Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ironing Day

I loathe ironing. With a passion!  The importance of ironing was however, drummed into me from a young age by an equally passionate ambassador - my Home Economics teacher Mrs K.

Mrs K had an unparalleled ability to make her own clothes. She had an immense and covetable wardrobe, all made by her own hand and was always immaculately turned out. If my Mum started me off by developing my interest as a girl in clothes into an fledgling ability to sew, Mrs K formed me into a consummate professional by the time I finished three years in high school under her tutelage.

If there is one thing Mrs K drilled her students in, it was that pressing a garment, from its seams to the main body of the finished product, was essential to producing a professional finish.  And that goes for all clothes.  I read somewhere once that the sartorial polish that Frenchwomen seem to ooze in spades is down to an appreciation of this fact, with the claim (unsubstantiated) that they were fastidious about ironing, even extending ironing to their hosiery.

Recently my old ironing board broke leaving me with the ensuing chaos of trying to prepare outfits for work with no capacity to get rid of the creases that come with cramming things into an overstuffed wardrobe.  It was quite a hideous ironing board with inadequate padding, which meant I would always end up putting those horrible ironing marks on my clothes. On its demise I decided that if you are going to invest in nice clothes that you want to wear for years to come then it is worth investing in the right tools to care for them.

So I coughed up for a good brand and got an aesthetically pleasing one to boot.  Anything that helps me get in the mood and make ironing more of a pleasure than a dreary chore, whilst avoiding those dreaded over pressing marks on my clothes is, in my book, a good buy.  In contrast to the sinking feeling I would get when seeing my old ironing board, now at least I am cheered to see this one greet me in the morning.  I feel like I'm looking at a work of art or funky surfboard seeing this propped against my white wall.  In fact so aspiring to art is this ironing board that the manufacturers gave it a title.  Yes, this ironing board is called "Breakfast"! 

I was quite drawn by the monochrome breakfast inspired print, in part because I'd like to be able to say that my morning involves this kind of clean and sparse image of calm preparation for the day ahead.  A glistening cup of coffee, keys and mobile at the ready, a crisp folded paper for casual perusal over breakfast, a svelte Macbook to catch up on a few blogs before I head out to work.  Totally aspirational!

I wonder what a print of my usual chaos would look like?  That is the usual swearing and upturning everything to find lost keys and misplaced mobile, trying to swallow down a hasty breakfast after spilling the coffee and leaving late and the dishes undone because I really shouldn't have read and commented on those last few blog posts on my Google reader.  Ah well, I now have an ironing board to remind me tomorrow is another day...

Ironing Board: Brabantia

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Friend Friday: Alter Egos

This week's Friend Friday is exploring the theme of our sartorial alter-egos and is being hosted by Relatable Style.  This was what we were asked to think about:
"The idea is that we all fill a lot of different shoes and work a lot of different roles in our everyday lives. I thought it would be cool to see some of those “alter egos” and ask the ladies to create an outfit about the person they would like to be if circumstances allowed (Ballerina? Rock star? Mother? Fashion journalist?), or the person they thought they would be now when they were little (Doctor? Teacher? Livin’ it up in the city?)."
Well I already have a life split between almost mutually exclusive worlds in which I am required to play extremely different roles with dress requirements that are almost polar opposites.  My days are spent filling shoes of various alter egos, this blog being one of them! When I read the blurb above, I also realised I tick several boxes mentioned.  I am a Doctor (though of the PhD variety), I am now a teacher of dance, and I live and work in one of the largest cities in the world.  Did I imagine I would be doing all that when I was little?  Nope!  Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.  Welcome to my world...

By day I'm a mild mannered financial professional working in the big bad City of London, and no, I didn't cause the credit crisis if you're wondering - that would be a structured credit derivative trader - I'm just a number crunching Excel monkey in a dull reporting function but hey, it pays the bills.  My day job means I have to look very sharp, professional and feel confident, so suits and tailored separates are the order of the day.

By night I shed the sharp suits and shift dresses and turn into a.... flamenco dancer!  I teach and perform, often straight after a full day at the office, which means changing from tailored suits into a completely different form of work wear.  Switching from thinking about figures and finance to dancing flamenco is certainly not easy but the physical act of getting changed into the right clothes immediately helps me prepare mentally for the task ahead.

Performing flamenco also means looking the part, which means getting to wear some amazing costumes.  I find wearing a costume I feel good in does wonders for my confidence on stage.  As we often dance solos, costumes are a very personal thing for flamenco dancers.  When selecting costumes I also think of the audience, as you have to remember the costumes will be as much a part of the audience's experience as they will be an expression of what you are about as an artist.

And then there is the time spent in the studio in classes and rehearsal which requires a whole wardrobe of it's own.  I'm sure everyone who dances, when they get dressed for class, has those romantic images of dancers in their rehearsal gear, bodies either nonchalantly at rest or sweating it out in full motion.  I used to dance ballet so I often use a lot of my old ballet gear to rehearse in.  I love worn-in rehearsal clothes because they feel like old friends - the tattier they get the more you feel that they've shared the battle scars of your dance training journey with you.  Some of my rehearsal gear is practically falling apart.  Now that I've started teaching I need to look smart to be in front of students.  So I have recently bought some yoga and dance influenced gym wear specifically to teach in.

I never know what interesting twists and turns my week might take and hence make the excuse that I need the right clothes to deal with it when I go shopping! This week at the office I've had to attend meetings and present important results, while in the evenings I've taught classes as well as rehearsed, then on the weekend I am performing in a small show with my students and possibly dancing in a music video for an unsigned singer.

When I'm travelling with lots of costumes to a theatre, music festival or film location I need to wear comfortable outfits that I can change in and out of quickly and am not too precious about squashing up in a bag to leave backstage.  However, I still need to give the impression to industry types like film directors, festival organisers and stage technicians that I am a professional in my creative field who is amenable and easy to work with.  So I rely on a uniform of relaxed casual layers with some trend led pieces thrown in the mix.

Sometimes I get performance work on weeknights which can mean having to turn up at very trendy music venues in London and working with other musicians and artists.  On these occasions it is much better to get changed rather than to arrive in a suit, as creative types can find someone with a very corporate image hard to relate to.  Usually if I do a gig in London there is also the opportunity to make a fun night out of it by staying to watch other acts and bands performing later or dancing till late to a DJ.  You won't catch me dead on the dance floor in a suit!  So I have a section of my wardrobe I call my "gig gear".  It's essentially all the fun, fashion forward things I bring to work along with my costumes to get changed into so I can play at being a rock star for the night.

I have to say that living in large cosmopolitan city like London allows anyone to live out whatever their alter ego fancies as nobody bats an eyelid at what you wear.  The winter weather here, though I complain, allows a creativity with layering and texture I could only fantasise about growing up in Australia.  And since I've added fashion blogger to the alter-ego list I can now wear fashion forward clothing with impunity as I head off to London Fashion Week armed with my trusty SLR.

And of course London is unparalled when it comes to offering a diva who loves to dress up for a night out ample opportunity to do just that with shows at the opera, ballet and theatre on all year round.

Finally, I also spend a good part of my vacations in sunny Spain where I brush up on my flamenco dancing skills.  As I usually go in the summer it also means I can cast off the dark, moody, wintry layers and entertain my inner bohemian by taking the chance to swan around dressed like Carmen.

So there we are - lifestyle and style schizophrenia in action. And I wonder why my wardrobe is so big!

Monday, 21 November 2011


I went to a jazz concert this weekend and this is what I wore.  I'm not a jazz fan, Mr V is.  I've no idea how to fit into a jazz crowd either sartorially or intellectually.  I find music I can't imagine dancing to hard to relate to, so most of free jazz leaves me scratching my head while I watch the rest of the audience scratch their chins in deep appreciation.  So if you can't blend in you may as well stand right out!  Thought I'd try my hand recreating the new fetish-ist trend sweeping fashion this season using pieces I already have in my wardrobe.  And well, why do things by halves?  Sheer, studs, leather, straps.  I'm surprised I wasn't arrested.  

I wasn't going to post this outfit at all, mainly because it was extremely difficult to get a decent photo of this dress which is made of a thick, semi sheer mesh covered in metal snaps and mirrors.  It's a great dress but under a flash it looks hideous.  Oh and my arms look like they've had a fight with an army of vampire sucker squids after a night of being squeezed into it!

But I digress... then I read Patti's post at Not Dead Yet Style as part of her Visible Monday series describing the rules she has set for herself on showing some curves in an age appropriate way .  She is asking how we feel about showing some curves and I changed my mind and decided to post the outfit after all.

So here I am in a sheer, studded body con dress, leather leggings, bellybutton and bra on show (a nice one mind you).  Clearly I don't have an issue with curves, showing some skin or dressing in a high octane fashion usually the preserve of the under twenties in the glossy magazines, but I'm well aware that there are many who would.  The idea of Not Yet Dead Style's Visible Monday was to explore how women start feeling invisible after a certain age.  I think the messages society gives women about how they should be dressing as they get older enforces this feeling in many ways.

Women over a certain age are always being lectured to about what they should and shouldn't wear -  we must avoid trying to be too sexy and yet be womanly, we must avoid dressing too young and yet simultaneously avoid dressing too old, we must cut our hair short because long is undignified after thirty nothing and we should cover ourselves up at all cost lest we offend the general public. 

Apart from sounding like a good description of Mission Impossible (and a fairly dull one at that) it's almost that they'd rather you didn't exist!  If we aren't being called frumpy on one side, we are being called mutton dressed as lamb on the other, and it is almost always other women doing the name calling.  I recall reading a magazine editor in the same article, simultaneously slamming Elle McPherson for being mutton personified in tight slashed jeans and a furry coat, and Nicole Kidman for looking dowdy in a demure forties style tea dress.  If these A-list over forties can't get it right what hope is there for the rest of us?  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Well the age appropriate style police can keep their rule book as far as I'm concerned.  I'm much happier embracing my inner mutton, dressing as I damn well please and just being myself.  Life is too far short not to throw out the rule book and just have fun with fashion, whatever age you are.

Dress: Christopher Kane for Topshop; Leather leggings: Cos; Boots: Vivienne Westwood

Friday, 18 November 2011

Friend Friday: Saying Thank You

This Friend Friday we are being asked as part of the tradition of Thanksgiving to reflect on the things we are most thankful for right now.  Although Thanksgiving is not a tradition in Europe I feel that particularly now, in such uncertain and turbulent times, joining our American friends to pause and reflect on all that we do have as opposed to what we don't, can help put the trials and tribulations in our lives into perspective.

An email in my inbox last night made me reflect on what it means to say thank you and inspired me to stay up late and write this post.  We spend so much of our lives churning through our daily routines without giving much thought about what we have, who we are doing things for and who in turn may be doing things for us.  When someone thanks us it suddenly makes us feel like all our efforts are all worthwhile.  It also reminds us that the act of saying thank you ourselves can make someone's day.

I know from my own experience that no matter how little I am paid to perform as a dancer, if just one person approaches me after a show and tells me "thank you" then for me, that is enough.  It has been worth it.  I get a warm feeling inside my chest that radiates out and I am happy that I have managed to give someone an experience that they have enjoyed.  Feeling appreciated is a reward unto itself.  Last night I got that warm fuzzy feeling when I read a lovely thank you note from a reader who wrote (abridged):
"Thank you for sharing your love of fashion, alongside your thoughtful prose, on your blog. It has restored my courage to make more daring sartorial choices....You've shown that you can love clothes without losing passion for more intellectually-rigorous pursuits. Thank for your blog and thank you for taking the time to read this!"
She also shared with me the delicious details of a new and much loved designer purchase.  I was deeply touched! As any blogger knows, blogging is actually pretty hard work and very time consuming, and suddenly this made all the hard graft that I put into keeping my little blog going seem worth it.   Being thanked and the way it made me feel made me decide to spread the love and say thank you for the things I hold dear.   Doing this also makes you realise that these are the things that are most important to you.  So here are mine:

I am thankful for the big love of my life - the loving, supportive, patient, big hearted and kind soul that he is, (not to mention very handsome and a fantastic photographer) my dearest Mr V!

I am eternally thankful that I was born into a large and loving family and to a pair of the most wonderful, unconditionally loving parents who instilled strong values, the importance of getting a good education and a strong work ethic into all their children.

I am thankful for having a creative streak and openness to experience other cultures that led me to discover and experience the magic of flamenco as an art form.  I am thankful for having a love of the arts as well as the sciences and I am thankful for having an eye for and an appreciation of the beautiful things in this world.  I am thankful for my physical health and for being given a strong healthy body that is able to do all the things it can.

And I am extremely thankful for my job and an education that will always mean I am employable.  I have spent enough time in and out of employment as a free lance worker during this long and seemingly never ending recession to know that I hate being out of work and, to be very grateful that in the current climate I have a good job when all about me are losing theirs.  I am a workaholic by nature and working is something that gives me things that are very important to me: intellectual stimulation, dignity and financial independence.

I am thankful for wonderful friends, new and old...

... here and abroad.... and off! I would also like to extend a big, big, heartfelt thank you this Thanksgiving to everyone visiting and reading this blog, for those who comment, for those who just lurk, and to all my blogging friends for tirelessly posting their nuggets of inspiration for my daily consumption, making the blogosphere such a wonderful hub for creativity and joy to be a part of.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Misty Sunday

Okay, it might be getting colder but... don't you just love Autumn?  There's nothing like slurping a mug of hot tea indoors to warm up after a brisk walk on a cold, misty Sunday through an autumnal park carpeted with autumn leaves in the richest of reds, yellows and oranges.  A strong smokey brew of Lapsang Souchong and buttery ginger snaps taste all the better for it.

There was a lovely mist in the air today as we took our afternoon walk.  Time to layer up!  I'm very grateful for all that shearling that went on sale last year - just the thing to throw over the rest of my Sunday walking-in-the-park gear to keep warm.

I'm off to a photography exhibition tonight - hope you are all having a wonderful weekend!

Shearling biker: Oasis; Jeans: Nudie; Draped wool cardigan: All Saints: Bag: Michael by Michael Kors; Lurex stripe knit: Mango; Cashmere snood: Cos

Friday, 11 November 2011


I thought it would be auspicious to post with today's date being 11.11.11 and all.  Maybe it's a good time to make a numerology infused wish for something in writing, crack a cyber wishbone with myself by writing down some wishes and throwing it out to the universe to provide if you will.

Recently there have been some inspirational dance related posts I've been enjoying on some blogs that I had found via the fashion and style channel.  Dance has been a big part of my life.  I trained for more than a decade in ballet and now I've clocked up almost two in flamenco so I really love when people share their personal dance experiences on their blogs.  Queen Michelle's series on her growing addiction to ballet over at Kingdom of Style and the tender photographs of her daily practice and dedication have got me itching to get back to the barre and don pointe shoes again.

I may not have mentioned before but this year, as well as working, I've been teaching flamenco both freelance as well as running my own classes so here is a peek into one of them: my bata de cola class (photographed by Mr V).  At the moment I make absolutely no money teaching as my own classes are so small that the freelancing and day job is totally subsidising them.  I've got zip social life at the moment as most nights, straight after work, I'm in a dance studio.

Initially I was reluctant to start teaching as it is a big responsibility, you can't get away with just instructing, you have to inspire people, nurse their dreams into a very physical reality.  But now that I have thrown myself into it, I find I truly love doing it.

They do say that the greatest satisfaction we get as human beings is when we do things for other people.  Regardless of whether I've made money or not, I do derive immense satisfaction if I have seen one person improve how they are performing because I've managed to help them understand them how to do something better or master the technique.  Or sometimes it is the satisfaction of seeing them bloom as individuals under the realisation that they too can dance.

The best thing I read today (and which inspired this post) was this beautifully illustrated post by The Foolish Aesthete called "Tulle and Stripes" and I quote directly from her post:
"I believe exposure to -- even mastery of -- other fields imparts an artistic depth and dimension not acquired by merely flexing muscles at the barre.  Choreographers, fashion designers, musicians, writers -- actually, any kind of artist -- are the same way.  The brilliant ones infuse their field with inspirations from without."

I've always felt frustrated with myself for not just being someone dedicated to one thing and being an oddity that was passionately interested in several things instead.  I beat myself up often over my indecisiveness about life choices in relation to pursuing arts over a career, so to read this was very life affirming.  That no knowledge or skill you ever learn is ever useless, that one can draw on all fields of one's own experience to bring something new to another.  Isn't that the essence of creativity?

Whilst reading that post I remembered an incident when I was taking a creative writing course many years ago for fun.  Each person in the class was to read out a page they had written which was setting a scene and a character writing in first person.  Mine was about an environmental scientist, deploying instruments from a boat to take measurements in the Venetian canals, based on experiences I had as a young environmental engineer working in the field - but I painted my character's otherwise banal activities with simile and metaphor, using imagery of the natural marine world in which she was working to symbolise what she was doing and would be doing with the results.

My classmates were silenced and the teacher went all misty eyed declaring it wonderful.  Then one woman piped up shrilly declaring "that's not realistic at all, she's a scientist! She wouldn't write like that if she was a scientist! She be writing dry, technical stuff."  And I thought I'd joined a creative writing class.  Being young and easily intimidated, I didn't have the courage to whip around and tell her that actually, I was a scientist, and yes I did write like this, all the time.  That had I not studied pollution migration in the Venetian canals, run similar field tests in rivers or study zoology, I would never have been able to write the piece I did.  She was the one who was not being realistic.  The engineer who can day dream up alternative representations of the everyday in words?  That is me.

And I don't doubt that being good at mathematics, knowing what hard work is and having to deal with complex concepts are things I am now bringing to teaching dance.  I have found I am more than capable as a flamenco teacher and the few students I've had really, really enjoy the classes.  Maybe it is because I've had the good fortune to have been taught by some of the best teachers in the world, who are, in my opinion, always the most generous in terms of the information they impart to their students and the energy they put into their classes.  Those teachers will always be my inspiration.

Anyway, my 11th of the 11th of the 11th wish, is for this little seed I've planted to grow into something bigger, and even more beautiful and inspirational.

Monday, 7 November 2011

High Tea and Visibility

Last weekend Mr V and I were invited by the other V and her mother visiting from Spain to afternoon tea at the Wolseley.  I don't often go to posh afternoon teas in London though from following other bloggers, it seems to be all the rage these days.  I've been made aware of a myriad of places in the capital where one can pay an extortionate amount to drink exotic tea blends poured from silver teapots, eat scones with jam and clotted cream, nibble crustless cucumber sandwiches, admire pretty pastries all carefully arranged on silver plated afternoon tea stands, marvel at how it is all brought to you via discreet silver table service in an extraordinarily beautiful setting and eat and drink it all off the finest bone china.

The Wolseley is certainly a stunning dining hall however I regret that you'll have to do with my link to the venue to see for yourself as we made the mistake of politely enquiring if we could take photos and were very politely refused.  Being polite people we politely acceded as one does in these sorts of polite society situations.  So you'll have to imagine the sheen of the silver teapots, the clink of silverware against china, the cake caddies, the glistening red berries on the tartlets, the fluffy pink and yellow sponge cake and the bright green pistachio macaroons.

It did make me wonder about how other bloggers who happily snap and blog with abandon about their posh tea/dining experiences throughout blog land manage it.  Do they just sneak the SLR out when the staff aren't looking?  I'm not so blog obsessed as to bother with a major stealth operation with the Nikon to get the perfect shot of macaroons and cupcakes arranged just so for the sake of enlivening up a blog post.  We were really just after cheesy commemorative touristy shots of a group of people who hadn't seen each other for a while in a vaguely well known London venue - is that now not permitted either?  What's going on?  Even before the invention of blogs and facebook I was always quite snap happy because I like having mementos of what I've done, who I've been with and what I've seen.

I do wonder what is behind the "put-away-the-camera" policy of some places (I had the same thing at the Royal Exchange earlier this year.)  While there are rumours that some well known London sites remain paranoid about terrorism or keeping pesky paparazzi from pestering their clients (the likes of Kate Moss are known to turn up at the Wolseley), I have a sneaking suspicion that prior to the internet, digital photography and the explosion of social media, nobody would have batted an eyelid if we'd taken photos in most of these places.

While the individual may feel that a digital camera and the internet means that the ease of sharing their experiences in a very public arena with accompanying visuals and honest reviews is a good thing, it wouldn't surprise me if many companies are viewing this phenomena as a massive loss of control of their public relations machinery and their ability to present themselves in the best light possible. So consequently they are scrambling to somehow regain some control.

This is not about courting the free marketing avenues available on the internet via the chattering on social media channels, it is about being visible on the internet on your terms - which is also ironically, an issue fashion and lifestyle bloggers are well aware of and often discuss to the point of hand wringing - for an excellent exploration of what I'm talking about see The Dashing Eccentric's excellent post here.

If the reason behind all this photo banning is really to impose some boundaries around the cyber chat then this is a bit rich really - to see how one sided companies view their marketing interaction with their consumers read the Wolseley's own Privacy Policy about how they reserve the right to use your personal data (collected while you peruse the website) to market to you.  But heaven forbid if you post a blurry picture of a pistachio macaroon on the internet that doesn't do the pastry chef's work due justice and whinge about the Afternoon Blend being too weak.

So these days although the camera might be in the bag when I'm out and about it seems I can't rely on being able to take photos in the most innocuous of social situations even for my own personal memoirs, let alone for a blog, without having to consider beforehand whether it is politically correct to take a photo or not.

What I can rely on however, is that the fashionable other V and her equally stylish mum will turn up immaculately dressed for high tea and I can meet up with them wearing a great dress in the knowledge that I will be in good company.  And they didn't disappoint with Señora V in elegant draped grey jersey and Señorita V in a glamorous faux leopard fur coat and a sequin embellished cocktail number.  But again we couldn't get photos (Nikon battery also turned out to be flat), so you'll just have to imagine!  There is no dress code at the Wolseley but I thought why not dress up anyway?  I do enough slobbing around on Sundays to let a rare opportunity to don a show stopper pass me by.

I took the opportunity to debut this Ruben's print dress by Vivienne Westwood which I first saw in Selfridges and swooned over.  Then I saw the price tag and ran away.  Luckily for me, some online retailer that shall remain nameless obliviously stuck it on their website at a clearly erroneous and massive discount.  On noticing this I can tell you I have never whipped the credit card out so fast! Me thinks the first digit was wrong - quite, quite wrong in fact- totally misread by whoever adds the prices to the website - oh thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever you are!  I wasn't the only one who noticed either, it sold out overnight.

I have been a big fan of Vivienne Westwood for decades but her designs are not for the shy and retiring who want to blend into the background.  You also have to be proud to be all woman because her designs are all about accentuating womanly curves, or lending you some if you're lacking!  I discovered yesterday however, that the painting from which the print is sourced is actually of the "Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" by Rubens. Not exactly the most PC of prints then.  Got to wonder about the internal workings of Dame Vivienne Westwood's mind sometimes!  However non PC, wearing a reproduction of an iconic work of art on a dress is a quite a statement of intent to be visible so I am linking up to this week's Visible Monday over at Patti's blog Not Yet Dead Style.  Head on over to see the other participants statements of visibility.

For the record we actually had a lovely time taking high tea and I would certainly repeat the experience - though perhaps I'll pass on the Afternoon Blend next time.

Friday Rubens Print Dress: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania; Draped cardigan: Akiabara; Gold satin and perspex wedges: Prada via Ebay; Necklace: Bijoux Brigette

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Autumnal Park

Although we may be having one of the mildest Autumn's on record here our local park is now in full Autumnal bloom.  We snapped these pictures last weekend as we took a long walk to get some exercise on a sunny but windy day with freshly fallen leaves being blown about.  I love the riot of colour that nature presents the eye to feast on at this time of year, all those rich saturated hues in the leaves and the flowers.  I thought greeting the change of season by donning my own bouquet of brightly coloured florals on a black leather biker would be appropriate.  It has to be said though that windy Autumn days are always very bad hair days for me!

We'll be attending a big fireworks display here tonight to celebrate Guy Fawkes and then having dinner with friends.  Have a great weekend whatever you get up to!

Embroidered leather biker: Christopher Kane; Chain Belt: Banana Republic; Black jeans: Nudie; Olive Leather Bag: Marc by Marc Jacobs;


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