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Knitwear designers studying in Italy are invited to enter the Knitting for Juliet competition launched by Fashion Ground Academy of Italian Design READ MORE...
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It was not possible to walk past Nicholas Rose's luminous, contoured lamp shades at 100% Design the other week, I felt like a moth drawn to a flame. READ MORE...
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think we could all use a dose of soft, pretty and innocent right now. Paul Costelloe brought his unabashed femininity to the runway READ MORE...
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Carmen Dell’Orefice...if this is what being in your 80s looks like then I'm looking forward to it! The legendary model, who once declared to Vanity Fair, “If I die, it will be with my high heels on”, is set READ MORE...
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This is what 'sex on a motorcycle' hair looks like! Well, it does to Jean-Pierre Braganza. For his SS15 show, 'Architectonic', he asked the Toni & Guy session team READ MORE...
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The film series, #UnlockArt, produced by Tate and supported by Le Meridien, concluded with the release of the last of eight films, What's So Funny?, decided by an online poll READ MORE...
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The Design and Craft Fair, MADE LONDON, returns to One Marylebone 24-26 October to present the very best in contemporary craft and design. Showcasing over 120 READ MORE...
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October 20, 2014

Review: JML Magic Layer Top


I was recently asked if I would like to review the Magic Layer top from JML, which you may have seen advertised. When I read that the top promises to retain heat yet doesn't feel like you're wearing an extra layer due to the ultralight Tactel fabric, I was curious. I hate feeling cold - who doesn't? - and right around that time we had our first few chilly days of the season and I was not ready. As I've mentioned, I live right by the sea and there's a damp chill in autumn and winter (and sometimes spring and summer) that can't be escaped by going indoors, thanks to the general lack of insulation. (This Canadian will forever lament the lack of pink stuff behind the walls in British homes!) Add to that my grudging resolution to make it to November without turning on the heat because it is just so painfully expensive, and I have the ideal conditions in which to try out the top both in and out of the house. I decided to wear it one morning when my phone was telling me that it's currently 7 degrees but feels like 4, and is windy. You know, those dark, gloomy mornings when you just want to cry but you settle for a huff and feeling sorry for yourself. 

I received my top in black in size Small/Medium (it also comes in white and beige and in size Large/Xtra Large). I would know right away if it was something I would wear, regardless of its heat-retaining capabilities, based on whether it was comfortable or annoying. I've got lots of stretchy scoop-neck tops but I would never wear one under a jumper, that would just feel weird, so would this 'Magic Layer' do the trick without making me look and feel like the Michelin man? I put it on. It is remarkably light, like a couple of layers of mesh, yet it was surprisingly opaque. Maybe the black is especially forgiving and I suppose it depends on how tight the top fits you - mine was snug but not taut - but it certainly didn't leave me feeling like I wasn't dressed. I was dressing for chilly weather and I was going to be walking near the sea, so I put on a wool turtleneck jumper that also fits close. I was very happy to find that I was completely unaware of anything underneath. The top moves with you and adds no bulk whatsoever, and doesn't constrict around bent elbows. I went out and I wasn't cold. Of course I was dressed properly with a coat and therefore it was kind of hard to tell. So I did an experiment when I got home. I sat by a window with just the jumper on. (And pants and socks, I mean I just took off the Magic Layer!) I was cold. Then I put the other top back on under the jumper and sat down again in the same place. I was noticeably warmer. It made a big difference. It's hard to say whether simply having a second layer did the trick or it was the special fabric, but what I did appreciate is that I could be warm and still comfortable. It kind of sucks having to put on a bunch of bulky layers in your own house or trying to fit them all under your coat when going out, so it's worth it for the fact that it really does feel like nothing. However, a few unseasonably lovely days returned but I had already gotten used to wearing the top underneath which is the real test, that you will make it part of your routine, and I immediately felt really hot once I got outside. I had to take it off as soon as I got home, so I think there is actually something magical in that Tactel. 

In case it's not obvious, my verdict is that the Magic Layer does its job of keeping you warm while remaining undetectable. I would advise tucking it in because it does have a tendency to roll up, but you can't even feel it when it does, it's that light. I just noticed when I specifically went to check where it was. I'm buying two more because I can't find where I put mine after taking it off the other day and I don't want to head out on a chilly morning without it! I think it works well psychologically as well as physically, I feel better just knowing it's on. Pretty good for something that costs £12.99. 

August 09, 2014

Transseasonal Dressing: The Asymmetric T-Shirt Dress


As mentioned many times, I like to fill my wardrobe with pieces I can wear beyond a season, especially in the UK where you're never really sure what season it's supposed to be. And storage is at a premium for most of us. It's just smart. So no, I don't have a rainbow selection of cut-offs filling my drawers. (For various reasons.)

My newest favourite that fits the bill is this asymmetric t-shirt dress in blue dip-dye jersey from Label Lab. House of Fraser invited me to select a piece from their womenswear range, and I almost went for a tank maxi in orange to wear for my summer in Canada. Then I saw this dress, and knew it was the one. I could wear it all year round for all kinds of things. I don't dress up much and tend to be on the casual side but never want to look like I don't care. (The actual look of me really not caring is frightening. I could never go out like that!) Extreme asymmetric hems can look outdated, but cut on a slight angle across the knees and in a fitted, t-shirt style, it just always seems current for some reason. Kind of edgy. The body is cut so that the waist gathers on one side which is much more flattering than the straight t-shirt dress which doesn't transfer from warm to cool seasons, but this one does. The jersey has a bit of weight to it which is important. A trans seasonal style means nothing if the fabric is so sheer and delicate that it looks like Tinkerbell's tissue.

Wear the asymmetric t-shirt dress with sandals or flip-flops for summer; ankle boots, tights and a biker or bomber jacket for autumn and winter. Done! Those cool blue are season neutral, and ombre doesn't seem to ever go away - it always looks good if the colours are rich. At just £34.30 (regular price £49), this dress offers a lot of long-term options without breaking the bank. 

June 24, 2014

Book Review: Land/Sea Vol. 1


I opened the cover of a new landscape photography periodical I had just received called Land/Sea  and began browsing the photos and words as I walked into my kitchen. Twenty minutes later I realised I had been blithly oblivious, planted in the middle of the room, completely entranced by its pages. I felt like I'd just been on a wonderful trip. 

This stunning piece of escapism is the first volume of Land/Sea, a labour of love conceived by the founders of Triple Kite Publishing, photographers David Breen and Dav Thomas. Through the periodical they seek to showcase the very best of the UK's most innovative landscape photographers. Cleverness with soul. You'll see. 

What I love most about this volume is the range of diverse styles. Each edition will feature five photographers with a distinct view - articulated in accompanying interviews as well - so as you transition from one collection of photos to the next you are presented with a different perspective on landscapes. Some are rather traditional but no less breathtaking as Al Brydon illustrates with his somberly saturated and stunningly contrasted Peak District images on film; while others are like non-representational design - see Joe Wright's photos below - at times only discernable as landscapes through their context. All employ a keen eye, enviable technical skill, and an intriguing subject to tell the photographer's story. Take Valda Baily, whose impressionist style using in-camera techniques and deliberate motion creates stunning compositions out of what is otherwise ordinary:

Theswellelife-land-sea-valda-bailey (1 of 1)Valda Bailey's impressionist style of landscape photography can be irresistibly dream-like

Alas, the traditional representation is not to be discounted; it holds its own against the more experimental techniques and can be just as compelling. Finn Hopson has a way of presenting the familiar with a touch of magic. You'll recognise his landscapes from your drives through the country, but Hopson gives something extra so you stop and take in the scene in a way you may not have otherwise noticed. 

The flowing textures of the fields defined by the green of the grass peeking through the snow in this work are particulary lovely:


Joe-wrightJoe Wright's photos have a bold graphic quality that allows us to view nature in a different way

Rounding out the series is Giles McGarry's striking, high contrast cityscapes of London, focusing on contemporary architectural forms. The bold, angular lines and sleek curves in monochrome provide a refreshing complement to the organic shapes that precede the collection:

Theswellelife-land-sea-giles-mcgarry (1 of 1) (2)

The final word comes in the form of an essay by accomplished landscape photographer Paul Kenny, and it's a fitting conclusion to a wildly inspiring adventure through photographs; he sends you off feeling ready to take on the world with your own camera. 

As for the presentation of the book itself? It impresses. The textures captured within the photographs are beautifully complemented by the tactile quality of the volume. The soft lamination on the cover is followed by semi-transparent introduction pages, something like onion skin, leading into each photo collection flawlessly printed on substantial stock. Score one for print in the battle vs. online. 

It's worth mentioning that I'm a Canadian who has lived in England for eight years, and I've lost count how many times I've heard this: "Canada is a beautiful country - what are you doing here?' My reply is always "Yes it is. But have you seen your country?" I should carry around a copy of Land/Sea to remind them just how lucky they are to live here. 

Land/Sea is published three times annually, and I look forward to getting lost in the next one. 

May 16, 2014

Review: Wonderful Pistachios live up to their name

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I love pistachios. My favourite ice cream since I was a kid, even when I didn't even know where the flavour came from (I just asked for 'the green one'), has always been pistachio. So when Wonderful Pistachios offered to send me some of their new Sweet Chili flavour of the green-fleshed nut, I was very excited to try them. They arrived along with other flavours such as Salt and Pepper, Roasted and Salted, and Roasted No Salt. Needless to say, I was in pistachio heaven. Or was about to be. I first ripped open the Sweet Chili bag, popped one of the shells in my mouth and was delighted to find that the flavour was more savoury than sweet, no artificial taste whatsoever (which some crisp brands can't seem to avoid in their versions of sweet chili seasoning), and spiced perfectly. I became instantly addicted and thought I was going to have to drop them at the neighbour's to keep me from devouring the entire bag at once. They were a hit with the family as well and they went so quickly that I didn't have a chance to photograph them! (Above, in the dish, are the Roasted No Salt.) My second favourites were the Salt and Pepper which adds an extra dimension to the usual salted variety. But what counts most is the nut itself. I found the Wonderful pistachios to be fresh, with a crisp, creamy texture, and superior to what you find in grocery store brands and the bulk variety, both of which I've found to be bland in flavour and texture in comparison. Wonderful sources their pistachios and almonds (I got some of those too and loved them just as much) from Paramount farms, the largest grower of both nuts, in the San Joaquin valley of California. Now I admit I would eat just as much of them regardless, but pistachios happen to be quite nutritious, packed with fibre and vitamins B1 and B6. (You can find out more about the health benefits of pistachios here.) And Wonderful Pistachios come in at just 3 calories a nut which makes them a healthier alternative to crisps and other snacks, with no compromise on flavour. And it doesn't take a lot to feel full with pistachios, they're dense and hearty little things. (But somehow that doesn't stop me from being gluttonous.) 

You can pick up a bag of Wonderful Pistachios from Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco for £3.19 for 250g. They're worth it. 


April 13, 2014

Review: Pro Naturals Argan Oil Hair Repair System


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

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

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

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

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

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

April 07, 2014

Review: 'Treat Petite' by Fiona Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treat-Petite_biscuits (1 of 1)

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


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

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

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


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

February 25, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

February 12, 2014

Happify Looks at The Science Behind a Happy Relationship

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

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



October 18, 2013

Swelle Review: Uniqlo's Ultra Light Down Jacket


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! 

October 01, 2013

Essential Kitchen Gadget: Umbra's iSpoon


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

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

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

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


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