New V and A Fashion Galleries

The V&A have been and done a great big old refurbishment of their fashion galleries.

The old galleries were pretty standard for a museum, divided into different areas with plasterboard walls. Now they’ve been transformed to reveal the bones of the space: a huge white hall with a beautiful dome, which is absolutely breathtaking when you walk in.

There’s a special exhibition space in the middle to replace the older one, which was always a bit too cramped and circular. To be honest, it doesn’t feel that much bigger but they’ve got a mezzanine level now to display more clothes (although that could just be a temporary thing for the ballgowns exhibition).

The big arches around the hall have huge photos projected on to them:

They’ve re-shuffled the permanent collection too. I only recognised a few things, like this black suit which I think is Charles Worth:

And this Christian Dior ‘Zemire’ dress which was painstakingly restored for the Golden Age of Haute Couture exhibition a few years ago:

I fell in love with this 1930s green Lanvin number.

I don’t remember if this floral Balenciaga dress was here before, but I would like to take it home please. There must be some insane structure going on underneath to make that shape.

And talking of structure, how about this humongous Victorian puff sleeve.

I liked this Victorian bodice as well, which is displayed with a matching length of fabric.

I could be wrong, but it seems like there’s a lot less on display than previously. I know the prevailing trend is towards enormous architectural spaces with just a few objects (like Tate Modern, which is probably one of the most overrated museums in London), but personally I prefer the ‘pile em high’ method of curation. On the other hand, the Textiles space at the V&A is along those lines, and it’s extremely old-fashioned and dingy and could do with a massive overhaul. And there’s no denying that the fashion galleries look a lot more impressive now.

I also had a quick look round the new Ballgowns exhibition. It’s okay. Not sure if it’s worth 8 quid to get in (I’m a member so it was free, hooray). There’s some beauties on the lower floor, but the upstairs showcases modern gowns, which are as strangely dull to look at in person as they are in those Oscar red carpet round-ups. It would be nice to have more background on the dresses.

Hopefully they’re just gearing up for the Hollywood Costume exhibition this autumn, which I can’t wait for.

Roses in Regent’s Park

I am a fiend for roses. I can’t walk past them in someone’s garden without stopping to have a look and a good old sniff. The smell  is so fresh and summery, and every time it’s a little bit different. I just love the way they look and how straggly the green foliage is, with bursts of bright colour all over. But I don’t like them as cut flowers at all. The ones you get in florists seem to smell about as much as plastic flowers, and they look like plastic too.

Apparently the best roses in London are in Regent’s Park, and I was at a loose end yesterday so it seemed like a good time to find out.  I hardly ever go to this park as it’s too far west, too touristy, and too manicured. But the rose garden is pretty spectacular. And bloody huge – I’m glad it’s not my job to prune all these.

I sat on this bench for ages. It’s a good place to eavesdrop on knowledgeable gardens wandering around naming all the varieties (the names are awesome – Razzle Dazzle was my favourite). I also saw a vicar sitting on a bench and drinking tea from a thermos. You can’t get more English than that. I think he was actually placed there by the park management to charm the tourists.

Strangely, I think I actually prefer coming across a few rose bushes in someone’s garden, or seeing them in unlikely places (there’s a whole load planted on one of the housing estates on Kingsland Road). Somehow having them all together in a tame park like this makes them less surprising. But it’s still worth a visit, for the amazing smell alone.

(Thanks to Shivani for introducing me to the PicMonkey collage making tool. Talk about hours of fun)

The two types of shirt dresses

I’ve always thought shirt dresses are really cool. One-piece dressing and easier to wear than a full on Dress with a capital D. There’s so many variations as well. Check out this amazing Claire McCardell piece with an obi-style belt and a dramatic collar:

There’s a shirt dress sewalong going on right now at A Fashionable Stitch, but while I do like the pattern they’re using, I don’t want a zip in my dress. It feels like cheating! I want mine to button all the way down the front.

To get some inspiration, I’ve been doing extensive research (okay, browsing netaporter.com. The online equivalent of wandering round Liberty’s and pawing all the highly expensive dresses, but without any sales staff to give you the evil eye.)

Here’s what I’ve determined. Shirtdresses currently come in two categories, which with stunning originality I like to call ‘Loose’ and ‘Fitted’. The loose style are MUCH more prevalent at the moment. In fact the ‘no waist’ look seems to be big right now, which is a shame for those of us who resemble a potato in outfits with no waist definition.

The ‘Loose’ category often has a half placket. There’s a lot of interesting sleeve applications, with raglan and kimono styles. There is no waist seam, and normally a self-fabric belt. Sometimes they have a collar, but more often not. Prints are big.

The 2nd category is a lot rarer in RTW at the moment – the classic 50s looking ‘Fitted’ dress. It’s got a waist seam, a big flared skirt, often sleeveless with a notched collar. Lots of cute details like a thin belt, or novelty buttons, or a big old bow, or piping. There’s a lot less of these around, although Miu Miu have come up trumps this season (I love the coral one below, with star-shaped buttons).

Okay, there’s loads of pretty dresses out there to copy, but here’s the problem –  I have serious issues with decision making. I’ve narrowed my options down, and have two possible combos, but I need your help! What do you think of these?

First up, we’ve got Simplicity 2246 (the Lisette Traveler dress), and some gorgeous fabric I bought from Ditto in Brighton. It’s a really light crisp cotton, apparently ex Christian Dior stock. I love the geometric pattern and the mysterious letter A which appears all over (A for AWESOME)

But I’m not 100% sure about the match. I’d make the full-skirted dress, but I wish it just had one waist dart. And a notched collar. I don’t like the girly puffed sleeves either, would have to use the cuffed ones. Also, is this pattern just too boring to do the fabric justice? Help! Too many thoughts!

Okay, second combination:

This is the oil-on-water digital print I got from the lovely people at Our Patterned Hand (pardon the wrinkles – it’s just dried). The pattern is an unknown quantity: McCalls 6520.

Nobody in the world seems to have made this dress, possibly because the envelope styling is hideous (see below). The raglan sleeves could go either way – I love them, but they’re hard to fit. The shaping is loose, but crucially there’s a tie to pull it on at the waist. As a huge bonus they’ve included my favourite thing, a tiny stupid chest pocket. But what do you think? Is this pattern stylish or frumpy?

Matching leopard-print shoes and headband? Oh McCalls. At least you try.

Are you a shirt-dress lover too? Any patterns to recommend?

Reunited and it feels so good

Photo posed by a model

Guys, I got my camera back!

Yes, me and my beautiful LX3 have been reunited at last. I’ve never felt so happy as when I saw its little face lens staring back at me.

The moral of the story is that Southwest Trains are horrible liars, who told me twice that they didn’t have my camera. But last week I finally got the truth out of them, and went all the way to South London and back to rescue little Lumix from the bowels of Waterloo train station.

The Lost Property department is in a mysterious and secret part of the station that I never knew existed, sort of like Harry Potter if they’d got Ken Loach to direct it.

My good luck didn’t even end there. On my way out of Waterloo I somehow managed to win a free Clinique Chubby Stick in Watermelon, which is like a really really expensive tinted lip balm (my advice: definitely not worth 16 quid).

I’m still not sure where I left my camera. I thought it was on a bench at Farnborough train station, but it seems like it’s been on a journey of its own. I found these two mysterious pictures on it which I definitely didn’t take:

What does it mean? Is the person who found my camera trying to leave me a message? I’m glad they only took pictures out of the train window, it could have been a lot worse.

I already lost this camera once before when I left it on the grass beneath a huge mountain cable-car in Italy. That time some kindly German tourists took it to the ticket office. It must be related to a boomerang, although I’m going to try not to test that theory.

Anyway, sorry for this rather dull post, but now that I have my little Lumix back I have loads of updates planned. I’ve even been sewing.

I hope your week has been as brilliant as mine and that you find all your lost things.

Nail polish and Majorelle blue

I’ve really been getting into wearing nail varnish lately. There’s something comfortingly childish about it, maybe because the last time I had a big collection I was about 15. I particularly remember a gothic purple one with a oily sheen, bought on a school trip abroad. I had a matching lipstick too, which didn’t suit me at all, but I thought it was pretty cool anyway.

There are some amazing nail blogs out there. Man, those girls are talented. It’s easy to laugh at the old ‘invisible hockey puck’ pose but you have to give respect to these ladies. It’s really hard to take a photo of your own hand without it looking like a gnarled old claw, or a gigantic man paw (personal experience talking).

It does seem like elaborate DIY nails have really taken off lately. Can we blame Pinterest?

I’d love to be able to do something like this:

Amazing china nails from attackedastorianails.blogspot.com

Or this one:

Galaxy nails by nailsandnoms.com

I also have a secret love of beauty blogs, although I find them mostly incomprehensible. They’re all geared towards readers who have a LOT of make-up and beauty products. This makes them super-specialist, like listening to chefs discuss the fine details of Lobster Thermidor, when all you want to know is how long to boil an egg. (I found a good new blog here though which is more on my level)

The only thing I really can’t stand is a French manicure. It’s like weird fake nudity for your nails.The worst is when you see people with french-manicured toenails, with those horrible little white tips at the top. Urggh.

What I really want is this Yves St Laurent Blue Majorelle nail varnish, although it’s 17 quid, which equals about 10 Barry M polishes. It’s the exact colour of the Jardin Majorelle at Yves St Laurent’s house in Marrakech. My boyfriend went with my camera a few years ago (moment of silence for my poor, departed camera), and I just think it’s the best blue I’ve ever seen. Would probably look better with a tan and some sunlight, rather than under the current tupperware skies of the UK.

I was at the Brighton Bloggers Bash last weekend (really fun) and someone was wearing Models Own polish in Ibiza, a rainbow glitter, and now all I want is some glitter polish. I am definitely regressing back to my teenage years.

Do you have any favourite nail varnish shades?

How to dress: putting together outfits

(Hi there. I actually wrote this post last September and then forgot about it, which is why all the links are really really old. But if you love reading out-of-date, lengthy rants about high-street fashion and celebrity dressing, it’s your lucky day! Enjoy!)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fashion ‘rules’ and putting together outfits, partly inspired by this post from one of my favourite blogs, Rip it to Shreds. It’s mostly about hideous trends but this is the bit that really caught my eye:

“…people insist on this revolutionary concept they themselves invented, mixing “high” with “low” and cut-offs with heels. It’s very fresh to do this, as opposed to the “too perfect, matching” look people always say they are against but no one really wears because it is out to match.”

Traditionally there are lots of different clothing ‘rules’ about what can and can’t wear, and you still see fashion magazines saying ‘Forget the rules and wear whatever you like! Why not wear designer shoes with high street jeans? Wow! Go Crazy!’ (I may have paraphrased a bit).

But has anyone actually obeyed this mythical fashion code of conduct since the 1950s? Unless you’re a member of the Royal Family*, it seems like having to dress appropriately for an occasion is a lost art.
* although most of them have lost it too. I refer you once more to this handy reference guide.

It does seem like a backlash is coming, with the most obvious sign being the return of ‘lady-like’ dressing. The first hint was longer skirts. One of the major reasons I started sewing was because for the past few years it’s been impossible to buy skirts and dresses that reach below mid-thigh. I know this makes me sound like someone’s maiden aunt, but I’m 5 ft 10. The average British woman is 5ft 4. That’s 6 extra inches of leg to deal with.

But that’s all changed over the last few years. The Whistles ‘Carrie’ skirt was a huge hit last year, despite looking like something your gran would wear to a nu-rave bingo party. Suddenly below knee-length skirts are everywhere. Similarly with Peter Pan collars, high-cut necklines, and long sleeves.

This (extremely old) New York Times article on the subject rather predictably talks about the ‘Kate Middleton effect’, but I thought this was the most interesting quote, from Jason Wu:

“A couple of years ago, the deliberately dissolute look of a model off duty was a strong inspiration, he said. “Now people are interested in looking ladylike.”

Well, duh! Here’s a thought: if an Eastern European 14 yr old with baby giraffe legs and Martian eyes looks good in a holey vest and ‘boyfriend’ jeans, it might not be down to the clothes.

But I’m not just thinking about bodycon dresses vs. knee-length pleated skirts. It’s more about really going for a look and nailing it. It can be scary to look too  ‘costume-y‘ (as Peter from Male Pattern Boldness put it) But wouldn’t it be great if more people started wearing a whole look head-to-toe, without feeling they have to ‘dress it down’, or ‘dress it up’?

Suzi QuatroNobody would describe Suzy Quatro’s style as ‘lady-like’, but she knew how to put a look together. What else can you wear with a zipped leather jumpsuit but knee-high python print boots and a ton of necklaces?

One thing people always say about Northern cities in Britain is that the women there aren’t afraid to glam up and go the whole hog – check out this article about Liverpool girls going out in their curlers. They don’t try and ‘dress down’ their outfits by putting horrible bike shorts underneath or wearing denim dungarees on top or something (I’m looking at you, Alexa Chung).

Alexa Chung in dungareesThere’s no excuse for this

Also, why not just stick on a pair of trainers if you’re dressing casually? I’m sick of seeing celebrities wearing cut off jeans with huge leather boots and clunky handbags.

Lindsay Lohan in shorts and bootsIf it’s hot enough to wear shorts, it’s too hot to wear knee-high boots. That’s just, like, physics or something.

Listen, if you’re just popping to Starbucks for your 18th sponsored frappucino of the day, put on some Pumas and wear a Kanken! It’ll look better AND you’ll be more comfortable!

Here’s another quote from that New York Times article, from Tommy Hilfiger:

“In a departure from his willfully incongruous pattern mix of last season, “we will be really very studied about how we’re putting our outfits together,” he said, to the point of offering matching shoes and bags — an apparent homage to Britain’s future queen”

Matching shoes and bags! Now that really is revolutionary.

I think it all comes down to is being comfortable in what you wear. Not necessarily comfortable in the literal sense: I don’t think we should all be walking around in pyjamas and sports bras all day, god forbid. But comfortable in the sense that everything goes together, and you look like your clothes were made for you and not someone else three sizes smaller or larger. This quote from Nancy Mitford just about sums it up for me:

I have often noticed that when women look at themselves in every reflection, and take furtive peeps into their hand looking-glasses, it is hardly ever, as is generally supposed, from vanity, but much more often from a feeling that all is not quite as it should be.
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate

When you wear something that you love and that you feel great in, you can stop worrying about your appearance and turn your attention outwards (perhaps to tell other people how hideous THEIR outfits are…)

For example. I’m not a huge Daphne Guinness fan but I bet when she leaves the house, she always knows that she’s nailed it. I guarantee she doesn’t waste time fretting about whether her skirt goes with her beige cardigan (or more likely, whether her multi-coloured kimono matches her enormous pony heels).

Needless to say my wardrobe is hardly anything to write home about, but sewing has been making me consider this issue more and more.

What do you think?

Things I learned from Me-Made-May

  • I’ve made enough clothes to wear something hand-made every day, without it being a struggle. Hooray!
  • I haven’t got enough to wear 70% hand-made, which was my goal. I’m going to work towards that though.
  • I wear too much blue.
  • I need to make more skirts. And trousers. And day dresses. Casual things. But in more interesting fabrics.
  • I don’t need to make any more skirts from denim. ‘A denim skirt’! I say to myself. ‘Now that would always come in handy. That’s definitely the missing gap in my wardrobe’. Doing MMM opened my eyes to the fact that I have about 8 and that I wear too much denim anyway (it’s the safe option).
Heatwave in Bournemouth! Not pictured: cardigan (it was in the car).
  • I have a serious problem with cardigans. I wore one every day in May, except for that week when England unexpectedly turned into Spain*. I think I’ve worn a cardigan every day for the last 15 years. I have so many cardigans that several of my Flickr photos were favourited by a creepy cardigan fetishist (no lie). I may need knitwear rehab.
    * Even then I carried one around in case of a sudden cold snap
  • Taking a photo of yourself every day gives you a startlingly different perspective on your style. It’s recommended!
  • I’d like to be more adventurous with the clothes I sew. I’m BORED of wearing navy blue and beige.
  • Three weeks of torrential rain, followed by a heatwave, then back to the monsoon again, really tests the versatility of a home-made wardrobe.
  • Leaving your camera on the platform at Farnborough station will put a serious dampener on documentation of Me-Made-May (and blogging in general).

(p.s. HUGE thanks to Zoe for organising the whole thing!)

(p.p.s. Anyone looking to sell an old camera?)