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SPOTLIGHT: Florence Broadhurst

Welcome to the inaugural post for our Spotlight Series, where we feature people that have inspired us: bold designers, fellow entrepreneurs, and creative kindred-spirits. In today's spotlight, I'd like to introduce you to–quite possibly–the most interesting woman in the world, Florence Broadhurst. 

Life is like a game of bridge – only a dummy puts all his cards on the table.
— On a scrap of paper

Broadhurst is famous throughout the world for her incredible wallpaper designs from the 1960s and 1970s. By the early '70s, her designs spanned approximately 800 variations in 80 different colors, and her business was exporting her wallpapers across the world. She was a design behemoth. By the time of her mysterious death, she had left behind a legacy, including 530 hand-drawn patterns for high-end, hand-printed and silk-screen wallpapers.

That, in and of itself, would have been a full and incredible life, and I could've ended this blog entry with her wallpaper work. But what made her even more fascinating was the life she led. During a time of global social upheaval, she traveled all over the world, inventing different lives on different continents, complete with different names and different histories. She stepped into each beginning as a fresh role–changing her hair, make-up, and clothes to fit her new character. She lived multiple lives.

She was born in Queensland, Australia, in 1899. Early on, she became a renowned singer, winning in local competitions and performing with international superstars. When her solo career didn't pan out as planned, she joined a theater troupe in 1922. As she embarked on the ship to Singapore, she called herself 'Bobby Broadhurst.' It was her ticket out of rural life. 

Over the course of 15 months, she toured through Asia, performing in theaters throughout Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bankok, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tientsin, and Peking, finally ending in Manchuria. (Also important to note that a "blue-eyed, Anglo-Indian maharaja from Delhi" fell in love with her and shot a tiger in her honor during this time. Right.) While on tour, she established the Broadhurst Academy in Shanghai, offering instruction in various instruments like the violin, pianoforte, banjolele (And what? Qu'est-ce que c'est, this "banjolele?") and other arts like ballroom dancing, voice, and–oh, why not go ahead and throw in–journalism. Naturally. 

And yet, that wasn't enough for her either. After almost dying in a car accident, she returned for a brief interlude in Queensland in 1927. But the 28-year-old didn't waste any time. She flew to England, spent summers in Paris, and married an English stockbroker. Together, they owned Pellier Ltd, Robes & Modes, a high-end boutique in London, and she became 'Madame Pellier', a French fashion maven. 

I’m sure there would be no psychiatric wards if there was more art. People who take LSD must be terribly bored.
— In Australian Home Journal, 1968

As you may guess, she didn't stop there. After she and Mr. Stockbrocker separated, she entered into a romance with a diesel engineer and joined the Australian Women's Voluntary Services during WWII. In 1949, she and her love along with their son, moved back to her native Australia. This time, she became 'Mrs. L Broadhurst', an Englishwoman who painted 200 paintings of the Australian landscape in 3.5 years. Her work was shown in several galleries throughout Sydney, Brisbane, and Canberra. By the time the 1950s were coming to a close, so was her relationship with Mr. Diesel Engineer, and he left her for a woman younger than their own son. Womp.

That didn't deter our Broadhurst. Of course not. She went on to become an authority in Australian design, known throughout her country and across the world. She became a teacher, a printmaker, a sculptor, and a businesswoman–all this in addition to her various charitable endeavors.

Phew.

Sadly, our story comes to a tragic and mysterious end in 1977, when Broadhurst was found murdered in her Paddington apartment at the age of 78. The case remains unsolved, though there are several interesting theories floating about. I told you you'd be fascinated.

With all that, her designs live on today. The company's collection houses about 530 of her original hand-drawn designs, and they continue to print wallpaper and fabric in her patterns. Her art has been used by high-end fashion designers like Akira Isogawa, Nicky Zimmermann, and Karen Walker. You might even recognize her pattern, "Fingers," in Kate Spade's collection a couple of years back. 

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Broadhurst's designs speak for themselves. She was an incredible talent and a truly inspirational artist. Yes, I think her patterns are dynamic and timeless. Yes, her style range is incredibly varied and diverse. Yes, I love her art so much that I would get her designs tattooed on my body. (Oh wait, I already did that...) 

But what makes her so compelling to me–as a designer and entrepreneur–is how boldly she lived life. She was unafraid. She followed her passions–from singing, to performing, to starting an academy, to art, to design, and to establishing her own empire. She traveled the world. She was unafraid to love. She was a person that lived boldly, and she made her life her own work of art.

Cheers to you, Ms. Broadhurst. May we all be just as bold and at least half as fascinating. 

(But minus the tragic unsolved mystery bit. That part, may we all do without.)

Bisous et besitos,
Adette

Citing my sources, yo. Info in this post care of Helen O'Neill's big, beautiful book, Wikipedia, and FlorenceBroadhurst.com.au. Photos taken from O'Neill's book.

Citing my sources, yo. Info in this post care of Helen O'Neill's big, beautiful book, Wikipedia, and FlorenceBroadhurst.com.au. Photos taken from O'Neill's book.