Feature There’s no slowing down Christabel Blackburn
In 2017 she launched her Alex Eagle collection combing the simplicity of classic menswear into timeless garments focusing on fabric fit and wearability. Alongside this, Alex oversees Alex Eagle Sporting Club and The Store X, which opened its flagship space inside Soho House in Berlin in 2014, its second outpost in Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire the following year and most recently at 180 The Strand, fast becoming a cultural landmark of London and home to Dazed Media and London Fashion Week.
Driven by a fascination for timeless objects and fashion that celebrates craftsmanship and design over transient trends, Eagle has filled her Lexington Street store with a curated edit of the best fashion, furniture, art, design, photography, ceramics, rare books and other unique curiosities. In 2020 Alex launched her book, ‘More Than Just a House: at Home With Collectors and Creators’ – a curated selection of interiors inspirations from collectors, published by Rizzoli.
Throughout her career, Alex has unearthed and championed new artistic talent. In October 2019, artist Christabel Blackburn was chosen to exhibit at Eagle’s Lexington Street space, presenting 20 new works and impressing with her natural and intuitive talent.
“Her palette is full of cheerful colours; she takes just a few of them, sets them off against each other, usually in combinations that you’d be unlikely to find in the natural world – but which work on her canvas and are a delight to the eye. These are not skills you learn at art school; they spring from natural talent and intuitive connection between eye, brain and brush. It all looks so easy. I don’t know how she does it. It makes me totally in awe of her.”
Success after success has followed for London-based Blackburn, who studied classical portraiture at Charles Cecil Studios in Florence. In addition to being shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award in 2019, she was also named the victor of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (PAOTY) competition last year, securing the prize-winning commission to paint American music legend Nile Rodgers for display in the Royal Albert Hall.
Blackburn says: “I never thought I’d get past the first round of PAOTY (as my previous attempt had proved). This took me completely by surprise and, apart from anything, was the best fun. I got to meet and paint Nile Rodgers, a living legend and one of the nicest people. I flew to his house in Connecticut while seven months pregnant to do a portrait sketch, that I will never forget. I feel very fortunate to be where I am today, to be able to make the art I want to create, in a studio which I love.”
Lockdown hasn’t slowed Blackburn down either. When the UK went into lockdown for the first time back in March 2020, she offered online portrait drawing tutorials and painted dancer and choreographer Akram Khan live, while viewers painted at home. “I packed up my studio and set up in our spare room. It was challenging all being in the same house, but my husband was amazing, and we all muddled through. Painting is like a tonic for me and without it, I’m not sure I would have survived this last year.”
As well as creating a social distancing-themed T-shirt for charity Create, Blackburn also had several sell-out exhibitions with Partnership Editions – something she is hoping to continue this spring with another series of paintings. She says: “I’m steadily working through a year’s worth of portrait commissions. I’m working on some new work on paper for Partnership Editions in May and I’m about to start on a new collection of large-scale portraits.”
Exploring the anonymity of the sitter and their relationship to the viewer and their environment, these portraits will make up a solo exhibition to be held in Central London towards the end of the year. We’ll see you there.
About the champion
Included on the BoF 500 in 2017, 2018 & 2019, Eagle made her name in retail as Creative Director of her eponymous luxury concept store, Alex Eagle Studio. She also oversees Alex Eagle Sporting Club and The Store X, is a Contributing Editor to Suitcase and T Magazine, Creative Director of Eagle & Hodges and Oakley Court and an Ambassador for Women for Women International.