Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Punk style love

Could the global recession have sparked off the new trend of fashion featuring national flags? In the UK, our Union Jack flag gained pop-art style status in the 1960s. Then, from the mid-1970s, punks adopted the flag, making it the object of their disaffection towards the prevailing culture and the establishment. Punk-style clothing and accessories have reappeared over the years in various, increasingly commercial, guises. However, only a faithful few have maintained a life long love affair with all things punk.

I spotted punk devotee, Rob, (left), at my local art school. He was wearing the classic punk uniform of bondage trousers and brothel creepers (both pin-striped in this case - see below). I was curious to know what he did with his hair when he went to bed. Did he flatten it down, or cover it up so as not to poke his partner in the eye during the night? Rob matter-of-factly informed me that when he went to bed he simply went to sleep. He wasn’t overly chatty, so I thanked him for allowing me to take his picture and hastily made my retreat.

In the late ‘70s, punks, infamous for promoting anarchist messages in their music and accessorizing their clothing with anti-establishment symbols, were seen as being aggressive types – “keep out of the way of those punks”, your mother might say. It’s rather ironic that, nowadays, far from being seen as a threat, old-style punk rockers are considered to be an established part of our British heritage.

When you look back at video footage of punk rock bands, like the Sex Pistols, the members actually look quite clean-cut young chaps…rather like older schoolboys trying to be a little outré in their dress. Perhaps it’s the influence of glam-rock, but the jumpers in this clip of God Save the Queen look positively camp, compared to the popular impression of punks as snarling, hostile aggressors. Just because they’re making a radical cultural and fashion statement, doesn’t mean that punks are necessarily antagonistic people. Most of them are probably just as peaceful and friendly as Rob.

I’ve also noticed that, although many punks choose extreme hairstyles, clothing and unusual accessories, (like safety-pin piercings), they don’t always look as though they feel entirely at ease with their appearance. Even now, several decades after the arrival of punk, and with totally outrageous designs on catwalks the world over, punks still seem a tad uncomfortable in their own skin. I wonder if it would help punks feel more comfortable and accepted, if they knew we actually regard them as something akin to national treasures?

Anyway, back to trends, and flags…. and ShopCurious, where we’ve got a fabulous vintage Union Jack enamelled ring with faux ruby gem-stones: Perfect if you’re looking for punk-style Valentine gifts, or just feeling slightly overcome with patriotism or nostalgia.

Are you?

Monday, 25 January 2010

Slow love - it's groovy baby!

Though I’m a little too young to remember, there are plenty of references in music, literature and other art forms to the ‘groovy love’ that students, hippy and free-spirited types enjoyed in the 1960s and ’70s. To ‘make love not war’ sounds like a sensible way of saving money – and, possibly, lives... but could there be curiously karmic consequences to all this free love?

The other day I was at a dinner and, seated around my table, were seven other women of a certain age. It transpired that six out of eight of us were childless. You tend to find that women who’ve artfully (…or perhaps I should say artificially) avoided having children are relatively well educated, compared to a social underclass that, in the main, continues to do what comes naturally with wanton abandon. But whose choice is cleverer?

What lessons have any of us really learned from our newfound sexual freedom? Why doesn’t the constant pressure for progress take into account things that simply can’t be changed – namely, the basic facts of our biology: women have babies and men don’t.

It can be fun trying to bend the rules, but words sung by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in the ‘60s hit The Game of Love seem cruelly pertinent:

The purpose of a man is to love a woman,
And the purpose of a woman is to love a man,
So come on baby let's start today, come on baby let's play
The game of love, love, la la la la la love

It started long ago in the Garden of Eden
When Adam said to Eve, baby, you're for me
So come on baby let's start today, come on baby let's play
The game of love, love, la la la la la love

Come on baby 'cause the time is right
Love your daddy with all your might
Put your arms around me, hold me tight
Play the game of love

Shortly after this recording, the Mindbenders lost Wayne Fontana, moving on to find a new and Groovy Kind of Love. Meantime, as we cyber-speed our way towards St Valentine’s Day, I thought you might appreciate this nostalgic flashback to slightly slower grooving times.

By the way, we’ve got some original, hippy chic-style slow design in the form of these curiously cool retro shades at ShopCurious: They’d be great as a Valentine gift, for someone who'd appreciate a rose tinted view of the world, or who just happens to be feeling groovy...

Which reminds me of that song by Simon and Garfunkel, telling us we’re ‘moving too fast’:

On recent viewing, many wives and children (and songs for wives and children) later, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (as seen in this video) are beginning to look rather like the oldest swingers in town. Perhaps they could do with slowing down, along with the rest of us. Surely, the true game of love involves savouring every moment and everything that life has to offer… and taking time to consider the consequences of our actions?

Will you?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Accessories of love?

I was going to talk about the forthcoming celebration of Burns Night, of revelry and all sorts of quirky, fun accessories like sporrans, kilt pins and brooches. However, the horrors in Haiti have thrown me completely off kilter (excuse the pun). This sort of occurrence makes us reassess our lives. What really matters – our family, our friends, our material worth? It makes me wonder if even our clothes are important, let alone the concept of fashion, or jewellery.

Why isn’t there a universal set of rules in the event of a natural disaster? Why should anyone be reduced to an anarchic, Lord of the Flies type, scenario? How about a job for everyone in an emergency situation – and some guidance as to what to do if everyone else around us dies? Meantime, we're left feeling pretty powerless, after being told there’s nothing we can do to help survivors across the sea - apart from sending money - when what we’d like to offer is tangible love and support like hugs, food, water, shelter and hot baths.

Of course, a few decades ago, we wouldn’t even have known about distant seismic activity, until it was far too late to be of any assistance. The problem now is that, despite all our economic and technical progress, and all the power of modern communications, we’re still at the mercy of our geography and the earth’s basic elements. The best we can do is to educate and co-ordinate ourselves to try to cope as effectively as humanly possible in natural disasters – though, surely, more could be done in the way of teaching, organization and self-sufficiency?

Which brings me back to the ancient Celts. They coped with adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain and survived long before and after the Romans left our shores. Their society was based upon class and kinship, on tribes and clans – the very structures that seem to be neglected today. Hardly surprising then, that gang culture should be emerging out of the fragments of our former society?

I’ve digressed quite a lot, so I’ll get back to my main point, that the embellishment of clothes is a luxury. Accessories aren’t essential, so why not recycle them and invest in vintage bags, belts, jewellery and adornments? For instance, I can recommend this stylishly-plumed, old-fashioned Scottish kilt pin from ShopCurious, if you’re planning a bit of a highland fling on the 25th, and you don’t want your kilt flying open all over the place.

Anyway, I’ll leave you to slope off to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond for a spot of haggis to consider this food for thought. I expect you’ll be taking the high road…

Will you?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Back in London, city of snow...

Last night I sat snuggled up in a warm cinema and, amidst a symphony of snivels from the audience, was mesmerized by scenes of sunshine pouring over the parched coastal terrain of Southern Australia. It was a harsh reality to wake up to snow in London this morning. Apparently, last night was Canberra’s warmest in 27 years...

I had a meeting in the City, so used the opportunity to take a few snaps of London, as I travelled along – it looked really beautiful in the snow. I might even use one of these for next year’s ShopCurious Christmas card.

Anyway, in case you’re curious, the film I saw was The Boys Are Back, and is based on the memoirs of journalist, Simon Carr. It stars Clive Owen as a sports reporter and father, struggling to bring up his young son, following the death of his wife. It’s essentially a film about the grieving process and the psychological effects of abandonment and bereavement upon children.

As funny as it is moving, the film, due out shortly, is definitely worth a visit to the cinema for - especially if it’s nice and cosy inside. Wrap up in warm clothing, buy some popcorn and escape to sunnier climes – but do remember to take your hankies.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Sale-ing back to the nineties

The 1990s were all about dressing up. The beginning of the decade was still dominated by power shoulder pads and corseted cocktail dresses. It was the age of the ‘ladies that lunch’, whose ever more extravagant wardrobe needs were catered for by glamorous designers like Isabell Kristensen, shown here on the way to Royal Ascot in the mid ‘90s.

Being amongst the first to realize there'd be a '90s revival, we’ve a simply stunning collection of clothes and matching accessories from the era on sale at ShopCurious. What’s more, now ‘the nineties are vintage’, we’ve decided to slash our Winter sale prices for 1990s fashions from the likes of Isabell, plus many other stars of the decade, like Bruce Oldfield, Julien Macdonald, Celine, Genny, Marni and Voyage.

This lime green satin three piece by Kristensen, for instance, is down from £550 to £350 and there’s a sparkling Swarovski crystal studded Julien Macdonald knitted number (below left) that’s reduced by a whopping £550.

Genny was a very popular label in the ‘90s, and we’ve some curiously classic pieces - including this fabulously sweeping black and white striped, strappy silk petticoat-style dress. There are also some extraordinary shoes by Tom Ford for Gucci, Prada and Vivienne Westwood.

Later in the decade, styles became much less formal and structured - the trend towards more organic clothing being led by the Mazzillis, of Voyage fame - along with other newcomers, such as Christa Davis, who also specialized in bias-cut designs, hand-dyed and recycled fabrics.

I had my own little excursion back to the ‘90s, when I discovered some rather curious photos – including this one of me looking like a startled ostrich in a hat made by Nicholas Oakwell, pictured above with Isabell (and now a talented designer in his own right). I have a feeling this curious creation is still lurking somewhere at the back of my wardrobe, waiting to be retrieved for current day use. On second thoughts, I think some aspects of ‘90s style are just a tad too scary to even contemplate reviving.

Do you?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The curious art (and psychology) of giving

Did you receive any really curious gifts over Christmas? The gifts we're given sometimes say a lot more about the giver(s) than they do about us. I decided to take a closer look at a few of my Christmas gifts and carry out a little analysis, based upon some of the principles used to select the unique and unusual gifts on offer at ShopCurious.

1) Book entitled Liberty by Garrison Keillor:- The curiously colourful and arty cover is certainly impressive and definitely gets my vote. The giver must know that I've rather a soft spot for Keillor’s quirky fictional community of Lake Wobegon, otherwise the choice of author seems a little off-beat, or perhaps I should say unique. Not a signed collectors’ edition and will probably be read once only, but afterwards, can always be passed on to friends, relatives, a charity shop, or the local recycling centre. Should be an entertaining read... I'll let you know.

2) Buckingham Palace soap-dish and facecloth:- This certainly made me laugh, especially as it’s so typical of the givers – no, not the Queen and Prince Philip, but let us call them Lord and Lady B. The soap actually smells rather nice, in an undistinguished, soapy sort of way - and this would look great in a country/seaside cottage. I’m not sure quite how it will work in a modern apartment – but perhaps it’s something for the guest loo… Not of immediate investment value, but maybe one for the time capsule?

3) Cream bangle bearing the words ‘frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ (also bearing a rather regal crown logo – what does this say about me?) :- This bracelet has instant amusement appeal, especially as it’s curiously appropriate to wear whilst toiling over the Christmas lunch. I have a feeling this may be one of those expensive designer accessories that’s probably much sought after in certain circles, but once worn and seen by everybody, the joke may start to wear a little thin. Perhaps the giver was motivated by one of my six secrets of timeless style: "Don’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks – what you wear is entirely up to you - your personal style is timeless." As for longevity, this item may have limited value as vintage plastic-posing-as-scrimshaw costume jewellery in decades to come.

4) Ion activated liquid heat pack for shoulders and neck:- This is a really useful gift for someone who sits for hours on end in front of a computer, or insists upon subjecting their body to grueling exercise classes. As I'm guilty of both these pastimes, this will be very much appreciated (plus it could also double up as a hot water bottle during the freezing weather). And it's also divinely lavender-scented. The pack is activated by pressing a disc inside, whereupon a chemical reaction takes place and the liquid inside gets hot, staying warm for half an hour or so. The pack then has to be boiled to de-solidify the contents before using again. That sounds a little inconvenient – and I guess this is something of a depreciating asset, as it will suffer some deterioration at every boiling and eventually have to be thrown away … hmm, despite the ‘natural ingredients’, I’m not sure exactly how eco-friendly this one is.

5) Silk scarf, designed by Grayson Perry for the Tate Modern:- Wow! This gift is curiously cool, quirky, cultured, fabulously arty and amusing! Apparently, in the Second World War, pilots were given maps printed on silk to help them escape if they were shot down over enemy territory. The scarf is billed as a ‘social and cultural map to help aspiring artists navigate the hostile territory on their way to being accepted by the establishment’ – and depicts the many famous artists who can help them live along the route.

More than a tad autobiographical, this scarf is a work of art, with provenance and real investment potential – so possibly already selling at a premium on eBay. A collectors’ item, rather than something to wear, this timeless piece (so long as it’s not eaten by moths or dribbled with soup), wins hands down over some of my other gifts – as can be seen below (marks out of 5 in each category):


Soap dish


Heat pack

Silk scarf

























Investment potential






Amusement factor






Totals: book 13, soap dish 12, bangle 12, heatpack 10, silk scarf 26
All scores subjective (try it yourself)

Not wishing to lose any friends, I'd better point out that, ultimately, it’s not the gift that counts, but the thought. I'd like to sincerely thank the givers referred to above: You know I love you all dearly - and I'm looking forward to many more of your distinctively different gifts in years to come … though, curiously, I tend to find there’s often more pleasure in the giving than the receiving.

Do you?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Keeping up the standard...

I’m not expecting this post to be read, due to the ‘big story’ of the day – a few inches of snow having brought the country to a standstill. It's a darned shame, because I’d really like everyone to hear me letting off steam and having a bit of a rant. Anyway, here goes... please stand well clear and prepare for the blasting:

Last night I managed to get hold of a copy of the Evening Standard. It hasn’t happened very often lately – at least not since it’s been free: I tend not to use the underground - and I don’t hang about every afternoon in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, or wherever else you can find a copy (as it happens, I usually do my food shopping early in the morning, or late at night when most of the papers have long been removed from the shelves).

Anyway, I wonder how the sad demise of the paid-for version of the publication has affected our small, local shops? The one near me, for instance, that I used to visit every week-day to make my purchase…where every time went in, I always ended up buying at least one other thing, or five? Now I pop by on a Saturday, or occasionally on Sunday, if I haven’t already picked up my mountain of papers at the petrol station. And what about the curiously characterful Standard sellers in those funny little booths, that used to be dotted about the streets all over London – what happened to them?

I have fond memories of the one who became trapped underneath his upturned metal stand, when it was blown over outside Bank underground station during the storm of 1991. And all the drivers of those quirky orange striped vans – do we see quite so many now? I’m curious to know, as these days I rarely get a chance to read the newspaper that I once considered to be something of a favourite. Not so long ago, in fact, I was so addicted to my daily fix, I’d do almost anything to get a copy.

However, what really bugs me, is not the strange void left by the absence of fashion, food, film and trends (as covered by my favoured London newspaper), but that I’m still prepared to pay for it – as are many of my friends, who were also loyal readers and are equally champing at the bit in annoyance at being denied regular access to something they enjoyed and identified with. Unless I’m seriously mistaken (and please do correct me, if I’m barking up the wrong tree), someone, somewhere has got something very wrong?

The website's perfectly fine, but I still like to hold, touch and turn the pages of the real thing - and see the printed word on paper. The issue I managed to get hold of yesterday lived up to expectations - full of articulate articles, thought provoking features and stuff I totally disagree with, making for stimulating and compelling reading, (even though it’s now very rarely available to the likes of me - unless I happen to be passing a far-flung railway station, walking down the right street, or shopping in the right shop at the right time of day).

I particularly like the article by Andrew Gilligan about making the Thames a proper highway: Well, I would, as I live on the river - but seriously, why don’t we make more sensible use of this amazing natural transport route, upon which the very foundations of our great city were created?

An article by Sarah Sands, entitled ‘Captialism can wear a halo too, you know’ really got me thinking – yes, we’re easily duped by large global corporations trying to sell us stuff courtesy of their ‘we’re oh so righteous’ multi-million pound marketing campaigns. By way of example, she says, “Whole Foods Market offers an entire feelgood philosophy…” curiously adding “I think of Whole Foods and imagine that I’m Laura Bailey”. Well, I have to admit that I’ve never visited this store in Kensington, but I’ve certainly seen plenty of people traipsing around London with Whole Foods’ rather dull looking fabric bags - perhaps that’s the only thing they’ve bought there, as I've heard the prices are pretty steep. As for wanting to be Laura Bailey, whom Sarah Sands suggests is an ‘athletic blonde’ - isn’t wanting to be someone else rather a sad waste of time? By the way, Sarah, having been in close proximity with LB at my former gym in Notting Hill, I can confirm that she is indeed blonde – though very waif-like.

When I read the news items towards the back of the paper about ‘Upbeat Next ramps up profit forecast yet again’ I became quite depressed that we really are so very easily duped by hype and the power advertisers and politicians have over the media. Judging from my local branch of Next, it’s obvious Mary Portas has never visited – it’s one of the most downbeat, in terms of location, lighting, window display and presentation, of all the shops I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, back to Ms Sands, who concludes that she admires the founder and chief excecutive of Whole Foods, John Mackey’s honesty for destroying the assumption that only Left-wing people believe in good food. “Amusingly, you can eat kale and watch Fox TV”, she claims. Well, I say it’s a shame I can’t tuck into my spam fritters, whilst poring over a free copy of the Evening Standard, as some of the very people advertisers would surely want to be targeting are being totally overlooked… Oh, and another message for the Evening Standard: Sorry for taking you for granted… and sorry for being negative.

Now it’s time for some fun - create your own Evening Standard headline here and post it with your comments.

Will you?

PS If you’re looking for unique and unusual, individually handmade and naturally beautiful things to buy at up to 50% off, do check out the ShopCurious sale.

Friday, 1 January 2010

A curious New Year in London

Once in a blue moon you might get the feeling that it’s going to be a really curious New Year. Then again, every new day in London is pretty curious. Here are a few images, compiled over the past year, showing just how curiously varied and original life can be in our great cosmopolitan metropolis.

This shot, taken by Goldfinger, shows the beautiful blue moon in all its magnificent natural glory, illuminating the London sky last night.

In early February 2009, it snowed so much that the city was brought to a standstill. I even spotted an icy cool igloo in Wandsworth Park. Yes, there were actually people inside (or do you see Eskimos?)

At ShopCurious, we're very much in favour of all things slow, so when I saw this group practising the martial art of Tai Chi outside St Martin in the Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, I had to stop and take a picture. Funny, I’d never noticed the quirky window to the rear of the church building before… very arty and unusual.

The East End of London has become something of a centre for edgy, fashion-conscious types, so I was really surprised to stumble upon an old fashioned tea dance in full swing, as I walked through Spitalfields Market. Next time you’re in the area, why not dress up in some stylish vintage clothing, put on your dancing shoes and join in the fun?

Here’s another one by Goldfinger, showing the spectacular fireworks over the London Eye, as they lit up Big Ben at midnight.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have the best and most Curious New Year ever.

Will you?

A dog of a decade?

Overcome by seasonal busyness, I barely had time to get a hair cut… However, as I sat next to Rochelle - pictured here with the appropriately named Tangle, the larger-than-lap lapdog, I asked myself the vital question ‘why do people have pets?’ Aren’t pets just an expensive, time-consuming nuisance - an additional distraction, making the normal stuff of life even more complicated? Then I had a Eureka moment: The last decade was probably a great one … if you happened to be a dog. No need to worry about the recession, mass terrorist atrocities, the outbreak of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tsunami, climate change, or being saddled with massive global debt – not, at least, if you were a dog.

In the New Year's Eve edition of the Daily Mail (see cutting left), there were pictures of Kelly Brook with her newly acquired ‘pug of love’ – aka Rocky. The puppy was a Christmas gift from her boyfriend, Danny Cipriani. Of course, there’s nothing more timeless and romantic than the gift of a puppy – some might say it’s as near as you could get to having your own offspring, minus the physical trauma. However, we should never forget that owning a dog is a huge responsibility – it’s not just for Christmas, it’s for life. But, at least you can sell a dog - or give it to someone with more time and patience, if you find you don’t have the appropriate qualities required for its upbringing.

Over the past decade, especially amongst the well-heeled, dogs have become the style accessory of choice. As a result, the dog business (no pun) has bucked the economic downturn, with significant growth in sales of dog foods, clothing, services and all manner of curious canine accessories. According to estimates from the UK Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, dogs account for £1.1 billion in food sales per annum, while the doggy treat market is worth around £203 million annually. There are hypoallergenic and preservative free animal foods, gourmet/fine-dining pet foods and even specially formulated versions of human Christmas dishes for dogs. Incidentally, around one in three pets in the UK is overweight.

In London, Harrods has recently quadrupled the size of its pet department to 11,000 square feet and hosts an annual pet fashion show called Pet a Porter. According to the Telegraph Magazine, past shows have featured a £250,000 diamond dog collar by jewellery designer, Stephen Webstier, a miniature bridal outfit by Vivienne Westwood and a gold lame jacket by dog-lover, Ben de Lisi.

Stateside, Dara Foster, the self-proclaimed ‘pet stylist to the stars’ says that in the past few years there’s been a surge in people realizing that that their dog's appearance is an expression of their own style.

To this end, America spends approximately $43.5 billion a year on its pets – including luxuries and indulgences such as miniature mansions for cats and dogs at up to $35,000 a pop, on special flights via the cleverly customized Pet Airways … and even on pet plastic surgery.

In December 2009, the publication of the book Dogs in Vogue made it official: dogs are the ultimate fashion accessory. Click here to see some photos from ‘the book that celebrates 100 years of canine chic’. And, if that's not enough, why not join the many (more than 350,000 so far) who have viewed this video of ‘How much is that doggy in the window?

Our dogs have come to define us, our humanity, our very raison d’etre:
The Daily Mail, for instance, states that Kelly Brook’s “transformation from model to A-list actress is finally complete” due to her new pug, “a pet of the sort favoured by Hollywood celebrities.” It adds that “Cipriani’s decision to buy her the dog has led to more speculation about the growing seriousness of their relationship.”

By the way, the latest celebrity pet is said to be the micro-pig – reputedly adored by the Beckhams, Paris Hilton and Charlotte Church … and just what does that say about the style of these stars?

Needless to say, some dogs, like Mr Winkle, have been celebrities in their own right for many years.

Yes, dogs have certainly had it good in the past decade – in the press, you’ll find many examples of animals bequeathed funds in their owners’ wills. In 2007, Leona Helmsley reputedly left a staggering $12 million to her white Maltese dog – substantially more than she left her four grandchildren. Actress Lucy Gordon, 28, who recently hanged herself in her Paris apartment following an argument with her French boyfriend, left a net estate of £71,518, of which some £6,270 ($10,000) was specifically requested to go to “a trust fund for my dog Meelon to take care of her financially to the end of her days.”

According to the American Pet Products Association, 70% of dog owners now list their pet as ‘like a child/family member’. It’s hardly surprising then, that advertisers in the UK should want to offer you the chance to “talk to your dog”. Apparently, there’s “lots more to dog talk than just barking”. A special new guide offers “detailed step-by-step instructions on how to establish a truly meaningful two-way communication with your pet”, which is great if “you’ve always wondered what your dog is thinking”.

For the less dedicated, there’s always the option of a virtual pet. currently boasts around 260 million neo-pet owners…

Alternatively, you might like to invest in a cute little dog that’s a lot less troublesome to maintain, like one of these curiously quirky and collectable vintage pooch brooches from ShopCurious. There’s no need for feeding, walking, or grooming - though you’re very welcome to stroke your dog brooch if you wish, or even to talk to it, if you’re so inclined - after all, you never know what it might be thinking…

I rather suspect that ‘man’s best friend’ might be wondering if the dog of a decade that’s just ended will give way to a howler of one to come.

Are you?

PS Woof, woof! = wishing you a curiously happy New Year x