If you are tired of London…*

26 Nov

Lately there has been a spate of newspaper columns decrying London’s growing inequality – basically, we are back to Dickens’ bleak times, when it comes to disparity between the rich and the poor.  And though I agree with those columnists, most notably my favourite Caitlin Moran, who wrote about London being drained of the young and creative due to grotesque rents, and becoming merely a place where the global elite invest in houses, I still enjoy visiting enormously. In small, 8-10 hour long doses, it is a treat. There are very few places on Earth as exciting as London when it comes to my twin passions: food and culture – the latter often still, against the odds, either free or affordable. When I visited previously, I saw Old Times, a Pinter play with Kirstin Scott-Thomas** and Rufus Sewell, and it cost me only a tenner.

This time, my pursuits were less lofty – I really wanted to try cakes at the much-lauded Honey & Co, and pop into equally hyped Maille mustard shop. I also wanted to simply wander, soaking up the Christmas atmosphereThe legendary Christmas windows in Selfridges*** didn’t disappoint. It might be hard to see, given the quality of my “amazing” photos, but each object is an enormous replica of the real thing – so the Fornasetti pot is so big, I could probably squeeze inside it. Also, some elements are mobile.

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I walked the length of Regent Street, stopping to browse at my favourite shops: & Other Stories and Zara Home. Having indulged in some retail therapy earlier, thanks to M&S’ extraordinary generosity, I was able to resist the siren calls of  some fabulous accessories at & Other Stories, and Christmas decorations at Zara Home. I also stopped by the newly opened J.Crew, but didn’t linger, in the spirit of protest against UK prices being far higher than they are in the US (same story with Anthropologie and Free People – I love both, but what’s  with the hugely increased, sometimes by as much 50%, prices?!).

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Zara Home’s window, with bonus owl

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Beautiful tree in Penhaligon’s window

I then walked down to The Wolseley, but should have known better – it was the tail – end of lunchtime, and the place was packed. I didn’t fancy waiting around for 20 minutes, even though the atmosphere was most convivial, so I hoofed it nearby to the also newly opened Maille Mustard Shop. If you are, like me, a mustard fan, it is a must. You can buy so many different flavours, from quite simple and rustic, to luxurious ones. I  tried a few flavours (mustard with nuts was a revelation),  and the staff were charming and helpful. If you are looking for Christmas gifts for a foodie, look no further.

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There is more than a hundred types of mustard to choose from at Maille boutique

By this time, I was really peckish, so I decided to visit Honey & Co in Warren Street to sample their so-trendy-it-hurts Middle Eastern baking. One of the chefs worked at Ottolenghi and Nopi and I read both A A Gill’s (Sunday Times) and Jay Rayner’s (The Guardian) glowing reviews, and it had just scooped up Observer Food Monthly  Award in the Newcomer category. I only had cake and tea (properly long lunch is not a solitary pursuit),  warm pistachio cake with stewed plums and sour cream, and it was delicious. This is not a date restaurant –  it is the size of a small sitting room and you are practically touching your neighbours elbows – but definitely worth visiting, if you actually want to eat, rather than flirt.

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Honey & Co

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Honey & Co’s delicious cakes (picture from their website)

Oh, and on the way there, I saw David Mitchell. An hour later, in Covent Garden,  where I went to buy cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy, I nearly bumped into Ben Whishaw.

So: a styling session with lovely Hilary and her team, delicious food, festive window shopping and celebrity-spotting -it really was a perfect day:.

*…you are tired of life” – Samuel Johnson.

**Major woman – crush of mine.

***When people who don’t know London at all (or at least not well), ask me to recommend a department store, I always advise them to steer clear of Harrods, which is often the only department store they’ve heard of, and instead head to Liberty, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.

Some dreams do come true

19 Nov

Every time I want to finish writing about my perfume collection, life gets in the way (as is its habit).

So this post will be about my trip to London and hobnobbing with a bone fide fashion guru.

The conventional wisdom is that fashion business is full of bi***es, of both sexes. It is undeniably obsessed with youth and beauty, and aimed at people with more money than sense (or taste). Thanks to “The Devil Wears Prada”* the prevailing opinion is that to get ahead in this business, you need to be either a sharp-tongued queen or an ice-queen, or worse still, a talentless creep. But there is also the other side: there are very few areas of business where women wield as much power and influence,  or get paid as well as they do in fashion. And there are plenty of women in fashion, who got ahead while being nice to everybody on their way to the top.

A few weeks ago I was lucky to win a Marks & Spencer competition. I have always been a huge fan of M&S, ever since I walked into one of its shops in the early 90, during my first visit to London. Founded by a Polish Jewish emigre, it is thoroughly British, which is why I often buy  gifts for my non -British friends and family there. I can completely understand why for many British expats, M&S is often the first shop they go to when visiting Blighty – the thought of not being able to shop at M&S fills me with horror. The prize couldn’t be more perfect: it was a styling session with the legend of British fashion journalism, Hilary Alexander, at the M&S flagship store in Marble Arch, plus money to splurge on the fabulous Per Una collection. So I was very excited to take the train to the Big Smoke and meet Hilary  as well as M&S ladies Caroline, Judy and Co. Hilary is the opposite of the fashion stereotype: warm, witty, down to Earth and just very, very nice. Her expert picks were spot on: elegant dresses flattered my hourglass figure, while bottom -sculpting jeans and jumpers were perfect for my freelance lifestyle. Trying on different outfits, assisted by such a fashion guru and 4 (!!!) other ladies, I was in fashion heaven. This is what being a celebrity must feel like, only better, because I don’t have to put up with all the scrutiny that comes with fame. Thank you! 

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Hilary and I

 

Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the current M&S collections, some of which I tried on – the white dress and the biker jacket are very high quality and very flattering – who doesn’t need a Little White Dress (currently more fashionable than LBD) or a proper biker jacket in their wardrobe?

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This leather biker is a great investment piece, and looks more expensive than it is

 

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This LWD really shows off curves – perfect if you have an hourglass figure

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I didn’t try this dress on, as it is only just arrived, but I love its Roland Mouret-esque style

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This leather bag was featured in British Vogue, and no wonder – it looks and feels very designer

After morning’s heady delights, I spent the afternoon eating cake, drinking coffee, spotting celebrities and visiting new shops, all of which I shall describe next time (see, I’ll never get to write that post about perfumes!).

*There is a dire shortage of good films about fashion, but that’s a whole other post.

Two little triumphs

11 Nov

First off: our owl pumpkin came third, against strong competition, in a Facebook contest, organised by an online store Rigby and Mac (it sells quite a few owls, BTW). The judge, @SweetMissHope, of the well-known sweets emporium, Hope & Ringwood, said: “This owl looks extremely naughty & makes me smile”. Though there was no prize, we were pleased, as the level of entries was high.

My second small triumph: as of this week, I have more than 1000 followers on Pinterest. I was not even monitoring it very closely, and it was just a fluke that I looked at my Pinterest a few days ago and saw that round, magical number, “1000” in the lower right hand corner. Thank you to all my followers. As someone tweeted the other day – it is hard not to spend your life on Pinterest, there is so much beauty.

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I’ll be back to blogging about my scent collection soon.

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Anna Sui perfume came with its own little house

 

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

 

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Here is the first, but certainly not the last, owl on this blog. I have a bit of an owl obsession, as evidenced by this Pinterest board and what I wore yesterday: 

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And a little blast from the past (I think it’s 5 years ago):

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Daisy-time

22 Oct

I have come across this quote from D.H. Lawrence:

And what’s romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything as you like it, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose, and it’s always daisy-time.

So, even though the quote is contemptuous of romance (which is why it struck a chord – when it comes to writers, I am partial to a healthy dose of cynicism), it seems to designate daisies as emblems of happiness. They are dainty and pretty, rather like Daisy Buchanan, who was also lovely, but not foolish enough to be happy (“I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”). Though not stupid, Daisy is shallow and effervescent, which is presumably what inspired Marc Jacobs to name his competent, but not terribly world-changing fruity floral Daisy. Or perhaps he came up with the name and concept first, and commissioned a suitably light-hearted scent. Whichever came first, there is no doubt that his brief was a success: Daisy is pleasant, unprepossessing and flighty, like a debutante. The rubber daisies, designed by Takashi Murakami, are a huge part of this perfume’s appeal, and a very canny marketing tool,  considering all the different variations you can buy. I have several, including Daisy I Do – a pendant that contains solid perfume.ImageImage

I have also got another Marc Jacobs fragrance, Lola, that I mainly wanted for the bottle – it came out during my polka – dot phase, when I was particularly enamoured of that pattern and bought quite a few spotty clothes (it was also especially fashionable at the time, though I like it so much partly because it is timeless). The fragrance is a bit “meh” – it is fine, really, but wearing it is a bit like eating supermarket fish roe, when what you really fancy is some beluga caviar. But the bottle, as flamboyant as a ballroom dancer (“Her name was Lola, she was a dancer…”), makes up for it.

Speaking of the real thing: so much has been written about Chanel No.5, I shall just solipsistically say that I love it. But of all Chanel scents, Coco is the one that’s most “me”: I get more compliments when I wear Coco, than when I wear No.5. I have Coco Mademoiselle at the moment, but I do prefer the 1984 original, spicy and dusky, and I don’t care if it is terribly 80., like mullets and blue mascara. As I wear neither, I can at least have a few drops of Coco.

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I do like the smell of toast in the morning…

14 Oct

…but I rarely have toast for breakfast. I usually have muesli and Oatibix. Toast is an indulgence I associate with hotel breakfasts.

Now I can smell toast, as well as OF it, anytime I want. That’s because I received a free bottle of…Eau De Toast. A few weeks ago I came across information that it was available to anyone who asked, free of charge, from the Federation of Bakers. As I love a freebie (and winning competitions, of which more later), I duly applied. Eau De Toast, attractively packaged, arrived last week. It does exactly what it says on the tin and is a great piece of advertising. I feel slightly guilty, as I NEVER buy bread – we make our own. But even though I’m not going to buy the commercial bakers’ product, I certainly liked the thought that went into Eau De Toast, as well as the scent itself. It is rather ephemeral but for about half an hour the warm, homely smell of freshly toasted bread does linger. It doesn’t quite work as a perfume, as it’s not complex or long – lasting enough, nor as home fragrance, but as an incentive to buy (or, in my case, make) bread for toasting, it cannot be faulted. I love the little bite mark on the label.

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At about the same time, I got an email from Reiss, congratulating me on winning their newly launched first fragrance for women, Grey Flower. As a bonus, I could have the bottle engraved. I got it this morning (thank you, Reiss!) and I have to say, it is not the usual I’ve -smelled-it-all-before, instantly forgettable kind of smell that all the big clothing brands now churn out in their hundreds. I’d be prepared to shell out my own money on this seductive, elegantly sexy scent. It is warm and enveloping, thanks to base of musk notes, and it lasted a long time – I put it on around 1pm, and I can still faintly smell it at 9pm.

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The bottle is luxurious, too, and it flatters my vanity to see my name on it.

As with writing about food, writing about perfume is far more difficult than it seems. Of the two, I find it easier to write about food, mostly because I know a lot more about it. I find the realm of perfume blogs slightly other-worldly. It is inhabited by people speaking in code, who display unnerving Sherlock-like powers of deduction the moment you reveal your favourite scent. So it is with trepidation that I am revealing my all-time favourite, Narciso Rodriguez For Her.

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I have been wearing it for about 7 years, and, although I regularly cheat on it with others, I do love coming back into its reassuring embrace. According to the best ever guide to the world of scent (I dare you to name a better one),  namely Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, written by the scent gurus Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, this woody oriental is not particularly original, but “give Narciso Rodriguez to someone you like, and stand at attention as she sweeps past. You then realise that some fragrances, like gravitation, reliably generate an attractive force day in and day out, without fuss or explanation, though theories abound. LT”. See what I mean – this is an absolutely, magnificently spot on description. If you care about perfumes even just a little, buy the book. Incidentally, I love Tania Sanchez’s profile on Twitter: “Co-author of PERFUMES THE GUIDE with Luca Turin. Now living in Greece. I hate Greece.”

To be continued.

The Hour I Broke Bad, Parade Ended and Friday Night Lights shone in the Newsroom: all the TV I loved this year – part II

2 Oct

1. Top of the Lake. What do you get when you mix my favourite director ever, stunning New Zealand scenery, a bunch of Kiwi rednecks, Peggy off Mad Men and Scandi-style crime plot? Only the flawless Top of the Lake. Jane “The Piano” Campion made this 7-part thriller because she knows that all the best stories are now told via the medium of television, not film. Though she is the most successful female director ever (apart from Kathryn Bigelow, but Campion remains the only female Palme D’or winner – let’s just pause here to think what it says about film industry in terms of gender equality), she still finds the process of securing finance needed to make even her “cheap”, art-house films dispiriting. Like David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad)*before her, Campion found TV producers far more willing to take risks, than Hollywood studio bosses. And so, inspired by TV dramas, particularly Deadwood and The Killing, she resolved to create her own mini- series as “a very long film”. Though it has touches of The Killing as well as Twin Peaks, it is startlingly original. As befits the artist who had put a grand piano on a beach, Campion created an unique, eerie world of rough men and damaged women, surrounded by the magnificent natural beauty we know so well from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Elisabeth Moss does a sterling job as detective Robin Griffin, the fulcrum of the story, and she even managed to make me forget Peggy Olson’s 60. outfits, no mean feat, as fans of Mad Men among you will surely agree. Holly Hunter only has a small gig, but it is a really memorable one.  The story is unpredictable, and the slower pace of  TV series allows us to get to know the characters’ back stories, and for plenty of red herrings, a formula patented by the Danes. And a commune for middle-aged women, seeking shelter on the very edge of the world, is a kind of eccentric idea that has made her my favourite director AND screenwriter. For this is the era of writers, not directors, when even Guillermo del Toro has started to make films for 14-year-olds.

Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake

2. Game of Thrones. Speaking of 14-year-olds – do you also feel like you are inside an adolescent boy’s head, watching GoT? I was slightly concerned that I did enjoy it, despite all the gore and excruciatingly long sex scenes. It is nothing to do with any residual Catholic guilt – the nuns at my school did a splendid job of turning me into an avowed atheist and liberal, proud to be everything they despise – it is more to do with snobbery, frankly. For one, fantasy is  the most patriarchal of all genres. And as a sophisticated woman of advanced years, I shouldn’t perhaps enjoy being inside a mind of  a young male so much. Then again, Tyrion Lannister is not so young, and he is a hedonist, an atheist and an aesthete… And so, halfway through the first season, it dawned on me – I am the Imp, only female, of average height, and living in the real world. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, is a very good-looking representative of my favourite people (he is Danish), so I think I’ll be OK watching the third season, except: I heard that all the “goodies” die (I haven’t read the books), so maybe I will enjoy it through the tears. Though I don’t think I’d watch it if Tyrion got killed off (don’t tell me), so they’d better not do that.

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Daenerys, beating enemies into submission with her eyebrows

3. Right, I was meant to write about The Newsroom. As someone worshipping at the altar of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (I watched all of The West Wing, twice), I’d be happy to see his shopping lists made into a TV show, so obviously had to watch The Newsroom. I approached with caution, though, having been warned by my favourite TV critic, AA Gill, that The West Wing it ain’t. And as usual, Mr Gill was right – to a certain extent. Yes, the female characters are not great (nothing to do with acting, which is top-notch) – I mean, I’ve never been to the US, and never worked in TV, so maybe some American women working in the media do act like that, but I have never met anyone as neurotic as Mackenzie in real life. But even if it doesn’t quite soar to the same heights as The West Wing, it is still worth watching. Sorkin’s forte has always been “diagnostic medicine” – he is Dr Gregory House of screenwriters –  and his diagnosis  of what’s wrong with American media, and, more broadly, America and the world today, is, as always,  pretty damn accurate.

4. Parade’s End. This BBC series is an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s novel, that nobody ever reads today. One of the best, most heartening things about having a public service broadcaster is that we can rely on it to occasionally exhume some long-forgotten, verbose beast of a novel, and turn it into a beauty, with Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch acting their tits off for our edification. I’m afraid I might go on about my love for Rebecca and Benedict for hours (” in Parade’s End, (…) he tore up the screen with only two days’ preparation”-Caitlin Moran in The Times),  so suffice it to say, if you enjoy BBC dramas and somehow missed it (tut,tut), you should rectify this mistake, pronto.

Parade's End

Parade’s End

5. Thinking about people stupidly wasting their time watching reality shows and such, instead of top-quality TV, leads me neatly to The Hour, another excellent BBC drama (written for the BBC by the formidable Abi Morgan), which, it pains me to say, was horribly underrated and therefore rashly terminated by the powers that be after just two seasons. Now that Abi Morgan won the coveted Emmy award for her screenplay, those powers that be might just come to their senses, and commission the third series. Caitlin Moran (are you beginning to see a pattern here? Yes, I do love and respect Caitlin Moran) wrote about The Hour: “within 20 minutes it had pushed my heart up into my throat, and made me shout, “Mummy’s dead, she got eaten by a wolf, go away”, even as the kids rattled at the locked bedroom door. I realised that it might be my favourite TV show of all time. Of aaaaaaaall time. There. I’ve said it.” And I agree – it was probably the best thing BBC made last year. And nobody in the whole history of a pencil skirt looked better wearing it, than Romola Garai (apart from Marylin Monroe).  She is another major girl crush. The story, the fashion, the acting – The Hour had it all, and it deserves to be resurrected far more than many other shows with bigger audience figures.

Dominic West, Romola Gari, Ben Whishaw

Dominic West, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw

* again, men, writing about mainly other men – hence the title of this enjoyable analysis of the Golden Era of Television we are lucky to witness. (This excellent article lets you sample the book’s delights) Pray, more Lena Dunhams shall emerge soon – to that end, I’m looking forward to Caitlin Moran’s upcoming TV series on Channel4, albeit with some trepidation. A blooming good writer she certainly is, but a) she wrote it with her sister b) it IS Channel4, which is made by “(…)the folk who regularly ask people to exhibit their suppurating bits, scour the nation for freak-show couplings and encourage the unloved to humiliate themselves for a snigger.” – AA Gill in the Sunday Times

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