Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Zoe Greenwood: Organic Alchemist

So we are into the last few sleeps before Christmas! Stuck for gift ideas? Forget the Sanctuary gift set from Boots and read on...

An avid red lipstick wearer, this time of year always poses a problem as no matter how much water I consume, my lips get really chapped. So when I received a small pot of Greenwood Organics Rosehip and Calendula Balm in my goodie bag at an Xmas do recently, absent-mindedly popped some of the balm on and lo and behold! The dry skin disappeared, zapped by the healing organics. So one snowy December day (it was only last week but I’m trying to create a story here, people) I drove out of Halifax and up into the hills of Cragg Vale to meet Zoe Greenwood, founder of Greenwood Organics.

Local products whipped up by a local girl (turns out Zoe is from The Fax too), Zoe has over 10 years’ experience working with oils and natural, organic ingredients. Just reading the testimonials on her website pin point why her brand has become an instant hit: the products are not over complicated. Some skin products make it seem impossible to get out of the house in the morning: exfoliate, pre-cleanse, cleanse, tone, serum, moisturise, but Greenwood Organics products are simple, effective and do exactly what they say they will. Rich beyond belief in anti-oxidants and all natural, organic ingredients they smell divine and will look great on your dressing table: dark violet glass bottles which take their cue from the brown apothecary bottles of yore. Not only does the glass act to protect the product inside from ultra violet light in sunshine, Zoe explains,

“The glass feels good in your hand, it has a great weight to it and it keeps the product feeling great on your face and body.”

Aside from products for your face, she does a mean line in bath salts and body oils with ingredients designed to relax (Neroli and Rosehip) and energise (Rosemary and Sunflower). As her organic Ylang Ylang and Cocoa Butter hand cream soothed an eczema patch on my right hand (I literally sound like I am falling apart – damn you winter weather!) she told me about being asked to make and supply a bespoke apr├Ęs Ski balm for a skiing company: just a year old and Greenwood Organics is already taking off.

Prices start from £9 for a stocking filler gift and there are numerous expertly designed gift sets available to order through the Greenwood Organics website

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lucas Frank (clothing not the drug dealer)

So shopping for kids when they aren't your own can always cause a bit of a quandary. I am the proud auntie (that’s Cool Auntie Steph) to 2 fabulous nephews and I love choosing gifts for them. Let’s be honest, kids clothing is beyond cute, so they have had the joy of hand-picked baby grows, hoodies and t-shirts since they were born. However, my sister’s taste in clothing is very different to mine - classically cool - and she dresses her boys accordingly so I'm always on the lookout for things that she will love to dress the boys in.

This year I shall be treating my lucky nephews to Lucas Frank, an award winning brand of designer wear minus the hefty price tag. All the clobber is beautifully designed and carefully stitched garments for little gentlemen aged 18 months – 10 years old. And what’s this award?  Only a GOLD AWARD WINNER by top mother & baby website, Bizziebaby: Mums loved the quality, durability and price of the garments. Can’t say fairer than that! Choose from polos, tees and hoodies and get your little guy(s) kitted out in style. Plus the fresh collection comprising of navy and white will look super fresh once Spring rocks around. And where clothing is concerned a celeb endorsement goes a long way – Sophie Ellis Bexter anyone?

And if you order online they even do gift wrapping on some items. Awesome! 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Christmas in the Castle

So we've had glasses, tailors and some crass stitched naughtiness on the Alternative Christmas Gift Guide. Now for some superb gift ideas of the homewares variety...

Visiting a friend in Barnard Castle the other week I stumbled across an independent retailer to shout about, a boxfresh business that has already had a feature in Elle decoration: Oswells. Tucked away down one end of the high street the shop has been open for 6 months and is going from strength to strength.

With the high street in decline and online sales rising there has been a real resurgence in successful independent retailers, coming to the fore of the retailing landscape. Oswells fits this bill. Lisa, head honcho, previously worked at Liberties and Harvey Nichols, buying for their homewares department. This experience and knowledge has transferred into a confidant, seamless and original product selection which has grown organically to include stationary, furnishings, toiletries and games. A family run business, Lisa works alongside her hubby Mark and sister Julie to ensure the brand remains strong and gets the glory it so deserves.

I love what they have to offer. Here are a few of my favourite pieces from their online shop:

And if you can't make your mind up or the person you are buying for is notoriously difficult to buy for (that would be me then) they do Gift Vouchers. That's Christmas sorted, Barnard Castle style.

Now for the grand finale: the ampersand symbol (hint hint...)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

seen to be seen to be seen

In New Girl episode 17 (if you haven’t watched it –watch it. ALL OF IT) Jess says of a deconstructed spring roll given to her by her new bloke “oh my god! This is so amazing I want to punch you!” That is exactly how I feel about seen. Not that I want to incite violence or anything but the whole concept makes you feel as though you have walked straight through the looking glass. Or that scene in the Truman show where he realises his whole life has been a lie and more exists beyond (this really shows how old I am!!!! #grandma) Forget everything you know about opticians. And read on...

I had to get glasses for driving when I was 17 and I am ashamed to admit it but I have never replaced them. They are ‘secretary’ slashed with ‘best my opticians had to offer at the time.’ Then I found out about seen. I took my glasses in to upgrade them to a cooler model and here is what I found out:

  • ·        The difference between an optician (a specialist in dispensing  glasses) and an optometrist (the person who is qualified to mess with your eyes);
  • ·        Eyes come in two basic shapes: rugby ball and football shaped;
  • ·        The retinal scan pic on the website belongs to Connor;
  • ·        They have the second best business cards out of anyone I know (I am very American Psycho about business cards).

I also think it the coolest (cannot stress this enough) the coolest place to get your glasses. They have a Director of Happiness, they make great tea (and we all know I can’t have a blog post without tea) and they are cool. Achingly so.

But seriously – tucked away in St. Ann’s arcade, seen opened 7 years ago. Fresh off the back of a re-fit, the space has the feel of a pop-up shop and could easily pass for a design museum installation. It’s stunning in its simplicity and uniformity of layout. And their customer service? I posted their video on my Facebook page and the following comment was swiftly added,

OMG the guys at Seen are AMAZING. I got a supercool new pair of specs and sunglasses from there and 2 other people from my firm are going too. Customer service is second to none and we could all learn a thing or two from them!”

When you read fashion blogs the predominant threads are clothes, shoes and bags: seen offers a whole new dimension to style in the form of face wear. They source their glasses from Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo and stock brands you literally won’t find anywhere else: Mykita, Orgreen, Paul Frank (of which I am the proud owner of a brand spanking new pair), Theo, Garrett Leight California Optical, Maui Jim, Tom Ford and the ubiquitous Rayban. Although they aren’t that ubiquitous when seen gets their stylish little paws on them as Tareq (seen head honcho) points out:

“Our best known sunglasses are Rayban - still unbelievably cool and even though you can buy pretty much anywhere, we get first dibs on limited and new editions.”

Go to seen and the lovely peeps will help you find the right pair of specs which reflect both your style and personality. I can’t get over how much I love my new glasses. 

And how kind the guys were when I shamefully put my 15 year old glasses on to show them what they were up against.

If you are thinking about the most awesome gift you can buy for the most awesome person in your life this Christmas then head to seen. Or if you or your other half don’t wear glasses at least head over to their Facebook page and give them the thumbs up. Please don’t punch them, though.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Toby Luper. Easy as 1,2,3

 There are three reasons you lose a tailor:
1.      They die
2.      You run out of money to employ said tailor
3.      The tailor messes up and you sack him

Toby Luper has been at the helm of Hemingway Tailors for over 6 years. No messing up there then. A self-confessed perfectionist, Toby has been in business for 40 years and the family business, Hemingway, invented the first Gortex raincoat in 1981. How’s that for fashion pedigree?
He hand crafts bespoke (this literally means the cloth is spoken for) suits for ladies and gents, has clients as far flung as Russia and Canada and has designed and registered tartans. 

The best thing I found about Toby (from a female perspective) is that he hand makes shirts. You heard me – he hand makes shirts. If you are of the slightly buxom build then buying a shirt off the peg from the Great British High Street will ultimately leave you feeling uncomfortable and exposed. The awful stretching of material across the chest, the slight flash of a bra beneath and the puckering of the cloth under the arms where the strain is evident all point to a sartorial choice poorly made. So you are left with two choices:  constantly pull the shirt down in the vain hope the gap will close leaving you free to get on with your job (doesn't work) or layering up (which certainly doesn't work in summer). You can almost hear the badly fitted shirt screaming as it is pulled taut “I wasn't made for this!!”

Well, it’s a good job Toby’s shirts are: made-to-measure perfection. It’s a bit off the wall but this is what the Alternative Christmas Gift Guide is all about! All shirts can be personalised with your own initials sewn onto the cuff, breast or bottom and prices start from just £165. And with each client’s personal style carefully reflected in the end product it is no small wonder that Toby proclaims,  I'm not just fitting their body, I'm fitting their mind.”

So back to 1, 2 ,3. Having met Toby, I think there is plenty of life in the well-seasoned tailor yet, taking care of option number 1. So as long as you have plenty of money to avoid option 2, I don’t think you’ll need to worry about number 3. 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Crass Stitch Christmas

Whoop whoop! It's the first instalment of my alternative Christmas Gift Guide! Up first we have the lovely Crass Stitch! If you are are easily offended look away now - she is exactly as she sounds....

A couple of months ago I met Kat Nower of Crass Stitch who has taken a lovely, homely hobby of cross stitching and subverted it into a hilariously sullied business. Not only does she produce a prolific amount of beautifully crafted cards she also creates commissions for people wanting their own specific brand of filth mounted on their wall. Businesses have hopped on her naughty worded band waggon and her work is proudly displayed in Home Sweet Home and Almost Famous Burgers both located in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

Forget bunches of flowers and teddy bears, Crass Stitch is the physical embodiment of Kirsty Allsop gone bad. Miss Nower’s own brand of swearware blatantly sticks two very prominent fingers up at polite social methods of recognising “life events”. With cards starting from just £3.50 (and look great mounted in a frame) and individual commissions from £40, what better way of brightening up your Christmas and those closest to you by adding some saucy language to the traditional gift giving ceremony?  

There are all sorts of offerings in her Folksy shop. Take a look and order now so she can get them stitched in time for the festive season. 

I’m off to wash my mouth out…

Saturday, 22 September 2012

My Alternative Christmas Gift Guide!

Christmas decorations and cards are already in the shops, my dad inadvertently bought a Christmas cake thinking it was just a normal fruit cake and I have put the heating on. Ah yes, tis the season! Christmas will be snipping at your heels before you know it! So here on my blog I am shining a blogger light on a few brands I extra specially love this time of year! They are cool, quirky, fun and couldn't be farther from the gifts which inhabit the Gift Guides landing on a door mat near you soon. Kicking off 1st of October....

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hire Expectations

The number of times I have pulled a questionable dress out of a stuffed wardrobe and turned to find my client sat on the end of her bed, head in hands confessing “I needed a dress for a wedding and I had left it really late and it was the only one I could find which fitted.”  Said dress is swiftly put on eBay and sold. Buying a dress for a specific event can throw up a whole host of nightmares:  firstly, you can never find one when you need one. Secondly, if you are lucky enough to find a dress, they never have the one you want in your size. Now add into this heady mix a body changing daily with pregnancy or a body feeling the after effects of pregnancy and a new born baby. Then let’s move onto nightmare number three: the cost. No woman who is pregnant or has just given birth wants to spend (read ‘waste’) over £150 on a dress which, realistically she is only going to wear once.

Enter Hire Expectations. The brain child of two sisters, Hire Expectations is a rental company dealing in sumptuous event gowns for pregnant and breastfeeding ladies in sizes 6 – 18. When I chatted to Robyn she animatedly described how many pregnant friends she had seen at events wearing dresses that were not ‘them’ or that they were blatantly uncomfortable in, and how many times she had heard the phrase ‘I’ll wear it if I have to.’

“We just felt that women shouldn’t have to make that compromise or feel that way at an event so we thought it made sense to offer an alternative.”

A very astute man once proclaimed “Fashion Fades, Style is Eternal.” That well-known man was Yves St Laurent and didn’t he hit that fashion nail on the head? Wisely, the clever ladies at Hire Expectations have taken this fashion moniker to heart and worked their whole business plan around it. Simple to use (they even send you a back-up dress if you are unsure what size you are) and with stunning photography to inspire, this gap in the dress market has well and truly been filled in amazing style with brands such as Peaks and Butter by Nadia

With trans-seasonal garments, there is not a whiff of fast fashion about the site but just pure, unadulterated glamour. You can read more about them in this month’s Pregnancy and Birth magazine and be sure to head by their Facebook page and point your thumbs skyward!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

It’s all in the name: The Editeur

I did an English (and American Studies) degree so I know my italicised words from my non-italicised words. When I received an email from Fashion Dotty about a blogger event at The Editeur in Chester I was confused:  Chester isn’t known as a hot bed of fashion and for all intents and purposes, this boutique was saying they were the hot bed of Chester fashion. Intrigued, I fired up the wardrobe mobile and made my way down the M56, through Chester’s town centre and spied The Editeur nestled on the top of one of Chester’s quaint two-storey streets. 

Reminiscent of Diana Vreeland’s sumptuously decorated Manhattan salon, this hotly tipped fashion emporium is also is super conducive to successful shopping. Accessories from the likes of Sam Edelman and Michael Kors are all within a hands grasp and there are plenty of thoughtfully styled mannequins should you need inspiration. With a well edited collection ranging from Red Valentino to MW Matthew Williamson via Acne and Equipment, the rails are dripping with taste which makes shopping between the brands delightfully effortless. And the delights continue.  At the rear of the shop lays the scaffolding behind (or should I say underneath) each successful outfit: lingerie. They have Stella, Elle and Spanks all lining up to smooth, mould and shape your birthday suit beneath the designer treats you have selected.

If you can’t make it to Chester, their online shop is a treasure trove: swimwear and sale saddle up alongside carefully crafted trends and a monthly New In section which reads like a “Who’s Who” of fashion must haves and seasonal essentials. And if you really can’t make it to Chester (i.e. you are abroad) not only am I insanely jealous but The Editeur can send you your goodies VAT free for countries outside the EU.

The blogger event was a screaming success:  the atmosphere, a heady mix of fashion lust fuelled by champagne and cupcakes, had some bloggers seriously thinking of selling an organ or two to fund their wish-list purchases.

Thanks to Sarah of Fashion Dotty Fame (who should consider DJ-ing as a second career FYI) and Clare of I Like Tweet and the wondrous Annabel, Adam, Jess and Emily from The Editeur. It was awesome! I had to nip off prior to the outfit fest but check out these stylish peeps:  Science Geek Chic, Frances Cassandra and Gemma Satire

And when I did nip off I was rewarded with the best goodie bag ever. Lord knows we all love a freebie but Wolford tights, a Chlo-bo bracelet and a divine head piece by in-house designer Laura Apsit Livens? Goodie bag nirvana. What else do you expect from the  Chester boutique staking their claim for fashion in the North? 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Downsizing Handbag Style

I spend my days working my way through wardrobes which have lost their fashion way, are too chock full to be user friendly or are simply in need of a bit of organisational love so it was a shock when the tables were turned on me.

A few weeks ago I went to a Thirsty Thursday event and had a complimentary shoulder massage from the lovely team at Harmony Hill, a social enterprise based in Leeds. There were numerous knots in my back plus a searing pain over my left shoulder . When asked why I thought this was I said I had no idea. Then the lady picked up my handbag. With a huge heave she lifted it an inch from the floor. Fixing me with a knowing look she replied incredulously "really? Which hand is your bag hand?" Answers on a postcard please! I admit it - I am not a small bag person. When I lived in London I used a weekend bag as my everyday handbag. And with all that lushness of space what is a girl to do? Fill it, that's what. My go to bag for the past few months has been a vintage shop find which I have filled. To capacity:

So that's all the basics which then get added to on a daily basis. Sunny weather? Add sunglasses and sun cream. Nippy out? Two scarves (one knitted, one silk or cotton) and a jumper. Plus my camera for client days and numerous pens and pads for scribblings.

With the threat of looking like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame looming large I was forced to re-asses my arm candy and I was lucky enough to find this classic clutch from Whistles. It feels divine and works with most of my wardrobe. It does feel a bit like a man bag but I think that's just me missing the big ol' bag of yore. 

I have downsized successfully for one week now (thumbs skyward!) and even though there are days when only a mega bag will do, long may the minimalism of arm candy continue. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

I love scarves, I wear them, I write about them

Heaving bosoms just aren’t my thing (think Elizabeth Bennett in BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and the infamous Regency Empire Line). 

Now being a curvy hourglass, old school style rules dictate that I suit ‘Deep V necks’ thus giving my breasts a good outing. No thanks. This is where my love of scarves stems from – covering up my prominent chest minus the high neckline. I LOVE scarves. Over the years I have collected Hermes, Liberty, charity shop offerings and inherited a trunk full to bursting from my Nana. I always carry a scarf in my handbag. I always have a spare scarf tucked away in the wardrobe mobile. So, as you can imagine, I was beyond excited to meet Laura Orchant, purveyor of luxury printed goods including the most tantalising range of scarves I have seen for a long time.

Inspired by the natural world, her designs are beautifully cataclysmic and thoroughly trippy. Which makes sense when you consider most of the prints were conceived at 5am “a great time to work – my thoughts are so free flowing.”  Taking inspiration from “fireworks, Morocco, lights, nature” Laura uses photos (she always carries her camera should inspiration strike) and memories (hence why a past holiday Morocco is listed as an inspiration) to begin the process. Line drawing sketches, which she manipulates in Photoshop, turn into the truly magnificent digital prints which are then printed onto silk and hand hemmed. Luxury doesn’t even cover it. Take a look at the Sunset Firework scarf (personal favourite) through the magnifying glass in the online shop and you can see the intricate detail: vibrant bursts of colour contrasting with the rich luminosity of the firework streaking across the silk.

This young British designer doesn’t wait around: only recently graduating from Ravensbourne in July, Laura Orchant’s SS13 collection is already available to purchase from her website. Go now. At least have a look. And a little fashion lust. 

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Me, basically

I don't often do this. In fact, I never do this. But, as this is my blog I am throwing caution to the wind and making a change - I am posting an outfit post (which I should do more of seeing as I work in fashion)!! Walking through the sunny Northern Quarter in Manchester on my way to meet a client for coffee last week, I was snapped for The Wardrobe Doors Style blog. So I thought I would put it on my blog as well.

So here we go. My outfit consists of:

Jacket = Silence & Noise at Urban Outfitters. 2 months old
Top = pinched from my Mum's wardrobe and worn back to front. 10 years old
Trousers = River Island. 3 years old
Jewellery = H&M and vintage. All over 4 years old
Bag = M&S satchel bought from a Dress Agency. 1 year old
Shoes = Kurt Geiger. 7 years old (re-heeled and re-soled numerous times, I will probably wear them to shoe death; they are the perfect midi-heel)

The reason I have told you how old my clothes are is because I don't buy new all the time and that is the whole foundation of my business, The Wardrobe Angel: I want to make the most out of what people already have hanging in their wardrobes. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Natalie Willingham Make-Me-Up!

Those who know me know that I am a red nails and red lips girl all the way. I also have severely sensitive skin (get the wrong product on there and I look like an eczema ridden circus clown),  and I used to have acne so I am conscious of scarring which needs covering. And my hair is a short box-bob so an up-do is out of the question. Unaware of my seemingly endless list of requirements, the “lucky” Natalie Willingham  rocks up at my parents’ house one Saturday to do mine and my Mum’s make-up for a ball. I stick the kettle on as she unpacks bag after bag of kit.

“I had 75% of the necessary kit before I even started my training!” She laughs as the kitchen table starts to resemble a make-up counter. That ‘kit’, by the way, costs £4000. £4000!! She has 52 lip glosses alone.

Natalie spent 18 years as a HR Director, took redundancy and re-trained as a hair and make-up artist. But it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds,

“I have always loved make-up but I had only ever done my make-up – not friends, not family, just mine - so it wasn’t always obvious I would take this route. Then I went on a 1 day training course at Cheshire Makeup Academy with Richard Harvey . After learning how to apply the perfect base I just knew – this is where I want to be.”

She progressed to a 3 month course and Natalie Willingham MUA was born. After coercing me to err away from red lips just for one night to embrace the smokey eye, she primes my face whilst chatting away,

“I love the transformational power of make-up, its flexibility. I am a make-up addict. I don’t discriminate on any brand level. If a product does the job, it does the job. I do a lot of bridal make-up, event make-up and editorial work and been lucky to work with Urban Coco.”

Urban Coco launched in Summer 2010. An online magazine with a fashion and music focus, it provides a platform for emerging talent. Two lucky ladies featured on the front cover have had their faces painted by Natalie: Hatty Keane and Etta Smith. The Etta Smith feature in issue 4 looks like Alice in Wonderland on crack. So where does Natalie get inspiration?

“Street style, magazines, TV, blogs. I work better under pressure though, so even when we have signed off shoot moodboards I will see the stylist’s pick on the day and ramp up my ideas or get creative and change my mind on the spot.”

She is finished with me –a smokey eye and a nude lip - and my Mum takes her seat. Natalie explains each product she uses with care, even taking the time to make a note of the ones she thinks my Mum should buy. I have one more question –when I do go back to the red lipstick, what’s your top tip for keeping it on?

“Make sure your lips are dry when you put it on – no balm, no vaseline. Blot. And use Lipcoat. Lipcoat has been around for years so they must be doing something right.”

Kudos to her for getting her first published image featured in Hello magazine. I have a feeling you will seeing Natalie’s handiwork a lot more in the future… 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Get in my wardrobe you Preloved goodies!

There is a tantalising rail of designer goodies before my eyes: Vivienne Westwood, Malene Birger, See by Chloe, Luella, D&G, Maxmara….the rail goes on. I am in the Corn Exchange to meet Katie, the brain behind The Preloved Designer Sale.

Started 18 months ago in Brighton, The Preloved Designer Sale has mushroomed to locations in Kingston, London and most recently, Leeds. Katie also has plans to move the Designer Sale to Manchester in the not so distant future. But what is it? A cross between a flash sale and a really cool dress agency; the Sale is open for one week and one week only, in only one city at a time. You drop off your top end high street and designer treats on the a week before the sale and Katie prices them up. The sale opens on the Friday and continues on the Saturday and Sunday. You come back the following week to collect your cash (minus 50% commission) and pick up any unsold items.

The thing that strikes me is the quality of the garments which Katie takes to sell: pristine, hardly worn or tags still attached, on-trend. She patiently explains why she can’t take certain items to clients and carefully hangs and tags the garments she does take to sell. With such a friendly and approachable personality it is no wonder that Katie has built up a loyal client base including such leading Brighton lights as Zoe Ball and Susie Cave.

Definitely worth checking out, Katie offers a real alternative to people a bit wary of eBay: she can more often than not get a better price for a designer item and even though she takes 50% commission you don’t have to worry about listing your DVF dress and watching it sell for a pitiful £4.99. Find out more here: http://www.preloveddesignersale.co.uk/

Monday, 18 June 2012

Gods and Other Animals

In February my little brother got engaged to his lovely beau, Emma, and I went out to purchase a congratulations pressie for them. Now, bearing in mind they had just purchased and moved into their first home together as well (I know – two life changing events in one week!), I wanted to find them a gift which was unique (read: not your average champagne flutes), special and ‘homey’. Discounting Next and bemoaning the fact that Habitat closed its doors before Xmas I ventured into Manchester’s Northern Quarter and I came across Gods and Other Animals by Lorna Lucas tucked at the back of Ryan Vintage (48-50 Oldham Street). Ticking all the boxes delineating my gift buying parameters, I was literally spoilt for choice: cushions, prints, cards, individual fabric pieces, printed fabric in frames, furniture and bags. WOW. Prolific doesn’t even begin to cover this talented designer. Needless to say I picked up her business card and hounded her for a chat. Emma and Dave got engaged in February so it just shows how busy she is that I am now posting this in June.

When we had synchronised diaries we finally say down at the end of May. Well, I say ‘chat’ but it was more a show and tell on a grand scale. Breaking off conversation so she could dash off into her ‘shop’ in Ryan’s, Lorna brought back armloads of her creations for me to see. Talking ten to the dozen and effervescing with pride for her work, Lorna took me on a blink and you’ll miss it tour of her potted history: born in Wilmslow, lived in Italy, loved France, was a chef, is very academic, speaks Italian, got a 1st from Manchester Metropolitan in 3D Design, has had Gods for 6 years, been designing ‘forever’. Then we got into the detail of her prolific work,

 “When I am in the creative process I start thinking about a design then I draw it until I am happy with it. At the moment I really love swallows. Then I hand print each design onto whatever piece of fabric I have chosen. If the end article is going to be a cushion it will be hand stuffed and hand stitched.”

Everything is a one off. Everything. Talk about the ideal gift – no danger that you will see the same cushion haunting you on the sofas and chairs of friends and family. No, Lorna’s goods are truly original.  And if that isn’t unique enough, she also does bespoke commissions.

Lorna is obsessed by animals (which is obvious – her prints are all of animals) and her business card is a picture of her as a young’un with a deer at Belle Vue Zoo. So where did her company name come from? Now me being a bit of a swot I thought it was literary based and started researching Gerald Durrel’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ before I met Lorna and envisaged us chatting about themes, characters and imagery in the book. Lorna laughed her head off at my suggestion,

“No! It really is simpler than that! The name is purely based in my love of animals, especially dogs.”

The juxtaposition of animals in a household setting is oddly workable and more creative than your average offering from Next Home. Indeed her strapline is “Fearless Ideas for Original Interiors.” So why  soft  furnishings?

“I am a massive collector of fabrics – I have a wealth of great suppliers and a household full of vintage rolls. Plus I can design the cushions any size I want and utilise smaller cherished pieces on smaller cushions so they still get their glory.”

I could’ve sat and talked to Lorna all afternoon; she is fascinating. Already growing her customer base by selling her beautifully designed pieces in London and Manchester, she also has interior design shops contacting her on a regular basis to apply to stock her work. My advice? I would get your hands on her stuff sooner rather than later. I just commissioned her to produce a bespoke cushion for the still gift-less Dave and Emma. With Lorna’s original designs and beautifully sourced material, another few months until the cushion arrives doesn’t bother me one bit: it will be worth the wait and something that Dave and Emma can cherish forever. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012


I went to get a Father’s Day card for my Dad last week. I obviously didn’t look at it closely enough in the shop (I was in a rush on my way to the Scarlet Souk fashion show but more on that later…) because when I got home I realised it had glitter on it. GLITTER. Totally unnecessary, twee and just a little bit annoying. I regaled this story to Karen over tea at Teacup during the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend and she started laughing “bet you wished you’d bought one of mine!” Damn straight!

I met Karen at a networking event in April. It was the usual ‘stand up, say your name and your business’ type affair where she introduced herself as the business development manager for The National Football Museum. The networking meeting rumbled on until its close and we all filed out but as we were leaving she gave me her second business card and my blog-ears instantly picked up: Karen designs her own cards. And after a bit of investigation I discovered that they are endearing, innovative and cool as hell.

 “I have always made cards for friends and family and then one year I made a Christmas card for my boyfriend with Christmas themed robots on it: Santa, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman. He loves robots and needless to say he loved the card!”

So the seed was planted. All it took then was the herculean life of her boyfriend, Mark, to inspire her to get her arse in gear, “he is always busy. Always. He works fulltime but designs websites, DJ’s and produces music in his spare time. There were only so many nights I could watch Eastenders whilst he was …”
“Taking over the universe?!” I interject.
“Exactly! So I started doodling with people in mind and that’s when I realised that I had the beginnings of a business.”

Taking inspiration from people she knows and everyday objects such as speakers, phones and kitchenware she creates robot characters for her cards. Her passion for art has always been evident; Karen did A-level art and has a B-Tech in jewellery design but getting to grips with a computer illustration programme was a whole different ball game,

“I taught myself to use Illustrator: some nights there was a lot of shouting at the computer!”

But despite the techno rage, she succeeded and her creations are heavily design lead: clean lines and block colour,

“I wanted them to feel hand drawn but still have a slick and professional feel.”

And they do. There isn’t a whiff of glitter about them yet they are suitable for all ages and the detail in each design is amazing. She designed her own branding, sourced a printer and set about wrapping the cards in cellophane herself. As well as working on a new line of characters (including a garden inspired robot!) and contacting independent retailers with a view to them stocking her work, she has her first commission,

“As soon as my friend started talking about what she wanted I just knew what I would draw – a bee robot! She now has the character on her blog.”

Her contacts on the Museum circuit have helped launch a capsule collection of her cards into local museums and galleries in Salford, Bury and Oldham. She also has an Etsy shop and a Folksy shop. Next on the already packed agenda?

“I am looking at a range of other products on which to place my designs: Mugs, tea towels, bags, prints, badges and wrapping paper. And my boyfriend is currently designing my website.”
As we venture out into the rain Mark is waiting and greets me with a handshake. I feel as though I am in the presence of one of Manchester’s next power couples…watch this space…

Monday, 14 May 2012

Black White Denim

When I look through my clients’ wardrobes the one thing I am looking for is character: pieces that really shout about the personality of the client in question, pieces that really reflect who they are. Sometimes I find one thing, sometimes 5 or 6 things. When I show them to the client they will say “I love that wearing that” or “I always get compliments when I wear that.” I start from these key pieces and clear out the wardrobe in question accordingly. Many are confused by fashion; by the pace at which is moves, the speed at which it changes, the amount on offer, what is appropriate for them and what is not. Fashion is a maze and I take my clients on their journey through fashion and style one wardrobe at a time.

Black White Denim has a similar theory – decoding fashion for women. The shop in Wilmslow is a concept boutique which is a mecca for key pieces: the pieces which hang in your wardrobe season after season but pay their rent on your rail by offering you wear after wear after wear. These items are Black White Denim’s fashion code, their success story. And the best thing? Everything goes together.  One of the most frequent things I see is a wardrobe full to bursting with lots of standout pieces but nothing which ties everything together, hence the cry “I have nothing to wear!” Jo’s vision of a boutique – accessible and friendly – provides the building blocks to start making items in your wardrobe come together, whatever your age and style. 

Friday, 4 May 2012

I love Bravissimo (but not as much as H&M. Those guys are still no.1)

When I was a teenager I went from a 32B to a 32D virtually overnight. It was a Lara Croft-esque nightmare when, just weeks later, I went to 32DD. Working at WHSmiths, I had to have a size 14 top to cover my chest area without the fabric straining. This was back in 1994: I was the first girl in my year to grow such noticeably gargantuan breasts, I realised roll necks were not my friend and my mum had to take me to a specialist lingerie retailer which basically stocked bras for Grannies in order to get a bra which “fitted”. That was the choice - a pretty bra which didn’t fit from M&S or a granny bra which did. My sister, who had previously been “Titless Tina”, took great pleasure in calling me “Big Breasted Brenda”.

When Bravissimo came on the scene in 1995 it was as if my prayers had been answered: I could finally get bras that were pretty, they fitted and the staff were sympathetic. (I had an incident in M&S where a bra fitter, marvelling at my teenage buds, called in her colleague to get a look at the enormous additions to my petite 5’3” frame.) They even did swimwear. Which fitted! Prayers. Answered. The testimonials on their website and in their catalogue are genuine, from real women, which just shows they are getting something right and meeting a very real need.

Since then I have always appreciated their amazingly friendly staff and great stock package. Any Wardrobe Angel clients who are blessed in the chest area and are experiencing ill-fitting bras, a general malaise with other high street bra sellers but have a lack of time to shop, I send them to Bravissimo online. And the success is evident,

" Today, Bravissimo customers are able to ask themselves 'which bra do I like' rather than 'what comes in my size'. Over half a million women have contacted us since we began, turning the sitting-room business into a multi-million pound award-winning company, retailing by mail order, our website and through our 21 high street stores.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Hive of Antiform

When I arrive at Re-Made in Leeds one unseasonably hot day in March it all appears quiet on the surface. Lizzie greats me at the door with a huge hug and we march on through to the kitchen where she has a plethora of tea to choose from. I dish out some chocolate brownies (donated from the WI) and we sit down at her pattern cutting table.

It’s a hot day, we are supping our tea and there is a bloke fitting the floor. “Are you having your floor fitted? Does he want a drink?” I ask, pointing at the bloke who is lying excruciatingly close to the rung near the door. “Nooo…” Lizzie replies, laughing, “He’s a local artist – he’s sketching the rug!” And with that the bloke pops off the rug, waves adios to Lizzie and exits the shop.

Then the office phone starts going, a lady comes in to pick her jeans up which have been mended, Lizzie’s mobile starts bleeping with texts pouring in. Lizzie is one lady in demand and it’s not hard to see why – it seems the phrase ‘fingers in pies’ was invented with her in mind. Re-made in Leeds is a social enterprise, not for profit organisation which has an educational campaign structure. They facilitate Clothes Swaps (where numbers can exceed 100), Workshops and other awesome events. They collect ripped tights for recycling and old bras to give to charities abroad. Out of the Re-Made Building also comes the Antiform brand.
I came across Antiform when I was researching ethical, locally sourced clothes for a client in Yorkshire. I was blown away by the styling – ethically made clothes styled in a way which you would actually aspire to wear. An impressive 75% of all Anti-form clothes are made on site by local seamstresses and the other 25% are made in homes and businesses within 20 miles of the main factory. The materials are sourced from local factories – rolls of off cuts are stored in the Re-Made warehouse. Want to know where the material for their A/W12 collection has come from? The same factory knitting fabric for none other than Victoria Beckham, new darling of world fashion.

Each camp (Re-Made and Antiform) gives volunteers and interns the opportunity to get involved. And it is achingly cool. Remember that issue of Elle which was full of ethical brands but the styling was appalling? Lizzie does, “I don’t see why ethical brands stand their models next to trees looking soppy. We wanted to show a whole new way of doing things: that ethical can be just as stylish, just as on-trend as the mass produced stuff.”  And there are no trees in sight – the colours, the styling, the model, the location - all scream fashion and are styled by Lucy Harvey, the Ethical Stylist. The clothes are designed in accordance with the seasons, not 6 months ahead like other brands do, “We are trying to slow the fashion industry down versus the speed of the fashion industry proper. Our range depends on what materials are available to us from our suppliers.” Sold both wholesale and retail, this approach has seen the brand trade over 2 successful years to date.

So why Leeds? Lizzie downs her tea “We are sold this amazing lie that fashion only exists in New York and London but you can be fashion – it doesn’t matter where you live and it doesn’t matter what money you spend: just buy something from a charity shop and rip it up! Experiment! I wanted to prove that a successful label can exist outside of London, that a fashion supply chain can work in Leeds.” With 9 stockists of Antiform including stockists in London, Bristol, Glasgow and Spain, it shows that her wish is her command.