There's an Indian saying: "We sow our karma in the West and we reap our karma in the East." Well, who knows if that's true, but India herself -- that is, India Hicks, granddaughter of the First Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last viceroy to India --is enjoying a rich harvest from her perch on a dot of island in the Bahamas.
Descended from Queen Victoria, Hicks is 495th in line to succeed to the British throne, so the five-foot-nine beauty -- with wit and charm to burn -- has wisely chosen not to rest on her royal laurels. With two books ( Island Beauty and Island Life: Inspirational Interiors), a hotel restoration (The Landing) and several home renovations recently added to her curriculum vitae, Hicks has also just signed on with Crabtree & Evelyn as creative partner to launch Island Living, a 12-piece bodycare and home collection that debuts this month. At first glance, the pairing of the irreverent royal -- with legs up to there -- who jets off to New York for modelling shoots, Paris for Dior couture shows and Miami for highlights, and stolid Crabtree & Evelyn seems a bit, well, ambitious. But on closer inspection, one wonders what took them so long to get together.
The Crabtree & Evelyn attraction
"I think Crabtree & Evelyn was attracted to me because I've chosen a less-ordinary life," says Hicks, looking tanned and athletic over a breakfast of fresh fruit and yogourt at Cricket Pavilion, one of two guest houses she designed on her island property. "The company doesn't follow trends; it's quite eclectic, and so am I. Crabtree & Evelyn has always admired English heritage; that's one reason this dovetailed into a great collaboration. I was given creative control over every aspect -- from fragrances to retail to collateral copy. Very few companies would have allowed me that. It can't just be someone slapping my name on a product."
Although Hicks is a warm and easygoing hostess -- inviting me along to take her two younger sons to school this morning (the eldest, Felix, is at boarding school in England), tour the island and snoop around her property to my heart's content -- when it comes to product development and design, she's as fierce as a lioness protecting her cubs.
"They wanted me to do potpourri and I said, 'Are you sure?' But they really wanted it, so I said, 'Okay, but can we call it something else?' They immediately agreed. I call it Treasure Box: it's a mahogany-stained box that looks like a pirate's chest, with a treasure map of the island of Eleuthera, pebbles scented with casuarina (a fir tree native to the island), some responsibly harvested shells, a key and even a smiling skull and crossbones. It's something a grandmother could buy for her grandson," she says, nodding toward her sons' rooms upstairs, "for smelly little boys." Another source of inspiration was the interior of her island home, as well as illustrations of red coral from books like Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, a book that she gave to her partner, David Flint Wood, along with an inscription that reads "May we always be surrounded by natural curiosities, those other than our children."
An interior past
As the daughter of famed interior designer David Hicks, with her own background in art and photography, Hicks has a confident eye. A tour of her home reveals an elegant but somewhat cheeky aesthetic, evident in the dynamic arrangement of photos in the dining room ("I move the photos around all the time, depending on how well I'm getting along with the various people in them"), the lacquer-red walls in her upstairs study (a nod to her father's signature colour) and even her choice of canopy bed, named the Lord Mountbatten Tester Bed. ("I pestered the manufacturer to give me that bed so often that he finally did just to get rid of me.")
Hicks' one concern is that the Island Living line looks so striking that people might forget how natural it is. "We've taken out all the bad things, such as parabens, mineral oil and synthetic dyes, and added mango butter and other indigenous ingredients," she says. "Everything is top quality. In the home line, for example, I wanted a 100-hour, three-wick scented candle because the power goes off a lot in the Bahamas and candles are part of the landscape. Some of the best candles have about 10-percent perfume concentration, and that's what we've included in this one. It may seem like a picky thing, but I didn't want rounded edges. I insisted on heavy glass and straight edges because they're more elegant. I knew I wanted a simple-looking line that was reflective of me and the way I live."
Responsible and "green" living
For Hicks, Island Living also means "responsible living" -- respecting the environment is an intrinsic part of the line. "Graydon Carter [editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair] was telling me that his 'Green Issue' last May was the most popular one ever," says Hicks. "I was so moved by the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, that I said, 'Right, no more air conditioning.' There's a family here who has six Hummers in the driveway. I mean, what are they thinking?" Island Living contains no secondary packaging. The candles come in rattan cases that can be used as decorative storage. And the Casuarina Fragrance Diffuser box is modelled after her great-grandfather's duelling case. As for the Spider Lily Body Collection, Hicks' godfather, HRH The Prince of Wales, has given it his royal warrant. "When I started working with Crabtree & Evelyn, I wrote to him and said, 'I'm very proud to work for a company that you recognize,'" she says. In addition, Hicks is donating 10 percent of her profits from Island Living to supporting the attendance of Bahamian children at the local school.
As we lunch on conch fritters at a nearby restaurant, a strong wind is blowing over the pink-sand beach and rain clouds are swelling overhead. The guests on the balcony are hastily making their way inside. Hicks watches the staff lock down the bright blue shutters. "I had fun when I was modelling, but I didn't take fashion all that seriously," she says. "I kept asking myself, 'What am I doing here?' Sometimes I felt so lost. I met David and he told me 'No animals, no children.' Now we've made a home on the island, and we have three sons [Felix, Amory and Conrad], two dogs [Barrel, her "firstborn," and Olympia], a cat [Batman] and a parrot [Jenga]."
Later in the afternoon, the sun is out again and the tide is low as Hicks takes her customary run along the beach before picking the boys up from school and helping them with their school work. ("Homework is David's job, but he's away in Sri Lanka at the moment," she says.) We pass each other on the beach, Olympia maniacally running in and out of the waves and Barrel staying close to his mistress. Without breaking her stride, Hicks opens her arms, taking in the sky, the sea and the pink sand, and says, "This is what Island Living is all about -- just this."