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JH ENGSTROM EXHIBITS: "FROM BACK HOME"

Iconic Swedish photographer JH Engström is currently exhibiting 'From Back Home' in Berlin, a collection of images tracing his childhood memories back to the province of Värmland READ MORE...
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REVIEW: 'TREAT PETITE' BY FIONA PEARCE

There's something so irresistible about miniature food, the treats we love made into tiny packages you can just pop into your mouth - virtually guilt-free! READ MORE...
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GEMMA, LILY & LINDSAY'S PHOTO BOOTH FUN FOR DIOR

"Three friends taking pictures of themselves in a photo-booth as they go off to Glastonbury festival''. This was the brief John Galliano (remember him?!) gave to Nick Knight READ MORE...
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12 STUNNING PHOTOS THAT CAPTURE THE WORLD

As an amateur photographer, I'm fascinated by the universe of possibilities we can explore in creating images with our digital camera - why limit ourselves? I read a debate a while ago READ MORE...
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'FROM ARCHITECTURE TO FASHION IN 8 SECONDS'

Since 2007, Montreal photographer Nicolas Ruel has been refining an in-camera double exposure technique, where with a quick swivelling motion of his device, a second plan is overlaid on a main READ MORE...
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LULA GOES TO JAPAN

Lula is about to pretty up Japan even further this October with its unique mix of memoir, philosophy and fantasy, as interpreted by editor Kazuo Sazuki READ MORE...
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April 13, 2014

Review: Pro Naturals Argan Oil Hair Repair System

Pronaturals

If anyone was in need of hair repairing, it was me. When I could no longer bear the shoe polish look of my virgin hair (or as close to virgin it could be after leaving it alone for about 18 months), I decided I needed a change and the only way to go was a lot lighter. It seemed cruel that my natural colour not only did absolutely nothing for me, but it actually made my facial features look harsh and it aged me. And cruel because virgin hair has two major things going for it that I couldn't continue to benefit from without great compromise: it's free, and it's healthy. But I was willing to sacrifice some money every eight weeks or so as well as some shine and elasticity to not have the grim reaper staring back at me in the mirror. (I do sound critical of myself I know, but if you saw my UK resident card, passport and drivers licence and random snapshots on friends' mobiles, you would nod enthusiastically for my plan. Not good, not good.)  

I started cautiously, going for the ombre or dip-dye approach to lightening because it leaves the roots natural, and so the look is pretty much maintenance-free. But despite having it done professionally, it fried my long hair so badly that I had to get inches cut off my layers, and that barely helped. Soon I'd had enough of this half-and-half look (I highly don't recommend it), so I had the top of my hair highlighted. But he didn't blend it in with the rest. I saw someone else a couple of months later and she brought all of the colours together. What a process! In the end I loved the colour, but my ends were tough and straw-like, despite having regular and generous cuts. I didn't know what to do - who wants hard hair? Not wanting to return to the unflattering natural colour or cut all my hair off, I stuck with it but was self-conscious of my weird 'do. Now what I'm about to say is going to sound like an informercial, but I assure you everything is true. And thank goodness it is or I'd be sporting rasta hats right now. 

With what could not have been better timing, I was sent the Pro Naturals Argan Oil Hair Repair System, which as the name suggests, is meant to fix damaged hair and contains natural ingredients with no sulfates. It includes a shampoo, conditioner, hair mask, and argan oil that can be applied as a leave-in treatment, and each product contains 100% pure Moroccan argan oil. I've been hearing great things about this oil for years and have been using it on my face, but this is the first time I've tried it in hair products. In all of my years of taking care of my hair I have never actually found anything that repaired hair, which would work by protecting and smoothing the cuticle so hair does not appear frayed and broken. I was hopeful, but not expecting any miracles; in my experience, only a brutal cut is the solution to damaged hair. The Pro Naturals website says to use the products for one week every six weeks, alongside your usual routine to repair your hair and maintain its health. Well, the first time I used the shampoo and conditioner - which smell fantastic by the way, as does the oil - I actually saw a difference in my hard ends, after blowdrying. I couldn't believe it. When I touched them my fingers felt something I didn't think was possible - soft hair! I hadn't even used the mask yet and was yet to apply the oil. I've since used the mask which is a dream, just like the conditioner which leaves your hair completely soft with very little product used yet neither weigh your hair down as they don't contain silicone, and no double application is necessary which is what I used to have to do with conditioner  just to get my hair tangle-free and soft in the shower. But my hair would still feel and look frazzled after blowdrying (if I didn't blowdry it just looked terrible so I couldn't win). The oil is great for keeping your hair soft from one shampoo to the next and seems to protect it from whatever makes it dull and damaged, such as heated appliances and environmental stresses such as pollution. It absorbs completely and your hair never looks oily. (High quality oils will never appear as oily.) And the smell is absolutely heavenly.

After a week of using the system and a week of my old shampoo and conditioner I still have soft hair; it does seem to have actually been repaired. The cost of the Pro Naturals Argan Oil Hair Repair System is £99, so it's an investment. But as you're only using it for a week every six weeks and each application is minimal, it will last a long time. It's also much cheaper to buy the whole set than purchase the products individually. 

Do I think the Pro Naturals Argan Oil Hair Repair System is worth it? Yes! It saved my hair, and now I can be blonde without looking like my hair is in pain - I can actually look good which is the point! I'm running my fingers through the ends right now and it feels great. Oh! One more thing. The last two times I had the colour done we did only partial highlights with peroxide, then the last time I had a whole head done and we used mostly bleach. With the peroxide, which is meant to be less damaging than bleach, I found my brush would get caught in my hair when it was wet and I had trouble blowdrying it, no matter how much conditioner I used. This time we did bleach all over and it should have been even worse, but thankfully I had just received the system and we used it to wash out out the bleach and condition it after (I have a mobile colourist come do it in my house) and not once since having it done have I had the brush drag through my wet hair. I want to horde these products so I never have to be without them. (I really should have done a before and after, but I had no idea the results would be so dramatic.) Highly, highly recommended. 

If you would like more information about Pro Naturals and keep up with their news you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+

April 07, 2014

Review: 'Treat Petite' by Fiona Pearce

Treat-Petite_1 (1 of 1)

There's something so irresistible about miniature food, the treats we love made into tiny packages you can just pop into your mouth - virtually guilt-free! (Unless you're me and can't help but eat your weight in them.) Fiona Pearce, owner of Icing Bliss in London where she specialises in vintage-inspired cakes, knows the 'Alice-in-Wonderland' charm of little delectables and has brought us 42 recipes for mini bakes and bites in her second book, Treat Petite. The sweets cover everything including sponges, meringues, chocolate, pastry, choux, and biscuits, while the savoury section begins with a lesson in making perfect puff pastry, followed by seven recipes for tasty, bite-sized canapes. 

What I love most about this book is the simplicity of the recipes so anyone can make them, regardless of baking experience. It's also great for introducing novices to certain dishes that may otherwise be intimidating. You can start off small - quite literally! - and master your technique before attempting the full version - if that still holds any interest after going tiny! And you can have lots of fun playing with presentation, arranging Micro-meringue Kisses, Mini Dacquoise Towers, and Pistachio and White Chocolate Florentines (one of many possibilities) on pretty plates to wow your family or guests - or yourself! And it may inspire you to experiment with your own creations - I'm beginning to imagine everything I cook in its scaled-down version.

Treat Petite is published by Ivy Press and is available to purchase at Amazon (£12.99).

Here's a peek inside the book, packed with beautiful photos of every recipe and detailed, easy-to-follow instructions: 

Treat-Petite_Earl-grey-madeleines (1 of 1)

I love madeleines and can't wait to try this even smaller version, flavoured with freshly ground Earl Grey tea leaves and glazed with sugar, honey and orange. 

Treat-Petite_coffee-bean-biscuits (1 of 1)

Coffee Bean Biscuits are made with fragrant coffee shortbread to resemble the real thing - wouldn't that make a charming and delicious accompaniment to your cup of Java? 

The artwork that introduces each chapter is so wonderful and fun:

Treat-Petite_biscuits (1 of 1)

Gilded Caramel Shortbread Squares and Chocolate Ganache-filled Tartlets with chocolate pastry - yum!

Treat-Petite_caramel-shortbread

A savoury-sweet burst of flavour in a single bite, these Caramelised Onion Galettes with Goat's Cheese would be hard to walk away from after just one:

Treat-Petite_Carmelised-onion-tarts-mini (1 of 1)

 How delicious do these Caesar Salad Bites sound, with garlic butter-infused bread tart, crispy bacon, parmesan cheese and half a quail's egg? Add Mini Blini Stacks with Smoked Salmon for a very special brunch. 

Treat-Petite_savoury

In addition to running Icing Bliss, Fiona Pearce also teaches cake decorating classes at Cakeology in South-west London. Her first book, Cake Craft Made Easy, was published in 2013. 

February 25, 2014

A New Health Drink that's Actually...Good for You?

Alibi

When I'm asked if I want to review a product, I check that it's something I'll probably like before I agree, and if it's food I don't want to promote something that isn't good for us. I like to think I'm savvy when it comes to ingredients lists and can't be tricked. So when I was offered Alibi to try, I looked into its claims of being a health drink: "Made with fruit juice, spring water and absolutely nothing artificial, contains a total of 19 nutrients in each can, including 100% of the recommended daily allowance of essential vitamins such as vitamin C, D, B12". This sounded good, but what I really wanted to know was did it contain sugar or artificial sweetener. I've had enough of foods and drinks (the same goes for skincare) that claim to be good for you when those healthy ingredients are actually negated by some pretty bad ones. The answer is Alibi contains no refined sugar and it's sweetened with Stevia,  not artificial sweetener. And it has no stimulants such as caffeine. I have to stay away from refined sugar and I'm also no fan of artificial sweeteners, and I'm not looking for something in a can to make me run off at the mouth and climb the walls, so this was all good news. It does contain natural sugars, fructose from the fruit puree, so if you don't drink juice for this reason you'll want to know this, though it is in small amounts. (I liken it to having a few sips of juice rather than indulging in a full glass, which is how I take my juice, rather crudely from the carton because you can't really pour a sip, can you?). I'd heard of Stevia but didn't know much about it, other than that it's a natural sweetener derived from a plant and has zero calories. I did my research and I was fine with it; it's a far more appealing alternative to refined sugar and artificial sweeteners for many reasons. 

So I received a case that included two flavours: sparkling citrus and sparkling pomegranate. Both are flavours I would naturally gravitate toward, so that was a good start. But the real test is how they taste - would I actually want to drink a can? I was sure the drinks were going to taste weird because, well, with everything else being in place it just would just be my luck that I didn't like it. I first tried the pomegranate flavour and kind of braced myself. Surprisingly, it tasted really good. I waited for an odd aftertaste that didn't materialise. I took a few more sips and again waited for something offensive to happen, and couldn't believe it when it didn't. I let my daughter try the citrus flavour - I have never let her have pop before, she actually didn't know how to open the can - and she loved it, and later my husband tried both and agreed the taste was very good ("it would be great with vodka, very refreshing" - but we won't talk about that further). So it would appear that Alibi have managed to come up with a formula that doesn't compromise on taste, and it just happens to be exactly as I like anything sweet, which is 'not too'. (I have to admit I didn't think that was possible in Britain where I find most things to be so sweet as to be inedible). Unlike colas, I find that I don't feel heavy after drinking Alibi, which tells me it's not as much the CO2 as it is some of the nasty ingredients (probably that syrupy caramel stuff) that makes you feel bloated.  

I should mention that Alibi continually changes their formula to incorporate the latest health ingredients while balancing that with taste, and right now their formula includes Fruit Up, an all-natural fruit extract that has a low glycemic index, and Wellmune beta glucan which is a natural immune system booster (again, I did my research and was fine with this). 

I think this makes a great alternative to pop if you have an addiction to that cola, either full-sugar or diet because we know both do very bad things to you. With Alibi, you get your fizzy fix but without the sugar or artificial sweetener, and the bonus of vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts. And it tastes really good, probably the best fizzy drink I've had. I would buy it and have already had requests at home to do so!

So I'd say, yes, it's good to have an Alibi. 

Alibi Health Drink can be purchased nationally in Waitrose, Holland & Barratt and Whistlestop stores. Ocado and Amazon also stock Alibi online. Prices range from £1.40 to £2.00.

February 12, 2014

Happify Looks at The Science Behind a Happy Relationship

Last year I received an invitation to try the beta version of a new site called Happify that offers activities to make you happier. I was at first a bit apprehensive and approached it literally looking at my screen sideways so as not get sucked into anything weird, but after reading the rationale behind it, the science, and recognising the concepts as ones that I know to work (ie. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), I jumped in. What I love about the site is it's a nice, calm and 'happy' place to go which counts for something in itself, and the activities, grouped within 'tracks' that you choose for areas you want to work on, are geared to achieve a specific objective, and they're effective. You can do a few activities a day but you can't really rush through and do too much, it's timed so that progress is achieved at a relaxed, steady pace. 

In time for Valentine's Day, they've created their first Happify infographic on the science behind a happy relationship. They say, "Regardless of how happy you are in a current relationship - and trust us, you'll find some fascinating facts on how marriage and kids can affect your happiness levels at different stages - the main takeaway is that there are small changes you can make in your interactions that can boost your relationship satisfaction for the long run." While I don't quite understand the usefulness of monetary values being assigned to happiness and loss in a marriage, the rest is rather interesting and will prompt you to look at what you're doing in your relationship a little differently. Hint: It requires awareness and effort!

 

Infographic_love

October 18, 2013

Swelle Review: Uniqlo's Ultra Light Down Jacket

Uniqlo_Ultra_Light_Down

Already have a piece from the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down range? Upload a photo of yourself wearing it to Twitter or Instagram using #ULD by 20th October and you could win £300 to spend at Uniqlo (that will buy a lot of winter clothes!) One winner will be selected at random from UK entries and one will be selected from French entries. For more details see Uniqlo's competition page

I'm a huge fan of Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, so I was thrilled when I was asked to review an item from their autumn/winter range. I have a few pairs of their trouser leggings, a dress and scarf from the Orla Kiely collaboration, one of the new cashmere sweaters, a bunch of vests, and their underwear and socks are fantastic as well. The quality/price ratio is rivalled by no one and proves that you can actually have good design and  high quality - consistently! - at an affordable price ('affordable' meaning actually accessible to everyone, I've seen some interesting interpretations of what is affordable). Most importantly, the clothes endure. They wash well, keep their colour and shape, and I haven't lost a button or had a hole pop up in anything - even the socks. The styles work together and lend well to layering which is especially useful in the cooler months - or UK life in general. We can see three types of weather in five minutes here on the coast and watch it repeat as if on a loop from morning to night, so this kind of dressing is especially important for this girl who hates to be cold or too hot (well, who doesn't?). But then what do you do with the layers when you have to peel one off? This factor plays into my choice. 

I wanted to review something from their Ultra Light Down range having not tried it before and being curious and in need of a new coat. After much deliberation and weighing style, practicality and colour choices, I chose the Ultra Light Down jacket in 62 Blue (£59.90), which is exactly the one shown in the first header photo. The promise with the items in the range, which includes jackets, vests, parkas and coats for women, men and children in various styles, is that it provides super lightweight warmth that's 'portable and pocketable', fitting snugly in its own travel bag. The lightness is achieved by inserting the down (90% down and 10% feathers) directly into the outer shell made of a super thin nylon which is coated with a special ciré (wax). The process provides breathable warmth. The product features note that a high quality down must exceed a fill power of 550, and Uniqlo's Ultra Light Down is in excess of 640. 

Uniqlo_portability

When I received the jacket I first noticed the beautiful colour; it's a duck egg shade with a subtle sheen. The second and third things that struck me when I picked up the jacket were how incredibly light it is, like air, and how lovely and soft the material felt. I put it on and it fit like a glove. I ordered a small and the proportions were perfect if you like a close fit, which you would with this style as it has panels for shaping and is meant to follow the lines of the body. It feels like wearing a silky summer duvet, and it made me wish I actually had a duvet version of it for sleeping. Already I've brought it to Sweden and London (twice) including a dinner in a Hackney warehouse, and because of unseasonably warm weather didn't need it the first two times, but the beauty of it is that it's so light and compact - practically non-existent in your luggage - that having it and not using it is inconsequential; when packing you don't have to make a guess and risk needing something you didn't bring or cursing something you brought but didn't need. 

Here are more uses and features for the Ultra Light Down range:

  • Travel. On planes, trains and automobiles, it provides warmth without bulk so you can move around a remain comfortable, and if you don't need it any longer it can literally be folded up and shoved into its travel bag and tucked into your own bag, or pocket. It's especially handy for airports which tend to be hot and stuffy - I find Heathrow brutal for that - and the last thing you want is to have to carry a heavy coat on top of your bag and carry-on. 
  • Pockets galore. You get two invisible outside pockets which open with a sleek zip sewn into the side seam, and two large internal pockets, all of which are incredibly handy for keeping keys, change, cards and phones. I was especially grateful for mine while in London's underground this week, I was able to zip in my Oyster card securely and then get it quickly when exiting the station - the mob behind you won't wait while you search for it!
  • Retains its looks. When you pull it out again it goes back to its new condition and shows no sign of having been scrunched up.
  • Great for layering. Pile it on top of a couple inner layers without getting sweaty or looking like the Michelin Man, and put it in your bag or pocket if you don't need it for the time being. 
  • Indoor warmth. Trying to keep your heating costs down but freezing in your house? Wear the jacket inside without feeling too weird about it! 

In case it's not overwhelmingly obvious, I love my Ultra Light Down jacket, it does everything they promise at an unbelievable price, and yes does keep you warm in chilly weather. I'm looking at getting at least one more, probably the jacket with the hood. I've also bought my daughter the Light Poly Fill Down coat from the Kids's range (£29.90) in the same colour as I have because it's so pretty, though we now look like we coordinated our outfits when we go out of the house! 

October 01, 2013

Essential Kitchen Gadget: Umbra's iSpoon

TheSwelleLife_Umbra_iSpoon

When I first saw the iSPOON from Umbra, the Toronto-based designer and manufacturer of houseware products (I can't help but highlight the Canadian-ness of a great company), I'll admit I paused to get my head around it as I'd never seen anything like it. It's both a stylus and a wooden tasting spoon meant to help out in the kitchen in equal measure. If you've ever tried to follow a recipe on your tablet while cooking, you know that it's impossible to touch your screen without getting it all smeared from your goopy fingers (gross!). I thought maybe that was just me, one who is prone to slovenly ways, but this scenario is exactly what prompted designer Jordan Murphy to create it; he knew he wasn't alone. Our expensive tablets were not meant to be around bolognese sauce, but they sure are handy for recipes, so the iSpoon seemed well worth a try. 

Once I was actually holding it properly - correct is with the fingers gripping the silicone which will activate the screen - it flips pages seamlessly and doesn't drag. I tend to use the Epicurious app which lays out the recipes with the ingredients listed in a tab, so there is always some back and forth between pages while preparing the meal. The stylus proved to be effective in performing its mess-saving function, but I did wonder if I would actually use the spoon end. It turns out that I do. I keep the iSPOON in my utensil jar by the hob and often find the smaller size perfect for stirring up concoctions cooked in small pans, whereas a larger utensil would be awkward and send sauces flying out. And I've grabbed it a few times for tasting which is just nicer than getting a mouthful of metal when you're trying to determine whether your dish is seasoned enough. If you get any food on the stylus you simply wash it off later. Mine got sent through the dishwasher yesterday and it was perfectly fine, though I think it's always better to handwash wood. 

Verdict: I use it regularly, therefore it's a success! 

You can buy the iSPOON for under £10 in the UK at various retailers.

August 29, 2013

Snacking Japanese: Miso Soup and Wasabi Glaze Popcorn

Misopop_text

Miso soup is not the most photo-friendly subject, but it sure is a tasty dish. It's been one of my cupboard staples for years, so I was happy to receive a few packets of a new instant miso soup from itsu's 'Eat Beautiful' range. It's a paste that you mix with boiling water instead of a powder which is what I had been buying, and although the dry one was a premium brand, it doesn't even come close in terms of flavour and texture. (I recently was invited to dinner by a Japanese friend and she served homemade miso soup, and I couldn't tell the difference between hers and itsu's.) The bonus is you can also use the paste as a flavour enhancer in cooking, and it makes a great on-the-go snack if you can get a cup and boiling water. I tried the Original variety which contains bonito fish, and there's also a Vegetarian option, with each coming in at just 44 and 42 calories, respectively. This is hard to believe considering that one bowl - a good size bowl filled up - can actually satisfy you enough to keep you from immediately scavenging the fridge for something to top you up (and this is coming from a remorseless eating machine). However, Metcalf's Skinny Topcorn makes a great accompaniment if you're allowing yourself a little indulgence. I received a sample of two flavours (made with only natural ingredients), Sea Salt and Wasabi Glaze, and I have to admit that I ate the Wasabi Glaze in one go, dutifully but grudgingly sharing with my husband, until it was gone. It was so tasty with its perfect blend of tangy and sweet that I forgot to save some to photograph and had to buy more! This flavour comes in at 118 calories per 25g bag (popcorn is very light), so if you can practice some restraint (please teach me how you do this) and save half for later, you can have a nice snack for around 60 calories. Stockists include Sainsbury's and Waitrose. 

I have already got myself more of the soup as well, I can't go back to the powder again. You can buy itsu miso soup at Sainsbury's for £2.25 for three pouches and I highly recommend it, served up in a colourful Tayo bowl if you have one.  

August 04, 2013

Swelle Review: Elizabeth Arden Untold Fragrance

Untold
Elizabeth Arden's newest fragrance, Untold, launches in the UK on 5th August exclusively at Debenhams (nationwide in September), and I've been invited to review the eau de parfum spray. The concept of the scent is about facets, first reflected in the texture of the gold packaging as well as the surface of the glass bottle and its subtle curvature which creates striking angles, then the layered scent itself, to embody the perfumer's inspiration. Clement Gavarry explains: "I wanted Untold to be a harmonious balance of the many facets of a woman, which, for me, is the source of genuine beauty." The name Untold comes from the idea that these facets are revealed over time. 

Many times the story behind a creation goes right over our heads. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the top, middle and base notes - each representing a characteristic of the Untold woman - are clearly identifiable even before reading about them, making the scent a truly faceted olfactory experience. And it combines all of my favourite elements - crisp floral, fruity, and warm, which combine to finish, just as Gavarry had intended, in harmonious balance, which I would sum up in layman's terms as simply 'yummy'. 

Here is how the scent is layered to represent the facets: 

Top: Black Currant LMR*, Bergamot, Pink Pepper, Pear

Mid: Gardenia, Peony, Jasmine LMR* 

Base: Sandalwood, Patchouli Heart LMR*, Musk, Amber 

(*LMR= Laboratoire Monique Rémy. International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.’s in-house, natural facility situated in Grasse, France, that specializes in extracting natural raw materials through a craftsmanship technique. Therefore, productions are rare, fine and represent the best quality in the marketplace.)

What I love about this scent is that it has a bit of everything that's desirable, delivered as a cohesive fragrance that makes it appealing to just about everyone (ie. great gift idea!). 

Elizabeth Arden's Untold is available 5th August at Debenham's in the UK and launches nationwide 1st September. 

August 02, 2013

Swelle Review: Jeanography ends jeans fitting frustration

Jeanography

Buying jeans can be one of the most frustrating shopping experiences in person: wading through a sea of brands, washes and styles only to end up with nothing, or worse - shattered confidence or a purchase that makes us look weird. I can think of one very expensive pair that made me appear as if I had a permanent wedgie, which is not a good look - and I paid for that! So what chance do we have in finding great fitting jeans on the internet? Jeanography, a new and truly unique online shop dedicated to matching women with their perfect pair, have figured out the solution to what once seemed an eternal fashion conundrum. 

I was given the opportunity to try out Jeanography's 'Fit first time' service - designed to give you a perfect pair of jeans the first time you order - and see how it works first-hand. The process begins by making things as easy and commitment-free as possible, leaving no reason not to have a go. After answering a few questions to identify which sizes and styles will work best for you, you are invited to choose three pairs of jeans to try -  for free - at home. Or you can choose one pair and based on your first choice and profile, Jeanography's style experts can suggest two more pairs. Delivery (within the UK for the moment) and returns are also free, so you only pay for what you keep. You have seven days to try the jeans and anything that is not received back in 14 days is considered a purchase, at which point you receive an order confirmation and are charged for the jeans you've kept.  Easy peasy! (You will be asked to enter your card details upon requesting your trial pairs but nothing will be charged to your card unless you keep any of the jeans after the trial period.)

Now for the fun part: choosing my jeans! I went straight for skinnies which is all I wear right now and refined my search by selecting my size and the rises I wanted - you can choose from low, regular, mid and high. The rise will vary, sometimes significantly, from brand to brand (for example, True Religion's high waisted styles are much lower than others while their mid-rise is very low), but if you pay attention to how they fit on the model you can see clearly see where the waist sits and avoid surprises at home. I went back a few times to be sure of my choices - I had lots of great options - and decided upon these three pairs:

Jeanography_jeans

Left to right:  Citizens Of Humanity Rocket High Rise Skinny in Icon NavyTrue Religion High Rise Super Skinny in NavyTrue Religion Halle High Rise Super Skinny in Body Rinse

I received my order the next day and within 30 seconds of shutting the door I had flung off the pants I was wearing and tried on my first pair of jeans. As you can see, two of the styles are the same but in a different rinse. I took a risk that the True Religions would fit and I would like them, and luckily they were brilliant, as were the Citizens of Humanity pair. Unbelievable. Now I had a rare conundrum: which of the three would I keep? I was able to choose one pair as part of reviewing the service and I honestly had no idea which to go with, I'd almost wished two of them hadn't fit so well! In the end, I chose the Citizens because they are a classic indigo jean and I don't actually have any dark blue jeans. But I also loved the navy True Religions which are lower in the rise and are a bit more like a cotton jean-style pant which is a nice change from straight-up jeans. So I actually purchased that pair. Anyone who loves skinny jeans knows that they need to fit perfectly to look good; if they're a bit loose they look awful and if the fit is too tight you just suffer and won't wear them. My size is 28; however in the very detailed description for each of my selections, I saw a note mentioning that customers have commented that this jean fits a bit big and they recommend ordering one size smaller. I did, and thanks to this tip I got my perfect fit x 3. As for the lone pair that had to go back, the process was as straightforward as could be: I put them back in the bag they came in, put that in the box and the box into the mailer bag that was included, called the courier quoting Jeanography's account number and arranged pick up at my house. I never had to leave the house.

I should mention that the regular price point of the jeans is high-end as Jeanography stocks only premium denim (but do check out the 2 for 1 summer sale right now). While this may not fit all budgets, it's worth bearing in mind that cheap denim only works for so long before it loses shape and turns on you - I recently got only four washes out of a cheap pair before they lost their stretch enough to make the seam on the inner thighs look a bit lumpy - just what every woman wants! So these jeans are an investment which is reflected in the design as well as the quality; you'll find the latest seasonal styles and updates of the stocked brands' classic best-sellers, but nothing too weird or trendy. Lots of can't-go-wrong, enduring styles and washes with some of-the-moment designs and colours to round out the selection and offer something for the more adventurous jean lover. 

There are a few reasons for my 3-for-3 success, and most of them are due to Jeanography's clever ways of matching each shopper with the right options, as earlier detailed, and stocking great jeans to begin with. But it's also a huge help to start off with a bit of knowledge, and that comes down to knowing in advance what jean styles and features work best on your body. I already knew that at this point in time I find mid or high-waisted skinnies most flattering - no muffin tops! - so I was able to focus on those features. (I was telling my mum about my experience and my youngest brother heard about my choice of the high-waisted style and quipped, 'Would those happen to have a 9-inch fly?' Ha ha, no, these are very flattering jeans as you can see above!) But if you're not sure - maybe you've never had a favourite pair or you're in a transitional phase with regards to style preferences or a changing figure - then Jeanography's style experts can help you decide. 

Clearly, from my experience I can highly recommend Jeanography as the place to buy jeans online. Or anywhere, for that matter. It's just so convenient. The ultimate test when doing a review is determining whether I would use the service again and pay for it, and I've already made a purchase of a second pair, so there we have it. And I'll be back when the time comes for another. Take your time to figure out what you really want and use their in-house style experts as they know the jeans well, and make those trial pairs count! It's so worth it when you find your new favourite jeans - or maybe even two or three.  

 

May 30, 2013

Swelle Review: Fashion and Beauty Apps

Net_2

I've been a little slow getting in on the app game despite having an iPad2 for at least two years now; maybe it's because I pretty much only used the iPad to play Ms. PacMan (which my husband put on knowing that would be my first priority because I'm awesome at it - don't laugh!), and I work from home so I'm on my laptop all day and tend to use websites since that's what's in front of me. 

But it was time I got onto exploring the universe of apps available to us through our devices, it got embarrassing having to shake my head 'no' when asked if I know this one or that one, then having to explain that I am actually otherwise clued into the online world, I work strictly with digital media for a living! So I decided to put in some time seeing what clever things are out there. 

In terms of shopping, clearly I like Net-a-porter. They are the pioneers of online luxury shopping and became the model to follow in terms of website design and product presentation, and they've also got a fantastic online magazine. So I was curious how all of this web greatness translates on an Android mobile phone, specifically the HTC Sensation which is what I use. 

This is what the homepage of the app looks like (images are screencaps from Net-a-porter's video):

Net_1

The landing page automatically opens on the Shop tab from which you can select 'What's New', browse the designer directory and product categories, or see a curated grouping of products via the 'Trend Edit' option. Or you can select the News tab which appears to be the mobile version of their digital magazine, Edit which features brilliantly shot editorial - you can always shop the shoot directly from the page because, of course, everything featured is from Net-a-porter - as well as interviews and trend stories. And also from the front page is a 'Live' option which is something exclusive to the app, and something that took me a few seconds to figure out. 'Why is it showing me products and telling me that they've been added to so-and-so's shopping bag or wish list?' Ah, ok, this is the social aspect worked in. I probably wouldn't browse this feature again, but I am aware that some others would be interested in being influenced by others' choices and so I can see its relevance in a shopping app (as you probably already know, there are shopping apps and websites based entirely on this principle, one of which is coming up). And I suppose it can bring items to your attention that we may not otherwise come across in the vast yet discerning sea that is Net's product offering. 

Net_3

Since the primary purpose of the app is shopping, I tried to buy an item (stopping short of the actual purchase, unfortunately!) to see how the selection process and shopping cart function compares to the smoothness of the website. I selected the 'Shoes' category from the homepage which went to the 'Shoes Type' page where you can select the style you want to look at or just go with 'All Shoes' which is what I did. Then I decided I wanted to see what Esquivel shoes they currently have (my favourite) and to do that I returned to the homepage by hitting 'Net-a-porter' in the top left corner of the screen and found the brand in the Designer A-Z page. It gave me four style options, and I clicked on red brogues with a white detail that has a spray-painted effect because they were screaming for my attention. I ran into a few glitches with the images. I got 'image not available' a few times and as I scrolled through was able to see other shots rather randomly. The first three looked low-res whereas the remaining four were crisp. I wondered for a second how you buy the item and tried pulling up a menu from the bottom I hoped was there, and it was. From this menu you can select to view each of the details you get from the product page view on the website. But I couldn't figure out how to add it to the cart. Trying to conjure an 'add' feature with my finger wasn't working, but after staring at the screen for longer than I'd care to admit, I noticed a + button in the top right corner. I hit it and was given the option to add the shoes to the shopping bag or wish list. I selected 'shopping bag' and a list of sizes dropped down. I went for my Esquivel size which is US 7 and then it showed me my selection with the total and a button to confirm the purchase. I didn't do that since I wasn't actually buying them (nuts!) but I'd assume the purchase would have been successful. I should mention that I browsed quite a few other products and didn't find any image problems with those - everything loaded and looked high-res, so I went back to look at the Esquivels again and guess what, all images loaded and were crisp so it was probably that the images hadn't fully loaded although I did give it some time. I put that down to my phone, not the app. 

My overall impression: A smooth and comprehensive app that represents the aesthetic and features of the website well and delivers a similar feel and experience. My one suggestion would be to make the 'add to bag' or 'add to wish list' function more obvious to avoid missing it altogether and abandoning the app in frustration, and ultimately feeling like a dumkopf with no new gear on its way. (Unless this is how all shopping apps work, in which case you can just ignore that last part!)

The Net-a-porter app is free and available for iPad, iPhone and Android in English, French, German and simplified Chinese versions. You can find out more about the app and download it here 

Pose

Pose is an online and mobile fashion community that has been generating a lot of media buzz and has been called 'The Instagram of Fashion'. There are dozens of sites like it as developers are capitalising on the current hunger for social engagement, fashion show and tells, and the compulsion to buy something right NOW! that looked really hot on a girl who lives in a country that seems so much cooler than your own. Social influence is driving purchasing decisions and the cool kids have it. The developers attract the fashionistas who attract more users who will probably buy something at some point, and they tell their friends about it, and so on. 

So I was curious to see what I might get out of it, if anything. For this one I decided to use the iPad2 since the app is image heavy and it's not available for Android anyway. To begin, I had to create an account. I used my email and then was allowed entry. It told me 'Pose is where fashion happens...and you're about to see why.' Ok! Hmm...now it wants me to take a quiz so they can suggest the best people on Pose for me to follow. Can I bypass this? I instantly resent anything that tries to pigeonhole me - I'm a varied and complex individual! And so are you. Oh well. Here we go. I guess it's just trying to make the sea of fashion more digestible and relevant, although it makes me wonder what I'm not being shown. You can skip questions but at the end it automatically chooses people for you to follow. It gave me four users, incuding Rachel Zoe and Coco Rocha. Something tells me that was not random. Next you can create 'collections' to save 'poses' for inspiration, to buy, or to share with your friends. I hit 'stream' and was brought to a page showing me the poses from people I follow, you know, those four I didn't have a say in following. At this point I am prompted to scroll through images, or 'poses' and encouraged to drag some into my collections. The only thing that stands out is a close-up of a grey t-shirt that says 'F*CK' (but with the U) at which point I'm tempted to create a 'So Subversive' collection just for it. (I don't.) I notice buttons scattered throughout that have a user name and image and they seem to be competing for my attention, so I bite and hit one to see what happens. It brings me to this person's stream and indicates I am now following them. Again, no choice and no prior indication this would happen. This particular Poser has 6646 followers and is following 45 people back. That's not very sociable. At this point I know it's definitely not for me. It hasn't offered anything different from other similar interactive fashion communities I've seen (not that I've seen everything), other than it's the only one that places you exactly where it wants you, rather than let you create your own experience. I'm an adult, I can make my own decisions. But I persevere because this is a review. I hit 'Shop' in the side menu and select a photo of a girl wearing a white outfit. From here I can shop pieces of the outfit and I wind up on the Barneys site looking at a Sophie Hume bag and it's like a breath of fresh air being there. I go back to the outfit page at which point the left menu navigation disappears, I can't figure out how to get off the page and I take that as a sign that I'm allowed to bail. 

My overall impression: If you like looking at style photos of bloggers, celebrities and other fashionistas and don't mind being plunked into an experience that has been quite conspicuously chosen for you, then have a go. You could have fun. One million other people seem to be. 

The Pose app is free and can be downloaded for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad here

Capture2

The last app I'm reviewing is Bangstyle which I saw on a 'Best Beauty Apps of 2012 list'. I thought it might come in handy for avoiding a repeat of my last salon visit where I tried to describe a very popular colour technique to a colourist who had no clue what I was talking about. (How could she not know what ombre is?!) It's always best to have a photo, you really don't want to assume your stylist knows what you're asking for. (I once wound up with what was essentially a layered bowl cut on top of long hair when I asked for volume. No amount of 'blending' by the salon owner who saw the atrocity and stepped in could salvage it. Don't let this happen to you!) 

Ok, so first you create a profile, which according to the reviews was a prohibitively glitchy process at some point and got the app lots of low ratings. It's not anymore and I was able to sign up quickly. Next I'm taken to the Image Community for Hair page (above left) and have a browse of the styles. There is just one page and when I get to the last one a window pops up telling me it's the last and to go to 'Fresh Pix' to view more. I return to the Image Community and see the Fresh Pix tab at the bottom of the page. The pages do not load quickly which was another gripe users expressed in the reviews. I've waited for at least 10 seconds to be shown a new set of hairstyle photos which seems excruciatingly long for something that's meant to deliver instant gratification. I don't see anything that jumps out so I load more and wait again. It seems lots of users have not tagged their image because I see many labelled 'photo' which I imagine is a default tag. You can share an image or heart it to save it to your inspiration folder within the app which I tried and found easy and straightforward. I decide to look at the Articles tab and surprisingly, I find articles that have absolutely nothing to do with hair! There's one on cameras, an artist who creates illusions using wood, how to bake message into your cakes...then I see the filter for the articles and yes, it covers anything and everything. Is this meant to take the place of glossy magazines in the salon? Instead of being stuck with an old copy of Hello! to thumb through you read articles on a hairstyle app? Who knows! The My Style feature is where your activity such as saved photos and uploaded pics is organised. There's also a salon locator...still waiting for that to load as I write this... still waiting...I'm glazing over... My phone gave up and went to sleep. After waiting for two minutes I had to quit and start over. I fared no better after a second attempt and now I can't get into anything. Ok! We're back in. Finally. I want to see if I can filter the styles within the Fresh Pix pages so I can look for particular styles I'm interested in. You can't do this on the Image Community page so I'm not sure what the point of it would be unless it features newly added hairstyles? And I'm stuck staring at the swirly circle again. This is a simple app that could be thoroughly checked in just a few minutes so the download time is really frustrating. Ok, at least I'm able to filter styles now, this is where the app becomes useful to me. Or so I thought. I select 'Bangs' and it does nothing. So I try 'Long' and the same thing, nothing. Looking through the list I can see it doesn't have any kind of a colour category which would surely be an essential for people considering a new look? I tried to go back in three more times with no luck. Oh boy. If you were in the salon trying to show a photo from this app you would have one mighty frustrated hairstylist tapping her foot next to you. I bail on it, and I think you know what my final assessment will be. 

My overall impression: Slow loading times and being forced to quit - a third complaint mentioned several times in the reviews - makes it impossible to use this app. What a shame as it may have been useful in the salon. A thorough check of the filter function would hav confirmed that either way. 

The Bangstyle app is free (it would have to be) and is available for iPhone and Android here if you're still curious.

If you have tried and true suggestions for helpful alternatives please feel free to let us know! 

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