Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Jean genies

There are some good sales on already, and best of all you don't need to trudge out in the snow to browse them. Trilogy (great website by the way) has some top jeans on sale – usually in sales you'll only find the really duff shapes and odd colours discounted, but here you'll find the best J Brand skinnies (for example, black skinny jeans, above, at £125 down from £170). My-wardrobe also has some good jeans discounts, and so does Matches (eg high-rise grey skinny jeans, below, £135 down from £195).

Maybe you're keen to follow trends and go with flares in the new year. J Brand tend to lead the way in jeans shapes right now, and the word is that their Love Story flares are the look of the summer. For me, flares are a flash in the pan trend that won't last more than a few months. They might look cool on, say, the Olsen twins, a flattering, laidback look paired with a white T-shirt and a Starbucks – but they live in sunny LA. But here, who who wants trousers that drag through the rain/mud/snow? I've tried Hudson flares and the truth is that all that fabric flapping around is kind of annoying. They absorb all sorts of stuff from the pavement, but you can't roll them up out of the way. They only look good with a very neat silhouette on the top, such as a fitted T-shirt or top – otherwise everything just looks too big. And they make cycling positively dangerous. Skinny jeans have taken the high street by storm as they not only look slick and neat, but they don't trail and get ripped round the edges like long bootcuts or looser styles. Besides, the only reason flares are being plugged is that designers always head for the direct opposite, and for seasons now it's been about the rock-chick, sprayed-on trousers, thanks to labels like Balenciaga and Isabel Marant with her bold red biker numbers. Maybe it's just that they're too 70s for me, bringing back lurid memories of maroon, cord and velour.

What do you reckon? Skinnies all the way, or are flares worth a go?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Coming in from the cold: Reiss

Reiss has been looking a little tired for a while now, to me. The clothes are a bit officey, and the prices a bit high, especially when compared with the store's hipper high-street neighbour, Whistles. For winter, though, there are a few pieces that stand out and I reckon it might be time for another look.

For Wang-esque stripes, there's a black and grey jersey dress at £71, reduced from £89. The white crochet lace dress (£195) gives a nod to Erdem (though, it has to be said, not many people can carry off a dinky little white dress like this without looking like an overgrown cake decoration). More sophisticated is the Katerina silk dress, above (£195), available in black or a ravishing 'pacific blue', an elegant and flattering floor-length gown that would look super-glam for a New Year's Eve party, maybe paired with a tuxedo jacket or a dramatic choker. The sleek Cristal (£159) fitted dress and the Elizabeth fisherman rib jumper (£125) stand out too as chic wardrobe additions. There is 20% off certain lines online at the moment.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Craving cashmere

Cashmere dress, £315, Chinti and Parker at Net-a-porter

Cashmere v-neck, £159, Celtic Sheepskin

When there's a thick layer of snow on the ground, cashmere comes into its own. Whether it's a long pair of gloves (preferably by Brora) or a full-on cashmere dress, cashmere adds a little style to your layers and makes you feel less like an overgrown yeti. It's a wardrobe staple that will look good year after year if you look after it (and don't shrink it in the wash like I have...).

On the high street, Cos are doing a great cashmere hat for £25 and matching scarf for £50. Marks and Spencer are always a safe bet for decent cashmere. Their cashmere harem trousers make for fun lounging gear (£99), and they also have good value V-necks (search the men's section as they tend to be larger), an attractive beaded top and some good scarves too including this striped one at £29.50.

Cashmere crew-neck, £243 (was £541), Rick Owens at theOutnet

At the higher end, theOutnet has a pile of reduced-price cashmere by names like Rick Owens and Vanessa Bruno, such as the crew-neck cashmere jumper above.

Check out Net-a-porter for an exclusive range designed by Chinti and Parker, the masters of stylish cashmere, including a very wearable cashmere dress and an oatmeal-coloured cape. I am slightly obsessed with their elbow-patched jumpers (as pictured right, £285): they are the last word in luxury, with an attention to detail that lifts them out of the ordinary. The Breton-stripe cashmere jumpers and striped dress are deeply covetable too.

I also rate Izzy Lane's UK-made cashmere as I've mentioned before – their slouchy V-neck in oatmeal (£175) constantly sells out; it's available in other colours too. Celtic Sheepskin also do a good version, as well as some cheerful long cashmere socks.

Crumpet have a bit of a sale on right now so you can snap up a rather Christmassy sparkly cashmere cardi from £100 (less than half price). Love the over-the-knee socks, too.

Sparkly cashmere cardi, £180 (was £432), Crumpet

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Star in the North

The December edition of pretty well every magazine I've seen features these paper decorations from RE. Cheap, cheerful and re-usable, they're available in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, from balls to bells and white snowflakes, and make a stylish alternative to tinsel and plastic decorations. Sending them out to stylists must be keeping the lovely people at RE seriously busy. This gem of a shop is hidden away behind a petrol station in the depths of Northumberland (well, Corbridge to be exact). It's a fabulous, friendly place to visit, and stunningly presented, but if you can't get there have a look on their website, which is packed with all manner of original, intriguing and inspiring bits and pieces, from vintage furniture, chandeliers and eiderdowns to American glass cake stands. A true one-off that really shines.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


I was going to write about Bath's spa, but got distracted by Whistles. Whistles is hard to ignore these days. Ever since Jane Shepherdson took over, the label has garnered huge amounts of press coverage; the Observer in particular nearly always has something from Whistles on its fashion pages. I remember Whistles when it stocked designers such as Dries van Noten alongside its pretty tea dresses. It has an edgier, more urban feel now, though I've found that many of the designs look great on the page but not so great in the dressing room. Though maybe that's my own fault for trying on jersey harem trousers in the first place....

One problem for Whistles is that their turnaround is so fast now, and their sales so regular, that you feel rather cheated if you buy anything full-price. And now designers such as Alexander Wang are making luxe utility wear more accessible, Whistles often feels pricey. However, they've currently got some good deals online and in store, such as this Millie leather jacket (above) and a military-style leather jacket both £200, down from £275 – pretty good for leather of this quality. For everyday, this Drew dress (below) is a flattering fit and can be dressed up or down.

Today Whistles launches one of the big guns in its armoury – the latest (and final) Roksanda Ilincic collection. The Serbian designer will continue to wow the high street with this stunning clutch of jewel-coloured satin sheaths that are set to dance out of the shop and into every Christmas party. Stand-outs include Adenium, in a beautifully subtle shade of mink, and the Nettle dress (below) in vibrant emerald satin, both £325. Ilincic's mainline dresses start from £800 and go up, up, up.

Nettle dress, £325, Roksanda Ilincic for Whistles

Monday, 8 November 2010

The beauties of Bath part I

A weekend in Bath. Good friends, lots of coffee, great food, a visit to the spa and some sunshine. What a treat. I'm going to do a post about the brilliant Thermae Bath Spa, but first things first. Amid the rather lovely sedate shops of Bath – White Company, Toast, Cath Kidston, Jigsaw (this is real Cabbages & Roses country) – there are some real gems.

We all went a bit mad over Comptoir des Cotonniers. This label, established in 1995, really nails that timeless French chic look, combining excellent quality with Gallic flair. From masculine-cut tweed overcoats and trenches to silk Japanese-print shift dresses and a brilliant red silk-satin dress that would sing out at any party, these clothes epitomise effortless chic that will endure season after season. With my Yorkshire roots, I can't help preferring clothes that last.

My favourite piece, among many, was this striped jumper in the softest cashmere. It is impossible to capture how very RED the red is – it's that almost-fluorescent red that really jumps out at you. It was paired with a khaki shirt to great effect by the girl in the shop. As Laura said, you could never feel miserable wearing this top; it would cheer you up instantly on a dark day.

Cashmere striped jumper, £156, Comptoir des Cotonniers

The staff in the Bath store are seriously good-looking (almost off-puttingly so, in that you don't have a hope of looking half as good in the clothes as they do!), on the ball and helpful without being pushy. Many pieces are on sale at the moment so it's well worth a scout. Great accessories too – this appealingly soft and squishy 'school bag' is very Mulberry Alexa-ish but considerably less expensive. I loved the limited-edition Doc Martens that Comptoir did a few seasons ago: the toughness and durability of Docs is beautifully tempered by the soft charcoal-grey leather.

For accessories that also add a certain je ne said quoi, head to VintagetoVogue, a superlative vintage store hidden just off Milsom Street. I could have spent hours rummaging in here, trying on original Lock & Co. bowler hats (£150) – very Paul Smith/Hermes a/w 2010 – and fabulous military coats, the inspiration for this season's entire bestselling Burberry collection. From trilbies to leather gloves, vintage handbags that could be Louis Vuitton's latest and rails full of one-off dresses from years gone by, the items here are high-quality rather than cheap secondhand tat. Again the staff here are brilliant – full of enthusiasm and with great rapport for their customers.

A new store specialising in jeans plus luxe labels such as Chinti and Parker (for the very finest cashmere) and Elizabeth Lau opened this weekend: Mimi Noor. Mimi stocks the very best jeans labels, from J Brand to Dylan George. And Chinti and Parker's Breton stripe jumper and super-soft caramel-coloured V-neck with pockets are the last word in luxury (around £265). Mimi knows her stuff on the best styles and shades to suit you. Clearly, in Bath, shopping is as it should be.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Capital prints

House of Holland's new wool jumpers (£250) featuring capital cities, including this Paris knit and the London Big Ben, are eye-catching, fun and cool – just what's needed as the days grow darker. They've just landed at Selfridges, but expect to see a heap of high-street versions any day soon; Henry Holland's irreverent and playful approach to fashion is refreshing but easily imitated.

Friday, 15 October 2010

A little bit of Chanel

A blast of colour at the end of a long week: here are Chanel's new range of coin purses, wallets and clutches (from £230) in patent calfskin. A fun and frivolous touch of Chanel style to brighten up the day.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Jumper dresses

Chanel spring/summer 2011. Photo by Giovanni Giannoni on

In the Sunday Times Style this weekend, Agent Provocateur founder Joe Corre was sounding off about jeans: ‘I can’t stand jeans…. I wear them for what they should be used for: painting and decorating, or digging in the garden. But … everybody wears jeans; they look like a robotic army.’ This season there so many options for relaxed daywear that denims can be left on the shelf. More of us are considering ditching jeans, thanks the popularity of cool and casual jersey skirts and dresses on offer, with leggings and skinny trousers on hand to go with them.

For winter – and beyond into next spring, according to Chanel's (madly beautiful) s/s 2011 catwalk – the jersey dress gives way to the knitted dress. Yes, the classic 1980s jumper dress is well and truly back, bringing with it (for many of us) memories of burgundy Topshop numbers paired with matching suede pixie boots. Looking back at photos, you'd never guess that the rather frumpy, itchy, woolly dresses would become a fashion statement here in 2010. But these modern versions are somewhat more sophisticated, in fine cashmere blends to make them more elegant and easy to wear. Everywhere from Net-a-porter to Warehouse has stripey, chunky, ribbed or woolly jumper dresses on their rails right now. Get the length right and they look great with boots or pumps. Here's a round-up of some of the best:

At the top end, there's APC's cute navy and white striped version, Sonia Rykiel's school uniform-style jumper with skirt (£270) and Stella McCartney's stripey jumper dress in wool/cashmere 475). Vanessa Bruno’s sweater dress is reduced at (£138 down from £230); or you could wear a black jersey top underneath Bella Freud's Last Poets top, reduced from £215 to £88, for a jumper-dress effect. French brand American Vintage (stocked in Fenwick, Selfridges and online) does a great round-neck sweater dress, £85.

On the high street, Warehouse is doing knitted dresses in maxi, mini and midi lengths, from £45, in greys and black, while Topshop has a more jazzy cotton Love Heart sweater dress at £35. I also really like Hush’s Amy dress (£40), and Toast/Hush-inspired catalogue Wrap has an embroidered merino-wool version for £99 in elegant colours such as washed blue and – oh yes – deep burgundy.

Sweater dress, £138 (down from £230), Vanessa Bruno at

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Down with camel

Here's a spash of colour from Acne as an antidote to all the camel sludging around the place just now. Despite the hundreds of magazine pages and shop displays dedicated to insisting that camel is THE colour to wear this season, camel is – let’s be honest here – a bland shade of brown that suits about one per cent of the population (that's the one per cent who can afford to buy Chloe). It will be out on its colourless backside come January. And then you’ll be stuck wearing your unflattering trousers/coat/jumper – or, worst of all, cape – while everyone else breathes a sigh of relief as they thankfully pull on their black and grey (or pretty well any other colour at all). Most of us, sadly, do not look like Ali McGraw or Lauren Hutton when wearing high-waisted camel trousers. I know black is commonplace, and navy can be boring, but camel feels like fashion's scraping the barrel.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


The December edition of pretty well every magazine I've seen features these paper decorations. Cheap, very cheerful and re-usable, they're available in a variety of shapes, from the balls above to giant bells and white stars. Hang them from your ceiling for a stylish alternative to tinsel and plastic decorations. Sending them out to stylists must be keeping the lovely people at RE seriously busy. RE is a gem of a shop hidden away behind a petrol station in the depths of Northumberland (well, Corbridge to be exact). It's a fabulous, friendly place to visit, and stunningly presented, but if you can't quite get there have a look on their website, which is packed with all manner of original, intriguing and inspiring bits and pieces, from vintage furniture and eiderdowns to American glass cake stands.

Monday, 27 September 2010

REN's coming up roses

Rose Otto Ultra-Moisture Serum, £40, REN

You know you’re in a super-cool, on-the-ball boutique hotel when you find REN in the bathroom (the Boundary, for example: see post dated 13 May). If you haven't come across REN before, let me introduce you. REN launched in 2000, with a USP of producing beauty products that do not contain synthetics, parabens or petrochemicals, yet are still both beautiful to use and efficacious (an approach that has been adopted by a host of other companies in their wake). They are ‘clean’ products, but don’t have that ‘worthy’ feel to them – they look and smell great and they feel luxurious to use. No wonder its fans (including me) are ardent, bordering on obsessive.

REN’s rose products are their strongest line. The Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil is beautifully decadent and non-greasy, and is gorgeous used as a skin oil, too. There’s also Rose Otto Body Wash and a lusciously rich Body Cream (£24.50 and it lasts for ages) that leaves your skin petal-soft and scented. All of them make great gifts. The Rose Centrifolia Cleansing Gel is a cooling face wash that cleans and gently hydrates the skin, and the Rose Ultra-Moisture Serum (£40), worn under moisturiser, uses rice germ, jojoba, coconut, camellia and lemon oils along with rose damascene oil to really lock in moisture. Many people are wary of layering oil onto their face, thinking it will leave a greasy shine, but an oil containing high-quality ingredients like this actually sinks into the skin and gives it a radiance and hydration you just don’t get with a cream. The Rose Otto Body Scub has been much raved-about in magazines, and it does give your skin a buffed sheen, though I reckon the creams and oils are better investments – most of this ends up down the plughole.

I also recommend the Keep Young and Beautiful Serum (£45). Yes, it costs rather more than Protect & Perfect, the bargain Boots serum that everyone went mad over for a while – but for my money it’s way more effective, and genuinely feels like it makes your skin look better. And there aren’t many products, especially costing less than 50 quid, that truly make your skin look better (with the fine exception of Dr Hauschka’s Rose Cream). Also worth a try is Omega 3 Night Repair Serum; it takes takes longer to absorb into the skin so use only a small amount for the best effects.

REN’s website is as good-looking and effective as its products (and that's not always the case). You can search by product or, most usefully, by skin type. And there are some good offers too, including free trial sizes, plus a free £20 Mayday Rescue Balm when you spend over £30. Look out for their kits to try out five different trial sizes before you splash out on a full-size one.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Manolo at Liberty

Liberty was recently voted best shop in London by Time Out magazine. It’s always been a favourite; even back in 2002, when I was editing Time Out’s shopping and fashion section, it was raking in the awards for its shoe and beauty departments. Liberty continues to go from strength to strength because it has never rested on its laurels – and it could so easily sit back and rely on its history (135 years of it) and location to pull in the punters. Instead Liberty is constantly reinventing itself, bringing in the coolest, most desirable labels and developing their own exclusive ranges to boot. It’s wonderfully un-snooty as a store, and really feels like the heart of shopping London. Whether it’s tea, rare perfume, edgy designer label, madly expensive lingerie or even a sewing school you’re looking for, you’ll find it in the elegant surroundings of Liberty... and find huge pleasure in looking.

At the moment they have an exclusive range by Manolo Blahnik instore (and online, for accessories but not shoes). With everything from cute shoe-print lavender bags at £6.95 (great for gifts) to satin court shoes in brilliant yellow and lipstick red (around £420), the range brings a bit of Blahnik a little closer to us mere mortals… though the saner among us might balk at paying just shy of 100 quid for an umbrella, however pretty it is. Oh, and the knee-length Arctic goat-hair boots (£925) are surely just ludicrous, in so many ways. There are plenty of sleek and wearable court shoes, though, and the shoe-print fabric has great charm. And the velvet boots in sugar pink and midnight blue are straight out of a fairytale: The Elves and The Shoemaker, perhaps.

© Image from the Ladybird Archive. © Ladybird Books Ltd 2008. Licensed by Copyrights Group.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Coffee and shopping in Dublin

The Cake Cafe, Dublin

Sorry for the delay in posting... it has proved inordinately tricky to set up broadband here in the new house – even getting a landline has taken a fortnight. But on all other fronts it is great, and really energising, to be in Dublin.

I’m glad to report that the coffee situation here is looking seriously good. The Cake CafĂ©, off Camden Street, lives up to its excellent reputation. Hidden away in an unpromising alleyway, about five minutes’ walk from St Stephen’s Green, it’s pretty small but – in a spirit of optimism – has plenty of seats outside, sheltered by bamboo. You reach it by walking to the back of a stationery shop, Daintree’s, and then out through a tunnel of bamboo, like something out of a grown-up Harry Potter. With its home-baked bread, mis-matched crockery, black-and-white-tiled floor and shelves stacked with packets of flour, the cafe has the laidback, effortlessly cool vibe of Jones Dairy in Columbia Road. There are pretty fairy cakes in silver cases, huge slabs of brownie, great (double shot) coffees and a small selection of things you really want to eat for lunch: the day’s soup, tart or salad, plus a host of chunky sandwiches and hearty platefuls of Portugese sardines on toast, and hotpot. Well worth searching out.

Smock boutique continues to stock a fabulous edit, from Veronique Branquinho to Acne. The latter's short Pistol boots are a great staple for autumn/winter (the Acne online store is offering free postage this week), and the Zorah black dress epitomises the label's much-hyped wearable chic. There's a rail-load of Acne at Brown Thomas too, Dublin's finest, most glamorous department store. For many seasons now BT has catered purely for the super-rich, it seems – Lanvin, Gucci, Balmain – but new additions such as L'Agence, Thakoon, Isobel Marant Etoile, T by Alexander Wang (such gorgeous fabrics, such easy style, at Whistles prices!) and Carven offer a new layer of edge and wearability. Wang's current bag, the Darcy slouch hobo, is the best he's done yet, I reckon ($850 at, or around £547).

The stand-out collection in store right now, for me, is Paul & Joe. This label goes from strength to strength. Now healthy enough to advertise even in the most glossy of glossies, Paul & Joe have a strong a/w 2010 collection featuring the perfect little black dress in jersey, accentuated with a silver leaf (£465), a chic wool/cashmere coat, eccentric swan-print tops and a beautiful kimono-sleeved black and white print silk mini dress that makes a striking statement. They have teamed up with Pierre Cardin for a few pieces too.

Back on cardigan/coats for autumn (see post 5 August), M&S have come up trumps with a Rick Owens-esque long cardi with alpaca for around £50, plus a long waterfall cashmere cardi in grey or a latte colour for around £150. As usual with M&S these won't be easy to track down; though they're in the Dublin store right now they don't feature on the website. Their cashmere section is always worth a look, though.

Elsewhere, H&M have been doing a simple navy and red-striped Breton top for less than a tenner that nods to Marc Jacobs' bold stripes this season; it's worth rifling their chaotic store for.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Beside the sea

Last night I swam in the Irish sea in the rain. The sky was silver and the water was completely calm, with just a slight swell as raindrops smattered the surface. It was cold, still and utterly exhilarating.

Living by the sea is even more magical than I imagined. There is always something to look at, from the hardy early morning swimmers first thing in the morning and the kids hunting for crabs and periwinkles to the kite-surfers in the evening and tentative lines of young canoeists having lessons. And yesterday, there were dolphins out in the bay. When the tide’s out we take cups of tea onto the sand and the kids run around; it’s like being permanently on holiday.

The swimmers change and congregate by the Martello tower, and it’s a wonderfully eccentric sight – a bunch of all ages, all shapes, standing in their pants as they contemplate the icy waters. Locals stroll around the streets and squares in their dressing gowns as they head down to the water. It’s like having a giant open-air swimming pool. And boy, it beats paying an awful lot of cash per month to have water kicked in your face for 20 minutes by the Alpha Male doing messy crawl in front as you plough up and down the chlorinated, sweaty pool.

The feeling when you get out of the sea is fantastic – you feel energized, exhilarated, your skin glowing and tingling – and a cup of tea never tasted so good. Yep, I'm a convert – though ask me again come November....

Talking of the sea, there’s a book festival in Dun Laoghaire from 7-12 September and I’ve booked to see John Banville, Booker winner for the wonderfully evocative and moving The Sea. I'm also seeing Jonathan Coe and Ross Raisin (Raisin’s God’s Own Country is a brilliantly dark first novel set in the moors of Yorkshire).

So far, so very good – and I haven't even told you about the Cake Cafe yet... next time.