Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On hats

Love the pictures of actress Clémence Poésy looking super-French and sultry in a vintage fedora in the April edition of Vogue. And I am distracted from reading the Times’ (very readable) fashion supplement on a Wednesday by Lisa Armstrong’s cool hat. So, rather than embrace trends such as ‘double denim’, or all those clompy clogs and wedges that everyone keeps insisting are madly 'must-have' (don't know about you, but just because Alexa Chung wears clogs I don't plan to clomp around trying to pretend that having great lumps of wood attached to my feet is in any way enjoyable or chic), instead I plan to seek out a new hat. Like treating yourself to a new lipstick, I reckon this is one of life’s great – and not (necessarily) expensive – pleasures. Timeless, ageless and fun.

Some people think you need to be brave or madly outgoing to wear hats. But when I interviewed the queen of hat-wearers, the late Isabella Blow, she insisted that she was actually incredibly shy, and that hats were a kind of armour: 'I see them as a form of protection. And anyway, the attention you get when you’re wearing a hat – well, it’s the right kind of attention.’ As Philip Treacy puts it, ‘Everyone is seduced by a hat’. Hats are a talking point, an ice-breaker. Not to mention a cover-up on a bad hair day.

If money were no object, I’d hotfoot it (not in clogs, obviously) to Lock & Co. in London, the most perfect little specialist hat shop dating back to the 17th century. Tucked away in the backstreets of St James, it’s one of those unique little finds that make you glad you are in London. It’s more than £200 for a bowler hat here, but you’re investing in the finest quality and top-notch service. Paul Smith’s bowlers (£180) are typically fun and irreverent: the tomato-red one really would make you stand out in a crowd. And this great navy one (above) has a brilliant red lining and comes in a fine hatbox embossed with gold lettering, if that matters (which it surely does).

I’m only just discovering asos – I always thought it just flogged copies of stuff celebrities have been seen in, so avoided it like the plague – but turns out it has a decent selection of hats, including a bunch of Philip Treacys reduced to half-price (around £120 for an emerald green trilby), plus a rather dapper range for men. And the bowler hat looks almost too good to be true at just 20 quid. Though, clearly, it helps if you look this good in the first place.

Bowler hat, £20, www.asos.com

A last thought: a few years ago I did an evening millinery course at London College of Fashion and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I made two hats, one felt and one straw which, considering I can barely sew on a button, seemed quite an achievement. In Ireland, try milliner Lina Stein’s courses. Otherwise, check out vintage shops and military hat suppliers for unique and well-made hats.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Browsing in Dublin

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" Oscar Wilde

The Smock Alley/Cow's Lane area of Dublin is worth hunting out; it feels authentic and thriving, and – very importantly – has some very fine cafes to hole up in (such as The Queen of Tarts and The Bakery). And now it has its very own boutique bookshop, too: The Gutter Bookshop (www.gutterbookshop.com) is light, laidback and well-stocked – all a bookshop should be, in fact. For an added bonus, the Cow's Lane market brings young Irish designers to the street every Saturday (10am-5pm); look out for John Shevlin's beautifully made hats.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Key chains

Jane Birkin by David Bailey, 1969

Catch photography exhibition The Beatles to Bowie: the 1960s exposed at Newcastle's Laing Gallery (www.twmuseums.org.uk/laing) before it finishes on 18 April. It's packed with striking images of the era's pop icons, from the louche and pouting Rolling Stones to the chirpy Beatles. I love Jane Birkin's long key necklace in this stunningly fresh photo by David Bailey; inspiration for Tiffany's (www.uk.tiffany.com) current key collection, perhaps, as well as the current crop of key chains by designers from Maison Martin Margiela and Alex Monroe (www.net-a-porter.com) through to www.asos.com?

Tiffany keys collection

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Cheap chic

A shopping tip: if you ever find yourself on the A19 in County Durham, stop off at Dalton Park (www.dalton-park.co.uk) outlet shopping centre. While I'm not fussed about trawling last season's discounts from Next or Nike, the Joseph store is a great little treasure trove. Today I found a pristine black leather biker jacket reduced from more than £800 to £324, as well as Lanvin satin ballet shoes, fab tweed coats, chunky leather belts, and a truckload of cashmere jumpers at well under a hundred quid. You sometimes find the odd sample and current season pieces in amongst the rails so it's worth taking a little time to sift through. And do try on: there are piles of 7 For All Mankind jeans at temptingly low prices, but the fit may be slightly different.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

In Dublin

In Dublin there are a few places I always make a beeline for – here are some of them. First, the Italian cafe just off the quay to the left of the Halfpenny Bridge. Drop into Café Cagliostro for an espresso and you could be in Rome. It’s tiny, authentic and everyone’s talking in high-speed Italian or engrossed in a newspaper. On the quayside itself, The Winding Stair bookshop (www.winding-stair.com) is a bit of an institution; it’s a truly evocative place to while away a few hours, drinking coffee by the huge old windows overlooking the murky River Liffey. Dublin now has its own bike-sharing scheme, like Paris, so you can nip around the place more easily (www.dublinbikes.ie; free for the first half hour; 1.50 euros for two hours).

So now, fuelled by all that caffeine, some shops. Pick of the boutiques, for me, is Smock (www.smock.ie) on Drury Street, which stocks quirky chic labels such as Martin Margiela, Vanessa Bruno, APC and Vivienne Westwood. What stood out this trip was jewellery by Annina Vogel (www.anninavogel.co.uk) – more about her beautiful charm necklaces in a future post.

For beautiful vintage clothes and accessories, Jenny Vander is justifiably a bit of a legendary spot in the city. But I like to rummage in A Store is Born (34 Clarendon St, open Saturdays only) just as much. A kind of ‘pop-up store’ that just keeps on popping up, this place is dark and not madly friendly, but it has some classy slips and silk nightdresses in peaches and pale pinks on its rails, all in very good nick, as well as cashmere cardis in all colours and some evening coats that wouldn’t shame a Marni store. This place is about chic rather than cheap; I wished I had a spare 600 euros to splash on the beautifully detailed heavy silk Chinese kimono – a one-off, truly luxurious item.
More Dublin highlights in a later post…

Friday, 5 March 2010

Le Labo

New York fragrance company Le Labo have just opened their first UK store, just off Marylebone High Street in London. Until now you could only get hold of their carefully edited collection of scents from hip stores such as Liberty’s, Colette in Paris and Barneys New York. I was first drawn to the brand in Colette: there’s something appealing about the scientific-looking little glass bottles with plain labels in a market that’s saturated with fancy flacons and flashy names. There are just ten key scents, from a heady, complex Rose to the more manly Vetiver. I’m always drawn to jasmine scents; I find the sultry yet sweet A La Nuit by Serge Lutens as close to perfect as a perfume gets. And Le Labo’s Jasmin 17 (the number tells you how many ingredients the scent contains) is just as intoxicating. Though these little bottles are not cheap (from £70 for 50ml), a little lasts a long time – must be the high quality of the essential oils which come direct from Grasse. I do hate the idea of Ambrette 9, the ‘most precious baby formula in the world’, though: the release rhapsodises about ‘A baby perfumed by Le Labo… How cool can you get?’ This kind of guff makes me feel a mug for falling for any beauty product, ever. And yet. Jasmin 17 is addictive, sensual and different. The body oils are a less pricey way of enjoying these beautiful scents (around £30). A store worth sniffing out.

28a Devonshire Street, London, W1, 020 3441 1535, www.lelabofragrances.com

Inside Out

‘The wise woman with a limited dress allowance will invest a great deal of it in underwear’ (from The Cult of Chiffon, 1902)

Airing your underwear in public is de rigeur right now, it seems. From structured corsets at Bottega Veneta to lacy slips at Dior and, naturally, bra straps sexily on show at D&G, there was plenty of slinking down the catwalks for spring/summer 2010. As underpinnings come once again to the fore, the idea is to be seductive and sexy, without being slutty….

The latest season of the ever-seductive ‘Mad Men’ (Wednesdays, BBC4, 10pm) adds fuel to this fire – all those curvaceous women peeling off their twin-sets to reveal the most perfect satin slips and coral-pink bras. Though as Madonna revealed in the 1980s in Gaultier’s iconic conical bras, it’s a trend to be picked up only by the most fearsomely confident/exhibitionist.

There are some glorious bits of retro underwear around – so satin-smooth and beautiful it seems rude not to show it off. Take a peek at What Katie Did, specialists in vintage-style undies. There’s everything from surprisingly glamorous shapewear through to super-sexy corsets (from £125) that scoop you in and lift you up for a real Jessica Rabbit silhouette. The Harlow Bullet Bra (£27.50) and 1940s-style Dolly Mixture bra (£30) are wonderfully authentic, at high-street prices.

Boudiche in Edinburgh (with a sister store in Glasgow) is one of the prettiest lingerie boutiques I’ve seen, a lush little boudoir decked with the best labels, from La Perla and Stella McCartney to their best-selling range, the weirdly named but very sleek New York label, The Lake & Stars Curveball (prices from £32). The ‘Franklin Romper’ (worn by Carrie, with jeans, in the first Sex and the City film, if you care about such things) is madly pretty in rose and mocha. The champagne-coloured chemise (£135) is bang on trend for this season, and really nails that subtle-sexy look. The website’s excellent, though we’d love a bit more information on fabrics: you don’t want to spend this much on underwear and then discover it’s 100 per cent polyester. This chemise is silk, though. Order online; free delivery for orders over £35.

Also modern in outlook is young English designer Clare Tough, stocked at Browns in South Molton Street, London. Inspired by vintage embroidery she found at Clignancourt market in Paris, her collection features classic modern underwear in nudes and oysters, teamed with transparent tops and light cardigans. Love her pretty lace slips (from £305) and sculpted bra tops.

Another store worth knowing about is Susan Hunter, just off Grafton Street in Dublin. Her silk lingerie and kimono dressing gowns have an elegant vintage look. (Free returns and free delivery on orders over £35). I’ll add more details when I go back to the store in Dublin in a few weeks’ time.

I’m really not convinced by Marc Jacobs and Cavalli’s take on this trend though – satin bras worn over vests (a string vest, in Cavalli’s case) and T-shirts. Can this ever be a good look? Sure, it’s cold at the moment, but if you’re going to do the ‘underwear as outerwear’ trend, shouldn’t you just go for it? Magazines can plug this look all they like, but it won’t be one I’m trying out any time soon…