Postcards from Japan

Apparently, if you visit Japan, it's very easy to get very caught up in the wild atmosphere of buying things – which I suppose is what we all do here in December – the Japanese just keep that intensity up over the whole year, which sounds quite stressful.

So say our friends who came back from Japan a few weeks ago, anyway. Benjamin and I looked after their wild cat who chases her own tail while they were away, and they brought these things back for us. Faced with shops full of such sweet things, I'm not sure I could control myself at all in Japan.

Characterful Cat

Gifts from Japan

Snow Puss

The little puss paperweight at the top is so characterful. I could take photographs of him all day. The book is amazing – I'm easily seduced by Japanese book bindings. It's almost better that I can't understand the captions.



Despite a birthday at the beginning and Christmas at the end, and a real, serious frugality the rest of the year, in December, I buy things. Luckily, so does everyone else, so my wild coveting is disguised as Christmas spirit. Even I'm fooled by it.

Here are a couple of things that have been collecting in my little covetables folder all year – things I could never really justify buying for myself, but would really enjoy buying as gifts! People give to others what they like to receive themselves, after all.

1. Penguin Classic Hardbacks 2. Saint James Breton Top

These redesigned hardbacks are so unusual, and I like the way publishing is turning to fancy bindings and design to keep readers buying the classics. A set of Fitzgeralds and Hemingways would be perfect reading to prepare for a year full of 1920s influences. My current copies are so scrawled on and full of post-its that I think it might be time to buy a copy I can actually read without cringing at my terrible schoolgirl literary criticism.

1. Anthropologie dress 2. Victorian candle holder 3. Caribou Snow boots

I'm quite pleased with how incongruous clumpy snow boots are in this selection - but could there be anything more useful? Last winter I slid around on pavements, fell over six times on my way to the dentist, and swore I'd save up for these. I forgot all about it in the summer though, of course. The Victorian candle holder reminds me of dark Christmas power cuts when I was little, and of wispy Victorian gentlemen asleep in their nightcaps.

1. New Year's Shine & Sparkle Dress 2. Bialetti Espresso Pot

This is such a pretty dress if you have a New Year party to go to, in a great shape and at such a good price. I'll be secretly devastated if somebody buys it before me. I could probably console myself with the prospect of making affogatos with the espresso from an espresso pot though.



Clevedon Pier

An old English Victorian seaside town out of season, Clevedon in December is far more beautiful than it is in July. No tourists with ice cream cones buying expensive lunches in seafront locations and fighting over the outside seats – in December the sea is calm, the anglers are watchful and the sea mist swirls around and makes an atmosphere out of it all.

The pier is Clevedon's jewel. John Betjeman called it 'the most beautiful pier in England' and it must be – its long spindly legs create such delicate arches. The wet beams are recycled railway sleepers, paid for by tiny brass plaques inset into the wood and engraved with the names of the people who bought them. The glorious pavilion at the end is quiet now, but becomes a seaside cafe in the summer. I realised when I was there, that this is the pier that is used in the publicity posters for 'Never Let Me Go', the new Keira Knightley film.

Clevedon Pier

When Ben and I strolled along it, the pier was completely deserted bar the quiet anglers with their bowed heads. It was pouring with rain and the mist was rolling in. I felt like my 1940s coat deserved an attempt at 1940s hair, which I quite like I think – It's nice to have a fringe break now and again. The coat I bought in a charity shop – it's heavy and the cut is perfect for me – it feels very grand.

Coat: Vintage 1940s
Leather gloves: Vintage
Tights: H&M
Shoes: Topshop



My grandfather always used to wear brown brogues, I'm told. Brown ones. I've had a bit of a thing for them ever since finding that out. Brown brogues, a tweed suit and dark rimmed glasses. He was someone I never met, but I think following in his shoe choice footsteps is a nice option. If Benjamin does the same, then so much the better.

Brogues united

I know mine aren't brogues, more tasseled loafers (loafers has such a horribly sleazy business connotation, doesn't it? – what kind of a man wears tasseled shoes?), but they're as far as I am willing to go into what Hadley Freeman calls the age when 'it became acceptable to wear your dad's shoes'. They're a happy medium.

Details are precious in menswear – you can have a interestingly cut cuff, or a vintage tie clip, or roll your jeans, but there are far fewer particulars. Brogues are full of subtle details.

Ben's Brogues

In America, they call them wingtips, after the wing shape leather on the toe. They appeared first in Scotland – the holes were to drain the water accumulated by tramping through long wet grass. The broguing (the little holes punched into the leather) come minimalist (the austerity wingtip), or over the top (the British long wing). I think Ben's might be British long wing. My favourite bits are the long thin laces – perfect for sophisticated bows.

With all this talk of the importance of 'Heritage' recently, it seems some kind of crossed line to wear a brogue inspired girl's shoe, especially as I'm quite late to the loafer party and bought mine at the decidedly anti-heritage Topshop. I'm quite pleased with them, though, regardless.

My loafers: Topshop
Ben's brogues: (the infinitelty more respectable) Osborne Gentleman's Attire


Going Gatsby

Stills from 'The Great Gatsby' (1974)

Hemingway's Garden of Eden (from the Paris Review)

In a recession, we look to the past. Nostalgia keeps us going. In fashion, nostalgia keeps a whole industry going, and not only in a recession. This year, the early 1960s were the years to look to for escape – to a simpler time when everyone dressed well and life was simpler. It was to be the bringer of a 'new womanly' style – a move away from boom-induced frivolity, and a nod to being grown up, and sexily sensible.

Fashion can't stay so sensible for long – it seems to be gradually embracing this perfect opportunity to go Gatsby.

1. Dress: Alice + Olivia 2. Shoes: Repetto 3. Headband: Topshop

Carey Mulligan will be making her leap from An Education's British 1960s to the bright young world of the American 1920s as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby next year. Later this year, Mena Suvari plays Catherine, an American newlywed traveling Europe with her husband in an adaptation of Hemingway's unfinished novel Garden of Eden, set in the twenties, one war just finished, another just brewing.

The 1920s have much in common with the 1960s. Both were, at least in America, inter-war years, both were shocked by the relative emancipation of their women and both were boom decades building towards an inevitable crash and recession. In 2010, in the middle of our own recession, we ignore the end of the story and pick out the glamour, the freedom and the excitement of those years, and wear styles which evoke that atmosphere for us.

1. Lace top: Lover 2. Fedora: French Connection 3. Russian Red Lipstick: Mac

1. White Dress: French Connection 2. Dropwaist Blue Dress: ASOS

'With the influence of her dress her personality had also undergone a change' says Nick Carraway of Daisy Buchanan, and, if clothes really can create optimism, the 1920s are already quietly appearing just for that purpose, in innocent white fabrics, dropped waists and jaunty hats.


Craft Fair

Among the fiddly porcelain, shelves of teapots, and precariously balanced jewelery there was not a great deal of room for a video camera and a tripod, but last weekend Benjamin and I ploughed in regardless. We were very much in the way.

Benjamin was filming one of his interviewees for a project at Hereford Craft Fair. The interviewee was a potter named Jewels, who makes tiny sea-inspired pottery sets after just doing an evening class at the local college. Late learning is in the family – her 75-year-old mother is studying for a PhD in older people's attitudes to death. She sounds fascinating – I'd love to meet her.

As I hate being in the way above all things, I drifted around with the crowd, taking photographs and chatting to some of the stall holders. It was surprisingly busy. It's amazing and brilliant that the most popular designs were the simplest and the most old fashioned, and that people were still snapping them up despite the modern age of austerity, and the availability of cheap china from the east, and Ikea.

I got talking to a potter who looked more like a 1960s bank manager than an artist. He had in fact spent the 1960s studying pottery, which he left for large scale manufacturing. He only came back to potting a few years ago, and had just sold an entire £1,500 dinner set on commission: 'The woman who bought it didn't even blink at the price', he told me.

This weekend, in the middle of another fruitless Bristol shopping trip, I cheered myself up with this fantastically long wool scarf from Zara. I love how thick the wool is, and how many times I can wrap it around. If you add a topknot (my hair's default setting at the moment) it is a really satisfying one too.

Scarf: Zara
Cardigan: H&M
Skirt: Zara
Boots & Bag: Vintage


Le Petit Prince

'On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.'

It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.

I spotted Jean-Charles de Castelbajac's SS11 collection on The Cherry Blossom Girl, and was at first excited by it, and then, a little dismayed. Should fashion be allowed to so blatantly hijack such a beloved piece of literature?


The collection obviously draws on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's illustrations for his book, Le Petit Prince. Essentially a children's book, Le Petit Prince, nearly 70 years after it was first published, remains hugely popular, especially in France – the tale of an intergalactic boy prince, discovered by an airman in the desert.

I came across it at school, when an amazing French teacher decided it would be a good addition to our lessons. I loved deciphering the French, and then, deciphering the insights contained within the English.


The book has many layers. The collection has many too, although these more physical than metaphorical. Aptly enough, given fashion's typical temporality, this collection takes it on its most superficial level – a simple tale of a lost pilot who finds a travelling little boy from a foreign planet in the desert. In an interview with Dazed Digital, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac explained: '... it was my purpose to approach Africa through the desert. Petit Prince was my ambassador to go on the planet on the desert. I went to the desert and then to the jungle.'

In terms of the narrative of the collection, he has certainly followed this path. Stars and Space, and prints of Saint-Exupéry's illustrations give way to safari-style dresses with wild top hats the same shape as the narrator's drawing of an elephant swallowed by a boa constrictor, and mistaken by narrow-minded grown-ups for a hat.
Images from Le Petit Prince, The Cherry Blossom Girl, New York Magazine

But it seems curious that a book essentially about love and loneliness, the importance of small things in the vastness of the universe, and even the perils of judging people on their aesthetics should ever be allied with an industry selling aesthetics.

But then, Le Petit Prince can also be read as a comment on the narrow-mindedness of grown-ups who refuse to see past what they see with their eyes – and perhaps there is nothing more contradictory to that than questioning this brief appearance of Le Petit Prince in fashion.

'But he would always answer, “That’s a hat.” Then I wouldn’t talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person.'


Sofia Coppola

I can't resist style sections of newspapers. In particular, I just can't help myself around Suzy Menkes' slightly old-fashioned but always straight talking takes on things, and I always go to her first, for balance. Menkes' profile of Sofia Coppola this month is published to promote her collaboration with Louis Vuitton – a selection of prohibitively expensive bags and shoes (some costing over $4,000), made to her own specifications. The accompanying images, taken from the collection, caught my eye.



All images from TFS

I very much admire the simplicity of her personal style, those long trousers and her ability to wield a clutch in particular. In the article though, it's not the bags that are intriguing (either way, they're not: they're ridiculously expensive, and you can find very similar at Topshop) it's the personality, the personal style, and the one phrase that sums up one individual's approach to fashion:

"Paris women have certain style - they are not trying to be little girls," she says. "In general, people are more chic and put together in Paris... I like the idea of growing up and being a woman - the end of childhood but keeping part of your nature."

She is not alone in thinking this: the cover of the Guardian Saturday magazine a few weeks ago featured a model in a flared Prada shift dress with the line: 'Step aside, girls, fashion for women has arrived'. I really would love to believe that it has.


A Tourist at Home

Sometimes it's fun to be a tourist in your own city. I'm the kind of tourist who tries to blend in with whatever place I'm visiting in order to see the real place, not the manufactured directed version that you are fed as a slavish tourist. The hardest part about trying to fit in in a place that you have never been before is not getting lost, so being a tourist in the city that you already know is easy.

So, in true Bristol tourism style, here is Clifton Suspension Bridge and its surroundings in the late autumn sunshine. It's an almost impossible structure, built in the mid-nineteenth century across the deep Avon Gorge, which itself has seen more than its fair share of people jumping to their deaths from the bridge above. The best tale of this bridge that I have heard is that of Sarah Ann Henley, who, intent on ending her life in 1885, threw herself off it only to be buoyed up by her many petticoats, which acted as a parachute and saved her life, guiding her down gently. She lived into her eighties.


I was tempted to wear something voluminous in her honour, but settled for this instead, my vintage Betty Barclay autumn dress. Its length would make it a great summer dress, were it not for the long sleeves. They are too warm for summer and too cold for winter, but perfect for sunny autumn evenings like this. I like that it is cut in a classic shape in a classic colour but that the camel is broken up by the flashes of fushia in the wings of the birds. I bought it in Camden Market in London, which happens in fact to be the place most often thought of by Londoners as a horrible tourist nightmare – I do still go, though.

Dress: vintage Betty Barclay
Cardigan: Topshop
Tights: M&S
Shoes: Long Tall Sally


This time of year...

It's October and I can't really believe it. Autumn kicked in with real intent just a few days ago and took everyone by surprise and left me wondering whether or not I should have got a chimney sweep in during the summer – probably the only old-fashioned necessity that I'm not a fan of. I think it'll keep until next year. I'm very much looking forward to lighting it and curling up beside it though.

When October hits and I begin to remember what the cold feels like, I always start thinking about the inside of the house, woefully neglected during a summer mostly spent outside. I begin to remember all the good things about being cooped up in the house – lighting the fire and eating autumn dinners with cosy lights on and hiding under my amazing winter duvet, not yet deployed.

Autumn is my absolute favourite season for food too - butternut squash and pancetta in risottos, sausages in casseroles and as many root vegetables as possible. I've been hoarding pictures of beautiful houses in which I would love to spend my autumn and winter, and thought I would share them here, for a bit of a change!


Design Sponge and Little Green Notebook

Imagine sitting in front of the fire on that gorgeous blue couch in the top picture! Just to keep things topical, below are a couple of things I've been coveting from the new Anthropologie A/W collection. On discovering that Anthropologie have opened a new store in London, I fully intend to go. No matter how many times I tell myself that their clothes are infinitely makeable, and vastly overpriced, I can't deny that I do love looking at them and imagining wearing them around my chilly autumn house.


Burnt Sienna


1. Garance Dore 2.Hanneli Mustaparta 3. Sonia Rykiel resort '11

Burnt sienna is a rustic and rich name for a colour, officially borne of burning a specific type of clay, but unavoidably conjuring images of Italy! I would never even have known its name were it not for Ben's box of oil paints, all carefully labelled with their official titles. Whatever you know it as though, this colour seems to be appearing in all the right places at the moment, and with a name like burnt sienna, it just must be the perfect colour for the approaching season.

There are a lot of these slightly muted hues around at the moment – dusty blue and mustard are two of my other favourites. They have a warm, but almost 'non-colour'-ness about them which I think must be perfect for paler skin tones in the unavoidably even paler autumn and winter.

Somewhere between a too-dull brown and a too-harsh red, I see it going perfectly with grey or cream ribbed tights or soft woollen jumpers, and maybe even with a splash of royal blue as in Garance's picture above. I love the way that Sonia Rykiel styles hers with creams and a daring red highlight. Hanelli's blouse comes from Zara, unbelievably, and goes so well with easy denim.

All Topshop 1. Dress £45/$71 2. Blouse £40/$65 3. Top £28/$45

Topshop's selection is surprisingly extensive. The above are my favourites – the blouse in the middle would go perfectly with faded blue jeans or cut offs; the beautifully draped dress with those ribbed grey tights again and maybe a cosy wool cardigan, and the loose top would be great with skinny black jeans and Sonia Rykiel style red lips.

Etsy has the best and most original selection. These three are my vintage favourites – if money were no object, I'd have them all! The polka dotted blouse is such a playful take on quite a sophisticated colour, while the beautiful vintage dress on the left is very sophisticated and is another that would look great with grey. The neckline on the dress on the right is so Joan Holloway, and so pretty. These are grand potential autumn staples – a little nod to the fallen leaves.


Love Me or Leave Me


Somehow, I've managed to leave at least a little bit of time between posting editorials shot by Kalle Gustafsson. They're like Zara lookbooks – you want to post one every month, but have to limit yourself to one per season. This one I think is perfect for mid-September, that period when the light is still bright, the clocks haven't quite gone back and when it is getting chillier and nearing time to merrily light the fire or tentatively turn on the radiators. I already feel resigned to finding another irresistible postable beauty for the deepest depths of December though.

This selection comes from the Swedish Fashion Tale magazine, and has a much colder feel than the last editorial of his that I posted (the beautiful Late Summer) but the attempt at a narrative style is almost the same: female models staring into the lens, hard and haughty, or looking emotional in beautiful clothes.



All images from SkarpAgent.se

The colours are true icy autumn and winter, and remind me how lovely soft blues and greys are, as well as plaid, wool and dark flannel. The makeup here is also typically winter – and unashamedly 60s Bardot – dark eyeliner and resultant smoky tears. In spring and summer I am minimal with makeup, but brash autumn and winter (I now remember) means more of everything – eyeliner especially, although I'm not sure I would want to wear quite that much.

In terms of fashion, this, I suppose, is neither new nor groundbreaking, but in a time when we do nothing but look to the past for inspiration, who really needs that? I love the neckline on the navy blue jumper on the boat, the layering of wool, the denim and, especially, those brown leather lace-up boots. Original this is not, but there is plenty to admire, inspire and take away, not in terms of new season trends perhaps, but certainly in terms of real, useful and achievable style.



Bramble Jelly & Scones

Scones & Bramble Jelly

Blustery early autumn and its abundance of fruit, nourished by sunshine all summer and weighing on the ends of heavy branches by September, inspires me to start baking more than any other season. There isn't really any choice – there's more fruit to be picked than anyone could ever eat, and it would be terrible to let it go to waste. I already have a bag full of Bramley apples waiting to be tarte tatin-ed, and am terrified that they'll spoil before I get around to it.

Crumbles and pies are great desserts to make with autumn fruit, but I really like the idea of being able to preserve a little bit of summer in a little jar for the winter. Bramble (blackberry if you are anywhere other than Scotland) and apple jelly is the perfect way! This jelly is amazing on floury homemade scones or thick toast, especially if you, like me, still childishly dislike the 'bits' in jam.

I made the jelly and the scones last week – they are so smooth and creamy together – and now I have three little jars of summer all stored up, squirrel like.

The recipe, in case you fancy it, is on my Tumblr.


An Auction


Auctions have always fascinated me. It's nice to imagine auctions as they were – the main method of selling antiques before the days of the Internet and frantic eBay clicking. Usually the preserve of the unemployed and retired (in real time and on daytime television) it seemed right for me as a pseudo-freelancer to go to my first one, an auction of vintage textiles.

With their old-fashioned gavels and fast talking auctioneers, I had quite romantic hopes for auctions, but really it was quite terrifying. I sat as still as possible for fear of bidding £200 for a box of tablecloths, which is (amazingly) what they were selling for. You don't really have to be that careful though – the auctioneers are able to tell a bid from a nose scratch. Just at the £40 mark on a table runner, Benjamin (a serial gesticulator) held up four fingers to illustrate something he was saying – if you can get away with that, you can get away with anything.

Union Jack Bunting


Auction Lot II

Aside from the comedy of accidental bidding, these auctions are perfect for picking up pieces from the 1950s and 1960s (and even from the 1920s, 1930s and the preceding century if you are very lucky) at very fair prices. The general bidders here were bidding for the curtains and those tablecloths, and being of an age that suggested having lived through the 1960s, they were mostly uninterested in the vintage clothes, which was what I was there for.

Little countryside auctions are the best to go to, (this was in Powys, Wales) as fewer vintage dealers and shop owners venture that far out. If you are willing to make the effort, you can really reap the rewards. This auction was full of job lots of vintage patterns and clutches, Mappin & Webb handbags, and Jaeger headscarves, estimated at around £30–£70 and often selling for much less. Other boxes were crammed with wartime Union Jack bunting, christening gowns, 1930s wedding veils and sequined, feathered 1920s hats. All manner of things, all with the potential to sell at £20 – which is a price well worth the journey.

I picked up three beautifully made 1960s dresses, which will be making either an eBay or an Etsy appearance next week – you will have to wait until then to see them. For a taster, the collar of one of them is on the left in the first photograph.