Some of the most memorable celebrations showcase a sense of style. Others display joy in an occasion. But ask Hadley Pollet what draws her back to her family's windswept Martha's Vineyard farm for some of her most momentous gatherings, and she'll tell you it's all about a sense of place.
“This farm is its own world,” says Pollet, unwrapping the foil from a dewy bottle of pinot blanc on the small, wooden back porch of her family farmhouse. The late afternoon sun reflects with a glow off the bottle and the adjacent meadow of amber grass. “I've been coming here as long as I can remember,” Pollet says. “I can't imagine a summer without it; it's where the biggest get-togethers with my family and friends have been. And it's where I can be myself — without the pressure of the city and the design world.”
That may be so, but one thing is for sure: Even in such a remote and rustic setting, Pollet, successful designer of her own accessories collection, doesn't leave fashion behind for long. Especially not for a party. Her preference? To fuse the island's natural setting with her own color-splashed signature take on urban chic — and, in the process, create an occasion with style.
Pollet's design sense had an unlikely inspiration: the wallpaper she grew up with. “I have this picture of me when I was little, and the wallpaper looked just like my accessories do now,” she says with a laugh. “It was this sort of bright '70s pattern with huge flowers and big splashes of color. I'm sure most of my ideas are still influenced by it.”
Even Pollet's Boston apartment mimics that aesthetic. Her dining room couldn't be a brighter shade of mint green. The block-print curtains in her living room sport parrots and huge flowers in plum, lavender, turquoise, and red. It's where she does most of the designing for the company she's built from a one-person weekend effort to a $2.5 million-a-year operation selling belts and bags in more than 500 stores worldwide.
“I'd been taking design classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and just decided to wrap some colorful vintage ribbon around a belt buckle,” she recalls. “I wore one out to a restaurant that night, and five different people asked me where I got it. So I knew there would be a demand for them.” From there, she made 12 belts and took them to a local boutique, which sold them all in just a week. Within six months, Pollet's belts were in 50 stores. “Soon we were making so many, we couldn't find enough vintage fabric; I had to start designing the patterns and worked with jacquard mills in Europe to make custom fabrics for me.”
These days, Pollet is busy both growing the business and doing what she thrives on most: designing. “Even so,” she says, “getting away is really important. The island moves at such a slower pace and is so relaxed it just refreshes you. A lot of people envision me as a city girl — and in many ways I am. But I become really tomboyish while I'm there: I can race anybody on the beach in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Going there just grounds me and keeps me down-to-earth — especially when I go with good friends.”
The Pollet family's collection of six seaside houses, set on acres of golden fields, is the kind of pristine but unusual scene you would expect to see if Out of Africa met Coastal Living. The compound has been in Pollet's family since 1892, when her great-grandparents bought it as a sheep farm. “We've had so many great family weddings and reunions out in this field,” says Pollet. “As a setting, it's extremely versatile. And creating a surprising environment on it for dinner parties, you can get really creative.”
So when Pollet started planning the table setting for a summer evening with friends, she first brainstormed on the subject of color. “I always just gravitate to brights and bold, bold graphics,” she says. “But I also really wanted to show some humor in this setting. So I settled on making bodice covers for the chairs, using elements from my bags and belts.”
She immediately got to work, collaborating with a dressmaker to integrate custom-made jacquard ribbons and prints into simple, matching dresslike seat covers (see page 122 for tips) and napkin holders. She gathered simple china and vases to hold flowers found right on the property and chose a medium-sized tent to put over the table. “One of my favorite things to do is, after everyone's had the day on the island, we grab some Champagne and take a walk down to the beach before sunset. Then everyone heads under the tent to relax and eat.”
Pollet loves to cook casual meals on the farm, but she opted to ask for help from Ed Gannon, executive chef of Lure Restaurant at the nearby Winnetu Inn & Resort, so she could spend more time with her guests — close friends, all. For those times when hiring a chef isn't an option, Pollet counsels keeping the menu as simple as possible with foods that can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature — fixings like bruschetta, pasta salad, and bean salads. But tonight, she was happy to turn the kitchen over to Gannon. “Ed's food has always struck me as right in line with my personal style. He takes great foods and gives them flash without covering up their natural flavors. That sort of philosophy is what I wanted the night to be about.”
Gannon, who has cooked at prestigious kitchens from the James Beard House to the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, is all but fanatical about using ingredients grown on the island. “It's the best way to get authentically regional cuisine,” he says. “I still employ lots of international techniques and influences, but the food — especially seafood — stays local. And it always has so much more flavor as a result.”
You'll find no arguments from any of Pollet's dinner guests: After the small cluster of friends makes its way up from the beach, Pollet shakes some of the sand out of her Pradas, pours pinot blanc all around, and passes a plate of Gannon's shrimp with spicy fruit salsa — which disappear immediately. The sunset pours orange light through the cracks in the tent, and guests take their brightly hued, one-of-a-kind, bodice-covered seats.
“It's a very serene place,” says Pollet, grilled shrimp in hand. “The sky and land are so big, and the natural beauty is just so incredible. You can't help but want to create something worthy of it — to be inspired by it.”
How to Personalize Your Party
Hadley Pollet's dinner parties, much like her fashion designs, are sensory experiences. Here are her tips for putting a high shine on your summer shindig.
1. Highlight one thing. Whether you choose the food, location, or décor, start with that and keep everything around it simple. Pollet put her table in the middle of a romantic, windswept field and worked from there, integrating every other component.
2. Find a focal point. Sometimes the best centerpieces aren't the ones in the middle of the table. Pollet chose to decorate each chair with whimsical bodices and skirts (she suggests using old dresses from secondhand stores, which then just need a slit cut in the side). Or even simpler: Use a wide, colorful ribbon as a runner on each side of the table.
3. Tailor your décor to your personality. Pick colors, fabrics, china, food, and flowers that you love. Your enthusiasm for your choices will be contagious. Pollet used fresh flowers from her farm and then added more color to the table by tying ribbons around each set of utensils.
4. Set it outside. Eat dinner at dusk. Sunset will add a candlelike ambiance.
5. Have an equally stylish backup plan. Sometimes Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. When possible, pick a tent or covering that complements your décor just in case.
6. Make it interactive. Add little details to your table for guests to touch and feel. Pollet had her guests untie the signature zinnia ribbon she wrapped around their silverware. You can also put out colorful glasses that match each seat's “costume,” then have guests choose their glass and find the seats that match.
7. Take chances and have a sense of humor. Don't hesitate to use lighthearted details like Pollet's seat covers — or anything even slightly outrageous, from oversized candelabras to piles of conch shells. The more decadent your style, the more times you'll hear, “When are you going to have another party?”
Grilled Shrimp with Chipotle-Mango Salsa
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 minced chipotle pepper from a can (reserve juice)
12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 c. diced mango
1/4 c. diced skinned, deseeded tomato
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. thinly sliced scallion
1. Combine 2 tbsp. olive oil with reserved chipotle juice and marinate shrimp. 2. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients; season. 3. Grill shrimp and toss with salsa. 4. Serve at room temperature.
Sirloin, Fingerling Potato, and Asparagus salad
Serves four to six
1 lb. dry-aged sirloin
1 lb. boiled fingerling potatoes, quartered
1 lb. asparagus, peeled and blanched
1/4 c. chopped roasted shallots
2 c. baby arugula
2 tbsp. white truffle oil
1 leek, grilled
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
4 tbsp. shaved Parmesan-Reggiano
1. Season sirloin and grill to desired doneness. Leave to rest at room temperature. 2. Combine and toss remaining ingredients, except Parmesan, in a bowl. 3. Arrange on a platter with sirloin atop. 4. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan.
Melon Gazpacho with Lobster, Cilantro, and Mint
1 cantaloupe, puréed and strained
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chopped mint
1 tsp. cilantro, chopped
Honey, salt, cayenne pepper to taste
1 c. ripe cantaloupe, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c. ripe honeydew melon, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c. tomato, peeled and diced
2 1 1/4 lb. lobsters, cooked and diced; reserve claws for garnish
2 tbsp. crème fraîche
1. In a small bowl, whisk together melon juice, vinegar, olive oil, mint, and cilantro. Season to taste with honey, salt, and cayenne. 2. Add diced melons and tomato. 3. Divide equally among four bowls and add seasoned lobster meat.
4. Garnish with claws and a dollop of crème fraîche. Serve very cold.
Serves four to six
1 c. fresh tomato, diced
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, cracked pepper
12 slices rustic bread, toasted
1 tsp. fleur de sel (or kosher salt)
1 tbsp. aged balsamic syrup
2 tbsp. shaved Parmesan-Reggiano
2 tbsp. basil, sliced into thin strips
1. Season tomato with oil, salt, and pepper to taste. 2. Arrange tomatoes on toasts and sprinkle with fleur de sel, then drizzle with balsamic syrup. 3. Garnish with shaved Parmesan and basil.
Fennel and Carrot Salad with Radicchio and Frisée
Serves four to six
1 c. pistachio oil (available at gourmet markets)
1/4 c. white balsamic vinegar
2 c. shaved fresh fennel
1/2 c. carrot curls
2 oranges, peeled and segmented
1/4 c. kalamata olives
2 c. arugula
1 c. radicchio, sliced thinly
2 tbsp. chopped pistachios
1 c. frisée
1. Whisk pistachio oil and vinegar in a small bowl. 2. Combine remaining ingredients in a salad bowl and toss. 3. Dress with vinaigrette and serve immediately.
Honey cake with Poached Stone Fruits
3 tbsp. milk
3 large eggs
1/2 c. honey
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
13 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1. Mix milk, eggs, honey, and vanilla extract in one bowl and flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in another. 2. Beat half of butter into dry ingredients, then add half of egg mixture. 3. Add remaining butter, then remaining egg mixture. Beat until well incorporated. 4. Grease and fill six muffin cups. 5. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown or until a cake tester comes out clean — about 30 minutes.
Poached Stone Fruits
1/2 bottle of white wine
1 1/2 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sprigs fresh lavender
1 stick of cinnamon
1 star anise
6 whole cloves
2 pears, peeled and cored
3 dried apricots
6 tbsp. whipped cream
6 mint sprigs
1. Bring the wine, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a very low simmer. 2. Wrap the lavender and spices in cheesecloth and add to pot. 3. Add pears. Wait a few minutes, then add apricots. Remove when tender. 4. Cool the fruits and the poaching liquid separately. Then store the fruits in the poaching liquid. It will keep for up to three days.
Cut poached fruit into wedges. Divide fruit among six bowls. Place cakes on top of fruit, drizzle generously with poaching liquid. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with mint.