Monday, 31 October 2011

Meet Vladimir

Sewn from a furry sock, stuffed with old stockings, wings made from a single feather, pointy cardboard beak stitched on, Vladimir was the centre-piece and star of my Halloween costume.  He's now in retirement and has come home to live with me.

I was going to post about my whole costume this evening but circumstances have got in the way, unfortunately.  I will return just as soon as I have the time but for now, happy Halloween, my lovely readers!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Back to Greenwich Mean Time

This is one of my most favourite days of the year.  The day the clocks go back, when we leave British Summer Time and return to Greenwich Mean.

Image source

I know lots of people hate losing that hour of light at the end of the day but I love it.  I think it's entirely Romantic (with a capital "R", that is, in the vein of the Romantic movement).  I love being out as the sky darkens early, whilst shops and cafes and museums remain open, with warm, glowing light pouring through their windows, and people still hustling and bustling about.  

Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott clock, 1900-1905 (Source: V&A)

I love the weather - brisk and cold, perhaps with some weak sun, perhaps with a bit of drizzle, but always encouraging you to pull your coat around you and breathe in the cold air.  It's invigorating and exciting.  Winter is on its way and we're in for short days and long, cosy nights.  I do love the deepness of the darkest winter months that are rapidly drawing nearer.

David Bouquet clock, c.1650 (Source: V&A)

It bothers me immensely that the government are talking about having British Summer Time hours in winter and "double summer" in the middle of the year.  For one thing, it doesn't mean we'll have any more light, it just means that the mornings will stay darker even later, making it especially hard to get out of bed.  I don't mind the sun setting early but dark mornings are a challenge!

Clock of unknown maker, Staffordshire, c.1760-1780 (Source: V&A)

Secondly, I think it's an absolute travesty that we will never be on Greenwich Mean Time!  As an historian, that really bothers me.  It has its roots in our proud maritime history, with ships being able to calculate their longitude using GMT, therefore being vital to navigation.  Its history also embraces another era of great significance - the Industrial Age - when the railways were laid out across Britain.  This was when the whole nation adopted GMT as it allowed more sense to be made of railway timetables.  Prior to this, each area had its own local time.

Lewis Foreman Day clock, c.1880 (Source: V&A)

The changing of the clocks isn't that old a practice, only having been introduced in 1916 during the First World War, partly as a measure to save on coal.  The thought was that if the evenings were lighter for longer, less fuel would be needed for lighting.  It's stuck ever since then but, as part of this current, silly debate about GMT, British Summer Time, and Double Summer Time some people are mooting for the tradition to be abolished, so that we are permanently on Summer Time - in line with the rest of Europe.

B.E. Co Clock, 1935 (Source: V&A)

Anyway, enough of that silliness.  I, for one, hope that it stays the same so that we don't lose the small delight of the changing clocks each autumn and spring.  But for the moment, I'll just enjoy the rest of my long evening on this, the first back in GMT.  Think it's time for a glass of wine and a bit of classic horror in honour of Halloween tomorrow.  If only I had some chestnuts on hand to roast and tuck into as I watched...

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Halloween is Hovering on the Horizon...

Whilst searching for a night to go to this Halloween weekend, I had the strange experience of stumbling across a picture of myself from two years ago on Flickr...

Hiding in the shadows, silently casting black magic... or so it appears (Source: David Webb UK)

Has this ever happened to you?  It's slightly disconcerting...  But, I have to say, at least it's a cool picture.  Despite the fact I'm looking a tad moody, there skulking in the background whilst the other girls in the picture are grinning, I was actually having a great evening.  It was a B-Grade horror-themed event at The Fox in Shoreditch.  I stumbled across the picture as I searched to see if there was anything similar on there this year.  Alas, there doesn't appear to be (well, as far as I can make out without actually making the effort to enquire with them directly), so I've ended up looking elsewhere.

After much searching, my fellow fancy-dressing friend and I have come up with a short-list but have still yet to bite the bullet on one.  We have fabulous costumes coming together though which I hope turn out as amazingly as we're picturing them.  We're going to attempt to put together my original idea of The Birds - believe it or not, wish me luck on that one - and her costume is going to be in the same theme...  I'll leave it there for now but will be sure to share more when the moment comes!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

All Dressed Up...

Today I went to catch the last day of the Glamour of the Gods exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which was a collection of Hollywood portraits from the 1920s to 1960s.

Whilst I was looking a picture of Marilyn Monroe, a lady came up to me and said, "You've obviously come from somewhere nice.  You're all dressed up".  To which I responded, blushing, "No, this is just my weekend wear", which she said was wonderful, making me blush further!  Unfortunately, I don't have an outfit photo for you to form your own opinions, but I was just in a full-skirted dress with bare back (It was hot in there!  I'd had to take off my jacket...), understated kitten heels and a bit of lipstick - quite a standard outfit for me.  Don't get me wrong though, I was flattered by her comments!

I do often have people surprised about what I wear on my "days off".  I don't know about everyone else, but I almost always dress more up than down on the weekends, no matter what I'm doing.  I have a bunch of dresses that I feel aren't quite right for the office which I relish wearing on the weekends.  They're not evening dresses, they're just perhaps a tad too... playful for the office.  That sounds a bit suspect but you know what I mean - full skirts and petticoats, strappy backs, that kind of thing.  Rather than showgirl outfits, which is what you might have thought with the "playful" description!

I guess I just don't understand the casual-on-the-weekend concept.  I take my non-work days as the chance to wear exactly what I want, and to experiment with hair and make-up as I don't have to be in a mad, morning rush.  I also find it's a good time to trial more quirky ensembles to see if I feel comfortable carrying them off in general public before unleashing them on my workplace.

I'd be curious to know, how does your weekend wardrobe compare to your weekday one?

Oh, and as I mentioned it, below are a few favourite pictures from the Glamour of the Gods exhibition.  Enjoy!  And hope you all have a good week, whatever you wear!

Louise Brooks by E.R. Richee (Source)

Carole Lombard by William Thomas (Source)

Michele Morgan by Ernest A Bachrach (Source)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Love letter from ... Somerset

Off to Wells tomorrow!

Image source

Unfortunately, unlike in 1931 when the above poster was produced, there's no longer a train station there so neither Southern Railways nor any other trains can take me all the way there.  However, I can get the train to Bristol, from whence I will get the bus.  Which means I get to stop off in Bristol, which can only be a good thing!  And then, once in Wells, an overnight stay in a 15th century coach inn.

Ooooh, lovely!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Greatest Hotel in London

One of my favourite items in the small museum in the Savoy is the letter addressed to "The Greatest Hotel in London", on which the person at the mail sorting office has written "Try Savoy Hotel, WC2". And I think I would have suggested the same, as this really is a wonderful place.

Now, I know this is my THIRD post about the same evening but really, the other two posts weren't so much about the hotel and the loveliness on offer there.  I really wanted to dedicate a post to the place itself.

Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos of the hotel itself to share with you.  That's largely because it's one of those places that has an air about it that makes you want to just swan about, rather than desperately click away with a camera...  But not to fear, I borrowed some from their website instead, just to give you an idea of the place.

(c) Fairmont Hotels

(c) Fairmont Hotels

(c) Fairmont Hotels

(c) Fairmont Hotels

(c) Fairmont Hotels

The hotel was built in 1886-1889 for Richard D'Oyly Carte, while the forecourt was remodelled in the 1930s, hence the Art Deco elements.  The building is listed Grade II and, in the words of English Heritage's description, "D'Oyly Carte conceived his innovatory hotel on the latest American model, and exceptionally for its date, 70 bathrooms were provided as well as hydraulic lifts and electric light throughout.  It was, however, the brilliant management of Ceser Ritz combined with the talents of the great Escoffier that ensured the Savoy's success in the highest echelons of society, attracting to a hotel for the first time the nobility and the Prince of Wales' circle."  

One of the particularly American features of the hotel was the bar, which served drinks in the American style, i.e. mixed cocktails.  Apparently it was one of the first of its kind in London and is the longest-surviving.  Harry Craddock is probably the most well-known of its head barmen, having compiled The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930 but another one to note is Ada Coleman, who worked there between 1903 and 1924.  Yes, you read correctly, Ada - she was a woman, which I think is just swell!

Along with the American Bar, there's now the Beaufort Bar which specialises in champagne and is located where the cabaret stage used to be, and the Thames Foyer which is light and airy and where you would go to indulge in afternoon tea.  And that's before you even more onto the restaurants...

On my recent visit, we went for the American Bar.  It was fabulous, particularly with the pianist playing all the classics and the charismatic waiters serving us.  Though I would highly recommend a visit if you're able to get there, I also thought I'd tell you about some of the cocktails and give you the recipes in case you fancied trying them for yourself at home.  Yes kids, DO try this at home!

First, the Champs Elysees:

The menu describes this as a complex, slightly herbal drink in the traditional martini style.  You will need:

1 1/2 oz brandy
1/2 oz Chartreuse Verte
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Dash Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  You can also add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar if you don't like your drinks too bitter.

Next, the White Lady:

The glass unexpectedly and delightfully matched my dress...
Unfortunately, this means you can't actually see what the cocktail itself looks like.

This one apparently needs no description as the menu doesn't actually tell you what it involves!  All I knew was that it was the one famously associated with The Savoy, and that was enough to get me to order one up.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.  Surprised because I expected something creamy, pleasantly because I actually prefer non-creamy cocktails... and this one was damn tasty too.  If you want to try it for yourself, you will need:

2 oz dry gin
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 egg white

Again, just shake those ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

If you still fancy more after those, you should get yourself the aforementioned Savoy Cocktail Book, which is still in print and available to buy.  As the introduction to the original edition described it:

Being in the main a complete compendium of the Cocktails, Rickeys, Daisies, Slings, Shrubs, Smashes, Fizzes, Juleps, Cobblers, Fixers and other Drinks, known and vastly appreciated in this year of grace 1930, with sundry notes of amusements and interest concerning them, together with Observations upon Wines and their special occasions.  Being in the particular an elucidation of the Manners and Customs of people of quality in a period of some equality.

Now, if that doesn't sell it to you, I don't know what will.


Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Birds Barbie

I'm spending my Sunday afternoon doing some internet searching and some pondering in preparation for Halloween.  Firstly, looking for a good event.  Secondly, thinking of a costume.  The costume kind of depends on the theme of the event but one of the ideas I had was Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with the birds somehow attached so I appeared to be being attacked...  Wouldn't that be fabulous?  Anyway, it's in my list of idea now but I just wanted to quickly share this wonderful thing which I came across whilst looking for images:  

Image source

Is that not just one of the most brilliant things you've seen?  Damn, I do actually love Barbie.  I don't care what people say about the dolls messing with girls' self-image.  They never did me any harm as a child.  Barbie's changes in style and clothes are a fascinating source for how fashions have changed as well.  I think Barbie is an amazing cultural icon.  Especially when she starts referencing other cultural icons such as Hitchcock.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Dress Fit for the Savoy

As you'll know from my previous post, on Saturday evening I went for a birthday treat at the Savoy Hotel.  Of course, any excuse to dress up...

Dress: Beyond Retro
Shoes: Beyond Retro
Hair flower: Accessorize

I had been planning to go for a '30s look, as a nod to the Deco style of the hotel but then a stumbled across this divine dress when I got distracted whilst out out shopping for winter warms the other day...

I was going to write more about the Savoy itself but I feel I must tell you the story of the dress (particularly after receiving such nice comments after it appeared in my last post - thank you, lovely readers!).  Whilst hunting for knits and other warm wear, I spotted it on a rack at Beyond Retro, Cheshire Street, and scooped it up immediately to carry off to the fitting rooms.  I pulled it over my head and proceeded to try to close the zip but there was one point at which it didn't want to go any further.  I tried and tried (gently, of course) but to no avail.  I was just about to admit defeat when I looked in the mirror again and thought "No!  This dress is perfect for me!  I can't let it go..."  I was in love, and surely you can see why.

I was smitten with the shape, the fabric colour and pattern, the ribbons under the bust...

... the gathered detail and the sash (if that's the name for it?) to one shoulder...

... the rusty pink lining and purple netting to compliment the blue fabric.  All such wonderful details.

I was entranced and felt that, if it could get past that one sticking point on the zipper, it would all be okay.  Tight, but okay.  It wasn't one of those situations where the circumference of the bodice is less than your rib cage and you know no amount of lung contraction will help...

And I was right!  I managed to get it past that one point with some nifty shifting of bra strap and I was in.  It was a little restricted but, considering how wonderful I felt otherwise, I could live with that.  But THEN, when I took the dress off, I noticed that there was some loose stitching around the arm.  I sighed a little, knowing repairs would be necessary before wearing.  UNTIL, I looked closer and realised that someone had adjusted the armholes!  Maybe, I thought, just maybe, when I unpick those arms, the whole bodice will just shift slightly south to such a degree that it would fit me JUST SO.  And, when I got home, I discovered I was correct!  It fit like a very comfy glove!  The dress was slightly imperfect for the previous owner but it just so happens that it must have been made for me.

And it's in such fabulous condition, I can't spot a single flaw.  It was reasonably priced too, especially considering its condition and age, and the fact that I will treasure it forever.  I guessed it was probably late '50s, judging by the style, finishing, and the placement of the zipper.  Doing some online research on the label when I got home, I discovered that the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union had that specific label design between the years 1955 (after the American Federation of Labour - AFL - and the Committee for Industrial Organizations - CIO - merged) and before 1963 when they designed and registered their new label.  (Thank you, Ikwewe on Ebay guides.)  So it seems my dating was correct!

So, on my visit to the Savoy, I went 1950s instead of 1930s, though my hair could have fitted in to either, I think.  I side-parted it and included my fringe in the overall pin curling in preparation for the evening.  I was going to wear it loose after brushing out but it's getting rather long and it didn't feel quite right, so I ended up doing a rough Gibson roll.  A first ever attempt, without a hair rat, and it didn't quite come together as expected but I was pleased with the result nevertheless.

In my '50s dress, coiffed hair, sipping cocktails in the American Bar, listening to the pianist play Frank Sinatra, I felt I right at home.  Marilyn Monroe, one of their many famous guests, may have walked through the door and I wouldn't have been surprised... much.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Kaspar's Tale (aka The Lucky Black Cat)

As promised, I now bring you the strange tale of Kaspar the Cat.

The story begins with the millionaire, Woolf Joel.  He and his brothers, Jack and Soloman (Solly), grew up in the East End but had made their fortune with gold and diamond mining in South Africa, thanks to their uncle Barney Barnato.  In 1898, Joel gave a dinner party at the Savoy Hotel, a farewell before he headed off to South Africa.  There were supposed to be 14 people in the party, but one guest cancelled at the last minute.  Although warned that to have 13 guests would be bad luck, the party went ahead.  Having to retire relatively early to be ready for his departure abroad, Joel left the table before all his guests, dismissing the superstition that whoever left the table first would be destined to die first.

Mere weeks later, in his office in Johannesburg, Joel was shot dead by a blackmailer, Baron Kurt von Veltheim.  When this news reached the Savoy back in London, they knew that they couldn't risk such ill fortune falling upon another one of their guests.  As such, whenever there happened to be a party of 13 guests, they would recruit a member of staff to join the table.  However, this set up was less than satisfactory as the party would often wish to discuss private or personal matters, in which case it simply wouldn't do to have a stranger in their midst.  And this it where Kaspar comes in...

The solve the problem, Basil Ionides, who was responsible for the redecoration of the Savoy Theatre in the late 1920s, was brought in for an extra, unusual commission - to design and craft a 14th guest who could sit in on dinner parties without imposing on the conversation of the guests.  And thus, Kaspar was born.  This beautiful Art Deco cat was carved from a single piece of plane tree.  Whenever there is a party of 13, he is seated on the 14th chair with a napkin tied around his neck and is served up every course, like all other guests.

When he's not indulging in luxurious meals, he can be found in the hotel lobby, enabling goofy people like me to pose with him...

I will return soon with more tales of my evening at the Savoy, including the architecture, the cocktails and my new favourite dress!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Kaspar the Cat

I'm heading to the Savoy with the Cat on Saturday evening for a very belated birthday drink.  It would have been sooner but time escaped us...  So, exactly one month on from my birthday, I'll be indulging in one of my very favourite places, with my Cat and another certain cat that goes by the name of  Kaspar.  Here's a chocolate version of Kaspar to tantalize you...

... and I will return to tell you the true tale of this fabulous cat at a later date.

Have a good weekend, my lovely readers, whatever you do!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Love Letter to an Artist

If I could have my portrait painted by any artist in history, I think Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) would be very high on my shortlist.

Portrait de Madame Allan Bott (source)

I've been obsessing over the above painting in particular recently.  Beyond finding her painting style fabulous, I love the sitter in this picture - her pose, her dress, her makeup - and I love the background of the dark city.  It's so incredibly beautiful.

A lot of people are probably familiar with her famous self-portrait...

Autoportrait (1925)

... but perhaps know her other work less well.  Let me share some of my other favourites I came across.

La Dormeuse (1932)

Young Lady with Gloves (1930)

The Girls (c.1930)

I love the way she paints curls in those pictures above, don't you?  Like beautiful, silky ribbons.

Saint Moritz (1929)

Blue Scarf (1930)

Calla Lillies (1931)

She looked pretty fabulous herself too...


...had a beautiful studio...


...and had an appropriately jazz age lifestyle.  Born into a wealthy family in Poland, boarding school in Switzerland, to Italy and the French Riveria at a young age, parents divorced when she was 12, went to live with her aunt in St Petersburg.  Her husband arrested by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, she secured his release and they ended up in Paris via Copenhagen and London.  In France, she became part of the bohemian set in 1920s Paris, where she had affairs with men and women alike.  She had a daughter who she painted often but neglected due to her obsession with her art and her debauched lifestyle.  Etc, etc, etc.

But most importantly, what an amazing artist.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Regular and Punctual, Steady and Reliable

Hurrah!  My assignment is out of the way!

I was considering going to the Museum of Childhood today and I found this lovely item from their collection when I went on their website.  Thought I'd quickly share it with you.

Source: Museum of Childhood website

I love the addition from the Headmaster at the end - it's just the cherry on the cake for me!