Monday, 27 April 2009

Curiously modern Ming

I did mention that we’d be featuring some more unusual examples of Oriental exotica - and so be it. As it’s already been picked up by one or two other bloggers (I found this link via British Blogs), I thought I’d better reveal all:

It’s official – computers really do ming!

Actually, these Ming style designs are hand painted by Stephanie Douet, the Norfolk based artist, whose iconic work, Minging Computers, is exclusively available for sale at ShopCurious.

What I love about this curiously cool creation is that it uses old computer waste, so it’s recycled and totally eco-friendly – but most of all it’s stylish and fun too. What’s more the Ming inspired designs are based on the original blue and white designs from the Ming Dynasty – a colour scheme that just happens to be the fashion du jour.

A curious fact is that, although Western Europe was the driving force for scientific advancement during the Ming Dynasty, China now leads the way in terms of global technological developments – and it’s great that we're able to appreciate the combined efforts of our creativity through works of art like this.

By the way, Stephanie also makes personalized Ming mats – and she reproduces all sorts of images in Ming form. Just send in photographs of your loved ones, family, friends, pets, houses, whatever you like – and they will be recreated in traditional Ming style on a set of six stylish plywood table mats.

The quirky subject matter which Stephanie has chosen to illustrate her own set of personalized placemats just happens to be a couple of hoodies sitting on a park bench … Now some may call that minging, but I’d call it inventive contemporary British art.

Do you?

Friday, 24 April 2009

Oriental exotica

With the current fashion for Japanese woodblock prints (check out the Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts), the resurgence of interest in Japanese kimonos and a renewed interest in Oriental style jewellery, accessories and homewares, it seems that our fascination with everything from the East is still as alive it was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

At ShopCurious, we’ve got some original 1930s Oriental-inspired pieces that look just as stylish today as they did all those years ago. There’s a wonderful mint condition vintage black satin handbag with fine quality Chinoiserie embroidery (see below left).

Chinoiserie, by the way, is the term used for the fashion for Chinese themes in decoration in Western Europe which began as early as the late 17th century, much earlier than Japoneries – the fashion for everything Japanese, which took off from around 1860.

Chinese style furnishings often feature Chinoiserie designs, or beautifully carved jade, like this fabulous lamp base (above right) – something totally unique and authentic that would add character and sophistication to any room.

We’ve also got some modern furnishings and tableware with a distinctly Eastern vibe. These curiously cool leather pouffes, (right and below left) from Buba are beautifully encrusted with Japanese glass beads and colourful crystals – plus they’re tried, tested and very comfortable to sit in too. Perfect for lounging around this summer...

You could even take one of these outside to enjoy the sunshine - it’s as full of Eastern promise as Fry’s Turkish Delight! In fact you might even be sufficiently inspired to buy an exotic tented canopy, like the ones in the iconic 1960s Fry's advert shown here (click on link to view).

If you’re not feeling quite that exotic, how about these unusual, yet understated Ming design placemats, with hand painted traditional blue and white illustrations based on original Ming art, by Norfolk based artist, Stephanie Douet?

More about Stephanie later - plus some of her more curious Chinoiserie creations ... definitely worth waiting for.

Will you?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Art Deco accessories

Here’s a 21st century synopsis of some reasons why you might consider investing in rare and beautiful Art Deco accessories:

Buying vintage is an eco-friendly form of recycling. Just look at this fabulous original 1920s belt (right) that’s made from hand painted seeds.

Most pieces from this era are 100% handmade, using totally natural materials – and even today, it's not too difficult to source items that simply scream 'style with brains', if you're curious enough to seek them out.

Vintage is often much less expensive than its modern equivalent – take this authentic 1930s quilted python skin bag (left) and art deco clutch (right) from ShopCurious, for instance – curiously cheap and chic compared to most of today’s designer snakeskin bags.

Unique accessories from any era are highly collectable and can be a great investment too - especially well designed, high quality items of jewellery and stylish silk scarves that have timeless and lasting appeal.

There’s no denying it, Art Deco style is curiously cool – whenever, wherever ... have you seen Bebaroque’s Cleopatra tights and this amazing rhinestone encrusted headpiece? You're not drooling ...

Are you?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Powders and perfumes

It’s said that women started wearing heavy makeup in the 1920s to attract the attention of men, who were in much shorter supply after the First World War. Prior to this, wearing makeup was frowned upon, with pots of rouge and powder puffs being carefully hidden away from husbands and fathers - kept in underwear drawers and applied in secret. Ivory coloured foundation and bright red lipstick soon became the norm – and there were other inventive fashion trends:

For the eyes, in addition to mascara, ladies of the day used a toothpick to apply liquid wax to the ends of each eyelash, giving the impression of a row of tiny pearls. Eyebrows were often plucked out completely and then penciled back on somewhat higher up than nature intended. Other eye makeup included kohl - often made of ingredients like soot, lead, or goose grease – that was smudged all around the eyes, creating a look reminiscent of a vampire. The ‘vamps’ would sometimes add a dramatic line of kohl from the corner of the eye outwards to create a slightly Asiatic look that was considered sexy and bad.

For the face, powder made from rice gave the skin a very pale hue, referred to as “the pallor usually associated with innate vice” by one writer of the time. Portable makeup containers like powder compacts and lipstick holders were the stylish fashion accessories of the day, sometimes even made with precious metals, or encrusted with jewels. The styling for makeup products often took its inspiration from the Orient, like the unique and exotic vintage powder compacts at ShopCurious. Women of the twenties loved to apply their makeup in public at parties and at the dinner table in order to show off their beautiful and unusual compacts.

For the cheeks, red rouge was the order of the day, until advances in manufacturing produced new colours like orange. Girls who worried about the consequences of being found out for wearing makeup resorted to vigorous cheek-pinching instead.

For the lips, red was also the only colour available and was applied to create a ‘cupid’s bow’ above the upper lip. Lipstick often stopped short of the natural crease in the lips to minimize their thickness. Smudgeproof lipstick was essential for vamps who wanted to neck without leaving any evidence.

The invention of modern nail polish in 1920 made varnishing the fingers and toes very popular. Nails were usually worn very long and painted only in the middle, with the tip and cuticle areas left bare.

Of course, ladies also wished to smell beautiful. In 1921 Coco Chanel invented her timeless scent – Chanel No.5. Other scents of the time captured the passions of the age, like the desire to travel to far flung exotic lands that inspired the creation of Guerlain’s Shalimar.

Modern day perfumes, like those from L’Aromarine, successfully capture the memories and mystery of the era - and the art nouveau style bottles are rather chic as well. If you’re lucky, you might even find an authentic 1920s perfume bottle, like the one above, that will look great on your dressing table - these are also highly collectable and can be a great investment too.

Will you?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Ageless Art Deco

The 1920s heralded a new age of glamour and saw the beginnings of our ever-growing obsession with youthfulness. The fashion for face lifts started at this time and, in 1927 (according to the Literary Digest), New York based dermatologist, Dr Charles F Pabst, advocated legislation to save American women from the effects of their “frantic and artificial efforts to make themselves beautiful”.

He argued that “The skin of a civilized man – and woman – is a delicate organ, as delicate as the heart, which works 24 hours a day, adjusting the temperature of the body, keeping infection from entering. It requires little external aid except daily washing in lukewarm water with a mild soap…”

He continued…“ The French Government recently adopted a law…in the French colonies, against mutilating the skin by the barbarous scarring of faces, stretching of lips and slashing the body. For such practices, in which the savages indulge in their mistaken pursuit of what they consider beauty, the French now impose jail sentences and fines…” Pabst felt that the US Government should follow this example and pass a similar law to affect women undergoing facial surgery, only making the punishment much harsher – to account for the fact that “the American woman has civilization and education on her side and yet she indulges in more savage methods of mutilating her skin.”

It would be really fascinating to hear the views of any of the pioneering ladies who underwent face lifting procedures during the 1920s or ‘30s, though I doubt that many, if indeed any, are still alive today. I suspect that nowadays, if you can afford plastic surgery, it might be considered much more daring and individual to refuse to succumb to the surgeon's knife.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of surviving evidence of the labours of past female beautification in the form of unique and timeless treasures from the Art Deco era. At ShopCurious, we’ve some fabulously stylish 1930s hand held mirrors and dressing table sets, as well as a vintage Art Deco manicure set in its original ruched-silk lined, papier mache box.

From the 1920s onwards, the first beauty parlours also started to appear. Prior to the '20s, it wasn’t thought at all proper for ‘nice girls’ to use cosmetics. By the way, if you’re curious to know more about authentic 1920s and ‘30s style makeup, I’ll be revealing some unusual non-invasive beauty secrets of the time in my next blog.

Are you?

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Jazz Age

One of the best known flappers was the silent film star, Louise Brooks, whose first screen role was in a film called A Social Celebrity. Her brazen off-screen behaviour epitomized the vibrant spirit of the Jazz Age – a time when music and dancing went underground, accompanied by the illegal consumption of alcohol during the American Prohibition.

Another notorious star of the time was the flamboyant songstress Bee Palmer, whose ‘sinuous and suggestive’ dance style shocked audiences of the day and became known as ‘the shimmy’. Her unique theatrical costumes and flapper dresses were quite something, as you can see left.

We’ve got similarly show-stopping 1920s fashion at ShopCurious – take a look at this dramatic sheer and shimmering original wrap style evening gown – it’s a stunning work of art.

No reference to the Jazz Age would be complete without mentioning the literary genius F. Scott Fitzgerald (style with brains personified!) He and his wife, Zelda (left), defined all that was glamorous and excessive about the era - the lifestyle of the beautiful and damned, as immortalized through his poetic studies of the American Dream.

‘Can’t repeat the past?’ as Gatsby exclaimed ‘Why of course you can’. Well, you can certainly still buy and wear stylish vintage ‘20s clothing … and you can also enjoy the lively music that characterized the age. I was recently pleased to discover that Jazz FM is now back on the air as a digital radio station, so you can listen to it all over the world. I was so happy to hear the voice of delightfully down to earth DJ Robbie Vincent again after quite a few years – it made me smile all day long.

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Are you?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Flapper flummox

With the London Marathon fast approaching, there’s something many participants will be worrying about – nipple chafing. The people I feel really sorry for are the celebrity participants because you can guarantee that, if they’re female, nine out of ten will have had breast implants.

That’s a real shame because it’s going to be rather difficult for them to replicate the authentic flapper look which is just about to become really hot (give or take a few years, as I always seem to be several trends ahead of what stylish people are wearing on the street).

Nevertheless, if you’re contemplating having the op, I’d give it a re-think as styles tend to change over time. What’s more, a friend of mine - who lives in LA and has assets to prove it - told me that, after her breast enhancement, she wasn’t able to go jogging for months on end. Apparently, over there, women’s clothing is specially designed to take account of the average Californian female’s unnaturally large breasts, which are totally out of proportion with the rest of her body. Meanwhile, back at the cutting edge, flapper fashions are making a comeback - and it seems that even national trend-setter Kate Moss (she of refreshingly natural looking boobs) is a big fan.

Did you know that, in the 1920s, bras, or brassieres as they were called at the time, were no more than bandeau style chest-flatteners, originally attached to a corset? Those with small breasts got away with wearing the fashionable camisoles of the time, but bustier ladies found themselves resorting to the scarily named Symington Side Lacer – a contraption that was laced at the sides to pull in and flatten the chest. It wasn’t until a bit later that bra cup sizes were introduced … perhaps something to take into account if you're thinking of investing in original 1920s fashion.

The word ‘flapper’ is originally a British term as it’s over here that it became the ‘in thing’ for young women to wear rubber galoshes, which were left open to flap when they walked. The flapper look as we know it was later popularized by Coco Chanel and other leading designers of the day throughout the United States and Europe. The term ‘flapper’ became synonymous with liberated young women. Flappers were bold, confident, and sexy. They tried faddish new diets in an effort to achieve a fashionable thinness, because new fashions required slim figures, flat chests, and narrow hips.

As it happens, the flapper dress was much less complicated than earlier designs and wasn’t the sole preserve of the moneyed classes. Skirt lengths in the ‘20s varied dramatically: they weren’t all short and, contrary to popular belief, the women weren’t all incredibly skinny either. Although the fashion was for dresses to be loose fitting, the straight skirt style of flapper dresses is fairly timeless and actually suits most people – what’s more, at ShopCurious, we’ve got some beautifully beaded original vintage examples in UK sizes from 6 to 16.

Flappers are notorious for rejecting strict Victorian rules and representing everything new about women – smoking, wild dancing, short bobbed hair, brightly coloured lipstick, reckless behaviour and male attitudes. In the early 1900s, women started to work alongside men for the first time and to move away from the role of being purely mothers and housewives.

Of course, all of this ended with the Great Depression.

In terms of fashion styles, whatever their optimum bust sizes, it seems we’ve turned full circle many times. With all the changes that are going on in the world at the moment, I’d love to know where we’re headed next - and I’m not just curious, I’m totally flummoxed. Perhaps we should just slow down, recycle, re-use and give ourselves time to reevaluate … and maybe even accept ourselves the way we are.

Will you?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Nouveau Victoriana

Blogs this month will have the theme of ‘faded glamour’, as I take a look at fashion and style from art nouveau to art deco. Let’s start in La Belle Epoque, the French named ‘beautiful era’, that began in around 1890, lasted until the First World War and was a period of unparalleled opulence and extravagance.

Fortunately, thanks to the likes of our beloved British treasure Top Shop, these days buying the latest fashionable designs (or at least good copies) isn’t confined to the super-rich, as it was in late Victorian times. However, if you’re looking for high quality, original vintage items from yesteryear, you’ll still have to pay a pretty penny.

At ShopCurious, we’re offering an authentic, museum-quality, dark mauve velvet and jet-beaded Victorian mantelet style cape – it’s in excellent condition and wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalks of 2009. What’s amazing about this piece is the extraordinary quality of craftsmanship and the ornate embellishment, as was characteristic of luxury items, available to just a select few at the time.

Not only is this cape a perfect example of its type, but it also has several trademark features:

- front tails, called lappets
- long moiré ribbon streamers at the back,
- a small peplum to accommodate the bustle of a typical Victorian dress
- decorative Spanish matador style epaulets called mancherons
- passementerie/jet and bead fringing in the Spanish matador style

The mantelet (a new and shorter form of cape) evolved from the earlier Victorian (and longer length) mantle cape. Around this time, fashion was very much in transition and was beginning to reflect the decorative style of art nouveau - with its flowing, organic lines and curved, corseted shapes.

This fine cape comes from Bond Street in London, where the fashions of the day were dictated by mature, matronly women like Queen Victoria and later Queen Alexandra - but a fabulously stylish, timeless and individual piece like this is the sort of thing that almost anyone could wear these days. You don’t have to look like Kate Moss …

Do you?