Saturday, 26 September 2009

Memorable staycation?

One of the things that 2009 will be remembered for is the Great British staycation. I wouldn't say that I’m already looking forward to next year’s - but, hey ho, my Bank Holiday staycation in Cornwall was fun at the time... And I discovered that you don’t have to spend a fortune to appreciate nature’s treasures, good food and simple local pastimes. The far South of Cornwall is quite a fair distance though – by car, it’s at least a five hour journey from London and can be up to seven on a Bank Holiday weekend - so, is it worth the drive?

I'd say yes, but only if you’re staying somewhere really cosy and inviting, so at least you can escape from those pesky torrential downpours and dry off properly before venturing out again. If you’re curious, like me, you’ll be familiar with the unpredictable weather patterns of our ‘temperate’ climate: It's probably best to take an eclectic mix of clothing to cover yourself for all eventualities, (for the average weekend, around a dozen different pairs of shoes, flip-flops, sandals, boots and trainers should be sufficient!)

In my opinion, it’s worth spending a little bit more on a nice hotel, a luxury holiday cottage, and/or some fancy meals out - just think of all those savings you’ll be making on the fare, new beachwear and the numerous spray tanning sessions you'd have needed to prepare for maximum exposure on distant shores.

I can strongly recommend the Driftwood as being one of the most warm, comfortable and friendly hotels in Cornwall. The cliff-top location is breathtakingly beautiful, with pretty gardens leading directly down to the sea.

The adjacent beach is scattered with rocky granite outcrops and quirky little smugglers coves to snuggle up in out of the wind

What I really like about this hotel is that the décor is so authentic: taking full advantage of natural, locally sourced materials like shells, stones, fir cones and, you’ve guessed it… driftwood. Plus the food is great too.

It’s also a useful base, with lots of interesting things to see and do nearby.

If you want to avoid the queues at the Eden Project, why not spend a day crabbing at Place Manor instead? You can take the ferry from St Mawes – though be prepared for a choppy crossing at any time of the year.

As well as visiting tourist attractions such as stately homes, I’m always curious to check out local events - like sailing regattas, art gallery exhibitions, antiques fairs and treasure hunts. Traditional British Bank Holidays can be interminably dull, especially if the weather’s bad, but there’s usually something interesting – possibly even entertaining – going on somewhere.

I stumbled upon the bunting festooned streets of Portscatho, where crowds of people had gathered to watch the regatta and participate in a grand sand castle making competition. All proceeds raised from the event were donated to charities like the RNLI.

As well as the dinghy racing, there were some amusing games to occupy the kids and this group of groovy rockers (left) were playing in a makeshift concert dome, conveniently erected outside the local pub.

Alternatively, you might like to go for a windswept walk along the coastal path, or do a spot of rock-pooling. Another practical pastime is collecting stones and shells as memorabilia of your adventures by the sea - and, if you're feeling really creative, you could even use them to make your own piece of design art.

Buying small souvenirs of your trips, or as gifts to take back to your friends and loved ones, is also a way of remembering happy times. Rather than splashing out on something trashy, why not look for a collectable curiosity to remind you of your travels - like a vintage shell box, or, if you’ve been on holiday to Spain, how about this quirky ceramic jug (left) from ShopCurious.

Your chosen keepsake may cost a bob or two, but the memories come totally free of charge. Now that’s what I call a real bargain.

Do you?

Friday, 18 September 2009

British bulldog days

London Fashion Week got off to a sparkling start today, with everyone really curious to see what the brand new venue looked like.

The size and grandeur of the Natural History Museum was always going to be hard to beat, but the awesome backdrop of the River Thames and the London Eye from Somerset House is simply breathtaking. The sun shone too, which made it even better.

Delicious canapés were served by pretty and polite waitresses - though some hip, happening folks (see left) took the less healthy lunch option.

The furnishings had a retro feel. Seeing this TV took me back in time to the days when I watched Andy Pandy in front of a flickering black and white screen. I can’t ever recall seeing a Bush television quite this large, though – could this be a newly assembled imitation version … oops, sorry, a quirky piece of design art?

This 1960s table, right, looks pretty authentic though, in fact my parents had one almost exactly the same.

The courtyard is a fabulous location for the LFW tents – whilst you’re waiting for the shows, you can also indulge in a spot of al fresco champagne quaffing – it’s simply de rigueur daaaahling! But best of all, in my opinion, is the view of the river - I was constantly drawn to it, despite the clothes .

Even though the hedonistic days of the bull market are long gone, there’s still the odd doff of a hat to the good old days (see above right). As well as the new generation of designers, I was pleased to see that there were some old faces too - including one of my all time favourites, Zandra Rhodes.

However, it tends to be eco-friendly fashion that attracts the most attention these days ... and the Chairman of the British Fashion Council, Harold Tillman, launched Estethica - the ethical exhibition - this afternoon, to a flurry of interest from the press.

Whilst I’ll miss the old LFW site, I’m really impressed with the new setting – it somehow seems a touch more homely and inviting than before. It’s slightly academic though, as I’m off to California for a few days tomorrow.

I might even meet up with Timmy Woods, the Beverly Hills based designer of this limited edition British bulldog bag that’s now available at ShopCurious. There are only ten of these original hand-painted bags in the whole world … and Michelle Obama has one of the other nine. I think the Swarovski crystal studded Union Jack is very appropriate, though I have a feeling that our Great British bulldog days may be numbered.

Do you?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Maps re-fashioned

The fashion for maps has changed somewhat over the years, to say the least. I remember learning all the symbols on Ordnance Survey maps in my geography lessons at school – a far cry from the earliest cartographical representations of the ‘flat world’ – and now, of course, we have have satellite GPS and digital services, such as Google Maps.

Some might question the need for a physical map in this day and age, but most ‘sat nav’ systems seem to be far from perfect. The version in my car is pretty useless, so I still resort to the good old A-Z of London (though most of the text is miniscule and, these days, my arms aren’t sufficiently long to hold the book far enough away to read the damned street names).

If you’re a tourist coming to London, perhaps for London Fashion Week, I have a novel suggestion for finding your way around town. How about one of these curiously cool papier mache mini bags from ShopCurious to help with your directions. Each of the handmade bags is totally unique and made from original recycled maps.

The map of London bag seems to cover most of the centre of town, including key landmarks like Buckingham Palace and The Houses of Parliament. All the bags have a usefully long carrying strap, so they can be slung across your torso, keeping your valuables safe from petty thieves.

There’s also one featuring an antique map of the world, though I’m not proposing you try to use this when planning out your trip.

It’s been a bit of a circuitous route, but I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce our new theme: For the next month or so, I’ll be focusing on the topic of ‘memories’. Trying to be a bit clever, I looked up ‘memory map’ on the internet – apparently there’s a course on ‘memory mapping’ as part of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Essex.

However, memories of place (where you were born, where you have lived and travelled to) are very personal. What I like about maps is that they are pretty universal and can be understood and appreciated all over the world, regardless of language or culture. Over the centuries, maps have been re-fashioned to bring people closer and closer together. I just hope new trends in the mapping of our actual location don’t impinge too much upon our individual sense of place and time…

Do you?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Wardrobe scents make style sense

You might leave clothes in your wardrobe thinking they’re perfectly okay, but it takes a surprisingly short time for pesky little moths to nibble their way through rails of expensive woollen coats and layers of fine quality knits. I’m not sure that anyone really likes the moth-eaten look, though apparently filigree designs are destined to be a major new fashion trend.

I was planning to show you some pictures of the sneaky flying creatures at work, but they look so disgusting - and they make me feel rather sick, so I decided it’s probably not the best idea. In London, we have a particular problem with moths – they’re an unavoidable hazard and you’re well advised to learn how to deal with them effectively - especially if you want to wear that beautiful vintage silk dress next year too. It’s curious that something so innocent looking can be so scarily invasive - and most annoying when, somehow, unobtrusively, it manages to gnaw a tiny hole in the sleeve of a beautiful jacket or jumper, rendering a treasured, luxury item unwearable.

I’ve tried most things to combat marauding moths, but remain convinced that good old fashioned floral scents like lavender are the most effective, and by far the most natural way to ward off the fateful, fluttering pests. Just fill a few gauze bags (the sort sometimes supplied as dust covers for jewellery are perfect) with dried lavender flowers and hang them in your wardrobe.

If you haven’t the or the time or the inclination to grow and make your own lavender bags, I can recommend another really stylish way to fragrance your wardrobes, drawers and anywhere else that the disagreeable flying foes may be lurking:

I suggest you try these beautifully presented Catherine Masson scented parcels, available from ShopCurious – each adorned with a pretty floral embellishment, and supplied with a divinely perfumed, top-up room spray.

They’re great as gifts too. What’s more they seem to charm the moths into abeyance, so you can bring out your favourite cashmere cardie year after year - and indulge in the sensible practice of seasonless style.

Do you?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sensible tips for timeless style

I get the impression that ‘sensible style’ is rather topical, so I’m going to stick with this theme for a little longer – especially as I’m not feeling entirely convinced that the much cited ‘green shoots of recovery’ are quite so nearby as many seem to imagine. At this juncture, it might be appropriate to look to our forebears for guidance on what to do if times get really tough. The fashion designers of yesteryear certainly came up with some curiously clever ideas for cutting their costs (and their cloth), whilst managing to produce stunningly stylish designs that are still appreciated to this day.

From the late 1920s, for instance, Madeleine Vionnet introduced the bias-cut method of dressmaking, whereby cloth was cut diagonal to the grain of the fabric, creating the flattering effect of clinging to the contours of the body and accentuating natural female curves. Popularized by Mme Vionnet, ‘Queen of the bias cut’, and others during the 1930s, bias cut garments combined ease of movement and comfort with glamorous fabrics like chiffon, silk and satin – as in the dress pictured left.

Vionnet’s designs involved draping and often required much more fabric than would be necessary when using a conventional pattern. However, during the 1940s, the bias-cut technique was employed to enable dressmakers to use up all their spare scraps of fabric. Towards the 1950s, the emergence of factory manufactured clothing meant that the use of fabrics became more standardized and less original. Contemporary British designer, Christa Davis, was one of the first to re-introduce the bias-cut method to dressmaking in the early 1990s. Some of her latest designs, many of which are made with recycled textiles and limited edition printed silks (like the dress pictured right), are now available online from ShopCurious.

Other practical-but-stylish solutions to economic constraints included creating clothing and accessories that were made to last. Have you heard of a world-renowned, original innovation of the 1940s, called the Corde handbag?

We’ve got some fabulous examples of these classic vintage bags on our website – and they’re in excellent condition too, which just goes to show how very hard-wearing they truly are.

By the 1950s, people started to travel more and those that ventured abroad, or on holidays away from home, were careful to be as economical as possible. Ladies siphoned off their perfumes and powders into small canisters to take away with them in compact little vanity cases - especially designed to accommodate everything a glamorous girl might require. They don’t seem to make these sets of usefully designed containers any more, though occasionally you might be lucky enough to find a perfectly preserved vanity case, complete with retro receptacles, like this one.

Do let us know if you’ve got any more sensible tips for timeless style, vintage or modern.

Will you?