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.