Monthly Archives: August 2011

Yay!

J Crew is launching a UK website at the end of the month. For those who don’t know, J Crew is another of those slightly bland/preppy US brands. Think Gap for an older crowd, or a less-officey Banana Republic.

Why, Alex, that sounds amazing.

Hmmm. OK, it isn’t cool or edgy, or even particularly interesting. But it is the perfect place to go if you need a navy jumper, or a bikini that treads the middle ground between two scraps of snakeskin and frump-tastic floral. In other words, it’s what Marks & Spencer should be, but isn’t.

Michelle Obama is famously a fan, although admittedly that isn’t much of a sell either. Like Kate Middleton, she’s one of those women on the world stage who only became a style icon by default, because all the other style icons got sick and dropped out of the competition. Or rather, in their case, because the only other contestant was Carla Bruni, who, yeah, looks stunning, but also like a right bitch (and who cheated by being an international supermodel first). And who else is there? Angela Merkel?

OK, there’s that one from Estonia who would be really pretty if it wasn’t for the weird plaits:

© AFP

And Hilary killed it with the clip:

© Reuters

Sam Cam’s scored some points in the fashion stakes (always handy having a sister at Vogue), though you sense she’s no natural. But I think Louise Mensch has potential, if she didn’t look like such a bossypants.

I’ve veered right off the subject of J Crew, haven’t I? Anyway, it’s more expensive than your bog-standard High Street but the quality is good and they have terrific sales, and Crewcuts, the kids’ range, is great. Check it out.

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SO annoying…

…to read a novel and find out halfway through that it’s the final part of a trilogy and you’ve missed the first two. I’ve just done that with this one:

And a few months ago did it with Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn. It’s my own fault for ignoring the books sections of newspapers. Still, note to self: must read more Kate Atkinson, she’s such a class writer.

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Rainy Saturdays

Yesterday started with such good intentions. With 24 hrs childcare covered (thanks, Grandpa!), we had plans for a group picnic in St James’s Park, followed by a trip to the cinema to see the new Planet of the Apes movie, or maybe even the Inbetweeners. Anyway, it pissed it down, putting paid to the picnic plan, and we ended up spending the day drinking wine in Shoreditch House.

One of the few conversations I remember was someone talking in awed tones about the Nando’s Black Card, which entitles its bearer plus three companions to free food at Nando’s, forever. Apparently Jimmy Carr has one, as has David Beckham. On Facebook the other day a friend mentioned looking forward to “Nand o’clock.”

You can sneer, but mid-level chains don’t usually inspire that level of devotion. I’ve never heard anyone long for Ask o’clock or Giraffe o’clock. It’s never occurred to me to eat there before, but I’m now keen to give it a try (although I do fret about the provenance of their meat. Is it free-range? Before they end up plated with chips, are they happy chickens?)

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French leave

I spent last week in the Côte d’Azur (I know, get me.) It was a great holiday, the kind where you take loads of books and don’t read a word because you’re too busy drinking rosé by the bucket. Although we pootled around a few villages, most were too twee and overpriced even for me (to give you the idea, one shop was selling L’Occitane products for more than they cost in London, while those cloth bags of Provençale lavender you put in your knicker drawer – the ones that should cost a fiver, max – were 19 quid), so much of our time was spent at the villa.

But one highlight, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend if you happen to be travelling Nice/Cannes way, is Le Colombe d’Or, a hotel and restaurant in a picture-postcard medieval village called Saint-Paul de Vence. It’s the kind of place where every cobblestone shines, and grizzled old men from French Central Casting play pétanque in the square for an audience of tourists sipping Oranginas and eating croque monsieurs.

Yep, so far, so cheesy. But it is beautiful. And this hotel – it has a history. Artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Miró used to come here back in the day and pay for their board in art, so this small and (relatively) unassuming place has the most gobsmacking collection, along with an idyllic outdoor terrace, the kind that makes you want to get married again just so you could consider it as a venue. I honestly think it’s the nicest restaurant I’ve ever been to, ever.

Which isn’t to say that the food was any good. The food, as with most of these places with a schtick, was a massive disappointment. And an expensive one too – you’re talking 24 euros for the cheapest main, but most are more like 40. Add your starter, wine, coffee and the rest and you’re talking at least £100 a head (our bill was lightened by the fact that it was the end of our trip and we were all boozed out).

Admittedly this isn’t a million miles from London restaurant prices, but in London for that you’d expect serious, if not Michelin-starred, food. My starter was a sub-Ottolenghi selection of tapas, which while not especially brilliant, was vast and utterly filling. Order this and nothing else, is my advice to you. Seriously, it’s a meal for three in itself. So by the time it came, my £39 sea bass felt pretty superfluous.

But here’s me, bitching like an old woman about the prices. It is steep, but worth doing once, simply because the place is so charming and special. It’s all the mid-priced mediocre crap I resent spending money on, not the stuff I’ll remember. Misha and I decided that, if we ever have some cash floating around, we’d love to come back and spend a weekend here. Rooms start at 250 euros a night, which, in the big scheme of world-class hotels, doesn’t strike me as too nuts.

You can check it out here, although the website does it no justice at all.

Here are some gratuitous photos of Emilio on our trip:

You’ll notice that I’ve been not-undeliberately styling him as Jim Morrison. We’re not quite at the leather-trousers stage, but sometimes I put him in a kurta. I was trying to work out if there was something dodgy about dressing your two-year-old as a dead, drug-addicted sex symbol – after all, I’d never dress a daughter as Anna-Nicole Smith – but have decided that, once again, with boys you can get away with certain things that you just can’t with girls.

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Mary Portas for House of Fraser

I know that many admire her forthright approach, but personally I can’t stand Mary Portas. Everything about her, from her haircut to her cuffs to her manner, is too pointy and scary, though I sense this is deliberate. She’s one of those people who see honesty as some great virtue – the kind who’d rather leave you sobbing in a corner than pretend, just for niceties’ sake, that they thought you were something other than a total twonk.

I fucking hate people like that. I was once shortlisted for a writing prize (I know, I know. How? Etc.) Anyway, one of the judges was Lionel Shriver, who is (was) a hero of mine. The ceremony, full of smart literary types, made me feel awkward and nervous. There was a lot of champagne floating about, so I downed about three buckets of the stuff before staggering over to thank her for putting me through.

‘Which story was yours again?’

I explained.

Instead of saying something bland and encouraging before extricating herself, she made this little face, as if she was holding back puke, before saying, ‘YeeeeeeeeeeessssI think I voted for that one,’ therefore making it unequivocally clear she didn’t.

I mean, why be such a bitch? I was left feeling doubly gutted (because I then lost) – and for what? So she could feel the smug glow of the pathologically honest. Anyway, that’s why I hate Mary Portas. Because she’s like Lionel Shriver. Hmmm.

But I’ve been seeing mention of Portas because she has a new clothing range out tomorrow, aimed at the over-40s. This is the demographic sorely underserved on the High Street, or so everybody keeps saying, even though forty-pluses can go to Whistles, Toast, Agnès b or about a million other shops and come out not looking like a dog’s dinner. (Actually, my tip would be all those Danish brands – by Malene Birger, Rutzou and that sort of thing.)

So far I’ve seen nothing of Portas’s collection for House of Fraser, except for what she wore in the photograph accompanying an Observer interview. This was a pair of four-inch stilettos (is that really what the over-40s have been gagging for?), some tight coral trousers (quite nice, actually, but not desperately forgiving of middle-aged thighs) and a tailored grey shirt of the kind you can probably already find in Theory or Joseph.

But, unlike those shops, the House of Fraser concession will boast lots of extras you don’t expect, such as bellboys and a moan phone, where you can air any grievances. The bellboys in particular strike me as a terrible idea, as most women I know want less attention when they go shopping, not more, since more assistants = more people to bully you into spending money. I know women (myself included) who avoid shopping in boutiques altogether because the friendlier the owner, the more they feel pressured into buying stuff. The appeal of the department store is its anonymity.

Stuff phones and bellboys – my suggestions for a happy shopping experience are simple: Not too many stairs (men always get the ground floor by the entrance, while women have to traipse two miles into the bowels of the building to find their rails); a good three-way mirror offering arse-view as well as front-on, and an atmosphere that’s not too dark, loud or alienating (Abercrombie & Fitch, I’m talking to you.) And that’s about it. There – easy. Somebody give me a job shouting at shopkeepers.

Mary Portas’s collection is available online here.

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Ouch

Now, I understand the appeal of the nude shoe. They make your legs look longer. They go with (pretty well) everything. But Kate Middleton and co, you’ve killed it for all of us…

Literally all the female guests at Zara Phillips’ wedding wore nude shoes. Also, I bet there wasn’t a pair there that cost less than 450 quid and still they all look cheap.

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