Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Gary Graham

In Dover Street Market, after a coffee in the petite and charming Rose Bakery on the top floor, I was drawn to a collection by Gary Graham, a New York-based designer I haven't come across before. Beautiful, quirky, reconditioned and seriously wearable fabrics and elegant shapes make the label stand out in an intimidatingly stylish crowd. I had my eye on a muted dove grey dress made of cashmere-soft jersey – one of those items you'd have and love for ever. Love the fact that DSM stock Labour & Wait homewares – their enamel milk pans and chunky dustpan and brushes have a strange allure.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Shoe time

All the boyish looks on the catwalk for this season make me crave a pair of brogues. But not a flimsy, girly, fake-leather pair – a solid, chunky man's shoe. Paul Smith, of course, always has this look sussed, and the Church's shoes on Net-a-Porter are beautifully made and will last for years. I spotted these ones by Irish designer Maud O'Keefe – who's worked for Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox – and reckon they're spot-on. Handmade in Italy, they are stocked in the small but beautifully formed 91b, the Margaret Howell boutique in Rathgar, Dublin. There are only men's sizes in at present, with smaller sizes coming soon. Distribution is limited, as the label only launched this year, but the two London stockists are Hostem in E2 and Joseph in SW3. The O'Keefe website is not madly helpful, with no prices, but it's clear that something this well-made and enduring is not going to clock in cheap (think £300 and up). They are, though, a wardrobe staple that kicks all those ungainly wedge shoes into touch.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Beauty picks...

Even in a market as competitive as skincare, some ranges just stand out from the crowd. It's especially exciting when a smaller independent brand delivers brilliant results - even without the vast budgets of the big companies, with their whopping resources for sourcing ingredients, R&D, advertising and so on. Some of the small guys deserve a great deal of attention. Emma Hardie, for example. A top facialist who's worked with Sophie Dahl (and did you see her skin on tv the other night?), Emma's skincare range, Amazing Face, is really up there in terms of efficacy as well as being an utter pleasure to use. Her Natural Lift and Sculpt Moringa Cleansing Balm (100ml, £34) is silky and rich in essential oils yet not greasy, and smells divine (that'll be the orange, neroli, rose and jasmine). While I'm not going to say it has either lifted or sculpted my face – think that would take rather more than a cleansing balm, however luscious – it's certainly one of the few cleansers I've tried that rival the brilliant Eve Lom. Remove with a microfibre cloths (£10 for pack of three) for best results. It can also double up as a lip balm or face mask. The night cream (£56) is brilliant, too. I'm not madly keen on the packaging, personally – but then, I'd rather have something that works like this on my shelf than a swanky pot of something useless.

Another small and singular range that's going places is Pai. A Soil Association-accredited organic range (used by Natalie Portman, if you care about such details), it was created for sensitive and reactive skin. It's incredibly gentle and free from synthetics/parabens, chemicals etc. I especially rate the Chamomile & Rosehip Organic Moisturiser (£24) and the Rosehip BioRegenerate (£20), a really concentrated form of rosehip oil which is not only a great moisturiser but can be very effective on soothing and healing skin, even on scarring. In simple, unpretentious bottles, this range is set to become as popular as 'clean' skincare range REN, I reckon. Visit www.paiskincare to learn more about the brand - you can even get free samples sent to you to give it a road-test.
Emma Hardie Amazing Face Night Cream

Monday, 25 July 2011

This is not an umbrella...

I know this looks like an umbrella. But it has a "designer-stamped" silver skeleton at the end of the handle, and it's by fashion house Alexander McQueen. It's "the edgiest way to stay dry in the city".

And it costs £355. Seriously - how hacked off would you be if you left this little number on the bus? Is it just me, or is this beyond silly....?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Back to black

Sorry for the long absence - I started a new job a month or so ago and have been adjusting to the new balance... and to being inhouse again after many years of freelancing. I have lots of new things to enthuse about, the first being these neat little ballerina pumps from Gap. My last post was also about shoes, and how easy they were compared to super-high heels. Well, low-heeled they might be, but after a day walking round a city in them, they may as well have been those drag queen-style Louboutins. These City Flats will now be a permanent fixture in my bag for emergency foot relief. Brilliantly, they fold in half, so are great for travelling, too. And they come in great shades, from shiny silver to copper and pewter. There are alot of metallic make-up shades around right now, and going into autumn, so these make a cute accompaniment. I can't find them on asos but they are available on (£19.95). Gap stores themselves can be a bit depressing; I always see great items in magazine features but once instore, everything looks rather brown and doesn't fit well. My local one feels more like an outlet store than anything. But they've always been smart on accessories, and this season's no exception.

I was in a city in heels at the launch of YSL's new autumn/winter beauty collections, the first full range by their international make-up artist Lloyd Simmonds, who took the helm last year and is clearly set to take the brand to ever-more glamorous and creative heights. More on this later – there are some really dazzling products to come in September. As an international launch it drew together beauty editors from Canada to Australia – and ALL of them were wearing black. In fact, at every beauty launch I've been to, anywhere, pretty well everyone wears head-to-toe black. The NARS people. The Chanel people. The Tom Ford people. The YSL people. So when you read all those magazine articles praising 'colour blocking' and how colour is 'it' and 'must-have' for this season, it's worth knowing that the people putting those magazines together are all wearing black. The lovely PR girl I was with was the exception to the rule, wearing the most shocking of shocking-pink jackets – a truly YSL shade. The French PRs – all incredibly stunning and effortlessly stylish, and called ridiculously gorgeous names like Emmanuelle – nearly passed out in shock when they saw it; although they work with dazzling colour day in, day out, they would never consider actually wearing it.... It's just interesting that black has become an unspoken uniform in industries such as fashion and beauty, when colour is such a vital part of these industries. I've worn predominantly black since I was a teenager (I remember a friend's mother asking me why I always wore black and was I a goth?), and still now I'd rather wear a dash of the brightest lipstick, or a thin line of, say, YSL's Absinthe Green eye pencil – surprisingly gorgeous on – than colourful clothes. Lloyd Simmonds told me that the modern way to wear bright, bold colour in make-up is not to go full-on with everything (lips, eyes, cheeks, the works), but just to add a touch of it on eyes or lips. Coloured mascaras are big again this season, for example, adding just a touch of unexpected colour. This, for me is why black is so much more than just a safe uniform, something we wear to blend in and not get it 'wrong'. I love the way black is a classic base for accessories and dashes of bright colour elsewhere – to make great shoes, or great lipstick, the focus instead. Yves Saint Laurent considered black a vital, affirming colour in itself – and that's something that really comes to life in the YSL make-up collection for the coming season.....

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Shoe time

Being pathetic at walking well in heels, I'm relieved that there are more mid-heels around just now. Silver Converse are great, but sometimes they just don't cut it, and you need just a bit of a lift to make trousers look smarter and legs a little longer. I came across these courts by Sam Edelman – an American brand launched five years ago – in Harvey Nichols (£120), though they're also available at Matches and, and are about to launch onto Every other shoe in HN's was around the £300 mark, whereas these aren't much more than you'd pay for a run-of-the-mill pair in Office. This nude, or 'truffle', colour is perfect for summer, and they're also available in black patent and other shades on the Sam Edelman website. They're set to go like hot cakes, I reckon....

Monday, 14 March 2011

RE goes to London

Liberty always have an eye for the brightest and best in everything from fashion to perfume, so it's great to hear that they've picked up on the North East's finest, RE. A perfect partnership. If you're in London over the next few months, nip in to Liberty and discover the RE pop-up shop (from 6 April to 17 August). We've raved about RE's products before - from their sell-out paper Christmas decorations (see post Star in the North, 24 November) to their gorgeous homewares. I love their chunky American green glass bowls, jugs and cakestands (now also in pink) in particular, but you'll also find everything from traditional wooden deckchairs in fresh candy stripes to photographic print vegetable bags, from £16, bearing graphic pictures of courgettes or asparagus. Everything manages to be both beautiful and useful, and the store itself (in a village outside Newcastle) is always quirky and appealing without being twee. If you can't wait til April look at

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Swan song

Florence Welch in Givenchy at the Grammys, February 2011

Bjork wearing Marjan Pejoski, 2001

All the buzz about Black Swan has put ballet centre-stage this season. But beyond the leg-warmers and ballerina pinks, the swan itself is taking flight as a motif. Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine stole the show in this Givenchy swan dress at the Grammys the other night; though dramatic, it's certainly a more subtle look than the infamous Marjan Pejoski version that Bjork sported to the 2001 Oscars, which is more Rod Hull and Emu than Swan Lake.

The swan is prettier than the bright fruit and loud flowers going around. I've mentioned Tucker's fabulous swan-print blouses and dresses, below, in a previous post (22 Jan). Other takes on the trend include Markus Lupfer's beaded and sequinned swan T-shirt dress (£195) and Emma Cook's Sea Swan print T (£155), both at asos (Cook's swan dresses are available at Harvey Nichols). Aurelie Biderman's swan feather earrings are as delicate as they are pricey (£780); a cheaper alternative is Ridley & Dowse's stainless steel necklace (£38.50) from And Tory Burch's swan wedges have a quirky charm about them for summer.

Edition at Debenhams

Black spot-print mini dress, £45, Jonathan Saunders/Edition at Debenhams

Debenhams gives its image a right old dust-off this week as a shower of young British talent bursts into its stores. Edition is their just-launched collaboration with the brightest of fashion names, including Preen, Jonathan Saunders and Jonathan Kelsey (with Roksanda Ilincic, her best-selling Whistles line already under her belt, joining in the autumn). The collection is available instore, online and, for a limited time, at a pop-up shop in London's Newburgh Street (just behind Liberty).

High fashion/high street collaborations are so common now, and although surely reached a peak with Lanvin for H&M, are still hugely welcome. H&M's coups are certainly hard to beat – as well as Lanvin, big guns have included Stella and Jimmy Choo – but Debenhams have been bold and streetwise poaching Saunders and the rest to pep up their spring offering. Kelsey's shoes, from flats to sexy courts and wedges, look more catwalk than high-street, but it's Saunders' range that really stands out, particularly the bold floral maxi dress at £85 and the sassy 1960s-style print minis.

Edition is well worth keeping an eye on over the following months, as the designers are involved for a minimum four seasons. What a welcome change from the rather tired Matthew Williamson range and its endless butterflies and peacocks. In Debenhams' home range, the Lisa Stickley homeware is worth a look; her cups and plates have a retro, Orla Kiely-type appeal and quirkiness, at a fair price.

You can get 20% off on fashion until tomorrow (although the downside is that you have to buy a copy of the Daily Mail. On second thoughts, it's really not worth it).

Shoes by Jonathan Kelsey/Edition at Debenhams

Friday, 11 February 2011

Flower power

Erdem spring/summer 2011

Turquoise floral shirt, £85, Liberty

This season, florals are not just confined to usual suspects such as Monsoon and Laura Ashley. From Chanel to Jil Sander and Marni, Christopher Kane and Jonathan Saunders (see below) to Etro and, of course, Erdem, the catwalks simply sang with colourful blooms, a bright welcome to a new season after a long cold winter.

Once you hit a certain age, florals start to sound like a rather dodgy proposition. A floral dress might look young and fresh on a 20-something, but does it become a little grannyish rather than breezy and bright as you get older? I think the answer is that a little flower power goes a long way. Liberty is always a good place to start for a well-cut floral shirt. Topshop's one-piece vintage floral swimsuit (£30) is fun, and their cream floral dress (£38) has an appealingly simple cut and would have a great vintage feel teamed with a little cardigan. Flowers are everywhere from brooches (see Lanvin's, above) to hats (at Reiss). Soon to be copied on a high street near you are Dolce & Gabbana's floral canvas shoes (as beautifully shot in this month's Red magazine, styled by Nicola Rose). I'm also drawn to the loud Paul Smith floral shirt in that shoot, above; a statement shirt for sure, and wearing it has to be uplifting. Red's tip is to team busy florals with cool Breton stripes – they seem to complement each other nicely.

Alongside florals are some seriously bold fruit prints, such as Stella McCartney's acid brights. And what's with those Miuccia Prada banana earrings? Priced £150. I had an identical pair in the '80s, wooden, bought no doubt in Miss Selfridge for a quid or two. How ageing it is to have worn something the last time they were around! I'm really not sure what makes them say 'high fashion' as opposed to 'Pat Butcher' now. I guess simply that Ms Prada has decreed it. Well, it has to be a good thing to be able to turn to fashion for some fun and frivolity – and, yes, a touch of the ridiculous – in times of such greyness and wintery moroseness.

Floral swimsuit, £30, Topshop

Floral print stretch-silk gown, £1,350, Jonathan Saunders

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Sarah Murray, owner of Edinburgh boutique Jane Davidson, sure stole a march on Harvey Nichols by stocking one of the very hottest designer names of the moment, Erdem. Although available online and at Browns in London, with Erdem's stunning prints and sumptuous fabrics you really want to see them in the flesh. The even better news is that Jane Davidson is currently holding a fairly dramatic sale – but not for much longer, so be quick – including discounts of up to 80 per cent. The nude lace Lavinia dress by Erdem above is £517 down from a stonking £1,725, while the Angelica swallow-print dress, hot off the autumn/winter 2010 catwalk, is £274, also 70 per cent off. There are also silk Tucker blouses (see post 22 January) from around £70 and some leather-look J Brand Agnes cropped jeans for £88 instead of the hefty usual price of £295. When's the next train north?...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Too cool for school

For a touch of nostalgia, the newly re-released Dr Martens leather satchel is hard to beat. The fact that it's so Alexa Chung may or may not put you off, but one thing's for sure, it's a whole lot cheaper (£125) than the Mulberry bag named after her, as well as being rather refreshingly old-school. There are only 350 made across five colours – cherry-red (above), black, white, green and navy. If you buy online, next-day delivery is free (over £50). Practical, roomy and even better when battered around a bit. Stickers and graffiti optional.

I admit to having a soft spot for DMs that goes back to my stomping-around teenage years. The chunkier versions in bright reds and yellows may be a bit strong on attitude for those of us over, say, 20 – but then, eye-wateringly bright colours are big on the radar for spring. And there are plenty of less in-your-face alternatives, such as the Pascal boot in grey (£75), below, that look pretty good with a maxi skirt and come into their own when there are inches of snow/mud/rain en route.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Back in 2005, Gaby Basora realised that all the compliments she received about the silk blouses she made herself could kickstart a whole new career. A year later, her blouses were flying off the rails at Barneys New York, and by 2010 she was being stocked in more than 200 top stores around the world. Last September she collaborated with retail giant Target, one of the biggest retailers in the States; previous designers to be involved include Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Anna Sui and Mulberry.

Now stocked everywhere from Net-a-porter to Harvey Nichols, Tucker is clearly one of those labels that's quietly going from strength to strength. So what's all the fuss about?

I first saw Basora's silk blouses and shirt dresses in Seagreen boutique, Dublin, standing out from choice pieces by Paul & Joe, APC and J Brand. It's no surprise to read that Basora admires the prints and textures of Dries van Noten – the vibrancy of her prints, from antique-style florals to bold plaids, brings the brilliant Belgian designer to mind. The light yet sensuous silk blouses and tunic dresses have a simple elegance and insouciance, and seem right in tune with the Isabel Marant/L'Agence/Acne mood of the moment. Because the silk is the perfect weight and texture, each dress is neither flimsy nor transparent but has an unfussy effortlessness about it.

Her collections are pared down, consisting of a few carefully edited shapes that work, described simply as the tunic; the dress; the camisole. The prints, on the other hand, have romantic, rather florid titles such as Elodie's Grand Mere and Winnie's Flapper Floral Dress, hinting at the inspiration behind them. If, like me, you struggle to find the perfect summer dress – something that's light and cool yet ageless (not too girly or revealing), I reckon Basora's are right on the money. They convey an instant relaxed chic, and this cool wearability is what's making this label so desirable right now.

Check out Basora's website – – to see more of her collections, with star sale buys including the Vintage Tucker Long tie Dress (274) in vermillion silk, a bold and brilliant shade that will see you through spring/summer 2011's block colour trend, something that even the most committed black-wearers among us are going to find it hard to resist.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Going Underground

Espresso cups and saucers, £32.99, London Transport Museum shop

I got a perfect Christmas present this year: my very thoughtful brother bought me a huge bag of Colombian coffee beans from Monmouth Coffee Stores, together with this box of espresso cups and saucers. I was seriously chuffed, and am happily spending January wired to the moon while everyone around me detoxes. The cups are from the London Transport Museum shop, which is full of great quirky gifts.

It's a weirdly compelling shop. You can order a sofa covered in the fabric used on Underground trains – they look better than they sound – or buy a striking London Underground film map, which has the usual station names replaced by film titles (below, £9.95). There's also everything from mugs bearing the name of your favourite Underground station – should you have one – to a shopping bag (£9.99) designed by Ella Doran which pays tribute to the number 38 bus.

Love 38 bag by Ella Doran, £9.99

Apart from the coffee stakes, here are some other good things about 2011 so far...

Reading Skippy Dies, and Justine Picardie's biography of Chanel. Watching The King's Speech and looking forward to Black Swan.

Booking ahead: to see Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss star in Children's Hour at The Comedy Theatre, London. Then there's Derek Jacobi in the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear, and Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Both Lear and Frank are courtesy of the magnificent National Theatre Live, which brings London's best theatre productions to your local cinema. I know, I sound like their PR person, but I think it's brilliant the way they are making theatre accessible like this.

Staying (in my dreams): at the brand-new St Pancras Renaissance, with its Marcus Wareing dining room; and Fergus Henderson's new hotel in London's Chinatown.

Trying out: sailing in Dun Laoghaire harbour; baking at the brilliant Cake Cafe in Dublin, probably the best cafe in the city.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Great coats

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

Sales time is when we all go completely TK Maxx, and buy a whole load of stuff we wouldn't normally look twice at, because it's reduced. From designer jeans a size too small (to diet into) and brightly coloured satin dresses for a party (though you'll inevitably leave it in the wardrobe in favour of something black), there are a million mistakes on hangers just waiting to happen. Far better to avoid the over-crowded rails entirely and invest in a great coat, for now, for next winter and for many years beyond.

I've written about Burberry's coats before (see post of 7 June 2010:, because this last season's collection has been such a stormer. Military is a look that returns time and time again as autumn approaches, either in subtle details or, as in Burberry's case, with a full-on battle cry.

Watching The Great Escape in the quiet days after Christmas was like seeing Burberry's autumn/winter collection in action, from the felt greatcoats to the aviator jackets (see film still, below) and, of course, the classic pea coat that looks so dashing on Steve McQueen (as do most things, to be fair).

There are some good reductions in the sale online, such as this greatcoat at £525 down from £750. Still a hefty investment, then, but one that will endure from this winter on.

Wool military coat, £525 (was £750)

Stills from The Great Escape