Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Not a field in Somerset but a Square in Bloomsbury...

"My wife got dressed up like Worzel Gummidge, put some bog roll in a bag and roared off in her Aston Martin to watch a bunch of useless teenagers singing in the rain at Glastonbury. I think she may have gone mad."

- Jeremy Clarkson

I am writing this because if I post it now, you dear reader still have a chance to get a ticket for the one festival I can wholeheartedly recommend and to another which is brand new and I would go to if it were not for a pronounced aversion to tents. That last sentence was probably enough to suggest that the ‘festival’is not my natural environment. I can see why teenagers might enjoy it, they enjoy just about anything that doesn’t include their parents and does include drugs.

In the past I’ll admit the open-air music festival did have an air of rebellious camaraderie. The exterior location redolent of pagan jollities, bandit festivities, revolting peasants and inclusive of recreational pursuits plus large bonfires was appealing. The lack of hard-sell, the cheapness of comestibles and the ad hoc entertainment made enduring hadean toilets, people peeing against your tents and indeed the struggle that is the tent itself tolerable. I can tell you that applying full Goth makeup in a 2 metre tall sodden Woolworth’s tent is no mean feat! The only establishment figures in evidence were a few disgruntled young policemen and the St John’s ambulance chaps providing a remarkably good natured ‘drunk’, ‘drugged’ or ‘ill’ triage service. There were very few twats, very little money and a great variety of people generally misbehaving in a harmless manner.

But look at festivals now. Hienously expensive mega-events that cost a week’s wages to attend. Tent segregation with the rich in their gypsy caravans and yurts. Sponsorship by major corporations. Pages on festival-fashion in the Daily Mail. Some festivals such as Bestival or the Secret Garden party attempt to carve a niche or be different but they cannot do much about the costs or some of their clientele. If I wanted to spend a weekend surrounded by accountants or management consultants Glastonbury would be absolutely the place to go. The urban working class type have no place unless they are serving burgers or looking after a bouncy castle. Nowadays an Oxbridge May Ball is more ‘alternative’.

However this years brand newVintage at Goodwood festival looks intriguing. If it attracts retro-types there will be an initial weeding of the festival goers. However it has extended its brief to cover the 70’s and 80’s so there may be a few twatkids in the mix, and like a mozzie in your room at night they are difficult to ignore. Nonetheless if I were not busy I would fancy it as a day ticket is not too expensive. The problem, as ever, is accommodation. The dreaded tent. There are the usual posh options which are unaffordable. Herein lies the rub. I know I cannot look nice staying in a tent, I know I will not sleep, I know they are insecure and my stuff may well get stolen. I cannot afford to spend the money I would spend on a holiday abroad on resolving these problems. Moreover I suspect that a major appeal of this festival is its shopping possibilities. But it may be worth a visit, Goodwood has form in organising retro events and I know some very nice people who will be there.

However I will get to go to the Chap Olympiad (a mini-me version of which is appearing at Vintage Goodwood). This was originally conceived of by the bearded one, as an antidote to events such as the Olympics; tainted as it is by it’s association with Coca Cola, corruption, winning at all costs and bad politics. The Chap Olympiad supports ideals of amateurism and fun leavened with a generous dose of surrealism. Competitors enter events such as ‘The Gin Martini Relay’, ‘Umbrella Jousting’ and ‘The Cucumber Sandwich Discus’. It is unsurprisingly organised by the Chap magazine, a publication with a long established anti-corporatist pro-eccentric stance. The Dandy Fop Anarchist hordes are gathered into Bedford Square for a day that promotes losing stylishly, or winning stylishly…if you must. The atmosphere is hard to describe but one friend felt it redolent of an episode of the Avengers. Certainly neither Steed not Mrs Peel would look or indeed feel out of place.

What particularly marks it out is the variety of attendees: steam punks preen, chaps wander around twirling moustaches and the only ‘rock chicks’ here are resplendent in fluffy skirts and kiss curls. Also how you enjoy yourself is up to you, no herd mentality. One year I am ashamed to say I was captain of the winning Martini Relay team, another year I spent in a champagne induced haze under a parasol. Unlike other festivals the portaloos are clean, the ticket prices reasonable and the only tents are protecting those carrying out such important jobs as providing tea or gin. Nor will it be commentated on by Edith Bowman or feature caterwauling indie bands or talentless R & B stars. The only powder encrusted around one’s nose will be loose face powder and Top Shop will not be selling Olympiad themed clothes manufactured by children in Laos. The only potential hazard is the lesser-striped moustachioed quail egg scoffer but even he asks first. In short the Chap Olympiad has the drugs (snuff), the sexy people (seamed stockings a go-go) and the Rock (and Roll) So get yourself a ticket …and if you do buy me a drink because this blogging is a thirsty business!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Primrose Hill Perambulation...

Primrose Hill.
Most people would expect me to deride Primrose Hill, but I like it. Always have. For those non-Londoners it is a small area of London, near the zoo, next to Regents Park and along from Camden. It's name suits it. It is Primrosey. Lots of stucco terraces occasionally painted in sweet pastel colours and with little flowery flower boxes. It is all very chi chi, somewhat twee and yet just a spit from the miasma of screaming euroteens, stale patchouli and ersatz bondage gear that is Camden. It reminds me of Chelsea, without the country types, lebanese businessmen and posh toms.

It had become famous for a so-called Primrose set, horrible skank bags who shagged a lot and married low rent pop stars and provided coke snorting space for dodgy models. But it isn't really like that. It does indeed have a high quotient of celeb residents. Various Millibands, Tim Burton and so forth choose to live there. Otherwise there are rather a lot of tanned young Eurorich, fruity middle aged gentleman and their pooches and the odd bad tempered old lady. It manages to be both quaint and parochial yet very cosmopolitan. Perhaps it is the predominance of young tanned european men whose professions and orientations are as mysterious as their fondness for sportswear that looks as if it was designed by a teletubbies. We were there on a hot Saturday and the tribes of the area were in full force, their numbers swollen by lots of nubile Siennawannabes in the park for the day hoping to spot a popstar and wearing dafts headbands.

We were in what is the closest thing the area has to a village centre: Regents Park Road. It does actually have some useful shops nestling amongst the shops selling nick- nacks for the Boden classes.

Apparently call me Dave Cameron was there on Saturday, but not in the Queens pub. I like the Queens pub. It has all the fandangles of your typical Fulham gastro pub yet retains something of the geezer's pub about it. Perhaps it is the telly screens or the obvious interest in sport. There is actually a betting shop on the street which is quite unusual for this kind of area. The bearded one tells me Queens was Kingsley Amis' favourite pub, whatever, I like the Chenin Blanc. They also allow dogs in. Primrose Hill is a dog owner's area and good for dog spotting. I also spotted a stylish Spanish chum in there. Didn't see a single cat, which I regard as a recommendation not liking the little beasties much myself.

Interior of Trojka
Regents Park Road is also blessed with three legendary restaurants, the pretty little French gem Odette's, the redoubtable Greek restaurant Lemonia and Trojka. All have been around for a long time but perversely, considering the heat, we opted for Trojka. Russian food is not necessarily wintry and I feel my starter of blinis with smetana and salmon washed down with prosecco was very suitable. It must be said thought that the interior makes you feel as if you are sitting in a bowl of borscht. Friday and Saturday nights come with free russian music. I have a bit of a klezmer-gipsy-balkan fetish so that is fine with me even if 'Those were the days' isn't strictly speaking a russian ditty. Fantastic place, great food and gluggable Georgian wine.

Bliny loveliness.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Off to the Palace....

There are bits of the metropolis that many Londoners cherish, the view from either side of Waterloo Bridge, Wren’s wonderful cathedral or Big Ben on a cloudy day. I am particularly fond of Soho, Fitzrovia and Shepherd Market. But these are all, in a sense, communal areas. Along with the Royal Parks and the river they constitute a kind of geographic front room for Londoners. But what of the secret corners we cherish or the areas outside the centre we enjoy, the private rooms of our ‘London House’?

In my case one of these is Crystal Palace, or rather Upper Norwood as it was prior to the migration of Caxton’s glass masterpiece to it’s heights. Much of the visual appeal of the area architecturally dates from this era and the Victorian love of folly, grandeur and solidity. Where else in London do you find dinosaurs, sphinxes, a gorilla and a big television antenna oddly redolent of the Eiffel Tower? In the vicinity are a Palace, a fine Georgian art gallery, two quirky museums, and more open space than most other parts of London (including a remarkable cemetery). In addition there are views from Central Hill that can only be bettered by Parliament Hill but for my money the southern view is more interesting. Travel back before the Victorians and you have a fancy Georgian Spa, Charcoal burners, gipsy encampments and royal jousting. It also has a bit of a French vibe, due to a long history of eminent French residents (including Pissarro who painted quite a lot of pictures of the area and Victor Hugo).

But what of now? It is a bit of an unknown gem, somewhat scruffy around some of it’s edges, resistantly bohemian, full of craftsmen and small businesses. Any excuse for a festival, lots of comedy clubs and ad hoc cinemas in pubs and some impressive events, such as the recent classic car fest using part of the old motor racing track. Atmospherically it is very villagey in the way that places like Clapham Old Town were, aeons ago. It is quite laid back yet still very urban with a good mix of people. The yummy mummy crowd for now kept at bay (although the Domali café on weekend daytimes is best avoided by the child averse). It is also a very vintagey area, with Vintage Heart , Vien Vintage, Bambino’s vintage leathers and a new shop with mens fifties clothing that I have not seen yet. This is in addition to Haynes Lane.

You have to poke around a bit to find all this wonderful stuff but combine a day in the park with a bit of nostalgic shopping and then a drink and a meal in one of the areas many pubs and restaurants. Then get on the new train line back down to Dalston, we are happy for you to visit and enjoy the vibe but the place is ours, all ours (cue demonic cackle). In any case you don’t know us Sarf Londoners any thing could happen if you linger too long…..

Here are my 'top tips' within the area:

The Crow on the Hill. A real bookshop. The antithesis of corporate sterile bookselling, whats left of it. A faintly chaotic feel which entices you to rifle through shelves of well chosen books with a local slant. Clearly chosen by people who read and know their customer base. Stocked one of the Chap books, a clear sign of discernment!

Haynes Lane Market. A real ramshackle flea market full of small emporia jammed into two floors of a ramshackle building. A real rummage can produce pearls: good cufflinks, bric a brac and jewellery. All at proper prices. Still kicking myself for not buying that Victorian leather top hat case for a fiver… Also notable are the shop Bambino which is full of good stuff, particularly old leather biker jackets and the antique furniture market jammed with characterful bits of wood for your house.

Numide. Damn fine merguez. Run by a Brel/Soccer obsessed chef who produces and serves in this small romantically gloomy restaurant some very good French food with a North African edge. The down stairs bar is atmospheric, sells good plonk, has an amiable barman and a tiny little outdoor space. Must book in advance for restaurant.

Crystal Palace actually has a huge number of cafés and restaurants in relation to it’s size, Tamnag Thai sells the best Thai food I have had in this country. One reason why it has ballooned into a huge restaurant over the years, despite which you will still have to book at the weekends. Yours truly used to be a bartender at Joanna’s. a slick professionally run restaurant. The Gurkha Cottage sells high quality Nepalese food with some unusual dishes. Café wise I rate the Little Palace Café, very much a caff, with good portions and decent food. For Francophiles, Café St Germain on the parade is pretty much the real thing, transported to Central Hill. Sit outside with a croque madame and a chilled beer.

Pub wise I tend to prefer the shabby White Hart, shabby in a trendy way. The place is jammed with bars and pubs of all kinds from trendy to reassuringly old school. Although beware of some on match nights, Selhurst Park is not far away. Bar wise it has to be the Numide bar. Or walk down central hill for 15 mins to the Park Tavern…a couple of the pubs have a view from gardens in the back. The place has a much nicer feel at night than most outlying reaches of London, perhaps because the punters are a mixture of affluent, gor blimey and whappen?

Crystal Palace park, apart from the dinosaurs. the children’s zoo, the terraces of the original Crystal Palace, the museum, the Olympic stadium, probably Englands first racing circuit, the lake and the Victorian bandstand there is lots of grass.

You can stuff your East London.. we’ve got saurs!

Monday, 21 June 2010

So exactly what is vintage?

Shop front of Rokit, neither of those frocks are vintage..

Recently in Time Out there have been several articles about ‘shopping for vintage’, I notice that the shops mentioned are invariably in East London and run by the very young. In addition to these there are the established big name ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ stores such as Rellik or Rokit. I have been to these and a selection of other similar boutiques only to emerge in high dudgeon. The bearded one must by now be sick of me muttering ‘vintage, my arse’ in exasperation.

This is because generally speaking these shops are full of tacky late 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s clothing. with just the occasional (over-priced) real piece. Is this vintage? My personal cut off date is the 1950’s, any later and if of good quality or designer origins it is 'collectable'. If poor quality: jumble. There is no suggestion here that clothes from the 70’s or 80’s shouldn’t be sold and worn proudly. From the point of individuality alone there is a greater chance that you won’t be wearing the same Primark blouse as everyone else. Ecologically it makes sense to recycle and re-use. What is out of order is steaming a C&A dress, labelling it as ‘vintage’ and then being able to sell it on for £30.00 and upwards. Well if someone is idiotic enough to buy it, business wise it is fine and dandy. But ‘vintage’? purrleaase! I’m becoming very annoyed by hearing “oh, there is a new vintage clothes shop at so and so corner” only to find it is full manky jumble and staffed by vacant eyed sticks with slack jaws. Vintage inspired, retro or second-hand fine but not vintage. You don’t call a 1980’s Ford Escort a vintage car, you don’t call a poster of Bros a vintage print so why do womens clothes get given the appendage so easily? Perhaps it is because we are mugs, more likely to fall for emperors new clothes inspired sales schtick in the same way we will buy ‘diet water’ or expensive wrinkle creams made of bug placentas.

To be honest most real vintage is hard to wear, it is expensive, too expensive and I lay responsibility for this at the steps of the gullible too. I wear mostly at reproduction clothing and am far from slavish to any era. Those who follow retro-dressing to extremes but combine this enthusiasm with looking down on your High Street facsimiles (and we have all met them) I find amusing. But vintage is vintage, it is old, it is from the era it represented. Surely the history you can hold in your hands and wear upon your body is the point of vintage or antique clothing. That flapper frock with the mysterious green stains, the Bakelite buttons on your 1930’s jacket, the tea dress that survived the blitz and the outrageousness of that massive bundle of fabric and net otherwise know in the fifties as a circle skirt. There is a romance to these objects that is almost entirely conferred by the patina of time passing. That is what draws me to vintage originals.

By all means combine you skinny jeans with a shiny ironic late 80’s blouse from Etam, but please don’t describe it as vintage. It needs another 30 years or so to mature ….

Buying vintage in London:

I find that Lynette who has a small shop of Camden Passage in otherwise rubbish Islington is very good for vintage hats and rayon dresses. Black Out in Endell Street is great for Lucite bags. The Flyover end of Ladbroke Grove has some good stalls at the weekend selling gent’s suits. Old Hat in Fulham is one of a small selection of near neighbouring shops with high-end retro and vintage clothing. The Hammersmith and Fulham vintage fairs are good, especially for textiles and I have found the odd good thing in the Frock Me fair held in Chelsea. Crystal Palace has Londons best flea/junk market at Haynes Lane. Best Charity shop buys in Walworth Road, Muswell Hill and West Hampstead. South London car boot sales are better than those in the North for collectables. Otherwise I tend to save my shopping for trips out of London, the Isle of Man was great for 50’s handbags. Vintage to Vogue in Bath is my favourite non-London vintage shop.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Things that Ming...


Things that go ‘Ming’.

I think all of us have things we see that make us go ‘uck!’ The variation in what this may be is entertaining. As an early 80’s Goth, zillions of piercings, brandings, implants, acres of tattoos have never piqued more than a polite interest in me. Tattoos fascinate as art work if they are good, but I’m just as interested in embroidery. Embroidered skin .. I bet someone has done it. I’m also aware, being a historian by education that many of these seemingly radical modifications have been around for a long time. Although I emerged from the 80’s with nothing more than pierced ears I see a tatt or heavy piercing and feel an affinity with its bearer. I am more likely to get on with a body-modified person than not.

There have been some very major shifts in what is perceived as acceptable clothing even during my lifetime. Visible bra straps, bare flesh regardless of figure, hair root-regrowth and indoor- wear as outdoor- wear spring to mind. My gran would have been horrified by all of these. Some changes are laudable, a case of women responding to their own comfort and squaring their appearance with busy lives. Some trends are denounced as ‘chavvy’: orange fake-tans, square ended nail-extensions and big hair. But it is hard to take this attitude seriously when the so-called upper class merely adopt a more polished version of the same look. Fundamentally one should support women’s right to wear what they choose whatever it is, although I draw the line at the Burkha as I not sure choice always applies. But there are things that just set my teeth on edge. I’m going to list them because I am curious to see whether anyone shares my distaste, or am I just truly a mad old reactionary hag?!

Toe cleavage. Looks nasty. Until very recently it was the sign that your shoes did not fit or that you had mutant toes. They look like a little row of, forgive the vulgarity, bottom cracks on your feet. But I think the design is to blame as I note the shoes are often also too big. Massive gaps between the heel and the edge of the shoe, the pedi black hole is another sin I don’t understand.
Beautiful, straight, shiny-white US style teeth. Because they dominate the face when someone smiles and it reminds me of the skull beneath the skin. It makes faces look bony and drawn. The whitest thing in a face should be the whites of the eyes, not the bones in our mouths. White teeth are not natural, teeth are a million shades of cream to yellow. Geometrical straightness is Stepford Wife territory. Glistening teeth are only sexy in vampires, and they are far from regular in shape and blood-stained.

Waist confusion. Not under the bust unless you are pregnant, not halfway down your hip. Same place it has always been. In the middle.

Gladiator Sandals. Recently revealed to be one of men’s most hated items of female attire and for once the beggars are right. There is nothing good about them. They may be fierce, when flat and worn by a big hairy gladiator that is. They make every woman’s legs look dumpy. They are uncomfortable, there is that toe issue again. I suspect they are pushed because they use cheap leather off-cuts and cost nothing to make so they are in addition a rip off.

Padded bras in big sizes. Whats this about? There is no need for the equivalent of cricket pads if you are a D cup upwards. What is it for? I understand trying to get a smooth silhouette under a t-shirt but otherwise I just think it is demented. Sick of luxury lingerie filled with kapok. I don’t need a duvet wrapped around my boobies. Some decent structure without nasty wires would be better, I rate What Katie Did.

Big hair on the thin. Some one has taken a troll doll, put the body through a mangle but left the hair. Looks good on athletic eighties supermodels and Italian Movie stars. Makes Cheryl Cole look like a fly-switch.

Adults dressing like toddlers. All those grown up men in those stooped rubber sandally things wearing baggy bright shorts with twiddle pockets. Their brightly coloured t-shirts with surfer dudey action designs. Walking beside their 2 year olds wearing the same kit. Often accompanied by a middle age spread and thinning hair. Doing themselves no favours.

Beige, caramel, tan, safari all those colours. Supposed to be classic and classy but they are all shades that look like the fabric has been infused with bodily secretions. But I mainly hate them because I look rubbish in them and they are making my attempts to purchase a trench coat more like a search for the Holy Grail.

Many things that drive others nuts pass me by, I have no problems with the Vicky Pollard look, ghetto bling, orange skin tones, mutton dressed as lamb. These are at least people dressing up in what they think of as style. I am more annoyed by Mimsy unimaginative middle England dressing, life is short why be dull? But we all have things that push our buttons, clothes I favour do I know irritate or simply bewilder others. I don’t mind if people are amused by a woman with full 40’s up do and a sailor dress but I object when some dullard entirely dressed by Banana Republic stares.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

St George's crossness...

photography copyright Owen Blacker

There has in London, due to a certain sporting tournament, been an outbreak of flags. I mean of course the St George’s Cross. The response has been interesting. I have a negligible interest in football (in fact I anticipate the end of the whole thing keenly) but find the sprouting of red crosses and indeed the other flags of combatant nations festive and agreeable. Grim squat blocks of flats are enlivened by flapping swathes of fabric, perky little flags adorn a range of vehicles and bunting hangs from a range of restaurant and shop fronts.

Such a positive reaction has been far from universal. There has been a snide Facebook posting implying that flying the English flag should signify the presence of a man with small privates. How delightful, patriotism and an interest in sport associated with penile inferiority. Would those ironists apply the same philosophy to the flags of Ghana, the Korea(s) or South Africa which I am sure are just as prominent in their home nations? I suspect not as it is natural not to want to be thought patronising or elitist.

However perhaps there is an element of ‘it’s our flag so we can moan about it’. Certainly there have been associations between the StGC and far-right politics and football thuggery. National flags are shanghaied by extremists in most countries. Funnily enough having lived through the emergence of groups such as the NF during the eighties I never have. Perhaps because that group are a small minority and I recall the StGC far more for its appearance during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee street parties. Notwithstanding this some people of my own age still seem to regard the StGC as a vulgar aggressive symbol.

In terms of aggression all national flags, especially that belonging to the primary driver of a nation which annexed a large part of the world are a tad militaristic. Japan has a disgraceful Imperial History but the ‘fried egg’ is a full part of that country's visual way of thinking of themselves. Some might counter that the Union Jack is the national flag, but it isn’t. I am English and that flag features elements of the heraldry of conquered nations. Something that the liberal in me finds less comfortable than the St George’s cross. The truly reprehensible realise that national flags are hard to control, which is why the Nazis and similar regimes create new ones of their own.

I think the idea that wearing the St George’s Cross is somehow common or vulgar is more revealing. There is snobbery afoot here. It is largely the working class or more fairly the ordinary Englishman donning his t-shirt, putting his baby in StGC babygrows or inexpertly painting his/her face. The chattering achingly middle class individual would rather wear a gimp mask than hang a StGC from their window. The StGC does conjure up qualities that are perhaps not sophisticated: pride, pugnaciousness, belligerence, earthiness, vulgarity, hilarity and chippiness. However these are sometimes the very qualities that makes an Englishman English and has powered this country's survival against heavy odds. I find sniping at football fan’s affection for the flag, especially when thousands of squaddies are being shot at in revolting hot countries is a real example of narrow-minded philistinism.

You don’t have to like football, you don’t have to like red and white (I’d quite like something in pink and silver but I digress) and you might simply not like flags per se but there is no reason to snipe. Perhaps you don’t like what it stands for ie England and Englishness and the whole cornucopia of positive and negative elements which clash together to constitute it (which would beg the question of why emigration has not been considered). But the flags are jolly, they are cheerful, cheap and accessible. I have seen them in Turkish barbers, Chinese Take-aways, Indian restaurants and Vietnamese nail bars. When I see a baby wearing a t-shirt or a huge flag flapping in the wind outside a pub it cheers me up. And lets face it, this is a city that needs cheering up.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Vivien of Holloway shop review.

Exterior of Holloway Road Shop.

Vivien of Holloway’s designs are probably the most instantly recognizable within vintage/retro styled circles. Her trademark polka-dotted creations with full fifties circle skirts preferably filled with a confection of netted petticoat can be spotted at most vintage events. This popularity had initially put me off buying one I find it off -putting when strangers point to you and name your dress manufacturer before you have even been introduced. Then there was the fact that I am concerned there is actually a limit to how many polka dots one should own. I currently possess thousands and feel like a lyric in a Libertine’s song already. Also I had heard that it was quite difficult to judge the fit and sizing on-line. Several girls I knew had to return their orders and had become frustrated. Personally I think this is simply an innate risk with mail-order goods and you just have to try until you find the right size and learn to love your local Post Office. The fact that many V of H items are boned gives them a three dimensionality that is hard to reflect in flat measurements of inches and cms.

Polka dots!

Recently I have increasingly felt that it was time to give this popular brand a whirl, and there were a number of reasons for this. One was that I have seen the titular Vivien around and about, a glamorous voluptuous blonde lady and a fine advertisement for her wares. I believe you should judge the dress by its maker, I was always going to like Lulu Guinness bags because I like the way Lulu Guinness looks.

The proprietress at her counter.

Another was the ever widening range of tea dresses, forties dresses and sarong dresses. The range of fabrics has also expanded with plenty of non-spot choices. The final impetus to buy was the opening, last year, of a new shop located naturally enough, in Holloway Road. Whilst Holloway Road itself can be shabby there was nothing grubby about the shop. It had a light spacious feel. The eponymous dresses were lined up in orderly fashion on rails at either side. I approve of this wholeheartedly as I loathe having to edge around displays and racks. The vintage element was not over-egged; an old fashioned display case fronts the till and contains all the nick knacks you might need to accompany the clothes. Changing rooms at the end of the room are faced by a series of free standing mirrors. Also a good idea as they can be adjusted and there is space for potential customers to see those skirts swirl and swish. Whilst the shop radiated a fresh orderly prettiness the place was utter bedlam! I had not read the small print on the website about bridesmaids booking slots at the weekends. The place was heaving and the four changing rooms were indeed commandeered by a group of giggling bridesmaids. The staff revealed themselves to be a positive asset, they managed the combination of politeness and firmness required to handle clueless bridesmaids and impatient non-bridesmaids . The bearded one was dispatched to the neighbouring café and I waited patiently.

It was actually really interesting to observe others changing. A group of blonde, faintly chavvy girls in Allsainty clothes were instantly transformed by the polka-dotted circle dresses into extras from a Dennis Potter drama. What I noted immediately was how much the designs showed off all figures. Stick insects suddenly achieved curves and the curvy girls were clearly made to fill these frocks. I enjoyed seeing the staff persuade recalcitrant twenty somethings into belts to remind them their waists didn't sit right under their busts. Paradoxically the bridesmaids seemed more feminine but also more sassy. Another peculiar thing was that they seemed cleaner and fresher. That shabby jersey jeans washed - out look makes girls look dirty as well as scruffy! The Vof H dresses are actually a great idea for weddings, inexpensive, flattering to most shapes, you can do the same dress in different colours and they can be sold on.

The fact I had to loiter for a while was a good thing because I decided to try on more than I intended and picked a couple of random choices. The dress I had my eye on was not available in my size in the fabric I wanted, I was advised that new stock came in mid-week and that was the time to come. I anticipated that the sarong dress, with its tapered skirt and flattering wrap detail was likely to suit my figure which strays into ...ahem ...rubenesque territory. I chose a couple of these. I also tried a bolero top. This is a stroke of genius. Bingo wing sheafing is important, those with busts also have to sigh and accept that bra straps are a necessary evil. Also a little shoulder coverage is just simply elegant. However I grabbed a couple of the circle dresses. I had always thought these, with all their fabric would be unflattering to anyone who was not thin or tall. The 'sugar plum fairy fear 'I call it. However a Mexican day of the dead dancing skeleton fabric dress called out to my Goth nature. Having picked one of those to try I thought ‘what the hell, I’ll try one of the ultra-satiny bright ones,' mentally I had discounted them because on the hanger they looked slightly stage costumey.

Upon trying the dresses I was surprised to find that the internal bodice was sturdy enough alone to cope with my considerable prow. This was assisted by the fact the bodice area is designed to fit quite snugly. None of this was uncomfortable. The sarong dresses were good, providing a curvy elegant silhouette however the size was a bit too tight, however if I lost even a kilo or two it might sit quite nicely. Then I moved onto the circle dresses, I loved the skeleton one. The halter top is very flattering and the swish of the skirt deeply satisfying on a girly level. The wild card was the vividly coloured silk dress. Not what I would usually wear, but when I came out in it the response from the assorted vintage types waiting was ‘buy that one!’ So having walked in intending to buy a sharp silhouetted deeply coloured dress I emerged with two swishy circle dresses and spent more than I intended (boleros were of course needed to accompany them). I am wearing the brightly hued one this weekend and we’ll see then if I look like a jolly green giant!

The green satiny circle dress.

I don’t have any gripes about the clothes at all, within the reasonable price range the finish, production and fabrics are what they should be. What I would like to stress is that the range, although comparatively limited is very flexible. It occurred to me that a lot of the simple block colour fabrics could be dressed up very well using trimmings. I am think of doing this to the sarong dress and bolero in black which I think might work really well with a fringed trimming I have seen. Vof H’s clothes are also becoming very popular with other alternative groups in London, they work as well with cyber-punkish dreads as they do with Victory Rolls. I would recommend visiting the shop if possible to try dresses for size but to avoid the weekends if possible. A weekday visit could, I think, be a nice relaxing experience. Finally the caff next door did a nice light Turkish breakfast and a copy of The Chap was on sale at the counter: Top stuff!

Minn x

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