Silk Diplomacy: UK Ambassador's Wife Is Setting a Pattern

After moving to Israel for her husband's posting as the British ambassador, Gould turned her business experience and a lifelong love of photography into a self-titled line of luxury scarves.

Tomer Apelbaum

A short time after moving to Israel in 2010 as the wife of the British ambassador, Celia Gould opened a personal Instagram account that afforded a glimpse of her new life in the Levant. Her handful of followers could learn that she has given birth to two daughters (Rachel, who is now 2 1/2, and Emily, 1 1/2), that her favorite building in the world functions as a type of camera obscura (the Pantheon in Rome) and that lately she has begun to design scarves based on the photo archive she has amassed during years of traveling all over the world.

It’s a significant change for Gould, 38, who grew up in Muswell Hill, a suburb of north London, and studied economics at Cambridge and development economics at SOAS, University of London. She spent most of her professional life in senior positions in banks and consulting firms — she was a recruitment consultant at the Blackwood Group executive search firm and a vice president of equities research at Deutsche Bank Securities — dealing mainly with prospectuses and forecasts, not art and emotions. “Since childhood I have always walked around with a camera in my hands. I’ve always been very visual, but I’ve suppressed that part of myself. And now I’ve found that I’m not suppressing it anymore. So it’s come through very strongly,” she says about the changes brought by the move to Israel and her new eponymous brand of scarves.

A model wearing a Celia Gould scarf

We are sitting in a spacious living room in the ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan. On the table are several lavender boxes with Gould’s new logo. As we talk Gould removes and spreads out scarf after beautifully colored scarf, bearing images photographed in Egypt, Italy, England and France — but mainly in Israel. She began working on them about a year ago, she says, trying out various images, sending them to be printed on silk and satin in Italy and China and filling the house with dozens of her experiments.

Life in Israel, she says, inspired her decision to choose this new route in her life. “It is definitely inspiring being in a country where people are keen to try new things, and are not afraid of failure. It’s very interesting being surrounded by entrepreneurs and people who start up new businesses and new technologies and try new things. It’s really infectious after a while.”

She tends to be attracted to images that are close-up repeat patterns, she says, “such as buildings that look beautiful even if they’re not conventionally beautiful, or patterns of natural things like plants and rock formations,” she says, spreading out a scarf with an image of Tel Aviv’s city hall, the iriya — before a recent renovation, when nearly every window seemed to be a different color. Other scarves show cars stuck in traffic on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway, colorful skeins of yarn from the Carmel Market and the El Al building on the city’s Ben Yehuda Street. When she loops them around her neck, the original subject of the photo disappears, replaced by fantastic new colorful patterns. A field of sunflowers suddenly looks like a leopard print, and Brutalist-style buildings become the soft lines of contrasting shades. As she displays them in the garden of her home on this wintery day, her husband, Ambassador Matthew Gould, is happy to volunteer to hold them.

A Celia Gould scarf showing a meadow in the Niccone Valley, Umbria, Italy

One of her favorite scarves shows a close-up of a peacock spreading its feathers. “It’s a sort of inversion of what’s already done. Peacock feathers are used in textiles a lot, it’s a very traditional thing to use. But actually having a photograph of a peacock is almost like inverting the thing. Textiles have already taken the peacock motif and made it something that is not related to nature — it turned it into a design — and this is like reclaiming the peacock back as a peacock. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you,” she says.

When she talks about the label she uses terms from the world of business development, such as “target customer” and “brand values,” together with artistic concepts. She sees a great similarity between the business she started and social media networks that are based on images, such as Instagram and Pinterest.

“It’s actually saying, ‘I’m going to wear a photograph, and photographs are how I communicate and how I convey what I like and what I am,” she exlains, as the family’s Labrador retrievers, Poppy and Sophie, rub against her high boots. She describes her ideal client as an educated, influential woman who waits in the first-class lounge at Heathrow for her flight to Zurich. The prices of the scarves are accordingly high, ranging between 180 pounds and 220 pounds (1,124 shekels to 1,370 shekels, or $280 to $345) each, according to her brand-new website, www.celiagould.co.uk.

Is she concerned that potential customers might be deterred by the Israeli content? “It’s a brand about high living, affluence, success, travel, beautiful things. It’s not a political brand in any way. And I will do my best to distance myself from that sort of context. But I’m very well aware that I live in Israel, therefore people will look at what I’m doing with a certain slant. So I feel like I have to go a bit further to distance myself. I don’t want to get dragged into that. It’s a separate conversation that has nothing to do with the brand. I’m doing everything to keep out of politics. I’m not a political campaigner through fashion.”

Celia Gould and her husband, British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould

Since the brand is deeply connected to your travels, what are your favorite destinations?

“In Italy, we have a house near Perugia, in the Niccone Valley, so it’s in Umbria basically. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Actually, both of these are from Umbria,” she says, spreading out two large scarves. “These are sunflowers from around our house, it’s amazing. And this is a little meadow near the house. Where else? Megève in France, in the mountains, Cairo and London.”