Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Spontaneous Gesture

Exterior of Westminster Abbey, interior photographs prohibited.

At the back of Westminster Abbey, under a black marble plaque; an unknown soldier was buried in November 1920.  In 2002, after the Queen Mother's funeral, Queen Elizabeth laid the funeral wreath on top of the unknown soldier's grave.  It was a spontaneous gesture in memory of the bouquet her mother had laid at the grave at her own wedding in 1923.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Princess of Punk

Another night, another Kensington Palace lecture.  This time I had the good fortune to listen to the incredible Zandra Rhodes speak about her career as a fashion designer.  Rhodes has dressed some of the most influential fashion icons: Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, Bianca Jagger, Sarah Jessica Parker and the list goes on.  Rhodes also has a connection with and an influence on many designers.  Manolo Blahnik featured his first collection in one of Rhodes' runway shows, Philip Treacy and Matthew Williamson interned for her, and John Galliano's naked dress concept was inspired by her.
Rhodes has had a lifelong love affair with textiles, and, in fact, she started her career making them.  When she creates textiles, she does not think about colors first.  Rather, she designs the pattern and then inputs colors second.  In the beginning of her career after she had been making and trying to sell her textiles for some time, a friend recommended that she visit Emilio Pucci and work with him.  But upon seeing her textile creations, he replied, "You should design in black and white."  Shortly thereafter, she shifted her focus on not just textiles, but also on designing garments -- a much more successful endeavor.
One of her first big breaks with her clothing line involved the U.S. edition of Vogue.  A friend told her that she could make a fortune selling her clothes in America, and so Rhodes made a collection for U.S. Vogue.  The magazine featured this collection and Rhodes' clothes began selling quite well.  Eventually, Rhodes became known for what she calls, "Conceptual Chic," which is what many of us would term, "Punk." Two of her pieces are featured in The Met's, "Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit."  It was such a treat to spend the evening with such a talented fashion designer!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Coming Up Roses: A Night with Cath Kidston!

I think it's safe to say that if something reminds me of the English countryside, then I'm obsessed with it.  I grew up on Laura Ashley; the dresses, the bed linens, the wallpaper.  And I bought just about every one of Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic books.  So imagine my delight when I discovered London's Cath Kidston.  Her designs are very much English countryside with a modern twist, and a few nights ago I was fortunate enough to attend a Cath Kidston talk at the V&A.

Kidston reminisced about about her idyllic childhood in the Hampshire countryside, giving us glimpses of her first sparks of entrepreneurial spirit.  She told us how she picked vegetables from her aunt's garden only to sell them back to her aunt and how she constantly was moving around her mother's soaps so that they were arranged as prettily as possible.  
Like many of us, Cath Kidston started her career doing odd jobs and internships.  Unlike most of us, one of her first internships was for the incomparable Nicky Haslam.  In many ways, the internship for Haslam seems to have been a polestar in her life.  She mentioned that she had very little confidence before she started working for him but that he allowed her to pick out fabrics and to explore her designer's eye.  With a laugh, she also said he had her walk his dogs, but that even this task taught her an important lesson about attitude and the importance of all tasks to the larger picture.
One of the most interesting parts was her discussion of her business planning, in that she didn't do much of it in the beginning.  In many ways, she seems to credit her success to this lack of planning and places a great deal of importance on following your passion and doing what you know to be true.  She admitted that she does little, if any, market research.  Rather, she just observes the way her friends live and observes what inspires her, and then creates textile patterns.  She declared, "No matter how much training you have, you must have passion.  People can tell if you don't have it."
Above is an early Cath Kidston catalogue.  She actually took many of the pictures for this catalogue and designed a great deal of it.  

Cath Kidston also said that business success or growth has never been her motivator, but that she did always want her product to be a recognizable brand.  In achieving that goal, she has found it important to stay true to the character of the brand and not to follow trends blindly.  Because of that, she is proud that you can always spot a Cath Kidston product.   I must say, I do love all of my Cath Kidston items!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sweet Hector

The other night a friend and I walked to a pub called The Phoenix.  We went up to the till, surveyed the menu and ordered some rosé wine.  As we sat our glasses down on the table, I looked out at the silvery dusk sky.  My friend began schooling me in all the various London terms that I am still madly trying to learn -- jumper, barmaid, knackered -- the list goes on and on.  After a few sips of wine, I saw a quiet black dog sitting at the base of the bar.

Dogs in London are incredibly well-behaved.  They do not leave their owner's side, and they follow their owner's commands perfectly.  Consequently, I was surprised when this dog began ambling toward me.  He sat down right next to me and put his head on my lap.  I began petting its head and then his owner looked around, spotted his dog and said, "Ah, there he is."  I asked the owner what the dog's name was, and the owner replied jovially, "Hector!"  I laughed and kept stroking the dog's head. The owner looked at me and said, "Why don't you look after him a bit, love?"  And so I spent the next several minutes in sweet Hector's company.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

This is London

View from my apartment window at dusk.

Since I've been in London I've insisted on experiencing London everyday.  I've been motivated by an underlying concern that I can't waste the opportunity of being here.  The weather in London has provided me no excuses to stay in and just be quiet, as the usually rainy weather has been unusually sunny.  So every day I march out and see a sight or do something London-y.

But a couple of days ago, the rain finally came, and I was relegated to sitting in my apartment all day.  I cleaned, organized and read until there was nothing left to do.  I found myself sitting on my couch, just staring at the rain, and then through the rain at the spire of the V&A, the rows of little chimneys, and the steeple of the couple-hundred-year-old church a block over.

After the rain passed, the clouds cleared, and a little bit of sun peaked out before it went down.  I realized that this, too, was living in London.  And I couldn't help but think how very fortunate I am to be here for all of it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Smythson Stationery

You know how Candy Spelling famously had a gift wrapping room in The Manor?  Well, when I have my own home, instead of a gift wrapping room, I'm going to have a stationery room.  Shelves upon shelves of different types of stationery, with different monograms and styles and for all different types of occasions.  My first personalized stationery had my name embossed in periwinkle blue.  Over the years, I've tried different designs and colors.  I've had ecru notes with red embossing, bright white cards with hot pink letters and taupe cards with my name in white.  But I always seem to go back to my original periwinkle blue.
One of the reasons I have a special affinity for the store Smythson is that periwinkle blue is its signature color.  Smythson is London's paper product Mecca, and because I am a stationery devotee, I had to make a visit.
Growing up, my parents had a rule that after I received a gift or an extension of hospitality of any kind, I had to write a thank you note within two days. One of my friend's parents wouldn't let her play with Christmas presents until she wrote a thank you note -- brilliant!
On this visit to Smythson, I didn't order any stationery.  Instead I purchased the above book embossed with my initials. Don't you just love it?  Ha!  The book is bound in beautiful Panama leather.  Smythson has had a collection of notebooks with cheeky titles like this since the 1960s.  One of the first notebook titles was, "Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads," which continues to be one of Smythson's best sellers.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wrought Iron Fences

I fall in love with London everyday.  Londoners are not content with plain fences or windows or front steps.  Rather, ordinary parts of homes are an opportunity for incredible decorative detail.  And so everyday I am surrounded by a great deal of intentional beauty.  This week I'm featuring some of the beautiful wrought iron fences I've walked past in my neighborhood.
I've thought a lot about why Londoners have invested so much time and ostensibly money into the details of their homes.  Is it because they have a greater appreciation for the decorative arts?  Or perhaps it's because it requires a certain level of affluence to own a home in London; and thus, they have the money to invest in the decoration?  Maybe, by virtue of being such an old city, much of the detailed decoration is leftover from a time past?One of the best parts about the wrought iron fences is the unique finials.  The above pine cone is my favorite so far.  Traditionally, pine cones are meant to symbolize human enlightenment and eternal life.  I wonder if the homeowners chose the finial design because of its meaning.  Another example of this type of design choice involves lions.  Frequently, you will see lion statues outside buildings or lion door knockers.  The fierce lion is meant to protect the building and the home.
The other nice thing about the decorative detail in London is that it is amongst natural beauty. What do I mean by this? There's nothing quite like the magic of Paris, but everything is perfectly detailed and perfectly beautiful.  For me, sometimes this can lead to Paris seeming unreal and the beauty being less meaningful.  In London, not everything is perfectly tweaked out.  The careful details of the wrought iron fences lay against the natural growth of beautiful hedges.

London Street Fashion - Week of July 28