Monday, 28 March 2011

Which muse to choose?

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, fashion designers’ muses are often celebrity icons – actresses, singers, models, or well connected celebtocracy types. As Liz London’s pop-art style fashion muse inspired artworks are currently available at ShopCurious, I decided to take a closer look at the role of the celebrity muse.

Free clothing and accessories, plus masses of attention grabbing publicity are some of the perks of the muse’s job, but what must she (or, increasingly ‘he’) offer in return? Here’s my list of the top 10 requirements of a job spec. for musedom:

1) Beauty or aesthetic appeal
2) A ‘coat-hanger’ body to show off the latest designs
3) A large following, to get designs noticed
4) Wealthy friends, who might buy designer creations
5) Relationship issues – always good for extra publicity
6) A willingness to be re-styled every season
7) Some semblance of individuality for inspiration
8) An ability to walk in high heeled shoes
9) A good PR firm
10) A love of fashion, or a talented stylist.

We may well think it’s all air-heads and freebies, but celebrity fashion is hugely commercial, and even muses have to pull their weight (oops, did I mention weight?)

And, of course, there are some muses who fall outside this categorization - who have their own arty, eccentric, and curiously inspirational style, like the late Isabella Blow, Daphne Guinness and Lady Gaga.

Anyway, if you’ve got any additional points to add to the list, do let me know.

Will you?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Woodland wonders

It no longer matters if your home furnishings are a little bit rough around the edges. Unfinished interiors are all the rage. We feature some of these in our Curious Trends blog today in an article that also focuses upon sylvan style.

Woodland colours, wooden objects and leaves are going to be very much in evidence in decorative art, interior design and fashion accessories over the coming year or so.

This fabulous pair of vintage 1950s jewelled clip-on earrings from ShopCurious epitomize the leafy green look, and would make a perfect gift for Mothers’ Day.

And, talking of woods, did your mother always ask you to try not to get dirty when you played outdoors? Unfortunately, dirt is an occupational hazard of being human – and it’s the subject of my column today at The Dabbler, where you can read about all manner of filthy things. I bet that’s got you curious…

Are you?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Icon of beauty

In memory of Dame Elizabeth Taylor who sadly died today at the age of 79.

Famed for her striking violet eyes and fiery temper, Elizabeth Taylor was the classic beauty of her age. The child star of National Velvet was a fine actress – most notably in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which she starred with the love of her life and on-off husband, Richard Burton. ShopCurious pays tribute to Elizabeth Taylor with clips from these films:

This is how I will remember her.

Will you?

Are you high-brow, or low-brow?

There’s more retro upcycling in my special Retro-Progressive post today at The Dabbler. Check out ShopCurious’ updated version of an old feature from a 1940s Time Magazine that’s been magnificently illustrated by The Spine.

Entitled ‘Everyone's Tastes from High-brow to Low-brow’, the chart uses iconic images to represent our preferences in areas such as food, fashion, furniture and entertainment.

Take a look at this amusing snapshot of our style and lifestyle choices. And let me know what you think…

Will you?

Age, vanity and upcycled old bags

Nietzsche said, “the vanity of others offends our taste only when it offends our vanity.” The word ‘vanity’ as we know it, didn’t develop narcissistic undertones until the 14th century. Excessive pride in appearance and conceitedness are usually frowned upon, yet seem to have become de rigueur in today’s fashion focused world.

But, “modern excesses of body shape and fashion are not a recent phenomenon,” says Dr Ulinka Rublack, teacher of early modern European history at Cambridge University, and author of Dressing Up:Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. Apparently, even in the 15th century, people aspired to an elongated, delicate and slim silhouette. With the development of international trade by merchants from around the world came new fabrics and techniques for cutting and sewing, along with unique accessories such as hats, bags, gloves and hairpieces. And Renaissance art was the ‘new media’ of its day – a way of being noticed and admired by others.

July 1526, Mattheus Schwarz, of the Fugger family in Augsburg, commissioned a naked image of himself looking fashionably slim. In fact, during his life, Schwarz commissioned 135 watercolour paintings in various outfits, which were compiled into an album called the Klaidungsbuchlein (Book of Clothes), which is currently housed in a museum in Brunwick. From the book, we know that Schwarz carried heart shaped leather bags in green (the colour of hope) when courting. In later images, he wore black, as opposed to the red of his youth, so as not to apear like mutton dressed up as lamb.

Talking of of which, I thought you might like to see these vintage vanity cases by uoldbag from ShopCurious. Each one is an upcycled old bag which has been individually embellished using iconic images from vintage magazine cuttings to create decorative decoupage. A stylish alternative to bland modern travel bags, they’re also great for keeping lots of girly bits and pieces. They’d make an extravagant and unusual Mothers’ Day gift too, in which case they’re probably best described as ‘retro’ rather than ‘old’. You don’t want to offend Mum’s vanity on her special day.

Do you?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Vintage motherly style

For a curiously classic, grown-up look, there’s no accessory that signifies responsible, motherly style more than the traditional silk twill Hermes scarf.

Princess Anne has always been a fan and is often seen wearing one when cheering on her daughter, Zara, at show jumping events.

Margaret Thatcher used to be a great headscarf wearer too, especially when addressing a large audience at an outdoor venue.

Then there were the leading ladies – movie icons like Audrey Heburn, Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly, along with famous First Lady, Jackie Onassis. And not forgetting the most regal wearer of all – Her Majesty The Queen.

If you’re feeling particularly generous this Mothers’ Day, I can think of nothing more appropriate as a gift than one of the selection of collectable vintage Hermes silk scarves at ShopCurious.

You can always borrow it too - and if you don’t fancy the traditional look, there are plenty of other ways of wearing a scarf. Just make sure you remember to return it to Mum afterwards.

Will you?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Divinely decorative

True religion is more than just a jeans label…As we increasingly find ourselves searching for meaning amidst the tumult of these rapidly changing times, more of us are seeking solace in some form of spirituality.

I’m always curious to learn about other people’s views on religion and have been fascinated to hear some of the recent speakers on Channel 4’s 4Thought TV. Being exposed to the wide ranging opinions of Scientologists, Islamic fundamentalists and devout Christians certainly broadens the mind.

What’s more, far from losing their meaning, traditional sacred icons, of whatever religion or denomination, seem to be becoming rather popular as decorative home or fashion accessories - which is why we’re offering these antique mother of pearl crucifixes at ShopCurious.

The one thing I can’t get my head around is why anyone chooses to fight over religion, when faith supposedly emanates from pure love. Perhaps we need to go back to basics and search for something a little more sacred within ourselves…

Will you?

PS Over at the Dabbler - read my post on Britain’s (neither divine nor decorative) local shopping centres.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Curious icons: the cult of celebrity

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have suddenly put frivolities like fashion into perspective. This month my intention was to focus upon the links between celebrities, fashion, art - and religion... The 21st century has some curious icons, in particular, the new class of ‘non-ebrities’ - those famous for simply being famous.

A desire to make obscene amounts of money, together with relentless self-promotion, reality TV and the tabloid press have created unlikely stars, like Big Brother’s Jade Goody and I’m a Celebrity’s Jordan and Kerry Katona.

In November last year, a couple of aspiring US reality stars even gate-crashed President Obama’s first state dinner, posting photos of themselves on their Facebook page in a bid to garner publicity. The whole premise of reality TV is that it’s about real people, which means anyone can be a celebrity. But celebrity culture is founded upon narcissism, fed by devout materialism, and often fuelled by extreme ‘recreational’ drug use.

Anna Nicole Smith was similarly attracted by the lure of media attention and a luxury lifestyle – and eventually consumed by its trappings: junk food, sex, booze and drugs. The opera, Anna Nicole, with Eva-Maria Westbroek in the lead role, has recently been running at London’s Royal Opera House, to mixed reviews. I wasn’t wowed by the music, but the show is in equal measure entertaining, clever, funny, thought-provoking and sad.

Anna’s life was a tragi-comic Cinderella of a story. She started out as a waitress, married an 89 year old billionaire when she was 26, and went on to become the bloated laughing stock of reality TV - her sole ambition to ‘party to the end of time, party like primeval slime.’ Even her dog was on Prozac. She died penniless at the age of 39, shortly after the death of her only son.

Despite her childlike charm and celebrity aura, Anna was painfully insecure and easily manipulated by those around her, especially photographers, filmmakers and her lawyer-lover. She became a pumped-up puppet of the press – the living doll of media fantasy, not unlike her own idol, the ‘sacred’ screen star, Marilyn Monroe. (Anna Nicole was deluded enough to think she was the farmed-out child of Marilyn Monroe, even though Monroe died five years before Anna was born).

It’s weird how celebrities have come to be idolized with almost religious fervour. This curious phenomenon has been captured with irreverent humour by Nathalie Queyraud, whose Defiles from Paris fashion icon rosary necklaces are now available at ShopCurious. Icons featured include Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs.

Much like the operatic immortalization of Anna Nicole, these serve to remind us of our false gods. There’s even an icon of John Galliano, except we’ve decided not to offer this for sale. But have you ever considered that dictators like Hitler or Mussolini were actually ‘supreme celebrities’?

Anyway, rather than worshipping celebrities, why don’t we save our prayers for people who need and are worthy of them – like all those affected by the horrific disaster in Japan…

Will you?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Icons of fashion illustration

Last night’s preview of the Fashion Illustration Gallery’s new exhibition in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum certainly had the curiosity factor. White gloved gallery assistants added an air of mystery and allure, as they presided over boxes of drawings chosen by Abraham Thomas, Curator of Designs at the V and A.

The works on display (by appointment until 26th March) are from a mix of established artists and emerging contemporary talent. Fashion illustrators featured include Richard Gray, David Downton, Gladys Perint Palmer and Barbara Hulanicki. The styles vary enormously from Daisy de Villeneuve’s childlike sketches to Jason Brooks’ clean commercial lines.

I particularly like the retro, painterly style employed by David Downton, Tanya Ling and Julie Verhoeven.

And Hiroshi Tanabe uses silver and gold on his drawings to stunning effect.

Last night, there was something of the magician’s sleight of hand about the presentation of Marko Matysik’s fashion scrapbook (below).

The works selected for the show will become part of the V and A’s permanent collection and will also be featured in a forthcoming book called Illustrating Fashion. Talking of which, we’ve some fascinating out of print books on fashion illustration arriving at ShopCurious shortly - so do keep an eye on the website for exciting new additions…

Will you?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Curiosities in the kitchen?

This Shrove Tuesday many of us will be delving into our cupboards in search of long forgotten foodstuffs like flour, honey or maple syrup for our pancakes. We’ll possibly find a few curiosities along the way: I unearthed a bottle of pickled walnuts and some mouldy peanut butter… yum!

Eating habits have become much more adventurous over the past couple of decades. Even the French, though fiercely protective of their classic style cuisine, seem to be experimenting more.

I’m not a fan of creperies, which seem to have escaped the 21st century altogether, but the traditional French style café with its checked tablecloths and eclectic mix of local clientele is making a valiant effort to present food in a more arty and appealing manner.

And new restaurants are going directly for the novelty factor. Like the Mini Palais – a cabinet of curiosities housed in the Grand Palais art and exhibition space.

With mysterious wall hangings, shelves of antiquities and unusually dramatic lighting effects, this is where eating out meets theatre.

Best of all is the food, which is some of the tastiest and most inventive I’ve sampled in Paris for a long time – even the bread is divinely different. You’ll have to try it…

Or you could always create your own unique ambience. If you’re looking add a touch of quirky retro character to your dining table, may I suggest this collectable Carlton Ware curiosity cruet set at ShopCurious, which is cleverly shaped like a mushroom.

Great for all the condiments required for Pancake Day. Though I’m not sure you'll be needing the French mustard...

Will you?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Paris blossoms into springtime

They say there’s nowhere like Paris in the springtime, but I’ve noticed something rather curious about the city at this time of year… Unlike London, the centre doesn’t seem to have so many trees – at least not of the blossoming variety.

Never mind, the French make up for it in style. If you’re in Paris for Fashion Week, look out for the blossom in shops, restaurants and hotels. Here are a few photographs from my travels around the city:

The prettily decorated Tresor by Brigitte Masson in the Marais district (curiously reminiscent of my former boutique, Fashion Gallery in the late 1990s) always has a lovely window display – this one featuring a blossom-dressed, quirky papier mache mannequin.

The Japanese influence appears to be quite popular this season (see today’s post at The Dabbler for more on this trend in photography) - artificial cherry trees appear in quite a few shop windows, along with other more curious flower-filled displays.

And not forgetting the twinkling tree lined avenues and arty floral arrangements in grand hotel foyers, like the George V, as shown below.

Anyway, if you’re looking to bring some slightly lower maintenance Far Eastern floral style into your life, how about these beautifully decorated gold and black lacquered vintage bowls from ShopCurious? There are six altogether – each one featuring a unique, hand painted Japanese design. There’s a lovely lacquer box with abalone shell inlay too, which would be perfect for Mothers’ Day.

Or you could always take Mum to see the curiously blossoming Paris in the springtime…

Will you?