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LONDON HAT WEEK KICKS OFF
I love hats. Proper millinery ones. I don't wear them so much anymore, but they're fun and they break up the visual monotony on the streets. Britain loves hats, too, which anyone READ MORE...
MAISON BLUE HILLS: AT HOME IN NATURE
If I didn't know better, I'd swear this house, a 2300 square foot family home called Maison Blue Hills, could be found somewhere in the Norwegian woods, based on the interior alone READ MORE...
FAVOURITE AW14 COATS FROM NY AND LONDON
There were so many great coats showing in New York and London (and now in Milan), so I decided to focus on favourites from the first two fashion weeks. Most of us can't afford to shop the READ MORE...
ARCHITECT-DESIGNED DOLLHOUSES HELP KIDS
I love an unconventional dollhouse; for some reason miniature versions of every day things have universal appeal, and even better when it goes beyond the scaled replica and offers a unique perspective READ MORE...
FASHION FILM: ERDEM SS14
Erdem has always been a favourite of mine for his ethereal aesthetic and seasonal (or rather season-less) reinterpretations of florals. Trevor Undi has made a film that presents an enchanted look READ MORE...
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
(*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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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 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
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!
With impeccable timing, I was recently invited to review instantprint.co.uk, an online printing and design service for business cards and other marketing materials. I was offered a complimentary set of 250 business cards and asked to talk about my experience using the site. It so happened that I was in need of a redesign so I was excited to be offered the opportunity to come up with something new. But I hadn't given it any thought. I'm not usually one to go with a pre-designed template as I like to create my own layouts, but I decided to have a browse anyway. The templates are pretty good actually, they span a broad range of industries and they don't scream ' template!' and I was really surprised to find one that I loved, that captured a big part of what my blog is about right now (I found it under the 'retail, sales and fashion' category):
When using a template, you can edit it to include your branding, of course, and you also have the option to add your own images. This neat Midcentury kitchen (I LOVE Midcentury design) was perfect as-is and needed only 'The Swelle Life' plunked in. I didn't need to create a logo file, one of the fonts offered was so similar to mine I just chose my colour (I kept the red because it worked best) and keyed it in, saving me some time.
Next was the reverse side. I've gone with double-sided business cards as long as I've had a need for cards and wouldn't want to go back, so I was happy to be offered this option (you have the choice of either at instantprint). This is what the template looked like for the reverse of the card:
When using a template you still have the option to design a side yourself, but I decided to use the general layout of the contact details and add an image to the right side, as well as a snapshot of my blog banner plus the Houzz logo as I'm a regular contributor (and obviously proud of it!). Here's a tip if you're also designing a card by adding an image to a template that you want to span the outer edges: save your design, then contact instantprint and ask them to check it (they provide this service free of charge and it's always a good idea to use it). There's a bleed that doesn't show on the user end but they can see it on the backend, and they can make an adjustment to be sure your photo extends the full bleed so that when there's a millimetre difference in the cutting process, you won't see a sliver of the orignal design peeking out. This happened with some of my cards, it' just one of those technical things that can occur, and although I told them I could live with it, they corrected the bleed and reprinted the whole lot and sent it to me straight away. Mistakes do happen, but the fact they were keen to make it right so quickly and thoroughly really impressed me.
So as you saw in the header photo, my cards look great and what you can't see is that they feel great as well. I'm guessing they have been printed on 450gsm silk card stock which is the luxury option (400gsm silk is the standard which is very high quality for a default option), it's a super-thick stock and has a wonderful matte feel. I've always been particular about having impressive cards and I think these may be my favourite so far, and I hardly did any work to achieve the result. If you want to design your own artwork but aren't confident doing it yourself, they offer a professional creative service for hire so it's worth a chat if you need help with your concept and design.
The usual price of 250 double-sided business cards on 450gms silk stock with a laminate finish (they offer matte, gloss and velvet), which would include all of the luxury options is £23.99 (including VAT) plus £4.99 for next day delivery, but when checking this I found that they're offering a discount on these options and you can get these 250 cards for £16 right now. That is a really good price, I've paid a lot more than their regular price at other online printers for laminated cards on stock that wasn't quite as high quality.
The final verdict: Would I use instantprint again? Yes. I'd gladly pay the full rate; the cards are the highest quality I've had, the online design system was straightforward and easy to use, the colour reproduction was excellent and they stand behind their product. And as I just mentioned, their regular price is far cheaper than what I'm used to paying, and for a better business card. A definite no-brainer!
Stylight is a dynamic online fashion community and shopping search engine that I've just had a go at playing around with after being invited to review the site. Fashion lovers have been connecting and sharing their new finds for four years in Germany, and just recently Stylight has launched in the UK. It's like window shopping with the bonus that you can engage with the items by 'hearting' and saving them to your fashion board as inspiration for yourself and other members. Your boards can be further customised with photos and text, and you can enhance your theme by adding a video or song - just put in the title or artist and Stylight will locate it for you. And if you find something that you absolutely must have beyond lusting for it on your monitor or phone screen, you can buy it from its originating shop.
Let me take you through it from the beginning so you can see how it works:
Go to stylight.co.uk. You can browse the site and check out member boards, shop from the Women and Men fashion categories - there are over 111,000 women's items to choose from! - or have a look through the Stylight magazine which has a good variety of current fashion stories, How Tos and interviews.
When you want to begin interacting, you'll need to register. It's a very simple and quick process, even if you use your email rather than Facebook to login. The Join button is at the top right of the menu on any page, or you can find it at the bottom of the homepage.
From here you can continue to browse the site for something that catches your eye - it may be a photo of a member showing off their unique personal style, a quote you like from their board, or a dress from the shop. Or, you can go straight into creating your own board using the big 'ADD' button that appears in the top menu once you've logged in.
I've created a board called 'Orla Daydreaming' (below) based on my love of Orla Kiely. There are lots of Orla pieces in the shop so I chose my favourite bags and dresses and added them to my board, along with a photo I took at Orla Kiely's SS12 presentation at London Fashion Week (it's important that any photos you upload to your board from your computer are your own). This adorable model was my favourite, all smiles of the genuine kind which is so rare! She really brought out the sunshine in the clothes and that inspired my quote. I finished off the board with a fittingly light and cheery song, Stereo Total's I Love You, Ono (apologies if it sticks in your brain, it'll do that!).
Once you're a member you can follow other members by hearting their boards, and their latest activity will show up in your feed. It's a great way to explore style options similar to your own, as well as expand your horizons by seeing how different styles look on other members which may work for you, too!
All in all, I like how the site flows - the layout is clean, the features are easy to navigate, and there's a lot to keep you engaged without being bombarded by visuals. In fact, you didn't really need my instructions, it's so simple there's not really anything to figure out! Have a go playing around, have some fun with the fashion, and if you've got some great style of your own share it with the Stylight community!
I'm a cider girl. I hadn't even tried cider, ever, before moving to the UK over seven years ago, but because of its prominence here - there's a renaissance happening and these days it's as popular as lager, thanks to Somerset's enduring commitment to the tradition of cider making - I was encouraged to give it a go.
As with wine and beer, not all ciders are created equal. There are some that could be served as apple juice and no one would know the difference. But I found my preferences fell somewhere between the super sweet and quite dry and I couldn't really find something my taste buds would stay loyal to. Not being a beer drinker (bar the odd framboise but does that really count?) and my tendency to become narcoleptic on literally a few sips of wine, never mind spirits (I'm fun, eh?), cider's appeal endured because it's crisp and fruity, and I've always liked bubbles.
Last week the family-run, Somerset-based cider producer Brothers sent me two of their new flavours to try: Festival Pear Cider, and Strawberry. The 500ml bottles arrived with their new spring/summer branding featuring vintage-style labels based on a drawing that the wife of one of the founding brothers made nearly 20 years ago. I was really up for trying them because a) as mentioned, cider is my go-to drink, and b) somehow I hadn't crossed paths with Brothers before and c) I love the berry ciders. Or at least I love the idea of them. My last favourite now just seems far too sweet so I found myself in cider limbo.
First, I opened the Festival Pear Cider which is a stronger concoction than their regular pear, and most other ciders, at 7%. I was pleasantly surprised to find after one crude swig straight out of the chilled bottle that its initial sweetness is cut with a drier finish. For me, this is the perfect balance. Next, and on a different day, I tried the Strawberry (4%) which is a pear cider with strawberry juice - Brothers specialty is Perry - and was almost in shock that this bright red liquid beaming from my glass wasn't overwhelmingly sweet. Yes it's sweet of course, you don't buy berry varieties expecting something else, but like the Festival Pear, it's nicely balanced. So thank you, Brothers, you're now my go-to cider. I can actually finish a whole bottle!
A little history on the company: Brothers Drinks Co. Limited was started in 1992 by the four Showering brothers whose family have been making Perry in Somerset since 1658, and whose grandparents were behind the successful Babycham from the 1950s! (I have some of their dainty vintage cocktail glasses with the adorable white deer on them.) Brothers began selling its cider exclusively at Glastonbury back in 1992, and since then, its following has continued to grow, loved as ‘the company that introduced pear cider to the UK.’ (They found that most folks didn't know what perry was and responded more favourably when they were offered 'pear cider'.) For the next 10 years the Brothers Bar became increasingly popular, so five years ago Brothers Cider was launched into the on and off trade, by popular demand, for the first time. Today they are the sixth largest cider company in the UK Off Trade Multiple Grocers, and one of the fastest growing cider brands in the market.
I think I've found a new snack obsession. The lovely people at Kallo sent me their latest products to try, the new Sweet Jumbo Rice & Corn Cakes in two flavours: Blueberry & Vanilla (£1.79 for 131g) and Caramel (£1.79 for 147g). I was excited to try them after hearing all of these great things about them: they are made from the finest wholegrain rice and corn with absolutely no artificial colours, preservatives, gluten containing ingredients or MSG, and contain just 0.2% fat, and only 36 calories for the Blueberry & Vanilla and 40 for the caramel flavour. But I was a little nervous that the flavouring was going be sickly sweet or artificial tasting, as is so often the downfall of both sweet and savoury store-bought snacks. Or that they would have that powdery texture that you have to be careful not to snort while trying to eat your treat!
I am so pleased to say after trying both that they have just the right amount of sweetness - even the caramel! They don't have that icky chemical taste thanks to a total absence of E numbers, and the flavour is nicely infused into the rice and corn. Even better is the texture which is exactly what you want - the rice and corn are chunky and give a good crunch that's very light. This is dangerous because it makes you want to devour the entire bag!
As you can see in the photos, I dressed up the Blueberry & Vanilla with some Greek-style yogurt, blueberries and mint, and although I've got a fork there I didn't use it - I just picked up the cake and went to town, and it wasn't messy at all thanks to the thickness of the yogurt (Greek and Baltic are my favourite for their thicker texture) and the fact that the cake does not crumble and fall apart when you bite into it. It's pretty satisfying as a dessert and is virtually guilt-free if you have it this way. They were also a hit with my daughter and I had to hide them so that I'd have some left to photograph!
I'll be buying more of these and will definitely be trying other products from the range, such as the savoury flavours and the snack size rice and corn cakes which are a healthier alternative to crisps and crackers.
Regardless of how adventurous we may be, it's always a comfort to feel a connection to the city we're visiting and avoid feeling like an outsider - no one really likes to read as 'tourist'! The best way to feel at home when traveling is to live in one, and onefinestay understands this well. Through their website you are matched to everything you want and need for accommodation in two of the world's greatest cities, London and New York, then you are provided with a service that offers all the convenience and comfort of a hotel. While staying in a distinctive residential home while the owner is out of town, guests enjoy luxury amenities like 5 star hotel linens and toiletries from The White Company (in London) and Kiehl’s (in New York). Every guest is also lent an iPhone for the duration of their stay to use for free local calls, and to acquaint you with and make the most of your new neighbourhood, the phone comes stocked with local tips from the home’s owner.
In addition to their luxury personal service, onefinestay stands apart from other rental sites thanks to the tightly curated selection of residential homes they offer - every room is so gorgeously decorated and well-featured that you'll quickly find yourself daydreaming as you browse the photos on the site; it's like choosing your travel accommodations from the pages of Architectural Digest. And still, many of the 1000+ homes offered are welcoming to families with babies and toddlers, so there's no sacrificing style when traveling with your little ones.
Prices range from £150 a night for a comfortable one bedroom apartment to £1495 a night for a grand townhouse. If you're traveling on a budget it's still well worth considering the less expensive options as you'll have your own kitchen, and being able to cook your own meals can significantly offset your living expenses. Distinctive options on onefinestay include a palatial apartment in Knightsbridge and a converted sugar warehouse with views across the Hudson, alongside unique homes such as the ex-industrial lofts of Tribeca and mews houses in Notting Hill.
Have a browse of onefinestay and see for yourself what a difference one of their gorgeous homes can make to your next visit to one of your favourite cities.
Fuelled by rave reviews from guests and hosts, onefinestay has expanded from just 6 host members in 2010 to more than 1000 across London and New York today.
A bright and spacious eat-in kitchen in South Kensington
This Hampstead home boasts bespoke furniture and many coveted architectural details
A large master bedroom in Primrose Hill features a terrace and French doors
Many of the homes on onefinestay feature private outdoor spaces and gorgeous gardens
It's getting closer and closer but I wanted to share some of my favourite products that are perfect for getting ourselves ready for festive events and also for gift-giving. Each are personal must-haves that I can recommend as products you can rely on to be of excellent quality and do what they promise. This is hugely important to us these days as no one wants to waste money - and time - on things that disappoint!
ghd hairdryer I'd given up on buying professional hairdryers after two purchases, a few years apart, turned out to be no better - and in the case of one, not even as good - as the cheap models I owned. I didn't see the point in spending four or five times the money unless the results were extraordinary (duh, a no-brainer obviously). My faith was unexpectedly restored when I tried the ghd air™ (£99) which promises to be "quicker and quieter with smoother and shinier results" due to its 2100W motor, body shape and advanced ionic technology. Let's focus on those words 'advanced ionic technology'. I've heard about this for a few years and paid no attention, I thought these were just the next beauty trend buzz words to get people to buy more products that they didn't need. ghd tells us this technology will "lock in moisture for softer, shinier results that last for longer, with far less frizzing". Is this even possible in a product made for drying? Well, when I first tried this model a few weeks ago my hair was in need of a cut - my back layers were starting to take on that awesome pom-pom look which is always the point of no return, and the ends also needed a good trim thanks to the dry heat in the house we can't get away from in winter. The first time I used the ghd air™ I noticed it was really quiet (I'd gotten used to my old one sounding like a jet taking off in my ear) and it felt nicely balanced and streamlined, a good weight without being too heavy. And yes, it was powerful and dried my long hair quickly. But what I couldn't believe was that when I was finished, my back layers were defined again and not hanging in a frizzy mass; it looked like I'd just had a haircut. Let me be clear: no one is lazier than me when it comes to blowdrying, I don't even use a brush while I'm doing it. I send that hair flying all over in a wild frenzy and then brush it out when it's all dry and hope for the best. My results were all down to this hairdryer and I'm still in disbelief at how well it works. I was able to put off my haircut for another three weeks and could have gone longer if I wasn't travelling to Toronto (that was my Christmas haircut). My hairdresser comes to me - mobile is so the way to go! - and I told her about my new magic dryer. She said she'd also been looking at it and asked if she could try it out on me. I said of course she could, other hairdryers are no longer allowed around my hair! She loved it and said she was going to ask for one for Christmas, and she also commented on the good condition of my hair before she'd cut it, she wasn't used to seeing it without the frizz. It's also great as a gift, presented in a very pretty, stud-embellished box. I can't recommend this hairdryer enough. It delivers what it promises.
Pure + simple Skin Restoration MaskandEye Brightening Cream As you know from my recent post gushing all over Pure + simple, I've been a huge fan of their holistic approach to skincare and wellness and have been using their natural, organic products for over a decade. I tried the Skin Restoration Mask ($16.45) a few weeks ago and when I saw that it left my skin incredibly soft and glowing and as smooth as glass, as if I'd done something far more extreme than applying a treatment, I realised how ideal it would be to put on before you go out on a special day or evening, as the first part of your makeup routine - you just don't want to waste that face at home! It is literally a mask, a gauzy piece you place over your face that's full of soothing rejuvenating ingredients. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to relax with it on so you get the full benefit (your eyes aren't covered so you can still see). For the eyes I love Pure + simple's Eye Brightening Cream. It's lightweight and has a firming and toning effect which is essential for me as I'm prone to allergies which make your eyelids feel 'loose' - not a good look. It includes a peptide complex that also helps to improve lymphatic circulation and elasticity to reduce under eye bags and puffiness (which I used to call My Morning Look). And dark circles are minimized by a flavone extract from the blue passion flower. Ultimately, I love the way it feels when I first put it on, like a breath of fresh air for your eyes. As always, the Pure + simple products deliver more than you had even hoped.
Zalando.co.uk During the holidays we're expected to dress up a few times, but I'm realistic and I always go for equal measures of looks and comfort. I know I'll be eating, so anything too restrictive around the waist is out, and I like a bit of stretch. But I still like nice details. Thanks to Zalando's wide range of clothing (massive, really) you can find any dress you need or want at any price point, and I found mine in this Private School jumper dress (£85). It's a stretchy knit (comfort!) that is easy through the waist (food!) and the intarsia collar and placket create a neat trompe l'oeil effect (detail!). It fits on the small side so you have to order up a size, but the quality is fantastic - the intarsia was perfectly knitted - and the shape is very flattering on the body. The black is nice and saturated, and the 'trim' is simple enough that you can play around with textured tights or go straight school girl with basic opaques. If weather permits, it looks fantastic with a simple black court shoe (or a bright if you're more daring), but if it's icy out and a heel means you'll wind up on your back on the pavement, this dress will also look great with a knee high wedge boot. (And don't most people want you taking your shoes off at the door anyway? I once had trouble getting a party guest who arrived with a friend of mine to take off her high heeled boots after coming in with slush all over them, she didn't want anyone to know how short she was. We already knew. When I pressed it she hopped up on the kitchen counter and stayed there most of the night.) And as for accessories? Styling can be fun, but I love it when the outfit is enough and a simple pair of earrings is all you need to finish the look. This is that dress.
Shapewear.co.uk Ok, this is a bit weird because I am showing you my underwear, though that's not me in them (but you can think that if you want to). On the left is the greatest underwear ever, called Edgies (£9.99) due to their breathable Wonderful Edge® silicone finish at the legs that keeps them in place, and it really does, without any rubbing or irritation. In other words, you won't be dying to get them off at the end of the day. They're made of a microfibre that is so fine it's like wearing nothing, so they're invisible and totally comfortable. I go with the boy short style but they also come in other styles. In the middle is the Body Wrap Boy Short (£19.95) which is also invisible, seamless, light and comfortable. I go for these when I'm wearing a dress for a bit more smoothness through the hip. They come in a range of fashion colours and I love the Diva Dot in beige. Lastly, because I have a drawer full of bodyshapers that I just hate because they have weird seams that show through clothes in unfortunate places, and are not at all comfortable to wear (rhymes with 'Spranx'), I tried something different to wear under jersey dresses that hide no secrets. The Full Smoothing Bodyslip (£32.95) is by the same people that make the Edgies, so it's seamless and the hem doesn't ride up. And you don't need to wear a bra with it, it's got molded cups with adjustable straps and it does the trick for me (still feeling weird about telling you this). It's only a '1' for control (the lowest level) but it definitely holds you in. And there it is! If you're frustrated with your shapewear or even just your every day wear (Edgies are awesome for jeans and working out) I highly recommend giving these a try. And they're not expensive either. Win-win!
Pure + simple's Kristen Ma explains why natural skincare is important for our health as well as beauty
Ten years ago, I walked into a beauty shop and spa next door to my office building at Yonge & Eglinton in Toronto. I'd worked next to Pure + simple for quite a while, but until that day had hesitated to venture in. The name suggested natural skincare, and I'd come to mistrust those who claimed to sell natural skincare products because I knew that a hugely popular, global company that based their entire philosophy on the concept were not as they appeared, and there had been an exposé on some smaller producers of 'natural' products mostly sold in health stores, which made me believe there was really no such genuine thing being sold commercially. (At this time I had no reference for Pure + simple, unaware of their stellar reputation in the city and many awards. I was still kind of new in town.)
Do the Opposite
I finally walked through their door when I'd had enough of being greeted by the oil slick on my face in the washroom mirror at work. I'd never had oily skin before and didn't know what was going on. I bought blotting papers but they were a temporary measure. (One day my male director appeared around the corner of my cubicle and found me with one stuck to my forehead and each cheek, I'd just left them on for some reason. I said "Um, I've got a bit of an oil problem." Better to be honest because it certainly warranted an explanation, he thought I'd decorated my face with Post-its.) So I found myself standing in Pure + simple when a young woman, with skin so clear and fresh it reminded me of what skin is actually meant to look like, approached. I told her about my problem and she explained that my skin was dehydrated and was compensating by producing more oil, and that I needed a heavier moisturiser to rehydrate and balance it. The last thing I wanted to put on my visibly oily skin was cream, especially a heavy one, but nothing I was doing was helping so I thought that sounded crazy enough to work. I bought the moisturiser she recommended and was really impressed that she was so confident about the principle behind what she was telling me, yet she was not at all pushy about it. I put it on that night and again in the morning. I remember the next day my face was hardly shiny at all and I couldn't believe how quickly it turned around, and the oil never returned. Needless to say, I went back. I wanted to know more.
Kristen Ma and Ayurveda
That vibrant young woman with the enviable complexion was Kristen Ma, co-owner of Pure + simple Inc., along with her mother Jean Eng. They created their first product range after finding nothing suitable on the market to address their skincare needs. I found out that there is a specific ideology behind their holistic spas that I wasn't familiar with - both are Ayurveda practitioners in addition to being highly skilled estheticians, and approach the attainment of beauty through health. Kristen explains it for us in her first book Beauty: Pure + Simple - a must-read for anyone frustrated with their skin despite having tried everything, or just not feeling generally well (the two go hand-in-hand). Ayurveda guides us to live in harmony and beauty, according to our individual constitutions, known as doshas, and our environment. Unlike western medicine which focuses on alleviating symptoms and conditions with drugs and surgery, Ayurveda searches for the root cause and treats ailments from this perspective. It specifically considers the characteristics of the individual, while understanding that our mind, body and environment are always changing. Makes good sense, eh? I've been on the other side of the Atlantic for the past seven years but I always come back to Pure + simple when I visit Toronto - they do the most heavenly facials which are second to none, I've got one booked just before Christmas - and their products and advice always straighten me out.
Although I've been a Pure + simple devotee for over a decade, somehow the only products I'd tried from their proprietary line were their organic hydrosols which I just love - I alternate between rose and lavender, the latter also being great for oily scalps and refreshing what I call 'plane face' after a long flight. All of my skin and body products had come from their shops but from other high quality natural and organic lines they carried. Well, recently I found out what I was missing and was also introduced to products from the new specialised Holistic Vanity lines for Damage Care and Rosacea Care, Kristen's brainchild. All are made locally in Toronto using undiluted and concentrated, organic, therapeutic ingredients harvested seasonally and are free from ALL of the harmful ingredients commonly found in commercial beauty products (you can see a list of the undesirables at the bottom of this page).
So what do I think? I love the completeness of the Damage Care line which offers a treatment for each sin you've put your skin through at one time or another resulting in cellular injury. I'm guilty of causing some: sun damage (when I was a teen they still sold suntan oil with no SPF!) which leaves you with hyperpigmentation that becomes more pronounced as you age, and the thing we all do even though we know we shouldn't - picking. Those little scars your mother warned you you'd cause if you didn't leave your spots alone but you'd escape to the bathroom to willingly annihilate your face in private? Got some. Add the effects of pollution, stress and free radical damage and pretty much anyone will have a skin issue that needs addressing.
These products gently yet effectively help improve specific damage symptoms:
Rejuvenating Rosewater Cleanser - It all starts with proper cleansing. This milk formulation hydrates depleted skin as it removes damaging surface impurities. My skin looks so fresh afterward as it contains absolutely no stripping agents to cleanse the skin.
Repairing Rosehip Skin Tonic - This tonic smells heavenly, thanks to water extracted from the rosehip fruit. Rosehip has been found to be excellent in treating pigmentation and is one of the only natural, non-bleaching ingredients to do this effectively. It's a treat to put on your face.
Edit: I clued in this morning that I didn't give the Rosehip tonic enough credit! I use it twice a day after cleansing and the lightning fast, almost complete removal of the hyperpgimentation on the sides of my face is probably due more to the tonic than the lotion below. The lotion surely does the job, too, but I use different moisturising products from this list on different days, and the tonic is consistently applied twice a day so I think I owe it the credit for this small miracle of a transformation. Use it with the brightening lotion below and you'll be rid of that 'dirty face' look in days. Seriously. It's been three weeks for me and there's hardly anything there.
Brightening Hyaluronic Lotion - Something about the combination of seaweed extracts and the 15 percent hyaluronic acid - one of the best actives for increasing skin hydration and encouraging cellular repair - makes this hyperpigmentation fighting lotion work. I'd only used it a few times and wasn't even looking for any improvement as it was so early, when I noticed that the 'sandy' look on the sides of my face was reduced, looking a lot less blotchy and now barely noticeable. Amazing. And it achieves this without bleach. (Why would you put bleach on your face?!)
Regenerating Seabuckthorn Berry Oil - This is the healing one, helping to repair skin marks, weak tissue immunity and scarring. Loaded with nutrients, it's great for undernourished skin types and it also provides topical protection as a shielding barrier for damaged complexions. I still get a little surprised when I pump it and see its bright crimson colour from the Seabuckthorn Berry oil. But don't worry, the addition of evening primrose oil prevents it from staining your skin. I feel like I'm giving my skin a hug when I put on this soothing oil.
Restorative Raw Argan Oil - When my skin is angry (those hormonal times so enjoyed by my loved ones) I turn to this oil that repairs broken out, sun damaged, and inflamed complexions and helps to restore balance and increase tissue health. Made with raw argan, this oil is crafted with care by the artisans of an all-female co-operative in western Morocco. Its entire extraction process is done completely by hand and sustainably, employing a zero-waste approach.
And I have one product from their excellent Rosacea Care line which is the Comforting Camellia Oil. I don't have rosacea but my skin can go red and blotchy for some reason at times, so I'm glad I have this on hand. It contains skin comforting Camellia (green tea oil) as well as the ancient Ayurvedic anti-inflammatory Turmeric (also known as curcumin), and permeates deeply to charge the skin with extra resilience.
Don't be afraid of using these oils on on your face - all Pure + simple oil products are free of petrolatum and parabens and are non-comedogenic, meaning they will not cause breakouts. I can attest to this!
We've had some face-stripping windy and bitter weather here by the sea recently, and if my skin isn't protected properly I come home looking looking like a fine leather glove left on the radiator to dry out (I know what this looks like because I stupidly did this once). So on those days I've been using Pure + simple's Nourishing Sunflower Cream with an oil on top of that, and not once have I come in from the cold resembling a wizzened leather good. And you can blot with a tissue if you look oily, but I've never needed to, it absorbs completely into my skin and you would never know I put oil on my face. I always rub the excess oil left on the palms of my hands onto the backs, and from just this tiny amount I have seen a major transformation in how old my hands look. (Has anyone else looked down only to be horrifed that your hands look 20 years older than your face?) I am now a total oil convert. As long as it's Pure + simple.
For more advice on how to find that healthy balance visit Kristen's blog Holistic Vanity, and see her fantastic YouTube channel for all kinds of insightful videos including collaborations with other Toronto experts on topics such as healthy digestion, anti-inflammatory diets and DIY all- natural styling and beauty products.
Two Sundays ago I went down to Darlington to Bannatyne's Health Club to review their 2 For 1 Pamper Day for Virgin Experience Days (£75). Needless to say, I didn't need asking twice. (And if there was ever a time for destressing, this was it. I was this <-> close to doing the crazy dance down the street in the middle of the night, possibly without pants.) The package included a choice of a Swedish Back, Neck & Shoulder Massage or Bannatyne Pick me Up Facial, finished with a scalp massage, plus full use of the health club facilities. When I booked the appointments for myself and the friend I'd invited to join me, I chose the Swedish massage and also took advantage of a half price offer to add an extra half hour service at £15, and I went with the Elemis facial because I had a sinus infection and thought my face could use something nice beyond nasal sprays and tissues shoved into it. (That could have backfired - I'd forgotten that my left eyebrow hurt when touched!) I was so looking forward to this relaxing and fun girls' day, though I did wonder if anything could be capable of chilling me out completely - my homeostasis had become 'hot mess'.
Little did I know the calming powers of this lovely pamper day were going to be truly tested. The day got off to a rough start when something happened on my way down to Darlington and made me see red. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to enjoy it and feared the day was ruined before it began. When I got to Bannatyne's, I checked in and was offered the spa kit of a plush and comfy white robe, slippers and a bag for £3, the latter two you can keep. I took it. Beyond the desk was the cafe which had lots of couches and magazine racks for relaxing with your refreshments, and there were about eight women in their robes and slippers having coffee which I thought was kind of neat - I didn't have to get dressed to have lunch! (Yes, that is exciting to me.) The staff were very friendly and I was taken on a tour of the facilities, then left to do whatever I wanted for the next four hours, at which time I would start my spa appointments. My friend was joining me a little later so I went off to change.
I was already feeling optimistic. Some places meant for relaxation don't feel quite right, as if the spa has been shoehorned into a gym and there are two opposing vibes happening at once, but Bannatyne's has a warm calm that runs through the entire place, it seems everyone is there for the same reason and are respectful of others and so are very whispery. In the changeroom, which is large and spacious with a flat screen TV and wood lockers and benches which made it feel very homey, I noticed straight away how new looking and clean everything is, and very well-attended. Staff were always around taking care of things - no Sunday skeleton crew here. This was consistent throughout the entire complex, and I realised how rare that is these days now that doing the bare minimum seems to be the norm.
I decided I would start with the tough stuff and went up to the first level of the gym. I chose to really challenge myself with a brisk walk on the treadmill. (Ok, I've had a torn meniscus, running and me do not mix. But I did raise the incline!) Then I went up to the floor above for a change of scenery and proceeded to do every single weight machine. I know you're supposed to only work out two or so muscle groups at once but who knew when I was going to have access to a gym again, so I really went for it. I loved the machines - they were more innovative than what I've previously seen despite being in some very modern gyms in the past, working out the muscles in new ways. (I was careful not to load too much weight so that I could move the next day, and I'm glad to say that I did not wake up decrepit and unable to dress myself.)
Once the sweaty stuff was over it seemed logical that I go for a swim and sauna. The pool area, like the rest of the club, looked brand new. For me, and likely every other human being, I can't enjoy swimming if the area is even slightly grungy so I was thrilled at how shiny and perfectly clean it all was. I went into the pool and took the slow lane. I attempted to swim and realised my arms were too tired from doing so many weight machines - big surprise - so I did a kind of slow-motion sprint in the water for several laps and tried to convince myself that it looked totally normal to be doing this. After that I thought I'd have a first-time go at the steam room. I'm not really good with breathing in saunas and therefore had never tried a steam, but I wanted to so I opened the door, couldn't breathe while still standing outside it and said to the woman sitting in there 'Uh, I can't do this!' and closed the door. I'm sure she appreciated that. I wasn't totally giving up and so I went into the sauna next to it. There was a young couple in there and we chatted a bit which kept me in there for a lot longer than I thought I'd be able to do. And then the magic happened. When I walked out, I felt something I'm not sure I've ever felt before: true relaxation - it does exist! That thing that had me so vexed earlier was now like a baby deer prancing around on candy floss in my head, it was all good. And it was going to get better. I got out of the wet stuff and after a huge tuna and veg salad in the cafe - in my robe! - I went up to the relaxation room and decided immediatey that I would like to live in this room. It had those spa loungers that are made of heated tiles, and two waterbeds covered with thick velour blankets, and I wish I had a room at home with one of each. (Lottery tickets.) There was a table that was being replenished of pitchers of ice water and platters of fresh fruit - see, well-attended! - and so I poured a glass, took a banana and a magazine and luckily got a heated ounger after a few minutes. Heaven. My friend joined me a few minutes later and we hung around until it was time to go down to the spa for our appointments.
It says a lot about a place when you're completely at ease before you've even had your services! I had to ask for an upgrade to my massage because my back, well my everything really, is one huge monkey fist and a gentle Swedish massage was going to be like trying to move a ton of concrete with a feather. So I had the bamboo massage for an extra £5 and it was a good compromise between a deep tissue which would have left me really sore, and the Swedish. It was nice, loosened me up without killing me, and then we went straight into the facial. My aesthetician, Gemma, was lovely and gave me the heavenly scalp massage while one of the masks was doing its magic. Afterward, we wanted to let the feeling linger a little longer (forever) and so we went back up to the relaxation room which we now had all to ourselves. I took the waterbed and felt so relaxed that I wished I could somehow ride that bed home all the way home, get it through the front door and stay on it until morning.
Needless to say, my Pamper Day at Bannatyne's was a resounding success - I highly recommend going yourself to your local or buying a voucher as a gift for friends or family. I only wish we had one in Newcastle. But I'll be going back. I've got a steam room to conquer.
Recently I was asked by Zalando.co.uk to review something from their site, and after spending hours contemplating a wishlist I'd whittled down from thousands of items (and that was just the dresses and shoes!), I decided on the 'Amy' printed dress by Komodo, £40. My criteria was simple: it had to be light, comfortable and not waist-centric (something belted at this moment would be like putting a rubber band around a telephone pole), yet it should be flattering, of course. Always a sucker for blue, I was instantly attracted to the petrol floral and leaf print dress I found when I searched the 'jersey' options.
I needed something light to take with me to Toronto when we go for our annual visit in July. Ontario in summer is a place where leather and vinyl seats are not your friend and will try to become one with you against your will. Walking out of Pearson Airport to what might as well be the surface of the sun, you need to be wearing as little clothes as possible, yet still maintain your dignity. And lord help you if you don't like your arms or legs because sleeves and long pants in 46° C with the Humidex will microwave you where you stand.
When I received the dress - all orders are delivered free - I could immediately tell that the cotton was organic which is one of the fabrics Kimodo is known for, the other two being hemp and soy. It is super-soft and has that lovely raw, natural colour, and the print was pretty and nicely saturated, as I'd expected. The fit was quite snug for a dress in a size I normally take which was medium, and I was going to exchange it - returns are free within 30 days via the Yodel Collect+ service in your area - but I kept putting it off, and funny enough I lost a few pounds in the meantime (thank you, pink bicycle!), and now it looks pretty good! It's super-comfy, and when it inevitably clings to me when I dare venture out of the comfort of air-con, that won't be such a bad thing.
I remember the rollers that my mum would put in my hair when I was little, they were similar to these Sleep-in Rollers (above) in that they were pink and foam, but they had a built-in plastic clip that locked them in which didn't feel too good while sleeping. It made me have dreams that my head was caught in a chicken-wire fence. And then when I was a bit older, my hair was curled with these hard plastic steam rollers that had notches on them, they were really heavy and poked your scalp, and I'm pretty sure they were a torture device modified into a beauty product. As a teen I tried the cut-up rag method. I twisted each tiny section super-tight, just to be sure, and tied a strip of torn pillow case around each one. When I undid them in the morning - and I'm not exaggerating even slightly - the sides of my hair were parallel with the top of my head. I looked like Roseanne Roseannadanna. I tried to put a hat on to flatten it and looked like this.
Curling irons, no matter the size of the barrel, also proved disastrous. Some pieces wouldn't curl at all, and the ones that did looked like transplants from the head of a 1980s cheerleader. It's been years and years since I gave up the notion of big, bouncy hair. But I'd been thinking about trying again, I have long brown hair that reminds me daily that I only have one trick: the blow-out. So when I received an email about Sleep-in Rollers recently, a nice and simple foam roller just like the originals and covered with Velcro, I asked if I could review a set. Lovely Loti sent me two packs of 10 rollers each and a pink storage bag, which is what you get when you buy a set (currently priced at £16.50) plus a pouch of Kirby hair grips which you can purchase separately (£3.50), or use your own if you already have them. (The rollers stay put on their own but the grips will keep them snug so you get the most out of your curl.)
So the other night I went for it. I followed the recommendation that they work best on clean, dry hair. Because I take three times as long to do anything (my husband will eagerly confirm this), and I've never been good at doing my own hair, I was expecting I'd be at the bathroom mirror until my eyes were about to fall out. To my delight, I had my hair rolled in 10 minutes and they were so light I kept forgetting I had a head that had doubled in circumference. And despite the length of my hair I had three rollers left over, so the set should be enough for mostly everyone.
Time for the real test: could I have a good night's sleep in them? The foam core is meant to flatten when you lie down. So I put my head on the pillow. At first it felt like I had two pillows under my head. I could feel the Velcro touching my scalp, but it didn't hurt or itch. It couldn't have been bad because I was soon asleep and slept through the night. I think once you settled into the pillow, the rollers slowly collapse so they become more comfortable a few minutes on. In the morning I couldn't feel the same sensation I felt when I first put my head down.
And the final test: did my hair curl? I took them out and had noticeably bouncy hair with a lot of body, which was exactly what I was going for. I didn't use heat or any product, not even hairspray, and I've still got volume the next morning.
Final verdict: I will use my Sleep-in Rollers again, and that's saying a lot coming from someone who has no patience for fussy or time-consuming grooming rituals and is totally inept at hair styling.
The books I loved most as a little girl had two elements in common: lovely and colourful pictures, and enchanting stories. The stuff of wonderful daydreams that made childhood magical. As the years have passed, I've found that through their vivid imagery and words, these affections have remained firmly embedded in the mind and in the heart.
So what a treat is to continue the tradition, thanks to Birds of a Feather Shop Together, a gorgeous and witty book of 'Aesop's Fables for the Fashionable Set', adapted by author Sandra Bark who serves up life lessons with delicious fashion savvy. Bil Donovan masterfully brings the fables to life with his vibrant watercolour and ink illustrations, taking the anthology from bookshelf to proud display.
It's such a joy to read; a fashion and beauty indulgence that feels a bit of a guilty pleasure until you reach the end of the tale and see that fashion and morals can indeed coexist! The original stories are found at the back of the book, though once you've read Bark's there's no going back.
This book has become one of my daughter's favourites, and when I have to put it down because it's bedtime, she invariably reaches over and opens it back up to have a longer look at Bil's illustration for that story. I love that this book is one she'll remember for the rest of her life.
Birds of a Feather Shop Together is a hardcover book (the cover has a gorgeous texture with brilliant colour saturation), published by Harper Collins, and includes 17 illustrated stories plus their originals. It is available to buy for £12.95.
Huge thanks to Bil Donovan for introducing me to this beautiful book. It is much loved.
About the author and illustrator:
Sandra Bark is a New York Times bestselling author who collaborates on books with notable figures. The founder and curator of the street art blog the Scenic Sidewalk, Sandra lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Bil Donovan is a fashion illustrator whose work has appeared in various publications and advertising campaigns worldwide. A brand ambassador for Christian Dior Beauty, he teaches fashion illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology and is the author of Advanced Fashion Drawing: Lifestyle Illustration and illustrator of The Dress Doctor. He lives in New York City.
To read about Bil on The Swelle Life, including our interview, browse the Bil Donovan category here.
Here's a look at some the book's stunning story illustrations, by Bil Donovan:
'Birds of a Feather' - the level of detail is just incredible!
My new Lacoste Chantemars from Zalando.co.uk having a moment in the garden
I know, they're not terribly exciting. I have some very exciting shoes in my closet - hot pink patent Sergio Rossi glads, Fendi braided platforms, Proenza Schouler peep-toe studded heels. But how often do I get to wear them? Hardly ever, and when I do I am in the kind of pain where I would eagerly trade them for giant clown shoes if they gave me some relief. So I don't need any more sexy-pain shoes. I need foot-friendly shoes I can slip on, every day comfy ones that would go with just about anything but still look put together. Flats and plimsolls are out because they have no arch support, a heel makes no sense for me even if tiny, and I can't walk on wood - no clogs! - so the obvious choice is a wedge.
Zalando.co.uk gave me £40 to spend on any item from their site, and I had to go with a shoe option as I was desperate for something seasonal to replace the MBT boots I've been wearing mercilessly since September.
I saw the Lacoste Chantemar leather raffia wedges, and since I do like the classic style of a slingback and the height was a sensible 2" that would allow me to dash to the metro without breaking my leg if I was running late (which is always), I ordered them in navy at £65. I had read customer reviews and the consensus seemed to be that Lacoste shoes fit a bit large, so I went down half a size and they were the perfect length. They're comfortable (I've been wearing them around the house like slippers), they look good and they appear to be made with solid construction (an absolute must!). And I like that the cover sole is textile as is the interior of the upper, so I'll avoid getting sweaty and slippy-slidey while walking around on a hot day. Just one thing to note - the back strap fits a tiny bit loose. I do have a very narrow foot, but I've never had a problem with the strap fitting. It's not so loose that I can't walk in them, and feet do hot up quickly and swell when you hit the pavement, so I'm keeping them, considering all other boxes were ticked. Also, I think the elastic bit could be tightened by a shoemaker if it was crucial.
Now, I just need some proper spring weather so I can take my lovely new shoes for a stroll!
(Fun fact: Daniel Day-Lewis left acting for a time after making The Boxer to apprentice as a shoemaker in Florence, Italy!)
I was given a £40 voucher by Zalando.co.uk to spend on anything in the shop and I chose the Nümph Amalie dress. I know what you're thinking - with all of the pretty dresses out there, why something so plain? Well, here's why. Jersey is comfortable, grey is easy and classic, and the skater style accommodates holiday gluttony very well. (That is an essential at the moment). It can be accessorised with just about anything you've got in your drawer and you can wear it over and over without getting sick of it. (I have and it washes very well, no pilling!)
I also had my eye on some maxi dresses but those will have to wait until my life is a bit more glamorous. (I have May 17 marked in my diary as the big day where everything turns sparkly, we'll see if it pans out.)
Does this dress, and the idea of wearing it over and over, remind anyone else of that Seinfeld episode where the girl Jerry's dating wears the same black and white skater dress every time he sees her? He's intrigued as to whether it's the same dress or she has a whole wardrobe of them, or that he just keeps seeing her when she's done laundry, like it's the first outfit in the rotation. (You can always tell when a (straight) man writes about women's things, like we have set days for certain clothes. "Yay! It's cranberry tunic with skinny jeans Monday!")
So they go back to hers so she can change, and while she's in her room Jerry can't resist the urge to peak in her closets and gets caught. She tells him the night is over and later he calls to see her again (so he can decipher the mystery, of course) and here's what happens:
Recently I was asked by Zalando.co.uk to review one of their items, and remaining true to form I went straight for the cute summer dresses. I was given a £40 voucher to spend and chose this cute Crepe Burnout Butterfly Dress at £44.95 by Ruby Rocks.
I wanted something easy and cool for the oppressively hot and humid Toronto weather I was about to be dealing with - it's brutal! - but something that still covered and had some shape. I liked the crochet edging all over the dress and thought the band on the loose waist would nicely accommodate my plans to shamelessly indulge in Toronto's fantastic food - so far so good! The crepe is nice and light and a lovely deep pewter colour. For those who don't love their arms (me at the moment), the short drop sleeves are the perfect style for coolness and coverage, and the wide crochet in lieu of a seam acts like little vents.
The dress has side slits edged in crochet which were a surprise as they weren't shown or mentioned on the product page, and at first I was worried they would make the dress a bit more 'leggy' than I'd like, but they are on the shorter side and aren't particularly revealing. All modesty remains intact and they're a cute feature.
I should also mention this dress is very comfortable, so much so that I slept in it last night! I'd like to blame lingering jet lag for my laziness, please.
This post is sponsored; however, the content is original (obviously)
Admittedly, I am well past the hoodie phase of dressing. But I do remember the days, during my raver era (not the candy kind, I never had fun fur pants) when a hoodie was essential kit for comfort when leaving a club at 8am. The hood and its accomplice, big dark sunglasses, were the perfect cover when I needed to walk the streets home, incognito, amongst the productive, early risers who were on their way to work on a sunny Sunday morning. It felt conspicuous and awkward to be caught out being nocturnal, and it was then I realised I would never succeed at being a vampire.
Looking at BANK Fashions Women's Hoodies I see a few styles that have nice details beyond the standard issue. Ribbon ties add a soft touch, duffle fastenings are neat and remind me of Paddington Bear which is always a good thing, and the red military style makes me want to grab some xylophone sticks and play some notes on its sequined frogging. Very cute.
I cannot end a post about hoodies without mentioning what just may be (let's hope) the craziest hoody ever conceived of. Our Judith of Frankly Frankland is a huge Tupac fan. She could not resist snapping up a most ridiculous piece of memorabilia. It's a huge, hooded, white sweatshirt with Tupac's image on the front. He's wearing his blue gangsta bandana on his head - a real one! - and a big gold chain around his neck - a real one! - with a diamonte cross hanging from it. It's like thug découpage. Note to self: photograph Judith wearing that awesome mess very soon.
This review is sponsored; however, the content is 100% original and reflects my personal views of the company and their products
I'd always dreamed of visiting Paris before finally taking my first unforgettable trip in 2008. Before then, whenever I wanted to feel close to France I would buy something from L'Occitane. A simple bar of their lovely lavender soap would bring a bit of that beautiful calm I'd always associated with the French countryside.
I was thrilled to discover that behind the Provençal charm of the boutique and its products is a history of traditional technniques used to procure high quality, natural ingredients. L'Occitane founder Olivier Baussan took inspiration from his childhood in Provençe and began his business in well-being by producing pure Rosemary essential oil, using an old steam distiller. The villagers loved it and L'Occitane was born.
These traditions are alive and well today, and make their sensitive skincare products especially effective for the most sensitive of skins. Shea and organic cotton-based, the range is free of perfumes, colourants, alcohol or preservatives to minimise the risk of allergic reaction. In fact, L'Occitane is known for its shea, they've been producing shea butter products for 20 years. Its protective properties are very nourishing for skin and hair and there is also a regenerative quality to the rich butter of this wonderful African nut.
Enhancing the Provençal experience is L'Occitane's delicious selection of Eau de Toilette fragrances. I am absolutely in love with their Cherry Blossom scent. It's like spring in a bottle and its fresh and delicate sweetness is instantly uplifting and perfect for daily wear. I hadn't used a perfume in years but this scent changed my mind about wearing a fragrance, instantly. Très joli!
Can you ever have enough tea dresses? Recently I was offered the opportunity to review an item of my choice under £50 from JoeBrowns.co.uk. Staying true to type I immediately went searching for a pretty frock and found an extensive selection of women's dresses. While there's a range of styles to suit most occasions, the common link was ease and comfort - perfect as I was hoping my choice would take me through long days of walking around Paris next week in warm spring weather.
In the end, my love of 40s styling, florals and pale blue won me over and so I went with the Flippy Tea Dress, priced at £29.95. It fits on the larger side so I had to go down a size (which I certainly didn't mind) and it's very open in the front, so you need to wear a little camisole under it and expect that you will see a lot of it as the ruffle will flip out unless you pin it down. (That just reminded me I have two 1930s silk and crochet camisoles that would be a pretty complement to the ruffle neckline.) The waist is high and elasticated - much appreciated during a week of gorging on French pastries - which is covered by a tie belt. My favourite detail is the little front fabric covered, loop-fastened buttons.
The fabric is a gorgeous pale blue with rose and cherry coloured flowers and little white dots all over, in a very soft viscose. The easy style and softness of the fabric make it extremely comfortable, so much that I considered sleeping in it! I didn't want to take it off.
I'd recommend this dress for pretty and super-comfy daily wear - just remember to have that camisole on hand and you'll have a lovely 40s style outfit.
Get in the suitcase Flippy Tea Dress, you're coming to Paris!
A while back I was asked by Misikko.com to review two hair products, Hana Shine Shield and CHI Silk Infusion. I'm a pretty good candidate for trialing any product that is meant to make hair more manageable and healthy looking as I've got long hair, about six inches from my waist. There's a lot of it but it's fine and can puff out if I've got even very long layers in the back, which I do right now. No one likes a bunch of pom-poms hanging from their head! I don't have the time or patience to section all of that hair so it all lies flat when I blow-dry it; I'm more the type to fire up the dryer, blow my hair all around on high speed, high heat, making a half-hearted attempt to brush it as I'm doing so. Whatever it looks llike after five minutes is what it looks like and that's how I go out of the house(at least I can't be accused of being vain!). It usually works fine but it really does bug me when the back puffs out, and I'm not going to use a straight-iron on it just to do the school run and work from home!
I was curious to see if these two products made my hair sleek enough to combat the problem, and most importantly, could they do it without weighing down my fine hair and making me look like I hadn't showered in a week? I hadn't found a product yet that delivered on this promise and I had given up buying any more. Hana Shine Shield ($29.99 for 6oz) is a thermal serum that promises lightweight, 'never greasy' conditioning that restores both hair and scalp from environmental and styling stress, with 'unparalled shine'. CHI Silk Infusion ($12.99 for 2oz) is an alcohol-free restructuring complex formulated for thermal styling and hair repair and also promises silky shine.
So, I tried them. I applied them to towel-dried clean hair and then blow-dried as I usually do. I can't tell the difference between the two products, they both give me the same results and they're good: my hair was sleeker and softer - no puffballs! - and you couldn't see the product at all, there was no greasiness even when I used it close to the roots in the front. And if I added more product I still couldn't see it, you still won't get a greasy look even if you use a generous amount, even on fine hair. As for the shine, I only colour my hair about once a year just to boost my natural colour so it's pretty shiny already after I wash and condition, but I think it does add some extra shimmer.
But the real test is whether you continue to use the product and will you miss it when it's gone? I've now been using them for months (I wanted to give a very honest and accurate review) and I don't blow-dry without them. And I will replace at least one of them when they're gone and I'm not sure which as they both do the job.
So I highly recommend either of these products. Who knew after years of wasting money that something would actually work?
Now, I must admit I wouldn't normally think of G-Star when it comes to choosing jeans for myself, a situation which presented itself recently when I was asked to review an item of my choice from www.box-clothing.co.uk. As you may have guessed, I'm not really the typical G-Star girl, I like things that are more understated that quietly hope for attention. Clothes with good manners that invite polite conversation. G-Star, or G-Star RAW I believe is their proper name, from what I gather from what I see around town, are a bolder, darker, raw and youthful brand, though they seem to be leaning toward refinement in the finishes and cuts of their New York Fashion Week showpieces.
I really needed jeans but wasn't sure I'd find something that would suit me. It's tough with jeans, you know how it is. You don't see anything you like after unfolding at least two dozen pairs, or you see a pair that looks appealing, you get them on and suddenly your bum has been transformed into something that resembles a dehydrated apple (actually, that image is from observing Mr. Swelle trying on jeans a few months ago - it's no easier for guys. My 'apple' would be the opposite of dehydrated.)
My criteria for a potentially viable pair included the following: not too light in colour or weight, not overly 'whiskered', pockets not too long, pockets not too small (we've all seen that, tiny pockets that looked lost in the middle of each seemingly disproportionate cheek and I must ask 'Why?'), a good wash without being overly done (I've seen jeans that I swear were meant to look like a flock of pigeons splattered all over them), and very important - good stretch.
And I found them! There was one pair from G-Star RAW, their Ocean Slim Fit that looked like a winner, the wash was exactly what I like, the pockets were proportionate and they have a neat zipper on them. When I received them they were just as they looked on the site - the photos here are mine - and the jeans have really good stretch which you want and need in a skinny.
Now here's the rub. They're too small. That's because I ordered a bit smaller than my regular size. Why? Because there was no way I was wasting a new pair of jeans on my 'temporary body'. Temporary because I'm trying to shed the weight I gained unwittingly while on a medication and I don't plan for it to stay this way for much longer. I know you're laughing and shaking your head. 'You silly, silly girl', you say. Well, maybe. But we all need something to shoot for.
Based on appearances, I think they're good value at £109 considering you can spend double or triple that on a pair that uses cheaper denim, doesn't 'give' or looks weird.
So when my new jeans fit - and they will! - I'll be back with an outfit post. Accessorised with a giant smile.
My bum will be filling these out one day. Soon I hope.