Manolo Blahnik Exhibition at the Wallace Collection

OR

If I had shoes like this, I’d keep them under a glass dome on the mantelpiece too!

Have you even meant to visit the Wallace Collection when in London and then been distracted by Selfridges en route?

Well if you’re in town this weekend and can spare the time, you can be one of the final visitors to see the wonderful Manolo Blahnik exhibition which showcases shoes from Blahnik’s private archives alongside pieces in the Wallace collection that relate to them, including the slippers inspired by ‘The Swing’ -one of the world’s most risque paintings.

The last day is Sunday 27th October and it’s Free!

www.wallacecollection.org

Not for walking the Dog

Perhaps, like me, you don’t know much about Manolo Blahnik shoes other than that they are expensive, impractical, if not impossible to wear outdoors, and exquisitely beautiful. Many’s the time I’ve pressed my nose against the shop window in the Burlington Arcade in awe, as they are like no other shoes.

A little Luxury, Beauty and History for your Feet

Now I know why they are different. What the exhibition shows is how much inspiration Manolo, the master shoe designer, has drawn from objects in the collection. He has spent many hours in the museum and archives. Each shoe is full of history and, as the Wallace Catalogue says, they ‘evoke a world of luxury and beauty and echo the qualities of skill and creativity found in the art.’

The shoes are displayed throughout the Collection set next to themes and objects that have ‘found their expression in the shoes.’

The Swing – Outrageously Rude

One of the most fun exhibits is the juxtaposition of a splendid selection of pink Blahnik slippers with Fragonard’s Les Hasards Heureux de L’Escarpolette – or ‘The Swing’, which he painted because he needed the money, but which is now considered his most iconic work. A cursory glance at the painting suggests a chocolate boxey picture of a lady in a pink dress of Molly Goddard/Vilanelle proportions, having a nice time on a swing flinging her shoe into the air.

A second glance shows a delighted lover enjoying an unhindered view up her skirts as she lifts her leg. Meantime, behind her, the cuckolded husband is pushing the swing, while a cherub looks on with his finger to his lips in a sort of complicit secrecy.

It’s highly suggestive, beautifully painted and depicts just the sort of thing one should be doing in one’s Manolo’s!

Aesop Post-Poo Drops


Zut Alors! The Elegant Bathroom Solution for Odeur de Merde!


Now here’s a conundrum. You’ve just got/are about to get, the bathroom of your dreams. It is/it will be 10% over budget and 6 weeks behind schedule but it’s wonderful to stand and admire it/imagine it in all its finished glory.

So what style have you opted for? Turkish Hammam, Tuscan Rustic or minimalist white?

Elegant and sleek – So where do you put the big Air Freshener can?

Whatever the choice, there’s one small problem – what to do with that garish, industrial sized aerosol can of ‘Neutrapong’ that lives in every bathroom. It’s too big to go in the bathroom cabinet and if you put it next to the toilet bowl (one of those funny shaped toilets perhaps) it ruins the carefully and expensively curated decor.

Post-Poo Drops: Apothecary Chic

www.Aesop.com

The quirkiest ‘beauty’ product you never knew you needed

The good news is that there is now a solution – from the folks down under. This is the Australian Natural Skincare company Aesop and their product ‘Post Poo Drops’ or to give it it’s more graphic French title ‘Gouttes Anti-Odeur de Merde’.

This little bottle must win the prize in the ‘product bought as a joke and then found to be seriously good’ category. It does tick all the boxes of being small, chic and has a classy, fresh citrussy fragrance.

I came across this by accident, after wandering into Aesop in the hope of finding Christmas presents while on Marylebone High Street. This is arguably one of the most upmarket streets on the planet, with a refined elegance that rises above base bodily functions.

So to have an assistant wander over to me, amid the beautifully understated and fragrant interior of the Aesop store and then start talking about ‘poo’ struck me as so incongruous (and a bit shocking)  that I was jolted into buying some. And kept it. And yes, it’s good. Plus they give you loads of free samples of their other products which are terrific, especially the hair balm.

Now at £20.00 a pop, Post Poo Drops aren’t cheap and I can hear you saying ‘£20.00!!, I can buy a lifetime’s worth of Neutrapong for that.’ And you’d be correct.

From Aesop to Aldi…..


The Excellent Aldi Lime Basil and Mandarin Reed Diffuser

So here’s what to do. You’ve probably got one or two of those reed diffuser thingies in your bathroom as well. These may well have cost upward of £40.00 (anything less is normally a bit Yuk.) So when it runs out, just nip along to Aldi and buy their Lime, Mandarin and Basil reed diffuser instead (there are other fragrances in the range but I’m told they are a bit ‘challenging’). It’s £3.99 and looks and smells like a million dollars. Job done!

Statement Jewellery

Or Why Diamonds aren’t always a Girl’s Best Friend

Suma Collar by Azza Fahmy

I’ve met Joanna Lumley! Yes, and properly too, in as to shake hands and exchange  a few words before she was moved on to someone more interesting. She looked Absolutely Fabulous, of course, despite the unsympathetically lit surroundings (it was at the Buxton Festival). Her outfit was an effortlessly chic, plain black, wafty trouser suit with a necklace that my parent’s generation would have called a ‘right Bobby Dazzler’. Or what the Fashion Industry might solemnly refer to as a ‘statement piece.’ This particular necklace was made of spangly discs of silver, lots of them, and looked terrific. It cleverly transformed a simple outfit into something unforgettable. Naturally, I immediately identified a gap in my wardrobe and voiced the existence of that void to anyone who would listen.

The Toilet Chain

Shortly after, I was given a box from Butler and Wilson – a present ‘from the dogs.’ Inside was a chunky necklace with a gobstopper sized amber glass ‘jewel’ on a chain that was so thick and heavy, it almost made you stoop. I loved it and christened it ‘the toilet chain’.

The Toilet Chain

Its first outing was to a very smart event of cocktails, canapes and dinner in Mayfair where a lot of super discreet Cartier and Tiffany was (subtly) in evidence. Competing in the midst of it all was the humble toilet chain, decorating my all-black ensemble. And guess what won! Yes!! Never have I had so many compliments on anything I’ve worn before and this from people whose taste I respect and who, frankly, ought to have known better!

So what’s the moral of this tale? Well, diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but you can have an awful lot more fun wearing a lump of brown glass dangling from a stainless steel chain.

Wearable Art

Messing about with bling is great – but what if you want something special? A piece that makes more of a statement about who you are? Perhaps individually designed, skilfully handcrafted and with a bit more of a ‘soul’ than a toilet chain?

Where to begin?

You could start with two of my favourites. One is Giovanni Raspini, the other is Azza Fahmy. Why? Well,firstly are they brilliant designers. Second, they are absolute masters of their craft. Finally they are both real people whose passion really shines through in their jewellery and gives it that ‘soul’.

What’s more, unlike diamonds, which are mainly for special occasions, you can wear most of their pieces with anything – from that dress that cost you an arm and a leg, to jeans and a simple t-shirt (or do a Joanna Lumley with that all-black ensemble). The standard of craftsmanship means they are robust enough to wear everyday, even for ham fisted people like me.

Giovanni Raspini,

The pictures below show a selection of Tuscan Artisan Silversmith, Giovanni Raspini’s work.  These can range from the understated and simple to spectacular flights of fancy. I love how versatile it is to wear and the attention to the tiniest detail. I have a bracelet of his which has a ‘secret’ tiny engraving of the date it was given to me. He launches new themes each season. The pieces here here include the sea themed Nautilus and Panthera, reflecting animal strength.

Azza Fahmy

Azza Fahmy is Egyptian. She and her team create astonishingly beautiful and mystical jewellery based on craftsmanship and techniques that were used thousands of years ago. She works with a mixture of precious metals and precious and semi precious stones and often incorporates messages in Arabic. The necklace I have makes me feel very special whenever I wear it.

That’s it! It has been a long blog and I do hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please do send me your comments and pictures of your favourites. It’s always good to make new discoveries.

The Power of Fragrance to Sustain you.

Idle. Abstract yet Compelling

Work Stressful? Brexit getting you down? Here’s a little story about how the right fragrance can lift your spirits and give you some temporary relief.

A while back, I was visiting customers in Wiltshire. The last stop was to see the entrepreneur Susie Willis who was in the final stages of developing the packaging for her cult Skincare Brand, Romilly Wilde. That day she was working out of her ‘Wiltshire Office’ a beautiful old Rectory in one of the loveliest villages I have ever seen.

Susie Willis. Founder of Romilly Wilde

It happened that she was finalising the first fragrance of the range. This is called ‘Idle’ because it captures those wonderful moments of languor and a lot more besides to make it ‘abstract yet compelling’.

Before I left the meeting for the long journey back to Cheshire, Susie sprayed a generous amount on my wrists from the little tester pack she had. It was a little lifesaver: the motorways were pretty much clogged the whole way and it took me about 5 hours. Each time I met a fresh traffic queue, I’d inhale deeply. Idle’s complex notes temporarily spirited me away and made the whole journey a bit more bearable. What’s more, it lasted the whole 5 hours!

That journey stands out among all the long tedious car journeys I’ve had – for all the right reasons. Such is the power of fragrance. And yes, I did buy it when it was launched!

So if you’ve got some truly grim meetings or journeys coming up, go out and snaffle a few testers of your favourites to apply. It won’t make it better but it could provide some lovely distractions.

How to choose the right fragrance from 400 unknowns.

The two quotes above are the philosophies on which my next subject – Roullier White, London seems to have been founded. It is a shop of two halves. The front part showcases an almost unique, carefully curated collection of the most beautifully designed and yet functional homewares, ceramics, scarves, slippers and toiletries – and more. These have been sourced by Michael Donovan, the MD who has travelled the world to seek them out. Most are made by skilled craftspeople. He also sends out an interesting newsletter every Saturday morning which is like hearing from a friend. www.roullierwhite.com

Michael Donovan, MD of Roullier White and Creative Director of St Giles Fine Fragrance

So what’s this got to do with Perfume? Well, in the back ‘second half’ section is ‘The Perfumery’ – a splendid oasis of about 400 niche luxury fragrances from around the world, made by small artisanal brands. There is nothing here that you will find in Duty Free.

Michael told me why he has created this: ‘’I have worked in the industry for over twenty years and perfume is my passion. I look for talent and a unique voice and my job is make others as excited about scent as I am. Because our sense of smell is tied to memory, a fragrance can transport us through time and space in an instant – much like music.’’

The Perfumery at Roullier White

If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can find the shop on the iconic Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, a locale described by Time Out as having ‘a fine abundance of indie shops and an easy-going vibe.’

I’ve visited twice, there’s plenty of great coffee shops and places to eat and there’s also the fantastic Dulwich Picture Gallery nearby. It’s worth taking a morning or afternoon out to explore.

So how do you pick your special fine fragrance from over 400 unknowns? Well on my visit I was first asked what notes I wanted: spicy, citrussy, floral, a mixture and so forth. The staff really know their stuff and picked a few to spray on those tester sticks then whittled down the selection to the ones you spray on your skin to see how they respond.

You have to be disciplined and limit yourself as your ‘nose’ gets tired and, even with the fresh coffee beans they offer you to refresh your sense of smell, you will find yourself struggling if you try too many.

In my case, I’d intended to buy spicy but finally chose citrus. A fragrance called ‘Mediterraneo’ which instantly transported me to Tuscan lemon groves (despite never having been to either Tuscany or a lemon grove).

 This is from the Capri based brand Carthusia, whose origins hark back to a centuries old formula by Italian monks, so I suppose they’ve had plenty of time to get it right. Allegedly it’s also one of George Clooney’s favourites, so you could also give it to your partner to wear and then close your eyes and imagine…..

The Mechanic – transforming the smells of the mechanics pit – oil and rubber, fuel, hot skin into something magnetic and muscular

Since my visit, Michael has launched his own fragrance collection called St Giles, with great names like ‘The Actress’, ‘The Tycoon’ and ‘The Mechanic’ above. (This latter sounds pretty physical, so not for the faint hearted). They are available in Selfridges so I’m keen to give them a try this weekend.

Now this exploring is all very well but what if you want to get started right away and don’t have a great ‘Fragrance Destination’ near you? Don’t worry.

Firstly, you may be unaware of what’s actually on your doorstep. Go to www.trouva.com  the website for buying online from cool independent shops and put ‘perfume’ into their search box (not ‘fragrance’ as you’ll get scented candles and reed diffusers). You’ll be astonished at the myriad fragrances that come up and the dozens of local boutiques that offer them, often buried among what might be their eclectic mix of accessories, clothes and other lovely things for the home.

Alternatively, Roullier White (and probably others) offer a sampling service online where you can input the names, notes or nose of the sort of fragrance you want to try. A selection pops up and, for a small fee, you will be sent a few 2ml samples. That way, you’ll have saved the cost of the train/air fare to London.

Spend it on a second bottle!

And now, enough. The next and final fragrance tale will follow in a few days.

Stuck In a Fragrance Rut? Here’s how to find your New Niche.

Nick Steward, Founder of Gallivant and award winning fragrance ‘London’

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Hands up if, instead of conventional perfume and because you were strapped for cash, you used Vanilla Essence (as suggested by Woman’s Own) or Patchouli Oil (if you wanted to smell like you’d been hanging out in Marrakesh?) Did it work?

Did you then graduate to being a devotee of Body Shop Dewberry or White Musk, before settling on a couple of Major Brand fragrances that became your ‘signature scents’? And have you stayed with those ever since? If the answer is yes, and you think you’re in a ‘Fragrance Rut’, how about venturing off the beaten track for something different to redefine you?

Over the last few years, in line with many things ‘artisanal’ there has been a rise in niche fragrances. These are the ones created and launched by courageous, pioneering entrepreneurs aiming to distil something unique, that will capture the elusive – a feeling, association or memory that other scents don’t deliver. There has never been a better time to explore and discover a new ‘signature scent’.

Now, I’m not going to give you a list of ones to try- that’s no fun. Instead, over the next couple of Blogs, I’m going to tell you three stories about how I found the new brands that I currently love. This is not because I think you should buy them; signature scents and fragrances are just too individual for that. What I want to do is offer some food for thought and suggest pointers to some of the more rewarding hunting grounds. The less obvious places beyond Department Store franchises and the Duty Free at the airport, so you can enjoy making your own special finds.

Part of the pleasure I take in the fragrances has become the unexpected gems of shops I’ve discovered and the people I’ve met in them. And a little disclaimer here – these are my personal passions, I’m not affiliated with any of the names that follow.The first of my favourites is the new London Indie Brand, Gallivant by Nick Steward. I initially read about this collection via the Times Beauty columnist, India Knight (no relation to me, alas) who confesses she is ‘obsessed’ and has now written two articles about how she loves the brand.

Ambery, woody and spicy. Where East meets West. The mysterious Istanbul

Gallivant perfumes are like nothing I have ever come across before. Each of the Brand’s fragrances reflects the essences of the major city it is named after. In the words of their website ‘is about the pleasures of Urban exploration. Sights, sounds, smells…. The collection of unisex Eau de Parfum is inspired by the breezy vibe of the coolest, most creative urban destinations.’

 And India Knight admits she would like to ‘bathe in Istanbul’, ‘and that they all ‘smell really, really good.’ 

She’s right! I’ve now bought three of them as I couldn’t decide – namely, London, Berlin and Brooklyn – something I’ve never, ever done before!

Nomad 2ml sampler Set. Try them all!

The little expedition to give them a try took me to Pulse of Perfumery in Knutsford – one of the few places in the UK outside London that currently stock Gallivant. This is a truly great shop: specialist, independent and selling niche, exclusive and unexpected fragrances.

Pulse Of Perfumery, Knustford

From the moment you enter, your spirits are lifted by the wonderful smells and  the sights of rows of sparkling bottles. The proprietor Peter’s expertise and enthusiasm are a joy and he allows you the time and space to deliberate. It all contributes to the pleasure of discovering something new and different.  So now whenever I wear Gallivant, I have the memory of how and where I bought it as well as the city it evokes.

Gallivant stockists are scattered around the world – perhaps in an off-the – beaten-track ‘fragrance destination’ near you. Why not seek one out, experiment, get distracted and see if you can emerge feeling ever so slightly reinvented.

If you want to learn more about Gallivant, go to
https://www.gallivant-perfumes.com/collections/brooklyn/products/nomad-set-6-x-2ml

Coming Next -Two more tales to follow in the next few days including:

Finally, as a post script, please don’t get carried away by my prose about niche fragrances and chuck all your mainstream ones out! The collections of the established Fragrance Houses are made with as much passion and attention to detail as the smaller newer brands. In my years of working in the beauty industry I’ve been fortunate to visit one of the factories where the Chanel collections are filled and get an insider view of what goes in to delivering that perfect little package. I’ve noted the time and great care taken to macerate the precious oils. On the filling line everyone wears white gloves so they can handle and inspect every single packaging component – bottles, stoppers, and labels for the slightest flaw. The boxes are then wrapped in Chanel’s own bespoke cellophane because standard film does not have the right level of clarity they demand. And, of course, the smell is wonderful.

And as for the packaging, I regularly marvel at the custom design of perfumes like Marc Jacob Daisy, Dior’s J’Adore or YSL’s Black Opium. They are little miracles of packaging engineering. When you’re next in a Fragrance Hall or Airport Duty Free, try unleashing your inner packaging nerd and take time to admire them.

Leopard print – It’s not too late to Rock It!

First, for the avoidance of any doubt – this piece is about animal print on fabric – not animal fur or skin.

So, to begin – two things that I have resisted wearing all my life – animal print and pussy cat bow blouses. There have been two exceptions to this. The first is back in the 1980’s when I bought an off-white polyester blouse with appropriate Thatcherite bow, to wear with a grey suit, for my first interview for a job in ‘Business’.

Reader, I got the job! It’s possible I still have the blouse, polyester being pretty much indestructible.

More recently I bought some Stella McCartney knickers  – significantly reduced from The Outnet – with a subtle peach leopard print. So subtle in fact, I didn’t realise that’s what it was at first. Stella McCartney makes great underwear, there was no way I was going to return such a bargain despite the pattern or the ‘hand wash only’ instruction (as if……).

Now, unless you’ve been living on another planet, you will not have been able to escape the prints of leopards, tigers and other endangered big cats which have dominated almost every type of clothing or accessory collection ranging from the dizzy heights of Chanel, Gucci et al, to M&S to Primark, last season.

For a while I stuck to my principles and ignored the whole trend, dismissing it as a one-season wonder, but then saw a blouse in The Times from John Lewis (Somerset Range) rather liked it, tried it on in the Oxford Street Store and – here it is! And yes, it’s got a pussy-cat bow as well! What’s more, I love it.

The reason I like it is because the colours are strong, the print is bold and the fabric is weighty and drapes beautifully. Different from some of the ones out there are a bit, well …. Meh. More of a timorous token gesture to the trend

So here I am, looking a bit dishevelled, the bow coming undone, with a generous glass of red wine in one hand and Giovanni Raspini, a brilliant Tuscan artisan silversmith (more about him another time) on the other, at the launch of his 2019 collection.

Now, the good news is that the animal print party isn’t over, there are plenty of lovely new pieces out there for Spring and Summer. So, if you felt you missed out this winter, there’s still time to give it a try. Just don’t be subtle, go for a big statement print and then rock it for all it’s worth while it’s still ‘on trend.’

The Colour Purple

‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go….’ The famous opening lines of Jenny Jones’s, ‘Warning’? . It’s a truly wonderful poem with some unforgettably vivid images, especially the very satisfying line: ‘running my stick along the public railings’.

Yet although I love the poem, Isn’t it time to challenge it? Would our Baby Boomer generation still agree with the sentiment? Is that what a 21st century ‘Old Woman’ wants or needs to be?

‘Making up for the sobriety of my youth’ was the  reason Jenny Jones aspired to this. However, when we were teenagers of the 60’s and 70’s, were we sober? Ours – the generation who swooned over Elvis, screamed at The Beatles and Rolling Stones, read Oz Magazine under our desks, watched Woodstock, dabbled later in Punk – and a lot more besides?

Scarf from Liberty. Bat wings model’s own!

 We rebelled against the drab, spirit sapping  conformity of the 1950’s, which stifled Jenny Jones. We horrified the older generation by wearing teeny mini skirts, (thank goodness tights had just been invented and heavy beige Max Factor Pan Stick on our lips. Then later it was tie dye tops, cheesecloth, loon pants and floppy hats, followed in the 1970’s by bin liners and safety pins. Not to mention other ideas in the poem like picking flowers from other people’s gardens (if you were a flowerchild) and learning to spit (if you were that sort of Punk)! We did pretty much everything in the poem and more besides.

So, if we have already experienced the exhilaration of our own version of ‘Warning’ in the days of our youth, where do we go from here? How to avoid sobriety and invisibility setting in? I don’t have all the answers but there’s plenty of inspiration out there.

So I thought I’d start, like the poem, with the colour purple, as I seem to have acquired quite a bit of. Here are my very conservative attempts. The shoes above are Bottega Veneta: an extravagant pre Christmas present to myself. They are not only divine but also very comfortable, beautifully made and go with everything. The scarf above is Liberty. Light as a cloud and a Christmas present to accompany the shoes.

Another Liberty scarf. Coat Hobbs from a few seasons ago. Possibly more mauve than purple.

Purple, my experimenting reveals, goes brilliantly with navy and demin, which is just as well. Have a go. I bet your efforts are better than mine. I’d love to see and I hope this has made you smile.