Saturday, 30 August 2008

Old meets new down under

Down under the Silk Route there's a place where old meets new. Rather like ShopCurious, where unusual and vintage curiosities are to be found side by side with the latest technology in the form of that great modern invention, the internet. At ShopCurious, we simply love combining the old, new, quirky and classic in an eclectic melange of unique and beautiful things. We've got stylish antipodean vintage silk scarves, for instance, that each have a story to tell. So let's continue our journey - which seems to be getting curiouser and curiouser...

Let's start at The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world - even larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing that's visible from space. The reef is breathtakingly beautiful, with an abundance of marine life, comprising of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays, hundreds of picturesque tropcial islands and some of the world's most beautiful beaches.

Possibly one of the quirkier things to be found in Australia is that distinctively individual creature, the duck billed platypus: a mammal that has a duck's bill, webbed feet, a furry body and lays eggs. One of the few mammal-like things about these oddbods is that they swim with their eyes closed, otherwise they're essentially underwater cats with a double layer of fur so they never get wet. How curiously clever is that?

Let's make a quick detour to Papua New Guinea, which is a perfect place for a spot of twitching (Brit term for bird-watching). The tropical rainforest is the most wonderful habitat for a wide variety of extraordinary birds, including the world's smallest parrot and 38 of the 43 known speices of birds of paradise.

Many tribal groups in the region use bird plumes to decorate their traditional costumes and head-dresses - making for a very original fashion statement. Some of the more curious birds include kokomos (hornbills), palm cockatoos and Papua New Guinea's largest bird, the giant cassowary.

There's also the land of the kiwi, New Zealand, to consider if you're travelling south of the equator. 200 million years ago, New Zealand was part of a big continent called Gondwana, which later split apart into the continents of the world as we know them today. New Zealand is a bit like the lost bit of a jigsaw, which remained cut off from the rest of the world. Because of its isolation and lack of land mammals, New Zealand became a land filled with unique animals, ancient frogs with no tadpoles, insects as big as mice and birds that couldn't fly. 85% of New Zealand's flowers are endemic (that means they're unique to New Zealand).

Of course, like most of the people down under, the Kiwis will put on a bit of a show for the tourists (see right) - or are they actually trying to scare us away? Anyway, I'm just about ready to be heading off back to Europe. Better be eco-friendly and remember to offset the carbon emissions from the air miles...

Will you?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Sailing by the Silk Route

When it comes to maps, I tend to get a bit enthusiastic. I don't often mention that I'm a geographer: hence my curiosity about global trading patterns over the past millennium or so. Long before that, probably around 139 B.C, the Silk Road started as a chain of caravans, transporting goods from China, across central Asia to mainland Europe.

The commodities traded included not only silk, but other rare and unusual offerings, such as gold for coins and jewellery, jade, tea and spices (reminds me of what's available at ShopCurious!) Since the capacity to transport these goods over long distances was limited, luxury goods were the main products that were traded (rather like today, except now it's fuel prices that are the main factor affecting the transfer of goods). It was during the Roman era that sea routes in the Mediterranean basin and India first became fashionable for shipping produce, which was then taken by camels inland to the Nile. River boats moved the goods to Alexandria, from where trading with the Roman Empire was carried out. Arab traders, who controlled the maritime routes, gradually took over from the original overland transportation along the Silk Route from the 9th century onwards.

Much larger quantities could be transported by ship, stimulating even more trading between the various nation states and territories of the time. The main maritime route started at Canton (Guangzhou) and passed through Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and on to Alexandria. There was also a trading route to the Spice Islands (Moluccas) in today's Indonesia.

The spread of religions such as Islam and diffusion of their principles also took place at this time. Many of the rules and ethics of commerce have their roots in religion. Meantime, the Europeans were developing their own maritime technology and from the 15th century onwards, they achieved sufficient power and influence at sea to overthrow the Arab control of lucrative trade: European style ships were simply able to shift commodities faster and cheaper ... and by the 16th century the Silk Road was already obsolete.

Nonetheless, exotic places along the route still make for stylish and unusual travel destinations today. And no doubt they now have their fair share of designer boutique hotels too. I'm certainly curious to explore some of them.

Are you?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Marco Polo's Silk Road

The Silk Road was a network of ancient caravan routes that opened commerce between the great civilisations of east and west. From the capital city of ancient China, Chang'an, the caravans crossed the deserts, mountains and steppes of Central Asia, all the way to the Mediterranean port cities of Byzantium (Constantinople) and Venice.

In addition to being a commercial trade route for silk and other curiosities, the Silk Route was also a means of spreading new ideas and religions as well as stimulating cultural and technological development.

The Silk Road reached its peak during the Monglian Empire in the 13th century, when China and central Asia were controlled by Mongol Khans. During the Middle Ages, the Venetians and Genoese controlled the bulk of Mediterranean trade, connected to the major trading centres of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. The trading relationship between Europe and China was greatly strengthened by the voyages of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was born to a wealthy, privileged family in Venice in 1254 and became one of the most famous merchants to travel the Silk Road. At the age of 17, he set out with his father and uncle for the court of Kublai Khan, returning 24 years later with many fantastical tales to tell of trips to places such as Ceylon, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. He also reported on the incredible luxury and amazing wonders of the court of Kublia Khan, such as a palace built of marble and precious stones, a stable of 10,000 snow white horse, robes made entirely from gold thread and magicians who used spells to keep bad weather away.

On his return to Venice, Marco Polo was imprisoned during a war with Genoa, where he told fellow prisoner Rustichello of Pisa of his adventures in exotic lands. Rustichello published the stories in a book originally entitled Il Millione, but later named The Travels of Marco Polo. Later, as European powers developed their maritime fleets from the 15th century onwards, they put an end to the Arab control of the lucrative trade route and the ability of ships to transport commodities much faster and cheaper than camel trains resulted in the demise of the Silk Road by the 16th century.

We have a unique range of vintage silk scarf cushions at ShopCurious, some of which feature Venice - the 'Queen of the Adriatic' and major host to merchant ships of the Silk Route.

The cushions are beautifully handmade, each with an individual contrasting trim. These are great for the home in a fashion-meets-art-meets-furnishing sort of way and they also make a really unusual gift. Maybe you'll be inspired to invest in a piece of history?

Will you?

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Let's go Dutch

Okay, so we may be taking a slight detour on our alternative Silk Route, but it'll be worth the trip. Sorry for misleading you, but the Netherlands is not the silkworm breeding capital of the world. However, there are a few things peculiar to Holland that the country has become rather uniquely famous for:

1) Windmills. There are around 1000 original windmills in Holland that are still fully operational.

2) Tulips. Apparently 75% of the entire world's flower bulb production comes from the Netherlands. Due to this, the Netherlands is the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, even though just 3% of the Dutch population are employed in this sector.

3) Clogs.

4) Bicycles. Holland has over 15,000 km of cycle lanes. Amsterdam alone has over a million bikes, but a population of only around 700,000. Every person in the Netherlands has at least one bicycle and there are twice as many bikes as cars in the country. How very eco-friendly...though the classic Dutch bicycle with its old fashioned iconic design (pictured below left) might be a bit more cumbersome than the more modern, but equally quirky and individual folding Mobiky (below right), currently available at ShopCurious.

5) Barges. The Netherlands has more than 4,000km of navigable rivers, lakes and canals. A quarter of the country is below sea level. When you land at Schipol airport, you are actually four meters below sea level. Rotterdam was once the world's largest port and is still the second largest. The name Amsterdam comes from the combination of the river Amstel and the Dam that was built on it.

6) Artists. From the old Dutch Masters to impressionsts such as Van Gogh, the Netherlands is a country that seems to inspire great artists and extraordinary works of art. I personally prefer the more contemporary style, like the painting below left called Card Players by Theo Van Doesburg (1917), who was a member of De Stijl (The Style) group of Dutch artists that included Mondrian. You can see this painting at the Haags Gemeentemuseum in the Hague. Karel Appel is another very important post 1945 Dutch artist, whose expressionist abstract style is also illustrated below and was a reaction against the strict formalism of De Stijl.

7) Crazy people. Holland always has a coalition government, so it's a country of compromise and tolerance. Amsterdam has over 300 coffee shops, which can legally sell up to 5 grams of soft drugs to each person. And of course, there's plenty of Amstel beer.

Unfortunately, we haven't time to visit any Dutch fashion designers, we'll have to leave that for a later date. I'm packing my vintage bags and am already getting curious about the next destination on our whirlwind tour.
Are you?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

French style

At ShopCurious, we've created a little enclave of French fancies to delight you, as we transport you in style on our alternative Silk Route. Le style francais is often talked about in relation to furniture, food and fashion. Where better to start than with a vintage silk scarf depicting the world famous city of fashion and romance itself, and les ponts de Paris: bridges to time honoured passion, style, art and culture...

Of course, you might also be interested in an earlier history of Paris, where the ideals of liberte, egalite and fraternite first emerged during the Age of the Enlightenment. We've also got an original limited edition Hermes silk scarf commemorating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989.

For more recent evidence of the art of fashion from the French capital, take a look at these wonderfully elegant silk dresses by Madame a Paris for autumn/winter 2008: Simple, chic, sophisticated, curiously French and newly available from our eclectic online emporium.

In a city where fashion and art vie for premiere position, how appropriate that the elusive French designer, Monsieur Bonnet ,should have combined the two in this fitting Eiffel Tower dress (below left). How stylish! We're veering off the Silk Route a bit with this cotton number and, likewise, with this amazing hand painted, carved acacia wood sculpture of the great French monument by Timmy Woods (below right) - which is in fact a handbag that originates from Beverly Hills and was worn by Carrie in the Sex and the City film. It's currently available in the UK exclusively at ShopCurious.

Our journey to Paris has almost come to an end and I'm feeling in need of a little rest before our next adventure, so I don't think I'll be sampling the delights of Parisien nightlife. I'll be off to bed now, but I'm already looking forward to the next stage of our travels...
Are you?

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Silk Route

I feel like I must be the only person in London who's sitting at a desk writing a blog. Anyone sensible must surely be on holiday now, which is why I've decided to dedicate a few blogs to the tempting topic of travel...

and silk scarves, which as we know can come in very handy on your hols - as illustrated here.

We've just got a new collection of stylish silk scarves at ShopCurious, many of which are unique 1950s tourist memorabilia from an eclectic mix of destinations around the world. Not only are these highly individual accessories, but each one has a tale to tell - and they make a rather unusual gift for someone who has an interest in, or an association with the location featured.

Although most of these places probably aren't on the original Silk Route, I thought it would be interesting to spend the next few days going on a bit of a tour of the some of the countries and cities featured on these vintage silk squares.

My curiously colourful virtual trip starts in Europe with Holland, Paris, Sicily, Milan and Spain. Then travelling further afield to more exotic hotspots: The Canaries, Aden and Djibouti, before finishing down under with New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

When travelling, it's always essential to plan ahead - so why not do some advance preparation based on a headwear trend that's set to become one of the biggest fashion stories of the coming year.

I hope you'll join me on my curious excursions around the globe.
Will you?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Hot lips

Girls, it doesn't really matter whether you're braving out the depressingly damp weather in the UK for your hols, or searching for sunshine elsewhere, so long as you look glam and have fun. Here's Diana Dors looking curiously chic in Cannes - a rather stylish place to hang out. And Marilyn Monroe, romping amidst the waves, definitely appears to be enjoying herself.

The 1950s was a very glamorous era, when the fashion was for ladies to look like film stars at all times. Hollywood sirens of the day probably knew about the original colour change longstay lipstick called Magic Lips - a secret formula lipstain that changes colour according to your individual pH level. It's been available to the public now for over 20 years, but how it exactly works remains a mystery. If you're curious to discover what hot colour they'll make your lips, I suggest you invest in a set of 8 colour matching lipsticks from ShopCurious, where they're available at a very special price.

Believe me, this rather eclectic mix of colours will turn into hot shades of pink, red, peach or plum when applied to your lips - and will make them curiously kissable too - what fun!

We've got another magic pair of lips as well, in the form of this unusual red lips bag by Timmy Woods of Beverly Hills. At the moment ShopCurious is the exclusive UK stockist of this uniquely pouty party piece, which was carried by Carrie (excuse the cheesy pun) in an episode of Sex and the City.

Talking of movie stars, I think that Sex and the City's Samantha could also do with a red lips bag - when she's on holiday in the film she looks ever glamorous in her vintage style swimsuit, but she could definitely do with a bit of cheering up.

Smile and say cheese...
Will you?