Monday, 29 March 2010

The ever curious child in everyone?

Isn’t it amazing how nursery rhymes are immortalized as they’re passed down from generation to generation? Such is the power of children's abiding fascination for nonsensical verse, combined with a pretty melody. It’s so funny how babies like to hear the same words, or tunes, over and over again.

These curiously cute retro baby prints by artist Lilian Rowles, available at ShopCurious, remind me of the lullabies my mother used to sing to me. My favourite was ‘Go To Sleep My Baby’. I’ve looked this up on the net and it seems there are many variations of the lullaby. The words I know (using my name by way of example) are:

Go to sleep my baby -
Close your big blue eyes
Angels up above you,
Watching little Susan from the skies;

Great big moon is shining,
Stars begin to peep,
It’s time for little baby Susan
To go to sleep.

If there’s enough demand, I’ll ask my mother to sing it for you too. By the way, she soon progressed on to rather more curious rhymes, for instance:

If all the world were paper,
And all the sea were ink,
And all the trees were bread and cheese,
What would we have to drink?

And curiouser still…

My Aunt’s name is Aloysia (pronounced Al-oo-ish-a) Waterbutt,
She lives down at Burton on Trent,
Every time she goes out on her bicycle,
She always gets her handle bars bent...

That one always had me in fits of giggles.

I’m not sure if this is just a sad weakness for nostalgia, but my theory is that childlike curiosity sometimes doesn’t go away - and can develop into a lifelong taste for unusual things.

Anyway, I was wondering if you might want to share your childhood favourites too – or perhaps even some of the lullabies you’ve sung to your children…

Do you?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A very curious egg

With Easter almost upon us, I thought it appropriate to mention a very curious egg by way of introduction to our new theme of ‘immortality’. For those who aren’t religious, there’s always the chance of an afterlife, simply by becoming the stuff of legend. Legendary figures such as dragons certainly seem to live forever.

Our latest curiosity is a genuine - okay, original vintage ceramic, dragon’s egg. This characterful little fellow comes courtesy of Chessell Pottery: a small concern, started in 1978, in a converted barn in the Isle of Wight, by John and Sheila Francis. Formerly lecturers in ceramics at the Commonwealth Universities of East and West Africa, the duo's designs are largely based on observations from nature. The hatching dragon was especially introduced for the 2000 Millennium year. (Incidentally, the next Year of the Dragon will be in 2012).

This quirky ornamental piece is guaranteed a very long shelf life. From dragons mentioned in Babylonian and Assyrian texts dating as far back as the 2nd Millennium BC, to the legend of St George and the Dragon – and even modern day computer games, let alone The Dragons’ Den - the legend of the dragon most definitely lives on, and on, and on...

Dragons have been treated in literature and popular culture with a mixture of fear and amusement. Written by Lewis Carroll in the late 19th century, Jabberwocky (below) from 'Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There', describes one of the most curious dragons of all time. As Alice says of the poem, “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas - only I don't exactly know what they are!”

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Take a peek at this curiously camp, though somewhat scary, clip from Alice in Wonderland c.1983. I’d like to know what's lurking inside that carefully gift-wrapped box. I suspect it may be a very unusual little egg from ShopCurious, that's just about to hatch...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Quilts and curiously sunny patchwork purses

My visit to the new Quilts exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was infinitely more rewarding than anticipated. This show is as much a feast for the mind as it is a visual delight - and a must for all lovers of textiles and fashion.

The quilts on display depict the ‘hidden histories and untold stories’ of fabrics, families and creative endeavour over several centuries. Quilts are often symbolic of rites of passage - births, deaths and marriages – and the antique cot quilts in this exhibition are among the most exquisite.

There’s plenty of emotion attached to quilts, but over the centuries, the type of feelings associated with the art of patchwork seem to have changed significantly. Quilts are popularly regarded as precious items, generating ‘memories of warmth, comfort and security’ – and are often handed down as heirlooms from generation to generation.

From Victorian times, however, handicrafts like patchwork were used as a means of promoting social improvement. The Temperance Movement even adopted the pastime as a displacement activity for military personnel and those who might otherwise be lured by the temptations of gambling and alcohol.

Later examples include quilts made on prison ships, in prison of war camps, military hospitals and even at HMP Wandsworth – whose magnificent quilt is a sort of tragicomic send up of life in jail.

More recent works seem even farther removed from the cosy connotations of vintage pieces, focusing on human mortality and suffering, as well as the plight of women (traditionally those involved with the craft of quilting). Exhibits include Grayson Perry’s vivid, foetus-littered Right to Life quilt – a commentary on the anti-abortion debate in 1990s America (see right).

There are some common threads (excuse the pun) throughout the exhibition; the recycling of used fabrics, for instance – including old pyjamas, and even black-out curtains after the Second World War. And some recurring themes - like geography, nature and the passing of time.

Patriotism is also the subject of many pieces, with royalty, crests and messages of loyalty to the home country featuring widely. One of the quilts, dating from the early 19th century, has a splendid depiction of George III reviewing his troops in Hyde Park, part of which can be seen left (click on to enlarge and look out for the strange sun and moon motifs).

I’m curious to know more about the rather oddly located suns and moons, placed towards the centre of this quilt. They remind me of the sunshine patches on the quirky new handmade purses at ShopCurious.

Most of the quilts on display are so detailed, one could spend days admiring the craftsmanship and investigating the individual meaning of each masterpiece on show. Award yourself the luxury of at least a couple of hours to indulge your imagination and senses at this wonderful exhibition...

Will you?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The curious accessories of Spring, tra-la!

I’m curious to know whether or not Goldfinches migrate, as they seem to return to the olive tree on my terrace every year. Last year the tree was used twice by the birds. It’s quite a responsibility having a nest of vulnerable little chicks just outside your window, especially if there are nasty magpies and crows about – but two successive broods of tiny chirping balls of fluff in one season can make life positively stressful.

Although one baby bird stayed in the nest until it grew so fat it was almost bigger than its temporary home, the most nail-biting time was when the chicks first left the nest. Most alarming of all, was the moment when one of the tiny birds, newly out of its nest and still being trained to fly, got stuck in a corner, behind a big plant pot - unable to fly upwards and over the glass screening around the terrace.

Several other birds (possibly parents, or from the same family) were equally distressed, but also unable to coax the bird out from behind the pot. It was particularly worrying that the apartment next door had a couple of cats. Eventually, the poor little bird was unceremoniously prodded to safety with the help of a long bamboo stick and then carefully lifted up and thrown into the air, whereupon a protective flock of fellow finches flew out of nowhere to surround the bird and encourage it on its way – an extraordinary act of nature and love that brought spontaneous tears of joy to my eyes.

The little creature flapped furiously and flew upwards and upwards… then faltered and crash-landed, inelegantly, in an even more confined space between a glass screen and window on a balcony of the building opposite. The concierge was duly called. The neighbours were away for the weekend, so there was nothing that could be done – apart from fretting. The amazing thing was that at least one bird kept watch over the little chick the whole time it was stuck in the crevice. The poor bird must have eventually regained enough strength to fly off, as at some stage during the following day, it simply disappeared.

I love this time of year: Nature’s so fascinating and it’s incredibly uplifting to hear the birds singing, especially in the early evening when, until very recently, it was totally dark. Goldfinches also have a rather quirky and amusing, yet strangely beautiful, way of flying – like they’re swimming the breaststroke in mid-air and then suddenly stopping and starting again...

If you’re also a bird lover, you might like the Hatastic Easter Bonnet that’s available at ShopCurious. Crafted from recycled bits and pieces, rather like a genuine bird’s nest, this unique creation has also been lovingly handmade. A totally original hat to wear to a Spring wedding or to Summer events, this eco-friendly fascinator is simply ‘eggcellent’. Just make sure there aren’t any broody birds around.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mum's the word... vintage Paris on the cheap

A trip to Paris with your mother may not be the most romantic option for a weekend break. However, if you’ve a penchant for designer vintage fashion, you’ll find plenty of things for both of you to fall in love with in this city of couture and quality craftsmanship.

Paris is the world renowned centre for luxury lifestyle products – though, these days, brands like Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton are more likely to be associated with the celebrities who promote them than the city from which they originated. If you're not quite rich or famous enough to be invited to the couture shows, a well planned visit to Paris still offers the chance to see traditionally made, stylish French fashion - simply by exploring some of the quirky vintage stores dotted across town.

A ‘luxury’ shopping trip to Paris doesn't require a second mortgage either - it's quite possible to tour vintage Paris on the cheap:

There are many inexpensive travel options. If you book far enough in advance, standard Eurostar tickets (from London) are available for as little as £29 each way. Once in Paris, the best way of seeing the city is most definitely on foot. When your legs get tired, or if you need a faster way of getting around, just grab an eco-friendly bike at one of the generously stocked bicycle stations, conveniently located across the city centre.

Save your pennies in Paris by finding a reasonably priced hotel. Browse the internet for sites offering special rates for hotel rooms. The Hotel Louvre Bons Enfants, for instance, is just a stone’s throw from the Hotel de Louvre, with rooms available at a fraction of the price. There are even interesting views from the windows – including curious sculpture and architecture… Plus, there’s free Wi-Fi and affordable champagne in the mini-bar.

To the occasional visitor, eating out in style can present a challenge - but, rather than trying to avoid the tourist traps, why not use them to your advantage? Ask the hotel front desk to suggest a restaurant nearby. If you’re in the centre of town, the restaurants are bound to be foreigner friendly, even in Paris. You’ll most likely find yourself in the company of fellow tourists, which should make for an amusing evening, especially if you’re alone - or with your mother.

Le Petit Machon, recommended by the Louvre Bons Enfants, has a great atmosphere and the traditional Lyonnais food, though rather bland tasting, is reasonably good value.

Alternatively, if Mummy's paying, mix with the locals at chi-chi restaurants like L’Avenue in Avenue Montaigne, where by midday, the black dresses, fur coats, models and media crowd are already queuing up to secure their table for lunch.

The food is well presented and actually rather delicious, even if it’s served up barely cooked, three minutes after you sat down. But what you’re paying for is the view; just remember to ask for a table near the window, where you can sit and watch le tout Paris mincing past – and get an eye full of the Eiffel Tower at the same time.

Shopping is taken very seriously in Paris – and the city is bursting with smart boutiques. Rather than fighting over flea-bitten bargains in vintage markets, why not shop in classic Parisian style? Look no further than Didier Ludot’s fabulous emporium in the Palais Royal.

The only problem with this establishment is that, in all the times I’ve been to Paris, I’ve never once found it to be open.

Never mind, however curious the opening hours, there’s absolutely no need to go inside, as this is probably the best place in the world to window shop for high quality designer vintage collectors’ items.

Take a look at some of photographs here of pieces exhibited in the window during Paris Fashion Week – including couture Chanel and 1960s Paco Rabanne chain mail. Some of the other shops in the Palais Royal are also worth exploring, although the prices can be somewhat off-putting (unless one wanders a few doors down to Marc Jacobs and realizes that everything’s relative).

The winding streets of the Marais district are also great for rare and precious vintage finds, with some charming examples of vintage Chanel and Hermes – all at a certain price, which is just fine… so long as you’re only window shopping.

If the mere prospect of seeing fabulous vintage clothes and accessories is too much of temptation to splurge, you can always stay at home and order a Chinese... Just add some shell chopstick holders from ShopCurious for a perfectly stylish and authentic experience - and check out our designer vintage clothing without going anywhere.

And, if you're UK based and celebrating today, I hope you enjoy a happy Mothers’ Day... whatever you choose to do. Do let us hear about it.

Will you?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Matriarchal style icon

Having been submerged in a sea of black at Paris Fashion Week, it's refreshing to see Bryan Adams’ stunning photos of a vibrantly colourful Camila Batmanghelidjh in April’s edition of British Vogue. You probably need no excuse to buy a copy, but this fascinating feature makes a very worthwhile reason.

The Iranian born psychotherapist and social entrepreneur is interviewed by Gwyneth Paltrow about her amazing work for inner city children, through her charity, Kids Company. The article also features work from the forthcoming ‘Shoebox Living’ exhibition at Haunch of Venison, W1, for which children were asked to recreate a room from their house in a shoebox.

Camila is an unlikely style icon, whose powerfully positive personality is reflected through her bold, bright and highly individual choice of clothing. She says she finds the fabric for her clothes at Peckham Market and pieces bits together to create her own garments. Her original, handmade outfits give added impact to an already larger than life character, putting shrinking violets to shame. Camila’s voluptuous, matriarchal style also makes her the perfect subject for photographers and artists: her portrait (by Dean Marsh) even hangs in London’s National Gallery. I love the images (see below) in an article by writer and photographer Fran Monks.

If you’re also a fan of Camila’s look, you’ll probably like some of the handcrafted, ethnic inspired clothing at ShopCurious - tribal dresses by Bezemymailan and dramatic printed silk shifts by Lola Faturoti, for instance.

Camila’s much more than a style icon: she's a role model and mother figure to many impoverished children, though I expect they admire her exotic clothing too.

Camila offers kids the chance to use their energy and imagination in constructive ways, through art projects and creative endeavours. Everyone seems to love her - and I bet she receives tons of Mothers’ Day cards. With all her amazing work, I’m curious to know how she still manages to find the time to make her own clothes…

Are you?

Monday, 8 March 2010


How about taking your mother away for a weekend break to celebrate Mothers’ Day? Mine has hinted she’d like to see Rome, as she’s never been before.

I noticed something curious about Rome last time I was there: the city’s simply bursting with sea-inspired art, sculpture and cuisine:

Your mother may well be a thalassomaniac (fanatic of all things to do with the sea), but you don’t have to travel to Rome to please her. These intricately hand-carved natural stone boxes from ShopCurious would make perfect Mothers’ Day gifts.

If you’re looking for something stylish that’s a little unusual, reasonably priced and useful too, they’re just the thing. Even better if your Mum’s got one of those fishy starsigns - like Aquarius, Pisces or Cancer. Or perhaps you’re one of those signs, in which case you’ll just have to buy two of these beautifully handcrafted boxes...

Will you?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Shell out on style

The treasures discovered on my recent visit to the V&A textile stores (click on the pics to enlarge) included a surrealist style 'ceremonial hat for eating bouillabaisse'.

Dating from 1936, this extraordinary hat was made by Eileen Agar, a friend of Salvador Dali. Now specially boxed up, and carefully kept in a temperature controlled, secure environment, the elaborate shell and coral encrusted curiosity must surely be worth a bob or two...

However, in addition to the quirky fish bone decoration, I couldn’t help noticing a couple of rather tacky plastic things (see right) attached to the hat, that looked suspiciously like Christmas cocktail party swizzlers – were they really from the 1930s?

This made me wonder if the vintage (1990s) anemone adorned hat lurking at the bottom of my wardrobe was, perhaps, just a tad more tasteful?

Anyway, as we’re talking about crustaceans, I thought I’d mention Caroline Perrin’s magnificently stylish shell creations, several of which are now available at ShopCurious.

Each of these exquisitely handmade, decorative shell boxes is totally individual - and completely covered in naturally beautiful seashells, sourced from remote beaches around the world.

If you’re able to shell out a little more than usual, I can guarantee your mother would love one of these as a really special gift for Mothers’ Day.

Timeless in style and useful too, these boxes are just the sort of pieces that should be highly collectable in years to come. Gimmicky fashion is fun, but fine quality craftsmanship, authentic materials and simple, practical design may prove to be a much more sensible investment.

Will you?