Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Paris trip - something old and something new

A Londoner for 20 years, visits to Paris elicit a rich mix of emotions. I am both back home and a tourist. I reconnect with my childhood and student days but also realise that Paris is no longer my reference. I understand how the city works, navigate the metro and the neighbourhoods on automatic pilot, but also feel slightly alien. The city brings up memories, buried reactions, the unique pleasures of deep recognition and familiarity, but also the reality that I no longer belong. I left Paris as a student, and have come back over the years as a working woman, a mother, an entirely different person. The pleasure of seeing family and friends is always tinged with nostalgia, the remembrance of the person I was. 

Old and new

My weekend visit afforded me a wonderful combination of discovery and recollection. I had never visited the Bibliotheque Nationale, president Mitterand's hommage to books (and himself). It is set in a completely new neighbourhood, reminiscent of the area around Tate Modern in London, combining glass and steel offices, a new university and interesting new housing with amazing river views on the Seine.

Exploring Le Marais area, I walked past my old gym, Vit'Halles and had a vision of myself in dayglo pink lycra with permed hair panting to the sound of disco music. In my student days, I used to go daily to aerobic classes to make up for the delicacies of rue Montorgueil.  Stohrer's Puits d'Amour (caramelised creme patissiere in pastry) and Houdot's cheeses were notable culprits and remain hard to resist!

A new perspective 

With regards to fashion, I'd like to question the notion that Paris offers more than London to the 40+ woman.  The Parisian 40+ woman tends to look good, fed on a diet of cigarettes and coffee and a steely determination to keep her weight down. She knows what fits and suits her, but tends to adopt a uniform of winter black trouser suits, cleverly accessorised and picked up by the occasional discreet flash of colour. As a student in LA, I had been shocked and outraged by an American fashionista's judgment on French women: they were boring. I still don't agree, but I now understand what she means: good taste can be a prison.

My guide through le Marais was my wonderfully patient and knowledgeable artist cousin, C.M. We alternated art gallery visits and boutique exploration. On a Saturday afternoon, the shopping streets were teeming with sight-seers and the economic recession seemed far away. From the variety of shops we saw, I'd like to highlight Erotokritos, (99 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003, telephone +33 (0)1 42 78 14 04):
The Greek cypriot designer, Erotokritos Antoniadis is based in Paris with 2 boutiques and present in London at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. I very much liked his knitwear, beautifully made, quirky but stylish. 
Krystall cardigan, €200

Jaquelle, 3/4 sleeved sweater, €175

On the art front, there is so much to see that we barely scratched the surface. I'll just mention a couple of places. A stop at  Karsten Greve's gallery, (5 rue de Belleyme, 75003), gave us the opportunity to see  Lucio Fontana, Soulages and Cy Twombly's works in much more peaceful conditions than we could have experienced in a museum. 

At Yvon Lambert's gallery,  (108 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003, telephone +33(0) 1 42 71 09 33), I thoroughly enjoyed artist David Claerbout's video installation Sunrise, part of the exhibition Locus Solus,
I tend to be very critical of video installations, often an excuse for "artists" to bore their audience to death with loops of shaky camera work, a complete ignorance of film making and an insufferable dose of pretension. Not David Claerbout's film Sunrise.  I agree with Shine magazine's review: it "is a masterpiece of timing, camera-work, lighting and sheer artistic ingenuity and grace. The film follows a maid about her morning tasks in a modernist villa. [...] In its final minutes this film transforms itself from a quiet, unassuming view of perfection into an assault of emotion." (

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Anthropologie - the shop

US chain Anthropologie opens this weekend on Regents street in London, its first outing in Europe after successfully expending in North America from its original Pennsylvania home. I am curious to know how the British public will react and I suspect the store will need to adapt to this market. My experience of visiting the shop in the US, in one of those out of town spreads of upscale big box shops, was one of slight puzzlement. I found that its mix of ethnic chic and cheap trinkets, colourful and eccentric pieces was successful for its home collection but more hit and miss for fashion.

I liked the Fifties inspired aprons (reasonable at £23.83) and tea towels (£11.29),  embroidered with applique motifs to brighten up your kitchen with a wink at the modern domestic goddess. They conjure up visions of cupcakes, decorated jellies and happy friends and children.

Anthropologie is also very good for stationary and cute toys.

I am less convinced by Anthropologie's clothing selection. It goes for a quirky style of colourful, often over decorated clothes which can look cute and fun on a 20 year old but could go awfully wrong on a 40+.  Cute eccentric can easily slip into wacky art teacher. I found fabrics and quality rather lacklustre in general for clothes, which is another danger for 40+, as it can look cheap and tawdry. Prices are quite reasonable though, so if something hits your fancy, go for it but don't over do it.

Lolland sweater dress, £117.90
Where it might be worth giving it a try is in its denim collection. They feature a "denim decoder" which looks worthwhile. With a variety of brand,  fits, washes and lengths including a "petite" selection, we are bound to find a model that fits and looks good.

Daughters of the liberation, £61.46

Anthropologie has quite a wide selection of shoes and boots and there again I would be careful about quality. I  like the patent heeled peep-toe lace up, not cheap at £205.70.

All in all, I found the US store I visited great for home accessories and gifts but remained unconvinced by its fashion selection. However, I'd happily go look at their denims and rummage through the railings in case a cute, fun piece captures my imagination.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Boobs' etiquette after 40

Our most potent symbol of femininity, object of pride or despair, too big or too small and rarely just right, our boobs represent us as women and mothers. Eagerly awaited by some or hidden with embarrassment, they set girls on their way to womanhood. Buying one's first bra must surely rank high amongst female rites of passage.

After early years of sensible bras, the temptation to leave practical imperatives behind and concentrate on frills, silks and ruffles often takes over in dating years...

Is it too harsh to think that those days of frilly bits and lacy bobs are over, once you enter your middle years? Maybe not entirely but I think it is best to err on the side of fit and comfort and make sure the underwear helps rather than hinder you. 

Choosing the right bra
In practical terms, choosing a bra for aging boobs is far less fun than it used to be! Trinny and Susannah have done a great job in helping women understand the importance of wearing the right bra size and shape. I would add my own tip that padded bras are a 40+ girl's best friend! They give a neat shape to what is starting to droop, sag and wilt. They make up for missing bulk but also tuck and smooth away unsightly bumps. Good brands to explore: M&S is a good starting point of course, but also Calvin Klein or DKNY.  Department stores are a good choice to go to try on lots of different styles.

Topless on the beach - are you mad!?
Growing up in France, my generation experienced topless beaches, with a sense of liberation for some and cringing mortification for others. By the way, I notice that women who still go topless on French beaches should usually avoid it, a definite case of "mutton UNdressed as lamb"! I'm afraid going topless - apart from desert beaches or the privacy of one's garden or swimming pool, is a big no-go area for 40+ women. The wisdom of going topless in the sun at any age should be questioned anyway, now that we know about sun damage and the resulting crepey skin.

Get tested!
Worries about breast cancer and the experience of close friends who experience the disease and its unbearably harsh treatment put breasts in a new light. Host to a potential killer, breasts become the enemy, something to get rid of, instead of the sexy attribute which is celebrated and treasured. They need to be surveyed with an honest gaze as was done in the October issue of the French Marie-Claire where a number of personalities campaign for free breast-cancer screening for women aged 40+ - the test is free after 50 in France:,cancer-du-sein-10-stars-enlevent-le-haut-pour-le-depistage-du-cancer-du-sein,20213,34405.asp
A brave decision from model Estelle Lefebure to designer Nathalie Rykiel or chef Helene Darroze to show their breast in such an honest way, supporting a worthwhile campaign but also helping see real women's bodies, sympathetically photographed without the now usual airbrushing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Be bold!

I realise that it is tempting to opt for safe fashion options once you are past 40. As I was answering Mary's comments on my post on vintage, I realised that my feedback to her question on skirt length might come across as rather tame and I want to quickly dispel any notion that safety is what we should aim for at 40+.  Invisibility is what threatens us as heads no longer seem to turn as we walk into a room, so we should not give in to the temptation to simply politely fade into dull greyness! It is quite cruel to feel invisible when we once felt we existed in other people's eyes but maybe it is time to look for another form of reassurance: the confidence that we feel good in our own skin, that we know who we are and dress accordingly. Boldness in that sense does not mean a sombrero and gold platform shoes, but a style that is really ours, that suits and flatters us, that we wear and does not wear us and allows us to express our individuality.

So, to come back to Mary's question on skirt length, my recommendation to aim for knee length does not mean boring and old-fashioned. It means being practical and hiding knees and thighs that might not look great at 40+. A few of examples taken from Nicole Fahri's autumn collection show that knee length can also mean elegant and feminine: a flared boiled wool skirt a £160, a silk sateen piece at £290 and, going up a notch in price at £400, a silk bonded number in bright green on the picture and also available in a beautiful pink in the shop.  They are not cheap but it might make sense to invest in a few beautifully cut and made items that will last and are versatile enough to be matched with cheaper tops.

Still on the subject of skirt length, the vexed issue of the miniskirt finds a nice interpretation in the shop-window of Anonymous by Ross & Bute in Ledbury road, London W11.

The long fluid cardigan, the high boots and the short skirt work well together and present a sexy look without being slutty. What's missing is the thick tights which would finish the look nicely for a 40+. There are plenty of long cardigans and knitted coats to choose from in the high street and in designer shops.

Another answer to short dresses or skirts is leggings. They can hide a multitude of sins but should be worn appropriately. More, the US magazine that targets 40+ women has a very good summary of how to wear them:

Friday, 9 October 2009

The joys of vintage

Vintage is a wonderful source of cheap, well-made unique clothing and accessories, which would otherwise be unaffordable. The difference between vintage and second-hand is quite subtle now that some pieces from the Nineties can be found in vintage shops.  Vintage definitely sounds better than second-hand which brings to mind frayed collars and over-stretched sweaters.

For me, vintage was a particularly good source of statement clothes when I was a student in LA and had no money to spend on clothes. I remember a striking bellboy cobalt blue jacket which became the inspiration for a tailor-made suit offered by my husband many years later. My rule with vintage was not to buy anything that would directly touch my skin, so I mainly stuck to jackets and accessories or unworn vintage such as shoes still in their original box. Some of my friends tell me that buying vintage clothes is their secret to being well-dressed at a fraction of the cost of new clothes. For them, it is practically a way of life as they care about beautiful, well-cut clothes, can't afford their prices and opt for vintage - it works for them as they look stylish and amazing. For others, it is only one of many sources of clothes and accessories as they mix and match vintage with new. My friend Claudia, who kindly served as my guide through the Portobello market area that she knows inside out, says: "Don't exceed the prescribed dose!" She guards against the "old wacky artist look" of head to toe vintage.  I see what she means as a Thirties look might be cute and witty on a 16 year old but smack of the freakish bag-lady on a 40+. She tells me that she only buys what she can wash at reasonably high-temperature - she even washes woolens at 30 degrees and uses shampoo as soap as it is suitable for delicate fabrics and gets rid of the musty smell of some vintage clothing. She buys vintage cashmere - better quality than the modern China-made stuff, and particularly likes Edwardian fine cotton blouses which can be worn on a camisole in the summer and nicely hide the tricky upper arm area.

Claudia shared with me her favourite vintage sources from charity shops to high-end boutiques to the market stalls under the canopy at the top of Portobello road.  Charity shops, the brilliant British invention is a great starting point. A well known source is the Oxfam shop at 245 Westbourne Grove , W11 2SE, where a quick trawl through the rails and shelves revealed beautiful glass pearls with a lovely brillante clasp at £12 (sorry for the blurred picture) and a very good Brora cashmere jumper at £30 (from £169 new) - size unknown, which is a hazard of vintage shopping.

Another recommendation is the Fara charity shop, raising money for Romanian abandoned children,  located a number 10 Elgin Crescent, W11 2HX.  The shop has a polished look and a dynamic manager. We picked out shoes in great condition. If you are a size 6, the Ferragamo cantilevered patent wedges can be yours for £65.

Another pair of patent wedges, not quite as striking and by Gucci this time were priced at £40 for a size 4.

Whilst charity shops pre-select and present clothes in an appealing ways at slightly higher prices, the real finds are often on the market stalls. The stall holders under the canopy at the top of Portobello road are usually very knowledgeable and helpful. Under Claudia's guidance, I was thrilled to discover beautiful Jacqmar silk scarves in very good condition for £10 each. The stall holder tells me she sells on ebay under the name of "littlemissimpact" but I could not locate her on the web.  I could not decide between the two I liked best, so I bought both - something you can afford to do with vintage!

How to post comments.

Readers are finding it complicated to post comments and I don't blame them as I share the feeling! If you are new to the blogosphere, it seems pretty confusing. My blog requires you to submit your comments under an OpenID which basically requires that you register with an organisation such as Google, Facebook, or many others (listed below).  OpenID allows you to post your comments under the identity you choose without revealing your email address or any other information. Once you have an OpenID, you can use it everywhere on the web.

I have copied the following information from, in the hope that it clarifies matters:
OpenID allows you to use an existing identity to sign in to multiple websites, without needing to create new passwords.
You may choose to associate information with your OpenID that can be shared with the websites you visit, such as a name or email address. With OpenID, you control how much of that information is shared with the websites you visit.
With OpenID, your password is only given to your identity provider, and that provider then confirms your identity to the websites you visit.  Other than your provider, no website ever sees your password, so you don’t need to worry about an unscrupulous or insecure website compromising your identity.
OpenID is rapidly gaining adoption on the web, with over one billion OpenID enabled user accounts and over 50,000 websites accepting OpenID for logins.  Several large organizations either issue or accept OpenIDs, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, MySpace, Sears, Universal Music Group, France Telecom, Novell, Sun, Telecom Italia, and many more.

Who Owns or Controls OpenID?

OpenID was created in the summer of 2005 by an open source community trying to solve a problem that was not easily solved by other existing identity technologies. As such, OpenID is decentralized and not owned by anyone, nor should it be. Today, anyone can choose to use an OpenID or become an OpenID Provider for free without having to register or be approved by any organization.
The OpenID Foundation was formed to assist the open source model by providing a legal entity to be the steward for the community by providing needed infrastructure and generally helping to promote and support expanded adoption of OpenID.

Here is a step by step recap of how it works:

I hope this is helpful. It works for me as I can leave comments on other people's blogs with under my Google OpenID. I look forward to reading yours!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Boutiques and brands - Lumina and Senas

The anonymity of department store and high-street shopping has its appeals.  On days when you just don't want to talk to another human being, when you just want to browse, try on clothes without enduring the fake encouragements of a commission-based sales assistant or the haughty neglect of the bored teenager on duty, department stores and high-street shops are just the ticket. Go in, grab an armful of clothes, head for the changing rooms and make a fool of yourself without witnesses or attention. That approach suits me for the usually undignified mission of finding a new swimsuit or new underwear. For such duties, I tend to head for Selfridges and go home with something reasonably suitable and even affordable when I go during the sales. Whilst their shop windows are amazing, Selfridges' website is rather confusing but here it is:
I used to enjoy nipping to Harvey Nichols and mostly Liberty to check out the new styles and try them out without interference, but those shopping trips are becoming rarer, although I still pay them a visit during the sales.

I realise that most of what I buy, beyond basics, now comes from boutiques. I enjoy boutique shopping for a variety of reasons, from personal service and keenly priced pieces to the opportunity of finding more original styles. It is usually in boutiques that I discover new and interesting designers whilst department stores tend to stick to big names and big prices. Since I have no interest in wearing "the" iconic piece of the minute, I like the feeling of unearthing a new creator - new to me at least.  That is what happened recently when I stepped inside Lumina, a tiny boutique in a small street behind High-Street Kensington.  A sign posted to the door had caught my eye, boldly stating to target "non-followers of fashion", a rare endeavour in our age focused on the "new and improved" rather than the timeless. Set-up a year ago, it is run by Janis who explained that their buyer tends to source their stock from Italy, Spain and Germany and revolve around timeless classics. With an emphasis on quality, natural fibres and durability, they are definitely at the more classic end of the fashion scale. Whilst I am probably more adventurous in my own choices, I picked out a brand that I liked: Senas. A German brand which started with natural-fibre scarves, they now offer a full range of clothing in muted colours but interesting cuts modeled on their website by grown-women, including a model with grey hair and womanly proportions.
The clothes have clever details such as small elasticated strips at the waist of a skirt, offering comfort without ruining the sharp tayloring.

In tough economic times, boutiques also tend to try harder, give their customers individual attention and more honest feedback as they understand the value of return business better than anonymous chains with uncommitted staff with high-turnover.
I should mention that I have no connection, financial or otherwise with either Lumina nor Senas!