Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Say It With Biscuits


I don’t know about you, but for the past two days I’ve basically been lying prostrate on the sofa recovering from this year’s food-centric festivities. As always, I decided to take an all-or-nothing approach to Christmas eating, apart from without the nothing bit. Mince pie? Why not! A pint of custard to wash it down with? Naturally. How about a brandy-cream chaser? Oh go on then, I’ve earned it. And repeat, ad nauseam.

And so it is with great, unmovable girth that I gaze at the list of thank-you cards I must write. My fingers are practically too fat to type, let alone grasp a pen. But what’s this? A solution! A delicious, sugary solution! Biscuiteers is an online, London-based company (although they deliver all over the world) that specialises in – you guessed it – biscuits. Not just any old HobNob mind you: expertly hand-decorated and extremely moreish, it’s best to think of them as a very British alternative to New York’s now ubiquitous death-by-icing cupcake. 

With an exceptionally chic range of collections to choose from, including handbags, heels and poodles, they make the perfect present for anybody who likes to receive surprise sugar-fixes in gift-wrapped tins (i.e. everyone). They also do brilliant biscuit cards, delivered with a personal message. Forget January detoxes, what could be better than brightening someone’s day by saying thanks with one of these deluxe digestives? 








American Vogue Goes East


The Cecil Beaton original, as featured in Vogue in 1948
There was a small flurry of criticism last month over a US Vogue December feature on Far-East Asia’s supermodels in the making. Entitled Asia Major, the controversy came in the subheading, “A new crop of models from China, Japan and South Korea is redefining traditional concepts of beauty”, where “traditional concepts of beauty" were placed in opposition to the models evidently ‘exotic’ appeal.

It's a disappointing thing for US Vogue to compartmentalise the growing prominence of Asian models into a curiosity of fashion rather than a fact, makeup artist Dick Page adding in the feature that “It’s mostly economics […] Everybody in the fashion/beauty industry recognizes the importance of global markets, and currently, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are at the forefront. The upshot is that customers want to see some version of themselves represented.” Drawing this kind of conclusion pinpoints the popularity of Asian models as an inevitability of economy rather than a mark of fashion’s increasing diversity, serving only to further sever the models from any valid connection with Western fashion other than one of profit.

Whilst the results of the shoot, photographed by Steven Meisel, are undeniably stunning – a baroque-and-roll tableau inspired by a 1948 Cecil Beaton portrait, where Grace Coddington mixed aristocratic Oscar de la Renta gowns with spiky mohawks and macaroons – it’s also undeniable that there’s something uncomfortably uniform about the way the models have been styled. With identikit makeup and perfectly poised facial expressions, there’s simply no interest in the individual in the way there would have been had it been an editorial involving Rosie, Karlie and Lindsey rather than Hyun, Tao and Liu. Interestingly, US Vogue still has yet to feature an Asian model on its front cover. 

So in celebration of Asian individuality, I leave you with Tokyo-born Tao Okamoto – who else could nail cool-as-ice androgyny better than this? It almost makes me long for a pudding-bowl Beatles haircut myself. Ok, maybe not. 

 
 

Colour Me Creuset


Today signalled a scary new stage in my life: I chose kitchenware over clothes. Intending to scour the Selfridges sale in the hope of finding some inappropriately jazzy shoes that wouldn’t go with anything, I instead found myself hypnotically heading towards the home department. Once there, said jazzy shoes skipped – or more likely, staggered - straight out of my mind, for across the room I saw the glazed gleam of Le Creuset's rainbow-bright pots and pans, and above them, significantly, a sign: 20% off. Jackpot!

Le Creuset’s cast iron cookware is the stuff of foodie-cum-fashionista dreams. Founded in France in 1925, the signature burnt orange shade of enamel originally used has since been expanded into an array of to-die-for colours, including a rich cherry red, a deep plum and their latest, a darkly glittering midnight blue. With such a delectable selection of shades, I can't help but think of them as the big brother to that other delightful French institution, the macaroon.

Spot le difference:

 

But Le Creuset is no mere foodie fad: its extortionately priced products make for true investments. To create each piece the melted materials must first be encased within an individual mould, which is then cracked open after casting, the enamel hand-finished by French artisans. With that kind of heritage behind their products, it’s no wonder Le Creuset's reassuringly hefty casserole dishes are the hallmark of a well kitted-out kitchen - they seem to shine with effortless culinary prowess. 

So it was with great excitement that I embarked upon my first Le Creuset investment. Resisting the ridiculously cute heart-shaped ramekins, I went for a utensils jar and a dinky oven dish, both in a beautiful sea-blue shade of teal. Not exactly flash enough to cook up a Julia Child-style banquet with, but it’s a start - and given the brand’s reputation for lasting a lifetime, at least I can take my time building up the collection - one Christmas list at a time...

 

 

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christian Dior's Couture Cuts


 

It may have been rather literal in the rendering, but by God it was beautiful. John Galliano's Fall 2010 collection for Christian Dior Couture saw fashion and fantasy collide in an effervescent flower-bomb of frocks, with dip-dyed silks draped petal-like upon the models and heads shrink-wrapped in cellophane courtesy of Stephen Jones. The inspiration was plain to see - a study in floral form that grew into a bouquet of gowns so exquisitely true to life, so vibrant and verdant, that they seemed freshly cut from Galliano's personal garden. A pure and unadulterated tribute to nature’s own sartorial show-offs, and one that, for me, captured the very essence of haute couture.

See some of the looks in motion in SHOWstudio’s behind-the-scenes video of Nick Knight’s shoot for AnOther Magazine, Dynamic Blooms:


SHOWstudio is also currently featuring an exhibition on foliate still-lifes, Florist, at its Mayfair gallery, running until 13th January 2011. Find out more here, and for now feast your eyes on these beauties:

Irving Penn's still-life portraits:






Ori Gersht's Exploding Flowers:




Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Make Mine A Mulligan


2010 was the year when fashion fell in love with Carey Mulligan. Whatever that elusive ‘It’ is that some stars naturally possess, Carey's Prada pockets runneth over with. Perhaps it lies in the combination of spirited youthfulness and beyond-her-years wisdom that served her so well in 2009’s coming-of-age film An Education. Or maybe it’s that schoolgirl smile of mischief that appears from behind the bike shed, bored and boisterous, at red-carpet events and photo shoots. But on top of all that, it’s her charming sense of style that really cements her status as Britain's brightest young thing.

What's likeable about Carey is that she’s so much more than a clothes horse: there’s an unpretentious delight in the way she works designer gear, like one playing dress up rather than just dressing up. Who else would wear a cutlery-encrusted prom dress to the Oscars? Or rock a mauve Miu Miu mini amongst a sea of floor-sweeping gowns at the Met Ball? Carey's sartorial choices shy away from the usual fake-tan-and-tits territory (just try and imagine her bandaged up in an Hervé Léger body-con number) and instead keep us guessing with quirky, contemporary designs that never take themselves too seriously. Carey, you are hereby crowned 2010's Queen of Cool. Here are her red-carpet highlights from the past year:








Next up for Carey is a starring role opposite Keira Knightley in the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, released this February. If you've read the book you'll agree that the plot's pretty grim, set in a dystopian alternative reality with few laughs to lift a love story that’s sodden with sadness. Will I go and see it anyway? Hell yes – there’s nothing that Mulligan grin can’t conquer. Take a look at the trailer below...


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Nicole Richie's Marchesa Meringue


Admittedly, I’m biased - I’ve had a stalker-like style crush on Nicole Richie ever since she launched her delectable House of Harlow 1960 jewellery line in a perfectly pitched silk frock and swathes of black and gold accessories. But you’ve got to hand it to her, the Marchesa dress she wore for her winter nuptials to Joel Madden last week is the most adorable thing to grace the celebrity-wedding aisle in a long time. It’s a meringue! And a surprisingly chic one at that, given the usually negative connotations associated with looking like a pudding on your big day. 

Taking inspiration from the long-sleeved lace dress that Grace Kelly wore to her own wedding in 1956, apparently more than 100 yards of silk-organza and tulle was ruched and ruffled and ravished to create that mother of a mille-feuille skirt. And this is only the first out of three Marchesa gowns that Richie wore on the day – the third has yet to be seen, but the second (see below) was a hand-embroidered affair with a delicate, lace-trimmed spine adorning the exposed back. In the words of her ex-stylist and calorie-counting companion Rachel Zoe, I die! 


Poached Eggs and Picasso

The crisp crack of a spoon breaking the burnt-sugar shell of a crème brûlée. Pricking a poached egg to see the sunshine-yellow yolk ooze out. The surprisingly soft pop of a champagne cork. Getting to the next level on Angry Birds. Forget more effortful events like wedding days or childbirth, these are the single-second moments in life to take an altogether more humble pleasure in. Over just as soon as they begin, their only sticking point is the very brevity of their being - given the chance, who wouldn't stretch out those short snapshots of satisfaction over a lengthier period of time? 

Cue LIFE photographer Gjon Mili and his series of portraits of Pablo Picasso taken in the South of France in 1949. They show Picasso using a small flashlight to draw in the air, much the same as writing your name with a sparkler on bonfire night - yet this time the image is captured on camera, that one vanishing second sealed on film via a darkened room and a slow shutter speed. What I find so captivating about the results is the visible vitality of Picasso behind each light drawing - it's a two-for-one artistic offer where you see both creator and creation together at once, the ecstasy of a single enlightened flash of imagination eternalised as a piece of work itself. If only we could press the pause button on other such all-too-brief moments in life - but then again, perhaps that's what makes them so precious in the first place





Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Turkish Delights

Mosaic-embellished tables, palatial pillows and sequin-covered walls: only Karl Lagerfeld possesses the kind of can-do attitude to decorating that ensures such spectacular scenes as this at every Chanel runway. This time the stage was set for the Pre-Fall 2011 Métier d'Arts show, which celebrated the opening of a second Chanel boutique in Istanbul with a ‘Paris Byzance’ collection that more than mirrored the splendour of its shimmering surroundings.

Being Chanel, of course the whole collection was brilliant. But my, oh my, the jewellery. The clothes were dripping with beautiful, sultan-worthy bling - gem-encrusted headbands, sprawling filigree necklaces and starburst brooches, gloriously offset against a palette of deep, dark black. In a word, stunning. 





The OTT grandeur of these accessories strikes right at the heart of historical Istanbul. The city is steeped in an old-world opulence where in some areas it’s hard to avoid bumping into Ottoman landmarks like the mosaic-strewn Hagia Sophia or the glittering treasury of the Topkapi Palace. It's there in the food too - in particular, Turkey's long-held love affair with sugar. Putting aside commercialised sugar-fixes like Cadbury's chocolate or Chupa Chups, there’s something entirely exotic about the East's irrepressible sweet tooth. Sugar was once prized by the Ottomans as a luxury product and valuable trading tool, and that reverence can still be tasted in Istanbul's signature dishes - so much so that I felt on the verge of self-induced hyperglycaemia during a trip there last week. 

Try baklava for example, those crisp little bites of layered pastry soaked with honey into a soft and syrupy chewiness, washed down with a cup of sweet, short and dark Turkish coffee. Or step into the Spice Bazaar, an Aladdin’s cave of confectionary where shopkeepers sell with sugar as well as words, proffering free glasses of nectarous apple tea whilst prices are haggled over frosted piles of Turkish Delight and jewel-bright dried apricots. Even the smoke-filled shisha cafés come scented with the heady sweetness of cherry and apple tobacco. It's a deliciously cloying and utterly indulgent way of eating, and feels a whole lot chicer than chomping on a Curly Wurly. Sugar anoints every corner of Istanbul, an ancient flavour fixed within the city’s increasingly modern surroundings, and seeing Chanel's East meets West, gold against black collection, I feel like I've been taken right back there. 

Monday, 13 December 2010

All That Glitters

Penguin’s new Art Deco editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-loved novels and short stories are a sublime example of when you really should judge a book by its cover. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith in metallic foil to mark the 70th anniversary of the author's death, they look as opulent as the stories hidden within their gilded dust jackets. I am sorely tempted to splurge on the entire set despite owning old (and so very unshiny) copies of most of them already - and really, that's just the sort of champagne-spilling, surface-worshipping extravagance we owe these Jazz Age classics. The perfect addition to an evening of old-fashioned indulgence - just mix up a mint julep à la The Great Gatsby and devour at leisure

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Under The Tree

Braving the depths of the attic to unearth decomposing Christmas decorations is a rite of passage for many at this time of year. Battered boxes of baubles, moulting tinsel and tangled strings of fairy lights - nothing signals the start of the season quite like it. Yet after experiencing a full-on face crash into a florist's inexplicably low-hanging wreath earlier, I could only think gladly, mouth full of pine needles, of my own more minimalist decorations waiting back home.

Yep, this year I’ve gone all Zen and bought a Christmas tree wall sticker (found here) in place of a traditional evergreen. A little unconventional perhaps, but what, may I ask, would you want with one of those past-it pine numbers? What, with their invitingly festive scent and three-dimensional decorating potential? They’re nothing compared to my plastic wall sticker! It’s so clean and neat and…ok, so my flat doesn't have room for a proper tree. But chancing upon John Galliano for Dior’s similarly unorthodox design for the Claridge’s Christmas tree last night, I felt a little bit better about my ersatz alternative.

Entitled ‘Under The Sea’, this is the second tree Galliano has designed for Claridge’s following last year’s ‘frozen’ offering, which featured a prowling leopard amongst its ice-blue boughs. It is very beautiful, and very, very fabulous. Scattered with seashells and crystals, the tree stands a sparkling shade of coral in the corner of the lobby with jellyfish, crabs and a very cute seahorse decorously clinging to it. 



I particularly enjoyed the quote from Galliano given on the front plaque: “The majestic beauty of Claridge’s Art Deco interiors never fails to inspire me”. Art Deco as inspiration wasn't quite what sprung to mind when gazing at this Little Mermaid meets Cornify creation, but whatever you say John – it’s still spectacular. He's taken on the traditional tree and christened it cool again. Although rooted in a similar spirit of nonconformity, I have a feeling my wall sticker won’t look quite as impressive as this winter wonder.  





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