Thursday, 31 December 2009

The perfect dress for the party - Happy New Year!

I am not much of a New Year's Eve party reveller - actually, if I am really honest, I am thoroughly uncomfortable with the whole obligatory jollity and merrymaking. But, if I were going to celebrate the passing of the year in party style, this is the dress that I'd like to wear!

I spotted it weeks ago in a cobalt blue version in the shop window of Nancy Pop, an intriguing shop on Westbourne Park road. The shop was closed today and I won't put a link to their website as my browser gave a threatening message when I clicked on it - apparently it has been reported as an attack site. Adding danger to the glamour of the dress!

In any event, the shop is located at number 19 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2EU.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Bags of fun!

This time of year brings visitors to our house and the joy of spending time with those we see too rarely. Yes, it also means that the washing machine and dishwasher are working shifts and that shower times need to be carefully orchestrated! But beyond their friendship, visitors give us new ideas, different ways of doing things and the opportunity to travel and expand our horizons vicariously. Our latest guests came from Holland bringing along the Dutch candid approach and zest for life and also... new brands to discover or re-discover!

The Dutch fashion style is relaxed and upbeat, characterised by Louise's knitted Custo top, embroidered at the back and worn with a snazzy white belt. Custo is a Spanish brand, based in Barcelona and I have owned T-shirts from them.  Their colourful style can verge on the garish but in that instance, I thought Louise's choice worked beautifully as she wisely paired her top with simple black trousers.

Our visitors also brought along great bags. Martine's handbag is from designer Ellen Truijen, a Dutch designer based in Maastricht who uses gorgeous soft leathers in subtle colours. The rain drops on some of the pictures are witness to the truly atrocious weather we are currently suffering!

Their daughters both sported large holdalls from another Dutch brand, Cowboysbag. The bags are strong enough to carry school books but stylish enough for sleepovers and shopping trips.

If you want to know more about the brands mentioned, click on:
Custo's website
Ellen Truijen's website
Cowboy's bags'website

As always, I have no connection with the brands mentioned.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The puffa saga!

You might remember from a previous post that I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to be seen wearing a quilted jacket (from Uniqlo) as terrible ridicule would ensue - those  jackets being the exclusive preserve of my eldest daughter's schoolmates, teenagers.

Low and behold, who should show up wearing a quilted jacket for a Christmas visit to London?

My mum!


She looks great with it, sporting a perfect up-to-the-minute animal print scarf in the same shades of purple. My eldest daughter, "the ruthless judge" sees nothing wrong with her grand-mother wearing what she finds unacceptable on her mother, and even finds her very cool looking. Go figure!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

For those of you who wonder where Father Christmas goes after a hard night of parcel delivering, here is the answer:

Spotted coming out of his swim in the Serpentine.

I'm afraid, he came far behind the swimmers from the Peter Pan Christmas Day race who were huddled together, holding dearly to cups of hot drinks and chatting frozenly when he showed up.

I would like to pay homage to those mad swimmers and their pluck, love of nature and real Christmas spirit!

In particular, to the amazing women over 40 who took part: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

To know more about the Christmas Day race at the Serpentine's swimming club: Serpentine Christmas Day Race

Monday, 21 December 2009

The anti-aging washing machine.

You might wonder why I am writing a post about washing machines, or more precisely about an ad about washing machine. The reason will become clear when you see that the ad features an older model, dressed in "young" clothes, looking confidently into the camera.

The model is very striking in her own right - beautiful features and an air of utter self-confidence. The caption on the side specifies that the clothes are the model's own. So, we are told that this woman is presenting herself as she is in real life. The studded belt and choker, the tartan trousers and the Union Jack T-shirt establish her punk credentials. I like the hand-knitted pink one-sleeved top that softens the look - possibly a hint that, in between belting out her own rendition of the Sex Pistols' "God save the Queen", she could be found knitting by the fireplace, like any other "proper" pensioner her age? In any event, the ad tells us that she has not been styled for the picture, she is not just a model for hire, made to look a certain way - she is lending her cool look to a brand. The washing machine featured on the next page appears rather dwarfed by the formidable lady standing near.

 This is clearly no cuddly grandma.

She appears to have stepped off her motorcycle, ditched the young boy she was dragging on the backseat - he just could not keep up with her and she was getting bored.

Part of me finds the ad patronising. Does an older woman need to be "outrageous" to be featured on an ad? On the other hand, this is advertising, designed to convey a message and get my attention. The ad worked for me and fits the ad's message:  "Helps prevent clothes ageing". I am tempted to read the subtext as an indication that we, the users of that washing machine, could benefit from those same anti-aging properties and invited to step into the appliance. Next, I'm expecting the anti-aging washing powder!

As usual, I have no connection with the Samsung brand.

To learn more about Samsung washing machines, click on the link: Samsung washing.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Wear mohair on your feet - ethical and effective!

I have always believed that keeping one's head and feet warm is the secret of good health in the winter. Supposedly, body warmth escapes from the top of the skull and seeps out from the sole of the feet, unless it is the frozen ground that communicates its refrigerating powers to the feet. Whatever the dubious scientific basis for those beliefs, the theory works for me. When my feet are snug and my head is toasty, I can face blizzards, sleet and snow. Starting with feet, I would like to share a great tip: mohair socks.

The socks I have been buying for years come from Corrymoor Mohair, an East Devon farm where the angora goats are bred by the Whitley family. This is a local, family business which ticks all the right "ethical" boxes.  Not only are the goats, which produce the mohair, bred in Britain but the following steps in the transformation of the fibres into socks - combing, spinning and knitting, all take place in England too.

Not only is mohair incredibly warm and durable, but it also guarantees sweet smelling feet as mohair fibres, unlike sheep's wool, are smooth and do not trap bacteria which cause bad smells.  They are machine-washable and last forever. The socks used to come in a fairly limited range of colours which has now exploded into all kinds of wild and wonderful shades. The colour chart does not quite do the socks justice and I should warn you that they can be very bright!

The socks come in different lengths and styles. I recommend the "Eventer" (£10.90), originally designed for show-jumpers but which works equally well in cold wintry cities.  I wear mine with warm winter boots and lace-up shoes and I never suffer from the cold.  They have been "tested" in hiking boots in Scotland and whilst they probably can't beat the more technical socks available, they are perfect for the occasional ramble.

Two words of caution:
  • they are thicker than usual socks and will not fit inside dainty shoes or pumps
  • the mohair can feel a bit scratchy to sensitive skins.
You can order online and they usually deliver super promptly.

Friday, 4 December 2009

No puffa for Mama!

With real winter showing signs of coming, the need for a warm winter coat resurfaces. For years now I have been struggling with the impossible search for the perfect winter coat:
  • incredibly warm but also amazingly light on the shoulders; 
  • great quality without costing an arm and a leg; 
  • rainproof but also elegant; 
  • suitable for cycling whilst feminine; 
  • sharply tailored and able to accommodate a jacket underneath; 
  • interesting but timeless (coats are expensive and need to last beyond one season). 
Needless to say I have not and will never find the ideal candidate. Resigned to the realisation that no single coat can fulfill so many different uses and requirements, I have decided to take a portfolio approach and look for different coats for different functions. I felt inspired by recent articles on the fashion revival of down jackets, from weekend newspapers to fashion magazines.

Down jackets featured in French Elle Magazine (20 November 2009)

I have also noticed very cheerful  brightly coloured mini Michelin women in my neighbourhood, visibly basking in the delicious warmth of their quilted jackets whilst I shiver .  A trip to my old friend Uniqlo seemed to be the answer.

The shop did not disappoint and offered a great choice of quilted jackets. I enthusiastically picked up a couple of long coats and jackets from the rails, strode to the thankfully deserted fitting rooms and tried them on. The "premium down coat" priced £69.99 felt light and warm, a good length for cycling with an attractive, slightly metallic colour.

One small problem: it made me look like a barrel shaped sausage - not a look I try to cultivate.  I moved on to the shorter and possibly more flattering "Down jacket" (£59.99) in a beautiful cobalt blue (not shown on the picture below but I like the purple too).

Putting it on felt like wrapping a deliciously light and comforting pillow around my shoulders. I zipped it up, put my hands in the cleverly slanted pockets and felt good. I took a good look at myself in the mirror and my resolve started to falter slightly. It looked good but quite bright. On the other hand, bright is important in the winter: we need a bit of colour to lighten up the short and gloomy days. It definitely looked good but also quite shiny. Again, shiny can be good: after 40 we should stay away from drab colours that drain often tired faces and bring the mood down. Basically, whist the jacket looked and felt good, it might not be entirely right for me and might go into dangerously "mutton dressed as lamb" territory. I felt I should ask for feedback from trusted sources: my daughters.

On the way to school, I casually broached the subject of quilted jackets. I let it slip that a Uniqlo cobalt blue model seemed a good answer to the sudden cold, something that could even be shared with daughters, especially the middle one who does not own anything comparable and that it would easily fit - she is very tall. I thought the offer of sharing might elicit sympathetic comments. The answer burst out from categorical elder daughter: "You can't do that! The whole school has got that jacket - it is completely wrong for you. It is absolutely targeted at teenagers". Middle daughter feebly tried to interject that she  had actually not seen that many Uniqlo jackets around - I think she liked the idea of sharing the jacket with me. I decided to bite to bullet and accept the unpleasant reality: the well-priced, deliciously comfortable Uniqlo down jacket might just not be for me,  stuck as I am under the scrutiny of dictatorial daughters.

If you are braver than me - or don't have a daughter quite as strict as mine, check out those recommendations from The Times on the best quilted jackets:
The Times on Line
You might also want to try out the Uniqlo jackets for yourself and decide that it actually works for you: Uniqlo website

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Natural Beauty?

I used to hold the beauty routine speed record - in 5 minutes flat, I could be ready to face the world, washed, dressed, hair brushed and face done - ie moisturised. As I get older, I know that I can't get away with such a convenient formula.  The expression: "putting my face on" takes a very real sense and the picture below prompted an immediate feeling of recognition! Artist Charlotte Renon documents her busy life as a mother of 3 young boys, juggling family and career. Whilst still a baby at 35, she perfectly captures the mysterious process which transforms the shaggy and creased wretch with bags under her eyes who steps into the bathroom in the morning into...maybe not a princess but at least a human being.

Illustration: Charlotte du
Click on Charlotte Renon's blog.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Older sells?

Notably absent from fashion magazines, women over 40 feature in cosmetics and luxury product advertising. Somehow, we are supposed to buy clothes modeled by women half our age or less, but, when it comes to anti-aging face creams or expensive watches or handbags, advertisers have realised that we need to identify with the model... as long as she is a celebrity and fiercely airbrushed.

Celebrity sells.

The use of " celebrities " in advertising apparently makes sense. A study conducted by Ana Rumschisky, a marketing professor at the IE Business School in Madrid, measures the return on investment (ROI) of using celebrities in advertising. It appears that we are prepared to spend up to 20% more on the same product if a celebrity is touting it. The study was conducted amongst university students and revealed that men were prepared to pay 19% more for the same product (a luxury wristwatch) advertised by a celebrity than by an unknown model, whilst women were only willing to pay 13.4% more. A clear sign that women are a tougher sale despite their reputation as spendthrift!

Airbrushed to destruction

I might be a particularly tough customer but the older photo-shopped celebrity trick does not work for me. It might even have the reverse effect and turn me off a brand when it is too extreme. Whilst I am thrilled to see Laura Morante (born in 1956) or Juliette Binoche (born in 1964) advertising Lancome product, I don't need their unrealistic smoothness. They either makes me feel so inadequate that I should hide under a bushel or angry that I am being lied to: those creams and potions might be very good but they are not magic. To be fair, younger models are also ruthlessly airbrushed to perfection, creating unattainable ideals for younger women too.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, nor have unrealistic expectations from an industry which essentially sells fantasy but, such relentless airbrushing creates a virtual world of eternal youth and perfection from which I feel increasingly detached. We and people around us, have to live with the reality of our imperfect and aging appearance whilst our famous contemporary seem to never age or are condemned to disappear from the public gaze. I was happy to read Lancome's president, Youcef Nabi say in the French Elle Magazine of 13 November 2009: "At each age, there is a kind of optimum that we try to reach. Trying to punch above one's weight is illusory." Whilst she implies that youth will always win in the boxing ring of beauty, I find a refreshing degree of honesty in her answer. However, the pictures used by Lancome do not quite support that position. Just spot the difference between the stars "au naturel " (actually, fully made-up and artistically coiffed for the red-carpet) and their Lancome version above.

They look incredibly beautiful as they are, don't they?

Each time I see Louis Vuitton's Madonna campaign, I can't help but sneer.

The sight of alabaster skinned, corseted 50+ Madonna is such a work of fantasy that I can't help but admire its creator - Steven Meisel and his army of retouchers, but also despair. If such a well-known and powerful woman can only exist in the public eye as a photo-shopped youthful version of herself, we, mere mortal have no hope in hell!

If you want to read more about the study on celebrity advertising: Study on celebrity ROI by Ana Rumschisky

As usual, I have no connection with any of the brands featured.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dragana Perisic - A Designer from the East in East London

Grownup Fashion

Brick Lane and its adjacent streets are crowded and noisy at weekends but offer a peaceful sight on weekdays. Whilst some of the shops only open at the weekend, we were lucky to find Dragana Perisic in her shop on a beautiful autumnal Thursday morning. As her exotic name suggests, Dragana Perisic hails from Eastern Europe and brings her sensitivity, imagination and payfulness to the clothes that she designs. Refreshingly, she says that she designs for women over 35 - a rarity in our youth focused fashion industry. I take it that she means that she designs for women, not girls, values personality and accomplishment over the simple promise of youth - not that I would want to put words in her mouth! Please do not think that I am anti-youth - I had my share of it and love to see it around me. I just want women over 40 to continue to exist and for those advancing years to be valued, not hidden shamefully!

Cut with precision

The cut is precise and the detailing is impeccable, lending the clothes a timeless quality which is enlivened by Dragana's skillful and whimsical mix of fabrics. For her winter collection, she uses wool fabrics that feel light on the shoulders but warm and cosy. She enjoys mixing a textured, white coated wool with a soft green herringbone cloth, playing on contrasts and complementarity.The Matrushka coat shown here also exist in grey and aubergine colours and retails at £490.


Dragana Perisic has a particular talent to create clothes that can be reconfigured and worn to suit the mood. A belt can be draped in different ways around the waist and create two looks out of a jacket or a coat. Pockets can be buttoned onto a graceful wool coat at different angles and produce distinct effects. The Brick coat shown below sells for £395.

A soft and luxurious leather bag can be worn through an arm hole or a with shoulder strap, perfect for the elegant city cyclist. The sides of the bag can be folded out, giving a glimpse of the colourful lining and clever inside pockets. The bag is designed to accomodate a laptop computer, with a welcome zip across the top to secure it from probing pick-pockets.

Grownup prices

Dragana Perisic's collection does not come particularly cheap. Coats and jackets hover between £345 and £500, comparable to better known designers such as Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania line or Zadig and Voltaire. I think those prices make sense in light the obvious quality and lasting nature of the design. Those are not throwaway clothes but investment pieces to be enjoyed for years. I hope the fabrics age well and confirm their enduring value as I have my eye on the "No collar jacket" (£345) that I find beautiful and versatile - I am saving my pennies!








What makes Dragana Perisic "Mutton friendly"

  • Sympathetic designer
  • Precise cut
  • Fit
  • Body skimming not clinging
  • Clever detailing
  • Mix of textures
  • Elegance not show-off
  • Quality
Dragana Perisic's shop is located at 30 Cheshire Stree, London EC2 6EH.
If you want to know more: Dragana Perisic's website
Please rest assured that, as usual, I have no connection with the designer featured.

    Friday, 20 November 2009

    Travels to the East...

    ... of London. We are not talking here of a great adventure on the Silk road, on camel backs, but of a simple tube journey to Liverpool Street to reach Spitalfield market, Brick lane and its side streets. Often described as a collection of villages, London does feel very different from one area to another and it is a great luxury to be able to take a mini-holiday in one's own city (of adoption).
    First things first
    As befits serious shoppers, I and my delightful traveling companion, A., had to start with a coffee break in the most wonderful Verde & Co.

    The "Grocers and Italian wharehousemen" as they define themselves gave us wonderful coffee and Bakewell tarts, and we lingered on high stools, surrounded by deliciously tempting provisions.

    Food being one of my many passions in life, I am straying from fashion to highly recommend stopping in this deli/cafe,  to enjoy their beautiful mix of fresh foods, well-chosen pantry items and antiques.  The "wharehousemen" were very welcoming and helpful too, serving a delicious cup of caffe latte whilst preparing lunch and taking deliveries of yet more tempting groceries. They are located at 40 Brushfield street, Spitalfields E1, across from Spitafield market.

    Tiny fashion
    A short walk away takes us to 162 Brick lane, London E1 6RU, a tiny, "hole-in-the-wall" shop dedicated to fashion for the under 5, another departure from the main theme of this blog, but it was hard to resist stepping in. 

    Oh Baby London claims to be "Clothing for lucky kids" and I can only agree. Their designs are fun, mischievous and reasonably priced. The T-shirt with a message might have lost its novelty and even appear desperately naff, but I liked the prison-striped playsuit boasting: "I've been inside for 9 months." Very cute and still acceptable on a tiny one! Being out of the baby market myself, I can see great gifts for those who are in that stage of life.  Check out their website.

    Grown up fashion
    I'll come back in a later post to the theme of fashion for the over 40 with a great shop in Cheshire street, run by Dragana Perisic, a lovely designer who is not afraid to say that she designs for the 35+ market and produces beautiful and inventive timeless clothes and bags.

    I have no connection, financial or otherwise with any of the shops and brands featured.

    Wednesday, 18 November 2009

    Iris Apfel - an inspiration!

    At the age of 88, Iris New Yorker Iris Apfel remains a style icon.
    Through the years she has accumulated a fabulous collection of clothes and accessories. Her inimitable style combines couture and ethnic pieces, vintage and Top Shop or H&M. She is featured in the November issue of the French Vogue magazine and an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachussets pays homage to her fabulous sense of style: "Rare Bird of Fashion: The irreverent Iris Apfel" until February 2010.

    The exhibtion: Rare Bird of Fashion

    Never a slave to fashion, she has developed her unique look whilst running the legendary textile design business, "Old World Weavers", with her husband Carl. Traveling the world, she has amassed a fantastic collection of accessories that she wears with flamboyant style. A lifelong devotee to the humble jeans, she continues wearing them with aplomb in her Eighties.

    In an interview she gave in 2006, she makes it clear that she is not a fashionista and not a professional collector: she wears what she buys and has many interests beyond fashion. Sharing her life between Palm Beach and NYC, she is active and has clearly no intention of fading into a pastel coloured old-age.

    What clearly irks her is blandness and middle-of-the road choices.
    Read the Look on line interview
    When asked about fashion mistakes for older women, here is what she has to say:
    "I think they are trying to hard to look young. Coco Chanel once said that what makes a woman look old is trying desperately to look young...and it's so silly, why should one be ashamed to be 84? why do you have to say that you're 52? Nobody's going to believe you anyway...they get their faces done but their hands are still creepy. I mean it's ridiculous. Why be such a fool? There nothing wrong and I think it's nice that you got to be so old...It's a blessing."

    Whilst Iris Apfel's distinctive look is not for the faint-hearted, I think any 40+ woman can take a number of tips from her:
    Enjoy your age
    Have fun
    Mix low end and high-end fashion
    Accessorise wildly
    Adopt a signature item of clothing or accessory (in Iris Apfel's case, her enormous glasses)
    Play with fabrics and textures
    Combine classical with ethnic pieces
    Don't get stuck in the "look-du-jour"

     Pictures courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.
    I would like to mention that I have no connection financial or otherwise with the Peabody Essex Museum!