This Is Not A Pop-Up

So they say.  Or at least, the powers behind the destination-hopping Pret a diner have decreed it so, in spikily black capitals, nonetheless, designed to reassure, or perhaps, apologise.  Why?  The word pop-up has become a dirty word in dining circles, likely to be greeted with sighs of ennui or mass-eye-rolling of epileptic proportions.  The concept, it seems, has been done to death: what began a few years ago as something spontaneous, underground and for select insiders has evolved into something decidedly de trop.

Now there are places that want to feed us sprouting up everywhere: in disused warehouses, in art galleries, at festivals, in your neighbour’s back-garden, for a month, a week, an hour: exhausting.  It is the transience of these dining rooms that appears to offend; pouffing and evaporating in a merry-go-round of stop and start – nothing is permanent these days, not even the cutlery.  There is a certain, brittle flimsiness in this conjuring up and diassembling, like the pleasure-dome palaces in air of the Kubla Khan.  It is enough to send one running to the nearest Establishment with a capital E: restaurants with years-worth of credentials and solid dependability, with their own bricks and mortar, and an actual lease.

There’s no doubt that Pret a diner are addressing this recent backlash toward the faddiness and pretensions of the pop up, but, ironically, are seeking temporary shelter in the establishment’s very heart – St James’s in Mayfair, home to ancient private member’s enclaves, and round the corner from institutions like The Ritz and The Wolseley.

50 St James’s, for fifty days.  It is all sweeping staircases and Byzantine balustrades; chandeliers made from champagne bottles and menus from newspapers; scrawled neon installations and the ostentatious presence of a DJ, complete with booth.  Barbed wire and basketball nets are an urban riposte to the gentrified surroundings, counter-balancing effusive floral arrangements in what feels like the candle-lit grotto of a (probably Italian) Count.

The Italians Do It Better, apparently, by showcasing a rich culinary history that finds room for both Tuscan peasant fare and slick Milanese sophistication.  In the context of these two extremes there was, however, unfortunate scope for both highs and lows.  Cauliflower and apple amouse-bouche was a joyful marriage of both taste and texture, as was an ecstatically inspired starter of beef tartare with basil ice-cream.  Salty, intense octopus, iron-rich on a bed of potatoes, was the only dish that spoke truly of humble, coastal fisherman origins.  Bread in a brown paper bag was bizarrely inedible; photogenically glazed slivers of salmon alarmingly oversmoked, and an entire starter of ricotta courgette flower in tomato water neither as elegant or appetising as promised by the hymn sung to it on the menu.  Veal shoulder with roasted figs, zinging enticingly with vanilla, was near-fautless, and sweet, glossy duck breast in raspberry rich but rewarding.

Prices are steep, and not always justified when measured against the plates of food alone.  The staff, though, were delightfully friendly, despite not being entirely well-versed in the intricacies of the menu’s detailing.  There are other pop-up places to eat this week which seem more fun and take themselves far less seriously – Beard to Tail for instance, or The Seagrass.  But then I remember the masterpiece that was the tartare of beef, paired lovingly with piquant rhubarb and milky mozzarella and an embarrassingly ambrosial basil ice-cream.  I’ll probably dream about it for weeks.  And then go to the Wolseley.

Voyages in Siam

The kingdom of Thailand is so famed for its sights and spectacles – gaudy but majestic Bangkok; the ocean-jewel Crusoe islands – that as a destination it is completely ubiquitous, no longer seeming far-flung, exotic, or particularly adventurous.  Yet I discovered that you can still go in search of seas, sunsets, and a definite sense of the Siam of old, and triumphantly forgo disappointment.

The sun setting over the charming fisherman’s village of Bo Phut on Ko Samui, whose bay is home to both super-sleek yachts and ramshackle fishing vessels

Longtails moored on pristine waters in another fishing enclave, the sleepy horse-shoe harbour of Chaloklum in northern Ko Phangan

Novice Buddhist monks, dropped off in an old school bus, commemorate a visit to the Big Buddha on Ko Samui with a group photo

Mediterranean vibes and a swirling blue sky and sea make for a nirvanic dip in the rooftop pool of hotel L’Hacienda in Bo Phut

Dragon-red lanterns hold court in one of the many fairy-lit bars on Thanon Rambuttiri, Bangkok

The golden and somewhat genial-looking Big Buddha at Wat Phra Yai on Samui – vault some coins into his outstretched palm and make a wish

The bluest of blooms at Bangkok’s fragrant forest of flora – the 24 hour flower market, Pak Khlong

The impossibly photogenic Maya Bay in Ko Phi Phi Leh, setting for the most serene swim of my life, numerous catapulting leaps from boat to water – OH, and a little-known film called The Beach

The beautifully bedecked prow of my longtail boat the Paradise Pearl (that fifteen minutes after this photo was taken suffered inexplicable engine failure, out at sea, in the eye of a sudden flash storm – I got soaked, but survived)

The apparently ill-omened apparition of a white cat – icily aloof and standing guard outside a hammock shop in Ko Lanta’s Old Town

In awe of the aurora: a sherbert pink sunset on my last night at the beach on Ko Lanta

Enchanting Chinatown back-streets, where there is a shop for absolutely everything, and you are just as much of a local spectacle as the wares on show

Local dishes I was reluctant to try

Drink until this sign is a neon blur on the infamous Thanon Khao San

Stalls peddling temple trinkets in heart of Bangkok’s Old Town, Banglamphu

Woman In Vogue: An Audience With Stella McCartney

Selfridges continued its love affair with all things Stella McCartney last night, hosting a conversation between the designer du jour and British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman.

For all its billing as a casual tête-à-tête on comfy chairs, the evening bore the polished hallmarks of wristbands and champagne waiters – evidence, perhaps, of the slick Stella PR machine in motion.

The venue, however, was intimate enough – Selfridge’s Ultralounge functioning as a cloister-like library, with dedications everywhere to the written word, from typewriters to walls bedecked with books and more books – which was rather fitting, considering the subject of the evening’s talk has traditionally been something of a closed one. For all her fame, Stella McCartney can never be accused of being a media darling – celebrities wear her clothes, but she is not somehow a celebrity designer, disdaining the spotlight and preferring to let her creations speak for themselves. It is, however, perhaps McCarney’s annus mirabilis as Selfridges, pulse ever on the zeitgeist, have evidently acknowledged, creating an entire ‘World of Stella’ in-store to showcase the many strings to the McCartney bow – womenswear, sports, children’s, lingerie and finally fragrance.

With her profile at an all-time high how does she cope, Shulman asks, with being recognised? Fame, however, is in her blood – her father and his bandmates practically spawned single-handed our modern concept of celebrity. The daughter of Paul McCartney reminds us that she ‘grew up with one of the most famous people in the world. So really, I’m not that interesting.’

Much has been made, and rightly so, of the Herculean feat that is running what can only be now described as a fashion empire, whilst being a mother of four. Family and childhood is clearly deeply important, and a thread that runs through all collections. Shulman makes rather nostalgic mention of her own first McCartney piece – a sky-blue Fair Isle jumper – and McCartney concedes that her earliest collections were inspired by memories of Scotland as a child.

Her own family creep into her work too – she admits to harassing her long-suffering team at the start of each season with a fixation upon the same old t-shirt of her husband’s, on which she longs to base a piece of her own.

But how does she feel, Shulman wonders, about the high street copying her creations? ‘Flattering and irritating’, she muses, and indeed her relationship with the high street is a two-way exchange, having enjoying successful collaborations with the likes of Gap and H & M, that have significantly raised her profile. Recent exposés of similar high street brands have revealed various abuses and examples of terrible misconduct and immoral practices, particularly in Third World sweat-shops. Scrutiny these days is unavoidable – and Shulman queries how McCartney keeps her own house in order. The designer insists she is ‘very stringent’ and that the supply chain is studied ‘on a daily basis’. ‘We monitor like crazy.’

The Vogue editor congratulates the label’s dedication to finding non-animal fabrics that actually translate into authentic, wearable fashion – ‘your fake leather just doesn’t seem fake!’. McCartney owns up to being something of a ‘glutton for punishment’, intimating that there is an inherent, weary masochism in the quest to seek out leather alternatives. It is certainly a road seldom travelled by the fashion industry, and there are no shortcuts. Her demand, Stella maintains, far outstrips supply, and there can be a total drought of specialist manufacturers from one season to the next. But she thinks it has set her apart, and she relishes being different from the labels of her peers.

The designer admits that a long-standing obsession with vintage has informed many of her collections down the years, and insists it’s finally ‘out of my system’, with her focus re-trained simply and pragmatically on ‘what women want and need in their wardrobe’. She hasn’t entirely turned her back on whims and romance though – drawing inspiration these days from the ‘abstract’ and the wider world; anything from films to ‘the colour of a leaf’ spotted whilst riding in the country.

With the snowballing of her success has come new responsibility – a much larger team for a start: ‘I enjoy working with people. I don’t isolate myself’. And, inevitably, the chaotic exodus to bigger premises, having outgrown the last – ‘junk everywhere!’

Dressed in super-sharp tailoring and a simple silk shirt, McCartney was charismatic, gracious and relaxed – and the combination proved a winning one. She held the room. Part of the fascination with the woman behind the brand are the contradictions, the conflicts of anima and animus, that somehow co-exist within. Stella McCartney was born famous, but doesn’t do fame. She skips across the globe for work, swapping Barcelona for Miami for Rome and yet gets ‘grumpy’ after just one night away from her kids. Her entire business is built upon the fable of the city; the store openings and fashion weeks; the high street capsule collections; the penchant for tailoring (she studied three years at Savile Row) – but grew up in the country and can be found, off-duty, riding horses and shearing sheep.

Her graceful, feminine dresses are adored by celebrities who ply their trade on dressing ‘pretty’: Liv Tyler, Thandie Newton and Kirsten Dunst, and still she dives deep into proper, high-performance sportswear to escape ‘all those My Little Pony pinks’. Most of all, she’d love to dress Jodie Foster, but is ‘chuffed’ that Meryl Streep has started to wear McCartney – two celebrities that are not known for girliness, but a tougher sort of androgyny. Older women, then: she’s interested in ‘women and their brains, of all ages’. Indeed her love of sportswear, her toughness, has trickled, slowly but surely, into her catwalk collections; it provides that ‘edge’; a democracy or a leveller if things get ‘too fancy on a Parisian runway’.

As we suspected, then, balance is the key. In her new fragrance, L.I.L.Y, she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve – lily of the valley reminds her of her mother, but despite this she’s fiercely practical, finding a way to market an ‘unfashionable’ flower, and one that only blooms for three fleeting days a year, to a mass audience.

McCartney seems canny and confident, almost Midas-like, right now, and I have no doubt of her deftness of touch. L.I.L.Y is light but deep, the floral sweetness tempered by the raw earthiness of truffle and moss. These are crowd-pleasing components bound to engender commercial success, and there is something compellingly maternal about the scent; fitting in light of it being a maternal tribute (Linda I Love You).

Audience questions are wrapped up (a forest of hands, many disappointed). McCartney engages in a wriggling pantomime of anxiety to leave like child kept back at school – ‘Oooh, am I allowed to leave now?’ and we are reminded of the four kids awaiting her entrance over the threshold (where apparently she is wrestled to the ground). However, I spot her still working the room half an hour later: a testament indeed to the conflicting demands and constraints placed upon working women.

The image I came away with of this woman in particular was a many-armed Hindu goddess, or Aladdin’s Genie juggling entire planets with panache. McCartney was introduced at the beginning of the evening as having had ‘Stella-fied’ Selfridges; with a host of galaxies in her grasp, it seems stellification isn’t far off. And judging by her Sphinx-like smile as she exited to applause, she knows it too.

Journey into the Jurassic

The famous five are back in Dorset: land of Blyton and Hardy; buns; and not a scrap of mobile phone signal.  My family and I cottage-hop this part of the land now and then, appearing with the first snowdrops in February, or migrating south for summer in June.  This time we temporarily come to roost in Lyme Regis, where the town slopes carelessly down to the sea.  Within minutes of our arrival we are drawn to the ancient beach with Tintinesque intrepidity, as innumerable hordes of pleasure-seekers and fossil-hunters have been before us.  The bravest among us stride the off-keel Cobb with the frank fearlessness of a John Fowles heroine.  I follow dizzily behind, clutched by the fear of an unwelcome lurching baptism in the slick green waters.  There are no level planes here, it seems: the town is a clotting-together of bowed hills; green bellies curving gracefully under the soil.  We scuttle daily, like skittish crabs, down to the bakery on Pound Street, its steep degrees forcing our feet to run away with us, as if the sea below twitches and tosses with magnetised waves.

It is a steep climb up to the cottage: as one we turn our backs to the sea, only to meet it again at the summit where the house lies in wait.  Perched on an impossible angle of high ground, I fancy that a roving giant placed it there long ago, twisting its foundations into the surprised earth with clucking satisfaction, resolutely determined to have a view with a magnitude surpassing his own. 

We stand like five dumb pillars, also rooted to the spot against our will, and we too are dwarfed by the breathless scope of the Jurassic Coast.  Below, the ever-changing seas are governed by a mischievous sky that twinkles recklessly throughout our stay, from a dense tombstone-grey to that brightest of blues that smarts the eyes with the hyper-lurid luminescence of dyes and potions.

Breakfast, from this lofty seat, is a grand affair; the presence of the salty sea swelling at the window gives us all twice the appetite, and I feel enervated, prematurely quickened, by its constant power.

Now and again we venture out in the bracing air, treading the coastal paths, no longer darting crabs; not sea-creatures at all but giant-legged explorers that belong to the land; its forests and scrubby cliff-top patchworks of fronded green.  We loop and traipse and call until, exhausted, we settle halfway up some hill, defeated at last by nature’s clever battlements.  One by one, we succumb to the urge to roll back down like whizzing marbles set loose, and I brace myself for some thumping pain that never does arrive.

But more often, indoors, we brew pot after pot of tea, and drink in that view, wordless as our mugs grow cool.  Each alone with their own thoughts, communing perhaps with a private audience of shingle and seaweed shaped like wafers; with ichthyosaurs and isotopes of long-lost worlds.  I think of muddy pearls on the ocean floor; that, and the cruel beaked birds of the Jurassic swooping soundlessly on the waves.

Colour Me Bad

Super stellar fashion editors such as Annas Dello Russo and Piaggi have long subscribed to the manifesto of the bright and bold.  Now it’s time for the rest of us to follow suit…

 
 
 

Christopher Kane S/S 11

 

There is a pure, riotous poetry in the colour-drenched kaleidoscope of the coming season.  Spring collections feel lavishly carnivalesque and psychedelic; has fashion has raided Wonka’s candy-shop, or siphoned the Technicolor from Dorothy’s Oz?

 On SS/11 catwalks, colours sweet enough to eat stacked up like so many ice-cream flavours: pistachio and spearmint at Burberry, lemon sherbet at Chanel and glorious rhubarb-and-custard at Giles.  Migraine-inducing, retina-taxing hues zipped down runways like frenetic fireflies – Proenza Schouler showcased souped-up cerise and fizzy pumpkin.  Cerulean at Gucci and cobalt courtesy of Jason Wu were the kind of intense pigments more commonly concocted in phials of chemical laboratories, or plundered from souks and spice markets of tropical bazaars.  Further forays into the Far East saw exotic Geishas at Galliano and Kenzo compete, butterfly-like, with rainbow-hued Harajuku dolls at Meadham Kirchhoff and Junya Watanabe.

Meadham Kirchhoff S/S 11

So tread bold, but banish clownish overtones by investing in translucent peek-a-boo fabrics looted from romantic heroines of yore.  Juxtapose with mean, lean silhouettes sharper than Lagerfeld’s suits.  Splice with a horde of tribal, tattoo and trompe l’oeil prints, sneak in a dash of sport-luxe, and you’ve got yourself one seriously stupendous wardrobe for spring, summer, and that bright beyond…

Dreaming in Dance

Ballet.  With a swish of tulle and a tiptoed flourish en pointe, the theatrical fantasy world of the dramatic, dream-like dance is set to sashay back into the fringes of fashion.  Designers right, left and centre are utilising shimmering embellishment, flounces and feathers; fixing their fashion focus upon the starry otherworld arenas of costume and ceremony. 

Paris catwalks of SS/11 twinkled with fronds and fairytale fabrics; the very life-stuff of the magical creations adorning characters of traditional ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.  Ostrich feathers at Chanel.  Towers of tulle at Alexander McQueen.  In London, Erdem invoked the spirit of the ballet russes in a sweetly romantic and somehow sartorially very European collection.  Milan, too, was not all sophisticated Italian hauteur; some girlishness emerged in the form of debutante coyness and light, pretty palettes.  The rash of minimalism and monochrome across many fashion houses’ spring ouevres has been combated and offset by some enchanting forays into romance and decadence.

Chanel S/S 11

Alexander McQueen S/S 11

Tutus at Felder Felder, S/S 11

Sugar-plum sweetness at Giles, S/S 11

Frou-frou at Mark Fast, S/S 11

Ethereal and doll-like at Dolce & Gabbana, S/S 11

Dramatic gilt plumage at Gucci, S/S 11

  The approaching party season is the perfect excuse to team lavishly decorated ballerina pumps with a sleek cigarette pant or fabulous frock for all-out impact. 

Tory Burch, £255

 

Carvela. £65

Timely ads for Repetto, the historic French ballet shoe company, are currently spashed, in glossy finery, across a raft of fashion magazines.

Diane von Furstenburg has even been coaxed from her trademark territory of the womanly wrap dress to deliver enchanting party dresses in new, lissome shapes.  Anna Sui has woven fairy gowns of organza and tulle.

Diane von Furstenburg 'Talea' dress, £730

Diane von Furstenburg 'Yadira' dress, £545

Anna Sui silk tulle and sequin dress, £870

 Ladies, the sumptuous stage is set.  Throughout the glittering snows of winter and the beauty of swan-like spring, indulge in an elegant celebration of that dream-world-without-limit; the dazzling brilliance and bravura of the ballet…

David Koma: Single-handedly putting the fizz into fashion…

There is a certain night in November (I shan’t go into specifics) when fireworks are very much on the agenda.  With this in mind, I present a couple of the A/W offerings from David Koma – and proper firecrackers they are too…

David Koma one shoulder dress

 

David Koma zig-zag dress, £2780

Oh my!  These imaginative pieces completely re-work the common fashion motifs of stripes and monochrome; Koma has created something more akin to the land of cartoons and comic book strips.  You half expect to see a BAM! or POW! pouffing in a cloud of exclamation marks, just parallel to the shoulder. 

I am utterly enamoured by the crackle and energy these dresses give off.  There is something futuristically modern and yet fundamentally obvious about the designs, as if they have been brought to life, Penny Crayon style, by the power of a felt-tip marker.  Forget amulets, capes and thigh-high boots.   I’ve just found the perfect uniform for a modern day super-woman…