Friday, 20 November 2009

The gold that got the cat

I was just waiting to hear the last part of Keith Floyd’s autobiography, Stirred but not Shaken, on BBC Radio 4. I've so enjoyed sharing Floyd's curiously all consuming passion for food and drink over the course of the week. In the process, I caught the end of Desert Island Discs, something I usually go out of my way to avoid, mainly due to the off-putting opening music. Thankfully, all I heard was Julia Donaldson being told by Kirsty Young that she couldn’t have a cat on the island.

At around the same time, I received an email with a link to this very curious ‘Cats for Gold’ website.

Am I hallucinating, or is this for real?

I’ve often thought it would be rather nice to have a big fluffy cat around the house, though not in exchange for my jewellery! However, in case you’re looking for some gold to swap for a feline friend this Christmas, we’ve got some fabulous necklaces, earrings, bangles and rings at ShopCurious. Check out these stylish designs by Marcelle Lawson Smith and Sarah Bond. Actually, never mind the cat, any of these pieces would make a suitably unique and unusual gift for Christmas... and I think even Floyd would have approved of Ornella Iannuzzi's golden fruits de mer.

Do you?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

For the love of Sweet Charity

I once asked the film director, Oliver Stone, to name his favourite film. Mr Stone has a reputation for being something of a misogynist and probably needed no excuse to look down his nose and sneer at my “stupid question”, telling me in no uncertain terms that he had “hundreds” of favourite films. Well, so do I, but I can say with absolute certainty that Sweet Charity is, without exception, my favourite film of all.

In fact, I recently booked tickets to see a new production of the musical version that’s on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1, starring Tamzin Outhwaite in the lead role. However, I don’t think anyone could ever match the exceptional performance of Shirley Maclaine as Charity Hope Valentine in the original film.

Sweet Charity is about so much more than the fabulous party dresses, memorable songs, outstanding dance routines and curiously captivating plot: In 1957, Federico Fellini directed a comedy drama, Nights of Cabiria, based on the amusing tales of an ‘Italian gamine’. Bob Fosse was so impressed by the film preview, that he stayed up for 48 hours, filling many ashtrays, to conceive and choreograph the Broadway show version of Sweet Charity. In 1967, Universal purchased the film rights to create Sweet Charity, ‘the musical adventures of a girl who wants to be loved’, directed by Fosse. The film’s a real weepy, especially if you’re the sentimental sort, so remember to keep a box of tissues handy…

Charity Hope Valentine, played by Maclaine, is a dance-hall hostess who longs to settle down with the man of her dreams. A tale of mankind’s lost innocence, the film’s essential beauty lies in Charity’s faith in her fellow human beings, in her unfailing trust and openness. Despite and because of her generous heart and enormous passion for life, she is a hapless victim of reality: the corrupt world we live in and the materialistic values of society.

Vulnerable to men who cheat and take advantage of her, the film charts the ups and downs of Charity’s relationships, including a hilariously anti-climactic fling with Vittorio Vitale - played by the divinely smooth Ricardo Montalban, and a wedding to the love of her life, insurance salesman, Oscar – played by John McMartin, which ends in tragedy. However, even when she’s at rock bottom and has nothing left to live for, having lost everything she holds dear to ‘the fickle finger of fate’, Charity never loses hope… which, to me, is key to appreciating the depth of this film and its tragi-comic portrayal of the human condition.

If you’re a lover of retro fashion, lavish interiors and late 1960s nostalgia, you’ll also appreciate this original souvenir programme from the 1969 film, Sweet Charity, that’s available at ShopCurious. It covers the film’s history and introduces each member of the cast, which also includes Sammy Davis Jr, famously starring as a psychedelic underground religious leader and the awesomely stylish dancers, Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly. There are photos from all the song performances including ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, ‘The Rhythm of Life’, ‘I Love to Cry at Weddings’ and ‘Hey Big Spender’.

There’s also a section on the making of the film and the key people involved, including Fosse, the playwright Neil Simon and the composer, Cy Coleman. I particularly enjoyed learning about the set design and reading the piece on Edith Head, the Chief Costume Designer for Universal City Studios. Ricardo Montalban was apparently so impressed with the costumes that he purchased all his clothing from the film and is quoted as saying, “ The designs are very special and the tailoring is finer than any outfits I’ve ever worn.” Miss Head, who authored books on ‘dressing for success’, was also responsible for a new jewellery innovation in the form of diamante tattoos.

The Sweet Charity programme would make a wonderfully individual and unusual Christmas gift, or could form an incredible source of inspiration, if you’re involved with fashion trends or interiors. Of course, as it’s also highly collectable, a film buff might like to consider this niche publication as an investment. I suspect that a piece of cinematographic heritage as uniquely rare as this might even appeal to Mr Stone.

Do you?

PS If you’re tempted to get this film on DVD, please beware, as the laserdisc version has an alternative, happier and less inspiring ending than the original video recording.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Seasonal mania

You’d be wrong if you think I’m permanently fixed to a chair in front of my computer. Occasionally, I venture out – but only if it’s really worth making the effort. And tonight it was. I simply couldn’t miss a showing of Vivienne Westwood’s Spring Summer 2010 Anglomania collection (yes, think shorts, floaty little dresses and rubberised sandals in November). As I raced in excited anticipation across London’s Oxford Street, I even managed to snap a sideways picture of the Christmas lights through my car windscreen.

Fashion shows are always such frenzied, nay muddled and blurred events. First, there’s the panic to get in and grab your seat, followed by a rapidly downed cocktail or three and, finally, the girls speed-walk down the runway so fast that, unless you're a professional photographer, the models end up all fuzzy around the edges.

Anyway, this show was totally fabulous - probably because Vivienne Westwood is the foremost designer of curiously creative, yet cleverly designed and wearable clothing in the world. If you’re wanting to know about the trends from her show – think 1920s in 1960s acid colours-meets-Masai safari-meets-hillbilly eco-warrior-meets-Sunday best with an arty twist-meets-toga style draping-meets nautical … Good Lord, I’ve run out of breath. At least no one should be able to replicate this design trend!

Some of the highlights of my evening were:

Coincidentally sitting opposite Julia Roitfield – Sister Wolf, this was such a surprise - in fact I’d never even heard of Mlle R until I read your demented blog, but I immediately recognised the face from her mother's photos. She was snogging this guy and spilling champagne on the carpet. So stylish.

Bumping into the headmistress of fashion herself - the real star of any fashion show in any season, Hilary Alexander. How wonderful to be recognized and loved by fashionistas the world over – something we all aspire to in our dreams. Hilary, long may you remain in the spotlight, though I did notice that Lady Victoria Hervey was angling to get into everyone’s photos.

The only thing in the otherwise stunning show that I wasn’t so sure about, was the strange fishnet thingy over one poor model’s head (see right). Perhaps her footballer boyfriend left behind a spare bit of netting from the goal… By the way, I’d love a piece too – looks like it'd be perfect for keeping the crows off my roof.

The fact that most guests at the show looked reasonably 'grown up' was quite refreshing - though half the audience appeared to be curiously sucking on substitute cigarettes... the latest fashion accessory perhaps? The evening’s after-show performer, Dionne Bromfield, looked a tad vulnerable and nervous beforehand, though her singing was flawless.

There were some uber-cool outfits both on and off the catwalk, including an amazing 'Big Bird' jacket worn by a lady who was still attached to her London Fashion Week bag - all very eco-friendly. Not sure who the statuesque lady on the right is, but she looks truly fab... do let ShopCurious know.

Thanks to Selfridges for hosting the event and having the foresight to offer this collection a season ahead. Goes to show that even real shops see the value of getting 'pre-orders' from their customers - and this could prove a useful solution to business lost through the demise of the cruisewear market.

However, as we've still got Winter to contend with, I’m not sure I’m quite ready yet to decide exactly what I’ll be wearing next Spring.

Are you?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Rainy days...and Mondays

As I woke up to water leaking through my bedroom ceiling, I was reminded of my mother. She had an old cassette of The Carpenters that she insisted on playing in her clapped out old car - and Rainy Days and Mondays was her favourite track. I used to find this an intolerably unhappy song, but not any more.

My mother inherited a small selection of 8-track cassette tapes with her long defunct and impossibly un-stylish Vauxhall Viva car. On wet and miserable evenings, after working all day, she would pick me up at the railway station to give me driving lessons. I cringed in embarrassment at being seen in 'The Yellow Peril', as we listened together to The Carpenters.

As soon as the Rainy Days song started, I would whinge and moan about it being sad and depressing…However, due to some quirky fault of the car's electrical wiring, the play-speed of the cassette tape was unaccountably connected to the acceleration of the car. As the car went faster, so did the music, and Karen Carpenter sounded like she was on helium – and when we slowed down, her voice went into bass pitched slow motion. As the speed of the song changed, I became helpless with laughter - it was the most hilariously funny thing ever. My mother and I spent the dreaded driving sessions in fits of giggles, though it took me three further driving instructors and four attempts to finally pass my test (no women driver or blonde jokes please).

I grew to love the Carpenters' songs, even though they remind me of my mother. I know it’s horribly cheesy and sentimental but ‘We’ve only just begun’ reminds me of our journey through life together – and the fact that we both still have so much to learn. I think it’s a blessing that those of us who go through life being ‘strangers in many ways’ can find that our love grows through our mutual enjoyment of music – and its transcendence over the monotonous drudgery of everyday life.

They say that when a parent dies, you become more like them. Whilst I appreciate there may be some basis of evidence for this morbid prospect, my mother is thankfully still alive. Before she goes, I’d like her to know that, if I were to choose some funeral music for her, there’d be nothing more fitting than something by the Carpenters. I know she has a curious affection for the MacArthur Park song, ‘Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain’ – and I have fond recollections of making fairy and butterfly cakes with her (most probably on rainy days)...

But, as I get older, there does seem to be some sort of mother-daughter role reversal taking place and I find the words ‘From the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true, so they sprinkled moon dust in your hair and golden stardust in your eyes of blue' curiously appropriate.

Apologies for being overcome by nostaliga, when what I meant to do was to mention this Carpenters' era vintage 1970s Lucite disco bag from ShopCurious, which looks as though it’s been sprinkled with glittering golden dust.

Life is a curious thing and sparkly accessories are just the thing to cheer us up on rainy days... And, how about introducing musical Mondays, where we all share our favourite recordings – we’ve got ‘so much to say’ and our ‘love may grow, for all we know.’

Will you?

Friday, 13 November 2009

California dreamin'

The British weather can be so depressing. Ever since the clocks changed and the evenings got darker, I’ve wanted to be somewhere else. What's more, today - Friday 13th - it's raining buckets, and gales are forecast for later. I decided to cheer myself up by looking at some photos from a couple of months ago, when I spent a few days in California to celebrate my birthday.

I stayed in Southern California at the Montage Laguna Beach – a hotel of understated character and charm, with exceptional service, a stylish spa and superb cuisine.

Some of the hottest things about this part of the world (apart from the weather) are:

1) The beautiful light. This area is bursting with art classes and galleries. Artists go to great lengths to capture the colours of the sky and the light on water – some to the point of being stranded by the sea!

There are magnificent sunsets and clear, moonlit skies at night.... and there’s not much that beats sitting round an open fire and looking at the stars.

2) The natural beauty of the coastline - Sweeping sands, bird of paradise flowers, palms, bougainvillea and agave… I even spotted my dream house on a cliff top, high above a rocky outcrop (see right).

3) Beach bums and hawkers. Only joking, you won’t see any here – being California, everyone has to be on their best and most eco-friendly behaviour. And there are hunky life guards to watch out for you too – hello boys!

4) Arty, alternative stuff - from this distinctive ceramic mural on a poolside wall (left), to sculptures and contemporary art in the refreshingly individual local shops. Plus, it wouldn’t be California without something 'New Age' going on in the neighbourhood...

5) And, last, but not least, there were rabbits! Yes, curiously cute little bunnies hopping all over the lawn.

If you like these photos, I’m sure you’ll appreciate some of the quirky accessories at ShopCurious, like this retro, recycled US car number plate bag that’s just perfect for fun holidays in the sun.

Anyway, before I get too carried away, I'd better click my fingers to bring us back to rain-drenched London …or perhaps you prefer the Californian climate?

Do you?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Unusual Christmas gifts - a matter of personal taste

Ever received a totally tasteless gift for Christmas? What on earth were they thinking of when they gave you that tacky Santa loo seat cover? Were they expecting you to actually use it?

What do you do with your unwanted Christmas gifts? Do you rush down to your local charity shop as soon as Christmas is over, have you time to spend hours uploading on e-Bay, or do you keep a secret stash of untouched presents hidden away under your bed?

I found these extraordinary pink plastic flamingos, a gift from several years ago, lurking in the bottom of a cupboard. Fortunately for anyone remotely connected to me, the legs are missing, so I’m unable to pass them on… though I have to admit to ‘re-gifting’ some presents that I know I’ll never use or wear myself.

Even though I’m doing the sensible thing by recycling the stuff I don’t want to keep, handing someone else’s gift over to a friend or relative makes me feel curiously uncomfortable. Ultimately, the gift we give someone says a lot about our own taste. If a gift has been chosen by someone else, it’s their style statement we're making, not ours. Is this an overly sensitive or conceited way to look at re-gifting? After all, the recipient may in fact prefer another person’s taste to our own.

Anyway, here are a couple of gift ideas I’ve picked out from ShopCurious, which may or may not suit your personal taste. The items featured here are vintage pieces, that have been beautifully handmade from natural materials. They’re also useful too: the hand painted, lacquered musical box can be used to store all manner of things – from jewellery to personal keepsakes – and this unusually exotic, silver filigree card holder is multi-functional too. Plus, very importantly, each of these items is totally unique, so your choice of gift cannot be replicated by anyone else.

By the way, if you do happen to receive a totally tasteless gift, are you brave enough to say what you actually think?

Are you?

PS Apologies to Tony and Jan, but does anyone want a pair of legless pink plastic flamingos?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Calling all designers...

Enter our curious Christmas gift contest!

We’ve decided to hold a contest to find the most curious, creative and covetable Christmas gift. We’re looking for the sort of items that our customers will talk about and will want to buy - like unique accessories, quirky curiosities and original things for the home.

The winning product will be featured on our website.

Here are the rules:

You have 14 days to send us a photo and description of your entry, together with a brief autobiographical statement.

Your design should be

1) Weird, yet wonderful
2) Timeless
3) Eco-friendly
4) An original design that is already made/in existence (not a drawing or prototype)
5) Suitable for sending by mail

Oh, and please keep it tasteful too...

Entries should be sent to:
Contest closes 12 midnight, Tuesday 24th November. Maximum of 3 entries per designer.

Suggestions for curious Christmas gifts are also welcome, please leave your comments. We hope you’re feeling suitably innovative and inspired …

Are you?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Bling bling

I’m curious to know if you received a bonus this year? High rollers might be tempted to purchase some serious 'statement' bling this Christmas – perhaps a Swarovski crystal studded Mercedes, like this one, recently spotted at the ICC building in Hong Kong.

If you’re looking for something with a little more investment potential, how about an original 1960s disco coin belt, from ShopCurious. Made from collectable British coins from the past century, the chain belt incorporates old h’pennies (equivalent to 0.005p in today’s money), as well as florins (two shilling pieces) featuring Edward VII, George VI and early examples from our current Queen’s reign.

A recent news item stated that even 2p coins are now worth much more than their face value, due to the appreciation in value of constituent metals, such as copper. These coins have also been coated in gold paint, adding to the uniqueness of this quirky accessory.

As we just about hang on to one last vestige of our independence from the rest of Europe, this might make the ideal gift for a friend who’s big on nostalgia, or simply looking to celebrate our traditional British currency and heritage.

Designed to be worn as a belt, this would also make a curiously individual necklace – and if things get really tough, you could always melt it down. All in all, I’m quite impressed by this very versatile bit of bling.

Are you?