Saturday, 27 February 2010

You've been Tesco'd...

I had no idea that much revered fashion house, Tesco, was a sponsor of London Fashion Week - did you?

One of my first memories as a young child is of a strong aversion to Tesco carrier bags. I instinctively disliked the dark blue stripes and the bland colour scheme, with its lurid red logo. By the time I was around seven years old, I was trying to persuade my mother not to shop at Tesco, as I didn’t want to be seen anywhere near ‘those’ bags…

I laugh at this now, but it’s curious how our tastes and style preferences are developed at such an early age.

I was amused by a post yesterday on worm’s curiously fascinating blog, ‘ruminant’, which lists all the things he deems to be uncool. Interestingly, most of the items listed aren’t brands, but are products and commodities – including coffee:

I suppose we’re over the whole latte thing and are now hooked on herbal teas… or is it tap water? But I was surprised there was no mention of Starbucks or McDonalds on worm’s list…does that mean they're cool?

Chain stores dominate the high street - and those specializing in fashion often provide well designed, cheap clothing and accessories – including pieces that look awfully like the ones we’ve just seen on the catwalk. These can be great, when mixed with vintage and unique things to create a totally individual look.

And, much as I dislike the way large organizations like Tesco have a ‘dumbing down’ effect on creativity and choice, it’s commendable that they’re helping to sponsor existing and/or emerging designers with the fruits of their monopoly over the market. However, it’s a shame that some smaller players will be held back, and many will go out of business as a result of the competitive advantage enjoyed by such large scale operators.

Anyway, ShopCurious would like to make a few additions to the list of things that aren’t so cool, namely:

Luxury brands
Mass produced designer label goods
Designer outlets
Shopping centres
Supermarket chic

Of course, it’s all a matter of taste and, occasionally - even in the midst of mediocrity, you’ll stumble upon something with quirky appeal, or a certain aesthetic charm. But, if you’re one of the Curious Cognoscenti, you know when you’ve been Tesco’d.

Do you?

PS worm, note the Tesco droid comes in non-human form!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Arty old bags

Now, here’s something really curious: Old bags transformed into happening, new suitcases at ShopCurious vs. bright young things, artfully restyled as old bags, at London Fashion Week.

In case you didn’t already know, we’re featuring creatively recycled vintage luggage by Lisa Tilley in our StyleCurious designer showcase this month. Each of Lisa's bags has been lovingly embellished with a carefully chosen selection of retro magazine cuttings, or in some cases, original vintage maps – and they’re marketed under the curiously appropriate label – uoldbag!

If you’re feeling particularly generous, one of these unique accessories might be the ideal gift for Mothers’ Day - assuming your Mum has a good sense of humour, of course...

Anyway, I’d like to point out that these lovely old bags are available at very reasonable prices - considering the painstaking labour that has gone into updating each of the uniquely individual pieces, involving the rather finicky art of decoupage.

I also spotted some rather distinctive and unusual creations at London Fashion Week, where it appears 'old bag style' is definitely in vogue amongst up and coming creative types. Rare finds included talented stylist, Ameena (shown here enjoying the delights of the old fashion tea room), sporting her own take on the geeky-cool look, complete with the most divine pair of old lady style vintage Lacroix glasses.

And the amazing Anna, a designer bag lady with street cred (in the form of LFW’s sponsored canvas bag), wearing a wonderfully homespun head decoration – complete with sepia photos of a lady who may be her great grandmother...

I’m not quite sure what to make of these trends.

Are you?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Curiously cosy quilts

I’ve missed you - what with London Fashion Week, plus a zillion and one other things going on, I haven’t had a chance to write many posts lately. Mind you, the weather’s been so appallingly cold, wet and windy here that most of us would probably have preferred to stay indoors, keeping warm. I just checked the weather forecast for London and... guess what:

Wednesday - heavy rain showers
Thursday - heavy rain
Friday - heavy rain (and 26 mph south westerly winds)
Saturday - heavy rain showers
Sunday - heavy rain

I suggest you find something to do around the home rather than venturing anywhere outside. Handicrafts are very popular at the moment: you could pass the time with a spot of crochet, try your hand at basket weaving, or perhaps a little quilt-making takes your fancy? With the quilt exhibition coming up at the V&A shortly, anything and everything patchwork is all the rage.

In fact, we’ve got some fabulous designer patchwork quilts by Cassandra Ellis at ShopCurious. Handmade, using vintage fabrics (including finest quality silks), lined and backed with Fair Trade cotton, each one of these beautifully sewn and totally unique pieces is a timeless work of art. You might like to invest in one as an heirloom for your family to appreciate in years to come, or simply for you to enjoy snuggling up in.

Quilts are great, even on the dullest of days – not only do they add a welcome splash of colour to your décor, but they’re also curiously inviting and especially cosy at this time of year.

Are you?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Intelligent design? London Fashion Week goes digital

London Fashion Week’s exhibition has a brand new digital space – where fashion becomes digital art. For the first time ever, there’s also a digital schedule with live streamed fashion shows.

At ShopCurious, we usually create trends rather than following them, which is why we asked members of our group at Polyvore to use their creative skills to make up digital collages showing 'style with brains'. They produced intelligent designs you may not have thought of in your wildest dreams, but are certainly worth considering for the future.

And, finally, a photo of digital diva Susie Style Bubble - just to prove she’s not surgically attached to her computer (only to the digital device at her ear), or is that a laptop she's clutching by her side?

I’d love to hear your views on digital fashion – is it intelligent design? Is this the way of the future? Has it got style with brains?

Do you?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I love New York, but...

Fast isn’t always best. Bette Midler once famously said “When it's three o’clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London.” Okay, New York has been, and may still be, the world’s most happening city… If you visit regularly for New York Fashion Week, you’ll probably discover recently established places and new things to see and do, every time you’re there. But I like to find hang-outs that are a little more off-beat and unusual - where things happen at a slightly slower pace.

Even if you start at the digital centre of the world, you can always slow down later: The new NYC Information Center, close to Times Square, has 16 enormous flat screen monitors, where you can use Google Earth to create your own virtual tourist trail. You can even download the route onto your mobile ‘phone. Or, if you prefer to do this is in advance of your trip, there’s also a website, which you can check out here.

If the pace gets a little too much and you find you’re need a bit of a breather, why not stop off at Paley Park – an urban oasis on the site where the famous Stork Club used to be. Privately funded by the ex-CEO of CBS William Paley, and built in 1967, this ‘pocket park’ is a small cobbled area, with walls on three sides that are decked out with a huge fountain and hanging ivy to blot out the noise from the passing traffic, creating a Zen-like environment that’s rather a curiosity

It’s perfect for taking a few moments out, allowing you to collage your memory with a curiously handy journal from ShopCurious.

Of course, you could also make a hasty retreat to The Meatpacking District (MPD) - with a heritage of over 250 slaughterhouses - and now a favourite hang-out for actors and fashionistas. Thankfully, the area has recently become home to The High Line, a former freight transportation facility that’s been transformed into a stylish green walkway, raised up above road level.

Originally in use from the early 1930s to around 1980, the line was derelict until its recent (and ongoing) reclamation. Planted with grass, shrubs and even decked out with sun-loungers, the 3 mile long, eco-friendly track is a great way to see what’s going on from above.

You can also pop by one of the newest bistros in the area, Recette, where the chef is Gordon Ramsay trained Jesse Schenker.

After all, you may need to take another breather before London Fashion Week hits this ‘slow’ town…

Do you?

Sunday, 14 February 2010

I love (secret) New York

Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’re in The Big Apple for New York Fashion Week, you may be wondering how to find somewhere appropriately romantic to meet for drinks or dinner. I can suggest no better place for a lovers’ tryst than one of the city’s numerous speakeasies.

Speakeasies are named after the ‘underground’ bars that gained popularity during the Prohibition of the 1920s and early ‘30s. You usually have to book in advance so, first of all, you’ll need to find the contact details of one of these curiously clandestine venues, which can be a little tricky as they’re not that well publicized. And you’ll also need to know the password to get through the front door.

It’s rumoured that the trend for speakeasies was started by Sasha Petraske, owner of the infamous Milk & Honey (check out the curiously quirky house rules!) Others include The Back Room (aka The Lower Eastside Toy Company), reached via a rather ominous looking underground alley.

There’s a distinctly Victorian feel to the décor here – and the alcohol is served in teacups.

Many of the bars have a retro vibe and and the music is often of the old-fashioned jazz variety, in keeping with the original roots of the speakeasy. You’ll find the coolest mixologists (Ameri-speak for bartenders) – and some great food too.

I suggest you surreptitiously ask around, as there’s bound to be one of these covert establishments hidden away somewhere nearby. The telephone numbers are changed often, so further undercover investigations may be required in your search.

By the way, if you’ve got a suitably secret gift for your loved one, how about this mother of pearl inlaid vintage silver trinket box from ShopCurious to hide it in?

And shhhhhh... I have the address and current ‘phone number for Milk & Honey if you want it.

Do you?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Remember: love is timeless

In these fast-moving times, there's rarely an opportunity to sit back and spend a moment reflecting on what really matters: probably our family and our dearest friends.

Occasionally, we fall out with loved ones, or find ourselves distanced from those we’re emotionally close to. At some stage in life, it’s likely we’ll suddenly lose someone we love and realize we haven’t said all we really wanted to. Perhaps we’re rushing around so much, we forget how important it is to express our feelings … until it’s too late.

Recording feelings, thoughts and memories can be surprisingly rewarding, which is why, at ShopCurious, we’re offering a selection of journals to help you do just this. ‘From You to Me’ journals make really precious gifts – simply ask your loved one(s) to answer the questions in the book and return it to you, full of personal nostalgia and stories you’ve always wanted to know. Capture the memories and anecdotes of times spent with those special to you - and receive your own gift of love and friendship back again.

One of the journals, called These were the Days, is especially appropriate for anyone who’s leaving and moving on to pastures new. Whether you're graduating from school, university, taking up a new job, or moving abroad, this journal provides an opportunity to capture key memories and experiences from the people you've met along the way.

Alternatively, you may want to reflect on good times spent with your partner - or even an old flame, someone overseas, a mentor, or person who’s had a key influence in your life... Or, you may simply wish to recall experiences shared with a friend, relative or colleague you particularly admire, as a record for posterity.

It’s worthwhile taking a moment to remember those special to us. The gift of love is timeless.

Will you?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sending love in style

In this age when so many of us are curiously self-obsessed, there’s still a chance to prove that genuine love is well and truly alive. Valentine’s Day may seem to you like a commercial conspiracy, but it’s also a rare opportunity to express our appreciation of and affection for our loved ones.

Valentine greetings can be traced back as far as Medieval times, but Valentine cards were first made in Britain in the early 19th century. Since then, all manner of cards, gifts and curios have appeared on the market. Last year, our custom made curious pop art rings were very popular - these were mainly requests from girls ordering miniature paintings in their likeness on the rings to give to their husbands and boyfriends.

There was also one memorably romantic request from a man wanting us to replicate his image, (from a photograph), on a ring to give to his girlfriend when he proposed to her. Fortunately, she accepted, and we’re very happy for both of them. He also told us that his portrait on the ring bears an uncanny resemblance - and that his girlfriend wears her curious Valentine ring, with his picture, all the time. How sweet!

If you’re not quite ready for a personalized Valentine ring, or a piece of statement jewellery - a card, perhaps even a postcard - should suffice. At ShopCurious, we’ve some lovely old-style postcards, adorned with rather stylish vintage brooches, that will make the perfect gift of love. They’re especially useful if you’re not quite sure what to buy, as they’ll serve as a Valentine’s gift and a card all in one.

Valentine’s Day is a time to indulge in a little nostalgia – and an original, vintage brooch will add a touch of unique colour to your day. The weather (at least here in London) is depressingly grey and gloomy at this time of year, so why not brighten up an existing outfit with a stylishly unusual embellishment? It’s less expensive than buying a new set of clothes – and the association with a loved one will make this small and inexpensive gift more precious than any luxury designer accessory.

Alternatively, you may prefer to treat yourself to one of these beautiful brooches. With or without a partner, some of us will always be romantic at heart...

Are you?

Friday, 5 February 2010

The (curiously hot) dance of love

I’m saddened by the media’s absurd obsession with weight. I know there’s a growing problem of obesity in the 'developed' world, but there also seem to be a lot more people with eating disorders, or just plain unhappy with their size and shape. Having been through the whole dieting thing - transforming myself, within the space of a few years, from a painfully plump teenager to a bag of bones, I can confirm that being unnaturally thin didn’t make me any happier... In fact, controlling my eating habits made for an anti-social, miserable way of life.

I subsequently discovered a much more enjoyable way of maintaining a realistic and healthy weight: exercise. Always one to try something new, I’ve experimented with all manner of work-out classes – from Jane Fonda style high impact aerobics, to gymnastique aquatique, Bikram yoga and pole dancing (after which my legs were black and blue with bruises).

In the course of my love affair with energetic pursuits, I’ve shadow-boxed with WBA World Heavyweight Champion, David Haye, and qualified as a Body Attack aerobics instructor. A few years ago, I even joined The London School of Samba, dancing maniacally for seven hours non-stop at the Notting Hill Carnival, dressed as a giant butterfly.

The best thing about dancing is that it’s a really fun way to burn calories. The other day, my curiosity aroused by some of the strangest promotional material I’ve ever seen, (see left and below), I simply had to try out the latest craze at my local gym. The new Zumba class is a mixture of various types of dance - including salsa, samba, meringue, calypso and jive.

I’m used to jumping around, but this proved to be a much hotter form of exercise than I’d anticipated, though a lot more entertaining too – in fact, most participants found themselves grinning from ear to ear throughout the class. It’s great exercise for the waist (a tricky area to shapen up, that often gets overlooked in the gym), and is totally exhausting. I can guarantee you’ll ache all over the following day.

By the way, if your partner loves to dance, how about these curiously kitsch retro pictures of exotic dancers in harem pants from ShopCurious, as an unusual gift for Valentine’s Day? They remind me a little of the Ballets Russes costumes – like the ones designed by Leon Bakst for Michel Fokine's Schéhérazade.

This illustration, by Georges Barbier in1913 (from the V&A London), shows a member of a harem being caressed by a black slave. In the early 19th century, fashion was still heavily influenced by lavish theatrical productions, often based on Russian folklore/Oriental themes. These occasions were an opportunity to see scantily dressed women on stage, at a time when the difference between chorus girls and ballet dancers wasn’t very well defined.

Which reminds me of another enjoyably heated activity I’ve tactfully avoided mentioning …

I’m curious to know what you’re thinking of.

Are you?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Love is...curiously French

The other weekend I was lost in France, when I forgot to take my camera. Okay, I wasn’t actually ‘lost’, it’s just that I’m so used to having a camera with me when I travel, I felt curiously lost in Paris without it. Good job I took plenty of photos on my previous trip, which I’ve just found - so at least I can write this post, about how curious it is that we identify France with love – and love with France…

France has always rated highly in terms of style, and not just for couture and cuisine. As well as being world renowned for its fashion, France is known for its lovers – perhaps even for its love of love. And France isn’t just famous for its culinary artists either, but also for all manner of talented artists and creative types – and, if you've any other additions to this list, just let me know.

However, I’ve noticed that, in recent years, that Paris has rather lost its edge in the culinary stakes. You’d think that Paris, the French capital of love and romance would be producing the most imaginative and desirable dishes in the world, but in most places, you’ll find the menu consists of three main ingredients: jambon et fromage (ham and cheese) – plus that curiously un-optional extra: du pain.

What I find amusing when I go to Paris is that the hotels invariably offer rather strange and soggy croissants, sometimes dusted in sugar or even, (sacre bleu!) icing sugar, for breakfast - along with a selection of sub-standard, pre-packaged cheeses, hams and the obligatory crusty (crunch your fillings variety) bread rolls. Or am I simply staying in the wrong places? Oh, and lunch is usually a super-sized and over-filled baguette - your choice of jambon, ou fromage... or jambon et fromage.

How refreshing, then, to stumble upon a small local restaurant - close to where I was staying, near the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre - serving les produits de la region (no, not the Paris region, but the South West of France). A lovely couple called Sebastien (a sort of Gallic Gordon Ramsay) and Emeline (the gaminely flirty French waitress), set up the restaurant a few years ago.

I’ve now visited a few times and, what always surprises me, is that I find myself sitting amongst familiar, returning customers on every occasion, the majority of whom are actually French. This has to be the tell tale sign of a good restaurant, or at least a welcome culinary oasis in the midst of a foodie desert.

By the way, Sebastien and Emeline come from the Isle d’Oleron, so are very proud of their Marennes oysters and fresh seafood dishes, which is right up my street.

I’ve noticed another odd thing about French cooking is the curious lack of greenery. If you’re used to Italian-style cuisine, with large dollops of spinach and Mediterranean vegetables, you’ll always feel a little less than satisfied in Paris, where there’s simply no respite from the platefuls of creamy coloured food and sauces, with only the occasional token sprig of parsley… or the odd tomato garnish here and there.

Anyway, if you’re unfortunate enough to be staying in the area, I can highly recommend Saveur et Plaisir as one of the few decent restaurants around – and, in addition to daily specials, they usefully offer two menus: the ‘saveur’ being more basic, and the ‘plaisir’, purely for pleasure (though possibly a little less pleasing on the wallet).

And now on to the plaisir d’amour, sadly, unsampled during my brief visit to the so-called 'city of love', but hopefully more varied and imaginative than the cuisine.

If you’re searching for unusual gifts for your loved one for Valentine’s Day, you might be interested in some amusing 1950s and ‘60s books for lovers by French author/cartoonist, Raymond Peynet. These beautifully illustrated, vintage collectors’ editions, available at ShopCurious, make highly original, quirky Valentine gifts.

In fact, rather than rushing off for a romantic weekend of jambon et fromage in Paris, I’d suggest you stay at home and enjoy a good giggle over Peynet’s charming, witty … and curiously French… approach to love.

Will you?