Click the link below to read my piece on Vogue.fr’s Huffington Post blog, all about the big beauty trends for next season, Autum/Winter 2014-2015, direct from the runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris.
The London Showrooms in Paris, a space where the up and coming designers on the eclectic British scene bring their collections during Paris Fashion Week, providing press and buyers a chance to (re)see them post London Fashion Week. Marques Almeida, J JS Lee, Michael van der Ham, Piers Atkinson, KTZ, Todd Lynn, Fashion East, David Koma, 1205, Christopher Raeburn, Sibling, Holly Fulton, Claire Barrow, Danielle Romeril, Nasir Mazhar, Ryan Lo, and a standout collection from Palmer//Harding were all on show in a modern Marais space until yesterday.
Important and enchanting as the runway show is, you get a much better sense of pieces when they’re in front of you and you are able to touch and feel them. The graphic qualities and innovation show through in a way that can only be experienced up close and personal. Take Danielle Romeril for example: she created a collection that had a Christopher Kane circa Autumn/Winter 2011 feel, complete with curved plastic trims that had such a graphic quality as could never be captured on camera or film, hard as you try. Using lenticular, Danielle printed it with polka dots in alternating strips that when looked at, seemed to be 3D and at different levels, but it was all flat. Trippy to the extreme, and a detail that can only be captured up close with the eyes. It gave such a detailed insight into just how innovative, imaginative and thoughtful London designers are. In London, bad taste, clashing prints, loud colours and modernity are all embraced and encouraged, and at the London Showrooms, they were on full display, from Marques’Almeida’s red feathers to Todd Lynn’s neon-tipped fur, all via the colour and ruffle mayhem of Ryan Lo.
It’s meeting some of the designers that is perhaps most valuable reason for popping along: show notes are one thing, but a face-to-face with one of the people behind it, to whom each piece is so personal, is another altogether. The Palmer//Harding collection, for example, was interesting to browse through, full of texture and flashes of colour, however, when one half of the design duo, Levi Palmer, started talking about it and explaining the inspirations behind it, the collection took on a whole new significance. Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding looked to paper for Autumn/Winter 2014-2015, playing with it in all its forms: ripped, shredded, scrunched, smooth. The shredding caught their creative eye, forming a hand-cut white suede skirt, soft, beautiful, 3D. Next, highlighters grabbed their attention, specifically the marks they leave on paper and the way the neon stands out against bright white. Another hand-cut skirt was created, this time with the ends of each strand of suede dipped in highlighter-bright yellow. Strips of neon mesh were plastered over scrunched white fabric like a discarded piece of highlighted paper, and, most subtle and clever of all, a white pencil skirt made of a white stretch fabric with very fine slits featured the same vibrant yellow as an underskirt, meaning that as the wearer walks, quick jolts of lively colour shine through. Would you get all this from just looking at the collection alone? Most likely not. If there is one reason to go to a showroom alone, it is in the hope that the designer will be there, breathing life into his or her collection.
With so many collections together in one room, it’s hard not to pick up on a few trends that appear as a thread throughout the inventive offerings. So, what will the London girl be wearing next season? Pleats, metallics, leather galore and fabrics that make a statement, be it feathers, snaggle fur, plastic or something that looks like shredded paper.
Situated on the Marais’ rue de Bretagne, this restaurant really is nothing special from the outside. You’d be forgiven for walking by and not giving it a second look, but you would be making a very poor decision for your stomach if you did that. The red awning bears the description “Sptés de couscous” (specialises in couscous), and it does not lie. Step across the threshold and you enter the home, no, the temple of couscous. Soft pillows of semolina are piled onto silver platters and plonked onto your table, where the little beige jewels overflow onto your plate and entice you. The menu has entrées and plats, but my fellow diners and I ignored all this and looked straight at the couscous menu, as this is the house speciality. Choose from merguez sausages, succulently slow roasted chicken, aromatic lamb kebabs and this turns up to spice up the couscous mounds, all accompanied by one of the most delicious vegetable stews that this writer has had in a while. Cooked to perfection, the soft courgettes, chickpeas, carrots, celery, swede and friends come in a tasty red jus to moisten the couscous. If, like my friends and I, you have a large appetite, it’s the place for you. Whilst scraping the ladle to the bottom of the pot for seconds, the cheerful waiter came over and asked if we wanted more, promptly returning with a replenished pot of steaming goodness. Thirds were had, and buttons were undone.
All this, and I haven’t even mentioned pudding. Again, there was a list of desserts, but there is only one thing to choose: patisseries orientales aka baklava. Piled high onto beautifully painted ceramic bowls, two ceremonial-style offerings of almond and pistachio-based and honey-based sweetmeats are left at the table, leaving you the impossible task of choosing which slices of heaven to pick. This food-lover’s advice: from the honey tray, pick the swirl or the little square parcel, and go for any of the scarily green pistachio ones from the other. They are to die for. Melt in the mouth. Parcels of wonder. Need I continue?
To top the whole experience off, the restaurant has a welcoming and warm ambiance, with jovial and friendly waiters (in Paris, shocking I know) and Omar himself came over to chat to our table, and, having found out that we were a group of Londoners, he proceeded to say “London, great city” every time he walked past the table. It has an old-school Paris feel to it, complete with dark wood, glass details, mirrors and the faded charm so particular of this city. A highlight for me was the tiny kitchen complete with tiny window onto which steaming plates of joy were placed for waiters to deliver to beaming faces.
It really is a great little place, and completely merits the queue inside and outside the door for a taste of Omar’s famous couscous.
Chez Omar, 47 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3e.
Paris has started with a bang. A buying bang. That is, once all the bureaucratic faffing was out the way and access to a functioning French bank account with money in it was gained. Then there was a bang. Think of it like a firework and you’re waiting for it to explode but there’s some technical hitch which Dad is trying to sort out; he’s wading through paperwork, waiting on letters, setting up transfers, waiting on transfers to take effect and then BANG, we’re off!
So, once said access was gained, I entered the world of Parisian journalist perks and the treasure trove of vintage wonders that the city of lights has to offer. First up, Sonia Rykiel sample sale. Sonia Rykiel is not a brand that has ever popped up on my radar too much (aside from her gorgeous Poor Boy sweaters, featured in British Vogue when I was working there), and so it was without much expectation that I went along to the sale with my colleague. What was the lesson learnt? Do not ignore Sonia Rykiel. Beautiful coats, butter soft leather bags, and a pair of maribou feather heels which in fact feature on a picture which I’m looking at hanging on my wall as I write this (thanks to my lovely ex-boss). It was a dream, and quiet to boot meaning ample touching and feeling time before leaving with a gorgeous necklace, having been my most restrained self. I could have left with a navy blue ponyskin bag – too impractical – or a gorgeous, minimalistic camel coat – waiting until I can afford a cashmere one – not to mention a wealth of other beauties, but control was exercised. Needless to say the prices were fantastic, and my colleague nabbed herself a ball gown and left feeling like a thief for having paid such a good price.
Saturday brought with it more bargain promise, and it dealt up the goods. First up, a “vide-robe”, literal translation a “wardrobe empty”. People registered to come along and set up a stall where they sold their unwanted clothes. Simple. Being Paris, this wasn’t unwanted Primark and Topshop (although there was a lot of Zara on offer), no, clothes ranged from two season-old YSL blazers, to €1000 vintage Hermès bags, with a lot of Maje and Sandro on the way. I won the shopping award, scooping up a delicious military green Equipment blouse for just €40, a bargain seeing as they can cost up to €400 and mine is unworn. Equipment is a French brand, run by the husband of Carine Roitfeld, ex-Editor-in-Chief of my current employer, Vogue Paris. They specialise in silk blouses and are, in my humble opinion, the leader in this particular niche of the fashion world.
Rubbing my hands with glee, I headed further into the Marais under the guidance of my lovely colleague Holly, to explore what ancient treasures lay in the many vintage shops. The discovery was not what I expected. Spoiler alert: vintage shops in Paris are amazing, and cheap. The layout is generally hectic and you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some digging, but, my friends, the rewards will be plentiful. If you’re in the market for any type of sheepskin or shearling jacket, the Parisian vintage world is your oyster. Unfortunately, this savvy shopper saw the shearling jacket of her dreams on the back of someone as they walked out the shop having purchased it. Not one to dwell on what might have been, I quickly snaffled up a very loud, printed shirt, an oversized men’s navy corduroy shirt (new favourite item) and a top so Nineties, only Buffy (the Vampire slayer) would wear it.
So there you have it, the first forays into the Parisian shopping scene for Fashion(Ed) in London. I wonder how many people have read to the end of this and not given up, wondering why there are no photos…
Russian ladies have truly, utterly perfected the art of posing. They have it down to an absolute t and are not afraid to whip it out in public. The poses are intimidating and immaculate, taken to look natural yet ultimately painstakingly thought through. However it is second nature to the women, and a snap takes seconds. Sit, pose, done, over.
When at the ballet the other day, I got a first hand experience of just how serious Russian women are about the perfect picture. Take for example the 7-year-old girl who was having the tantrum to end all tantrums. She was not a happy girl, crying, screaming, stomping, shouting. However, as soon as her mother grabbed her and shoved her in front of a lovely view of the stage, for the 3 seconds it took to capture the image, the waterworks were capped and a shining smile was pulled out. Picture taken, all hell broke loose again and said madam stormed off. Remarkable. Even aged 7, the Russian girls can turn it all on for the camera.
In the foyer of the very same theatre stood a shiny grand piano. It was not played, but it received a lot of attention as a procession of dolled up girls each sat upon the stool, arched their backs with precision, tossed their heads over their shoulders and dazzled. Snapped, they tottered off to the next location to repeat the process. I had been wondering why the girls were all so dressed up for an 11am matinée, and it all became clear. They were dolled up for the obligatory ‘look at me at the Mariinsky’ photoshoot.
Whilst browsing the Museum of Russian Political History, by far one of the best museums I’ve been to here, I was distracted and bothered by two women scurrying around ensuring they had each taken a photo of the other in front of every artefact and snippet of information. In actual fact I don’t think they knew or cared where they were, just so long as they had documented that they had been there.
The ‘selfie’ craze has been going for a while now, but it’s a whole other ball game in Russia. Perusing VKontakte (pretty much Facebook but in Russian) you will come across image after image of perfectly made up girls popping a hip in various locations. There are also hundreds of photos of girls in bikinis on holiday, proudly showing the world what their mothers gave them. As one friend put it, these mothers are most likely the ones behind the camera, instructing their daughters on the optimum way to display their assets for the world of VK to see.
This all fits with the mentality seen here of why have something which costs money, if no one knows that it cost money. For example, if you’re going to buy a designer item, ensure it has a label on show so that everyone knows that you paid big. An expensive car is not enough unless it is gold or how about matte black? It seems that people buy things and visit places simply to show the world that they have these things and that they can afford to have them, rather than to enjoy the experience or gain something. I only hope that in between all this posing and showiness, they’re taking time to stop, watch the ballet, listen to the music and enjoy living life for themselves, not for the sake of a photo.
Disclaimer -This post has nothing to do with Gogol
Yesterday two friends from school and I decided to take advantage of the incredible sunshine and wandered our way to Alexander Nevksy Monastery, simply to see what we might find. Having done little to no research, we were not expecting to enjoy ourselves quite so much as we did, stumbling upon easily one of my favourite places in St Petersburg. This may sound morose seeing as the highlight of the Monastery is by far the Tikhvin Cemetery where many famous literary, musical and political figures are buried; Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Lomonosov. The tombs and headstones are remarkable works of sculpture in themselves, and like many things in this country, they are over the top. There was of course one which featured a ridiculous amount of gold leaf for a graveyard. In Russia, or at the very least in The Northern Capital, you will never find yourself far from some building or other adorned in gold.
The monastery itself is of course astonishing, incredibly ornate and, like all churches here, intimidating. I always feel guilty as a mere spectator in holy places here, as they are Orthodox and take their religion more seriously than I have seen elsewhere. Before entering a church, people will cross themselves and bow once, twice, sometimes three times. This is then followed by more crossing as you pass by the multiple icons within the church/cathedral/monastery, and there are those who go round and kiss every single icon. The whole process takes a very long time and there is a serious atmosphere. Women must have their heads covered at all times. When leaving the church, there is more crossing and bowing at the door, and once outside the church, they turn and cross themselves and bow again. A lot of crossing, a lot of bowing, a lot of kissing, a lot of respect and reverence for the many saints.
Of course, it is forbidden to photograph the inside of the Church of the Annunciation. Picture monks in black gowns, gold, icons, gold icons, statues, mosaics, colours, gold, tiles, gold and gold and you might get near to understanding what it looks like. Did I mention the gold?
On a side note, whilst on the topic of monks, I saw two nuns smoking today. Welcome to Russia.
My few Instagram followers received a spamming yesterday – blame the weather and beautiful graves. Here are some snaps of my new favourite graveyard, not a phrase I ever thought I’d say.
Having wandered and wondered among the cemetery, we headed to the bridge just next door and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Neva. Everyone else may be bored of seeing pictures of rivers, but I love them.
St Petersburg is the place for all those British hipsters back home. We should pack them up and ship them here to free ourselves of them (sorry Hipster friends) and let them run wild in the various hipster-friendly spaces in this city. I have stumbled upon so many places here with a very laid-back, cool atmosphere; the kinds of places which back home would be overrun with annoying, pretentious ‘cool-kids’ but here, they are populated by students and lovely, friendly young Russians.
The first of these is Clockface, or Tsiferblat, an anti-cafe in the city, where you pay by time, not by what you have. For 2 roubles a minute for the first hour, and a rouble a minute thereafter, you can enjoy as much tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits, toast, porridge and cereal as you can manage. My friends and I take full advantage and compete to see who can eat the most for the least amount of money. I believe I win for having devoured countless biscuits, 2 slices of toast with jam, a pot of tea, a hot chocolate and then another cup of tea in the space of 2 hours, for a mere 180 roubles (roughly £3.40). There are 2 Tsiferblats in the city, both on Nevsky. One is situated opposite Gostinyy Dvor, on the 3rd floor of Passage; it is a bright, large room with high ceilings and an eclectic mix of furniture. There is tape of the floor, dividing the space into separate rooms to give the feel of a house. You can sit on Victorian style chairs around a mahogany table, recline on a bed or even lounge in a bath. The second is up by Ploschad Vostaniya and is made up of 3 rooms. Both have pianos and anyone is welcome to play and sing along. There is a real homely feeling to both, and truly, anything goes in Clockface.
The second hipster haven is off the beaten track, a small vintage shop called Aloe. It is run by the absolutely charming Yana, who lives and works in the shop. She gave us her mobile number so that we could call her next time we want to visit as she said she’s not always there because she’s jetting off to Copenhagen or Berlin in search of more wares. The stock is relatively small but nice and reasonable quality. The prices are slightly higher than London vintage shops such as Beyond Retro as I suppose Yana has to cover her trips around the vintage world. I picked up a beautiful book of Russian Poetry, as well as some prints of Yana’s photos. The shop is on Moskovsky Prospekt, by Nab Obvodnogo Kanala. If you pop in, get chatting to Yana and she’ll make you a cup of tea.
Finally, we have Etaji, the biggest and probably most well-known hipster hangout in St Petersburg. Etaji means floors, and that’s exactly what this space is. The building is 4 storeys high and there are many different things on each floor, including exhibition spaces, talks, workshops, a barber, a hostel, a restaurant, and best of all right now, a pop up burger joint called Bro Burgers. For a mere £4, you can grab a delicious burger from a choice of 5 and it comes with a side of home-made chips. Fan-bloody-tastic. We inhaled ours in record speeds and the most unattractive fashion, but it was worth it. There are different things going on in Etaji all the time; it is a sea of change so always good to pop by for something new and cultural. Most of the exhibitions are talks are free, what more could you ask for? Etaji is on Ligovskiy Prospekt, hidden behind big metal gates covered in posters for the various events. In the summer, there is also a deck and rooftop space so that they can really make the most of the few short summer months and soak up enough Vitamin D to get through the winter.
The young Russians are on to something, don’t try hard and these spaces will be organically inviting, unlike in Britain where most people steer clear for fear of mixing with hipsters who think they are just too cool to function. There’s a way to do it properly and the St Petersburgians have found it.
Today provided another painful reminder of the pitfalls of the Russian accent. Whilst in a cafe, paying for my delicious (and vegetable orientated – shock horror!) lunch, I told the waitress “I’m crying 420 roubles” rather than paying 420. This is due to the fact that in this language which is forever tripping me up, “I cry” is pronounced “Ya plachoo” and “I pay” is “Ya platyoo”. The difference is minimal, and as every teacher I’ve had has told me, my stress on words is horrific, meaning I constantly tell people something different from what I want to say, even though I’m saying the right words. Nightmare. The worst difference, and this is a mistake I’ve yet to make, is the very very miniscule difference in pronouncing “to write” and “to pee”.
What made my little mishap whilst trying to pay even more hysterical to my friend and I, was that I then hit myself in the eye and it proceeded to water profusely, thus giving the impression to the already unimpressed waitress that I was indeed now crying. All this after my friend told them their cake was stale.
From Russia with love.
What we in England consider a ‘blini’, is not actually a true Russian blini. A blini is little more than what we think of as a pancake, or crepe, and as I found out on Sunday, they are cooked the exact same way. The exciting master class in Russian blinis turned out to be little more than recreating Pancake Day in September. It was a lovely experience cooking with my Babushka, if not quite the new recipe I had prepared for. So forget the little canapé type blinis you are imagining, the real deal are bigger, and thinner.
The history of the blini: before they became Orthodox, as most of Russia is now, the Russian people used to worship the elements and had many Gods, such as the God of Wind, the God of Rain and the God of Sun. The blini was made originally as a symbol of the sun and thus, it is a religious recipe. Quite a simple history for quite a simple dish.
Just like on Pancake Day, take 2 eggs, a litre of milk, salt and sugar to taste and mix. We did this in a bowl with a hand blender. Next, add flour. I believe my Babushka said 300g, but I don’t remember, I didn’t write it down and she didn’t measure it out. A seasoned pro at making blinis, Sonia cooks by feel, much like my own Grandmother. The consistency (again, very detailed) should be not too watery but not too thick, It should coat a spoon and be silky smooth, so blend well.
Now the difference: we add butter to the pan to avoid sticking. Russians add a tiny bit of oil, and then a glug of oil into the mixture. This does not get mixed in, but instead sits on the top of the mixture and you get a little with every ladleful, ensuring that these tasty offerings to the sun don’t stick in the pan.
Take a ladle of mixture and put it in the pan, being sure to tilt the pan straight away and evenly coat the surface so that you have a perfectly round blini of even thickness. Then just cook like a pancake, flipping when the colour on top is slightly darker and all the same. Voilà – blinis à la Russe!
We had ours as delicious parcels of flavour, filled with cabbage, rice, mince and carrots. They were simply wonderful.
If you find yourself in Russia, head to their version of MacDonald’s/Starbucks – Chainaya Lozhka (Чайная Ложка – teaspoon). It’s fast food the Russian way – blinis and borscht.
From Russia with Love.
P.S. Tonight – Opera at the Mikhailovsky theatre, darling. We’re off to see Verdi’s “Un Ballo I Maschera”. When in Rome…
Despite a hangover which would force even the strongest amongst us to shut themselves indoors for the day, yesterday I decided not to wallow in pity but rather to take advantage of the gloriously sunny day in St Petersburg and embarked upon what ended up being the most lovely 5 hour walk, complete with my German flatmate Jakob in tow. The walk took in all manner of sights, both on and off the beaten track as we stumbled upon beautiful building after beautiful building. By far the most exciting part of the day for me was discovering number 47 Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa.
The above house is where none other than one of my all time favourite writers, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, lived from the day he was born (22nd April 1899) until he was 18. Nabokov described his childhood as “perfect” and you can see why when you imagine him as the eldest son of a wealthy and prominent family growing up in a house like this. Remove the cars and picture it on a snowy day, complete with horse-drawn carriages roaming the streets.
This picture shows the beautiful decoration at the top of the house; a mural running along the length of the house which adorns it with colourful flowers, all outlined in gold of course. How very Russian. In his memoir Speak, Memory, Nabokov describes the house in great detail, dedicating the first 12 chapters to his childhood here . Having seen this, it has moved up on my reading list and will be commenced very soon.
All in all, a perfect day and the best way to shake a hangover. I shall leave you with a picture of myself looking a bit too excited to be standing next to a plaque.
(Translation: The writer Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977) was born in this house)
From Russia with love.