Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Summer in the city - style inspiration from Roman Holiday

I know it's a bit of a cliche to name Audrey Hepburn as a style inspiration but she does make it look so effortless and so many of her roles really demonstrate the transformative potential of clothing.

So it was a complete pleasure to stumble across this video on Youtube of Hollywood costumier and fashion legend Edith Head talking about her designs and work with Hepburn on her breakout movie Roman Holiday (which you can currently watch for free on Youtube here - get it while you can!).

Head was the most honoured costume designer in the history of the Oscars and I heartily recommend watching any film she was involved with - she knew how to pick them! And her sketches and illustrations are almost as glorious to look at as watching the actresses move around the screen in the real thing.

Costume design for Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina by Edith Head via Indie Fixx

Costume design for Bettee Davis in All About Eve by Edith Head via Indie Fixx

Costume design for Grace Kelly in Rear Window by Edith Head via Indie Fixx
She was also the inspiration for the character of Edna Mode in The Incredibles. Head had her signature look down pat from a fairly early stage in her own career - the round glasses, blunt fringe, pulled back hair and perfectly cut two-piece suits or jackets slung over crisp shirts.

Edith Head at work via Moviestarmakeover

She was also, by all accounts, a completely fascinating woman to talk to. She'd be on the list for my fantasy fashion dinner party alongside Mrs Shilling.

Rather good illustrated Edith Head quote by Indie Fixx
For solid, no nonsense advice on style, your first port of call should be Head's How to Dress for Success. (There's some great extracts on the Daily Mail website of all places though I think you should buy the book rather than visit the Mail).

It is her vision for the runaway Princess in Rome that's my style inspiration for the hot sticky summer we've been having in London.

Don't feel like you have to cut all your hair off - a quick and simple ponytail should have a similar effect. Or leave it long if the weather is cool enough to not bother you.

A full skirt with a belt at the waist and a light cotton shirt or t-shirt is hard to beat. Hepburn's shirt goes through a number of iterations in the movie: buttoned up all the way and full sleeved, sleeves rolled up and collar open with a neck scarf, and my favourite - collar popped and bare necked. She also changes shoes - from smart pumps to roman sandals.

Prim and proper early on in the movie
With the original necktie from above plus rolled sleeves

From an early screen test with popped collar and striped neck scarf

Open collar

The skirt does need to be a decent length if you, like me, enjoy cycling around the city in the summer as it helps to preserve one's modesty while still letting in a bit of a cooling breeze - a bit of cool air up your skirt on a hot day is the kind of innocently illicit pleasure that makes life worth living and trousers can never really compete on that front.

It's an almost universally flattering combination. You don't need Hepburn's teen tiny waist to pull it off, I promise - just go for a narrower belt.

If you don't feel like you're tall enough for a longer skirt a/ you're probably wrong and b/ this combo still works if you adjust the proportions so shorten the shirtsleeves for a shorter skirt. Be aware that long shirt sleeves + short full skirt can err a bit too far towards schoolgirl which is fine if you're going for a Harajuku feel, but not very Hepburn-ish.

You can dress the whole thing down with a denim jacket or up with a tailored one and soften it with a cardigan. It's really very versatile. Skirts like this, with the all important hip pockets that I think are really essential, aren't all that easy to find at the moment sadly especially at a reasonable price. Ideally, they need to be lined and made of a non-synthetic fabric - cotton is best in summer. My favourite was from a Margaret Howell sample sale and I'd buy another one if I'd ever been able to find it again.

Right now I quite like these even though most don't have the pockets:
Stripe Lucia skirt by Tara Starlet - £68

Roksanda Ilincic Tilton wool-cleb crepe skirt - £775
Asos full midi skirt in scuba - £38
50s circle skirt by Vivien of Holloway in a huge variety of colour options - £45 (would be my favourite if it had hidden pockets)
Organza insert calf skirt by Topshop - £48

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Fashion kickstarter of the month: the Buckitt bag

image via Buckitt.co.uk
I am a bit addicted to Kickstarter. I love seeing how innovative and inventive people can be when they really have some of that good old cheesy passion. I've even gone as far as backing one or two projects, but usually I end up buying a product I first discovered on Kickstart once it's gone into production.

The Gilf was one of my favourite buys - a small piece of plastic that screws onto and tripod to hold your iPhone. It really helped change the way I produce video for work and it's proven useful so many time. 
But I'd never seen a fashion project that really got my thinking about pulling out my credit card. Until now...

I struggle a lot when it comes to bags. I lust after bags I could never, ever afford, many of which are highly impractical (yes, Chanel, I'm looking at you). I used to like Mulberry and even started eating packed lunches to try and save for one, but prices have gone up and the Bayswater has become both ubiquitous and a bit Boden mum-ish. 

Finding a handbag that really works for me has been considerably harder than finding someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. 

What I want is something that isn't too easily identifiable but still desirable, quite simple in shape and construction without too much hardware, big enough for a laptop and/or some shopping, made from the kind of leather that gets better with age and doesn't need to be looked after much and shows evidence of real care in its construction. And it has to go with pretty much everything and look a bit cool. And be affordable. I know it's a lot to ask. 

As a result, I'm an avid collector and user of canvas bags. They're the low-commitment solution to the handbag problem. A bit like a reliable shag buddy.

A lot of them are looking pretty battered and filthy - they get periodically washed but have a tendency to shrink as they're made of fairly raw cotton. 

So the first line of Rae Jones' Kickstarter pitch really hit a nerve:

"I was encouraged to design the Buckitt bag after becoming increasingly disillusioned by otherwise stylish women using grubby canvas totes, and even supermarket plastic bags, to carry their day-to-day belongings in."

Made by British manufacturers, hand stitched and big enough to carry my life in without looking like that's what I'm doing. Bingo! It's a beautifully simple and spacious design, with no unnecessary hardware and serious craftsmanship in its construction.

Image via the Buckitt Kickstarter
The only problem is that, although undeniably decently priced for what the bag is, I'm scared of spending that much money on something I haven't seen in person, haven't been able to touch, feel its weight, put on my shoulder and look in the mirror. So I'm just backing a tiny amount. But I'd definitely encourage anyone looking for a simple, practical bag to take a gander...

The Buckitt: bags via Kickstarter from £170 (they're going to retail at £270+)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Paris notebook: handmade jewellery from Medecine Douce

Paris is packed with tiny boutiques selling the kind of jewellery that I love - delicate but not too girly, made of decent materials that won't turn your skin green and it's all small businesses selling products they like at reasonable prices.
But although we went in to quite a few of these boutiques, I didn't really see anything that made my heart beat that little bit faster, nothing that triggered a totally illogical desire to buy something entirely ornmental with no real purpose.

Jewellery is different in this respect from most other fashion items. It really is pointless. Shoes, however ridiculous, do serve a function, as do clothes, hats, bags, wallets... but not jewellery.

For my grandmothers, jewellery - proper jewellery - was a real investment. That was its secondary purpose beyond the ornamental. And the best pieces were saved for special occasions. But most women I know don't buy jewellery like that any more. I don't really wear much jewellery on special occasions - it's usually just a great dress with minimal additions. And I certainly don't have the kind of money that would stretch to even high-end costume jewellery of the kind that retains value.

I grew up surrounded by cheap costume jewellery as a result of my grandpa and uncles' jewellery wholesale business. Going to their warehouse was a bit like visiting Aladdins cave, except everything was neatly organised into cardboard boxes labelled in black marker pen with my grandpa's distinctive small caps handwriting. I still have some boxes he labelled as it's one of my strongest associations with him. He was an amazing person to be around as a child and I was thoroughly spoiled. I used to love wearing loads of cheap jewellery. It was fun, and experimental, and quite freeing to just be able to wear it all at once.

However, as a result of this early glut of sparkle, I am now very picky about jewellery. So back to Paris, where the jewellery was lovely but failed to be lovely enough... and then we walked into Medecine Douce (I'm sure that name sounds much better when pronounced properly in French and without the unfortunate Anglophone echoes).
Founded by Marie Montaud in 2000, Medecine Douce moved to Paris in 2007 to occupy its current space designed by architects Flavia Fabbro and Philippe Delannoy.

The shop (image via bijouxmedecinedouce.com)

The MD shop, just off the Canal St Martin, takes up the left hand side of the space and is about the same size as most jewellery boutiques. It's pretty enough, but right next door is the workshop where you can watch people hand making all the pieces. Which is a brilliant idea because for people like me who love that shit it makes it much easier to fall in love with the jewellery. And fall in love I did, with two necklaces from the Faust range. I can only find images of the collar necklace and the bracelet, but the long necklace was probably my favourite of the lot.

Collier Faust by Medecine Douce - 95,00 €

Bracelet Faust by Medecine Douce - 80,00 €

And yet I walked away. Realistically this was because I  had already carefully budgeted all my money for goats cheese and pain au chocolats (food always wins for me I'm afraid). But a week and a half later the necklaces are still haunting me.

There is an e-store but I'm a goofball so I'm going to wait until I can go back and walk in and lay down cold hard cash. It's better that way. Also, there's an incredible bakery and a Maje outlet shop just up the road...

You, however, should definitely visit the e-shop, unless you're lucky enough to live in Paris already. They have some beautiful fine jewellery pieces in the Beaurepaire collection at the moment.

Medecine Douce
10, rue de Marseille
75010 Paris
Monday - Saturday 11am - 7pm

I leave you with this thought for the day: Baby Stingrays!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Paris notebook: Le Fumoir - good food, great cocktails

image from the website of Le Fumoir
I've been lucky enough to find myself in Paris twice in the past month, and both times I've visited Le Fumoir.

I don't know Paris spectacularly well, and hadn't been there in years until I had to go for a work trip in June (I say had to - I was practically jumping for joy when they asked me to go). I went on the earliest train possible so I could have lunch and a bit of a wander with one of my favourite colleagues before we had to meet up with the rest of our group and actually work.

Le Fumoir, just behind the Louvre, was the perfect spot and I would never have discovered it if not for a strong recommendation from a friend. Thank you Martyn!

image from the website of Le Fumoir
We ate lunch from the bar menu - a mushroom salad with a creamy dressing - which was good but not hugely memorable. The cocktails, however, were quite something. And it's a lovely place to just hang out. Given its location it should be packed with tourists and hyper expensive, but it isn't. I think because it's at the back of the Louvre, most tourists just don't get that far. They get sucked into the crowds around the museum and spat back out into the Tuileries and the roads on either side. The foreigners that are found in Le Fumoir tend to be a bit more stylish and/or well informed.  Or those who don't simply follow the crowd.

A few weeks later when we found ourselves walking around the area with a friend who lives in Paris and wondering where to go for a drink, I was rather proud to not only be able to suggest somewhere decent but to also know where it was and how to get there.

We drank zanzibars - delicious concoctions of rum, ginger, honey and lime - and negronis, smoked some cigarettes and listened in on other people's conversations on a warm evening and watched people walking their dogs and the dust blowing around the pathway behind the Louvre. It was all rather nice.

Le Fumoir also has a proper restaurant with a good reputation which I am determined to try on our next trip.

Le Fumoir
6 Rue de L'Amiral Coligny
75001 Paris
+33 (0)142920024

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Glossy box July 2013 review - Seaside Splash

Before we start, I have to confess I am not a GlossyBox virgin. I first subscribed to the beauty samples monthly delivery service about two years ago but abandoned it after a few months - I felt the product selection was slipping a bit and my bathroom cabinet was literally overflowing with stuff I was never going to use.
But I still thought that the idea, in essence, was a good one. GlossyBox is probably the best known of the fashion and beauty subscription services out there and it's pretty slick. For a monthly fee of £10 (plus P+P which takes it up to about £12 ish), you get a beautifully presented box of goodies delivered to your door or desk. Part of the fun is not knowing exactly what's inside.
In theory, the boxes are tailored to your requirements and wants - you create an online beauty profile by answering a few basic questions about your skin type, colouring, product preferences and fragrance preferences. So when the product selection is good and everything works for you, it feels like a real treat. There were a few products I discovered through GlossyBox that I loved enough to buy again - especially this moisturiser by Monu.
But when it's a bit off mark it's pretty disappointing. Which is why I left. After a few lack lustre boxes, the final straw for me was, I think, a box sponsored by Harrods which had namby pamby little samples of products so expensive I could never afford them in a million years, none of which suited me.
But recently, a colleague in my office and a good friend have been using products they got from GlossyBox deliveries so I thought I'd give it another whirl.
This is the first box of my new subscription and I'm happy to report it's a good one!
With great timing, GlossyBox have delivered a package filled with goodies that are perfect for the almost-heatwave we're having in London right now.
My Seaside Splash box came in pretty themed packaging - I'm in the middle of a big wardrobe clear out so the box is being put to good use as a sock organiser in one of my drawers.

The products:

Anatomicals: Spray Misty For Me facial spritz

This is my favourite of the lot - I had a facial spritz revelation in Paris (more on Paris on the blog soon) and my tiny Avene face spray has just run out so it's arrival is perfectly timed. And it feels and smells quite fresh, perfect to shake off that horrible muggy tube feeling that always leaves me craving a shower. Me and this spritz could develop a really meaningful relationship. If only the packaging was just a tiny bit more tasteful and expensive looking. I know looks aren't everything, and being lilac does make it easy to find in my bag and the plastic bottle helps make it cheap (£6). But I do like some quality packaging.
It's got rose, lavender, peppermint and witch hazel in it so should stave off some of the greasiness and spottiness I'm occasionally prone to when it gets hot in the city and pollution gets all clingy like a dog with a deep fear of abandonment. I've been spraying it on myself all day, I can't stop - I think maybe they put some kind of crack in it.

Ciate: paint pot (nail varnish for those who don't speak marketing) in Island Hopping

I don't normally go in for this sort of thing to be honest - nail varnishes just chip and my nails are nearly always different lengths because they break or get bitten so painting them seems a bit silly. Plus glittery  nail varnish is a bugger to remove. But this one is really pretty and summery and goes on much, much easier than most glittery nail varnishes do. The pigment is really good too - I only put on one (quite thick) coat. I'm not entirely sure how to take a nice picture of my hands, but I've tried so you can sort of see the effect...

The bow on the front of the bottle is a tiny bit twee, but we can let that slide.

Nip + Fab: Shine Fix

I was a real fan of Nip + Fab's Spot Fix when I got it in a previous GlossyBox delivery. But their moisturiser was a disaster. The Shine Fix makes lot of claims, as these things are wont to do. Apparently it contains 'microsponges' which target and prevent shine. It also has something called Seboclear (tm) to 'target visible pores'. Both of these sound like those pseudo scientific things they attach to beauty products to make you believe in magic (this does occasionally work because despite all evidence to the contrary I am a sucker for magic).
Shine and visible pores do not bother me overtly, although I do suffer from both occasionally as I have skin and skin does get shiny and it does have pores... but I'm trying it out anyway. Thus far the difference isn't hugely noticeable. My nose might be a bit less oily if I really pay attention. But it hasn't brought me out in instant spots so I'll persist. If it does anything significant I'll let you know.

Alterna: Bamboo Style Boho Waves

This is one of those 'beachy hair' effect sprays that's supposed to make you look like you've just spent the day surfing and your hair has dried in the sun. Like bed-head hair, this is an ideal that is hard to achieve if your hair is quite fine like mine. This spray doesn't work miracles, but I like it. I applied it on partly damp hair this morning, and even after being smushed with a cycle helmet before it had completely dried my hair does seem a bit more oomphy. I like tiny bottles of hair product - I'm more likely to use them because I can carry them around with me. And this one smells nice.

Coola Suncare: mineral sunscreen tinted moisturiser

This was the only real miss for me. It has a decent texture for a tinted moisturiser, but I'm actually not a fan of them usually. Laura Mercier is possibly the exception. I did like the idea of a tinted moisturiser with a mineral suncream included so was willing to give it a go but the colour was a bit off. I didn't even fully apply it before pulling out the Bioderma for a quick removal job.

I'm looking forward to getting the next delivery, but I do need to be vigilant about keeping the bathroom cabinet under control... I'll be giving away any unused products every now and then so stay tuned!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A stay at the Lainston House Hotel and a trip to Winchester

I've been craving the opportunity to get out of London recently. I dream of the open road. Unfortunately, between my job and the other half's crazy project schedule plus mutual fiscal control issues, it hasn't really been possible.

But last weekend I was determined to escape. We had a car at our disposal, we had a bit of money for once and we had at least a day and a half with no obligations.

Faced with all this freedom, neither of us had any idea where to go. In the end we settled on Winchester because I'd been there briefly for work and thought it would merit a re-visit with a bit more time to actually see the town. It's very pretty with lots of history - did you know Winchester was once the centre of England's political power? - and wasn't too far to drive.

But we still had no idea where to stay - staying in a Travelodge-style hotel wasn't really an option. I needed something nice, rather than something that just was. And then my debit card got suspended, so we couldn't book anything online ruling out lots of bargain options.

In the end we settled on the Lainston House Hotel mainly because it looked nice, still had a room available and didn't mind if we turned up late and paid in cash.
The hotel was formerly a country house for one of England's many landed families and the main structure dates back to the 17th century. It's set in 63 acres of land and comes complete with it's very own ruins - a 12th century chapel from an earlier house on the same site. Sounds nice, doesn't it? It looks very pretty too and we were quite excited as we drove up the long, winding approach road.

Approaching the hotel from the car park
However, the room they initially put us in wasn't really worth the £150+ we paid. It was at the very end of the farthest corridor from the main building and felt small and dated. And the bathroom was a bit too all-singing all-dancing - there were coloured lights that moved and changed around the baths and in the shower. And a TV at the end of the bath.
Not really my idea of luxury so we asked to see another room which was pretty similar. However, the third room they showed us was much more what we'd been expecting - big high ceiling, lots of dark wood, shuttered windows overlooking the approach, four poster bed, roll top bath. Really nice.

Aside from the small mound of dead flies by each window - which were quickly dealt with - and a short fire alarm interlude.
Lovely collection of dead flies
The staff were polite and accommodating despite having been asked to show us three different rooms when we'd arrived after 9.30pm. Although I did find it a bit disquieting that we were initially guided to our room by a member of staff who carried our bags, which really wasn't necessary, and then actually waited in the room to be tipped - I haven't experienced that outside of the US before. Is it just me or is that unusual and a bit odd in a British hotel?
The room came with an iPhone/iPod dock so we could play our own music and even set an alarm for the morning via our phones. And the bed was blissfully large and sink-into-able with lots of good deep pillows. Rather than a 'do not disturb' sign, they give you a stuffed owl to put outside your door, which was an odd touch.
I really can't sing the praises of the bathroom enough. The toiletries provided all smelled good and I got up early to have both a wonderful shower and a lazy bath in the morning - I couldn't resist trying them both out!
I was exceedingly happy to walk into the bathroom and find this
Morning bath, complete with complementary copy of the Independent
Breakfast was nothing special - perfectly fine. But the views down through the grounds from the dining room were lovely.
Tarted up a little courtesy of Instagram
We had a good ramble around after we'd eaten, exploring the ruined chapel next to the hotel and examining the slightly grown over outdoor chess set, and then into the hotel's own kitchen garden which provides some of the fresh produce for the kitchen (although possibly not at this time of year as it looked a bit sparse). Plus the added thrill of an aviary full of falcons! It turns out that the falconry is the baby of former cricketer Billy Taylor (and his lovely dog) who has set up a residency at Lainston with his collection of birds of prey. If you fancy it you can even book a day's hunting with the falcons. And there were also owls, which I love, and a golden eagle called Anna.

The chapel

And then we drove off for an amble around Winchester, taking in the ruins of the castle and learning what a sally port was and then visiting the Winchester City Museum which is surprisingly good and the perfect size (quite small). And then we took in the Cathedral and had a bite to eat before driving home. It was only a day but it was enough to feel like we'd been away and blow a bit of the London smog out of my brain.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Beauty purchases: Monu Moisture Rich Collagen Cream review

I first tried this moisturiser by Monu when it came as part of a Glossy Box package. You may have already heard of Glossy Box - it's a sort of beauty delivery service that you can subscribe to. Pay a small monthly fee and get a box of surprises delivered to your door every month.

I signed up for a little while but I stopped being able to justify the expense when the products weren't that fantastic for a couple of months in a row. It can be a bit hit and miss and I always have quite high expectations. However, in the early months of my subscription I did get sent some good things. This moisturiser was definitely the best.

I have difficult skin - it gets very tight and dry thanks to the hard water we have in London but it also clogs up very easily and is prone to a bit of oiliness around the t-zone. In the past I'd always veered towards light, oil-free moisturisers as anything rich seemed to bring on the breakouts and clog up my pores almost over night.
But having chatted to a beauty therapist during a complimentary makeover at one of the concessions in John Lewis, it became clear that I needed to find something rich that worked because my skin was not very happy. I tried various different serums and all that jazz, but a good basic moisturiser is really the key.
And then this came along.

The blurb on the back says: "A rich, luxurious cream to relieve dryness and smooth fine lines."

It claims to contain rose and geranium essential oil to soothe the skin; evening primes and blackcurrant seed oils with fatty acids to repair skin lipids; shea butter and sodium hyaluronate to improve skin's barrier function; natural betaines (if you understand the information at the link please can you put it in layman's terms for me?) to stimulate the skin's hydration process; and plant flavonoids with anti-oxidant action to help prevent pre-mature [sic] ageing.

Honestly, I don't know or really care what half of that is about. Nor do I really need all that anti-ageing mumbo jumbo. But it really does work!

When I use it regularly, I don't find myself absent-mindedly scratching at my face as my skin grows tight and itchy thanks to the crazy air condition/heating combo at the office. And I tend to develop fewer spots and blackheads.

The packaging isn't hugely inspiring, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for on the inside. It even smells nice.

This is the first time I've bought the same moisturiser more than once. I tried something else in the interim between running out of the first tube and buying the second and the difference was really noticeable.

At the moment it seems to only be available online directly from Monu and a couple of other reliable online beauty outlets