Friday, 29 April 2011

Couture Catherine?

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

As soon as the wedding was over, people flocked out onto the streets of London, doing what they do best – shopping and eating.

There was bunting everywhere – in gardens, across streets and down by the river.

Whilst some people walked to friends’ street parties, others rushed out to the shops.

In Putney, the Exchange shopping centre had a roped off shrine to the royal couple.

Many shop windows showed their own mark of respect to William and Kate in the form of congratulatory messages…

Though for some it was all about the shopping.

Chain Store Kate would certainly have approved of the flurry of activity on the high street. Although now she’s a royal, ShopCurious wonders if she should be renamed Couture Catherine?

Do you?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

When fashion warrants royal approval...

Sir Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) is probably the most famous royal fashion designer to date. He was responsible for the revival of the crinoline, after Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother caused a sensation wearing the new silhouette on a state visit to Paris in 1938. Of course, Hartnell also created Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress, as well as the gown for her Coronation as Queen in 1953.

The couturier's streamlined, heavily jewelled, fitted dresses became firm favourites of film stars and actresses, as well as the aristocracy. And, as it happens, Hartnell's 1938 Spring collection wouldn’t look out of place today:

With just two days to go to the Royal Wedding, you may be wondering how to accessorize your outfit for the auspicious occasion. ShopCurious has just the thing – a Fake London limited edition royal print wrap-scarf, featuring a curiously elegant illustration of a royal dress design by Norman Hartnell. The couture gown in question looks as though it may be the one Her Majesty is wearing in the photograph above, taken on a royal visit to Ghana in 1961.

Norman Hartnell received a Royal Warrant for his services as royal dressmaker from 1940 onwards…not unlike the curious warrant awarded to Fake London as suppliers and manufacturers of knitted merkins to Her Gracious Majesty the Quirk.

Anyway, herewith sending best wishes to William and Kate for their wedding day… Let me know if you’re doing something special to celebrate the event.

Will you?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Egg curiosities: from sublime to strange

Happy Easter!

Easter Eggs were originally a pagan symbol of the rebirth of nature in celebrations of spring, but were adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. Eggs favoured include painted hen’s eggs and chocolate or candy filled varieties.

As we’re adopting something of a royal theme this week, I thought I’d also mention Fabergé eggs:

This year, over a hundred masterpieces by Peter Carl Fabergé, the greatest Russian jeweller and goldsmith of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will go on display in a special exhibition at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (23 July - 3 October 2011). Royal Fabergé will demonstrate how six successive generations of the British Royal Family, from Queen Victoria to The Queen and The Prince of Wales, have shaped the finest collection of Fabergé in the world in terms of size, range and quality.

Items on show will include the Mosaic Imperial Easter Egg acquired by Queen Mary and King George V, 1933, shown left.

And the Basket of Flowers Imperial Easter Egg, 1901 (right) - the style of which reminds me of a rather lovely mother of pearl egg at ShopCurious. (Photographs from The Royal Collection (c) 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)

Also distinctive and unusual, though a little more commonplace, are pickled eggs. Curiously reminiscent of medical specimens, these are often to be found on the shelves of British fish and chip shops, or sometimes behind the counter at selected pubs. If you’re tempted to pickle your own, a curious website called Egg Pub, offers a basic DIY recipe.

And for the very brave there’s also a spiced up version involving Scotch bonnet peppers.

Both Fabergé and pickled eggs are probably something of an acquired taste, but if offered a choice, I know which variety I’d go for.

Do you?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Regal fashion and Regency style

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," wrote Jane Austen in the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice. With the Royal Wedding almost upon us, I decided to take a look at wedding fashion. It’s rather curious that the Regency period has had such a lasting effect upon formal dress styles. This is something you can read more about in my Retropgressive post today at The Dabbler.

I also wanted to mention some vintage fashion books that are new in at ShopCurious. These include James Laver’s classic volume on Taste and Fashion and Margaret Rothwell Lane’s Half a Century of Fashion.

For royal watchers, there’s also a curiously collectable book called The Queen’s clothes, which demonstrates how much the Queen’s wardrobe has reflected her various roles as a working woman.

All the books have fabulous illustrations and photographs, documenting garment styles, accessories, shapes and colours through the ages. I always enjoy seeing how fashions used to be and how much they’ve changed over time…for better or for worse.

Do you?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Curiously cutting edge royal memorabilia

Wedding cakes are a curious phenomenon and a rare opportunity for bakers to go totally over the top. But Royal wedding cakes take the biscuit in terms of elaborate decoration and conspicuous excess.

If you’re following the Royal Wedding news, you’ll have heard that William and Kate have opted for ‘his and hers’ wedding cakes. Hers will be the official multi-tiered fruit cake, decorated with edible flowers - representing the emblems of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland...

His choice, of an unbaked chocolate biscuit cake by McVitie’s, is not quite as curious as it seems: In 1923, The Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later George VI and The Queen Mother) picked the Scottish company to make their cake, in recognition of the bride’s Scottish roots.

So, what are we to expect? The ‘bride cake’ for Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840 was nearly 3 metres wide and weighed more than 135 kg. Even the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s 2005 nuptials boasted a cake that included 1,080 eggs, 100 kg of marzipan and 36 bottles of booze.

A fair part of any royal cake will be sliced up to be presented in commemorative tins for the guests. A piece of cake from the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana fetched £1,000 at an auction in 2008.

Of course, every wedding cake also needs an appropriate knife, and we may have found just the thing: This curiously collectable vintage cake knife from ShopCurious commemorates the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

Presented in its original gold and red embossed box, this charming piece of cutlery is in excellent condition, and would make a lovely wedding gift - though I’m not sure it was designed to cut through a cake made from frozen chocolate biscuits.

Are you?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Banana bonanza

Have you noticed that everyone’s going bananas? Artists, fashion designers and celebrity movers and shakers are suddenly inspired by the unique, yellow fruit. With all the fuss over this quirky curiosity of nature, I decided to investigate the slow banana boat travel option in my Retroprogressive column at The Dabbler today.

Meantime, if you’d like to indulge in the strange new craze, we’ve a deliciously decorative retro fruit basket box by uoldbag! at ShopCurious. Or, perhaps you’d like to celebrate this curious new trend by joining me in a Banana Split?

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Please excuse me whilst I disappear for a few days to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Will you?

PS If you’re already missing ShopCurious, do check out my post at The Dabbler today, and take a look at the curiously inventive retro trends.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sea shanty style

Get out your old Blue Peter badges, retro sea shanty style is the latest trend to inspire fashion and interior designers.

In case you’re wondering, sea shanties are ‘work songs that were used on the square-rigged ships of the Age of Sail. Their rhythms coordinated the efforts of many sailors hauling on lines.’

They are rarely used today, perhaps because modern rigging doesn't require many people to be working in the same rhythm for long periods. However, shanties are much loved by modern sailors, folk musicians and specialist choirs.

I may not be joining in the singing part, but we’ve got our own selection of maritime design art at ShopCurious in the form of quirky accessories for the wardrobe and home. Salty old seadogs will love our vintage maritime brooches, featuring Dutch barges and galleons – and this curiously collectable early Royal Navy anchor pin.

For the professional collector, we’ve a couple of fabulous Victorian hand carved conch shells. And we’ve added to our range of retro Perspex paperweights, with some rare, nautical curiosities from Portugal.

So, are you ready to have fishermen the world over as your new best friends?

Are you?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Memories of mother

I was rummaging around in a cupboard the other day, when I stumbled upon some old family photographs. I thought I’d share this one of my mother as a child – the curious scribblings around the border demonstrate my early artistic flair.

Talking of which, the Mothers’ Day card I chose this year, courtesy of the inspired Edward Monkton at Really Good cards, looks curiously childlike in its design. But what a lovely message – and so appropriate for my long suffering mother, bless her. Of course, I’m not saying that she isn’t beautiful on the outside too…

It’s a shame we can’t stay young forever, but ephemera like photographs are such a lovely way of remembering how things used to be. If you’re the nostalgic type, you might like the collectable film programme of Shirley Temple in Dimples that’s available at ShopCurious. It’s full of wonderful retro photographs of the young Hollywood icon.

Anyway, have a Happy Mothers' Day! I’m feeling all sentimental now...

Are you?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Animal instinct and curiosities of human nature

Us humans have a strange affinity with animals – on the one hand we keep them as pets, but on the other, we eat them. Still, we like to think of animals as our friends - after all, they are our distant relatives – and this is increasingly evident in our treatment of all creatures great and small, especially in design art and home furnishings.

Along with our recreations of wild beasts in wood, clay and papier mache, come those in cotton and wool – yes, animal inspired clothing and accessories are appearing everywhere too.

An even more curious trend is our growing desire to share our homes with dead animals in the form of vintage taxidermy.

If you’re a little squeamish, you may prefer something a little less realistic, like this curiously collectable Japanese style, blue-glazed, retro ceramic monkey family from ShopCurious (below).

Alternatively, you may wish to feast your eyes on the fine collection of stuffed animals at the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris, reviewed in my post today at The Dabbler.

Do you?

Curious royal wedding wrapper

It must be hard to find a suitably unique present for a royal couple, but here's a great idea: the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead are teaming up to offer Prince William and Kate Middleton an extra special gift ahead of this month’s Royal Wedding. The cities are paying for the world-famous Tyne Bridge to be gift-wrapped and offered to the newlyweds as a present from the people of the North East, to mark the wedding, on April 29th.

North East-based business, Rude Wrappings, will supply the paper for this mammoth task, and predicts it will take around 11,000sq m of paper to cover the main section of the bridge. The firm is "delighted to be asked to take part in this challenge, it’s not every day you get to wrap such an iconic landmark."

The design of wrapping paper that will be used to wrap the bridge was voted for by Rude Wrappings' customers in a recent Royal Wedding survey. Curiously, the paper is a tribute to the comments made by Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, who was suspended from his post last year, after predicting the royal marriage would last just seven years.

Apparently, the gift grants Wills and Kate freedom of the bridge – meaning they can use it to herd sheep, host drinks receptions or take part in heart-stopping bungee jumps into the Gateshead side of the river.

ShopCurious thinks it will make a perfect gift for the adventure loving couple.

Do you?