Monday 30 May 2011

Meanwhile, on Exmouth Market

Uh-oh... This could be dangerous.  I noticed this today, just around the corner from my flat:

A vintage shop opening literally minutes away from me, on the route between my flat and my local coffee suppliers and handy convenience store?  I don't know whether to be pleased or concerned.  Pleased is, of course, the first natural instinct.  But concern for the purse follows swiftly after...  Especially as we're talking about Exmouth Market, and nothing's really cheap along that little stretch of EC1, so I have the feeling these won't be bargain vintage pieces.

However, closer inspection and research reveal that it's just a pop-up shop, part of an initiative called Meanwhile Space.  In their own words, they are "an innovative social enterprise which uses empty space in socially useful ways".  Great concept.  And it means I'll only have to exercise temporary willpower as the vintage shop stint will last for just a month before it's replaced by a photography festival base, and then a rolling programme until September.

So, it all sounds like things will be rather colourful and interesting in that little corner for the coming months.  More information about Meanwhile Space and the programme for Exmouth Market is available through this link.

Friday 27 May 2011

The Rain Bonnet Lament

(a Sequel to The Headscarf Lament)

Oh, to wear a rain bonnet and look as cute as this...

After getting caught out in the rain last week, I started researching rain bonnets online, thinking to turn them into the subject of a blog post. But instead, I got distracted and wrote about headscarves.

The thing is, I was having an awfully difficult time finding rain bonnets that looked any good, whereas pretty pictures of headscarves abound! Headscarves were certainly the easier option to write about, especially as I have no personal experience of wearing rain bonnets. And the thing is, I actually rarely get caught out when there's a downpour. I tend to make it my business to check the forecast when the weather looks questionable because I only own a full-length umbrella - I just can't stand fold-away ones!

So, when I was caught unawares at work last week, my boss was awfully surprised because I usually have my frilly, polka-dotty umbrella right beside me on any day with expected (or even unexpected) rain. I suggested to him that perhaps I ought to get myself a rain bonnet to tuck into my bag for those occasions where even I was unprepared. The problem, I told him, is that I've only ever spotted garish or otherwise unattractive ones...

And, when I got home, a quick trawl of the internet backed up that observation. I clicked on a link for a "stylish" rain bonnet and found this:

Obviously, I was sorely disappointed. In whose book is that stylish??

I did find some super-cute pictures from the 1960s and this wonderful video. (If only 'Wise Potato Chips' still had that offer open.) But the only ones I found for sale didn't look so great. Perhaps it's just the way they're marketed? Perhaps they just ought to find some better models?

I did find a glimmer of hope for the modern world here:

Clever Recycling Zychal over at Etsy have made a noble effort to reintroduce the unfashionable concept of the rain bonnet, and have given it a revamp by picking out the most stylish umbrellas to upcycle for their creations. I'm a little bit tempted. Although, I do somehow feel that, like my Audrey Hepburn/Grace Kelly headscarf dilemma, it just wouldn't suit me.

Umbrellas have always served me well, perhaps I should just stick with them? Or am I up for a sartorial experiment?

[Edit: Have just noticed that vintage guru Solanah, over at Vixen Vintage, has just posted about rain bonnets too. Crazy coincidence! Maybe it's a revolution? She picked up a classic, polka-dot one from her local drugstore... I don't know if I'll have the same luck at a pharmacy or anywhere else here in London!]

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Spiffing Saltdean Lido

The seaside lido. What a wonderfully evocative thought! I have to confess that I've never actually swum in one in real life... But, in my mind, they conjure up all sorts of wonderful images of 1930s, interwar frolicking as Britain was taken over by a sort of outdoor, healthy, sporting lifestyle craze.

And the architecture! Wonderfully deco/moderne designs with simple lines, elegant curves and bright white finishing to reflect the sea and sun (literally), and the purity of outdoor pursuits (metaphorically).

But sadly, like the swimwear of the day, the lido became outmoded, and very few of these wonderful pieces of architecture remain, where once they were dotted all around the coast. Apparently there are now only 11 operational lidos from this Golden Era, with only 3 of those by the seaside. One of the last, and the most architecturally impressive, is Saltdean, just east of Brighton. Although its boating lake for paddle boats (how cool is that?!) has now been replaced with a community centre, the whole complex remains largely intact. Which is indeed a rare and wonderful thing.

There is currently a big campaign to safeguard the future of Saltdean Lido against the very real threat of residential development and to keep it in community use, in such a way that is sympathetic to this fabulous 1930s gem. It's also in the running to win some funding from a people's choice community project competition run by the Co-op. So rally round chums, and help:

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Love letter from... the Netherlands

Every year my work plans a voluntary "study trip" to a location in Europe. This is basically three days in which there may be a tour of some sort, a talk of some other sort, but then after that there's a whole lot of running around, having a laugh.

Sadly, this year I had to cancel my plans to go along, as university obligations got in the way. However, my dear boss' dear wife brought me back these lovely chocolates. Okay, they're not vintage fashion and they're not historic architecture, but all the same, aren't they pretty?

Pretty pastels (and wild flavours - pink peppercorn, anyone??)

Sunday 22 May 2011

Regent Street Windows

Today I went for a stroll down Regent Street to have a look at the RIBA (ie Royal Institute of British Architects) window dressing project. This involved 10 architecture practices creating the window displays for 10 shops along the street.

To be honest, I was rather disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing the "Free State of Soho" at Banana Republic but then I was just bamboozled by it, and couldn't really read the message in their creation. Besides which, it didn't actually include any clothes in the display, which is going off on a tangent if you ask me!

And then, when I attempted to take photos of some of the vaguely more interesting ones, it proved more difficult than I anticipated. Reflections and what not...

Gant's display of convex mirrors and silver birch
by Marks Barfield Architects
Aquascutum's display by HUT
(but it was more the bright yellow trench coat and
the pattern on the dress that I was interested in)
Ferrari's display by Duggan Morris Architects
(where the reflection getting in the way actually had
a kind of interesting and surreal effect...)

BUT, all was not lost, for some other window displays outside the scope of the project caught my eye and seemed to be much more interesting than the architects' ones. We could say that's a sign that architects today are unimaginative and/or don't know how to translate their ideas. But it's probably kinder and actually more true to say that we should let the window dressers do their jobs and architects do theirs.

Anyway, here are some of the other displays I enjoyed:

Gentlemen mannequins do tea at Charles Tyrwhitt
More gentlemen mannequins
Charles Tyrwhitt says old class
Mango clocks and crates
More of Mango's display
Zara's rubber ducky/sailor theme
Brooks Brothers' tailoring bits and bobs
More suit-candy from Brooks Brothers

Loved some of the fabric patterns and colours at Hobbs - kind of reminded me of something you'd find on a Horrockses dress (though I'm sorry they're kind of hard to see with all the reflection in the photo).

Hobbs' Horrockses-inspired prints

No longer on Regent Street, there were still treats to be found...

The cake display at Bea's of Bloomsbury on Theobald's Road
A shoe shop somewhere in Covent Garden,
though unfortunately I forgot to note down the name!
Anonymous Covent Garden shoe shop again
Check out the pastel pink and aqua shoes inside the
shop - wow.

Of course, I gawped at the windows of all these shops and enjoyed their displays but then returned to my vintage ways. Being so close to the Soho branch of Beyond Retro, I just had to pop in, and couldn't resist walking out with a few finds.

Beyond Retro dress, skirt and shorts.
Brighter in real life, but the lighting in my flat is low!

Friday 20 May 2011

The Headscarf Lament

Oh, to wear a headscarf and look as fabulous as Audrey...

A year or so ago, after I'd just got myself a Douglas Sirk box-set and was somewhat over-indulging in Hollywood melodrama, I got thinking about headscarves.

In All That Heaven Allows, Cary frequently pops a scarf on to cover her head as she steps out into the brisk winter weather to met with her handsome beau, Ron.

Image source: screen grab from All That Heaven Allows

It made me think how sad it is that you no longer see women walking around in stylishly wrapped headscarves, covering neatly coiffed hair to be revealed when they are out of the reach of wind or rain. And I don't mean tied under the chin in the way of the Queen:

Not even in retro-trendy, Rosie the Riveter style:

But rather, over the head, brought under the chin, and then around to tie at the back of the neck, in 1950s style:

Image source: discovered long ago and now can't remember!
Apologies for being rubbish...

They're such a handy accessory as well because you can quickly and easily convert a silk scarf which you've tied around your neck into a head-covering should the need arise. And then switch back around afterwards, limiting the chances of accidentally leaving it on the tube.

So, I was determined to reintroduce this idea to the streets of London. One evening, I just needed to pop down the road to pick up a couple of bits from my local Tesco Express. I decided that this was the perfect, low-pressure moment for a test run. I was all ready to go, scarf in place, bag over my shoulder... but as I glanced in the mirror just by my front door, I had a sudden change of heart. Somehow, it just didn't look right. I'm not sure if it was lack of confidence or lack of technique but I shamefully backed out.

And now some other clever clogs in the fashion world has taken my idea and introduced headscarves for summer. Too late for me and my trend-setting plans now.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Random Reasons to Love London #1

This afternoon as I was finishing up at work it started to drizzle with rain. By the time I left the building it was raining heavily. As it had been pleasant in the morning, I was unequipped to deal with the downpour so I just had to put my head down and hope for the best...

At one point on my dash through the rain, I came to cross a main road, clip-board held aloft above my head to offer some kind of shelter (not very classy, I know, but it could have been worse). A man in a van stopped to let me cross in front of him and then called out to me when I reached the other side. I turned around to see him waving an umbrella out the window, asking if I needed it! I thanked him and assured him I'd be fine.

But bless him, how lovely!

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Pierre Bex and eBay

I'm not generally an ebay user but I was on the look out for something very particular the other day and ended up getting rather deeply sucked in...

The item I was searching for, I did manage to find - and win - hurrah! But it's yet to arrive in the post so I will save that story for another post.

However, my perusals ended in the purchase of more than one item, it must be confessed, and this was the first to arrive:

The brooch, obviously. The flower I picked on the way home so thought I'd throw it in for added interest. The bush was growing in my local churchyard so I figured it was okay to pick one for myself as I live in the local parish (Or do I? One to check out on the historic maps at work tomorrow!). I would have just snapped a picture of them all tumbling over the railings but I was sans camera, so a sneaky "pruning" it was.

But that's going off on a tangent. This lovely brooch I scored whilst searching under "art deco brooches". I feel a distinct gap in my wardrobe/jewellery collection created by lack of brooches so that was the focus of my hunt. And why not narrow it down to deco while we're there? This isn't exactly of original deco-era 1930s vintage but is, rather, by Pierre Bex. I'd not heard of him previously but I discovered (through a little googling) that he was doing a lot of this kind of thing in Paris between 1969 and the late 80s, and apparently using original 1930s moulds and tools.

After learning this, I discovered that he's got quite a lot of wonderful stuff awash on the internet for sale. (Try here or here or just ebay, like me!) Some of it is veering dangerously into kitsch and garish with the choice of colour combinations but there is some lovely stuff there as well, using more subtle colours complemented with a good smattering of rhinestones. And all with the wonderful geometric shapes so characteristic of deco. A lot of it is in new condition too because they just never made their way out of the factories. The one I nabbed is "pre-loved" but in great condition, and with the most wonderful, ingenious clasp on the back which I feel should last forever... (Famous last words...)

Friday 13 May 2011

The Bricks of Bloomsbury

Not just mere bricks and mortar...

I noticed a building with a particularly striking array of bricks this afternoon whilst on my lunch-break. I'm studying part-time at the Architectural Association on Bedford Square, so am surrounded by streets of Georgian terraces every Friday when I go in for class. Although uniform in some respects, the more you look at them, the more you realise there are so many subtle differences to the buildings of Bloomsbury.

One of those differences is the materials of the facades. Obviously, some terraces are stuccoed, some are brick, and there are masonry buildings as well, when you get away from the terraces.

But how can you say just "brick" when you get such a variety of colours - within one building, on neighbouring buildings, on later additions and alterations, and in the details around windows and doors.

So I decided to take some photos and make this subject into a post. I thought to myself, "I can maybe get three or four shots, that will be enough to illustrate my point". But once I started, I couldn't stop! I kept seeing so many different colours and arrangements. It was intoxicating and addictive...


Thursday 12 May 2011

Delights on the Way Home

To illustrate the point I was making yesterday, about all the wonderful architecture that can lift up your spirits if you just look around and take things in, I decided to snap a few shots as I walked home this evening after work.