Friday, 28 May 2010

Summer face by Chanel

"There is grey in your hair,
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;..."

from Broken Dreams by WB Yeats

I live in an area that's packed with students, and I love seeing how they dress. Although most of them have only recently got out of school uniform, it's clear that conformity is still the norm, and they dress in packs. The current uniform is: denim shorts, opaque tights and huge bags and shades for the girls (as dictated by Grazia/Alexa Chung); and highlighted hair and beanie hats for the boys (however hot it is) plus, as Colin has discussed (How Male Fashion Changes, 26 May), trousers hanging down as low as physically possible. It is really quite an art to suspend your trousers just low enough to show off your pants yet keep them from falling down completely. It kind of defies gravity, and must be extremely unrelaxing, especially when cycling.

One thing that's really noticeable, too, is how much makeup the girls wear to nip in for a lecture: all these 19/20 year olds with their beautiful plump young skin hidden beneath a mask of foundation. As anyone over 35 is only too aware, your skin is fabulously fresh at this age even if you don't realise it at the time – it seems mad to cover it up with slap.

As you get older, however, your skin becomes more lined, patchy and dry (as my friend Lucy pointed out, rather cynically, in a birthday card once, it's all downhill from 21...). So a bit of liquid help comes in handy. I hate the thickness of many foundations and have stuck with Laura Mercier's Tinted Moisturiser as an alternative. But lately I've been trying Chanel's Vitalumiere in Nude, a super-light formulation that doesn't clog or sit heavily on the skin yet has much better coverage, smoothing out blotchy and liney bits. It's moisturising on the skin rather than drying, plus it has SPF 15; vital, as there's no point splashing out on any anti-ageing creams and lotions if you're not going to protect your face with sunscreen. Cheap lipsticks, eyeliners and even serums can be great, but I feel like it's worth investing in something decent to make the best of your skin. Ask the Chanel lady to help you get the right shade – she will test it on your jawline – as there are few things more ageing than the wrong colour. It's around 30 quid, but if it eases a midlife crisis, that seems fair – think of it as liquid Botox....

Monday, 24 May 2010

Kane-ing it in gingham

Vintage gingham dress, £57, The House of Avalon, York

York’s newest vintage shop, The House of Avalon (01904 622055) is a petite little parlour just round the corner from the City Art Gallery. It’s been open less than a month so the selection of clothes is not massive – but it's a carefully edited collection of choice pieces. Loved this red and white gingham dress (£57) for a rather bargainous nod to Christopher Kane. Silk paisley dressing gowns and kimonos, tea dresses and hats are all in good nick too. You can pick up a unique piece here for around the same price that you’d pay for a Topshop dress (less in many cases). The little tea room at the back is a fine spot for Earl Grey and fairy cakes in a quiet, unhurried atmosphere, and there are old films playing on the wall.

Christopher Kane, s/s 2010. Photo: Marcio Madeira for

The gingham dress stood out in particular because Christopher Kane has made this fabric hot again for summer 2010. But gingham can go either way: though cute and sexy and fresh when worn by Brigitte Bardot on the beach at St Tropez (and, let’s face it, in her heyday Bardot could make a binliner look a million dollars), it always reminds me too much of tablecloths. More specifically, the Gingham Kitchen in Doncaster where we’d go for egg and chips and banana milkshakes as kids – it was a riot of red and white check. And even if gingham doesn’t bring to mind your local Italian restaurant, it definitely harks back to unflattering school uniforms. So all credit to Kane for making it sexy and modern this season, with split gingham skirts and dresses (see above) that manage to be both demure and flirty. It’s no surprise that the high street’s taken note; look out for gingham shirts (£55) and bikinis by J Crew (at through to mini skirts at Topshop. Toast has a neat (though pricey at £99) little shift dress, Jaeger has everything from trousers to a wrap dress (on sale for £99), or try a subtle touch of the trend with a gingham scarf by NW3 at Hobbs (£35). Tablecloths ahoy!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Acne maxidress

A note about Acne's extreme stripe maxidress, which I've mentioned before (see post 8 April). The Sunday Times Style featured it today as a 'must-have' item but says that it's sold out everywhere and is selling for 'double on eBay'. Yes, it's all gone from stockists including Liberty, Browns and net-a-porter, but try going direct to Acne's online store: this evening they still have both the black/white and blue/white version in stock in both S and M, price £125 (add on around £7 for p&p). While I don't buy in to some of the other 'wow factor' pieces on the page – leopard-print wedges, leather shorts (!) and a lurid metallic version of the otherwise great Mulberry Alexa bag (at 800 quid) – I do think this is a great dress. It's striking, flattering (no horizontal stripes round your middle), in a super-light yet not-see-through cotton. Being from Yorkshire, I appreciate the fact that you could wear it all year round, making it excellent cost-per-wear value.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Star in the East

The E2 area of London really has become the best place to stay when visiting the capital. With a huge pile of lively and unique markets, shops and bars on your doorstep, it feels cool, laidback and right on the pulse of the city. There's Spitalfields market, Brick Lane and Cheshire Street – with its great independent shops, including the brilliant Labour & Wait – and Columbia Road flower market. Then there are the many cool bars and eateries around Leonard and Great Eastern Streets, and exquisite cafe/delis like Verde, just opposite Spitalfields Market. And the good thing is the scattering of hip affordable hotels in the area, such as the Hoxton Hotel: rooms start from £59, but sign up on their website to hear about their regular sales, when you can book a room for £1 or £29. The next one is tomorrow, 13 May, at 12pm, and they sell out immediately. I managed to bag a room there for £29 last year, and it's the most brilliant bargain: rooms are small but perfectly formed, there's a coffee machine that's free to use, it has a really buzzy bar downstairs and you get Pret a Manger stuff for breakfast. I really can't think of any other hotel that offers so much for so little.

Nearby, Nick Jones of Soho House recently opened Shoreditch House, where rooms start from £75. This sounds like another great deal – it's bound to be fabulous as everywhere he touches turns to gold, whether it's in Balham or Manhattan.

If you're in the market for style and luxury, Conran's Boundary is a seriously memorable place to stay. Voted Best New Hotel in London by CondĂ© Nast Traveller this year, it is all about attention to detail. Staff are smart yet chilled in Joe Casely-Hayford-designed uniforms. The bright, fresh ground floor shop/cafĂ©, Albion, has its own bakery, and seats outside to enjoy a coffee or fine breakfast and some prime people-watching. The 12 hotel rooms and five suites are themed by designer or design movement, from Eames and Le Corbusier to Bauhaus, and are immaculately beautiful and luxurious. Plus there’s tons of REN stuff in the bathroom which, shallow as I am, would make me supremely happy all by itself. But the icing on the cake, literally, is the rooftop bar and restaurant, complete with log fires, comfy seating and rugs for when it gets chilly. It’s a great place to eat and an even better place to drink, with magical city views, though it doesn't stay open very late in the evening (as it’s a residential area), which is a terrible shame – it’s such a romantic setting. Rooms start from £140 per night, though you’re looking at £200 for one of the extra-spacious corner rooms on a Saturday night. For a touch of style in the city, it ticks every box.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Spring staples at Uniqlo

Japanese high-street store Uniqlo doesn’t just pile them high, sell them cheap – like H&M and Topshop, it also has a serious knack of coming up with winning collaborations. Previous 'Designer Invitations' have included Alexander Wang and Philip Lim. Currently worth a look are the pieces designed by New York-based label, Costello Tagliapietro, such as this neat key neck dress (£24.99).

Uniqlo’s next team-up is with LA-based Velvet by Graham & Spencer who, like CT, specialise in easy-to-wear jersey separates. The Velvet collection of 14 pieces hits shops/website from 7 June, with a muted palette of khaki, grey and whites, with nothing over 15 quid (see the harem pants, right). Seeing as Velvet clothes generally start at £60 for a vest, this is a fine deal.

Uniqlo’s major coup has been to bag Jil Sander to create an affordable ongoing collection, +J; check out the cotton jackets for £50 quid and cropped trousers (£39.99) if you're after nifty and surprisingly well-made staples for a spring wardrobe. Uniqlo’s also particularly hot on T-shirt dresses right now; see the striped number by mintdesigns, £19.99, below, created by a couple of St Martin’s graduates.

Uniqlo’s stores are all in London so far – when are they going to head north? Their website is ok, but you only get one view of each piece and have to zoom in to see each piece in full. They do have sales pretty much all the time, though, so it’s worth signing up to their online newsletter; it comes annoyingly often but does mean you get first pick of bargains, which start from just a fiver.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Maxi skirts

Maxi skirt, £97, Alexander Wang

Long skirts and dresses are starting to sweep across the pavements for spring/summer. At last – a trend that doesn’t appeal to just one per cent of the population. It’s not often that the whims of designers appeal this naturally to anyone aged over 18, but the maxi does not call for good legs/toned arms/tiny waists – or, indeed, anything at all really. And anything to get away from these ‘jeggings’ – the leggings pretending they're jeans. Seriously, what is everyone thinking? Whatever Grazia says, they are appalling. Hideous. There is not a single person that actually looks good in them. They make your legs look like sausages, whatever your shape. Surely in years to come they will be THE item that people are truly mortified to have worn in the belief that they were fashionable.

Maxi dress, £615, Balenciaga

Anyway, back to skirts. While a tiny percentage of the population have the legs to pull off a mini or teeny denim shorts the minute the sun comes out, many more of us, aware of what our legs actually look like in the light of day, look for something less bare, but cooler and low-key.

So it's good news that the maxi's having a moment. Designers from Cavalli to Lanvin, Erdem to Diane von Furstenberg has gone long and luxurious with their skirts this season; check out Balenciaga's silk racer-back maxi dress in black and white print (see above). In the spirit of laidback luxe, all the best labels have done a great maxi skirt or dress this season, including Rick Owens and Acne, Vanessa Bruno and L’Agence (check out their jersey maxi, £169 and dresses online and at Selfridges) and Vanessa Bruno – they've all done a great maxi skirt. Also on this bandwagon are The Row (designed by the Olsen twins), with a gorgeous fitted jersey dress. And one of the best buys has to be the T by Alexander Wang split jersey skirt (see top), a sexy twist on the look. All the best maxi skirts seem to be black, though H&M’s leopard-print maxi (14.99) and Topshop’s 18 quid jersey number in khaki are fun.

I still have a floor-length silk Dries van Noten skirt in black I found at Whistles many years ago (remember when their main stores stocked the odd gem by designers too?). Silky and light as a feather, it can work with everything from a neat leather biker jacket and boots to dressier tops and heels for evening. Versatile, wearable – this trend’s got legs.

There’s another side to it, though. Stella McCartney’s billowing satin floral-print version has inspired a rash of followers and every high-street store seems to have wafty floral halterneck maxidresses in their windows just now. Which is fine if you have a holiday home in Hawaii or spend most of the year drifting around Ibiza, but acres of synthetic fabric is not going to do anyone any favours on the dirty rainy pavements of London/Dublin/Manchester…. It’s one thing to channel Jade Jagger or Talitha Getty, but quite another to end up looking like Nana Mouskouri. And many of these dresses are tiered, which makes things worse. While in Stella McCartney's hands this might look fabulous, in others it can move towards the meringue. And, rather than mask imperfections, a billowing dress will generally make the wearer look at least two dress sizes bigger. So go steady around those floral numbers.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Extraordinary Measures at Belsay Hall

'The Garden of Unearthly Delights' by Mat Collishaw. Courtesy of Haunch of Venison © Mat Collishaw

Just been to the new exhibition at Belsay Hall, Northumberland (until 26 September 2010). Everything about Belsay confounds expectations, and avoids being just another English Heritage house and garden by curating bold and innovative arts events. Previously, fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf and Stella McCartney have created installations to display here. Stella's stunning crystal horse (see picture, right), Lucky Spot, has been on show twice, to great effect. But now it has left the building to make room for works by a group of artists including Ron Mueck, whose six hyper-real sculptures, displayed throughout Belsay's austere 19th-century hall, are show-stopping. I thought the vast naked Wild Man might be a bit disturbing for young kids, but mine found him hilarious – though I'm not sure running round the room guffawing 'Look at his massive bottom' was quite the reaction Mueck had in mind. In the weird and wonderful Quarry Garden there's a giant window to step through, and stuffed squirrels and knitted robins to discover. Not all of it works, but the whole show (curated by Judith King) is bold, brave and unexpected. The star piece though, for me, is Mat Collishaw's zoetrope, The Garden of Earthly Delights, upstairs in the 14th-century castle. Far bigger than it appears above, it's simply dazzling: there was a gasp from the audience of all ages as it spun into life, like some vivid and dark scene from a Bosch painting. Worth the trip to Belsay in itself.