Friday, 27 June 2008

Life's a picnic - Act I

I went to see L'incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi at Glyndebourne - a cleverly staged production with baroque style music that is very easy on the ears, especially with the sublime voices in this performance - in fact I love any beautiful music, combined with an overdose of drama and the most wonderful costumes .. not only on the stage, but in the audience too. People normally dress up - like Shirley and I, arriving Ab Fab style (left) and the conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Emmanuelle Haim, on the first night with her Westwood-cum-Edwardian style bustle skirt (right, from behind).

At Grange Park Opera (GPO), I saw Bluebeard - a bit too curiously staged even for me - and then La Fanciulla del West which was memorably awesome. I'm not the world's most fervent fan of opera, nor Puccini, but Grange Park has a way of doing curiously quirky yet very clever productions that are fun, but also make you think - and even I manage to stay awake throughout.

As with all these things, there's a lot of competion, not only with the outfits, but with the picnics too. There are beautiful gardens at Glyndebourne (left), but it can get a bit chilly in the evening, so the less hardy tend to decamp to the opera terraces, where tables are laid out in style (right).

It's fascinating to observe which supermarkets people have visited to stock up for the occasion. Some are more original than others and, looking out for the curiously original, I spotted one opera-goer tucking into some wasabi peas (below left) and, dahling, it's absolutely imperative to have one's parmesan knife to hand, it could turn out to be very useful...

Grange Park has the most magnificent setting, with dramatic classical architecture and mood setting cedar trees, and becomes even more stunning at twighlight (left). There's even an old GPO telephone box with a light inside, creating a focus of illumination in a nearby field - much like the telephone box lamp available from ShopCurious.

You can hire a little tent - reminiscent of the ones seen on the boundaries of medieval jousting tournaments in the days when men were knights and women were ladies. You can even take your own fountain if you want - only joking!

At ShopCurious, we have some really useful stone placemats and coasters that are great for outdoors - they don't blow away when it's windy and you can leave them out in all weathers - they make an unusual gift too. If you don't like the idea of upmarket al fresco dining, the Grange Park caterers do seriously delicious food that you can eat in the very elegant (and dry) confines of the main house, which post-refurbishment, is considerably less dilapidated than was formerly the case. So, what do you do if it rains... well, us Brits are used to braving the elements and you will see opera goers scurrying around with their picnic wares in all weathers. And with their umbrellas too.

But, gradually, as the afternoon turns to evening and the night sets in, the lawyers, hedge fund managers and assembled glitterati tend to forget about the weather, as everything becomes more relaxed and a bit less focused on the rigours of life in the lutte pour la vie.

It's all a blur of lights and umbrellas, Ms Haim's other half has rather appropriately developed a halo of enlightenment and there's a very pleasant feeling that everyone has had an extremely nice evening together, whatever their differences. As everyone is...
Are you?

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Hats off to the blind eye

I didn't go out looking for fashion faux pas at Royal Ascot the other day, but did you notice any obvious flouting of the new dress code that was to be so strictly enforced?

There were plenty of fashion trends in evidence, like puff ball skirts, as disported by these two fillies (left) - perhaps they were hiding their hats underneath ... I had a good look, but can't spot them anywhere, can you?

Flouncy fabrics were also popular, as seen on the cool young things in the pic above right - love the cute little tiered skirt for the leggy look - obviously the stewards were momentarily distracted...

Elsewhere, curiously quirky accessorizing seemed to be the order of the day (see left).

Joline, a Canadian who has recently taken the British citizenship test, patriotically jazzed up her outfit with a couple of flags - a look which inadvertently attracted the attention of a particularly jolly, though not entirely welcome fellow.

There were some curiously chic ensembles too (from left to right below) a rather natty nature-inspired hat worn by fashion designer, Sangita Khan, love it; a couple of ladies looking cleverly uncoordinated with the help of a gentleman's morning coat and a cigar box bag - and finally, a bit of Italian style boho a go-go from this sultry cell phone and cigar wielding signora with a ffffffffffascinating bandana.

I also saw a few ShopCurious hats on display, dressed up with flowers (below left) and plain and simple (below centre and right).

Now that Royal Ascot's over for another year, I thought it would be nice to offer you these hats at a very special price. They're great for holidays too - you can simply squish them up and stuff them in your suitcase.
Will you?

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Racy lady

I hear they are clamping down on the dress code in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot this year - better put the ra-ra skirt on hold and get out a bolero to cover those naughty shoulders.

'Her Majesty’s Representative wishes to point out that only formal day dress with a hat or substantial fascinator will be acceptable.

Off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch and / or mini skirts are considered unsuitable. Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and colour.

Gentlemen are required to wear either black or grey morning dress, including a waistcoat, with a top hat which must be worn at all times when you are in the Royal Enclosure.'

So if you're wanting to look special and stand out from the crowd, how do you find something suitably original that isn't going to scare the horses?

Kate Middleton pushes the code to its boundaries with her ffffffffffffascinating hair accessories. It used to be the case that one had to cover the crown of one's head. It seems that this rule at least has been relaxed.

I suggest you play it safe on the dress front and express yourself with curiously quirky accessories. - like this horsy handbag, available in the UK exclusively at ShopCurious. I took one of these to a polo match recently and got photographed by Country Life, who zoomed in on my handbag... let me know if you see the pic.

Or perhaps you could wear an unusual pair of shoes - but do make sure you choose a pair that you can walk comfortably in on a variety of terrain - from soft to firm depending on the weather. You don't want to be having to ditch your shoes half way through the day... Not sure if it even mentions footwear (or baring shoeless feet) in the dress code though?
Are you?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Summer wedding

Did you know that in Victorian times, June was considered the luckiest month for a wedding - hence the tradition of early summer weddings? June has always been the most popular month, as it is named after Juno - the Roman goddess of marriage. She would bring prosperity and happiness to all who wed in her month. Practicality was also a consideration since, if married in June, the bride was likely to give birth to her first child in spring, allowing her enough time to recover before harvest time.

June also signified the end of Lent and the arrival of warmer weather, so it was time to remove winter clothing and partake in an annual bath! April, November and December were also favoured months, as they didn't conflict with peak farm working times. October was an auspicious month too, signifying a bountiful harvest. May, however, was considered unlucky. 'Marry in May and rue the day' says an old proverb, but 'marry in September's shine, your living will be rich and fine'.

The Victorians were very superstitious about weddings, resulting in many traditions that have since fallen out of favour. Around the turn of the century, it was customary to create a marriage globe in the form of a collection of precious things from the special occasion, usually the bride's wedding crown, flowers and other family momentos inside a large glass dome.

The items chosen to put into the dome were highly symbolic, for instance:

  • Oak leaves to represent the longevity of union
  • Sheaves of wheat to symbolise the gift of life
  • Rectangular mirrors to signify the years of engagement
  • Diamond shaped mirrors meaning fertility
  • A large central mirror symbolic of the reflection of the soul
  • Clusters of grapes standing for prosperity
  • Roses or daisies representative of love
  • Cherries seen as protection from bad fortune
  • Ivy indicating attachment to each other
  • Chestnut tree leaves signifying links to others

We have a couple of original antique wedding domes available at ShopCurious. These are beautiful pieces of history and would make a totally unique and very romantic wedding gift. Alternatively, you might simply want to invest in one as a curiously collectable heirloom for future generations, or to decorate your abode in opulent Victorian style? Perhaps you're even inspired enough to make your own modern day version. Are you?

Monday, 9 June 2008

The art of fashion

This season has showcased a hot new trend in the form of wearable art - most notably evident in collections by Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.

Did you know that almost a decade ago a young Frenchman by the name of Karim Bonnet set up a street art inspired label called Impasse de la Defense? I went to one of the label's first fashion shows back in 1999 and was totally wowed.

We've a few of his stunningly original hand painted vintage pieces available at ShopCurious. There are a couple of wonderfully feminine Marilyn style dresses with fabulous swishy skirts.

Then there's the artst's impression of the Eiffel Tower - writ large on a dress, a couple of stylish micro-mini shift dresses and an extravagant tiered paint-splashed skirt.

I noticed that there was an Impasse de la Defense fashion show this year and have tried to track down the arty yet elusive M. Bonnet, but to no avail. Does anyone out there have his contact details?
Do you?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The fashion of art

Last night I went to the preview of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The dress code was 'glamorous'. Did it live up to expectations? I snapped Grayson Perry looking curiously quirky in a Little Bo Peep number, Virginia Bates looking amazingly svelte, youthful and curiously chic in vintage c.1922 and the utterly charming Erin O'Connor looking curiously cool in tiered and floaty Ashley Isham.

Meantime, five minutes prior to leaving the house I threw together this outfit consisting of vintage Voyage, a cocktail of ruby red feathers and a telephone handbag that is available at ShopCurious (if you are impressed by celebrity endorsements, apparently something that once appeared in an episode of Sex and the City).

Sir Stuart Rose (who hot-footed it from Buckingham Palace) was certainly very impressed by my vintage Dior hold-up stocking shoes - so much so that he felt compelled to run his hand down my lower leg. I'm sure this was only a matter of professional curiosity, though I can't envisage this trend being that easy to sell to the usual M&S clientele.

Then of course there was the art. Counter to the recession and judging by the rapidly burgeoning number of orange dots, the exhibits seemed to be selling very well indeed. I really like the large naked lady canvases - postcard collages Big Blue and Golden Delicious II by David Mach at £25,000 a pop and Julian Schnabel's simply gorgeous oriental lady who was NFS, though a friend mentioned that he would mortgage his house if she were.

There is some intriguing pottery too, like the gigantic tutti fruiti ceramic pot by Kate Malone (below left) - not quite to my taste, but interesting. There are also the usual exhibits guaranteed to elicit a reaction such as the video of a barbed wire hoola hoop (Barbed Hula by Sigalit Landau) and the zebra sex installation by Matt Collishaw (if installation is an appropriate word to use?) curiously entitled 'In the Old Fashioned Way' - the fully functioning mechanics of which were thankfully switched off for the duration of the preview at least.

The food was as arty and alluring as everything else with this messy mushroom melange (left) vying for attention with the scrambled egg in this painting (right).

My verdict: this is a show that is well worth a visit. I will certainly be going back to spend more time exploring the wonderful array of curiosities on offer. Will you?