Saturday, 31 March 2012

An Arctic Style Survival Guide - Part II

Arctic style is no mean feat.

First and foremost, it requires layers.  I don't do layers.  When it comes to dressing in temperate climes, I'm more of a little-black-dress girl than a camisole-under-a-blouse-under-a-waistcoat-with-a-scarf-and-an-Isabel-Marant-jacket girl.  Less is more is my fashion credo, which doesn't quite cut it at -25c.

My compromise was to go for a streamlined silhouette, with a super-warm, super-lightweight jacket from The Northface.  Wearing smart-wool and a thick, non-fleecy fleece underneath, I was toasty.  I was also, I admit, a tiny bit Russian-ish in that 'shiny fabric' kinda way.



Alas, 'streamlined' was not meant to be.  Like the enormous boots pictured above, the snowpants I was given by our guides were of epic proportions.  Check out the shot below.  I'm wearing them over my normal snowpants AND the whole shiny Russian ensemble.  I could have fit two more people and a ukulele in there with me, and nobody would have have been the wiser.


Then came the jacket.


Arctic dog-sledding was bound to require some specialist gear, but HUMONGOUS was not an anticipated attribute. 


That's me, two people and a ukulele, behind a team of strong and will-full Alaskan huskies.  I was so pissed-off. Those bitches were more streamlined than me.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. No bitches (not even me) were harmed in the making of this post.  All the dogs were extremely well-cared for.  The people that organised our trip - Northern Huskies Sled Dogs - maintain animal welfare as their top priority, which sadly can't be said for all organisations that run sled-dogs.  If you want to do it (and I urge you too - it's an incredible experience) make sure you do it right, with these guys.
2. Since this was Lapland, one of the other people in my snowpants was Santa Clause.  That's how big they were.
3. The second person came with a ukulele.
4. Stay tuned for Part III in this series of An Arctic Style Survival Guide posts.  (I'm gonna milk this, dagnabit.)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Wingnuts

When Frank Sinatra sang Come Fly With Me, was he thinking Roksanda Ilincic? Probably not.  But had his gal been wearing one of Ilincic's recent creations, they could have saved a fortune in airfares.

Not since the 80's batwing have sleeves been such a fashion feature, with big puffs of billowing fabric threatening to catch a strong breeze and send their wearers aloft.  Ilincic is one of many designers to have transformed the lowly arm into an aeronautical appendage, while others have used capes and flaps to get their clients airborne.

When well executed, this trend is more than just a flight of whimsy; it's a sophisticated nod to the glamour of a bygone era, when flying was a first class experience and stewardesses were pretty.  At other times, it just looks dumb.  Either way, judging by the capes seen on the catwalks for fall 2012, it looks like this trend’s got wings.

Roksanda Ilincic @ Matches
Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony @ Browns

Haute Hippie @ Matches
Haider Achermann @ The Corner

Gwyneth Paltrow in Marc Jacobs

Osman @ Matches
Marni @ The Corner

Balenciaga @ Matches

Erdem @ Matches

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. I would not, under any circumstances, recommend doing the oversize puffy sleeve thing if you’ve got enormous boobs.
2. I would not, under most circumstances, recommend launching yourself off a tall building in any of these.
3. Chloe Sevigny should not give up the day job.  (Which was... ?)
4. In Llamaland there's a one man band who will toot his flute for you.  It’s true!  Ask Michel Buble.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

An Arctic Style Survival Guide - Part I

We're back.

Our trip to the Arctic was exceptional.  The beauty up there is otherworldly.  Think vast forests of spruce and pine; endless sweeps of crystalline snow; bright blue skies by day and the magic of the Northern Lights by night.  It's a once-in-a-lifetime, must-see experience.

It's even worth the odd style sacrifice.


That was me leaving the apartment for Lapland.  My first style-sacrifice came early, with those mandatory hiking boots that were too bulky to schlep in the bag.  Otherwise, I think I did pretty well for someone headed 200km north of the Arctic circle.

As mentioned previously, my handbag of choice was a mid-sized Goyard shopper.  Goyard shoppers are great for travelling. They're lightweight, can carry lots of stuff, and the reversible ones double as beach bags. I was, it seems, the only one to appreciate this among my fellow Finnair passengers.


I was prepared to be cold on this trip; prepared for moderate discomfort and inconveniences.  I was even prepared (and neatly waxed) for a skinny-dip in an ice hole.  Nothing prepared me for the sartorial scene at the airport. This wasn't just travel - this was boldly going to where no well-dressed woman has gone before.

Perhaps Monsieur had a point when he relegated my Valentino heels to the 'not coming' pile.


Please take a moment to observe the difference in size between my Valentinos and my hiking boots.  I could have packed three pairs of those slingbacks without risking luggage weight restrictions.  But that's neither here nor there.

What was there, awaiting us in a giant garbage bag in the back of the pick-up truck that drove us to Muodoslompolo, was some outer-wear specifically designed for polar expeditions and Arctic survival.  This included a pair of boots.


The boot on the far right is one such boot.  Your gasp was my gasp.  And then I saw the boot they gave to size 46 Monsieur.


Monsieur's boot was like a Monster Truck tire.  The amount of rubber used in its manufacture could have supplied Durex for a decade.


Polar wear is enormous.  Putting it on is akin to being an astronaut donning a spacesuit, which, I suppose, makes sense.  Muodoslompolo might as well be another planet.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. The non-humongous black boot right next to my hiking boot in the photos above is a lightweight and super-comfy snow boot that I normally wear for winter walks and activities in the Alps.  In Chamonix they keep my toes toasty, but wearing them on a forest walk on our first night in Muodoslompolo, I thought I was going to lose my toes.
2. The reason my feet froze in those boots was apparently because they're too tight.  According to our guide, who was born and raised even further north than where we were, you're better off wearing just one pair of socks and leaving space for your toes than doubling your socks.  Lesson learned.
3. Goyard shoppers are also great for taking towels to a traditional Finnish sauna.
4. I never did skinny dip in an ice hole.  (Not that I'm complaining.)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Muodoslompolo Style File

The boarding passes are printed.


And I'm packed.

Eureka.

I thought my toughest decision would be the nailpolish, but there were other hurdles to overcome.

The worst was the shoes.  I really wanted to pack these:


After a rather heated argument with Monsieur, I relented and packed these:


That faux-fur lined Sweaty Betty slipper-socks could trump studded Valentino stilettos is, frankly, mind-blowing.  I feel as though the laws of nature have been tampered with and that the Earth is going to crash into the Sun.  But when Monsieur took the Valentinos out of my 'stuff I'm taking' pile and nearly chucked them out the window muttering something about princesses and regrets, I figured that I'd better practice the courage I'm going to need in Muodoslompolo and accepted my sorry sartorial fate like a (badly dressed) man.

So, instead of an assortment of La Perla and Chantal Thomas frillies, I rustled up a pile of mean looking (mostly Smartwool) underwear.


My long underwear looks particularly mean because, like most things I own, it's covered in the hairs of my mean-looking border terrier.  My border terrier doesn't actually look mean, but he's obviously got a mean streak because he's stuck his hairs everywhere.

As we all know it's the accessories that count.  So here's my selection for this trip:


Looking at the above photo from 9 o'clock clockwise we've got a chic little droopy cap in cashmere and metallic thread, a cashmere poncho from Crimson Cashmere, a faux-fur & fleece hat from that sports shop on the King's Road in London, a snood (how I've come to own a snood is anyone's guess), some very warm gloves and a glorious white fur shrug from a friend of mine in Hong Kong who's setting up a cool new clothing brand called de Colfer.  Oh, and on top of the snood is a baklava. Sorry. Balaklava. Not a dessert. Terrorist gear.  A gift from Monsieur.  I'm such a lucky lady.


Most of my selection of toiletries will mean nothing to you because I'm an obsessive decanter.  I love the concept of 'travel size' and Muji do a great line of empties to accommodate my Aveda shampoo, Barielle foot cream and so forth. Luckily, Aveda already does a pocket size version of Hand Relief.

The coolest thing in my toiletries kit is the travel size tube of Marvis toothpaste in Jasmin Mint flavour.  This is the most delicious, dare I say, seductive toothpaste on the market.  Not only does it clean your teeth but it leaves your breath darn near floral.  I'm sure the polar bears will appreciate it, as they will undoubtedly appreciate my well-tended brazilian.  (You're thinking TMI, but this trip threatens to involve naked plunges into ice holes, so I figure I'd better make like a Boy Scout and be prepared.)

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. For my holiday reading I've packed Jack London's Call of the Wild.
2. I decided to go with a Goyard shopper as a hangbag.
3. I really, really don't want to go anywhere near an ice hole.
4. Fuck.
5. If you don't hear from me in a week's time, send help.  And those Valentino shoes.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Packing List for Lapland

Monsieur and I are going to Lapland.  Muodoslompolo to be precise.

This is where Muodoslompolo is on the map:


If you'd like a better view, try Google Earth.  If you zoom in real close, you might see some polar bears gettin' it on.  If you zoom way out, you'll notice that it makes Iceland appear to be in the tropics.


View Larger Map

Whichever way you look at it, Muodoslompolo is bloody far north. Don't let the greenery of that Google Earth imagery fool you.  In March, Muodoslompolo is covered in a thick blanket of Arctic snow. (Google Earth obviously got those pics during a two-day window in mid-July or used photoshop.)  It's going to be fucking freezing.

Yet that's where I'm headed - willingly - to go dog-sledding for a week.  It's the adventure of a lifetime.  But first, I've got to pack.

I've only made one key decision so far:

I figure that a grey-ish purple nailpolish will work well with frostbite. 

As for the rest, I'm stumped.  Muodoslompolo is not renown for its 'apres-mushing' bars and the local club scene probably involves seals.  As Monsieur keeps reminding me, this ain't a weekend in Courchevel, so all of my packing references are totally out of whack.

Monsieur's bringing long underwear, thermal socks and lots of tops in special fabrics which he refers to as 'technical'. According to Monsieur, cashmere is not 'technical'.   According to me, cashmere is fabulous. According to Monsieur, a team of sled dogs won't be impressed by 'fabulous'.  According to me, those dogs must be bitches.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Although cashmere might not be considered technical, merino wool is. So whatever I wind up wearing on top, at least I'll have a decent base. www.smartwool.com
2. I'm bringing cashmere anyway. www.crimson-cashmere.com
3. I can't believe my packing list doesn't include at least one pair of Manolos.
4. I have no idea what handbag to bring! Do you think the Kelly?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Kitchen Galerie Bliss

You've come to the wrong place.

No, not Kitchen Galerie Bis.  Kitchen Galerie Bis is the right place.  I've eaten there 3 times; once with a top concierge and food pundit, once with a sassy group of NYC girls for a hen night, and most recently with my Monsieur, who hates everything.  That's 3 times with difficult-to-please people, and 3 times that KGB came up trumps.

So, no, Kitchen Galerie Bis is not the wrong place.  This, however, is the wrong place if you're hoping to find beautiful photos of mouthwatering dishes or tomes about some tortured chef who took years to master his award-winning emulsion of foie gras, truffle and pickled turnip.

There are plenty of great gastronauts in cyberspace who can wow you with their calorie-laden posts.  So I'm not even going to try.  Instead, I'm merely going to tell you about a restaurant in Paris that I adore, as illustrated by a quick overview of the one thing that can spoil a perfectly good meal, the bill.

Here it is:
  1. Let's start at the top with the misleading name.  No blinis and kulebiak here.  KGB stands for Kitchen Galerie Bis.  Think of it as the cool kid brother of the Michelin-starred Ze Kitchen Galerie up the road.
  2. Stick the address and contact details into your Blackberry right now.  KGB's hidden on a quiet side street in the Left Bank, between Odeon and the Seine.  There are plenty of bars and clubs in the area, so KGB's a great place to start a night on the town (hence the choice for a hen night) even though the dress code is pretty casual and you might feel out of place in killer heals and Azzedine Alaia. Parking is a bitch.  When you call to book, ask for Jerome.  He's wicked, as is the rest of the staff.  It's a very friendly, relaxed place.  
  3. KGB's signature is their hors d'oeuvres-style starters.  You have the choice of a mix of 4, 5 or 6 hors d'oeuvres which change all the time.  Monsieur and I had 4 each: 1 was a meatball, 1 was something sashimi-ish, 1 was a parsnip and black sesame froth and the last was a seafood dumpling in a lemon grass broth.  All were outstanding.  Every mouthful of each little dish was a delight.  The meatball was exquisite.  I was bowled over by that meatball.
  4. Monsieur had a pasta dish called the Fiorentini.  No eggs and spinach involved despite the name.  There was lemongrass (a favourite ingredient at KGB) and perfectly cooked pasta.  Al dente and divine.  Monsieur loved it.
  5. My main was a well-seasoned plate of grilled squid and shrimp. No extras and not much to look at; just a decent portion of deliciously prepared seafood.
  6. Monsieur loves chocolate so the chocolate Madeleine floated his boat.  (Geddit?  Madeleines look like little boats.  I hope you didn't just wet yourself laughing so hard.)
  7. I was mistakenly served an almond pannacotta for dessert.  (The one service error of the night.)  I ate well over half of it before alerting the waiter - it was too good to send back.  The dessert I'd actually ordered was a chestnut cream with pale sesame mouse.  Who knew that sesame seeds were so versatile?  Who knew?
  8. I asked for a glass of well-rounded white and what I got was outstanding.  This generous glass had all the fruit and butter of a lighter Chardonnay but with a light finish that disappeared like water.  Extremely drinkable.  How I managed to stop at 1 is anyone's guess.
  9. Monsieur asked for a rich Italian red to go with his not-particularly-Italian pasta.  I knew that he was looking to find fault in something but he failed miserably here.  His wine was delish.
  10. Bottled water that wasn't a rip-off.
  11. Total bill (not including cash tip) for a meal for 2 that was superb, served by genuinely friendly staff in a room that's a bit light on atmosphere (no music, the lighting's a bit bright) but hums with the natural buzz of a with-it Parisian crowd.  Monsieur, who paid the bill, said that the price was appropriate for the quality of the meal.  In fact, the only thing that Monsieur could grumble about was that I'd been there twice without him.
Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Although everything is tasty, the hors d'oeuvres really steal the show.  So order more of these and skip dessert.
2. There's a little alcove at the back near the kitchen (and, er, restroom) which is great for groups up to 8.
3. If I can wear sequins to a Franco-Israeli business function, you can wear Alaia to KGB.  In fact, let's start a trend.
4. Here's a link to KGB's website.  And another to Ze Kitchen Galerie in case you were wondering.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Emperor's New Dress

This season I'll be wearing nothing.

Or so it may seem.

A key trend for SS2012 is the barely-there neutral - a sharp contrast to (and welcome respite from) the rainbow palette and riotous patterns that will be hard to miss in the months ahead.

Whether you call it champagne, blush or boring old beige, soft skin tones abound for daytime and evening in everything from suede to shimmer to sheer.  Use separates to tone down the season's stronger hues, or invest in an "OMG, for a second I thought she was naked!" dress if you dare to go [nearly] bare.

Kaufmanfranco @ Net-a-Porter

D&G @ Net-a-Porter
Forever Unique @ Selfridges


Michael @ Michael Kors
Mugler @ Barneys
Oscar de la Renta @ Net-a-Porter


High @ The Corner


Ann Demeulemeester @ Browns

Bionda Casta @ Browns
Miu Miu @ Net-a-Porter
Maison Martin Margiela @ Net-a-Porter
Nancy Gonzalez @ Browns


Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Watch your skin tone, especially when it comes to shoes.  A pale blush shade might look piggy pink against tanned feet.
2. You are unlikely to gain entrance to a 'clothing-optional' colony wearing anything featured here, but go ahead and try.  Let me know how you do.
3. They even call it a bandage dress!  Forever Unique have a lot of nerve.  RIP Herve Leger - you're a pikey brand now.

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Monday, 12 March 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name is a Strawberry

The first Sunday of every month, Monsieur and I have dinner with the Bourdins.

Pierre Bourdin is Monsieur's best friend from when they were 19. Monique is Pierre's very pretty, very sweet wife.  Pierre and Monique are a lovely couple; they've done a great job at raising a brood of charming boys and Pierre is obviously besotted with Monique.

Unfortunately, like many a French man, Pierre seems besotted with the entire gender.  That includes me.  So the first Sunday of every month finds me in baggy clothes and a ponytail in a bid to placate an increasingly wary Monique.  On alternate months, it also finds me in my kitchen, preparing a very simple, fuss-free meal.  "NO FUSS!" was the strong reaction I received for preparing 3 courses with cheese.  Lesson learned.

So, this time I decided to make a fuss-less melanzane parmigiana from the eggplant that was getting squidgy in the fridge, with some of my permanent stock of bresoala and prosciutto to start.  Couldn't be easier.  But having landed on an Italian theme, my thoughts turned to tiramisu for dessert, which would be more of a challenge.  While rummaging around the cupboard for alternative ideas, I found a bag of Fossier Rose Biscuits - a Christmas gift from Monsieur's aunt that I'd been meaning to throw out but didn't, kinda like the eggplant.

What follows is the resulting dessert.


Determined to use those rose biscuits, and recalling a strawberry and rose flavoured dessert that once blew me away at Claridge's in London, I popped out to pick up some strawberries from my local mini-market (now open Sundays - a novelty in France) and a container of mascarpone.  The rosewater was something that I already had on hand, left over from an earlier attempt at Iraqi baklava (don't ask).  The vodka needs no explanation.


I arranged the biscuits around the perimeter of a presentation bowl like this.  I have no idea how many I used but if you really want to know, feel free to count.


In another bowl I combined the mascarpone, creme fraiche, agave syrup and rosewater.  The agave syrup wasn't quite sweet enough so I sifted some icing sugar into the mixture.  The result was awesome.  The flavours were so light and fresh and candy-like that I didn't want to risk ruining my rose-scented confection by adding vodka, so I drank a shot instead.

I then added the strawberries to the cream mixture and plopped the lot into the rose-biscuit lined bowl.


It took less than 10 minutes to prepare (20, if you include the trip to the shop, 21 if you include that shot of vodka) so definitely ticked the 'no-fuss' box.  But when I took it out of the fridge and served it to the Bourdins a few hours later, well, let's just say that it caused quite a stir.

Here's the recipe:
  • 700g of strawberries, halved
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 250g creme fraiche (I always use light)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp agave syrup
  • 1 and a half tbsp rosewater
  • as many Fossier Rose Biscuits as you can count

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. The names have been changed to protect no-one but me.
2. A showercap was used to protect my dessert from the Italian charcuterie smell in the fridge.  (See Kahlua Fudge Cake for that top tip.)
3. Here's a link for the rose biscuits, which, incidentally, are rose in colour but not so much in flavour.  Another lesson learned.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Patterned Palazzos, If You Please

Sorry.  I just couldn't resist adding that extra p-word to the title of this post.  Alliterative overkill, I know.  Like the patterns on some of this seasons wide-legged pants.

But if truth be told (and I'm sure you'd prefer that it is) I like patterned palazzos and am kicking myself for having given away some beautiful pairs that I had from the last time this trend was a trend.  (You weren't even born then.)  As someone who's personal style tends to err on the side of minimalism, I appreciate the way they add dramatic oomph to a look when the rest of what you're wearing is monochromatic and clean.

The best patterned palazzos have either a cool & beachy feel or are styles that could replace a maxi skirt.  Small, all-over patterns are the easiest to wear, as are gradient patterns up or down a leg.  Large symmetrical patterns can cut the leg or hips in awkward ways so try before you buy.

Etro
The all-over print make these a flattering, versatile alternative to plain linen trousers. 

Alberta Ferretti
Seemingly cool pattern and colour but the pattern stops awkwardly at the in-seem.
This breaks the fluidity of the look and winds up looking pants.


Mungo Gurney
I 'd never heard of them either but they're a wiz with silk prints and have a skilled eye for style.
The solid black centre creates the illusion of slim leg, making the rest of the pattern easier to pull off - and put on.
Elizabeth & James @ Net-a-Porter
Tibi @ Net-a-Porter
Yves Saint Laurent @ Matches

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Despite what you think, height isn't an issue. (If those little Olsen twins can get away with maxi skirts, you can get away with these.)  Just make sure the pattern and cuff-width will still work after you've had them hemmed.
2. I don't know who thought "This will be, like, oh-so irreverently cool!" to pair the €1600 silk YSLs with that shapeless white T-shirt but when I'm made chief constable of the fashion police, they'd better run.

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