Saturday, 25 February 2012

Curious Fashion Weekend

We’re having a bit of a fashion moment this weekend… In my post at The Dabbler last week, I considered the myth and madness of the catwalk fashion show. Private salon style events have recently been popping up all over the place and trends indicate that these are rapidly becoming a more exclusive alternative to the traditional designer runway presentation.

Some of the more intimate fashion events I’ve attended recently include Nicholas Oakwell’s couture show (albeit on a cosy catwalk) at Claridges, where jewel-themed canapés echoed the inspiration for the collection… See ShopCurious’s exclusive video of the finale here:

And a Fashion Fringe presentation, featuring Alice Palmer and other designers at the Corinthia Hotel, hosted by silver-tongued fashion journalist, Colin McDowell, coincidentally pictured above top (who informed me that he's hoping to start posting on his blog again soon). The event was also a showcase for two of the hotel’s most prestigious penthouses (see images in today’s post at The Dabbler).

Anyway, if you’re not off to London Fashion Weekend, here’s an alternative suggestion: Why not visit the UK’s biggest J-culture event, Hyper Japan, at Earl’s Court? There’s a Japanese street fashion show at 2.0 pm today, followed by the official World Cosplay Summit UK preliminary. I may go along out of curiosity.

Will you?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

An Indian spring?

It’s the first day of Lent, but Lord knows, we could do with some colour and laughter in our lives at this time of the year - and where better to get a dose of sunshine than the vibrant, teeming-with-life streets of India: “You won’t see better for your grey pound,” as the film says.

Evocative strains of Strangers in the Night may dupe you into thinking that this is a feelgood film for the over 50s. But there’s something for everyone at the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – chiefly a busload of award winning actors ready to make us feel happy, whether we are old, gay, underprivileged, disabled, bereaved, post-menopausal, ostracised by our family, or whatever…

It’s quite a lot to take in, but I bet you come out smiling at the end - especially as the film offers us the chance to "travel to the top of the mountain" and live life to the full. “It’s never too late to change,” as we said a while ago at ShopCurious.

Though before you cash in and dash off on a soon-to-be-senior-citizens' tour of the great sub-continent, whilst Europe implodes, why not just step back and reconsider your responsibilities…

Will you?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Fashion your diary...

I mentioned (in August 2010) that books are the new fashion – it’s all part of the move towards ‘slow style’. This probably explains why Selfridges has erected a library in its Ultralounge, with 15,000 books to choose from as well as library classes – including 'stories about fashion' coming up this Wednesday 22nd.

And in the Wonder Room there’s a curious contraption that’s a cross between a Mousetrap game and a lottery ball spinner. 30,000 balls inside are giant-sized versions of the ones you get in bubblegum machines and contain fortune cookie style cards, each of which has a message linked to a unique word.

I have to say I was a little miffed when my friend’s card said ‘2012 is going to be LUXURIOUS for you,’ whereas mine read, ‘Welcome to the NEBULOUS new you.’ That must account for my failing eyesight and inability to focus my camera correctly…

Anyway, I suppose getting young people to sit down and read a book, rather than indulging in yet more reckless consumption, is a good thing? However, I don’t think teenage blogger, Stella of Stella's Wardrobe, would agree. When I bumped into her at London Fashion Week, she was just back from Top Shop, where she’d been through retail hell to snap up one of the more expensive limited edition Mary Katrantzou dresses. Yet she still looked like an angel - in fact, she was even wearing a halo.

Judging by her uniquely colourful style, I think Stella may like some of the books we’ve got at ShopCurious. Well, they’re notebooks-cum-diaries actually… with quirky, retro illustrations interspersed with daily, weekly and monthly pages and places where you can compile your own lists, charts and jot down everything that’s useful to you.

Actually, they’re perfect if you’re thinking of writing your own book. Your curiously stylish memoirs, perhaps?

Are you?

Friday, 17 February 2012

A vintage London Fashion Week

There's a fresh new feel at London Fashion Week, with a pared down, more grown up exhibition. The A/W 2012 offering includes more structured tailoring, together with some beautiful, high-quality fabrics, garment and accessory finishes. As predicted, there is also something of a vintage vibe going on – though I'd describe it as more Ye Olde England meets a 1950s nature-inspired mash-up at the 2012 Olympics. What completely bowled me over is the range of decades and cultures represented by the designers and their work. It only goes to prove that London is a veritable melting pot of cosmopolitan retro futurism.

Curious highlights include wearable art by Japanese designer, Ryohei Kawasnishi (pictured on the right in this group photo), which is inspired by the aftermath of last year’s earthquake: A dirt and dust-caked, matted tangle of recycled fabrics form jackets and ponchos, which are hung like pieces of decaying meat from gantries, bathed in eerily luminous, post-apocalyptic light.

They couldn’t be further removed from Orla Kiely’s tea dance classics... Super-prim prom dresses worn with bobby socks that shimmer under flashes of light from a dance hall glitterball. Check out ShopCurious’s video here:

If there were more hours in the day, I’d love to share more of my Fashion Week finds. But I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next time…

Will you?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Craft a curious beetle

From bees to bugs...

If you’ve read our latest StyleCurious post on Anna Collette Hunt’s curious infestation, you may have been wondering about the app we mentioned. We’re pleased to inform you that the Stirring the Swarm iPhone or iPad app is now available to download free here:

The app was developed with funding Anna received from Made in the Middle. It features her original story alongside images of the first installation. There’s also a tour schedule, providing information on where you can see the Swarm exhibition. And the app also has a secret section, which can only be unlocked at the shows, to trigger interactive activity.

My favourite feature is the app’s “beetle builder activity, where users can create their own magical hybrid insects from mixing and matching ceramic body parts, combined with hand drawn elements which were part of the research for the project.” It’s great fun designing and naming your own insect, and uploading it to the online Facebook gallery. Anna hopes to use these insects to create a viral swarm - an online infestation to mirror the physical body of work.

Both the Stirring the Swarm ceramic installation and the new app will appear in an upcoming experimental exhibition at the National Craft and Design Centre, called Concrete Canvas, which is inspired by the online phenomenon of geocaching.

Meantime, an exclusive selection of Anna’s work is available at ShopCurious, including beetle brooches, insect trophies and boxed sets of ceramic curiosities. Each piece is a totally unique, handcrafted work of art – and also collectable as a memento of Anna’s award winning installation. Of course, you can always create your own souvenir (or even your own swarm) using the curiously cool beetle building app…

Will you?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Let's fall in love...

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s funny how parents explaining the 'facts of life’ to their children are said to be talking about ‘the birds and the bees’. Especially as birds hatch out of eggs, and bees don’t even indulge in sexual activity as we know it. Bees provide a very curious model for adolescent love. According to Bee Wilson, author of The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us, “all the (bee) boys want to sleep with a single girl, but the only ones who manage to do so are castrated and killed in their moment of success, while everyone else dies a virgin.”

I was surprised to learn that the sex life of bees remained a mystery for centuries and was only gradually unveiled in the eighteenth century. Bees are surrounded by honey, yet appear to be immune to the temptation of its sweetness. Perhaps this is why honey is found in celebrations of both sexual ecstasy and chaste worship?

For medieval Christians, bees came to represent the unique combination of productivity, order and chastity, towards which the monastic life aspired. And wax came to symbolize the most significant chastity of all: that of the Virgin Mary. Meanwhile, Kama, the Hindu god of love who gives his name to the Kama Sutra, is often shown riding on a sort of bee-cum-lion creature. This strange beast also appears on the side of honey jars in India, where the bee symbolizes the sweetness of love, as well as its sting. And the earliest stories of Cupid in the 5th century BC had him stealing honeycomb.

Then there are words like honeytrap – a way of snaring someone using sexual espionage or blackmail. And honeymoon. It’s said this may refer to the Viking custom whereby the bride and groom ate honeyed cakes and drank mead for the first month of their betrothal. But honey appears in the marriage rites of many cultures. Even today, in Morocco, the newly married groom is supposed to feast on honey for its aphrodisiac effects. And in Bulgaria, wedding cake with honey is rubbed over the face of the bridegroom.

Never mind their declining numbers, it’s no wonder bees have been getting so much publicity lately... If you’re bitten by the bug, you can try out beekeeping for beginners at the Chelsea Physic garden. Or alternatively indulge in some delicious English honey from Littleover Apiary. You can also read more about bee inspired product design in ShopCurious’s latest Curious Trends article. Or simply take inspiration from the famous Cole Porter song... birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let's do it, let's fall in love.

Will you?

Friday, 10 February 2012

Curiously sweet Valentine gifts

Did you know that St Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers? It’s said that this may be related to the sweetness of honey, and sweet gifts as tokens of love. There are certainly plenty of Valentine sweets for sale in the shops – especially of the chocolate variety.

However, if you’d prefer to give your beloved something a little more unique and unusual for Valentine’s Day this year, we’ve some handcrafted, heart-shaped rings by Sagen at ShopCurious. They’re made from recycled porcelain and silver – and can be adjusted to fit any finger size.

And we’ve got some curiously arty cufflinks for him too.

I’m afraid you can’t eat them, but gifts like these should keep your significant other sweet for years to come...

Will you?

PS Order by the end of the weekend for UK delivery in time for Valentine’s Day. Gift wrapping available.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Art, romance and rad royal photography

It’s not easy to link this item to our theme of birds and bees. However, some of Cecil Beaton’s best known photographs of Marilyn Monroe show her holding a little bird on one hand. This seems curiously appropriate, as in Middle and Far Eastern cultures, birds are often viewed as symbols of immortality and, in some religious traditions, each bird represents a departed soul. Oh, and there’s also a famous photograph of Cecil Beaton wearing fancy dress, including bee-embroidered breeches. There you go… Now that’s out of the way, what I’d actually like to talk about is the latest exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum – Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration.

Apparently, Sir Roy Strong once described the relationship between the Queen and Beaton as “the greatest alliance ever forged between crown and camera.” Beaton was instrumental in shaping the iconography of the royal family in the pre-TV era. With his love of lavish costumes, dressing up and fascination for the rich and famous, he flitted effortlessly into the grandiose world of the House of Windsor. But it was his degree in art history, combined with an exceptional creative talent that enabled him to produce some of the most enduring photographs of the British Monarchy.

Although Cecil Beaton was best known as the outstanding royal photographer of his age, he was also a highly regarded fashion photographer and film designer, which probably accounts for the supremely elegant styling throughout his work.

There’s a wonderful photograph of the Queen in a diaphanous gown, set against a winter scene of ice skaters, that's reminiscent of a painting by Rex Whistler. Curator, Susanna Brown, says that the gossamer gown may symbolize the start of a new season – a summer after the long winter of war – and that this photograph could also be a tribute to Beaton’s good friend, Whistler, who died in battle in 1944.

Many of Beaton’s portraits were inspired by the works of great artists including Gainsborough and Fragonard, but he was also a prolific artist himself – producing drawings, paintings and illustrations that were displayed in various exhibitions and books. Some of Beaton’s scrapbooks are also on show at this exhibition, along with his old Rolleiflex camera and other memorabilia – including a personal album of illustrious visitors’ signatures and sketches by the likes of Dali, Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Queen Mother and Greta Garbo:

One section of the exhibition is dedicated to coverage of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. The V&A have also made a film, which includes an interview with two of Beaton’s Coronation Day assistants, John Drysdale and Ray Harwood, marking their first reunion after 60 years. Ray is said to have confessed that is was he, not Beaton, who actually took the famous photograph of the Queen against the backdrop of The Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

This ‘Sleeping Beauty’ baby photo of Prince Charles and Princess Anne is one of my favourites. It’s interesting to note how the style of photography had changed by the time Prince Andrew and Prince Edward were born. I won’t give away any more – but do go along, as these photographs are some of the most charming and romantic royal images you will ever see.

And you may wish to check out the assorted books, Coronation memorabilia and collectable vintage photographs of the royal family available at ShopCurious too.

Do you?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snowbirds in London

London is a curious place after snowfall. A deathly stillness descends upon the city, as the usual sounds of cars and planes all but disappear.

ShopCurious ventured out before most people were out of bed, to track down curiosities of the cold snap. A few early birds were up to catch the fresh snow and make the first snowman.

No one had yet spotted a solitary traffic cone – the perfect prop for a curiously creative snow sculpture. See if you can find it in the pic below:

The recreation ground, that on Sunday mornings would normally be full of bleary-eyed dads who've been packed off with the kids, was eerily deserted.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, fearless fitness-obsessives risked hypothermia to participate in an early morning military-style bootcamp.

And the park benches would have been covered in virgin snow, except that birds had walked over them...

In fact, I even spotted a new variety of snowbird, complete with dinky wings and a cute little tail (see left).

Talking of snowbirds, I think I got my timing wrong – I should have stayed in sunny Florida. Oh, and check out this strangely snowy video clip of the 1969 song, Snowbird, by Canadian singer, Anne Murray:

Will you?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Hearts, lovebirds and Valentine curiosities

I’m recently back from a trip to Florida, which was somewhat more eventful than anticipated (nothing to do with the primaries, or romance for that matter…) I’ll tell you all about it later. I just wanted to add a quick post to let you know about some of the unique gift ideas that ShopCurious has lined up for Valentine’s Day lovebirds.

As it happens, our theme for February is birds and bees – and some of the birds are to be found on Annie Sherburne’s artfully handcrafted Valentine hearts. Her Rococo style brooches and pendants, made from hand-embossed gilt, are intricately decorated with a myriad of upcycled jewels – including vintage glass flowers, pieces of crystal, abalone and pearls.

However, the main reason I chose these pieces of jewellery is because of the charming ‘lovebirds’. Though on closer inspection, I think they may actually be swallows. Did you know that swallows swallow insects in mid-flight? Hopefully not bees… But they look curiously cute and romantic together anyway, don’t you think?

Do you?