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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

FOUND - Memento That Tells Tales

I found this souvenir bracelet at the Avenue Vintage & Antique Market in West Ealing. Old travel mementos like these are a personal favorite - the writer in me not only enjoys wearing them but also imagining their hidden history. This little piece of Spain - those are bullfighters in the metal work - came to me via a dealer selling primarily French collectibles. It's seen some life - if only it could speak. I imagine it's the type of touristy keepsake that a man like Ernest Hemingway would have bought for his first wife Hadley when they were visiting San Fermin in Pamplona. This is where Hemingway became fascinated with bull fighting and would meet Pauline Pfeiffer, the woman who would become his 2nd wife.'Papa,' the cad, would buy a silly but stylish trifle like this for Hadley in an effort to put her off the scent. But it did not disguise the acrid smell of Hemingway's marital deceit. Fiction? Maybe. But I enjoy giving voice to this souvenir's secrets. The price for such an inspiring accessory? Just £10.

For more on Hadely Richarson's life with Hemgingway
read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, CLICK HERE.

Monday, 30 March 2015

TRY THIS - Style Scripted On Stage

Over the weekend the curtain came down on my play Re:Tale at Hen & Chickens in Islington. It was an exciting 1-week run that saw my nerves fray and pride swell, as talented cast and crew brought my work from page to stage. If you weren't able to see it, here's one of the character's mini rants, performed by the exceptional actress Zena Carswell. A rather 'Huntress London' sentiment, I think you'll find.  
(customer exits)
SHOPGIRL: She left her paper. (a glossy fashion magazine is curled inside the newspaper)  Oooo, and this.  This.  She had one of these. Bright, beguiling but evil. The devil in a red dress, Satan in satin, Lucifer in leggings, well for one more season maybe.  Leggings.

(opens the magazine)

Shaming us into wanting pricey frocks imagined by over-cool under-coiffed, occasionally anti-Semitic, wide boys who are having a laugh while disguising themselves as everymen women lovers. 

Consider this darling demon! He’s over-thinking a perfectly acceptable mackintosh, in an attempt to justify making it ludicrously expensive. He claims “the trench coat is the most democratic piece of clothing. A farmer in Yorkshire, the Queen of England and Sid Vicious would wear it.” So then modern democracy is white, Anglo Saxon and sporting a bad haircut? Maybe he’s got a point. But fashion? Democratic? Democracy’s not even democratic lately, so how are frocks and baubles going to be? And why should they? Fashion is fluff, not politics, and no matter how hard it wishes it were significant and serious, it’s not. 

Most women know it actually.     

We don’t take this personally. Maybe we do. (starts tearing pages from the magazine) It’s a trivial, convivial con that makes us chuckle. It takes the edge off, really. Flipping through these glossy, saucy, worthless, clueless, pretty pages.       

Surely we know this is rubbish. We do! But still. It’s this that allows us to think that she (points to a woman in the audience) is something less than thee. 

Thank you to everyone who made Re:Tale happen.
 It was dramatic, joyful and stylish. Thank you so much. 
photos of Zena Carswell by Alex Grey 

Friday, 27 March 2015

FOUND - Jacket that Drives Me Wild

I found this silk jacket at the new Fara shop in Islington near Angel tube station. It's a product of Shanghai Tang, purveyors of Chinese-inspired fashions for men and women, as well as homeware. Save small light red stains under the arms, this overcoat is perfect and when I wear it the minor flaws are nearly unnoticeable. But it's the defects that fill me with a feeling of freedom to style this topper with abandon, rather than wearing it carefully, with conservative concern. Once or twice I've bought, owned and drove a new car, and each time I've breathed a sigh of relief when my sparkling auto suffered a knock or ding, usually in a shop parking lot. Rather than despair, I found myself feeling like my motor was becoming a useful set of wheels rather than a model kit car that needed protecting at all costs. With high-end clothes my feelings are remarkably similar. Now that it's got a dent, I won't have to save my silk Shanghai Tang for best. Instead I'll wear it over a black bathing suit on holiday, pair it with casual denim and drape it over a summer shift. This luxury fashion becomes all the more luxurious when I've license to wear it recklessly. It was a just £10.     

Thursday, 26 March 2015

FOUND - A Tale of Two Knit-ies

I found this cashmere cardie at the Fara shop near Angel tube station. Bright, warm and versatile, this button-up jumper is perfect for Spring in London. I'll pair it with tonally matched accessories, including an armload of my trademark bangles. This colourful classic isn't perfect, there's hole in the sleeve - but I'll customize it, sewing a silk patch over the offending imperfection. This fashion project was only £6.80. 

I found this neutral cardigan at Fara Ealing on Bond Street. Double-breasted with a semi-shawl collar, it's got a great vintage feel. A cashmere and wool blend make it a stylish Spring separate too. I'm constantly surprised by the quality knitwear available in charity shops. Cashmere is the latest staple I've added to my list of never-buy-new fashion faves. This beige beauty set me back just £6.80.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

FOUND - Nights Turn to Days With PJs

I found this silky pajama top at Fara in Ealing on Bond Street. I'll wear it with jeans and my Stubbs & Wootten embroidered slipper shoes (an Ebay find, maybe my best ever). Night time fashions became a daylight style statement a few seasons back with everyone from Louis Vuitton to Whistles showing jim jams out of bed and on the street. Smoking jackets, beach cover-ups and Oriental-style loungewear are the sign posts along the road to the latest revival of night clothes in broad daylight. It's a return that I welcome. The writer in me appreciates a tailored but slightly louche look - it's not who I am but maybe who I want to be. In 2015 pajama chic is a trend that's waning but its descent actually enables me to welcome it into my wardrobe with added enthusiasm. I'm most comfortable when I'm a little out of step with the latest craze. Behind the times, the bed times in this case. The top, and its rather small bottoms that will be passed on to my sister, were just £3.80.  


Monday, 23 March 2015

TRY THIS - #ThriftyShifting in Islington

I found Fara's newly opened shop in Islington, near Angel Tube station, nothing short of 2nd-hand heaven. Light, bright and well-organized, the space is the former home of Fara Workshop. The Workshop closed last month - while a clever concept that saw donated clothing re-worked, re-made and resold, the idea had run its course.

Among other things, Fara Islington features a special section of retro clothing - although most of the charity's vintage donations go to the superb Retromania near Victoria Station. This is one of London's hot spots for true vintage - filled with both men's and women's clothing, Retromaina is unlike any other charity shop in London, catering to those of us who long for quality brands and designs from the past. 

The new Islington shop has a relaxed urban vibe all its own, in part due to fashion-conscious shop manager Zane. On the day I popped in, she was looking terribly chic in a full skirt - black with huge white spots - and flat black boots. I get a little thrill when shop staff are super stylish. They provide unique value-added inspiration.

Everything from the cool lighting to the hip music - played not too loud, thank you - is spot on at this, the latest of Fara's 50 shops. If it weren't for the one-off nature of the stock, you'd be excused for thinking the Islington branch was a commercial high street establishment and not a charity venture. 

Did I find some pre-owned pleasure? Of course, and in the coming week I'll reveal my best buys. If you pop into Fara Islington, and you should, treat yourself to a cuppa' at the excellent cafe, Saint Espresso next door. First rate coffee and 2nd-hand style - indeed my heaven on earth.   

Tweet your fab Fara fashion finds to 
 @FARAcharityshop #thriftyshifting   

Friday, 20 March 2015

TRY THIS - 2nd-Hand in Ole' Amsterdam

Today we find my friend, actor and ever-stylish Alma, serving as a Foreign Correspondent for Huntress London. Direct from Amsterdam, here's what she's uncovered -

"My other half turned 30 this year and I decided rather impulsively to book a trip to Amsterdam. Nicknamed ‘Venice of the North,’ it could not have made a better impression on us. Perfect Spring weather, lucky restaurant choices, delicious beers and endless corners to discover on foot, all contributed to the memorable 3-day city break.

And then there was the 2nd-hand shopping. I was hoping there would be a vintage side to Amsterdam, and I’d already asked Huntress for tips but I needn’t have worried. By simply walking around the city, we effortlessly stumbled into all sorts of 2nd-hand and antique establishments. But with only a hand luggage allowance, I had to choose wisely.

While desperately seeking style in the disappointing Waterlooplein Markt, my clever man spotted the Kilo Shop CLICK HERE where 2nd-hand items are assigned a colour, the colour is assigned a price per kilo, items are weighed and the price calculated. This proved a lot of fun and imagine my delight when two gorgeous paisley shirts (my new obsession) weighed up at only 10 Euros! Ker-ching. I also picked up a lovely neckerchief in a 2.50 EURO box which works a treat in a ‘We Can Do It’ poster kind of way. I can’t recommend this shop highly enough; beautiful stock, friendly staff and value for money. 

Day Two and I discovered Bis CLICK HERE, a chain of three shops. I explored the Lady’s Vintage Fashion branch at Sint Antoniesbreestraat 25d, a very classy shop with legit vintage stock and a sales assistant wearing a full 50s sailor’s outfit (probably from the shop next door, Bis Vintage Army Fashion & Basics). I thought I’d just be looking because the price point was out of my league but then I spotted a selection of classic raincoats, something I’ve always wanted. Sadly I've never managed to find the right one. I tried a couple on but again, no luck. Then my eagle-eyed man picked one out for me and while it didn’t look like much on the hanger, the boy’s definitely got the knack because it fit like a glove. With no price tag attached, I imagined the worst but Sailor Lady only wanted 50 EUROS for it, a fair price for a well-made classic that I'll wear for years. The following day, our last in Amsterdam, I swanned around town in my new/old raincoat feeling like a million bucks. 

On the the last day I found Episode, a well-organised European-wide charity shop CLICK HERE which looked a bit like Beyond Retro here in London; fashionable retro, not super cheap but not overly expensive either. Here I found dungarees, a staple I've long searching for (unsuccessfully). Seems I've the figure of a Dutch woman because for a very reasonable 29 EUROS these slipped on like they were made for me.

There were many more shops that I didn't buy anything from but which still deserve mention. Zipper, similar to Rokit in London and Carla Palermo, a mad selection of pretty frocks and kimonos, just for the fun of it, both on Huidenstraat. Harvest & Co CLICK HERE for vintage home wares and furniture, very expensive but a beautiful place to browse. And if paper and stationary are your thing don't miss Papier CLICK HERE pricey but absolutely stunning."

Thursday, 19 March 2015

TRY THIS - Reactionary Style

I find myself much in the company of actors lately. Rehearsing my play Re:Tale, debuting at Hen & Chickens in Islington 24-28 March, I am surrounded by drama. The quartet of actors and director Brigitte Adela of Written Foundations bring a positive intensity to the rehearsal room, an honest vigor that I'm finding rather stylish.

Carrie Hill CLICK HERE

How often do the world's most photographed models stare lifelessly down a camera lens? It seems contemporary fashion often requires expressionless faces that tell no tales. 

Laura Glover CLICK HERE

But actors, while indeed acting, brim with potent emotion. They're engaged in every word uttered. They naturally search for truth in their work, a search I find mesmerizing. It's difficult to take your eyes off these women as they continually act and importantly, react.

Zena Carswell CLICK HERE

Reactions, subtle but fierce or clashing and unexpected, add texture to who we are as human beings. Nothing is a stylish as a woman engrossed in the world she inhabits. (Even if it is the make-believe world of a stage play). Why not wear the beating life inside us like a giant wooden bangle or shocking pink top coat? The body language and expression of a corpse may be all the rage but it's a modern look that wants for character.  


 CLICK HERE for tickets to Re:Tale24-28 March

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

TRY THIS - Style Out of the Blue 17

I find 2nd-hand shopping is as much about the experience as it is fab found fashions. Don't get me wrong, my heart races a little when I come upon a bit of retailing chaos. From the depths of disarray true treasures are often unearthed. However, a shop space that is light, bright and well-thought out is a special pleasure indeed. And none more so than Blue 17 CLICK HERE, not far from the Holloway Tube Station in North London.  

Shop owner John has been in the vintage business for decades, getting his start selling his mum's stylish frocks. He fondly recalls the Flip sales model - the first shops that sold American second-hand in the UK. Indeed the sale of 2nd-hand clothing has changed over the years, in fact John feels the availability of quality, stylish vintage has decreased, not just for buyers but for sellers like himself. 

But against the odds, John is gathering up the good stuff. The perfect fusion of thoughtful organization  and colourful commotion, Blue 17 offers an impressive selection of men's and women's vintage. As we chatted John's poetic refrain, "Retail is detail" seemed to describe his shop vibe perfectly. The light, large dressing rooms curtained with heavy vintage tapestry fabric are a lovely touch, for example.

The collection of 40s, 50s and 60s frocks is second to none. If prints give you palpitations then please pop in. Ranging in price from approximately £35 to £95, this is dress heaven. Full skirts, A-lines, bracelet-length sleeves, pleats, pearl buttons, fitted bodices - it seems there's something for everyone. Including Huntress.

This sheer 50s dress fit perfectly, like it was made for me. Fashioned from a water-colour flower print reminiscent of a Monet painting, I'll often dress it down with white brogues or occasionally doll it up with silver mary janes. At just £65 this Blue 17 find is my idea of 2nd-hand 7th heaven.  

Blue 17 is a Sponsor of 
Re:Tale a New Play by Anmarie Bowler
CLICK HERE for details

Monday, 16 March 2015

TRY THIS - Lady Luck x 2 At Auction

I find live auctions an exciting alternative to shop-bought style. And with that in mind, I recently spent an afternoon with Tracie Vallis the Fashion, Fur & Textile expert at Chiswick Auction House (this busy buying pro is also the Toy, Teddy & Doll expert). It was an eye-opener, watching her prepare for the upcoming sale slated for Tuesday 24 March CLICK HERE. Of course fashion 'know-who' is part of Tracie's DNA. Her mother was a model in the 60s - getting her start after being crowned Miss UK 1962. Tracie recalls weekly visits to Biba, Mary Quant and Carnaby Street, zooming about London town in her mom's red Mini. Once she grew up and grew interested in fashion, her mum handed down some of the best-of-the-best fashions from her own wardrobe. Tracie admits she didn't always look after the now-iconic clothing she donned back in the day - lesson learned. 

But before our conversation could continue, Tracie took a phone call and downstairs we scurried, off to meet a client. Enter Ruth rolling a discreet travel case behind her, what would turn out to be virtual Pandora's box of eye-popping pieces. As she unwrapped and revealed all that she intended to sell, I was beguiled by an elongated red fez with faux fur embellishment. Turns out this incredible hat was made for an Yves Saint Laurent runway show when the great man was still among us.

Ruth, a Brit living in France, worked for Mr Saint Laurent - part of a sales staff of 13 employed in the showroom for Rive Gauche during the "collections." She also worked for Sonia Rykiel, Chanel, Hermes and others. She describes her fellow showroom staffers as a "traveling circus, going from house to house." She felt particularly appreciated by the boss, Mr YSL, and considered herself part of the Rive Gauche family. Ruth also worked for the International Herald Tribune for a time and her own family founded Kitty Copeland, a once popular dress-maker. 

Spending time with Tracie and Ruth was delightful. Listening to these women - steeped in style - talk designers, trends and tribulations was the kind of informed chit chat that leaves me speechless. Listen and learn Huntress! Whether to buy or just browse (which I highly recommend), VIEWINGS for this particular auction are:
Sunday 22 March noon to 6pm, 
Monday 23 March 10am to 6pm and 
    Tuesday 24 March 10am to 11.45am     

CLICK HERE to see auction catalogue 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

TRY THIS - Give Mumsy Real Meaning

My Mom

I find fashion jargon occasionally baffling. The word "mumsy," for example, has come to stand for a vogue-less clothing look. For much of the Flippin' Fashion Industry (FFI), mumsy means thoughtless, feeble and ineffective dress sense. And while recently Dolce & Gabbana sent models accessorized with babies down the runways of Milan Fashion Week, this headline-stealing stunt did highlight the fact that women with children are normally anything but thoughtless, feeble and ineffective. 

Me and Mom, 1965

My mom raised three children, supports and delights in her grandchildren, built a banking career, opened a clothing shop, buried a husband, remarried, perpetually seeks new experiences and takes pride in her rather chic appearance. With humor and panache she shines in a world that would just as soon make septuagenarians like herself invisible. If mumsy means style-less, then my mom is un-mumsy.

Me and Mom 1998

But when did mumsy's meaning get so muddled? Shouldn't this term be applied to those whose determination and experience is offered with creative concern? Let mumsy signify strength, sensitivity and style. That's surely what it's meant in my life. Shouldn't an industry keen to court women make "mumsy" high praise? Language is powerful, but never more so than when it's misused. I'm left wondering why the FFI continually insults women who, for many of us, were our first style icons?  

Mom and Me, 2013