Insta-Influencer: Dropscotch

Instagram’s a funny old thing. It’s the social platform I use most for my blog, but sometimes it can be a bit vacuous.

Yet, if you search hard enough and bypass the #happyvibess, dodge the #fridayfeels and ignore the celebs who get 13M views for simply blowing a kiss, there’s some real gems. Insta accounts with substance and style, their talented creators exhibiting their craft.

Like Dropscotch.

Any artist that skilfully blends clever, striking design with 1990s R&B and streetwear styles is a winner in my eyes. It was the TLC-inspired t-shirt that caught my eye and had me scrolling down the page, swiftly followed by the iconic Sade Adu set in colourful geometric style. The image of Brandy from the Sitting Up in My Room video (*finds Brandy on Spotify and listens to I Wanna Be Down on repeat*) made my stomach ache a bit with glorious nostalgia.

Dropscotch is the brainchild of artist and illustrator Luke Davis. He started the business earlier this year with his partner Emma, as a way to combine their key passions: illustration, fashion and music. Luke trained as a journalist and worked as an editor at a London creative agency, which gave him the chance to work with incredible illustrators and designers and ensured a good foundation in the software he uses to create his striking compositions.

Their work really spoke to me as it combines two of my favourite things; '90s R&B music and streetwear style. I grew up on the former and covet the latter. R’n’B was the soundtrack to my formative years and in the days before the likes of Spotify, digitalised music and streaming it filled my mixtapes and came crackling out of my first car stereo. I played SWV’s 1992 debut It’s About Time a million times in my early teens and remember being fascinated by TLC’s Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg video on MTV.

Although I’ve always been into a variety of genres of music, my tastes have further diversified with rock, indie, jazz, soul and country amongst my favourites but, to me, 1990’s R’nB doesn’t date and still sounds fresh.  From a fashion perspective, you only have to look at the likes of Vetements to see how much this era has influenced current trends. I’m just as comfortable in an oversized sweatshirt and voluminous tee than I am in dress and I’m hoping to build up my trainer collection rather than heels.

Dropscotch’s Luke cites his creative influences as including the Memphis Group style of design that was popularised in the 1980s, geometric pattern-making and classical portraiture. In addition, album sleeves, editorial designs and streetwear styles provide every day motivation. The TLC and Aaliyah t-shirts are part of a series called Down in which every illustration is inspired by a classic female R&B video of the 1990s.  They are going to release a few as screen printed t-shirts in the coming weeks and months, as well as signed art prints and possibly some accessories which is exciting.

And why the name Dropscotch? As Luke explains, all his favourite things drop - from basslines, to limited edition sneaker releases to dancing bodies, while hopscotch represents fun out on the street.

So there you have it, the power of Instagram. It’s worth enduring the not-so-good stuff to find a real gem like Dropscotch. I wish Luke and Emma all the very best and even though my t-shirt collection is getting a little out of control, I don’t know how long I can last before giving in to the S. Double-U. V. one.

For now, I’m off to listen to Brandy and Aaliyah like it’s 1994 (which it is usually is in my head).

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Trousers That Make Me Think of Wine

All of a sudden spring is well and truly here - with the lighter evenings and radiant days it has officially sprung. In my eyes though, it didn’t evolve with a subtle rise in temperature or give warning with a dip in the evening chill. Instead, spring jabbed me on the shoulder and when I span around, shouted BOO in my face.

Argh, I’m not ready. I need to have a panic-pedi. My legs are milky white and in no way ready for public viewing. I’m still sorting the jumpers from the jeans of my autumn/winter wardrobe, let alone the spring/summer one. The latter is currently wedged into a couple of vacuum-sealed storage bags under the spare bed (the ones that no matter how tightly you seal the little bugger a hiss of air will still seep out) and needs a cull.

On the streets, plastered over Instagram and popping out of fashion magazines though the S/S trends are out in full force, and I absolutely love all of them - like pastel and khaki hues , those amazing Paperbag-waist tapered twill trousers by Stella McCartney and flirty off-the shoulder tops in gingham, the super check of the summer. Despite its surprise arrival, spring is by far my favourite season. The promise of the new, of rejuvenation and even personal transformation should you so wish. Time to reveal shoulder, leg and ankle which have been concealed under hosiery and baggy jeans and act out your own dress rehearsal, ready for the main performance; summer. The block colour palettes are dreamy, the fabrics are swishy and light and soft florals and statement sleeves are ready for weddings, race meets and al-fresco dining.

There’s a real sense of everything flowering, but for me there’s a real sense that I hate everything in my wardrobe. I’m still wearing ankle boots as (*see panic-pedi*) I’m not ready to brave cold toes in sandals or chilly heels in mules. I want frills and puff sleeves, but I’m still playing it safe in long-sleeved tops. I need inspiration…

These statement trousers from The Finery might just save the day.  When I clapped my eyes on them in the concession section in John Lewis the other day on a very rare shopping trip and gently ran my hands over their soft viscose fabric, I was momentarily overwhelmed. I hadn’t had that reaction about clothes for a while. They are called Argent Contrast Panel Trousers in Lilac Vines Print (is it me or does Lilac Vines sound like wine?) and I love them.

With side pockets, a high waist and contrast hems, not to mention a bold but beautiful print, they are too floaty for the office, too in-your-face for the Toy Library and I’m struggling to picture where I might wear them but, right now, I don’t care.

I am revelling in the sheer beauty of them and have literally just impulse-bought them, gulp, and snapped down my laptop lid before I had time to change my mind.

In your face, spring. Let’s do this.

BORN AT DAWN: FOCUSED, EFFORTLESS, PERSONAL STYLE.

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I’m an adopted East Londoner, having lived in Walthamstow since 2008 (when I announced to my long-suffering husband, then-boyfriend, that I would be moving in with him for two weeks until I found my own place and NOT A WEEK MORE).

Fortunately for me, I never left and eight years later I’m still rinsing the life out of E17 and discovering exciting new things. Spaces including The William Morris Gallery, Central Parade and The Mill E17 have created a hub for creative thinking and working, and with the continued expansion and redevelopment it looks like the innovation just keeps on coming.

I thought I knew the ‘Stow quite well but I didn’t realise just how many creatively-minded folk actually hung out here. By the power of Instagram and my love of all things sartorial, I recently stumbled across womenswear website BORN AT DAWN and was excited to discover that (a) its founder, Lucy Knights (@magpie_fashion), is based in Walthamstow after migrating from the North of England (b) there were so many things about her style, her creative outlook and the impressive way she balances motherhood, work and general life that I could relate / aspire to and (c) the concept and thinking behind the brand is right up my street.

So what is BORN AT DAWN? It’s a multi-brand e-commerce website launching in early 2017 that promises to offer rising fashion and accessible luxury. With the current deluge of womenswear websites available - but with differing and sometimes questionable price, quality and style - BORN AT DAWN heralds the beginning of a new way to shop.

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There’s lots of things that made Lucy’s brand stand out for me and piqued my interest in its launch next year…

  • It will be focused. As a busy working parent herself with limited time but a desire to be on trend, Lucy knows all about the importance of maximising the time available to you. So BORN AT DAWN will be carefully curated to ensure only desirable, must-have items are stocked and align with women’s busy lifestyles.
  • It will be effortless and represent go-to, easy to wear pieces that we all want hanging proudly in our wardrobe. Lucy promises to hunt down pieces that are beautiful but versatile, and also allow us to glide effortlessly from day to night - always a winner. The collection promises items that can be worn ten times or more which in turn helps to decrease the cost per wear and justify the investment. Plus, they’ll match many of the staples most women already have lurking in their closets -  a huge bonus.
  • It will be personal. Lucy is offering a personal shopping element to the collection (available in selected areas) where customers will have the opportunity to book an evening to view the collection and receive expert saying advice, and host a trunk show in the luxury of their own home with friends round for a ‘Born at Dawn Night In’. (I hear prosecco corks popping).

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Lucy has spent the majority of her career specialising in luxury fashion retail, and having worked with Harrods on their womenswear sales and strategy prior to conceiving BORN AT DAWN, it’s safe to say she’s an authority on all things elegant.

So it comes as no surprise that one of the most exciting elements of BORN AT DAWN is the range of brands that feature as part of the collection, many of which are Scandinavian and French inspired and so naturally exude that timeless, effortless look.

Brands include Samsoe & Samsoe, Selected Femme and Mads Norgaard and the very cool Maison Scotch - based in Amsterdam and known for scouring the globe to discover unique pieces - which has me particularly animated. Eager shoppers can expect beautiful shirts, soft sweatshirts, easy embroidered kaftans and summer dresses when the brand launches for SS17. Also, 2NDDAY, the Danish progressive womenswear label whose foundation is denim, leather and tailoring and part of the Day Birger et Mikkelsen group features as part of the BORN AT DAWN collection for SS17 and will offer special leather pieces, jumpsuits and perfect boyfriend jeans. Simply heavenly.

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BORN AT DAWN and what it stands for spoke to me on many levels. I've reached a point where in my *ahem* mid-late 30s, I seem to be busier than ever and juggling a huge mound of stuff. This doesn’t mean my enthusiasm for fashion has dissipated, quite the opposite, but I simply don’t have time to embark on long shopping trips or spend hours browsing loads of websites. Sometimes, I’m lucky if I can have a wee.

I still want to be on trend but sometimes outfits need to be versatile as I mostly have a wriggly, dribbly baby attached to me and dash around at full pelt. I’ve always had a preference for the experimental and as I’ve got older and wiser my sartorial choices are (hopefully) a little more refined. I’ve never been a fan of the over-done look and favour a minimalist, clean aesthetic that labels like The Finery London and & Other Stories offer, or Jenna Lyons and those super cool Scandi girls radiate. Crucially, on a maternity leave budget I need mid-range prices but with undiluted quality and need to feel that by dipping into my savings to buy the odd piece it’s at a price and quality I can justify.

Lucy explained that the brand's woman is “…a strong, down to earth, creative, social individual. She is confident, accomplished and successfully balances the many different roles she has in her life”. It’s like someone has tapped into my brain and discovered what I’m aspiring to be.

BORN AT DAWN and Lucy’s vision could not have come at a better time for me. My little baby boy is now six months old and whilst he keeps me completely on my toes, I think I’m...gulp...ready to fully embrace fashion again. Yes! Bloggers like Dress Like A Mum and Mother Pukka have realised that many new Mums, like myself, struggle with their identify after having children and are striving to change the bad reputation of Mum dressing. The struggle is real - I’ve lost my nerve and am stuck in a uniform of feeding-functional, easy-to-fling on garb but I'm starting to rebel.

So, here’s to the power of creativity and accessible luxury. Wishing you all the best Lucy and I can’t wait to experience BORN AT DAWN when it launches next year.

I’m excited to dress like me again.

BORN AT DAWN LAUNCHES IN FEBRUARY 2017

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What I Wish I’d Known

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In October’s British Vogue, the industrious Victoria Beckham pens a letter to her 18-year-old self with advice on how to survive a life in the spotlight - from body image to marriage to outlandish outfits.

The feature shows VB, styled by Kate Phelan and photographed by Lachlan Bailey, in a range of beautiful clothes but it was the words that moved me. The letter is poignant and insightful but at times painful. I’ve always believed a hint of sadness and a great sense of humour lies beneath that cool exterior, but here it is on paper.

I don’t live life in the limelight nor was I part of the most famous girl group on the planet. Yet Victoria’s letter made me think about 18-year-old me; with fondness, sadness and a bit of longing for that breezy young woman on the cusp of what seemed like EVERYTHING.

Inspired, I penned my own letter to me with some sage advice of my own. (Sadly without a photoshoot in the Carlyle Hotel).

Dear Nicola

Nothing happens, and nothing happens and then everything happens.

You’ve finished college and have three A’Levels tucked under your Topshop belt (although maybe you should have paid more attention in French class and not spent that study day in France gulping wine with the girls, scoffing frites and chasing a flasher.) Your place at Chichester Uni to read English Literature and Women’s Studies was in the bag and things seemed on track. Then you were offered that job, starting on Monday, and had a few prompt choices to make.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why you’ve chosen to hurtle down the career route and defer the uni place, honestly I do. The work experience, the financial independence (you can buy a new top EVERY WEEK) and a real chance of buying a flat in a few years’ time is tantalising. When you eventually do this, it will be incredible and many happy, sozzled memories will be made.

All I’m asking is please consider your choice; don’t bottle it, don’t think you’re not good enough. Once deferred, you won’t go. Foolishly perhaps, you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time in your mid-late twenties worrying and regretting and feeling inadequate that you didn’t. In fact, it’ll torment you. You'll feel like you’re constantly swathed in clever, worldly grads. You’ll dream about studying English Lit and gobbling up books and wishing that gap on your CV was filled in. The thing is, I admire you. It hasn’t taken much thought really; you’ve based your decision on how you feel right now and that is utterly content. The older you is far more rational and makes careful decisions but, always thinks the grass is greener. You just went with your gut so that’s cool. Things worked out just fine by the way and you got yourself a post-grad degree later on, but go on, give it a little more thought. You never know where it may lead.

On your image. I know you fret about it and what you look like and what other people think of you. It doesn’t matter how many times people say nice things, you don’t believe them. I won’t fib, it hasn’t got much better. But please, enjoy the freedom of being able to fling on what you like, when you like and revel in simply being a hot young thing. Stride onto that beach, wear something short without pulling it down, give it some welly! In a few years’ time there’ll be this thing called ‘social media’ which has turned us all horribly narcissistic and judgy and dictates we must have kale smoothies for dinner and conform to an unobtainable ideal. When you reach thirty-eight and you’ve had a little ‘un and feel most days like an old frump you’ll think back to eighteen year old you and wish you could wear that crop top from Miss Selfridge, just for a day.

Your obsession with fashion is a pulsating, omnipresent thing even twenty years later but wiser, slightly snootier us would like to think our sartorial choices now are a bit more, sniff, refined. Having said that, f*ck it. Experiment. Do the Brit Pop thing and wear out your Gazelles and that funny blue cardigan. Fall in love with Grunge and clomp about in boots. Wear what the hell you like (apart from tight triple denim - you look like Shakin’ Stevens) and continue to let your fashion choices be dictated by the season or trends, and never by what those silly boys want.

Ah, Men. You seem to spend a lot of time being naffed off with some of them, and quite frankly I don't blame you. Things have got a little better in some ways (we currently have a female Prime Minister and, although completely unrelated to how she runs the country, she wears excellent shoes) but we’ve got a long way to go I'm afraid; unequal pay, everyday sexism, and the words ‘locker room talk’ have taken on a sad new meaning which you’ll learn of one day I’m sure. Keep sticking up for yourself. Work harder. Don’t be discouraged by dickish behaviour when at work, when out with mates at night, when simply walking along the road. I’m afraid there’ll be plenty of that.

When it comes to boyfriends and lasting love, persevere. I'm so sorry to say, you’ll meet some proper twits in the next few years and men who will try and extinguish your fire. Don't let them; they’ll disappear from your memory as quickly as they breezed into your life. It will all feel rather amorphous and a waste of your time. Then, when you least expect it, you'll meet HIM. Timing will be an utter git though; you’ll already have decided relocating to the other side of the world is the way forward. Proceed as planned. The first month will be hard and you will never feel paler, nor more scared or longing for Blightly as you do right then and thank goodness your little sister was there to bolster you. But then you'll turn a corner and it will all work out brilliantly. I promise. Oh, and he will be waiting. There are so many more adventures ahead together.

On friendship.  As the years roll by, you'll meet some wonderful new friends (you still do in your thirties by the way) and weave a rich tapestry of totally awesome mates. Some people will let you down and drift away and it'll hurt badly and you’ll really wish they hadn’t. But your core group are still here all these years later, can you believe it? Sadly, life in your NEARLY 40s is busy and seeing them becomes disparate and a feat of diary coordination. But they’ll always be there and you’ll feel better just knowing they are. You still laugh until it hurts when you see them and morph into those excitable, tipsy big show offs you were in your early twenties when you go out or away for the weekend (but not wearing triple denim thankfully). Their presence will always comfort you.

A quick word about alcohol if I may. Us and booze aren’t ever going to be compadres I’m sad to say. In summary, we’re shit at drinking. Buy hey, don’t let that stop you. Just a few wise words that will save a hell of a lot of money, time and hoo ha. That first night in Malia (shudder) DO NOT lock everything including your passport in your suitcase in the absence of a safe and then go out for ONE DRINK JUST TO EASE YOURSELF IN ON THE FIRST NIGHT. You will dance until 7am, lark about in the sea and lose the key. You'll then blow your holiday booze budget on a call out to a Cypriot Samsonite expert to break into said case, wearing your friend’s clothes for two days while waiting for Samsonite Man to rescue you. Then, you’ll repeat this party trick in Thailand with your girlfriends and nearly miss an internal flight. Don’t accept that complimentary pink drink in Ayia Napa, no matter how jovial the guy trying to get you into the bar is. You will contract gastroenteritis and be forced to fly home after a measly three nights of partying. (You’ll never forget Danuta sleeping at the end of your hospital bed though,  making you laugh. She’s a keeper that one). Also, Thai Whiskey does not just contain Whiskey. Oh, and avoid cast iron radiators after an afternoon of drinking when you’re clapped out and have over done it. Ouch. 

Lastly, on self confidence. This is a huge, huge barrier. It'll cost you tennis finals, it will make your first month living in Sydney painful and difficult and you’ll turn down great opportunities due to pesky confidence-deficiency. My advice? If you’re thinking about it but that inner voice is saying ‘I can’t’, don’t listen. Do it, or at least try it. Be brave. It’s tough I know, there’s no magic overnight cure and you will always struggle, but age will make you wiser and you will care less one day. Believe me. You’ll travel the world all on your tod in a few years time without a care in the world. I promise.

I’ll go now and let you find your own way, but some final words if I may. You’ll learn so much over the coming years that it’ll make your head spin. You’ll love fiercely and, sadly, you’ll lose people that are close to you and it will hurt like hell. But, be strong and be positive. Be curious and polymathic. Read a lot. Live life. Mostly, be kind and gracious and love those around you. Believe me, you are a very lucky girl.

The most heavenly things await.

Love Nicola x

VB takes me back to 1997

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When Victoria Beckham was pictured leaving a hotel in NYC a few months back* in bold summer brights, two words immediately sprung to mind.

(*Apologies, being a Mum-that-blogs means I operate on a time delay. I’m either way ahead of the game after a night-feed Twitter sesh or miles behind).

Those two words were Electric Angels.

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Electric Angels was the acclaimed debut collection by designer Matthew Williamson who had graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins college in 1994 after studying a BA in Fashion Design and Printed Textiles. Williamson had launched his own fashion label, Matthew Williamson Ltd, with his business partner Joseph Velosa.

In 1997 a cold call was made to Plum Sykes, who at the time was the Fashion Assistant at British Vogue. This led to a meeting with Sykes where she placed an order with Williamson for some of his self-designed silk scarves. Encouraged by this reaction, Williamson focused on creating his first ever womenswear collection for SS98, which was to be shown at London Fashion Week. The rest, as they say, is history.

Picture the scene. It’s September 1997, LFW is in full flow and Electric Angels is illuminating the catwalk. The show featured only fourteen looks, but they were hugely impactful pieces, including bias cut dresses in a zingy palette of colours such as tangerine, fuchsia, magenta and aqua. The collection was an ode to the dragonfly, with hand-embroidered organza dragonfly wings swooping across shift dresses and sitting on the shoulder of cardigans.

Perhaps most memorably, the models included Kate Moss, Helena Christensen and Jade Jagger. Williamson’s catwalk debut received widespread acclaim and deservedly made him a luminary of the British fashion scene. The early '90s had seen the introduction of grunge and minimalism thanks to Marc Jacobs’ historic and very cool (but at the time criticised) grunge collection show for Perry Ellis in 1992. In stark contrast, Williamson’s show was an outburst of spirited brights, sensual exoticism and intricate details which caught everyone’s attention and would define his signature style.

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So, back to Victoria Beckham and the reason I’m writing this. It was VB’s bright aqua trousers and fitted red sweater that reminded me of the bias cut dress that Kate Moss wore. Trust VB to reference one of the most important moments in fashion history, a show that made a huge impact on the style world and paved the way for an illustrious career that continues to stand the test of time. Williamson’s signature aesthetic remains vibrant with patterns, textures and kaleidoscopic colour.

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Electric Angels lasted just seven minutes but was the starting point for the label, which under Williamson and his business partner Velosa, has continued to grow.

The show without question remains one of my all-time favourite fashion moments so far and the beautiful models and exotic pieces had an enormous impact on me. It was magnetic.

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Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue

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It took 100 years to open their doors, but would the fashion bible ever share its secrets?

It’s safe to say there's not a lot of glamour in my life at the moment. Style is scant, elegance is exiguous. September Vogue has been woefully neglected along with its mates August, July and June Issues and summer trends, although eagerly observed, blew right past me.

As I write this I’m lunching, keeping one eye on baby Evan via the Baby Monitor App and gulping down my one-mug-of-caffeine-tea-as-per-NHS-guidelines as if someone’s going to take it away from me. There’s a dollop of peanut butter on my just-washed jeans and let’s not mention my crazy hair.

So the news that a BBC Two documentary series is about to air portraying life at British Vogue as it celebrates its centenary year is music to my ears. (The only music in fact, I’m eating in total silence apart from the occasional clattering of fork on plate in case the radio wakes the baby). I literally sat up for the first time in ages and felt enthused about watching something I have a bona fide interest in.

The first episode of the two-part documentary Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, will broadcast on Thursday 8 September at 9.00 pm and promises to show what Vogue wears and what Vogue eats (can you even imagine?! I can’t, but would bet my Marc Jacobs bag it’s not peanut butter on toast).

It was shot by award-winning filmmaker Richard Macer (in association with his company Platform Productions) who, for the first time in British Vogue’s 100 year history, was granted unprecedented access to the magazine’s daily life over a nine month period. Macer’s footage includes one-on-one interviews with editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman and her power team of editors and key contributors, major fashion photoshoots and international shows. He also captured the every day running of the office as they prepared for and started to commemorate 100 years of the world’s most influential and celebrated fashion publication.

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The documentary series promises to go behind the scenes and “uncover the world of high fashion like never before” and provide viewers with a candid and fascinating insight into an ever-changing industry. Episode one takes us to the end of the Spring/Summer 2017 fashion shows in September 2015. We get to follow Shulman and her creative heads - including Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers (who I imagine takes on the role of the magnetic Grace Coddington), Creative Director Jaime Perlman, Fashion Features Director Sarah Harris, Editor-at-Large Fiona Golfar, and the wider Vogue team. Later on in the series, Macer's camera observes some of the fashion world’s most popular characters on set, including Edie Campbell, Mario Testino and of course Kate Moss who has appeared on more British Vogue covers than anyone else. What would a fashion documentary be without Moss?

I cannot wait to watch it. I imagine Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue to be like The September Issue with a huge dose of British eccentricity and dazzle. I’m expecting huge characters, unfettered style and plenty of fabulous melodrama. For years I’ve wandered through London’s Hanover Square and seen Vogue House looming in all its palatial glory, contemplating what it’s actually like to run the UK’s style bible; how big decisions are made, exactly where inspirational shoots are prepped and great features are concocted and tried to get a peek through the doors in vain, so I'll be glad for the virtual tour.

You can watch the trailer below (did anyone else feel a bit nervous when the great Alexandra Shulman said "have you got a pass?"), although it provides only a tantalising excerpt, and The Guardian’s Morwenna Ferrier was lucky enough to get a sneak preview which you can read about here.

The preface on the BBC Two website explains “the films observe a world not just intent of celebrating the glories of the past, but also facing up to the challenges of an uncertain future”. It asks “With Instagram and other social media starting to challenge the magazine’s exalted position, can Shulman keep it on top?”.

I have no doubt. The magazine in my opinion remains as powerful and exciting as it has ever been. It influences and inspires, it provides a heady escape from the norm and an endorsement from Vogue magazine guarantees continuing success for labels, models and brands. I continue to buy and collect the print version on a monthly basis as well as devour the digital content.160730-02I’ll happily be at one of my closest friends’ wedding celebrations when the documentary airs on Thursday (surrounded by glitzy ladies with a little Evan attached to me and timing my quaffing of champers around feeding) but will catch on iPlayer as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching half hour snippets of The September Issue in preparation (whilst doing some ironing. Oh the glamour).

Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue on BBC Two starts on Thursday, 8th September at 9pm.

OK Ladies, Now Let's Get in Reformation

It is not uncommon I realise, but the change in season and a taste of what sunshine actually looks and feels like makes me feel buoyant.

I allow myself to daydream about what I will be wearing in the months ahead when (a) I might actually fit into something that isn't capacious (b) we can bare shoulders, go sans-jacket and flash an ankle or calf with reckless abandon (c) it is balmy.

Hopefully, my repertoire may include one or two pieces from major cult eco-label Reformationwhich not only creates exquisite designs, but seems intent on revolutionising the fashion industry.

Created in 2009 by dynamic designer and environmentalist Yael Aflalo, the Downtown LA based brand offers style with a conscience, with their mission being to lead and inspire a sustainable way to be fashionable. To ensure their creations come at a fraction of the environmental impact of more conventional fashion, all Reformation pieces are produced by either responsible manufacturing partners in the US or overseas using sustainable methods and materials. They also source natural fabrics and materials like Tencel, repurposed vintage pieces and recycled 'deadstock' fabric while incorporating better practices throughout their supply chain.  In summary, they make killer clothes that don't kill the environment.

It may officially be my new obsession but Reformation is by no means a new label; it has been knocking about since 2009 and has been adorned by those cool LA girls and a heap of famous faces since then. It has been on my personal radar since Sienna Miller started wearing it circa 2014 - like the beautiful Felice Jumpsuit below - but it's at the top of my wish-list again right this minute. I have spent an inordinate amount of time hungrily poring over the Reformation website and planning what I might treat myself to if the budget stretches (and when my belly stops stretching).

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Reformation is great for a number of reasons.

  • They make bold, factual statements about the Impact of Fashion that make you stop and think. Like Fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world, and the second largest consumer of water. Making fabric uses water, energy, chemicals, and other resources that most people don’t think about, or ever see. We think knowledge is power, so we talk about resource use, climate change, and other impacts of fashion. This made me stop and think. It's facile to preach about LOVING fashion (which, sincerely, I do) and to casually affix #fashionlover to your Tweets and your Insta pics without giving any real thought to how lovely things are actually produced and what they might be doing to destroy our planet.
  • They use a tool on their website called RefScale which tracks the impact each of their garments has on the environment. For example, if I were to purchase this sunshiny Caftan Dress (can I, please?) I would know that this garment required 252 gallons of water versus the industry standard of 1832 gallons of water and therefore I would save 1580 gal. This makes me feel happy.
  • Reformation Founder and CEO Aflalo is Making Earth Day her Every Day. The concept is that while most of us might be a bit cynical and assume we can’t individually make a big difference, Reformation have the data to prove that, hell yes, we can. For the lucky people who bought some Reformation stuff in the past year, they saved 250 million gallons of water - a number that will surpass 1 billion next year.  To celebrate, they're launching a new super sustainable Earth Day Collection, which is really lovely. Power to the People.
  • The clothes have the wow-factor and are undeniably sexy but it's not in-your-face sleaze which I'm not up for. It is confident and multifaceted. Their design mission is to make effortless silhouettes that celebrate the feminine figure. I'm always up for this.
  • It is reasonably affordable and they offer free worldwide shipping. This is attractive but terrible news for my bank balance which will soon be maternity-leaved. 
  • Their Addilyn Dress in Barnyard is not only jaw-droppingly gorgeous, it is advertised as engineered for easy access and currently on the home page features a pretty lady breastfeeding near a tree somewhere verdant and lovely. Hurrah! I would like to think this will be me in Walthamstow in the coming weeks. It won't, but I can dream.
  • Their Instagram account actually made me salivate. Then want to be on holiday, all year. Or living in LA. Neither of which will be happening anytime soon, so for now I'll Insta-stalk.
  • The website is a design feature in itself - you could spend hours looking at it (oh no I didn't!). It has ornate Fabric Swatches, designs have lovely names like Moonshadow, Fruitcake and Rose Dazzle (how beautiful is that? Hi, potential baby name!*) and there are also Stories - a kind of inspirational moodboard with selected pieces that have great titles like Delicate f*cking flowers and Keep that effortless thing going. I'm certainly not a delicate f*cking flower and I'm not sure I have that effortless thing to even keep going, but by the grace of God I WILL FIND IT - and keep it going. 

In the meantime I am seriously considering the following pieces when the time is right:

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Reformation Newman Skirt $178

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Labels like Reformation make me feel hopeful. They are doing great things for the planet, they produce beautiful clothes and they make me believe there could actually be life after maternity wear.

Amen.

*I'm joking, Alex.

I think...

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Dior, Maternity Leave and I

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This week I am 37 weeks pregnant and, according to the BabyCentre App, our baby is now the size of a stalk of Swiss Chard.

Swiss Chard! Once again I ask myself, what exactly am I growing in my tummy and what is it with BabyCentre's obsession with vegetables?! Last week it was romaine lettuce, the week before a honeydew melon and not so long ago the baby was the size of an average cantaloupe melon no less. All this talk of fresh legumes quite frankly is not helping with the queasiness.

Ah, yes, nausea. Hello darkness, my old friend. You have returned with a vengeance to torment me and now I am finally, officially On Annual Leave Before Maternity Leave you seem intent on ensuring I take to my bed and weep which prevents me from being in my preferred state - on the move and Getting Sh*t Done. For those who know me, you'll know I'm not a natural relaxer. Slobbing out has never been my thing. Call me crazy, but the concept of a duvet day fills me with dread. I have to be suffering from full-on flu / concussion / hangover or sprawled on a beach lounger with a good book to spend a few hours supine DURING THE DAY. However, the nausea and lethargy is winning this battle, shuffling has replaced power walking and try as I might, I can't go for a stroll for longer than 30 minutes without urgently needing a pee. So, I admit defeat - it's time to put my feet up when the waves of sickness wash over me.

I've made myself a deal though and there is one important clause to this contract. If I'm going to rest up, it will be on my terms. No Reality TV (URGH), idling on Instagram, twitting about on Twitter or, worst of all, faffing on Facebook. It will be didactic and I will be kind to my brain as well as my body. I will gobble up films, books and documentaries that have been lurking about on my viewing list for months, and that are, let’s say, relatively educational from a fashion, film or music perspective. That's fair enough, right?

I'm pleased to report my first venture into this unknown world of Resting has been a resounding success. My inaugural film selection, Dior and I, was extraordinary.

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This beautifully tailored documentary transports the viewer into the illustrious world of the Christian Dior fashion house. Specifically, it provides an insight into the creation of designer Raf Simons' first haute couture collection as new artistic director of Dior womenswear in April 2012.

Directed by Frédéric Tcheng, the behind-the-scenes account allowed me to be a voyeur into this pressurised, sometimes ridiculous but always incredible world of haute couture. The fashion microcosm was waiting with bated breath for Simons’ debut and the documentary perfectly captured the lead up to his first catwalk show - the emotion, dedication, and hard work that went into the making of 54 perfect handmade outfits in only 8 weeks.

It was an absorbing piece of film-making, with the director using words from and images of the iconic Monsieur Dior, which lends an almost spectre-like presence to the film. I really warmed to the hugely creative Belgian designer Simons; he seemed rather bashful to me, calm and intelligent and intensely focused on his craft but always showing great respect for his team of collaborators.

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Justly, the documentary pays homage to the ateliers, the petits mains, who deliver Simons' vision and many of whom have been at the fashion house for years - they are an important part of the brand and its heritage. As Simons reflects in Dior and I, ‘designs change, but not the atelier’. Watching them work their magic is nothing short of enchanting.

What I absolutely loved the most though was the creation of the clothes. Oh, the beautiful, alluring and enchanting vestments and the in-depth profile the documentary gave to their conception and creation with the team working into the night and dealing with the pressure and skills involved in producing fashion art.

The climactic catwalk finale at the end of Dior and I, when Simons’ creations are unleashed to an audience including the Princess of Monaco, Marc Jacobs, Donatella Versace, Marion Cotillard, Alber Elbaz, Stella Tennant, and Riccardo Tisci, is absolutely breathtaking. There is a hugely touching moment when the designer is captured alone on the balcony weeping with nerves just before the show must begin.

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For his Dior debut at 51 avenue d’Iéna, Simons blanketed five rooms with a profusion of blooms from ceiling to floor that had even Anna Wintour impressed.  The clothes were nothing short of spectacular and the collection featured a blend of modern, clean and structured garments with a femininity and elegance that remained respectful and true to Dior.

The strapless gowns with clinched in waists and voluminous tulle sat below the knee at mid calf, a length I absolutely adore. A palette of black, grey, velvety midnight blue and soft pastels contrasted beautifully with the illuminating neon make up.  Trouser suits were simple but oh-so-chic and a striking printed Bucol silk coat and dress was inspired by spray-painted canvases done by Simons’ longtime friend and collaborator Sterling Ruby. Fashion history in the making.

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Simons says ‘I don’t want to suggest in any way I am talented enough to compare myself with Mr Christian Dior…’ but I disagree. 

Dior and I actually moved me to tears. That's not the pregnancy hormones talking, honestly, or the Swiss chard-induced nausea. It was simply my love of fashion and the result of being Christian Dior'd from my head to my toes.

Maybe this resting thing is not so bad after all…

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Don Letts at Punk London and a very special trip on the London Eye...

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Punk.London has crashed noisily into London, bringing with it a year of events, gigs, films, talks, exhibits and more. All in celebration of 40 years of punk, the genre-busting cultural phenomenon that allowed a whole generation to speak up without submission.

The capital’s cultural organisations will tell the story of punk through art, design, film, fashion, literature, photography and, of course, music - fantastic.

Fittingly, it's not without controversy; Joe Corré, son of late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and Designer and Businesswoman Dame Vivienne Westwood is planning to burn his collection of punk memorabilia, estimated to be worth around £5m, in protest that Punk.London has been backed by The Queen. “The Queen giving 2016, the year of punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard. Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream". A true demonstration of anarchy or a bit of a spoilsport? You decide.

One of the many features that intrigues me the most is Don Letts Presents Punk on Film at the BFI on 1 August 2016. Director, DJ and musician Letts will host his curated season of exciting films that highlight the diversity of the punk movement, including the intersections between the Jamaican music scene and punk. Not to be missed.

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Last summer I took a captivating trip on the London Eye to hear him open his mind (and heart) about the iconic Joe Strummer, co-f0under of The Clash, as part of the 32 Londoners series on assignment for RockShot Magazine.

It seemed a good time to revisit my exciting trip...

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I’m ashamed to admit a mild fear of heights. On a supposedly ordinary Tuesday evening, as I gazed up at the gigantic Ferris wheel looming on London’s Southbank, all 135m of it framed by a glorious blue sky, I started to wonder if I had the stomach for it.

I needn’t have worried. Any acrophobic fears evaporated as I hopped on board The Eye just as the capsule doors closed and the sight of the indelible Don Letts came into view. It was clear this was no ordinary Tuesday evening.

I was embarking on a very special rotation for a preview of 32 Londoners, returning following last year’s sell out programme. The prestigious event features 32 talks held in each of the London Eye’s 32 capsules on 32 extraordinary Londoners. This year’s subject is Adopted Londoners, with expert speakers celebrating iconic figures, past and present, who were born outside of the city but came to be associated with it.

With its great history of cultural diversity, London has long been a beacon, attracting the great and the good to its streets. No more fitting a subject than the fascinating Joe Strummer of The Clash, punk rock’s most political vocal outfit, and whose story remains a permanent feature in London’s rich tapestry. Who better to captivate the audience with his story than British musician, DJ and film director Don Letts, born and bred in the city, and a strong influence on the band.

As we orbited, Letts opened his story with references to his Grammy Award winning film The Clash: Westway to the World and Julien Temple’s film Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. We were introduced to Strummer’s exotic childhood spent in several different countries thanks to his British Diplomat father, a strained relationship with his non-musical parents and feelings of abandonment.

We got a sense of what built Strummer’s character – exposure to multifarious cultures from a young age, the rebellious streak caused by a loss of faith in formal education and subsequent immersion into music and a ruthless desire for reinvention inspired by the sounds of rock and roll and American folk hero Woody Guthrie. Letts asked the captive audience to draw our own conclusions from life-changing events in the musician’s life; like the correlation between the suicide of his National Front supporting older brother and Strummer’s lifelong fight against racism.

London didn’t disappoint with its magnificent views (as standard) and neither did the orator as he gave us a musical history lesson, bringing the lecture to life with vivid imagery. Strummer listening to Big Youth’s Screaming Target (supposedly on acid one Christmas in Wales) and his first proper band the 101ers, so called after the address of the squat they were living in, 101 Walterton Road.

We went back to 1976; the 101ers playing at the Nashville Room, supported by an unknown new band, the Sex Pistols, where Strummer first caught the eye of Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. History in the making right there and then, as they realised Strummer had the makings of a dynamic frontman and was possibly their missing link. We learnt about Strummer’s radical and ruthless move to join The Clash, including cutting off friends, band members and girlfriends and undertaking a legendary 200 plus drummer auditions to find the vehicle that would make him famous.

With an obvious interest in style (his London clothing store Acme Attractions enticed the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols and Chrissie Hynde in the mid-1970s), Letts remarked how Simonon was responsible for the most part with the look of the Clash which, to his mind, was inseparable from their sound in a very English way; ‘they looked like they sounded, they sounded like they looked and with Mick Jones, Joe had found his McCartney, his Richards’.

Letts had an articulate and thespian delivery; it was impossible not to be enthused as he referred to The Clash as ‘four sticks of dynamite. They looked good, oozed attitude, sounded f*cking awesome and importantly their songs were about stuff’. With songs like White Riot and London’s Burning, their music seemed like the soundtrack for the climate of the times; ‘music of the people, by the people, for the people’.

There was a noticeable twinkle in his eye as he talked about songs that dealt with politics, social injustice, cultural apathy. As The Eye sliced through the London skyline, Letts took us through important milestones in the Clash’s rich history; signing for CBS in January 1977 which the punk rock purists thought signified the death of punk, the eponymous debut studio album for the label which included a cover of Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves) and the influence behind one of their most enduring songs (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais; written by Strummer after Letts took him to the infamous venue.

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He reminisced about their third album London Calling with lyrics he described as having a ‘musical reportage quality about it’ and their fourth triple album, Sandinista!, which they promoted in 1981 with a historic and exhausting 17-night back to back stint at Bond International Casino in New York. They were supported by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who the audience welcomed with boos, but Strummer and the band were quick to run out and defend theirs guests. They were way ahead of their game before the explosion of hip hop and rap a few years later.

By 1982, America was under their spell with the release of the last proper Clash album, Combat Rock but when Letts talked about cracks showing in the band’s exterior – drug habits, a relentless work rate, Strummer going into hiding and the eventual disbanding in 1986, he drew from his own personal experiences and appeared genuinely sombre. We heard about the formation of the Mescaleros in the 1990s and releasing Rock Art and the X-Ray Style and Global a Go-Go, and Strummer finding his mojo again by the end of the 20th century; something, Letts noted, he didn’t think he’d ever really seen.

Inevitably, the magic had to end. Strummer’s last stage performance in 2002 was a benefit for the striking fireman, at the Acton Town Hall in London, the show that would also see him play with Mick Jones for the first time in almost 20 years. Sadly, Strummer passed away a few months later with an undiagnosed heart defect at the age of 50. At his funeral, attended by two dozen firemen in full uniform who he had played for earlier that month, a stetson sat on top of the coffin adorned with the words Question Authority. Ask me Anything.

The event was undeniably informative, but it was the way Letts peppered the talk with anecdotes and personal memories delivered with a smile in that rich, distinctive London accent (like when Strummer ran off with his girlfriend) that made it so endearing. He gave us a unique insight into the real Joe; someone who spent all night after gigs talking to anybody that wanted to speak to him with a ‘never ending source of relentless energy that was absolutely infectious’. An interest in what punk rock could be, as opposed to what it was. Someone who was far from perfect but that was OK to Letts; that meant keeping Strummer’s memory alive in a practical and very real way – something to aspire to.

Most powerfully for me was how Letts presented Strummer’s legacy as a constant inspiration. ‘Because he believed in music as a tool for social change, not just a soundtrack to passive consumerism. Because he was living proof that music didn’t just reflect change, it could affect change too’. The audience enthralled, he asked us, to consider ‘…in this cultural climate that feels like punk rock that didn’t happen where are the Joe Strummer’s of today?’

As our very special rotation drew to a close and we touched back down again in 2015, Letts ended his speech with a simple denouement, gazing out at the city surrounding us in all its glory. ‘Strummer, The Don salutes you’.

As do we, Don Letts, as do we. Thanks for the memories.

This feature first appeared on RockShot here.

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AV Robertson for ASOS BLACK, and what I really want for Christmas.

Anyone stuck for what to buy me for Crimbo? In need of help / a gentle nudge?

OK, I'd really like this dress please. It is A V Robertson for ASOS BLACK and simply glancing at it makes me feel happy. Will you just look at that craftwomanship? It is luminous.

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The dress is the creation of Amie Victoria Robertson, a 2014 Central Saint Martins graduate who bases herself in London town and specialises in iridescent embroidered womenswear and bold, beautiful accessories. With an internship CV to shout about (Christian Dior Couture and Alexander Wang anyone?), and a stint at Marc Jacobs in New York and Paris as a Design Assistant, the experience has clearly stood her in good stead. Her debut collection, created in homage of the great British Summer, combined oversized black polo necks with cut-out sections and beautifully hand-crafted opalescent flowers with Swarovski crystals and pearls - and caught the attention of Vogue no less.

I saw it first in LOOK Magazine, where a model stood like a beautiful glamazonian against a backdrop of neon (God's Own Junkyard, just round the corner from my gaff). The royal blue colour is striking, I love the thickness of the woven fabric and a bit of futuristic shine and metallic is always good for the season that was made to sparkle. The 3D floral embellishment makes the price tag worthwhile and the loose fit, although appearing to fall loosely over the body, is given a slick and dressy look with applique.

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The dress is part of a clothing and accessories selection for A V Robertson for ASOS BLACK, based on her graduate collection, and was launched in early November just in time for Christmas. It features her signature 3D embellishment, tunics and A-line miniskirts and prices start at £85.

So, A V Robertson for ASOS BLACK V-Neck Mini Shift Dress with Embellished Detail, all I want for Christmas is you.

Seasons Greetings.

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When I grow up I want to be Carine Roitfeld

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When I grow up I want to be Carine Roitfeld.

Along with Julia Sarr-Jamois, Taylor Tomasi Hill and Jenna Lyons she is way up there with people I aspire to dress like, and ACTUALLY WANT TO BE IN REAL LIFE.

Carine Roitfeld is a global fashion icon - model, muse, writer, stylist, magazine editor, visionary. Having spent 10 years at the helm of Vogue Paris, in the much coveted Editor-in-Chief post, she moved on from her impressive tenure to create her very own magazine, CR Fashion Book. Her fashion tome 'Carine Roitfeld - Irreverent' is an opulent visual history and is desperate to be seen on my coffee table (hint hint, anyone who is reading). Karl Lagerfeld once said that 'If you close your eyes and imagine the ideal French woman, it would be Carine Roitfeld' and I concur with Karl.

For me personally, Carine made it perfectly, unapologetically acceptable to wear a faux leather pencil skirt with stilettos in broad daylight - but mon dieu, does she do it with class. She knows the art of balancing sexpot with cult fashion figure is to pair the leather with a cashmere jumper, a snug fitted t-shirt, or mannish tailoring - rather than a deep V which, let's face it, can take the look to whole different level.

CR is back on my radar because she has turned her talented hand to collaborating. It may seem an unlikely association but the 40-piece Carine Roitfeld for Uniqlo collection is unleashed at the end of October 2015 and je suis trés excité.  This is her first collaboration with a brand, and the Japanese giant with its affordable prices, smart casual wear and advanced approach to fabric technology creates a befitting partnership.

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The ad campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, provides delicious insight into what we can expect from the range. It mirrors Carine's impeccable elegance perfectly. Simplicity, sleek lines, super chic proportions - all interweaved with CR's magic. She explained in a recent Grazia article - 'I'm very picky. I want my skirt this length, my sweaters are this neckline, the coat is to be a bit shorter than the skirt... My skirts have pockets... I have these little tricks'. Oh to be in the know with these little tricks.

The pieces are to be worn TIGHT FIGHT. The collection is predominantly black (natch), features bountiful punky studs and eyelets and includes the requisite Faux Leather Skirt (£39.90). The fit of the rock'n'roll Carine Faux Fur Coat in leopard (£129.90) is stunning. May I have it now please? My other favourite pieces are the saucy Carine Flocky Printed Long Sleeve Blouse (£39.90) and the snuggly fitting Carine Wool Blended Tight Skirt (£29.90).

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I really, really want the Carine Graphic Short Sleeve T-shirt which features a striking illustration of CR's face, but fear it will become a cult piece and at £14.90, will go in a flash.

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The accessories are a sure-fire way to add a touch of Parisian insouciance. The Carine Tights are monogrammed with CR at the ankle and the Carine Eyelet Belt - depending on whether wide or skinny is your belt-style of choice (for me, it's wide) - have chunky eyelets as the name would suggest and come in at £14.90. I am all over the Carine Silk Tie - presented in polkadot, leopard print or Cami also at £14.90 and will be nonchalantly sweeping one around my neck.

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I have fallen for this collection in a big way. I am awaiting 29 October 2015 with nervous, bated breath. Carine Roitfeld for Uniqlo offers people who are not CR the chance to be a bit CR; to waft down the road in something alluring and pretend to display some fabulous French equanimity. It is liberating, chic and on-point.

It will sell out, and I'll be left with the tights, I know, but a girl can dream. See you in the queue.

Carine Roitfeld for Uniqlo is available from the Regent Street store, London and online at uniqlo.com from Thursday 29 October 2015.

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Bradley Theodore exhibits in London

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One of the things I love, and always have loved about this majestic city is how day turns seamlessly into evening with fascinating consequences. London's inky nights often throw something your way you couldn't have predicted in a sleepy haze at 6am that morning.

Last night was a case in point. I thought post-work Thursday would serve up a long overdue dinner in Granary Square with two of my very special friends. Instead, I found myself gazing up at the work of celebrated New York City street artist Bradley Theodore and his bold, vibrant images at Old Brompton Gallery, SW5.

Hobnobbing with a medley of photographers, artists and curious art lovers (and some RIDICULOUSLY good looking people may I add) I cursed myself for (a) not giving my overall appearance a bit more thought as I tugged at my Whistles skirt nervously and (b) my self-inflicted participation in Dry October.

So, the artist. Described as 'Jean-Michel Basquiat meets Banksy', Bradley Theodore is already well known in the US for his unique murals in the heart of New York that match key elements of art and fashion, and popular with fashion bloggers who understand the benefits a good 'wall scout' can bring. He is particularly eminent for his murals of fashion heavyweights Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour rendered as skeletons, and has also turned his hand to cover art for albums from the likes of Wu Tang Clan.

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The purpose of last night's exhibition was to provide London with a re-creation of all the murals Theodore has produced in NYC. I really loved the vibrancy and boldness of his work, the brilliantly thick strokes and the cobalt blue, navy and primary colours that popped and projected from the canvas. The cadaverous appearance of his subjects is both sinister and beautiful. Using the skeleton as the inner life force of his subjects is his signature and he explains, “There is no deeper delving into your psyche than the very structure of your body”.

My highlights were murals of Kate Moss, Grace Coddington and Diana Vreeland although really I couldn't take my eyes off any of them.

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Theodore believes his audience themselves should be the reviewers of his art and so he goes out of his way to make his art available for all to see in the streets of international cities. He demonstrates his commitment to bringing art to the public by inviting people into his art studio to immerse themselves in the creative process. He also conducts live paintings in cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. We had the pleasure of chatting to him last night, and he was charming and down to earth.

As I made my way back to the East End, I reflected on what an interesting, inspiring, if not completely sober, night it had been. Thank you Bradley Theodore for bringing your fashion-influenced work into my life. Thank you London for coming up trumps again.

(Oh and next time Nicola, as you carelessly fling on something for work don't forget you never know what a London night will bring... )

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*Theodore Bradley's solo exhibition is at Old Brompton Gallery from 15-30 October 2015.

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The Art of Dressing Up

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I'm pretty sure I can remember when it all began.

At primary school our class had a huge dressing up box with vibrant pieces spilling out of it, fit to bursting. I remember scrambling to pluck the same item out of the box with my chubby fingers every playtime.

It was a pillar box red flamenco dress with sequined black polka dots and undulating ruffles in the skirt and sleeves. Always suitably over-dressed, even at five years old. It swished and flared as I span around and even at that age I recognised the thrill that adorning yourself with beautiful things could bring.

The art of dressing up has inspired me ever since and I’ve had a shot at replicating my very own dressing up box wherever I live - elegant vintage pieces, bold pieces of jewellery handed down, ordered online or purchased from travels around the globe, a rainbow-coloured spectrum of shoes, fringed, printed scarves and thin and chunky belts. You get the picture.

So discovering Gigi's Dressing Room in Walthamstow, London for the first time felt like finding a hidden dressing up box, blowing off the dust and striking rich. In a modest but fitting area of Wood Street Indoor Market, there are clothes, shoes, hats and jewels literally dripping from the ceiling. Each arranged piece is unique and splendid and simply made for trying on.

The owner Galina Sherri (or Gigi to her friends) is the master of the magic. About ten years ago, like most women no doubt, she realised she had far too many clothes (Hmmm. Can you ever have too many, I wonder?) and worked at vintage fairs and markets to sell some of her wonderful vintage finds. Some clever networking at Spitalfields Market helped Gigi hook clients who didn't like the act of shopping itself but needed assistance with styling outfits for exciting parties and performances. Seamlessly becoming a personal shopper and stylist, Gigi went to their homes to save the day and in turn they came to her.

Then, in February 2012, Gigi learned of Wood Street Indoor Market, formerly an old antiques centre and soon to be renovated into a local centre of arts, craft and vintage treasures. Gigi had the foresight to rent a small room there and as if by magic, the dazzling Gigi's Dressing Room was born. 

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Things got bigger and better and before long, at the beginning of 2014, she moved her emporium in the middle of the market and The Dressing Room became the dazzling centre piece.

Gigi used to source her beautiful pieces from markets and vintage shops but as she got busier, she started buying into the shop. Clients and excited shoppers would bring their grandmother's prom dresses and fabulous evening gowns (from another dazzling, glamorous era. Believe me, I've seen them and they are stunning) and she also bought from acquaintances who work in the theatre and cinema.

Gigi's pride in the business means she takes personal care of her customers. She wants to make it fun to dress up for parties and events - which is exactly what it should be. Fashion is a hoot; outrageous and fabulous, and it's not to be taken seriously even if it does infiltrate and take over your life quite often.

On my first visit to the Dressing Room, I looked around in silent awe at the items that dripped from the rails. Inwardly vowing not to buy anything because I DID NOT NEED ANY MORE CLOTHES, I smiled politely and got ready to leave after a brisk perusing, a waft of a dress here, a peek at the odd pair of shoes there. Within an hour (yes, I stayed an hour and nearly missed an important appointment) I had been utterly charmed by the quality and variety of pieces on offer and was chatting to the fabulous Gigi like an old friend. She's a clever one; having quietly observed my careful studying from the sidelines, she noticed I couldn't quite leave a beautiful yellow, green and peach satin dress alone and began a gentle, persuasive nudge for me to try it on - you know, just to see what it looks like, just try it on, it'll be fun! Like dressing up.

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Unable to resist, I was in the changing room, trying it on and it was in the bag before I knew it. Gigi gifted me an oyster grey and pink pearl ring in a charming vintage box which made the experience even more special.

Fashion addiction can be an expensive habit, but do not despair; since last year outfits and costumes from Gigi's Dressing Room can be hired out as part of her continued effort to discourage consumerism. There's also a lot more to Gigi than dressing up. She runs small sewing and knitting groups and organises fashion events three times a year.

Shopping at Gigi’s Dressing Room is a truly wonderful spectacle. A place to trawl through alluring clothes that coruscate and beckon you from the rails, pop your feet in a pair of retro shoes, admire your fingers in dazzling cocktail rings and much more. It creates the opportunity to try things on, play dress up, fall madly in love with a special piece and have it customised to suit your unique shape. You can float out feeling a million pounds, knowing that you won’t bump into anyone else at that party / gig / performance / festival / wedding in the same outfit you have safely folded in your shiny new bag.

Thank you Gigi, and long live the art of getting all dressed up with somewhere to go.

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Monki-ing Around

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The other weekend. There I was, happily pootling about, catching up on the new Alabama Shakes album and returning a gigantic pile of clean washing to its rightful wardrobe when a startling realisation hit me mid-hang.

Someone's nicked all my plain clothes and replaced them with a great big jumble of print and colour!

That someone being me of course. Bar a sprinkling of denim, a smattering of faux leather, generally speaking my wardrobe is a riot of print, deck chair stripes and elaborate designs. When I'm searching in haste for day-job-appropriate or in need of a basic top to fling on with a jazzy skirt, pronto, I'm clutching the closet doors and shaking my head in puzzlement. I'm battling through a cacophony of colour. I'm looking for a plain white tee that's not there.

It's entirely my fault. I'm a sucker for a bold, beautiful print and a lover of vintage patterns and blooming floral bouquets. Often I get the urge to make like the experimental street styling girls and work a print clash with swagger - but bottle it at the front door because (a) I'm a great big scaredy cat and (b) there's a fine line between chic and clown.

Michael Kors Ready to Wear - Spring / Summer 2015

All that confessed, I greatly admire women who sail through life in a minimal grey Sandro tee. Those clever girls who purposefully build capsule wardrobes based on stripped back white, navy and black separates from Cos. That use nothing more than a colour pop accessory, a killer heel, or a citrus clutch to make a sensational impact.

A recent Stylist magazine offered some welcome advice in their New-Season Update. 'Stock up on crew necks to wear with wide-leg trousers or a suede skirt', they recommended, and I nodded to myself and thought, yes. Yes you're right. It's time to get minimal. I shall take your advice (and ignore the vibrant trouser from Stella McCartney leaping off the page. Which to be fair at £485 a pop wasn't too difficult). I will cleanse my colour palette with a slouchy tee or two. I'll chuck on a taupe coat in a nonchalant manner. Hell, I'll condense all my stuff into a navy backpack if that's what it takes! This is the year I become MINIMAL and unembellished.

Then cheeky Monki reopened on Canarby Street after a refurb and all thoughts of minimalism went out the window. 

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My eye was turned once again by a flirty print. I fell in love with Swedish womenswear brand Monki a couple of years ago. They've been in London for three years now and Monki is the cheeky sibling in a family of other cool brands including two of my high street faves, Cos and & Other Stories and the formidable Cheap Monday.

The products are excellently priced and unique and fresh. Monki doesn't take itself seriously but maintains credibility with forward thinking yet wearable fashion. It's a festival chicks haven, but working girls will succeed too with perseverance; trousers and shirts offer Scandanavian minimalism with edge. Smart with a cheeky wink.

Monki runs the gamut from clothes, underwear and accessories and all in a rainbow of colours. The newly added denim area brings fresh blue ideas in dungaree, jeans, jumpsuit and dress form. The sunnies come in 25 different designs so I hear - from classic wayfarers to kooky cats' eyes - so if you're feeling gluttonous you can knock yourself out and get a few.

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Monki is one of the shops where, on arrival, I roll up my sleeves, inhale a deep breath and take my time to scour every.single.item thus ensuring no potential gems are overlooked. Don't take it personally, but I quite like going on my own. Absorbing the colours and styles that whizz past my eyes, slowly gathering a load on my weighed-down arm to take into the changing rooms and secure in the comfort that anything I buy won't shatter my bank account to smithereens.

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One of my favourite dresses ever is from Monki - a long-sleeved patterned creation that accompanied me to Latitude Festival in 2014. It proved versatile for the roasting hot/freezing cold combo that England loves to chuck at us all in one day thus making it REALLY EASY TO DRESS FOR (NOT). I found it also went well with glitter and beer and withheld some tipsy dancing in fairy light illuminated woods and being bashed into while hanging out of the overspilling comedy tent.

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My most recent Monki haul included the Rinda Shirt, the Beata Blouse and the eye-catching Moa Shirt Dress.

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Rinda Shirt

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So, on reflection, maybe it's not so bad to be a bit barmy in print. Putting the smile back into fashion with something a bit more flamboyant.

Let this brilliant brand be your sartorial guide, and have some fun along the way. Maybe you'll also find yourself bewitched by some Monki magic...

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*Oh, Monki does plain stuff too. It's terrific.

Go forth and Wang

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Another day, another dollar, another H&M collaboration with a top-class designer for me to get in a tizz about.

This time it's the prestigious Alexander Wang x H&M limited-edition collection which is available to purchase from tomorrow, Thursday 6 November 2014 and marks the 10th anniversary of H&M's designer collaborations with a big stylish bang.

It will undoubtedly be a complete sell-out. I have already resigned myself to the fact that I have no hope of bagging any wares from Alexander Wang's collection, despite my recent success in securing Kate Moss x Top Shop and Peter Pilotto at Target. I should be brimming with confidence and new-found esteem, but alas I fear I will be out-Wanged, left only with a singular boxing glove. Which is a bit daft.

After all, the collection has had a ton of the requisite publicity (Joan Smalls, Natasha Poly and Andy Carroll of West Ham fame in the promotional film!) and was recently launched at the Armory on the Hudson River with a FROW of stars, the Stadium covered with black glitter and an athletics track (on which Wang did a lap of honour. Major!).

Mostly, because it's bloody good and I really, really like it. I am a huge cheerleader for the sports-luxe trend - give me a mesh panel, over-sized sweatshirt and leather joggers any day - and Wang's sporty aesthetic is stylish and wearable. The logos are subtle and not in your face and the monochrome and grey colour palette is grown up and not too shouty.

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Unless a miracle happens and, in the only spare time I have available between 9.00 am and 9.03 am tomorrow, I luck out in cyber space and nab something brilliant, woefully I'm sitting out of this one. If anyone happens to be up at 5.30 am in a queue somewhere in the UK or if anyone in fashion authority has heard my pleas, I would really love the Perforated Pattern Dress, £79.99 please. It is striking and I would pair it with an oversized jacket, Acne Studio's Loma Metallic Chrome Boots or in keeping with the sporty vibe, the Men's Parka with a down gilet as coolly worn by @nataliehartleywears in this month's Glamour Magazine.

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So, good luck.

 Go forth and Wang.

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Styling the invaluable

When it comes to beautiful jewellery, I am hooked.

The inimitable Coco Chanel once said (in words that have been rephrased over and over), 'Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off'. Ha! Coco, you are a genius but I laugh right in the face of that statement, peek in the mirror and add one more piece for good luck.

My jewellery style is varied and can change with the wind; depending on how I'm feeling, what I'm wearing and what's influenced me that day. Sometimes it's all over-sized, plump beads in vivid colours, bold lapis lazuli rings and a mass of silver embellished bracelets piled high - influenced by my travels across South America and Australasia and my never diminishing wanderlust. Often I'm in the mood for something a bit more minimal and understated - delicate gold chains adorned with stars draped elegantly across the décolletage, slender gold rings worn on each finger and teeny ear studs, letting the clothes do all the talking. Every so often only Rose Gold will do.

I'm always on the lookout for an alternative way to add some beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces to my collection or, at the very least, seek some fashion inspiration and practice my styling skills. After poking around online for a bit the other day I discovered invaluable.com and in particular the rings collectionEvery piece is undoubtedly beautiful and desirable, but something just clicked into place when I saw this beautiful ring, nestled in the Gemstone Rings section. I knew exactly what I would wear it with and the components of my dream look quickly assembled in my head one morning on the way to work; I knew exactly what to style it with.

Lady's Fancy Pear Shape Amethyst with Diamonds Sterling Silver Ring

With one of the most beautiful dresses ever of course.

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This Autumn / Winter 2014 is all about artistic, floral prints reflecting the modern art movement and breathing life into wardrobes everywhere. The beautiful violet shade of the Amethyst with Diamonds ring complements the stunning muted tones of the dress but with its unusual pear shape it is by no means dull. This is the dress that I would wear in my own personal style dreams. I love brave, bold prints and there is something quintessentially 'London' about this dress. Its languid light-weight silk fabric, tie detail and button closure at the deep V neck is juxtaposed with the sexy thigh-high split and sheer sleeves.

I love how the brilliant Alexa Chung has added her own signature cool to it, wearing this to a party in London in August 2014. Now THIS is how I would love to make an entrance to a party, swishing and swirling, feeling light as air, with a dazzling ring as the centrepiece.

This is how I would style the Lady's Fancy Pear Shape Amethyst with Diamonds Sterling Silver Ring:

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From left to right

(1) Go bold and wear Sophia Webster's Simi Ankle Boots  with pastel lilac binding 

(2) Add a shock of midnight blue with Queen Heeled Pumps in Ink Suede by Stuart Weitzman 

(3) Compliment the stunning muted tones of the dress with Lucy Choi London's Madeline leather pumps in Lilac 

(4) The dress. Floral Print Layered Silk Smock Dress by Burberry 

(5) With hints of his signature cool, choose the Safety Buckle Leather Shoulder Bag in Grey from Christopher Kane's first collection

(6) Sheepskin has enjoyed a cool resurrection this season. Be brave and add a pop of bright blue with the Fendi Be Baguette Mini Shearing Bag in Teal

(7) Alexa Chung looking sensational at Nick Grimshaw's party in August 2014.

(8) Lady's Fancy Pear Shape Amethyst with Diamonds Sterling Silver Ring from invaluable.com

(9) MAC Lipstick in Sin

(10) Makeup as seen at Kenzo Autumn / Winter 2014

(11) Cosmic textures will pair beautifully with the amethyst ring. Add your own take on metallic with Smashbox Pallette in Smokebox and (12) Max Factor Shock Effects Eyeshadow in Pink Opal to off set the black-cherry lips.

This is the sophisticated but sexy dress of my dreams with a precious, invaluable ring to accompany it.

Without fashion dreams, what is there?

 

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Invaluable is the world's largest online auction marketplace, and everyday brings a new variety of fine and decorative arts, antiques, and jewellery pieces, giving collectors unprecedented access to the items they are most passionate about. Invaluable’s live online bidding platform allows collectors to bid in real-time on auctions held around the world. 

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