Sunday, 25 December 2011

Window Displays: Selfridges vs. Liberty at Christmas

In what could easily be described as Baroque and Roll, Selfridges went for all-out decadence but in a strict palette of white and silver. I love the cheeky skull that made its way into the display.

Mannequins showed a lot of uber-modern minimalist fashion, without distracting patterns. These pieces did the talking by themselves.

Against a backdrop of whitewashed wooden planks and giant ribbon decorations, the scene was set.

The Blackberry tree got me interested. This was a simple but effective piece of product placement and it's much nicer to look at than an advert or a slogan.

Homeware also got in on the act, with these laddered shelves catching my eye.

At Liberty the windows were definitely fantastical, but with an underlying craft element that was very British. The baubles in cages are already a feature at our house, and it's nice to see window displays that take on elements of reality as well.

Eveningwear gets a look-in with the moon taking centre stage

Seven swans a swimming, as the carol goes... you can see how the theme took hold in this window.

Mannequins looked languid and seemed to drape themselves over the products.

The theme really drew together all of the corresponding windows and it didn't feel detached from the spirit of Liberty as a department store.

Could I pick a favourite?

It's a tough one. I love the starkness of Selfridges, but I also keep coming back to the scene setting at Liberty. If I was pushed to decide then I'd say Liberty, as the traditional aspect really appealed to me, and it was a very welcoming piece of visual merchandising.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Window Displays: A Very London Christmas

[All photos my own. Please ask permission before reproducing].

Here's a condensed snapshot of my window snaps. More to follow tomorrow...

Selfridges is an ocean of white right now. The Visual Merchandisers went for a crisp and stark look, softened by silver glitter and traditional green trees. Inside the decorations were kept to a similarly strict colour scheme, but with more warmth to brighten up the shop (loads of white + yellow shop floor lighting does not make for the best combination in large doses, folks, so you have to add a little something).

John Lewis was having a ball (yup, Christmas joke, sorry) with its choice of polystyrene globes in varying shapes and sizes, which were also suspended in long strands from the ceiling by the escalators. I really liked the balancing out of textures with the tree trunks, which also helps to draw the eye upwards. Clothing was simple and trend-led.

Liberty's displays always have an air of fairytales about them, and this year was no exception. Top marks to the VMs for adding a subtle fetish twist here with chains and the gorgeous Vivienne Westwood dress that references Paul Delaroche. There were loads of Baroque influences, little animals, stacks of books and luckily they'd got rid of their strangely hypnotic frog which freaked me out so much previously.

Going further than Selfridges for the simple white theme, French Connection continued its text-heavy campaign (you know the ads: 'You Are Woman', etc.) with 'I Am Your Gift' boxes. The haphazard stacking really appealed to me - let's face it, the older you get, the more disorganised Christmas becomes - and the floor lighting also gave it an edge.

I love stating the obvious. Obviously.

For more Christmas windows, check back here tomorrow.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Vintage Fashion Dilemma - should you buy authentic or shop on the high street?

Ever since my last post on a visit to Beyond Retro, I've been thinking about vintage clothes and different people's attitudes to them. Some of my friends love the style from the 1950s but would never dream of looking for something that was that old, worrying more about where the item had been and if someone had died in it (yep, if you've ever been vintage or charity shop shopping then you'll be familiar with that sort of comment). Personally I'm happy to think of things as pre-owned and pre-loved, and if someone else has had amazing adventures in my jumper before I did then that's pretty damn good. I do know that not everyone has the same opinion about all things old, so I thought I'd get to grips with some of the stereotypes surrounding retro fashion:

  • THE VINTAGE SNOB - she only likes it if it's been picked up from one of the best niche markets and it comes with a long back-story. If you try and fob her off with Topshop's latest take on the Peter Pan collar then she'll have a hissy fit. It must be genuine and it must be a little bit out there. If it comes complete with moth damage then she'll see it as part of the price you pay for the real thing. Her most over-used phrase is: "It's vintage, daaaahling,".
  • THE JUMBLE SALE JUNKIE - she scours jumble sales and car boot fairs in the hope of bypassing the insane prices for vintage clothing pieces that are essentially just someone's unwanted goods from the 1970s. If something cost her £3 then she'll love it that little bit more. She's into customising and is happy to repair her purchases to get them in good nick.
  • THE CHARITY SHOP VOLUNTEER - one of the main reasons for her stint in the shop (aside from giving back to the community, blah blah) is to get first dibs on the stock. Yep, I've been one of these in the past, and now I look at current volunteers and mutter, "You don't know how lucky you are..." as I scour the rails for the perfect tea dress that might have escaped the dreaded rag pile for textiles recycling.
  • THE SECOND HAND PHOBIC - she'd run a mile from anything that might look used. Charity shops give her goosebumps, and not in a good way. She'd have to wash something ten times before it vaguely smelt of anything other than grannies, and even then she'd be paranoid that someone would judge her. It's all about shiny newness and screw the upcycling, because you can always buy another one.
  • THE RETRO COPYCAT - why waste time trawling through vintage fairs when you can pop down the shops and see what Primark's take on the shift dress is? The benefit of styles that come back round again is that you can take the idea but make it modern, with forgiving fabrics and easy care wash labels. None of that dry-clean-only rubbish. If you can get it for under £30 on the high street then it's a bonus.
If you do want to look for a vintage bargain near you then I've posted on quite a few shops in the past, from London to Edinburgh, and I'd also recommend Judy's Affordable Fashion Fair, which travels round the UK and is a great way to shop cheaply - they sometimes do special sales where you can buy goods by the kilo.

Happy shopping!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Shop Shots: Beyond Retro in Dalston

[All photos my own, taken at the Dalston branch of Beyond Retro in London].
The Beyond Retro vintage company is synonymous with revived trends, kitsch and old-school glamour, all under one roof. Step into any of their branches and you'll find items from your childhood, brands you remember vaguely, and some brilliant pieces that you wish you could carry off but don't quite have the lifestyle for - in this visit, I found a tartan stirrup-edged jumpsuit and some very lurid rainbow jumpers that I was tempted by, but couldn't quite see them sitting in my wardrobe. Really the whole experience is about finding something that's authentic and not easily available to everyone, even if your chosen item is currently back in fashion. Holding the real thing and knowing you've discovered it after an intense scouring of the rails can be a serious thrill. I went to this North London store for a nose around and wasn't disappointed.

Some of the newer pieces have been bought in bulk so you will find two or three the same, such as with these hats and braces in the menswear accessories section. Having the choice of different colours is really useful when you're trying to be a bit daring with fashion, because most high street shops will only offer a black trilby or a pair of red braces, and anything else will leave you searching the internet and missing out on the physicality of tracking down the item yourself (part of the reason I love shopping).

There's co-ordination across the store for ease of browsing, but in particular the colour grouping of the lingerie and nightwear made this area seem much less formidable. A lot of people get freaked out by the idea of someone else's nightdress or bra, especially if everything is in a random order like a jumble sale, but there was something more elegant about a row of pale bodices, bralets and waspie corsets, in every shade from ice white to magnolia.

Visual merchandising is reliably brilliant at Beyond Retro, with this Christmassy display proving to be no exception. The dapper gent in his scarlet waistcoat and the red wigged ladies are introducing seasonal colours without seeming too obvious - there was a whole rail of Christmas jumpers, but they were not included in this scene. By the way, the overly affectionate couple on the left were an accidental addition, but I decided to leave them in as they almost blended into the jackets directly in front of them.

I loved this little display of luggage ideas, with the messenger bag, briefcase and modern lemon yellow rucksack. Meanwhile the outfit combination on the right (cream blazer, striped shirt and spotty tie) is so typical of what my dad wears that it literally could have been prised off his back. He is going to be amused and slightly worried to discover that he's such a trendsetter!

Shopability at Beyond Retro: Very easy. Everything's well organised, constantly updated and the aisles are wide enough to not involve a collision as you rifle through the stock.

Prices: Generally good, considering that 'vintage fashion' commands a higher price point than charity shop clothing, despite some of it being the same. As long as you avoid the basics and head to the more unusual pieces then you'll get your money's worth - a simple black and white spotty synthetic shirt isn't going to really justify a high price tag when you can pop into any high street shop and get one brand new. I bought a lurid pink knitted jumper for £14 and a very cool scarf for one of my sister's Christmas stocking fillers which certainly didn't break the bank. The tartan hair bow near the till point at just £5 also caught my eye.

Don't Miss: The attached cafe. Definitely worth a visit for the coffee and the old books lining the walls.

Monday, 28 November 2011

British Fashion Awards 2011 - what do you think of the results?

So, the British Fashion Awards are over for another year. Here's who scooped the top accolades, and my responses:

Emerging talent award – ready to wear: Mary Katrantzou (this was to be expected. With her LFW status as the darling of the new design breed, and a diffusion line for Topshop, she was a dead cert here, but it's well deserved. I will be interested to see if she can keep her shapes evolving, though).

Emerging talent award – accessories: Tabitha Simmons (with lots of historical references and vintage nods in previous collections, particularly SS11, she's a designer who mixes the past and present effectively).

Emerging talent award – menswear: Christopher Raeburn (he's a great innovator and he's been on the ethical fashion radar for quite some time. I'm glad he's now got mainstream recognition. His recent LFW exhibition was really strong, with pieces suspended on ropes).

Accessory designer: Charlotte Olympia (I have previously posted about being a fan of hers, so unsurprisingly I'm pleased that she's been given this award. She keeps generating new ideas and updating the classics without compromising her integrity).

Menswear designer: Kim Jones (simplicity and edginess: two of my favourite menswear adjectives. He fits well with both of these descriptions, so it's a thumbs up from me).

Designer brand: Victoria Beckham (she works incredibly hard and really does know her fashion, contrary to her previous dalliances with WAG style and co-ordinating husband and wife ensembles. I never thought I'd call her an icon, but she truly is).

Model: Stella Tennant (yes, she's good, but I'd have preferred a buck in the trend of the last few years, which has been pale and interesting blonde women. Jourdan Dunn's triumphant win in 2008 seems ages ago. I feel like it's time for the BFAs to honour a more diverse image of British fashion modelling).

BFC outstanding achievement in fashion: Paul Smith (the creator of an empire that still generates quirky ideas to this day).

Isabella Blow award for fashion creator: Sam Gainsbury (having worked on the great Fashion Rocks events, which combined music and style, and more recently launching the McQ line for Alexander McQueen, she's also responsible for countless other fashion events. It's great that behind-the-scenes creatives are acknowledged - not just the designers themselves).

Red carpet award: Stella McCartney (another dead cert, as she's giving us an anniversary exhibition at LFW in February that will be separate from her catwalk collection, and there'll be a retrospective too).

Designer of the year: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen (after all the Kate Middleton hype, who else could it have gone to? Basically I think this would have gone to whoever had designed the Duchess of Cambridge's dress. Yes, Sarah Burton has been great taking over the helm at McQueen, but this award would have been all about that marriage).

New establishment award: Christopher Kane (intelligent, humble and very creative; I love seeing what he and sister Tammy come up with next. They're a design duo to be reckoned with).

British style award brought to you by Vodafone: Alexa Chung (well, she does represent the style ambitions of teenage girls across Britain, but I find her a little predictable. Sorry. Would have liked this to go to someone a bit more boundary-pushing, such as Paloma Faith).


What are your thoughts on these results? Do they feel representative of modern fashion to you, or do you feel like someone is missing from the list?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

High Hopes, High Waist - Miso's new jeans

[Images via Republic online].
I already have a thing about my Topshop high-waisted shorts, but Miso at Republic have gone one better with these Highwaisted Skinny Jeans. Not only are they a really intense blue (none of that pale and interesting baggy stonewashed look, circa 1990), but they're also a flattering cut that works well on curves, as the high waist tucks in a belly and emphasises the hips without them looking matronly. This is particularly relevant to me, as my office-based job has (unsurprisingly) made exercise more off-limits, and I'm fighting a losing battle with some very tempting chocolate bars at the moment. I can't wait to try these jeans on and not have to worry about squeezing myself into low-rise cuts, which often produce muffin-top.

I also like that the buttons are copper-coloured and really simplistic. Nothing fussy going on here, so you've got plenty of possibilities for creating an outfit. Personally I'd be torn between a lace vest top or a crisp white shirt, tied 50s-style at the bottom. The shape already gives a major nod to vintage trends, so it's time to embrace the silhouette when you're pairing these up. Either add volume to your top or continue with sleek lines, and you're onto a winner.

Miso jeans, £29.99, Republic

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hell for Leather

It's not often I post outfit shots, as you know, but these faux leather trousers needed their own shot because they look so flat on a hanger. When I saw them in H&M I was keen (I've been looking for a good pair for ages) but I was worried that my legs would look like over-stuffed sausages. Fortunately the synthetic fabric is very forgiving - perhaps more so than genuine leather - and I feel pretty confident in them because they are genuinely flattering.

Pro points: Comfy, warm in winter, understated enough to work with basics (not trashy), cut on the waist, zip pocket detail that makes them seem edgy rather than slutty.
Negative points: A little too hot if you're out and about (I was burning up wearing them on the Underground), they tend to give a little too much at the knee and the fabric goes thin, which might lead to splitting in the future. I'm unsure as to how I can stop this happening because I don't exactly have lots of faux leather knocking around the house. My solution will probably be to either buy another pair in the sales or look out for anything made in a similar finish from somewhere like Primark, which I can then cut up and patch on as necessary.

Faux leather trousers, £24.99, H&M.
Worn with vest top by River Island.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Vintage Style Gets Mobile: London to Brighton

[All images my own].
The other week (before my home internet died and I was forced to resort to blogging in my lunch hour) I went to see the annual London to Brighton vintage car and bike rally. Basically if you own a vintage vehicle, you can register to take part, though usually some of the really old and knackered ones don't make it the whole way - this year there were 5o who didn't make the finishing line. It's always a fun event and I couldn't resist fashion-spotting at the same time. Here's my first candidate, appropriately dressed for the dodgy weather in a wax jacket and matching hat.

This car gets extra points for effort as they have retro luggage on the roof. You might notice that a lot of the participants wore hats, and I don't know how the bare-headed ones did it, as it was freezing.

Here's a look at one of the cars up close. It's been kept really well and restored to its former glory, with leather upholstery.

Another vehicle shot, this time looking very much like Cruella DeVil's four wheels in 101 Dalmatians. The driver wisely decided not to go for any fur, but instead went for all black to match the exterior.

It's the blokes that make the real effort at this event, as you can see above. Several cars had co-ordinating drivers and passengers, which looked great and added to the flamboyance of the day. It felt so different from a normal Sunday outing. These two even have goggles to complete the look.

Best costume has to go to the moustachioed pair in sheepskin jackets. In order to keep their scarves flying backwards permanently, they had small strips of wire (yes, really), and I even though they were wearing wings at first. The facial fuzz was the icing on the cake.

Retro vs. modern transport - the old cars clearly look much sharper and more interesting, even if they go at half the speed of our chunky buses.

The ultimate accessory for a vintage rally participant has to be a wicker basket, as seen here. Useful for storing your lunch in, and it's classy too.

I loved seeing how much effort people had gone to when preparing for the London to Brighton run, and it was really entertaining to watch. Next year I'm going to try and get in touch with one of the drivers (some of them were solo and looked a bit lonely in the cold) and hitch a lift. 1940s tea dress and victory rolls in my hair would be obligatory, obvs.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Aussie Rules: Black Milk Clothing

[All images taken from Black Milk Clothing's official website].
What started as a brief foray into sewing a shirt became a full creative passion for James Lillis, the designer of Black Milk Clothing, based in Australia. Focusing on leggings, swimwear and dresses, with a smattering of tops and one very sexy lace catsuit, the brand knows exactly where it's going. The aim is to provide brilliantly patterned clothes that are sold exclusively online, and it works. The Galaxy Purple Leggings, above, are a great statement piece for wearing with basic tops or a shirt.

Some of you may know that I'm a massive fan of anatomical art, and that's actually how I came across Black Milk (via the brilliant site Street Anatomy). This skeletal swimsuit would make an excellent body over tights or a sheer skirt. It's beautiful and pays homage to some of the great anatomical illustrators like Andreas Vesalius.

The fantastically named Bone Machine leggings are another potential purchase - they're intricate but could easily pass for an abstract or tribal pattern. This is such a cool way to get into print, and you'd be hard-pushed to find another girl in the same outfit if you were wearing these.

Black Milk dresses are influenced a little differently, with the galaxy and skeleton prints still strong but a few visual links to more traditional art and design. I chose the Mucha dress to show you because it references Alphonse Mucha, a talented Art Deco painter and illustrator. It's a close-fitting number so it's not for the faint-hearted, but you'd get loads of compliments.

I am really impressed by Black Milk Clothing and I think it deserves to be seen. The designs are fresh and fashion-led but without compromising on quality. I'm considering placing an order once I can save up for overseas postage...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

River Island Shoes: Tell Me About It, Stud

[All images my own, taken in River Island, Crawley].
Footwear is as strong as ever in River Island at the moment. Whether you're looking for heels, biker boots or something a little bit punk to get you through winter, you'll find it here. I'm really impressed with the current collection and just had to share it with you. First up are these edgy black wedges that nicely channel minimalism and would look great for trying to emulate Gareth Pugh style in everyday life. All you need to accessorize is a sculptural dress and some checkerboard tights.

Next up, the studded biker boots. With a chunkier heel than most, there's definitely a fashion edge here, but you'd get some serious mileage out of this pair. Just don't expect the motorbike to be as easy to get your hands on.

For vintage tea dresses or 80s wet-look leggings, these bow-trim suede shoes would be ideal. Wear with lippie.

I would kill for these shoes - studs, mesh, gold on black... they're beyond my walking capabilities, but they still make my lust list.

More studs, this time with print. For the eclectic fashion lover.

An all-over pattern works just as well on these heels as it did on the biker boots, only here we have a variety of stud sizes. Another great investment.

In the window was a distinctly English Heritage vibe, meets English Eccentric. Thus we had Sloaney loafers, leopard print and riding boots.

How can the store improve on this collection? I'd like to see more studded flats, as heels aren't always practical. In the mean time, keep doing what you're doing. I'm impressed.

Shop online at if you're inspired by this post - I'm saving up already...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Teasers for this month - spikes, snow and vintage style

[Image via Zazzle].
It's been far too long since I last blogged, as my new job has unintentionally collided with my guest blogging stint for the feminist organisation Bitch Media (who created Bitch magazine, and run the accompanying website). I apologise for any delay in posts on this site whilst I get into the swing of my new blogging routine! You'll find me writing about the juicy subject of 'Art and Feminism', so there'll be much less fashion but still a keen eye on design.

In the mean time, I thought I'd give you all a heads-up on what to expect over the next few weeks on this blog (sort of like a sweetener). You can expect:

  • An in-shop review of River Island's spikey shoe trend, as well as their simple but brilliant wintery shop windows - whoever thought them up must be breathing a sigh of relief at not having to break out snow spray or fake snowflakes for another year
  • Unexpected style icons - drivers and passengers at one of Britain's best loved vintage car rallies
  • An upcoming Australian designer whose clothing you'll be lusting over - think modernist art punk
  • The allure of French jewellery that has conceptual fashion written all over it
  • The best Christmas window displays
Plus, of course, some random unexpected posts that will just pop into my head; well, you've got to be spontaneous when the mood takes you.

I hope you're all surviving the short November days and making the most of the countdown to Christmas.

Polly x

Monday, 31 October 2011

Workwear Dilemma: There is no dress code!

Today I started my new job (though obviously won't be discussing the company, as this is my personal blog, and I always think it's important to keep my professional life separate). The people seem nice, the desk is wonderfully shiny, but I am utterly baffled by the sartorial side of things. Why? Because there are no regulations on dress code. Although we deal with the public, this involves using the internet and social media rather than face-to-face encounters, so most of the staff have decided that they'd rather opt for something a little more casual than your standard 'career woman/man' look.

Obviously comfort is a key factor, and it should take precedence over style if you really want to be relaxed, but I find that there's something psychologically positive about making an effort before you head to the office. You just feel official and organised in knee high boots; you always get a buzz from applying red lipstick. You feel like someone with a vocation, rather than just a role. I didn't quite understand how some of the team members could stroll in with hoodies, 'cosy' shoes and jeans, but clearly it's not affecting their performance so they must be doing something right, and maybe I am too preoccupied with stereotypical ideas about employment and regulations.

The question is: will I be sloping into work in six weeks' time in my pyjamas, having been a little too inspired by the lack of regulations? And will anyone be able to criticise it? I'll let you know, should it come to that. In the mean time, I'm still enjoying the composition of an outfit and I've got about half a wardrobe full of 'smart' clothes that need to get an airing, so I'll stick with making an effort, thanks.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Remembrance Poppies - Patrick Wolf keeps the trend alive

[Image via the Patrick Wolf Palisade Tumblr site].

Here in Britain we have a great tradition of wearing paper poppies as a sign of remembrance for those who fought in wars since WWI. It's not necessarily about patriotism, more about the recognition of courage, peril and loss, with the poppy being chosen after its prevalence in the fields of WWI battle sites. I wear one every year, with particular thoughts for the members of my family who were involved in WWI and WWII, with traumatic and life-changing consequences. The singer Patrick Wolf, who is a favourite of mine, posted an image today on his Tumblr blog of his poppy being proudly worn for his 'soldier ancestors and all those who never came home', and he encouraged others to do the same - 'be sure to wear yours this November'.

I'm glad that Wolf has shown his support for this cause and promoted it to his fans, because it's slowly becoming more and more difficult to raise awareness and for people to properly acknowledge Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. When you buy your paper poppy you are not provided with a safety pin to attach it to your clothes because that was deemed too risky by the health and safety police a few years ago, so now you are responsible for your own pin-related injuries. Luckily the Poppy Appeal has been gradually moving towards fashion alternatives so that people can incorporate the cause into their everyday wardrobe more effectively, and without a safety pin problem in sight. I also wanted to explore poppy-inspired looks that take the strong colour or image and use it with stunning results, because I felt it's important to translate this theme to daily life and fashion (the very angles that the Poppy Appeal has taken).

[Image via the Poppy Appeal's Shop].
This large crystal brooch, £25, by Buckley won't get damaged in the rain (a danger of the paper ones) and it's glitzy enough to make an impact. Brooches have been having a major resurgence in fashion over the past couple of years, due to the demand for vintage-inspired clothing and the return to a British heritage look. You could wear this well with a tea dress and brogues.

[Image via the Poppy Appeal's Shop].
At secondary school I used to pin two poppies in my hair, to make them stand out more. These Kleshna enamel hair slides feel like a more mature version of my idea, and they'd also be useful for coaxing your hair into pin curls. Setting you back £12.95 for two, they're more expensive than normal hair accessories but you won't find them anywhere else and you're also helping out the Poppy Appeal with your purchase.

For the ultimate in poppy-inspired decadence, get some inspiration from this Acne Moorea evening dress with eye-catching asymmetric straps. In 'poppy red', it's a stunning colour that would be complemented nicely by the hair slides. Available from

Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania range has made use of 'Poppy tartan twill' fabric to create a selection of pieces that would give you the figure of a wartime sweetheart. This blouse (£295) is curve-creating and celebrates the beauty of a feminine figure. It would look great topped off with a poppy necklace and a faux fur tippet. Available from Net-A-Porter.

For a more literal interpretation, Topshop has this ombre-dyed blouse (£40) that contrasts vermillion with inky blue. It's a sophisticated piece, with bell sleeves and a high neck, though you wouldn't want to pin a poppy through the delicate fabric. As an alternative, the Kleshna hair slides would continue the theme, or you could opt for a poppy phone charm from the official Appeal Shop.

Lastly, Jonathan Saunders has gone print crazy with this poppy scarf at Harrods, which takes the motif and uses a variety of colours (everything from turquoise to moss green). It's a very modern take on this traditional flower, but somehow the mix really works. At £289 it's pretty pricey, so you might prefer to make a donation to the Poppy Appeal instead.

Armistice Day - 11th November.
Remembrance Sunday - 13th November.
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