Saturday, 25 September 2010

Back to school with DIY design

Talking of DIY design, there’s a bit of The Dabbler in everyone…

I even created a few unique accessories myself, which I upcycled from vintage remnants, pieces of broken jewellery, bits of haberdashery and natural curiosities.

My curious sideways sashes, available from ShopCurious, are based on old school style memorabilia - of the type hitherto worn by team captains, form leaders, winners and holders of responsibility.

Please bear in mind that my previous experience consists purely of school needlework lessons, which were spent sewing my name onto science overalls, aprons and oversized gym knickers. Curiously appropriate, as one of the big trends at the moment relates to treasured memories and objects from childhood.

By the way, the picture above of girls (before my time) doing handstands in the gym is from my old school, which celebrated its 50th anniversary recently...

I think it's about time big knickers made a comeback,

Do you?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Anarchy at the design festival?

Earlier this week, I was invited to attend a talk by Neville Brody, founder of the curiously named Anti-Design Festival. This is an alternative event to London Design Festival, which Brody feels has become “too polished.”  He believes that design in the West has become fixated with “working on something for profit” and "putting bums on seats.”

With funding raised from both private and public sources, Brody invites anyone so inclined to join him in expressing their creativity, by designing and/or making something in premises and with resources provided by ADF during the festival. He’s particularly concerned to get across the message that failure is okay. Design doesn’t have to be perfect. Designers should explore ideas, rather than being obsessed with style.

Brody wishes to encourage discussion... His own view is that “culture should be publicly funded.” He thinks that proposed cuts are purely “ideological” and that the Government is making a political statement. “Philosophically, the Government doesn’t want to fund culture,” he says.

With people travelling from all over the world to study design in the UK, London has become the international capital for interns, and the competition for jobs in design is high. The result is that Britain is now very much a global leader in the field of commercial and creative design, as evidenced from the world class output on display across the capital during the London Design Festival.

I’d never heard Mr Brody speak before, and whilst he was great at spinning out controversial sound bites, I remain unconvinced of his arguments. In my opinion, success needs to be measured in terms of something that’s useful to the designer, the end user and the person paying for the product. If that product is a work of art, then yes, there’s going to be more subjectivity involved in the purchasing process than if it’s purely functional. However, as we currently live in a capitalist society, and especially in the current economic environment, it just doesn’t make any sense to be paying for people to create stuff that’s not even any good – just so they can ‘experiment’.

Moreover, where does education fit in to all of this? It’s curious Brody thinks that competition and results aren’t important, especially in view of his new role at the RCA. Could it be that Mr Brody is trying to cash in on the new trend of DIY design? Or does he want to encourage a nation of spongers – or even incite us to anarchy, and a return to the Dark Ages?

Anyway, I think Tent London and the Origin Crafts Fair are showing some amazing pieces of work this year, made by an incredibly talented bunch of designers, who must be working very hard too. And these are just two venues out of around 200 events taking place as part of the original London Design Festival. If you’re ShopCurious, I suggest you take a look for yourself this weekend – and do let me know what you think.

Will you?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Superstar v Supersloane style

Nowadays we have style icons, but a few decades ago they were still ‘heroines.’ The Princess of Wales became the ‘Supersloane’ heroine of the 1980s. Her transformation from the bashful Mark II Sloane Ranger ‘Lady Di Look’ to English romantic taffeta-clad Mark I style was amusingly documented in ‘80s style bible, The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (intriguingly subtitled The First Guide To What Really Matters in Life).

BC, before Charles, Diana wore the Young Sloane wardrobe, central to which were granny’s pearls and “ruffled shirts with ribbons at the neck”. We’ve an original 1980s example at ShopCurious, made by fellow heroine of Wales, Laura Ashley - the designer behind the popular homespun look of the day. In fact, as sales of her Victorian and Edwardian inspired floral dresses and frilly bow tied shirts rocketed, Ashley also underwent something of a metamorphosis from small time dressmaker to international business woman.

What’s so curious about British heroines of the early ‘80s is that, despite increasing power and presence within the workplace (think Margaret Thatcher), they still deferred to time honoured, traditional values and maintained their ladylike propriety. Lady Di stayed well out of the press until 1980 – she was ‘never café society.’ And Laura Ashley never courted attention for her success in the competitive world of high street fashion.

The Princess of Wales, or PoWess (pronounced Powys) and her Laura Ashley style were much emulated by young girls, especially in the UK, but farther afield too. Her sensible Pearly Princess, fresh-faced, effortless look and impeccable manners (instilled by a nanny) commanded the respect of young and old alike.

As we know, Diana retained her individuality, but in an appropriately retro-progressive way: “Like many of her contemporaries – flat sharing SW7 and SW10 girls under 20 – she did the old things… but with a new flair.” Initially at least, she stuck to the rules, and everything seemed hunky dory and everyone seemed reasonably happy…

Now there don’t seem to be so many rules. British society is much more of a free for all. Pink cheeked, naturally buxom country girls have gone all beer-bellied, teeth whitened and tattooed. Their dream goal of marrying Prince Charming replaced with a burning desire to appear on the Shock X-Factor.

But have we started looking back to the past again, with the current revival in all things homespun and vintage? Kate Middleton certainly has some genuine colour in her cheeks and seems suitably un-cool, old fashioned and demure, like a proper lady.
But whilst Kate may be a Supersloane heroine in the making, perhaps it’s iconic celebrity style we still seek to emulate…

Anyway, what really matters to you? Do share your thoughts and comments...

Will you?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Earth, wind, fire and water (part II)

After my amazing trip down the river to reach the O2 Arena (see previous post), I didn’t think things could get much better. But I’d never experienced Earth, Wind and Fire live before.  I don’t really know too much about the band, except that they’re awesome musicians –  Daryl Easlea rightly describes their first album, That’s the Way of the World, as a ‘spiritual soul masterpiece’.

Oh, and they wear fabulous ‘70s style disco costumes. Or at least they used to. I found a few pictures of the group from the late 1970s and early ‘80s, when their look was a sort of tribal fusion – mixing funky African and American Indian influences with the Elvis-style flare-legged jumpsuit look (we’ve some similar vintage flares at ShopCurious).

Then I stumbled upon a breakfast television interview with members of the band, where they’re looking decidedly conventional. In fact, Ralph Johnson is actually wearing a suit!

I also recall a very curious piece of information relating to the band… When I was at university, one of my fellow students visited her doctor complaining of feeling depressed. He didn’t prescribe any drugs, but suggested that she should listen to as much of Earth, Wind and Fire's music as possible.
You may not be as devoted a groupie fan as I am, but I thought the concert was awesome. Here are some clips. The first video is of supporting band, The Brand New Heavies, who were pretty damned good too. After a while, my hands got a little shaky from holding the camera above my head for so long. But it’s worth persisting with the second clip to hear Philip Bailey and a curiously cool sax solo.

Anyway, if you were feeling a bit down, I hope you’re now a little more uplifted?

Are you?

Earth, wind, fire and water (part I)

Firstly, many apologies for the curious layout and arrangement of photos in this post. This is due to current difficulties with uploading images to Blogger.

Open House London, the major annual showcase of the capital’s architecture, has recently changed its name to Open-City. Over the course of the weekend, many of London’s buildings were open to the public, encouraging people to learn more about architectural design, and appreciate the amazing variety of buildings within local communities all over the capital.


I’d strongly urge anyone who wishes to see the huge variety of architecture in London to take a trip on a Thames Clipper from The London Eye to The O2 at Greenwich. I recently took one of the high speed catamarans to see an Earth, Wind and Fire in concert at the O2 Arena, so I thought I’d share some of my photos with you. This is just a very small selection, so you get an idea – sorry I can’t replicate the sounds, or that ‘wind in your hair’ feel of a blowy day on a boat (I could have done with one of the new feather hair bands from ShopCurious).

The pier where you set off on the Clipper offers some amazing opportunities to get a close up look at the London Eye, and there are some classic views of the Houses of Parliament too.

You’ll pass tons of well known landmarks, of course, but what I really love are the quirky curiosities like old warehouses and pubs – the buildings that give you a sense of London’s history as a port and a centre of commerce.

Once you get further down river, there are more expansive views, like this one of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

Arriving at the O2 was the best part of the journey for me. I have a curious passion for desolate places and mud flats. To me, the river always looks better when the tide is out. Here you’ll see dilapidated wharves and old gasometers alongside modern sculptures, and there’s quite a lot of new building going on too.

There’s also a spectacular new office complex, called Ravensbourne (see below), at Greenwich Peninsula. Designed by Foreign Office Architects, it’s due to open at the end of this month and will house the latest techonologies in HDTV studio, prototyping facilities and collaborative technologies. The Open House brochure describes it as “an inspirational new learning environment, over interlinked floors around an impressive central atrium.”

  The O2 atrium is actually quite impressive too. I treated myself to dinner on the upper terrace at Gaucho (a rather curious combo of seafood and spinach with garlic and chilli oil – Mmmm.. )

Going home by river was even more impressive. London is looking more like Hong Kong than ever, and Canary Wharf looks stunning lit up at night.

More traditional sights included popular favourite, Tower Bridge. But the piece de resistance was the London Eye, which bathed the water in electric blue light.

Oh, and there’s something I omitted… I expect you want to hear about the concert too...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Papal power dressing

On the last Papal visit to Britain, The Queen wore a regal blue dress by Hardy Amies. But this was no match for the Pope's regalia - even without his formal robes (let alone the Papal Tiara).

This time, although The Pope dressed down once again, The Queen still looks rather pale in comparison, according to recent photos in the press. The style advice from ShopCurious is that the veiled black velvet and lace look she wore on a visit to The Vatican in 2000 works so much better, and seems somehow more appropriate. 

But I suppose the Pope could outdress almost anyone - even Lady Gaga...

Do you?

London Fashion Week: Let them eat...hats?

The skies looked ominous, but there were brief spells of sunshine, and barbeque smoke from the restaurant tent wafted up towards the London Eye...

And a curious trend I spotted on the first day at London Fashion Week was...


Funny, beacuse I heard Hilary Alexander on the news a little while ago saying that “if fun isn’t coming back within the next few weeks, I’ll eat my hat.” I must say, the atmosphere did seem a little more subdued than usual, and hats were certainly out in abundance. I wore a hat myself, but I’m afraid I couldn’t photograph me, so here are a few of the others I saw:

Anthony Hagen from the St Louis Post was wearing a charmingly characterful hat, along with a fabulous ‘back to school’ satchel and curious Amish style shirt. Rosie from the London Style Journal was dressed in her trademark cheap and very chic vintage. 

Jodie Chinn, the face of Young British Designers was wearing a delicious red felt hat.

I’ve never seen Tracy Rose without a hat, so it’s probably just as well she’s a milliner. I’m just curious to know how she does anything with those nails?

This stylist from Thailand was wearing a trendy crocheted bandana (and out of view are his vermillion nail polished fingers). 

Piers Atkinson went for the traditional floral look with cherry blossoms, shown here.

J Smith created something a little more unique and unusual,

as did the talented Zara Gorman over at On/Off,.with her futuristic wood and moulded plastic designs.

But it was Philip Levine who really stole the show as 'head designer' with his Swarovski crystal studded pate (a little reminiscent of this 1920s rhinestone studded headpiece at ShopCurious). You can read more about Philip's retro-progressive headwear over at The Dabbler.

And yes, the traffic was pretty horrendous, thanks to the Pope and so many festivals going on simultaneously in London. Open House London starts today too. Anyway, at least I was able to do a spot of window shopping on the way home. I didn't notice any hats, but there was a lady outside Coutts who looked as though she'd just lost one. See her?

Do you?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Incensed or uplifted?

Whatever your views on the Pope and Catholicism, there’s one thing that seems to unite people of all religions. In fact, believers and non-believers alike are joined in their universal love of incense.

Evidence suggests that incense was first used by the Egyptians. According to Wikipedia, “the gums and resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali coasts to be used in religious ceremonies.”  The resin’s fumes were thought to signify a manifestation of the presence of gods.

Incense subsequently became prevalent in East Asian Buddhist ceremonies, and in Chinese Taoist and Japanese Shinto shrines. In Christian practice, especially in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Christian churches, the smoke from burning incense is a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven. The origin of this practice probably comes from earlier Temple traditions in Judaism. Hindus and Muslims also use incense during their worship.

Fragranced incense is employed in Neo-Pagan rituals too, where magical properties are associated with specific botanical extracts.  Frankincense, for instance, is burned for purification, spirituality and is associated with the sun and masculine powers. Myrrh exudes spiritual qualities as well, but is also linked to healing, attraction and has feminine powers.

A couple of years ago, a report by international scientists in the FASEB Journal investigated the resin of the Boswellia tree, commonly known as frankincense, and discovered that it contains incensole acetate. Apparently, this substance lowers anxiety levels and has a naturally anti-depressant effect. The scientists’ work may well help us to understand diseases of the nervous system and to develop a new class of mood-lifting pharmaceuticals.

However, if you prefer to feel good the natural way, we’ve some uniquely aromatic, less overwhelming alternatives to joss-sticks at ShopCurious. From the finest quality Arabian incense to an exotic gold, frankincense and myrrh gift set (great for Christmas), these organic botanical products from Zarvis London will have you oohing and aahing in olfactory ecstasy.

Frankinsence has always been a prized commodity - enough of a curiosity to make an unusual gift for the newborn Messiah. But never mind the symbolic meaning, just inhale the divinely scented fumes and you’ll easily smell why the Pope is such a fan.

Will you?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Style blitz hits Shoreditch

After it was decimated by bombs during the London Blitz, much of Shoreditch was rebuilt in soulless 1950s and ‘60s style. However, in recent years, the area has re-emerged as the inspirational new design hub of our capital. Artsy, vibrant and full of innovative young designer-makers, the area is enjoying its newfound status as the global centre of all things creative, cultural and cool.

With London Fashion Week almost upon us, and London Design Week (or London Design Festival as it now seems to be known) just ahead of that, this is the perfect location for a celebration of creativity at one of the most exclusive and stylish events of the Autumn/Winter season – The Shoreditch Ball.

On 15th October at Shoreditch Town Hall, local celebrities and the East End fashion cognoscenti will attend a night of culture, dancing and cabaret. A very special art, furniture and fashion auction is being hosted by Adrian Biddell of Sotheby’s, featuring work donated by local artists, fashion and furniture designers – reflective of the original creativity for which Shoreditch is renowned – and raising funds for local causes (Charity, TLC Care and local cultural hero, Chris McMuck). You can even bid for lots in the auction online, in advance. In view of the Pope’s impending visit to London, some of the items seem curiously appropriate.

The JAM Cross is a crucifix light, glowing pink and blue, inspired by the Las Vegas wedding chapel. Made in frosted Perspex and measuring 152cm x 92cm, this global symbol, drenched in meaning and iconography, is an exploration of religious taboos and fashion.

Pakistan based Alixandra Fazzina’s ‘Maternal Mortality’ is one of ten limited edition photographs of a startling image (reminiscent of the Madonna), conveying the perils of childbirth in Afghanistan.

However, if these themes are a little too heavy for you, the auction will be followed by some jazz- with singing by Natalie Williams, dance music from the twelve piece Ray Gelato Giants and DJ sets from none other than the East End’s resident fashion starlet, Pam Hogg.

So put on your sparkly tights, (I suggest the luxury edition Lourdes design from Bebaroque at ShopCurious) and let’s go out and party! I’m in favour of any opportunity to help promote the work of talented young designers and artists… as well as having fun for a good cause.

Are you?