Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas from London!

Do have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, no matter where you are and whatever religion you have or don't have. Thank you for reading, as I have no sponsorship, nothing to give away and nothing to sell I appreciate it all the more. A very special thanks to those who commented on posts and hello to new followers. An aloha to those who I have met in person too. Please take care and have a great time. I won't be posting much over the festive season as I will be busy, hopefully, being festive. Meanwhile, Cheers!

2011: champagne bar or wheelie bin?!

It has been a bit of a curate’s egg, 2011. Parts of it have been very stressful others delightful. For me the worst thing was without doubt the Japanese Tsunami which upset me deeply, I am relieved my friends and their families are safe but feel for those less lucky.  The riots earlier in the year simply made me very angry, London is my city and I wish there were some way of simply evaporating those rioting morons out of it forever. The continued popularity of dire reality television and Cheryl Cole make me despair.

However there have been many good things; most of my friends and family have managed to stay healthy and sane. Some new little friends have arrived; hallo baby(s) Erin, Sophie, Veronica, Iris, Johnny and little Mason over in Seattle.  Here, like many others I am nominating things this year that I have personally liked/disliked about the past year. I know it is an unimaginative thing to do, I should really film myself as a bacon fairy torching a reindeer but I am frankly quite tired! So instead my own variation on the dreaded end of year list: Those that belong in the 'champagne bar' and others that deserve to be put in a 'wheelie bin'.

The champagne bar.

Good ‘vintage’ businesses. Because they have proved that if you do something well and with conviction you can rise above the plethora of risible so-called vintage businesses out there. Amongst the good examples this year have been: The Vintage Patisserie, HeydayClothing, Rockalily Lipsticks, Vivien of Holloway, Toprunway, Rocket Originals, What Katie Did and Able Grable . All are surviving the downturn and will survive the bursting of the ‘vintage’ bubble. Thanks for feeding/clothing/improving  me.

Dress from Heyday.

Barflying. It has been a good year for the cocktail bar. Too many have opened /refurbished for me to mention and I am glad as someone who does not really drink beer and is picky about wine to have alternatives. Along with a growth in the number of places taking cocktails seriously the attention to interior design and lux imbibing is appreciated. Subscribe to Diffords or follow Keith Barker Main to find out where to go. My favourite cocktail of 2011? The Twinkle.

The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy
Eurofood. My favourite food this year has mainly been Spanish particularly of the ham/cheese/mushroomy variety. Despite continuing to be fairly poorly for much of the year I have found the small, flavoursome dishes to be perfect and in London these days tapas bars have really upped their game. Sunshine lunches outside Dehesa with girlfriends are a perfect method for passing a summer afternoon. The most fun I have had in the winter has been long meals at Gastro in Clapham, snails in pernod and loads of wine.

Gastro Clapham

Small stylish clubbing. Best new club night of the year for me was the Candlelight Club, Clayton Hartley’s prohibition inspired speakeasy. Other promoters have jumped on this bandwagon but without the enthusiasm, interest and friendly hordes of this night. And you get sandwiches, and cocktails. The other things I enjoyed were the Society Club’s cinema nights at the Sanctum hotel and their shop/cafĂ© counts as my opening of the year. Somewhere in Soho with dogs, smarts, friendly people and cakes? It’s a no brainer really. The Vintage Mafia Sale and Socials at the Loveshake were also a right giggle and some nice people got some storming and very cheap new togs.

The Candlelight Club.

Period dramas on television, especially the adaptation of the Crimson Petal and the White. Now Downton abbey might be laughable but its massive popularity and the kerching of the international tills means we will get more period drama. And with Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Mildred Pierce the 20th century was well covered too. Whilst you could say that TOWIE is Dickensian in its own way it, and its stablemates are dire lazy television. I would much rather have my escapism in a bonnet and my eye candy in breeches thank you very much.

Romola Garai in The Crimson Petal and the White.

The removal of bendy buses. How strange and fancy that: people travelling without paying the fare were also the people stealing your wallet, vomiting on their feet, fighting and not giving elderly ladies seats. Now you can sit down and mind your own business. Unless you are on the 29 which is iredeemable.

A bendy bus.

London cheek. Perhaps it is down to the riots, the recession or the fact you have to sit in a damp tent with no alcohol for days before the media notice you but there seems to be a bit more humour and irreverence on the streets. In my bit of London someone was knitting cosies for lampposts. There is more laughter in pubs, more cheeky graffiti and even the local rozzers have been jollier. A lot more fairs, festivals and open days at grass root levels seem to be happening. And a lot more of that ‘standing up for what you believe in’ stuff. Can’t be bad.

The Streatham Ninja Knitters and their bollard cosies...

The Wheelie Bin.

Mexican food has broken out all over London and on the whole I am very ho hum about it all, mostly it consists of cheap wraps with beans. I rate La Perla in Covent Garden for its excellent tequilas and have a soft spot for Mestizo but otherwise, nouveau Mexican? Yawn.  My other gripe is the Burger chain Byron, taking over nice buildings, distressing the interiors and charging a fortune for cheap food. The London middle classes can be right mugs.


Colebrooke Row: a good not up itself bar for proper drinkers.

Bars you have to make appointments for even on quiet nights, mainly in East London. You know you climb through a fridge or something, if they like you and they know you are coming. What a load of crap, you don’t have to make an appointment to drink at the Savoy but to sit in some ironically retro interior and sip molecular cocktails with a load of fashionable tossers you do. Well bollocks to that, I’m off to 69 Colebrooke Row for a proper drink.

A rather plain young man called Justin.

Music. Popular musical taste at the moment is horrendous. Of course I don’t have to buy it but I do have to listen to it. I have been forced to leave even really staid High Street shops due to the aural punishment inflicted on me. Rihanna, Beyonce,  Ndubz, Justin Bieber, The Saturdays, The Wanted, Florence and the Machine and that Doolittle girl.  Is it genetic this obsession with wailing R &B, dull guitar rock, remarketed prog-rock and craprap. Warbling singers are a real problem, and gobby girls with no manners and hair extensions, and twee breathy covers of classics like Tainted Love. Waaaaahhh!

Interestingly I had far more problems thinking of bad trends during the year which is positive. There is a lot to look forward to next year. Dickens, Stoker and MR James have notable anniversaries and we get an extra day off for the Queens Diamond Jubilee for which there is an inspired Thames river parade. Unfortunately we also have to endure the Olympics. On the other hand the new Hobbit film comes out at the end of it. And there is the new series of Sherlock, and some very good exhibitions. xxx

What have you loathed/loved about the year?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Jane Austen a go go: dressing for a Regency ball.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, in vintage era terms. One weekend I am poncing around in fake leopard skin and victory rolls, the next I am fannying around like..erm…Fanny Price. Right out of my comfort zone and into the Regency period. I was attending the Oxford and Cambridge Club’s Regency Ball. It imagined an event held for Wellington in 1805 and was held in a building that although built shortly after the Regency posesses much of that period's architectural and interior styling.

The Oxford and Cambridge Club by night with fiery carriage lanterns.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I like the period, in fact I studied it's art way  back in the past as an undergraduate.  The finest place I ever lived was a high-ceilinged Georgian flat in Bath. Stylistically I regard it to be a high point in English design, art and literature. What’s more we beat the French when they were at their most stylish and impressive. Even in terms of fashion it has to be said that the men looked good, in fact very good, I’d go as far as saying they have never looked better. Just picture Mr Darcy, or a dashing  Sharpe to your rescue: all that frogging, those tight breeches, Byronesque curls and elegant jackets. Hmmmm. However it has to be said the female fashions of the time worried me. Low cut necklines I can manage with confidence but the empire waistline is a fearsomely unflattering shape on all but the most winsome and willowy. Also the pretty little ringlets, the simple necklaces and the lack of red lippy filled me with concern. Ironically for a period marked by feisty heroines and proto feminism it all seemed a bit prissy. However the night itself proved to me that with tweaking the look was anything but twee.

Ball programme.
I knew a few of my guests were ardent re-enactors and being aware of the rapidity with which some 'vintage' types get sniffy I thought I'd best make a bit of an effort. Sadly the High Street didn't provide anything that could be adapted and I cannot sew so I decided to see if the re-enactor community could help. First off I had to do some research, I discovered that white gloves above the elbow, matt if possible would be required. That short sleeves were usual, that a pale shiny fabric worked best with candlelight, although as an older woman I could carry off richer more dramatic colours.

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart 1809
Earrings needed to be wire, not studs, gemstone crosses were a craze and a modern balconette would emulate a corset from the period easily enough. I invested in a simple reproduction dress from Marion May and decided that, if I was leaving my comfort zone this much I should really do it and chose a pale Cambridge blue silk and nail my university colours to my, erm, bra. The service from Marion May was excellent and I received my made to measure dress a few weeks later (I’d recommend her to anyone). It was an interesting thing to wear, despite being unstructured in some ways it had a convenient internal tie for tightening under the bodice and the fiddly little buttons at the back required the help of someone else to dress. I added a paisley style pashmina as a wrap as apparently paisley wraps were also popular. My aim was to look like a provincial lady rather than a duchess, more Jane Austen than Josephine. Hair was tricky, I plaited sections and fastened them up in what I hoped was a Grecian manner and curled the front with perming rods. They were nice and tight when I left but predictably drooped very rapidly. If I did this again I would go for a more structured style.

My dress 

I’m still not convinced by the result, however the dress was rather comfy, as were the ballet slippers. The effect was quite girly for me which I suspect led me to unconsciously revolt by drinking rather more than I should have, being a bit too loud and while trying, half-heartedly and very badly to dance I kicked one of my slippers into the air. Whoops. But what became clear was that when the empire/directoire/classical/colonial influences were allowed to kick in the fashion of the age becomes less spriggy and bonnety and rather more luxurious and louche. If I wear the dress again I would re-trim it with stronger colours and I would love to wear a tiara-like thing of a big feathery turban like Lisa, one of our party. I should have also have had a reticule, a small pouch-like drawstring bag and would make one myself, with a tassel. The Georgians knew their way around a tassel.

Table full of champagne, wine and ...licorice allsorts.

A dastardly dandy attacking the sweets.
The ball was excellent fun, most guests had made a real effort so I was glad I had but I must admit my own guests were superbly turned out. We started out in the Waterloo Room of the East India Club, where news of Wellington’s victory had been passed to the Prince Regent. Upon reaching the O &C film of charging hussars was projected into the lobby effectively and dramatically setting the scene. To be honest the interior didn’t need much help, but careful lighting and some fun ideas helped. The champagne reception and dinner were welcome but the squeaky frogs, jars of sweets and skulls in the hell fire club stick in my memory. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and the other guests were friendly, including the two ex-Mayors of the City at the next table who had had no problem finding suitable outfits in their wardrobes. We were eventually thrown out in the early hours quite happy, although the following day found me feeling damaged to an extent that I don’t think would have been respectable during the period. I hope someone invites me to another evening event for this period (hint, hint), I promise that I will behave and steer clear of the dance floor by claiming gout or something. I'll even get Torquil into breeches!

Photographs of the event gleaned from Martin Soulstealer, Robert Evans, Adrian Phillpott, Lisa Stanhope and the blog of Dr Una Coales.

Myself and the elegant Becky (also in a Marion May dress).

Elegant twosome in the Hellfire Club

The 3rd Chap Anarcho-Dandy Ball

3rd Chap Anarcho Ball.

The 3rd Chap Anarcho Ball tore a chunk out of London nightlife, dipped it in absinthe and spread gentleman’s relish all over it on the 10th of December. It was a good night and as it turned out I didn’t need my patented steampunk-fabricated fake tache evaporator after all as the fake moustache was not much in evidence. The Dandy Massive appeared in great numbers, the bars of Tangiers must have been lonely that night. The mystery flappers were there later in the evening: a bit like the Spanish Inquisition, those giggling little groups of girls who just turn up randomly at vintage events clutching pink drinks, do they have some kind of strange psychic 'place were we can wear a feathery head band' sat-nav? Where do they come from? The Chap Ball lures all kinds of strange moths to its flame.

Cutting a rug.
Corralled and chivvied by red haired siren Bethan the event ran smoothly and louchely. The secretary service this year even provided a choice of era, Madmen missy or Miss Lemonkissy? An impossible choice. Gustav Temple the editor lurked in the shadows like a dapper Mephistopheles watching lost souls damn themselves to torment or at the very least a respectable hangover. Viv the Spiv was an avuncular and welcome presence, a girl never knows when she’ll need some of those, ahem, 'frisky' pills ("brought back by a pal of mine from Rangoon..’onest!"). There was a secret 'Hush Hush Hooch' bar emulating speakeasies from across the pond but also with hints of oldVictorian gin windows, we were in King’s Cross after all. The band were good, MC Elemental did something on stage that involved a monkey mask but at that point I was deeply involved in a serious philosophical discussion about the correct route to adopt when trawling around bars in Soho; clockwise? anti-clockwise? in order of exclusivity or desperation? We decided you start with Quo Vadis and end in Trish’s, quite literally if you are not careful. You see, important questions are debated at these events, I won’t tell you what I learned about wallpaper paste.
Perturbed by the AtterDalek

People were splendidly turned out, although the bearded one did hiss about 'teaching the whippersnappers how to wear black tie'. Something about a lack of waistcoats I gather. My favourite variation on black tie was Atter’s Dalek ensemble. Especially when we realised that his whisk appendage was only attached with Velcro. Daleks are, of course, chaps and the fellow with the national grid inspired whistle was also an enlightening sight (sorry). It was a pleasure to yell at Farhan and Ed out of the loo windows (classy as ever) and to dance (badly as ever) towards the end of the evening. The only booze spilt down my grey silk ballgown was gin so that was also a result.

Myself and the lovely Tracy.
For me the Chap Ball and the New Sheridan Club Christmas party are the joint high points of the festive party season. Some of you might have seen the latter’s summer party as part of Watch’s 'A very British party' documentary series? This year the theme was Tinker, Tailor, Dandy, Spy. You’ll have found me in the Russian sector with a glass of fizzy wine nosing out the trendy trots due a purge, or at least exile to Dalston.

Many thanks to Tony Lee for use of the photographs.

Chaps who wear fezzes.
Hush hush hooch.

Viv the Spiv

Note illuminated suit to the left..

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Chap Magazine: The Dandy Issue.

I contribute, in a small way, to this month's Chap Magazine co-writing an article on varieties of female Dandy with Torquil Arbuthnot. I am very pleased to share page space with such luminaries as Adam Ant and Roja Dove, not to mention top notch scoundrels like Atters. It really is a bumper issue, do pick it up if you see it or order it here. x


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