Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sojourn in Lewes: books, beer and bonfires.

I spent a few days in the Sussex town of Lewes recently, it is not far from London geographically but some distance atmospherically. It has lured a number of Londoners away in recent years. At first sight it seems a typically sleepy provincial town with its castle, main street, old fashioned shops and coaching inns. However a number of odd qualities mark the place out. The least surprising is the dominance of the Harvey’s Brewery. Despite being at the bottom of the hill it has completely usurped the position of the castle.

Harvey's Brewery.

This overthrowing of aristocratic hubris by popular assent rests well with the second quality of Lewes, a belligerence against authority. It is a chippy little place, the home town of Thomas Paine will not be told what to do. Thus it has been a haven for various non-conformists over the centuries. This spirit is demonstrated today by an infamous Guy Fawkes night (the good people of Lewes know how to burn an effigy) and the area of Cliffe retaining a Passport to Pimlico style claim to independence. I recall being told by a Lewes-based barrister how the locals had registered their objection to some parking meters; by simply blowing them up. A final notable fact about Lewes is that it had an avalanche. Yes really. With snow and everything (but no St Bernards ).

Guy Fawke's night Lewes style.

On our way down we encountered our own mini disaster, flooding, and our train was stuck for some time. Even worse we were stuck next to a couple with a child who climbed on at Gatwick and were so appalling it made the wait a challenge. Loudly they talked about Italy, and this and that and Italy again and how it was going to be terribly difficult for them to adjust to England and how their poor little boy would find things so difficult and how exotic Waitrose would seem. Only when an older couple enquired quietly did we find they had been in Naples for just a fortnight… Upon mentioning this to our taxi driver on arrival he murmured darkly that they were “probably from Glynde”….

Vintage Shirt Company goodies.

We were looking forward to relaxing, possibly catching up with chums and shopping. I have to declare from the off that Lewes was rubbish in terms of vintage feminine wear. It was, however very good for jewellery of all periods. There are dozens of little antique and junk shops, not especially cheap (that doesn’t happen within a commute of London) but great to ferret around and enough of them to waste the best part of a day. It is a bit like sifting for gold really, you just work your way through lots of grubby dim cabinets looking for a 'find', unlikely as 'antique' dealers are a sharp bunch. The chap found an excellent swagger stick and purchased unusual cufflinks, pieces of turquoise held in pitch in old silver settings.

For the boys there is the presence of the shop of the very chappist Vintage Shirt Company, in fact Lewes is a treat for the chaps as there seemed to be plenty of antique masculine knick knacks plus an old-fashioned gentlemen’s outfitters and tobacconists on the High Street. There were ample picturesque thoroughfares to amble along and although I didn’t enjoy the tart smell of the brewery on the wind, its presence ensured a plentiful supply of pubs to provide refreshment.

The place has lots of antiquarian and second hand book shops. The bearded one borders upon obsessive compulsive about them and collects ancient tatty paperbacks. Funnily enough I find book dealers shops dreary and depressing. I have recently met a couple of fun bookmen but they are a very rare thing. The book dealer is by temperament a sulky uncommunicative type with no enthusiasm for either book or customer. The same cannot be said for Matt Birch’s bijou book emporium in Lewes. This might be because he sells new books, because he likes them or simply because he might (whisper it) be a bookseller who likes people.

Sky-Lark Bookshop

It may seem perverse to open a book store in a town full of charity shops, book dealers and savvy trendy Londoners who will buy on Amazon but Matt’s shop: ‘Sky-Lark’ is founded upon it’s owner's love of reading. Go in and start a conversation and he will discuss his stock with enthusiasm. The best example of this is to pass on his answer about what he enjoyed selling:

‘Books: Lewesian poetess, Catherine Smith's saucy collection, Lip (she was shortlisted for theForward Prize 2009); Lewes-based publisher Sylph Editions (www.sylpheditions.com) exquisite marriage of word and image, Ten Poems by Hafez by Jila Peacock, in which she sets her own translations of 10 multi-layered love poems next to animal shape-poems in the Persian calligraphic tradition, Wildwood by Roger Deakin, The Time travellers Guide to Medieval England, Prints: Brighton printmaker Helen Brown's woodcuts of the surrounding downs, always with her signature bold curling cloudscapes Films: The Page Turner, Hidden, The Darjeeling Ltd., Spirited Away, Spirit of the Beehive, The Motorcycle Diaries, Goodbye Lenin, Distant Voices Still Lives, Buffalo 66, Withnail and I (of course!) Music: Welcome to the Illinoise (Sufjan Stevens), Ruth Notman, Cole Porter, Sigur Ros, Madeleine Peyroux (esp. her gorgeous cover of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars" on the Careless Love album - surely one of the modern great tracks for all the romantics and flaneurs out there) and pretty much anything from Brazil or Cape Verde! Crafts: Peruvian animal finger puppets, Madagascan recycled wire bicycles, Bolivian recycled glassware (chunky, the odd bubble, subtle green tint), Indian gorara stone elephant carved inside an elephant, snake boxes.’

Sky-Lark again.

You’ve got to love a shop where you can buy books and snake boxes. Bottles of beer aside Lewes was short of gifts or local products to take home, in a way this was a good thing, the lack of ye olde quainte tat but one of Skylark’s stock of locally inspired or related books would be the answer to what to take to loved ones. The book stock is complemented by prints by local artists, fair trade gifts and an interesting selection of world music on CD. The proprietor is also a talented photographer and some of his prints are also on sale. I fess up to the fact that this shop is owned by an old friend but it is really worth a gander. Good book shops are gems.

Exterior of the Needlemakers Centre

It is also inside an interesting building, the Needlemakers: a restored candle making factory that was converted to make hypodermic needles during the thirties, Matt still finds them under the parquet flooring in his shop. There are reputedly ghosts in the basement. The building houses several other small businesses including a ladies vintage dress store which sadly had so-so stock and Kensington prices. On the ground floor however is an interesting bric a brac/junk shop which had a few charming pieces and a copy of The Chap magazine in the window. The café on the premises had eccentric service but served a very good afternoon tea with clotted cream.

Lewes is not a gastronomic town, its busy ‘happening’ place was called Bill’s but it didn’t appeal, it was too Westbourne Grove for my taste: a bit like a more primary coloured Petersham Nurseries type thing, although the food looked good. A little place down the road called Le Magazine however gave me a pile of strawberries with my scone (compensating for the whipped cream) was friendlier. We had decent pub grub, particularly at the Snowdrop. A bit of an institution this place, decked out now in a canal boat like way with painted canal ware hanging from the ceiling. It went through a rough patch apparently but seems to be on form again if the jolly staff and the scotch eggs are anything to go by. We also stayed at a pub: The Dorset Arms. It was very clean reasonably priced and in a central location. The guest rooms were named after famous residents of the town and I am pleased to report we were placed in the Thomas Paine Room.

There is not a lot to do in Lewes. You walk up the hill, then down the hill. You potter around in antique and book shops. You drink some beer. But really, what else do you want from an English country town?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Get out of my nostalgic world - confessions of a retro snob?

I'd have this lot as vintage door dragons....

One of my nicest vintage friends has been getting some flak, undeservedly, for producing a measured personal account of her experience working at a certain recent purportedly vintage festival. Now I didn’t attend said festival and this post is not about it, I reserve judgement and maybe I’ll go next time. I do have something to say however about a comment, unfounded, concerning vintage ‘snobbery’.

I am coming out as a vintage snob. I am not the kind of person who believes in absolute authenticity. Good luck to you if your entire outfit was hand sewn by prisoners of war using needles fashioned from downed Messerschmidts. Quite probably you look great. But so does the girl wearing the Next vintagey dress and new look shoes that look just the same as yours. So it’s not a ‘purist’ snobbery.

Nor is it that kind of ‘I have been doing this for years’ snobbery. That shows commitment true, but not superiority. Someone who has just got into it all is a joy. The more the merrier. And if they decide next year they prefer the 80’s? It matters not and they may sell their dresses, hopefully to me, for next to nothing. So it’s not a ‘lets bash the newbie’ snobbery.

I don’t have that ‘but that isn’t period style!’ attitude. If people have gone to town, dressed up in their favourite things and are looking forward to an event, superb. It doesn’t matter if it is a contemporary minimal cocktail dress. If someone has gone for their own version of fancy pants and they feel good: great. Bring on the sequin dresses and halston inspired silky jumpsuits. Glamour is, as Gordon Gekko should have said, good. So I’m not a ‘period’ snob.

So what is my snobbery? Simply that I really really don’t want jeans, trainers, T shirts and fancy dress in my face at a vintage event. I really don’t give a monkeys if it is elitist, they can just piss off. Why the invective? Well I wear my nice little dress and go somewhere that has a retro style and elegance that appeals to the romantic in me (please see my recent post onTthe Far Pavilion Party to see what I mean). I am surrounded by lovely people who have made an effort, no matter how simple and can imagine myself somewhere wonderful. Then a group of twats wander in t shirts and crappy festival fashion and ruin it. They appear and spoil the feel for others whilst enjoying it themselves without contributing or taking part. Selfish gits.

Is it so bloody difficult to make a slight concession? Fancy dress is the worst. You spend your time having fun, collecting and enjoying music and an era then some pillock walks in a nylon wig. Would they turn up at a reggae festival and black up? No, because it is offensive. I’ll repeat it offensive. There are plenty of lovely events which make a virtue of costumes and fantasy to go to, such as The Secret Garden Party. So why come and annoy me, I'm old enough and grumpy enought as it is.

These girls are obviously hiding their Topshop togs......

Whilst for many fashion is the thing, and yes as a vintage chapette an element of wearing your best is the dressing up and showing off. But there is a difference between that and being local colour for a load of gormless festies or trendy revellers. I don’t like finding I have been invited to provide a nice vintage image for others, unless I am being paid or rewarded for doing it. If you go to a fete to demonstrate jive dancing fine, if you go to a social vintage event you are a participator not a decoration. Don't forget we get quite a lot of abuse for our vintage inclinations on a daily basis, declared 'vintage' events are our safe relaxing harbour, our fun. I can go to any All Bar One on a Saturday night and mix with Ugg boots and distressed t-shirts. I don’t go to vintage events to provide entertainment for the normals. They can go out and hire a dvd of the Great Gatsby from Blockbusters.

I’ll be nice to anyone who is nice to me and sympathetic to anyone who turns up in…shudders…trainers by accident. Similarly those who blunder in but are nice are, well, simply nice. But there is not reason why I should be expected to have my enjoyment compromised in order to be accessible to others.

So there I am, outed as a ‘snob’, or am I?

Intelligent comments welcome.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Inamo Restaurant

Exterior of Inamo

In Japan interactive electric table tops are not new. My favourite electric game was the one where you had to stab a finger onto jumping frogs, I once saw a salary man get so caught up in killing virtual frogs he jabbed his finger in his soup and then emitted a cry of scalded pain. A similar kind of interactive table top can now be found in Inamo in Wardour Street minus both frogs and salarimen.


Inamo presents Asian fusion cooking from a dark modern interior where a feature is made of the lamps projecting images onto the tables below. Its fare is classier than its Japanese equivalent and it has a bar in the basement. Upon entering and being seated your first challenge is to order your food, as a waitress demonstrated to us how to use the small touchpad on our right to launch our images I could not help wondering if a menu would just have been easier. It took time to get the hang of the touch sensitive images and you kept on having to faff about to look back at things. Naturally I was going the wrong way about it, I should have just chosen what I fancied, moved it to the pending list and then narrowed my choice down at the end. Duh! However sheer novelty value aside there were advantages, each table top choice showed a description and a photograph which would have made a paper menu cumbersome.

Inamo Cocktail.

And what of the food? Well the meal started well with my cocktail, the ‘Inamo’ (mandarin puree, spring onion, Smirnoff Black and chilli syrup) which had a dense fruity consistency and a pleasing sting. It also looked pretty against my dark table top, garnished with a ferocious looking chilli. We had edamame. I’m an edamame mama, can’t resist the little things, literally give me a bucket of them and I will consume the whole lot with gusto. Of course these are a healthier beer snack than pork crackling, all that green low sodium legumey goodness. Apart that is, from the fact that, of course they don’t taste quite right without a generous sprinkling of salt. I took Katie Chutzpah who in fine fashionista style opted for the fish options. Her starter: avocado with raw tuna was a bit too sticky for my taste but she professed herself delighted. She followed this with the eponymous Black Cod and was again very happy. The fish was fresh and well cooked. Personally I can’t get too enthusiastic about a dish that I used to have as a Japanese school dinner on a weekly basis but we Brits do like our cod in miso and Inamo is another place you can get it, for a reasonable price. I decided, somewhat contrarily to have the Cinnamon Chicken, this was actually very good. Nice char-grilled meat with a kind of pan asian Cajun feel; the cinnamon working almost like a jerk coating. Lovely. Nicest bit of chicken I have had in a while, well flavoured and a little unusual.

Having eaten it was time to play around with a few of the non-culinary buttons, one was for transport links (very considerate) but there is another with games and puzzles. I glanced around and found several people, admittedly all male, engrossed in games on their table tops. It occurred to me that this could be the perfect place to bring a truculent teenage boy to for dinner.

Interactive table top.

There were things about Inamo that didn’t entirely win me over. I believe that as in Japan, a main course should automatically come with rice and even soup. The fact that the food arrives (and this is like Japan) at irregular intervals meant that at one point KC had all her food and I had none. Also the loos bore signs of it having been a busy day.

However, the bill was for this type of food and location quite reasonable at £60.00 for two mains, four side dishes and two drinks including a cocktail. The staff were particularly patient, pleasant and attentive and once you got the hang of the interactive tables they were a giggle. This is not a place I would go to for a romantic date but it is a fun idea for dining with a group of friends and I think the chaps would enjoy playing around with the table tops (because, simple souls, they do like twiddling with things. I noticed a couple of families with older children who also seemed very happy with the place. I just wish they had a button enabling us to order suave dapper chaps, bearing buckets of beans.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Far Pavilions Party

Interior of Salon D'Ete Far Pavilions Party.

I suspect that many of those reading this will know of the New Sheridan Club. It is an offshoot of an offshoot of that splendid magazine The Chap (although not officially affiliated, the NSC doesn’t really do official). They hold monthly meetings in Fitzrovia upstairs in the Wheatsheaf. These usually include a small talk or show or presentation encompassing a frankly bewildering range of subjects. Yours truly once gave a talk on typewriters cunningly disguised as a discourse on vampires. It is quite a blokey version of vintageyness. Be prepared for blathering on about cricket and other entirely tedious gentlemanly pursuits. However the reactionary wannabe an aristo type of pseudo doesn’t really fit in here, but the profoundly eccentric or simply cheerful type does.

The Committee themselves, an entirely voluntary foursome set the tone: the Chairman, whom I, ahem know rather well is a furry charmball who tempers his cleverness with, well, light inebriation. Artemis the Louche Librarian, quipper and afficianado of rather severe uniforms. Mr Clayton Hartley whose expression of bemused dapperness hides a handiness with both saucepan and bass guitar (although thankfully not at once) and the other Chairman, a gentleman who combines dressing his infant daughter up in a series of bizarre hats with running an imaginary rowing club.

Mr Clayton Hartley

The club which has about 300 members across the globe has an influence in vintage circles as pernicious as the illuminati. The dominate the Chap Olympiad, can be seen faffing around at most retro events (or more likely propping up the bar) but their most natural environment is the NSC party. An event that descends upon London twice a year. The Christmas ones are distinctly lacking in yuletide references, 2008’s ‘Kredit Krunk Kabaret’ was followed by last years superb ‘Yes we can can’ do. A couple of weeks ago saw this year’s Summer event, of which this post is supposed to be a review.

The Far Pavilions Party was held this year at the Salon D’Ete, a pop up club near Selfridges set up by NSC members Ed Saperia , Willow and with chef Will Sprunt (also a club member). Prominently featuring lots of greenery and with a glass roof it has the air of a colonial café circa 1890. Thus the theme. This was interpreted very widely by the attendees. One of the strengths of these parties is that people do go for it, although the NSC member tends to be the kind of person that has fly whisks, pith helmets and silk kimonos in their wardrobes. We had lots of khaki and the British raj, but also elements of South Asia and the Orient.

Far Pavilions guests..

Plotting under the palms..

Torquil Arbuthnot manned the door, looking frankly rather seedy in a Last Man in Africa Foreign Correspondent gone to pot way. MC Fruity manned the shellac playing hits from the 30’s and 40’s. There were at various points during the event, outbreaks of lindy hopping, jiving and a large amount of maniacal Charlestoning.

This is what you get when you play music people actually want to dance to. Live music was also provided by one half of Twin and Tonic and her band.

One of the unique elements is that NSC parties have games, cheese rolling, pinning the moustache on Poirot, Tiger Hunting and my personal favourite so far ‘shoot the capitalist’. This years games included balloon shaving and poppadom shooting, an interesting indoor variation clay pigeon shooting.

Poppadom shooting.

The committee had cleverly obtained some ‘subsidised gin’, which softened the shock of the usual bar prices (usual for Mayfair that is) along with free white absinthe from the absinthe ‘fairy’. Some of those who indulged in the latter reported the next day that they did indeed feel as if they had spent the night in a fairy ring: having their head walloped with a big stick.

It was a good atmospheric night and I have few criticisms. Letting in non NSC members or friends was not perhaps the best idea, some were really annoying but fortunately they were outnumbered. This also watered down the usual feeling of clubby repartee and membership. It did feel a bit more like a club night than a party. But as a change it was a good evening and vastly superior to most of its competition. Congratulations to the organisers and to the attendees!

NSC Ladies...

Yours truly....
last 2 pics courtesy of Jenny

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Redleg's Retro Rave Up!

I didn’t go to Vintage at Goodwood, and although people had a good time on reflection, weather, queues, primark an’ all I am quite glad I didn’t. However it is all well and good (and a national pastime) to have a good moan but have any of us considered how we would go about it ourselves? I have thought about the kind of vintage event(s) I’d enjoy and came to the conclusion of how I’d do it. Welcome to Redleg’s Retro Rave-Up (first thing I would do is change the name!)

Era. I’d go for an inclusive 20’s/30’s and 40’s theme. The reasons for this are that:

a) The 20’s and 30’s are under-represented.

b) The 40’s on it’s own gets bogged down in the war which are covered in re-enactment events although forties home-front style would be welcomed.

c) The music and dance of the period, jazz, swing, big band, lindy-hop, jive etc works across the periods and might appeal to fifties fans too.

Location. Smaller events appeal to me and this kind of location would suit:

a) Somewhere like Bisley where the Hotrod Hayride is held. It is close to London, near a major train line, has camping facilities and a charming retro-feel. No Glamping or camp apartheid.

b) A London park ie Victoria or Crystal Palace Parks. Easy to get to, a huge range of accommodation on the doorstep and historical park features (boating lakes, bandstands, dinosaurs). Plus profits go to local council.

c) Cost: daily advance entry, reasonable pitch and vendor charges to cover licensing, security, amenities and clean-up. Sponsorship welcome only from relevant suppliers ie: gin and lingerie companies.

Organisation. Divide into four sections:

a) The Chap Olympiad in one section (because you can never have too many Chap Olympiads!)

b) A vintage fete: beer and cider tents, entertainment marquees and bands, performers and activities. And bumper cars.

c) Vintage flea market: vendors, vintage emporiums.

d) Arena. Area for display of cars, motorbikes, bicycles, utility vehicles and other shiny things that people are proud of.

Things I’d like to see?

A dress code at the entry gates.

Lectures on dress from various periods and how to preserve, care and clean vintage clobber. Fan painting.

Men’s hat doffing classes.

A dog show.

A fashion show a la the Chapwalk but where visitors can sign up on the day and show off their best togs.

A bonfire of jeans to end the day with pagan purification.

Now I just need someone with a bit of cash to help out with the funding.

Would you come to this or do you have ideas for your perfect vintage beano, please share, who knows perhaps a future organiser might listen, so please comment. x

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Commercial Tavern Review.

Exterior of the (rather wonderful) Commercial Tavern.

I’m not convinced by Shoreditch’s drinking holes. At the weekend the Old Street end is full of marauding hen and stag nights. The other parts are full of scenesters and then there are the junkies and nasties hanging around to prey on them. Late at night the place has a palpable air of aggression. I also now find the carefully eclectic interiors with ironic bits and pieces annoying. Twenty years ago it was charming but now you can almost produce a list of requirements for bars and pubs of this genre:

A neon sign saying anything (but sadly not C***y like the Colony Rooms)

Gaudy flocked wall paper

Graffiti ‘art’ in the loos

A print of Elvis, Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper (delete as appropriate)

A lot of crappy old mid century furniture

A couple of mashed old sofas

One really expensive piece of furniture (just so you know they are actually really quite wealthy but are just being sarky)

A glitter ball

Barman in twat hat who calls himself a ‘mixologist’

Vaguely disinterested service

Pleased with itself Indie soundtrack interspersed with old ska and dotted with Lady Gaga or Cheryl Cole (like, we’ve got a sense of humour, ya)

Now I am not a Camraphiliac and prefer a cocktail to a pint but I do think that there are a few things that are essential for a pub or bar to be able to hold it’s head up high in London. Considering the prices and the hype of the trendy East End the bar should be set even higher. The interior should be fit for purpose and appealing and the staff should be interested and efficient. A decent range of wine and well kept draught beers is a good thing as are decent cocktails. These things are basics, desirable extras include a regular friendly clientele and an interesting sociable landlord. Personally I am not too concerned about food, but am satisfied with decent pork pies, scotch eggs or a bag of crisps. East London does however have a couple of good bars and pubs, and one of my favourites which manages to be fashionable, arty and yet still a decent pub is the Commercial Tavern.

I first visited this place on a hot Sunday afternoon a month ago, en route to Soho Shoreditch House. This used to be a very grotty pub, but it is now a jewel box of a place. It was always an attractive building with its circular façade. Now the interior is a fantasy of antique wall papers, distressed painted wood work and furniture in pale palette. In the airy upstairs bar you sit at tables next to wide windows watching the street below. If this sounds a bit twee it is not the case because the décor is not the usual corporate take on notting hill ethereal but a bit gothic and Alice through the Looking Glass.

There is a wit to the place that is playful rather than archly knowing and just a little dark. In the upstairs bar the plates on the wall feature, on closer examination a bestiary of creatures such spiders and cockroaches creeping across the porcelain. Above the doorway a flock of stuffed birds stare down and I felt momentarily like Tippi Hedren. Another wall is covered with jigsaw pieces painted gold which must have been a painstaking process. The gents (I was informed) is wallpapered with Popeye and chums whilst the games room has paintings of iconic Eastenders adorning the walls. It is pretty, witty but not ‘up itself’.

The pub sells Greenwich Meantime beers on draught. The first time I went in I was vacillating in front of the barmaid about my drink. Even though busy she volunteered options and offered to give me a taste of anything I wanted. How refreshing. The second time I visited I had both cocktails and wine, both of which were good quality. The cocktail choice was limited, but it was nice they were available and the one I had was well made and inexpensive. The rose I subsequently glugged was also moreish.

Perhaps the real strength of the place is the landlady: Maria. This is definitely her pub and her personality, having met her is stamped all over the place. A stylish husky- voiced lady she was present both times I visited. It is sad that so many places now are just corporately managed. A good pub or bar requires someone with character at its helm. We had a fantastic evening, I don’t remember getting home, feel I should apologise to the bar staff for something or the other and one of my group found lots of polaroids none of us remembers being taken in her pockets. They depict us looking inebriated yet very happy -one of the best waking states to find oneself in.

This place might not suit some, but it definitely suits me and probably the kind of people I gravitate to: bohemian, stylish, drunkards. Certainly the Commercial Tavern is now my drinking spot of choice in that part of London.

Minn x

Atelier Millinery- New Shop!

Exterior of Atelier Millinery

Hats are curious things. They have been deeply unfashionable for men and women since the mid 1960’s. Now they are relegated to the role of bridal tribal flying saucers or little sticky outey feather fascinators which often seem to have something of the muppet puppet about them. Of course at the high end of fashion they have never departed from the catwalk and have always had a small but passionate fan base; the late Isabella Blow comes to mind.

Wearing a hat versus not wearing a hat is the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. (Martha Sliter)

Hat detractors point to the awkwardness of carrying them around and the difficulty of finding somewhere to put them. It is a chicken and egg situation, when hats disappeared so did hat stands and hooks. If hats were popular again these would reappear, they never went away in truly stylish bars and restaurants. As for the awkwardness, these claims come from the same fashion forward people who drag massive stupid bags around and totter on gladiator heels. I am passionate about hats and in the winter make an effort to wear one, even if it is only a beret. If our inner-city yout can slope about in over-priced baseball caps quite happily all year round it is hard to understand the reluctance elsewhere to don headgear.

If a woman rebels against high heeled shoes, she should take care to do it in a very smart hat. (George Bernard Shaw)

In my opinion hats have wonderful advantages, although they need to suit your face and character they do not rely on diets or the vagaries of fashion and its innate body fascism. Few things will make you look as good, or as different as simply putting on a good hat. Stored they last for decades, they also keep your head dry, warm and hide bad hair. Of course in vintage circles hats have never gone out of fashion but there is a paucity of places to buy them, especially new or bespoke. I have mentioned Lynette in Islington for vintage titfers and Orizu for repro but a new resource for those interested in millinery has appeared in London. Additionally it is conveniently located in Kingly Court, near Carnaby Street and very close to my favourite hair artiste, Miss Betty and a plethora of other vintage minded shops.

Lots of lovely hats.

Atelier Millinery is on the first floor of Kingly Court. Within you can find hats ready to buy (for both gents and ladies), trimmings and hat making materials and also attend classes. You can also commission a hat, particularly useful when all the department store have on offer are rows of mad looking fascinators or dowdy straws in colours you don't want.


The shop is small and reminds me of a sewing box, large antique display cases hold a variety of trimmings, ribbons and veiling, some of which are vintage (such as ostrich feathers in a range of shades) and/or sourced from abroad. This is particularly useful as new trimmings often don’t match old hats, and vintage hats often need to be repaired or pepped up. Of note to forties buffs are the poppies and pansies made of antique ribbon. A make do and mend staple when old Edwardian dresses were often denuded of their trimmings to produce hat decorations during the war. Atelier offer classes in making these flowers which make equally charming brooches and hair decorations.

Ribbon pansies.

Ribbons and hat pins.

It is difficult to learn millinery in London in a hobbyist sense, the main part-time classes at Morley run in the day time, otherwise it is case of working for a milliner. For dilletantes there is little opportunity to mess around with straw and felt. Atelier run courses in hat making including straw panamas, cloche hats and most appealing to me, 1950’s skull caps. If you consider you get tutoring, materials and a home made hat for the cost they are reasonable, the price list is available here.

You can flirt with a fan in your hand. You can flirt holding a cigarette, too. But a woman can really flirt with a hat. (Dolores Foster)

From the vintage point of view the range has plenty of possibilities; I saw a charming small hat in a silvery gold fabric with a fluff of feathers. A million miles away from cheap high street fascinators, it reeked of thirties Jean Harlow in a silky bias dress and Hollywood glamour. I was also taken by a turquoise hand blocked straw decorated with a vintage cherry trimming which had a kooky feel and would compliment a thirties or forties day outfit perfectly (see picture below). The gentlemen were also well served with a selection of panamas and caps. And as for the Dandies out there remember this could be an opportunity to order that mustard and burgundy fedora you’ve been yearning for.

Like any other hand crafted or bespoke item the hats are not particularly cheap but they are good value. Hats are pricey items, but remember they can be re-trimmed and they really are one of those things where cheapness is actually noticeable. Atelier’s hats are comparatively inexpensive. For the vintage-minded Atelier Millinery could be a useful resource, run in a co-operative way by people enthusiastic about their product and therefore deserveing of custom. I suspect they will do well with the Summer wedding/Race going crowd who can get their Treacy quality hats at a snip. However I would encourage vintage types, steampunkesses and others to have a look. It can be a nightmare to match hats to vintage clothes but a well placed hat band and trimming can make all the difference and there are very few places with informed staff who can advise you. If you don’t believe me just try Debenhams!

Comments make my day so please do! x

The rush of power to the head is not as becoming as a new hat. (Helen Van Slyke)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Retro rantophon...

It's raining, I drank too much last night (again) and felt it was time for a whinge. And with general gnarliness being particularly rife in the blogosphere right now thought I'd dip my poisonous painted toe nail into the virtual water. 'Wot I hate about Vintage' seemed a good place to start. Pleasingly I have realised there isn't much. Rather there are things, largely peripheral to the whole business that get up my nose. Which is a good sign. But I am selfless so I have had a go at a good old rant:

1) Unfriendlies. There you are. Walking down a street in your best forties tea dress, fifties shoes and adorned with your gallant attempt at victory rolls. Walking towards you a girl with a lucite bag, V of H dress and similar attempt at coiled hair. There you are, both surrounded by a sea of cheap sports wear and torn jeans. You smile, she blanks you. This is not only rude but stupid: the chances of meeting again are high and when tipsy I am formidable.

But you really aren't...

2) Evil Dealers. The cowboys of the second-hand clothing market. They lie, they sew fake labels in dresses. Like the woman on Sunday who told me a dress was by Horrockses, it had the right kind of look but was too flimsy. The label was virtually unreadable and in the wrong place. Evil Dealers also know nothing about their stock and if you ask for a few quid off they look horrified. It's not Harrods love, its a crappy stall!

Sadly the 'evil dealer' is not usually this upfront.

3) Ecoretro-warriors. It is good that vintage is recycling and I don't want to pollute the world any more than I have to. But in terms of my vintage tastes my motivations are stylistic and romantic. Somehow or the other I don't like being associated with that whole Notting Hill, Dave Cameron festival eco-thing, I prefer to be privately responsible.

4) Remaking. That habit of getting designers to remake and butcher old clothes for 'recycling'. The result is always rubbish. I don't mind having bad old second hand stuff cut up but I have seen a couple of nice things hacked up. They survive four decades and then some twit decides to turn them into an asymmetrically hemmed tunic top with patches. It hurts to see it.

Pass me the scissors.....

5) Regrets. You know, the special vintage ones. Why didn't I get my gran to show me how to set my hair? Why didn't I buy the fantastic fifties prom dress that didn't quite fit even though if I had engaged brain I would have realised a couple of panels would have solved the problem? And for that matter why did I bunk off for a sneaky cigarette at school during sewing lessons?

Now this girls, is a needle.....

6) Stinky spots, stains and smells. That smell that we have to endure, hopefully only we do notice it. I have a couple of things that niff of damp so much I cannot stand too close to others. Dry cleaning, various home remedies and sprays help but it never seems to go. Then there is your vintage find, spoilt by a mysterious stain in a strange place. Euwww.

7) Excellence. Our ancestors were good at things. They waltzed, lindy-hopped and jived superbly, just look at the oldies gliding around the dance floors at weddings and feel shamed. Then there is the dressmaking, knitting, expert hair setting and curling and unflappable make up application. All this and two world wars, suffragettes and feminism. Maybe it is because they didn't have television. Or maybe it is because I am rubbish. I can't dance, my make-up is a nightmare and I feel like I should undergo rituals and carry out invocations before attempting to roll my hair up. Thank gawd I can rustle up a cocktail.

Amazing what you can do with a kirby grip and a mangle.

8) Ignorance. From the whole non-vintage world. We like our retro stuff because it looks good. Fabulous fitted, slinky, swirly, swishy, severe, elegant stuff. So why aren't the shops always full of great tea dresses, petticoats, fitted suits and well tailored suits? The designers try, but look at Prada, they make a perfect retro dress then adorn the front with a frou frou bib that looks like insect spittle. Bah!

Uh oh....

9) Doppelganger effect. Sadly there are a limited number of repro dress makers out there, and we buy lots from the good ones. So anywhere you go there is a very high chance of seeing the same dress out there on someone else, looking better on them. However to be fair, as a cheerful bunch with wildly differing hair and looks this can be cheerfully laughed off.

This is as acceptable a vintage look...

as this....

10) Fundamentalism. I don't mean being wedded to one period, or seeking to live in an environment reflecting one era or even being completely nuts about it. What I do mean is that minority who regard a love for the past as naturally sitting with an idealised past with greater certainties even when they are regressive or oppressive. People should happily follow their tastes regardless of religion, political inclination, race, sex or view. I don't like PC behaviour, the 'oh I feel so offended' or she used a 'rude' word attitude.

I found it really difficult to find 'hates'. What I have found, is that you meet the nicest people, from different walks of life and of different ages. My vintage world is different from others. I fantasise about the deck of a cruise ship in the 30's, drinking cocktails in a Noel Coward world whereas others may imagine a sunny fifties seafront, with cars cruising and Cochrane singing from the radio. At heart I expect we are all romantics!

Comments are as ever very welcome, Minn x

A cuppa gin and a big laugh.....

Friday, 6 August 2010

Bob Bob Ricard "Let them eat caviar..."

Exterior of Bob Bob Ricard.

London has a vibrant restaurant team, yet this vibrancy seldom seems to extend to the feel of the places where we dine. The default is bleached wood, bleached walls and tastefully bleached abstracts on the walls. When this is not the case there is, even with the most dramatic interiors a restraint, a tendency to take the historic route. I feel this is a result of the parsimony of the chattering classes tempered by the fear that a flamboyant interior will detract from the food, or in the cliche often employed by food writers, the food will not be 'able to speak for itself'. Personally I feel an important element of dining out is occasion; that you are not eating in any space that apes your home or that of your friends. Which is why I am becoming steadily more irritated by the tendency of restaurants to ape a Notting Hill/Islington genus of domestic aesthetics. Restaurants are public places, and a chef with confidence can cope with the most demented interior. Anything is preferable to bland.

Interior of Bob Bob Ricard.

Bland is especially undesirable when you are dolled up to the nines, what you want is an environment worth the pin-curls and pain. Bob Bob Ricard in Soho where I ate last week is one of those establishments that has the courage of its convictions and is most distinctly not 'griege' in any way. You could certainly take your smartest thirties suit and smartest chap out to it. The interior is glamorous but not conventional. The place has, on one side a pleasingly thirties feel, with deco designs on the windows and surfaces burnished in shades of varnished browns. The kind of place a Shanghai Express Dietrich could slink into with its hints of classy Pullman dining car velvetiness. The seating booths, in dark blue/green leather upholstered leather also has the intimacy that was a trademark of restaurants and supper clubs of that era. It also makes it a decent location for assignations or dates. At the same time the use of gold and the seventies brutalist/cubist style chandeliers give the place more than a hint of high class Moscow Hotel bar and I was unsurprised to detect a Russian influence in the menu. Even more so as the titular Bob Bob is Russian.

Bob Bob Ricard offers ‘all day’ dining which has produced an eclectic menu containing as it has to, food suitable for brunch, lunch, afternoon and late night meals. We were moving on to a private view and knew we would be drinking possibly until late so we ate early in the evening ,and for us, lightly. Amongst the dishes we sampled the stand outs included Torquil's starter of a venison steak tartare. Less oleaginous than the traditional beef steak version it was well seasoned and had a pleasing gamey edge. I also liked the presentation, the raw quail egg to top the tartare sat in it's shell and the interior of a quails egg posesses of the most beautiful colours on God's earth. We opted for Russian dishes as our main courses. A chicken Kiev was efficiently prepared and filling. I had pelmeni, small dumplings that disconcertingly always resemble either contraceptive caps or door handles. But they are meaty tasty little things and I like all things dumpling. Talking of little things I had the little lemon pot dessert which turned out to be an engaging combination of tart lemon dessert, with fresh raspberries and a long pastry straw which was very handy for accessing the lemon goo (encased in one of those funny little kilner jars that restaurateurs love so much. There have been criticisms that the restaurant is too eclectic, but we managed formal traditional three course meals with no problems. Recently people have become obsessed with being led and guided through their food, but if you want several small dishes, I see no reason why a restaurant should be criticised for a tapas like approach.


Personally I felt whilst there that Bob Bob Ricard had a few things to offer that are currently under the radar of London diners, possibly due to its location in one of the more obscure side roads in the Carnaby Street end of Soho.

Ground floor bar.

One was its attractive bar. There are no grand hotel bars in this immediate area to go to for a good cocktail in sophisticated surroundings. Most drinking holes in the area are either full of braying media types in the week or stag/hen nights at the weekend. Prices for cocktails were reasonable and we felt this would be a very good place to kick off your Soho night with a few martinis. I heard the comforting rattle of a shaker several times and the cocktails did look good. The basement bar/restaurant area is currently being renovated but should open in September. Even in disarray it had a more louche speakeasy feel than the ground floor. In addition, and I feel the need to capitalise this, the floor is designed and inlaid to resemble a BACKGAMMON BOARD. It may well be a contender for best floor in a London restaurant land, an honour currently held by the Wolseley (no great shocker as the same designer is behind both establishments and the man’s a genius).

The downstairs area (re-opening in September) please note floor.

The other thing I could not help but notice was CAKE or rather a small group of young women having a late and somewhat boozy afternoon tea. The afternoon tea looked charming, I was really taken with the witty cakes on the upper tier which were miniatures of traditional classics; a tiny square of battenburg, a miniature slice of victoria sponge and what must be a contender for the smallest rhum baba in the world.

So what did I think of the place? Well I review primarily from the point of view of the vintage-retro interested Soho diner. And from this point of view sheerly in response to its full-on glamour it gets a thumbs up, I do feel that it is the perfect place to lounge around and chomp our way through caviar, eggs benedict and english cheeses. We plan to go back and carry out the patented 'White Lady' cocktail test at the bar and will report back but the overall impression was of a bartender who knew what he was doing. Whilst saying that it is not a cheap restaurant it does have occasional tastings and special offers and this one caught my eye:

‘Let Them Eat Caviar’ at Bob Bob Ricard
In line with Bob’s commitment to make Bob Bob Ricard the number one choice for caviar in London, he presents The Caviar Lunch at just £19.75 every day throughout the month of August. Lunch consists of 10gr Caviar With Sour Cream And Blinis; Meat Pelmeni or Truffle & Potato Vareniki and a shot of Russian Standard Vodka served at minus 18C and must be ordered before 5pm.
Bob Bob Ricard already has a reputation for the best -priced fine wine and champagne list in the UK and is committed to extending unprecedented value to all of the luxury items on its menu. For comparison, the 10gr tin of caviar alone would cost £24 to buy retail at Harrods or Fortnum & Mason.
Ultimately I liked the place, the bar, the afternoon tea and the propensity to graze on smaller dishes are things I appreciate. I have my quibbles, one is that they are not getting the glamorous female clientele they could for afternoon teas and cocktails. The music didn’t appeal (but then again it seldom does). The service was good if a bit nervous, the one mistake with the order was rectified immediately. It will be interesting to see how it develops and what effect the re-opening of the basement floor will have. I’ll certainly be popping in with some ladies to try that afternoon tea…
A fuller more comprehensive review can be found at The Retrometropolitan blog, please have a look. Feedback is always welcome.


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