Manolo Blahnik Exhibition at the Wallace Collection


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!

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

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.

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.

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  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.