Friday, 26 February 2010

Margaret Howell and Coco De Mer - London sample sales

I am in wonderful, snow covered, open fire, big dinner Yorkshire having a lovely time. But if you are in London, my advice to you is to hotfoot it to the Coco de Mer sample sale tomorrow at 108 Draycott Avenue SW3, as it's the last day and there will be achingly lovely lingerie at up to 90% off. If you see any Stella McCartney in a 32d/medium and are feeling particularly generous, you know what to do. 

I, however, shall be saving my money by eating other people's food and waiting for the Margaret Howell sample sale in March which I just found out about today and is making me fidgety with anticipation. See you there?
(Margaret Howell sample sale, 25th and 26th March, The Music Rooms, 26 South Molton Lane, W1K)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sometimes I long to be the Margaret Howell woman

I am a fickle fashion fan and can't commit to solely loving, or wearing, one designer. But every now and then I wish I had a wardrobe entriely filled with Margaret Howell's clothes.
Although I missed all of London Fashion Week due to a very sad family loss, I have been searching out the shows I desperately wanted to see in the few spare moments I've had online.
Among them was Margaret Howell. Not a headline grabber. Not showy and flashy and most certainly not 'of the moment', Howell has always operated according to her own rules, turning out beautifully cut and refreshingly modest clothes that are easy to wear and make you feel good in your own skin. These are clothes that can be worn sans make-up on a miserable day and still make you look quietly confident and a little insouciant without even trying.
I currently own three Margaret Howell pieces - the perfect breton stripe boxy t-shirt which was an ebay bargain; a mannish blue wide pin stripe shirt found in one of the pricier charity shops in South Kensington; and one of the most expensive items I've ever bought, a below the knee, black cotton full skirt with incredibly big deep pockets on the hip. The skirt, bought last year at a sample sale just off South Molton Street, has become a cornerstone of my wardrobe - a piece I fall back on in difficult times when putting an outfit together seems like a chore rather than something to look forward to but also something I love to wear that feels like me and is suitable for almost every occasion. Plus it has those pockets. I love pockets. Pieces by Howell are that most elusive of things - timeless.
Plus Howell herself is refreshingly down to earth. Here's an excerpt from an interview with The Telegraph last year;
"Loved as she is, Howell is in many ways the antithesis of fashion. How does she fit in? 'I don’t,’ she says simply. 'We do a fashion show in the shop. It’s sort of all right, though I must say that whole week is an interruption of work.
"To me it is such a lot of time spent on certain areas like hair and make-up…
"I’m better out of the way, really.’
"On the day we meet, before my arrival, she has taken her car to be serviced and read a magazine article in the waiting-room about Anna Wintour, the whip-thin, dark-glassed editor of American Vogue. 'Anna Wintour and all that; that’s real fashion, isn’t it? That’s the world. It’s like when they all come to the show and chit and chat and drop all the names – I don’t know any of them – and “Have you got the right bag?” It’s certainly a clique and you feel outside if you are not in it.’ And do you? 'Yes, I do feel outside.’ Do you mind? She looks thoughtful, fiddles her crystal buttons. Then she smiles, 'Not in the least.’"
I am, obviously, a Howell fan and on the strength of the collection she presented at London Fashion Week for Autumn 2010 I can practically guarantee I will remain so for an exceedingly long time. Am particularly enamoured of the pop of red in the final few looks, which was totally unexpected in amongst the palette of soft greys, blacks, browns and blues... Excuse the ridiculous number of images but I am obsessed.

(images via

Today I am wearing a Howell tribute outfit, built around the black skirt with a cropped, short sleeved slate grey cashmere jumper layered over a tucked in grey and black check shirt done up all the way, black tights and crisp white lace-up plimsoles with a vinatge 80's big satin black bow hair clip for a bit of softness.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Beyond the Valley jewellery special

So, a few weeks ago EDF and I were wondering fairly aimlessly through Soho and popped into one of my favourite boutiques, Beyond the Valley on Newburgh Street, to have a nosey around.
Beyond the Valley is a great place to find small labels and really different jewellery and, although they have an online shop, nothing beats a trip to the shop itself as they always have something new on their shelves. Every time I go in I come out itching to buy fabric and make things. Sometimes I even get as far as the buying fabric bit. Right now there's a small bag of creamy diamante studded tulle, the after effect of our last visit, staring at me from a bedroom shelf and making me feel guilty about having failed to turn it into something wearable. 
As ever, this particular trip flagged up a number of great designers I didn't know as well as giving me an opportunity to caress a selection of super soft, fine and witty cashmere knitwear by Kind, which always makes me happy.
Kapow Wow made me want to make things more than any other. St Martin's graduate Mia Morokawa creates crazy ruffled neck pieces that look stiff and hard but are soft to the touch and surprisingly wearable.

Also by a St Martin's graduate (they do get around, don't they?) Momocreatura takes fairy-tale woodland creatures and adds some rather nasty gory touches. I loved the more than slightly macabre pierced animal pendants, brooches and bits and pieces. Bit too dark for regular every-day wear, in fact really quite creepy, but I badly want a piece none the less. 

But my lust-o-meter was really raised by Noemi Klein. Google might confuse her with the No Logo author, but I think I know which one I'd rather be friends with. 
I especially like her twig collection, which would go rather well with my twig horseshoe ring by Alex Monroe.

(images via Beyond the Valley)

Her bird skull pieces are also pretty awesome...

That's all folks.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Fashion week armour on a budget

So, it's the day before London Fashion Week kicks off and I am off work sick. When colleagues come into the office coughing and sneezing I know it's only a matter of time before I am as sick as a dog - whatever anyone has got I'll always get it worse. I think my colleagues think I'm a wimp, but I can't help it. It's all very frustrating, especially because it's been happening a lot recently, even more than usual.
I'm starting to feel more like a functioning human being this evening, but the skin around my nose is red and raw from sneezing, my eyes are watery and my face is puffy and spotty. Forget trying to wangle invitations to shows and parties - I'm more concerned with not looking like cack.
Being stuck at home wrapped up in blankets yet again, and with JFK on the other side organising an exhibition in Japan, I've been reviewing some recent purchases and planning my armour for the shows I've been invited to.
The chief weapon in my arsenal is a pair of ludicrously high dove grey suede, lace up platform ankle boots.  They were a complete bargain, drastically reduced in the sale (the black version was still full price), and will ensure I can see everything from the back row by making me about six foot tall.
I'm planning on dying them black after their first couple of outings, as the grey suede will get dirty in seconds. I've been wearing them while I've been lying on the sofa and pottering about the house to try and gauge how painful they're going to be after a few hours on my feet, and they are going to hurt. A lot. But I think it's worth it.

Carvela Skittle boots

I'll be wearing them with, among other things, a pair of black Acne pre A/W 09 Jasmine trousers - an ebay bargain - with a slouchy claret coloured oversized Nicole Farhi knitted jumper layered over a black silky Cos vest.

pic via Acne Studios

And to top it all off, my new trophy, a huge dark green silk vintage Chanel scarf, another bargain from the Cabbages and Frocks Saturday market in Marylebone.

This whole outfit cost me less than £100. This makes me feel good.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Quote of the week - Anna Dello Russo

The fashion director at large for Vogue Nippon is a serious collector of high fashion. She's among the few who eschew make-up, focusing solely on the clothes, and for me she's up there with Daphne Guiness as one of those rare creatures who can really pull off head-to-toe catwalk looks of the most avant garde order.

But life isn't easy for a serious fashion collector. For serious fashion, just like serious wine, serious books and serious art, needs to be stored properly. It can get pretty intimidating, especially if you start buying voluminous couture dresses that weigh more than a whole creche of children or delicate furs, raw silks and hand painted fabrics.

And so this quote of the week is dedicated to anyone that has to live with Anna Dello Russo. Brrrrrrr.

"Collecting clothes is complicated because the clothes need a space and the right temperature. You really destroy clothes if you leave it there, no? It’s dusty, it’s hot — it ruins the clothes. It’s so freezing in my house! The clothes need to be cold . . . no more than 15 degrees Celsius." Anna Dello Russo via Fashionlogie.

Monday, 15 February 2010

One to watch - Ricardo Dourado

While other blogs are obsessed with A/W 2010 already thanks to New York Fashion Week (best shows thus far for me Rag & Bone and Preen - some New York style mavens might think this is blasphemous but I'm not feeling the Wang), I'm still hunting for my big S/S love.

But if someone put me up against a wall right now and said I was only allowed to wear one designer this season, Ricardo Dourado would be a serious contender. Like Wang, he excels at the off-duty model look but with a more European twist.

30 year-old Dourado is hardly a familiar name in this country, but he's been on the scene in Portugal for four years now. I stumbled across him at Wolf & Badger and it was true love at first fondle.

His 90s grunge inspired S/S catwalk show features light silk jerseys, washed cottons and a muted colour palette. Sadly the youtube video demonstrates how some gawky models can ruin a show. Unusually, the stills actually give a much better idea of the quality of the collection but it is much, much better in the flesh (and on someone with a bit more of said flesh that those models).

His lace-up wedges knock the Atacomas out of the water (I have it on good authority that Elle have called in a blue washed pair for a photoshoot) and the man himself is even nice to bloggers, responding to our emails in person and seeming genuinely pleased that we like his work.

Check out Dourado's blog here.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Alexander Wang, the internet and Alexander McQueen - a few thoughts

Yes, fashion month is back and as hectic as ever. It's had one of the saddest starts in its history, casting a grey pall of tragedy over the entire industry and leaving fashion lovers around the world reeling, but the show must go on.

For bedroom fashion writers like me this season promised to be especially exciting thanks to the increasing number of live streams that allow us to be, this evening, at Alexander Wang's show at New York Fashion Week while simultaneously watching something about the Orwellian future of the web in a warm and toasty living room in North West London with the laptop balanced on top of a sleepy and happy cat.

I'm not sure that video, even a live stream, can ever really convey the true atmosphere of a show - I've been to a few and there really is nothing quite like it. But it is, never the less, exciting. Especially when it's done by Nick Knight's fashion-web pioneering ShowStudio and therefore or impressively decent quality.
I especially like that they're showing people coming into the venue, so you get some of the hum of fashion chatter in the background and can check out the coats being worn by the fashion editors, buyers, bloggers and hangers on as they spill in out of the cold snow-driven New York street (or cushy town car).
While I can't see the point in reviewing a show via pics, stiff and still and removed from their context, the increasing availability of live streaming is really opening up fashion shows to fans of every ilk, from the obsessed to the critical to the casual lover.
However for all this talk of inclusivity and opening up the fashion world to a wider public, what live streaming essentially offers is a two tier display where the favoured get invited to the show and the plebians only get to watch it online and are grateful for it.

The late, great Alexander McQueen in his last interview, published in today's Times, said he imagined broadcasting his future shows live to guests, sending them interactive viewing pyramids instead of inviting them to big catwalk shows. Sadly, the pressure to deliver something bigger, better and faster every season took its toll. I am wary of entirely laying the blame for the death of a man I can not claim to know at the door of the industry, but I don't think it's entirely unfair to say that the fashion monster has claimed one of the brightest of its progeny.

As both my friend over at Layer and Swathes and fashion intellectual Colin McDowell have pointed out, the pressure created by making the next season instantly accessible online before we've even begun to understand (or wear) the previous season's collections is possibly not the best way of creating an environment that can support serious talent. In almost every other industry talent is given time and space to grow, but fashion is relentless in its quest for the new. When everyone in the world has already seen an image of your best piece a million times before it even hits the shops and the ubiquity of information has allowed the high street to copy the next big trend months before hand, the pressure on designers has never been greater. And there are increasingly vast amounts of money and kudos at stake.

I don't think the industry has yet worked out how to handle the internet. It's experimenting and trying, to varying degrees of success, and it has certainly succeeded in creating an amazing online community where fans like you and I can pontificate over collections just minutes after they hit the runway. But by overloading us with information they risk tainting their product through overexposure and devaluing their talent, making their jobs even more demanding and vulnerable.

Sitting here awaiting the start of the Alexander Wang show, part of me can't help feeling that the mystery and magic of fashion is being stripped away.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Chelsea Rebelle - bad name beautiful clothes

Today I braved the grey skies and freezing rain to visit my incredible cranial osteopath in Royal Oak/Bayswater. There are many things I like about going to the osteopath. First and foremost, he makes me feel good. After the half hour session you feel like you've had the most incredible massage except he's hardly touched you. He's done amazing things for my posture and helps me feel infinitely more capable of handling the stress of my job and life in general. At £60 a session it isn't cheap, but it's half the price of an Eve Lom facial and definitely better value for money.
He's also based right by one of the nicest areas for shopping in west London. Five minutes away from the practice are some really very good charity shops on Queensway and Westbourne Grove which boast vast selections of second hand designer and vintage clothing, guaranteed to make me happy. Today I came away with a BCBG Max Azria monochrome print wrap dress that fits like it was made for me. For £10.  
After hitting the charity shops I like to have a little wonder down Westbourne Grove to look at the lovely things in the windows of the lovely shops where things are so beyond my budget it's amazing I can even afford to breathe in them.
The newest of these shops is something quite special. Wolf & Badger at 46 Ledbury Road looks like it's been put together by a museum curator and is full of the kinds of fashion and jewelry finds you dream of. It's the perfect place to pick up up-and-coming designers, or, if you're me, add names to your when-I'm-rich wish list.
The shop has had a lot of press coverage for its unique approach - the husband and wife team behind the boutique rents shelf space to individual designers and will even help them to find manufacturers for their clothing to ensure the standards remain high. They keep the rent pretty low and stock 75 different designer, most of whom you will probably not have heard of yet. 
The shop is brilliant, white with big glass display cases that exhibit the jewelry like museum artifacts and small recessed hanging spaces for each designer. 
Two designers caught my eye in particular, but I'm keeping one jealously guarded secret for the moment. The one I will share with you is the ridiculously named Chelsea Rebelle. Honestly, the name sounds like it should be on red ruched lycra dresses in discount shmatter shops in Kilburn, but don't let that put you off because designer Sarah Brannon has pulled out some immensely covetable pieces. 
Just touching these two dresses made me feel quite happy (and deliriously lustful), despite being almost soaked to the skin by so-cold-it-should-have-been-snow drizzly rain;

And I wouldn't say no to this jumpsuit either

p.s. I'm not telling you who my wonderful Osteopath is because he's so popular it takes ages to get an appointment with him as it is. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Tribes of East London

London demands a certain commitment from its inhabitants. This isn't just one of those places you can live without nailing your flag to some kind of standard and much has been made over the years of the North-South divide. Those of us who have lived in this intimidating city for a long time know that it is more complicated these days than North versus South and the tribes of London are constantly evolving. If someone had told me when I was a little girl that one day the young people of London would decide for no apparent reason to migrate East I would have been rather incredulous. But if you in any way consider yourself 'creative' 'artistic' or 'fashionable' it seems you must head East or be damned.
As a born and bred North-Westerner I can't honestly see the appeal. East London smells funny, is difficult to get to and isn't even cheap these days. When I was little and my Dad used to take us to Spitalfields market on a Sunday it was fun and exotic, a crumbling neighbourhood with equal amounts of charm and filth. Artists lived there because space was cheap. 
Now they're knocking down arts building to replace them with hotels and developers are systemtically transforming old warehouses into cynically designed bars and expensive lofts for city dealers, all the appeal has been sucked out. Even the old market has been cut in half and homogenised while Broadway market, which used to be a typical London bit-of-everything and some fruit and veg affair has now been overrun by organic goods and expensive cupcakes (not that I mind an expensive cup cakes but ther eis a time and a place for these things). 
There are of course, like with all parts of London, some very nice old buildings and nice places to live and if someone was nice enough to give me a flat in one of those I wouldn't turn it down. But blow me if they aren't a million miles away from any decent public transport (which is obviously good for any bike thief with a keen eye for a sucker at Brick Lane market). 
I'm not totally anti-East. There are some great bits. I'm more against this idea of East London as some kind of young artistic mecca.
Never the less, every art college student and hipster in London seems to think it's the place to be, and golly there seem to be an awful lot of them.
Of course, this has all been happening for a while. But recently I've noticed that there are two new style tribes emerging out of this odd youth migration. I have dubbed them the ChimChimeneys and the Hackney Sailors.
Hackney Sailors are predominantly male. You'll be able to spot the Hackney Sailor by his striking similarity to Wally of Where's Wally. Except he'll look like he hasn't had a shower in a while. He likes shrunken knitted sailor beanies with pom poms on the top, chunky knits, corduroy and breton stripes and takes style cues from Steve Zissou and The Monkees' Michael Nesmith.

Michael Nesmith

Klaus Daimler of Steve Zissou

ChimChimeneys are named after a song from Mary Poppins and were only identified as a tribe after a particularly entertaining conversation with a black cab driver who grew up around Brick Lane. Unsurprisingly it turns out that the locals are not hugely enamoured of these new tribes of trendy young people overrunning their neighbourhood.
This friendly cab driver told me a story about walking up Broadway Market recently with his mother and seeing a group of young people emerging from a pub looking like extras from Mary Poppins dressed as trust-fund chimney sweeps. The word he used was "embarrassing". Best cab conversation of my life for sheer enjoyment.
Anyway, you can spot your average ChimChimeney around Broadway Market. They wear lots of dark coloured velvet and corduroy, waistcoats, flat caps and the occasional topper or bowler hat, untucked oversized striped shirts and lace-up shoes. Your lesser spotted ChimChimeney actually really does look a bit like a rich man's Dick van Dyke or an extra from Oliver Twist. Limited edition pewter Mac glitter dust is optional for a classy 'soot' effect.

The role model; Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins (still from

Get the look: Bert the Chimney Sweep outfit from

Done well, either of these two styles can look very good. But mostly they're just entertaining...
Over the weekend I heard that The Sartorialist had been spotted on Broadway Market, home of the ChimChimeney. I think he might be losing it. 

Monday, 8 February 2010

Valentines gifts for boys

I really do feel sorry for boys. Not only will they never know how good it is to spend an evening in with the girls, but we ask them to walk an extremely slippery tightrope every year at Valentines.
For many men, buying presents is a bit like walking the plank - they pick something, close their eyes and hope you either love it or are exceedingly good at lying. Going for the obvious safe gift like some red roses and a box of expensive champagne truffles isn't always a savvy choice either, because although we say that it's the thought that counts what we really mean is that you must remember that conversation we had three months ago when we were dragging you around town and pick up on the single sentence in which we revealed, in code, the single thing that would actually make us happy on this occasion. We will drop obscure hints in the belief that we are being actually quite blatant about our desires and your obligation to fulfill them.
But, in all honesty, buying a really good Valentines gift for a boy can be equally tricky. And yes, boys deserve presents too. Especially if they are paying for dinner.
In general, men like useful things rather than Romantic tokens.
Clothes work. Shoes work. Gadgets, tickets to something you know they'll like, or really good quality leather goods are all acceptable alternatives.
A good pair of brogues is a perfect gift, especially if he's been wondering around in a pair from Topman for so long that they smell like a cheese factory.
Church's are the obvious choice, but there are a few cheaper alternatives out there. JFK has made me swear not to reveal the name of the brand I buy for him on special occasions, but a quick wonder down London's Jermyn Street offers plenty of ideas. I don't care how rare or expensive they are - trainers are not an acceptable Valentines gift.
Paul Smith, Jil Sander, Nicole Farhi and Acne are all great for good quality menswear and you can shop for yourself simultaneously. If, however, you are like me and cannot really afford any of these labels, Fred Perry and Cos are cheaper options which still deliver a seriously sharp fashion kick to a tired wardrobe.
But don't just buy something you think would look good on him. Rifle through his wardrobe and see what he likes and then go for the up-market version and keep it simple and classic - avoid garish prints and anything too slimly cut unless you are secretly coveting it for yourself and hoping it won't fit (which makes you a bad present buyer so shame on you).
From what I have gathered, what most men want from their clothing is to feel like themselves, but better, and to feel like you're proud to be seen with them, so your opinion is very important. However this is not an opportunity to buy them something drastically different unless you've sounded them out about it first or you risk looking like you're trying to change them (which you may well be, but being so blatant about it doesn't work). This is something akin to being given bad underwear by your boyfriend who seems to think that size 14 Ann Summers red lace is a good idea when you're a size 10 and like Stella McCartney.
If clothing is too risky, go for a plain black wallet in butter-soft black leather or a good quality leather holdall. And if you spend a lot of money and he doesn't, don't get angry. After all, the most important criteria for a Valentine's present is that you love it, not that it cost a lot.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Grace Kelly

Just when you thought fashion was obsessed with all things wrong about the 80s and 90s, along comes a new obsession. Grace Kelly.

In my humble opinion this is a Very Good Thing.
Somehow the incredible Kelly, or Princess Grace of Monaco depending on your preference, had been overshadowed in the classic Hollywood style icon stakes recently. She's been sidelined by Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, but it seems that I'm not the only one who has really had enough of people using these lazy style references. They've become almost as two dimensional as that Jackie Kennedy/Marily Monroe ad pitch they came up with in Mad Men*.
It's especially baffling because one of the most iconic fashion accessories of all time was named after Kelly - the Hermes Kelly bag.

Her comeback is being spearheaded by the V&A who are staging an exhbition of fifty of Kelly's outfits and the original Kelly bag for six months, starting in April. This news has triggered a flurry of articles about Kelly's style online and in print, which amkes me feel rather pleased and also a little smug. After all I have been a life-long Kelly fan.
I loved her in High Society when I was a 1940s and 50s crazy adolescent. And then I loved her again in Rear Window when I was a little older. I even had a cut out and dress cardboard Grace Kelly doll at one point. I also had Heddy Lamar, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth - there's nothing as satisfying as dressing a Hollywood style icon who can't fight back.

Plus Kelly makes me think of my Grandmas, both of whom had incredible style that owed something to Kelly's perfectly coiffed appearance. This week I am missing them both very much.
Her influence also hopefully means that we haven't seen the last of the elegant 50s silhouette in fashion, which I was beginning to worry about given the disturbing trend for all things 90s and jogging bottoms.
Galliano is among those leading the way back to Ladylike with his latest couture collection for Dior (which combines a soupcon of Kelly's style with added wit and not too much vintage drag), but if Dior is a bit too much for you and you're already fed up with the new nudes and sportswear trend then head over to Tara Starlet for a vintage style kick...

*Having ignored Mad Men for ages I am now completely obsessed and watched the entire first series in a day last weekend. I think it was the best day of 2010 thus far actually, because we got gussied up and went to Hix for the perfect dinner afterwards and just for one day things seemed ok. I'm now halfway through season 2 so don't tell me what happens please.