My default look is some form of jodphurs or riding pants with varying jackets and boots that do not belong in the saddle. With the blessing of a gigantic closet, I can whip up last-minute looks from disparate sources and wind up looking like me without a designer’s stamp.
KDH: What is your favorite restaurant? Do you have a favorite dish you get every time?
DB: Our favorite East Hampton restaurant, whether it is an occasion or a simple lunch, is unquestionably The Living Room at c/o The Maidstone. We love the décor — all of Jenny’s Swedish touches combined with her taste in art…but most of all, it is the delicious menu that keeps us coming back. At least once a week I need a dose of Toast Pelle Jansson, which is the thinnest slivers of grass-fed beef carpaccio under a layer of greens and yummy Swedish cheese topped with just the right amount of crème fraiche and caviar.
KDH: Describe your perfect day in detail for KDHamptons readers?
DB: My perfect day would be one with more hours than 24.
KDH: How did you transition from fashion to gardening? What inspired you to start The Best @ Dianne B? What is your latest garden great?
DB: Transition from fashion to gardening: It was an unconscious move, really, during my fashion days I expressed myself with style in the form of clothes and then that same palette became a garden instead of an outfit.
The fashion world of the 70’s and 80’s was filled with inspiration and there were no such things as stylist’s assistants or corporate considerations to over-burden what was a wonderfully free and creative process. My first store on Madison Avenue sold great clothes from Paris, Japan and New York. Then I opened three more stores in what was just becoming the art center of New York, SoHo, including a great big concrete minimalist Comme des Garcons store. No regular advertising for me — I teamed up with artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman and published images in Interview. They were exciting days. So are these.
KDH: Your own garden has been included on several house tours, what is so unique about it?
DB: My garden differs from others in that it is all about plants and personality and not very much about flowers; in fact — there is no such thing as a ‘flower bed’ — the whole property is a kind of layering of texture and shape and color. But I am hugely into bulb planting, so come spring there are plenty of tulips, iris, fritillaria and hyacinths in great swathes. Then, in summer I adore lilies of all kinds and not just the obvious big white Casablancas. Instead I am much more into species and Turk’s cap types, which are more mysterious and come in an amazing spectrum of color. Tubers of the arum family are another exotic thing — I especially collect and nurture bizarre Jack-in-the-Pulpits. I carry the same principles into my clients’ gardens — layering and texturing as if the landscape were one big outfit.
KDH: What is your best kept secret about the Hamptons?
DB: Well, most of my secrets are too clandestine to reveal; but cranberry picking just in time for Thanksgiving in the Napeague dunes is one little pleasure that I can share.
KDH: Why haven’t you written another book?
DB: Well, in way I have been writing the sequel to DIRT: The Lowdown on Growing a Garden with Style in my NewsLetter and blog, DIRTIER, which has been published since the inauguration of my web site (www.diannebbest.com), The Best @ Dianne B. Soon I will elaborate on all these essays and combine them into one new and funny volume that I hope will become a cult classic like my first book, DIRT.
KDH: What are your plans for the Holidays? Travel or staying out East?
DB: Our highlight is the Christmas Eve service at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church on the East Hampton green, where all the family — except our darling dogs Flora Pandora and Magnolia V. — participates. Sadly we can only bring them to Church once a year on Pet Sunday at the beginning of October. Each time we opt to travel when the
Hamptons are all decked out, we regret it, so this year we are staying put but are considering Paris for New Year’s.
KDH: If you could have anyone at your Hamptons dinner party (dead or alive) who would you invite?
DB: There are so many friends and colleagues we enjoy entertaining to name names, but of those that are impossible to invite I would choose my heroine, Vita Sackville West. She was an eccentric gardener and writer of great style who did many notable things but is most probably famous for her torrid affair with Virginia Woolf while maintaining a family and happy marriage at Sissinghurst in Kent, England. From her generation, I would also have the tight-lipped T.S. Eliot and glamorous Nancy Cunard. Along with them, I would mix in Dirk Bogarde and John Lennon. Now, that would be a great party.