Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sticks, stones, beasts and bones

This weekend, I thought it would be fun to focus on a curious new trend I spotted: primeval style. So let’s travel back to the distant past - to the dark ages and the very basics of the primordial lifestyle…

You may have noticed that ancient crafts have begun to re-emerge in design, so we’re seeing things like basket weaving, roughly carved wooden furniture, primitive looking skin and stone home accessories, along with age old decorative techniques, such as marquetry.

Unfortuately, the Primal Scream concert at London's Olympia tonight is already sold out. But you can take the opportunity to dine out in proper primeval style instead: Just pop along to Jamie Oliver’s new charcoal grill restaurant, Barbecoa, where the service is certainly bordering on the Neolithic - though the chefs somehow make even the simplest of ingredients taste utterly divine.

If you’re into collecting, you’ll have already noted the current fascination with old techniques and processes. This weekend, Albert Watson is in town for the launch of his vintage photography exhibition at Hamiltons Gallery in Mayfair, selling a selection of his most famous silver gelatin and Polaroid prints.

Watson’s photographs include this shot of Mick Jagger as a leopard, which definitely captures man’s basic animal instinct. And another, of the back of Mike Tyson’s freakishly wide neck. Incidentally, Albert Watson’s father was professional boxer, who told him that the most important thing for a boxer is to have a strong neck.

Moving swiftly on, for The Last Tuesday Society’s winter show, opening today in Hackney, Alice Herrick & Viktor Wynd, will transform the gallery into a Rousseauesque jungle “representing a contemporary Bestiary... regal beasts, enchanted forests, curious creatures and bejewelled nature. The centre of the gallery will be filled with a menagerie of taxidermied animals, from giraffes and polar bears to lion and tiger skeletons.”

For lovers of authentic primitive style, we’ve also got some rather primal curiosities of nature online, at ShopCurious – ranging from stone lizard pendants to genuine frog purses.

And, finally, don't forget to check out the curiously bestial headwear in my latest post at The Dabbler – just in case you feel like unleashing your inner caveman (or woman) this Christmas.

Do you?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Arty, eco-friendly London style

How is it that Americans get two turkey days, whereas us Brits only get one? I think it’s rather curious to have another holiday so close to Christmas, when we’re already running around like headless chickens. Anyway, as you guys on the other side of the pond are probably having a few days off, I thought I’d focus on things a little closer to home today.

If you’re Christmas shopping in London, there are a few new places to visit, like the huge glass-fronted mall over at One New Change, opposite St Paul’s. There are some amazing views over London from the recently opened roof terrace (click on pics below to enlarge), where next year a rooftop café will also be up and running - hope the weather improves...

Despite Jean Nouvel’s stunning architectural contribution to the City, the shopping centre is home to the ubiquitous selection of chain stores. However, it was refreshing to see a rather more original addition to the premises the other day, when photos of the new limited edition London G-Wiz were unveiled.

This quirky little electric car is now recognizably associated with London, where apparently there are now well over 1,000 of the vehicles on the city’s streets, prompting the idea for a unique, London inspired deisgn. Luise Vomittag of the designer, ContainerPLUS says, “So many stories intersect in this city, millions of people - all building a version of their own reality. It’s a topsy-turvy city - eccentric, outrageous and utterly delightful. The idiosyncratic and joyful spirit of the G-wiz, as well as the environmental outlook of the company behind this vehicle, immediately struck a chord.”

If you’re interested in seeing this curiously collectable designer car, you’ll be able to get a preview at the junction of Oxford Street, Market Place and Great Titchfield Street on Saturday 27th, this weekend, as part of the VIP, car free shopping day. Or, if you’d like to order one as an eco-friendly Christmas gift, you can even buy online, direct from the appropriately named retailer, GoinGreen.

It’s understandable that some budgets won’t quite stretch to £12,995, even for Christmas, but there are plenty of less expensive unusual gifts online at ShopCurious: Like this very reasonably priced and beautifully scented, naturally organic Lavender Crystals gift set from Zarvis London.

By the way, don’t forget to order your turkey.

Will you?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Illustrating the collectable vintage art of fashion...

There seems to be a sudden surge of interest in fashion illustration, with exhibitions popping up all over the place. There’s still plenty of time to visit the London Design Museum’s latest show – Drawing Fashion, a celebration of some of the best fashion illustrations of the 20th and 21st centuries, which runs until March next year. The show is guest co-curated by Colin McDowell, who is also hosting a series of fascinating talks linked to the event (check the website for details).

Nowadays, most fashion illustrations are the work of fashion designers, or specialist illustrators employed by design houses, or trend forecasters. However, in the days before photography and film became the accepted media for illustrating the latest catwalk looks, artists attended fashion shows to draw freehand sketches of the designs. One of the most prolific artists of the 1950s was Francis Marshall (1901-1980), who is especially well known for his coverage of the Paris couture shows – including the likes of Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior and Givenchy.

Marshall served as a midshipman during the First World War. Following his discharge in 1920, he spent three years at the Slade School of Fine Art. From 1928, he was employed as an illustrator for British Vogue. The 'Marshall girl', based on his wife Margaret, became a well-known figure in Vogue's illustrations.

After the Second World War, in which he served as a naval officer, he returned to advertising. He was also the principal social and fashion illustrator on the Daily Mail until the 1960s, covering the Paris couture shows on the newspaper’s behalf.

Some Francis Marshall memorabilia is currently stored by the Victoria and Albert Museum, including quite a number of fashion show invitations and programmes - as well as a charming letter to his wife from the Ritz Hotel (left), where he was staying to attend shows by Schiaparelli, Rochas and Jacques Fath.

His sketchbooks give a unique insight into his drawing style, ‘50s life and the work of a fashion illustrator. He made sketches wherever he travelled, and his drawings reflected his main interests: ballet, fashion, horses, London life, music, outdoor life, theatre and travel.

Marshall’s renowned book on Fashion Drawing is a source of many fabulous fashion illustrations, in addition to being an illuminating insight into the glamorous fashion world of the day. The book also serves as an invaluable source of technical advice, combined with fascinating historical detail.

If you'd like to find out more about the work of this talented illustrator, there's an original 1941, hardback edition of Marshall's book at ShopCurious. This would make a wonderful heirloom gift for a collector of fashion drawings, an aspiring artist, fashion designer, or any curiously creative type. The cover is in pretty good condition, considering its age, and only a few of the pages are slightly foxed.

Talking of which, if you can identify the illustrator of this picture over at The Dabbler, you could win your very own Christmas Fox…

Will you?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Time for Christmas?

I bet you can’t wait till the holidays are here and you can sit down and put your feet up, and forget all about shopping. With only five weeks left until Christmas, and the clock ticking away, are you still wondering where to find unique and unusual gifts for your more individual friends, or the quirkier members of your family?

Then look no further than ShopCurious, where you’ll find all sorts of original Christmas gifts, including handmade accessories, arty curiosities and one-off things for the home – without even leaving your armchair. Anyway, here's the first of our alternative Xmas gift ideas:

These striking retro clocks are ideal for collectors of quirky 1950s and ‘60s homeware. They’ve also been totally renovated, so they’re in perfect working order (if powered by the appropriate battery). One of these would make a great gift for someone who’s often late, who’s recently moved into a new home, is redecorating, or who might appreciate a stylishly timeless addition to their life.

At this time of year, when we probably all need to slow down, finding curiously characterful Christmas presents online is the perfect way of buying time to do more leisurely things, if you’ll excuse the dreadful pun…

Will you?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Trophy style

This week at The Dabbler, I travel back to the 1980s for some old school, trophy style. Preppy blazers and sporty attire were first popularized by Fred Perry, Lacoste and Ralph Lauren – and have recently been revived by the likes of Abercrombie and Fitch, Jack Wills and J Crew. Next season we'll be seeing a lot more preppy blazers on the catwalk, in the shops and generally around the streets.

But will the new preppy menswear trend mark a return to the rules of the old establishment, or is 'trophy dressing' just a curious reflection of the current craze for collecting sporting memorabilia?

Originally, trophies were won through academic achievement, or sporting prowess, though these days you can buy most things - including these curiously quirky, ready-mounted hunting trophies from ShopCurious (perfect for an arty arrangement on the wall of your ski chalet).

Funny how curiosities of nature, like animal skulls, have suddenly become desirable as as decorative works of art.

By the way, do you have any sporting trophies - genuine, or purchased.

Do you?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Taking the commemorative royal biscuit

In the previous post I forgot to mention some other useful gifts at ShopCurious: These characteful retro souvenir tins, commemorating royal weddings have just arrived. Not only do they come in handy for storing biccies and/or collecting curious stuff, but they’re also likely to appreciate in value - especially in view of the forthcoming demand for royal wedding memorabilia.

Despite the monarchy’s wealth and status, even Prince William and Kate Middleton seem to prefer life’s simple pleasures over the pomp and circumstance of ceremonial occasion. It’s a touching tribute to both Princess Diana and his future wife that, as someone who could have his pick of virtually any piece of designer jewellery in the world, Prince William chose to give Kate Middleton his late mother’s engagement ring as a gift of his love.

And it’s also a testament to the Prince and his future brides’ commitment to their country and its economic wellbeing that they’ve chosen to have a very formal and very public wedding. I don’t think Kate will be making her own wedding dress, but it’s good to note that our prospective King and Queen are a resourceful couple, who understand their duties and responsibilities - and seem genuinely able to identify with the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the average British citizen.

Anyway, I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks about previous royal weddings, I find Wills and Kate totally charming. And now I’m off to have a celebratory cheap and cheery cuppa. In fact, I was going to ask you to join me in commemorating the royal occasion by dunking a biscuit or two from one of these curiously collectable tins…but somebody seems to have eaten them all. You look awfully guilty…

Are you?

Collecting for Christmas?

With purse strings tightened, we may start to become more inventive in our seasonal gift choices. It’s intresting that some of the latest shopping trends recall memories of a bygone era, when people made the most of what little they had, and used their own skills to create special treats for their family and friends.

Some of the things I’ve noticed already are:

- Increased purchases of the basics, such as raw materials for crafty creative pursuits, like knitting wool and beads, which are perfect for those with time to DIY design and make their own Christmas gifts.

- Recycling and updating old clothes and accessories to refresh and give added life to occasion wear.

- Investing in timeless treasures like personalized books and retro collectibles, which can be passed on as heirlooms to future generations

- Buying useful gifts, like this curiously collectable, porcelain Union Jack piggy bank from ShopCurious.

- Making memories instead of giving a tangible present – cooking a nice meal for someone, sharing a walk or a meal out together…

For me, receiving photographs of an enjoyable occasion or event is often more special than being given yet another gift I don’t necessarily want or need… How about you? Hope you’ll share your views and opinions, along with any other inventive gift suggestions you may have…

Will you?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Retro showbiz style

Talking of drugs, this has to be the most stylish 'no smoking' sign I’ve ever seen, as photographed at the amazing Sands Films studio in London’s Rotherhithe – a hidden gem of a place that’s full of quirky curiosities and old fashioned charm.

Though Harry Potter (and associated film studios) have been in the news recently, you may not have heard of Sands, which incidentally, makes the costumes for the Tales of Beatrix Potter ballet productions (see below). The incredible thing about Sands is that they’re well and truly entrenched in the past in terms of their approach and methodology, yet they still produce top-rated films.

Anyone who appreciates or collects vintage clothing simply has to visit the huge period costume hire department. There are also all manner of accessories, including hats, umbrellas, masks, gloves, fans and corsets. And there's an extraordinary photographic library. Anyway, you can read more about Sands Films (and see more fabulous photos) in today’s Curious Trends article.

Staying with the showbiz theme, we’ve a rather nice book of old movie star photos at ShopCurious. Film star portraits of the fifties includes glamorous photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Gregory Peck, Marlene Dietrich, Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor and many others. Might serve as a suitably starry Christmas gift for one of your parents, perhaps? Or maybe you have your own collection of movie star memorabilia?

Finally, more showbiz style over at The Dabbler, where the English rugby team is given a curiously French fashion make-over. Do check out their new outfits and let me know what you think.

Will you?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Do the happy-hippy shake?

I do appear to be a little pie-eyed in this photograph, which is curious - because I wasn’t aware of any physical side-effects from my deep inhalations of oxygen. Apparently, this is meant to be relaxing, to slow down the breathing and calm the mind – the perfect antidote to a frenzied French fashion fair… I’m not even sure which flavour my oxygen was, but I’d certainly have preferred to try a little from the bottle (below) that was mysteriously hand-labelled ‘aphrodisiaque’.

I was wondering if oxygen is classified as a drug as I wandered around the Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition, High Society, which is on from today until 27th February. Standing in the midst Mustafa Hulusi’s amazing four screen video installation of poppies growing at Afyon, in Turkey, is enough to make anyone feel light-headed.

The emergence of the illicit drugs industry is a very disturbing trend, and this fascinating show of information, artefacts and artworks relating to drugs and the drugs industry “invites the visitor to question our modern attitudes in the light of other times and cultures.”

Talking of other cultures, we’ve got a curiously psychedelic lucky Buddha water globe at ShopCurious. This would certainly make an unusual gift, or an interesting present for someone who's got a very sad addiction: collecting traditional Christmas snow domes.

The weirdest thing is that when you give this quirky curiosity a shake, the water inside looks strangely as though it’s filled with smoke, or am I dreaming? I’m sure the smoke is totally harmless, but nevertheless, this Buddha looks unusually happy…

Anyway, I’m curious to know if you've had any harmlessly happy, hippy experiences? Now please don’t be shy…

Will you?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

From gift to heirloom: collecting for posterity

This month our theme is collecting and I’ll be suggesting some ideas for unique and unusual gifts that aren’t just for Christmas.

I was recently asked to list my top tips for creating an heirloom legacy by a fascinating new magazine called Eulogy. You can read the magazine online, including my article, Heirlooms: A Legacy of Love - a ten point check list for buying collectable items with the potential to become a valuable legacy for your family or loved ones.

Best of all, I got to hear from world renowned fashion designer, Zandra Rhodes CBE, about her heirlooms and the legacy she plans to leave to the public via her Fashion and Textile Museum in London. You can read the whole interview on the Eulogy Magazine website.

"Fashion has only relatively recently been considered as an art form in its own right and of interest from an historical and investment perspective,” so talking with fashion museum founder, Zandra, was very illuminating. It was especially useful to hear her expert advice on what to look out for when collecting vintage clothing.

Collectable curiosities and antique finds with provenance are also becoming increasingly sought after as gifts. It makes a refreshing change to receive something with timeless style that doesn't get thrown out as soon as it goes out of fashion.

And, talking of provenance, earlier this week I received an email from a kind lady in the north of England about a pair of 1930s retro prints by Lilian Rowles at ShopCurious. She identified the baby in the blue print (left) as a relative of Lilian Rowles, who was born in 1933, and who apparently only had dark hair until she was 9 months old - which dates the picture to between 1933 and 1934. What’s more, the baby’s daughter now runs a fabulous vintage shop called The Cloth Shed – and you can read more about Lilian’s artwork on her charming blog.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear about your heirlooms and the legacy you’d like to pass on to future generations – do you have a collection of your own, or any items of special provenance you’d like to tell us about?

Do you?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bags of DIY style

As part of its Great Transition initiative, the New Economics Foundation (nef) recently held a panel discussion on how to survive financial crisis, climate change and soon-to-be-declining global oil production. One of the speakers was Dame Vivienne Westwood, who helpfully suggested that we stop buying clothes for six months and wear a towel instead of a coat. One of her shrewd observations was “It’s all about do-it-yourself at the moment.”

The DIY design trend has been gaining ground for quite a while now. I’ve participated in this myself, by creating a small range of unique accessories for ShopCurious, including these ‘curiosity clutch bags’, which are made from pieces of recycled vintage fabric, decorated with exotic ‘found’ curiosities - like old brooches, carved jade and unusual pieces of jewellery.

If there’s enough interest, I may create a larger collection – but only using materials that might otherwise be thrown away, or remain unusable unless re-fashioned into new items like these. Anyway, if you buy one of my DIY bags, at least you won't feel guilty about wasting valuable resources, plus you'll be helping to keep small craftspeople employed.

By the way, you can hear the podcast of Dame Viv’s speech on the nef website, although for some reason when I tried it didn’t seem to be working. I hope you have better luck than me.

Will you?