Beyond the Pale


Love Is Boutique: Bloggers & Press Day

A veritable Tardis of designer goodies, Love Is Boutique has always been a must-visit destination for the bargain-hunting fashionista, but there have been subtle changes afoot since I last visited and now I had heard it’s EVEN BETTER. Along with a few other invited bloggers and press peeps, I sashayed along to see just how this could be so.
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If you are on heart medication of any kind, you may want to dose yourself up before walking through the doors of Love Is Boutique, as every rail, each shelf and cabinet the eye rests on is bulging with temptation in the form of DESIGNER BARGAINS.

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Be still my rapidly beating heart. Hopefully not literally.

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“Umm… Is that a Phillip Lim evening dress sparkling on the wall? Can that be a Chloe Paddington bag hanging up there?” your brain asks your eyes. “Just next to the several immaculate Louis Vuitton bags and adjacent to the cabinet of handmade couture Manolo Blahnik shoes…” your eyes nonchalantly reply.

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At this point, your palpitations are going to kick in, so it’s really handy if you have remembered that medication or have your inhaler to hand. Or a hip flask of gin, whatever gets you through. Yup, it’s all true, this place is piled up with the kind of high-end designer merchandise normally only sighed over in the glossy pages of Vogue, Harpers and their ilk. Only at VASTLY reduced prices.

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Paula Fry, the owner of this treasure trove, invited me, along with several other bloggers and members of the press, to come and see the changes Love Is has undergone. It’s always been good – the kind of Best Kept Secret you only tell your best girlfriend. And maybe not even then – so how could things get even better?

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“We’ve got a lot more picky about what we accept to sell for customers, now.” Paula explained. Love Is works as a dress agency, with clients gaining a percentage of whatever the boutique sells the items for. “We can afford to be really choosy because our reputation has spread, and the stuff people bring in for us to look at is unbelievable! One lady came in with her collection of Louis Vuitton bags. ELEVEN of them, all real!”

Paula has become something if an expert at sniffing out fakes “Most of them you can spot a mile off, because the shape or size is wrong, the stitching isn’t right. Some are a bit more difficult, but there are experts you can refer to, and the big brands are all very happy to verify their own merchandise if you’re really not sure.”

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Having built up their name, hosted hugely successful events and fashion shows, and been featured in Vogue magazine as a “must visit” destination, Love Is now boasts a celebrity clientele – “Top Secret, I absolutely cannot name names!” – who buy and sell their designer swag here. “Often the chauffeur comes and drops stuff off,” Paula whispers, “and oh my GOD it’s such amazing stuff…”

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Perhaps the most noticeable change is the fact there’s far less vintage stock in the boutique these days. It’s getting harder and harder to get top quality vintage to sell, and people put a ‘vintage’ tag on any old thing and expect it to be desirable, so I think this is a clever move on their part. Plus, in a wealthy area and with celebrities emptying their wardrobes, you may as well focus on the goodies surrounding you!

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The vintage pieces are still to be found: really cute little fifties fur collars, dinky enamelled bug brooches and incredible unique handbags from all eras, along with select clothes, but here the designer investment pieces now jostle with the very best high-end High-street items, so there really is something for every budget.

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It’s really interesting to note that real classics like the Mulberry Bayswater bags are flying out the door – “We just can’t get enough of them, as soon as we have them through the door, they leave again on someone else’s arm!” Iconic designer pieces such as Alexander McQueen scarves and tailcoats are also in high demand, as customers invest in designer stand-out pieces which won’t date, mixing these with far cheaper high street trend items.

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On this visit, I was quite selfless and restrained, buying an unusual necklace for a friend’s Christmas present, though I took rather a shine to the Bally, sheepskin lined ankle boots on the back shelf here, and may have to pop back in to, um, visit them. Yes. That’s it. *cough*

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I also have a massive regret that I didn’t get the beautiful enamelled ladybird brooch purchased by fellow bargain-snaffler, Bettina, AKA Mrs Anke (of Ladybits blog fame: she has a gin cocktail named after her, and that’s a REAL measure of fame, my friends). Que Sera, as Doris Day was wont to warble!

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Adored this darling little bobble-trimmed dress, too. Oh, and the cosy hooded cloak and the bauble charm bracelet and about five coats upstairs and… Uh, no, I mean it’s all awful and you wouldn’t like it at all so don’t go before I’ve got my mitts on all the goodies I saw, there’s nothing there. Yup. Convincing, eh?

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As the Champagne was quaffed and more people arrived to gawp and gossip (three of my favourite things to do, right there: quaffing, gawping & gossiping) I had to grab my purchase and get a wriggle on, sadly. Having ogled their latest wares, I shall be back again very soon. They have all manner of gorgeousness arriving every single day, so there’s always a good reason to pop in again.

Just to look. Obviously…

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UPDATE: I have now been back and purchased the Bally boots. Quite by accident.

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Bargain du Jour: Bolongaro Trevor Lomasi Shift Dress 68% Off!

I am a huge fan of Bolongaro Trevor, no surprise, really, as they’re the designers who founded another of my favourite clothing brands – All Saints. As such, I am always keeping a watchful eye on their website, waiting to see the latest looks and – with squealing excitement – the last-minute bargains to be had in their amazing sales!

Bolongaro Trevor is created by British Designers Kait Bolongaro and Stuart Trevor – original founders and former designers behind the cult the retail store group All Saints. Original, unique and commercial, the new collection is comprised of contemporary handmade pieces inspired by vintage finds amassed over the past 20 years. The collections have a moody darkness reminiscent of Victorian London, making the brand a hit with the edgy East End crowd, British bands and models – Kate Moss, Agnes Deyene, Daisy Lowe, Pixie Geldof and Emma Watson. Collaborations include The Libertines – Carl Barat & Pete Doherty for their legendary comeback gigs in Reading and Leeds, The Who for their Feb 2010 Superbowl gig USA and uber-cool bands Kasabian and The Kings of Leon for the front cover of music bible NME. Recent collaborations have included Will.i.am and Danny O’Donoghue on BBC’s The Voice, The band behind Rebecca Ferguson and Pendulum.

I am thrilled with my latest purchase, so thought I’d share it with you: the Lomasi Shift Dress in deepest midnight blue cotton lace. I got it for £30 instead of £95, which is the sort of saving I like. 🙂

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I shall be wearing this with a little silk slip underneath and with leggings (as my legs are pale as bottles of milk and I don’t think the world is ready for them). In the colder weather I shall layer this over jeans, wear with thick tights and knee boots, or with warmer tops underneath.

There are still a few wonderful bargains left on the Bolongaro Trevor website, but my Top Tip of the day is to steer you toward their eBay outlet shop, where they sell the very last pieces of their biggest bargains! For example, there are now no Lomasi Shift Dresses on the website, but in their eBay shop you can still grab one – if you’re quick!



Love Is Boutique: Vogue Fashion’s Night Out

You certainly didn’t have to be shaking your tail [or wing] feathers in that there London last night for Vogue Fashion’s Night Out, ho no!  

Love Is Boutique threw open their doors and welcomed local bloggers, along with actual members of the public, with the promise of free-flowing bubbly and that golden glow that only designer and vintage BARGAINS can bring.

Featured recently in Vogue magazine [oooh, get them!] who described them as “…a treasure trove” and in The Guardian [show offs!] time spent browsing the rails here was recommended as “a perfectly indulgent day out”, so even without the lure of discounts and alcohol, the temptations to nestle at the bosom of Love is Boutique are manifold.

After what I can only describe as a somewhat testing week (involving falling over, nearly dislocating my elbow on a kitchen cupboard, everyone – including myself – in utterly foul moods, discovering a leak in the bathroom & pouring boiling soup over myself) an indulgent evening out was exactly what the fashion doctor ordered.

Housed in a beautifully restored building that dates from 1862 and used to be the Old Romary Biscuit Factory; Love Is Boutique draws visitors on heritage trails as well as the fashionista bargain-hungry crowds. Last night the two worlds collided as a large crowd of enthralled tourists & history-loving locals were entertained outside the building, as we guzzled delicious treats and glasses of bubbly inside.

I can’t go much longer without mentioning the cake truffles by Little Treats Bakery, actually. Stacked on vintage cake tiers, my colleague & dear friend, Sallie, were only more than happy to sample them, um, a few times. Just to make sure, you know. We are very professional about such things. I know you’re proud.

Cake Truffle (and photo) by Little Treats Bakery

Anyway, the cake truffles are ruddy lovely and you should all go and treat yourselves to some, they make such a nice change from run-of-the-mill chocolates. What a perfect idea for table favours at a wedding or at a vintage tea party. Also, because they just melt in the mouth and are so light, you feel a bit virtuous for not having a whole slice of cake. Practically diet food!  

If you have never been to Love Is, I shall attempt to describe it for you – a pretty little building with a bay window and a huge wreath on the door, once you enter you realise what a tardis of fashion it is – every time you think you’ve seen it all, another area opens up begging to be explored, each nook and cranny sheltering a wealth of designer names and vintage goodies.

There really is something for everyone, with a large range of sizes, styles and prices. Pieces range from just a few pounds to several hundred for the Big Name Whoppers as I rather unglamorously call them – the big fish that you have to be quick to snag before some other complete cow reels in her line and claims it as hers before you do!

A really good tip for beating those utter cows (I mean this in a flattering way, obviously) to the prize pieces is to add Love Is Boutique on Facebook and/or Twitter, as the gorgeous Paula and Lynne often give their followers a head-start by announcing the plum picks they are adding to the shop or their ASOS online boutique selection. That way you are more likely to be holding your Manolos high or swinging your Chanel bag and shouting “In your face, biatch!” than crying over your laptop’s keyboard and very possibly causing an electrical problem. The choice is yours, dearie.

Sallie was looking for a drop-dead cocktail dress for her husband’s incredibly swanky work do. Not that she exactly needed a new dress, but she’d had a bit of a poo week, too, and how dull life would be if we only purchased what we needed!

Firstly, Sallie was rather taken by a quirky little vintage bag with chunks of semi-precious gems set into the front, which you can see her modelling rather wonderfully, below.. However, once she had stroked the silk of the lace-hemmed (and brand new) Laundry dress she’s spied for £BARAGIN pricetag, she completely lost her heart and the dress won the day.

Of course I completely failed to get a picture of it as I’m rubbish, but take my word for it – it was amazing. We also managed to hunt out a vintage Venetian glass flapper necklace, and lo, the classy cocktail outfit was complete.

This is a similar necklace on top of a jaw-droppingly gorgeous dress and sweetest little velvet jacket we also loved. The colours really doesn’t come out well on my phone’s photos, but it was soft, luxurious and wonderful. You really are spoilt for choice when searching for a special occasion dress, here.

Photo of my top taken in semi-gloom of night on a phone, as I'm brilliant at this.

I found a darling little heather silk top by Belgravia-based designer Sybil Stanislaus with jet beading embellishment on one side of the hem, dangling jauntily over one hip and also quite reminiscent of a flapper-style outfit.

Closer look at jet beading (also taken in semi-gloom on a phone).

Perfect for dressing up a boring old skirt for a night out, or wearing with jeans and a leather jacket to spice it up a bit.

After making sure we had seen and touched every item in the shop at least twice, we joined the queue to pay for our treasures, all the while guzzling those cake truffles and gossiping with the lovely Love Is gals. We decided it should be against the law to own Chanel bags (or anything lovely) and not use them regularly. AGAINST THE LAW! We’re tough but fair.

As we left, clutching our purchases, we had goody bags forced upon us, if you can imagine such cruelty. Inside, we were treated to the most fabulous smelling array of Nature’s Finest Cosmetics.

French Twist soap by Nature's Finest Cosmetics

Mine included an amazing French Twist soap with soothing oils of lavender and invigorating coriander, and bath bombs that looked good enough to guzzle.

Bath Melt by Nature's Finest Cosmetics

I am not always the biggest fan of bath bombs, as some lesser companies seemingly make them of chalk scented grit, but these Bath Melts feel soft and waxy to the touch and are packed with moisturising shea and cocoa butters and natural oils. Simply divine, and the best way to end a stressful week I can think of. Bliss!

Thank you so much to everyone involved for all your hard work – it was much appreciated by everyone who attended.



Love Your Inner Magpie: Pantiles Vintage Fair & Flea Market

Boxes of treasure twinkling in the sunshine, the rustle of vintage fabrics in the afternoon breeze, stallholders carefully setting out their wares on velvet cushions…and my beady little eyes roving over everything, wondering if I could fit it all into my flat.

Yes, dears, it must be admitted: I am a magpie.

There were likeminded magpies galore at the first day of the inaugural Pantiles Vintage Fair and Flea Market – with something for everyone lined up throughout both days.

Programme of Events:

  • 11.30 – 12.30: The Swinging Little Big Band (Sat)
  • 11.30 – 12.30: Downtown Meltdown DJs ‘Sunday Morning Fry Up’ (Sun)
  • 1pm: Vintage Fashion Show – organised by Gently Worn Vintage (Sat and Sun)
  • 1.30pm: Gypsy John’s Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers (Sat and Sun)
  • 2pm: Vintage Fashion Show – organised by Gently Worn Vintage (Sat and Sun)
  • 2.30pm: Gypsy John’s Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers (Sat and Sun)
  • 3pm: Vintage Fashion Show – organised by Gently Worn Vintage (Sat and Sun)
  • 3.30pm: Gypsy John’s Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers (Sat and Sun)

The Swinging Little Big Band

Forgive my dreadful pictures – these were all taken on the hop on my mobile phone, in bright sunshine most of the time, so that I couldn’t even see what I was looking at! Hopefully they will give you some idea of the atmosphere, though. 🙂

The Swinging Little Big Band were really, really good. Sorry if you missed them. This is the sort of band I’d like playing at my wedding – they were fantastic at doing covers of the old classics, like Mack The Knife, but equally brilliant at rendering Pulp’s Common People or Radiohead’s Creep in a retro swing way, with a great deal of swagger and charm. They really got the crowd moving, with people spontaneously dancing and the rest all clapping along.

The Lindy Hoppers were excellent, too, and dealt very well with a music system that unfortunately kept failing them.

You had to love the fashion shows, organised by Gently Worn Vintage and with some truly gorgeous pieces being show. It was heart-warming to see such a mix of ages in the crowds watching them – I wondered if many of the older ladies and gentlemen were remembering parties they went to in similar outfits. They certainly all seemed to be lapping it up.

The model, above, is wearing my favourite piece of the show – a stunning 1950’s Belville Sassoon Couture silk dress, available from Gently Worn Vintage’s collection.

Belville Sassoon Couture dress at Gently Worn Vintage

It appears on their website, but is even more stunning in real life – the colour and condition is amazing.

There was a competition for the best-dressed people wearing vintage outfits at the fair, and my favourites were the couple (were they an actual couple or had they just been dancing together all afternoon?) immaculately dressed in 40’s fashions. Just darling.

My esteemed colleague, and good friend, Sallie and I met for a girlie day of browsing, lunch and general gossiping – something we almost never get to do, as we’re usually working on the same day (or Sallie’s covering my day off). Here she is, attempting to look serious whilst stroking an old coat.

And again, foraging for bargains among the crowds…

I loved this book of photographs – I used to collect vintage photos and spend hours wondering who they were, what their lives were like, if they were in love when that picture was taken or wishing they could be with someone else. Ha, ever the whimsy-filled romantic old fool! 🙂

I think part of the joy of vintage is holding onto a tangible piece of history, it sort of anchors you in the world, don’t you think? It’s all to do with that reaching back through the years and shaking hands with someone you never met, finding out that, actually, we’re not so different. I also love the idea of rescuing things and having them feel loved & wanted again. Told you I was a soppy fool!

Yes, yes, don’t worry – I’ll stop whittering on for a bit and get on with describing things again. For a bit.

I was particularly taken with Lady Butterworth’s stall of pretty vintage crockery and shoe lasts. I have always wanted a shoe last – they are such pleasing, tactile objects – and saw theirs used as bookends. Immediately taken with the idea, I purchased one, and am utterly thrilled with it. I love the story behind them, too…

My vintage shoe last from Lady Butterworth's

“You are now the owner of a unique piece of Northamptonshire history. These lasts were made by craftsmen as the first step in the manufacture of boots and shoes in a shoe factory in Northamptonshire. Only right-handed patterns were made, from which as many pairs as required would be turned into a copy lathe. These lasts were rescued when the shoe factory closed, just two hours before the building was to be demolished.”

Ladies at Lady Butterworth's stall

The two lovely ladies running the stall gave Sallie & I FREE CUPCAKES, which we stuffed ourselves with in a most unladylike fashion, after eating our lunch. Complete piggy-wigs that we are. Lady Butterworth’s had some truly gorgeous vintage plates and the sweetest little cups, I could quite happily have taken the whole stall home with me.

Luckily, they are specialists in hiring out crockery and assorted vintage props & oddities, for weddings, tea parties and the like. Definitely worth remembering! Just have a look in their gorgeous Crockery Cupboard.

Lady Butterworth's Crockery Cupboard

As with the Food Festival I wrote about it May, it was great to see the Pantiles buzzing with crowds enjoying the sunshine, supporting local businesses and perhaps buying something that isn’t mass-made or readily available anymore.

Newly opened vintage fashion sellers Vintage Child had a lovely stall, full of bright colours and very wearable styles from various eras (they have only just launched, and I don’t believe their website it up yet, but I’ll link to it when it’s live).

Fabulous local style gurus Love Is Boutique were proudly displaying their wares to all and sundry again, along with many stallholders new to me, who I’ll definitely go and seek out again. Long live originality, viva independent style I say!

Original Annie's new Pantiles boutique

Wandering down the historic little shopping area I so love, on the way to work the other day, I squealed slightly as my eye came to rest on on a colourful, retro-style waxed cotton dress in the window of a previously sadly empty shop space. “That looks suspiciously like an Original Annie dress” I thought to myself, and lo and behold, so it was. I wrote about their shop opening in Camden Road a little while ago, and now they have moved to the Pantiles where, I am sure, this great fashion label will go from strength to strength. Walking past their stylish boutique today it was absolutely heaving with people inside, which makes me very glad indeed.

Next, we ambled into the equally stylish new Stuff & Good Sense – recently opened concept shop that’s full to brimming with lust-worthy vintage furniture, crockery and homewares.

Their stall in the flea market was just as well set out as their shop – I like they way they use their space, it manages to be both warm and welcoming but without looking too cluttered.

Stuff and Good Sense (just behind the Tourist Information Centre) is a fantastic place to indulge in nostalgia – the shop is full of people sighing wistfully “Oh! Granny had that tea service!” or “My mum had that vase!” – find the finishing touch to a room or buy a perfect and unusual gift.

You absolutely must read about Mrs Anke’s trip around the new Pantiles boutiques for an overview of what you can find, but I highly recommend you come down here yourself for a good browse – the Pantiles is really coming into its own, now, and is something to be truly proud of.

Many towns have touristy bits that are twee and with nothing to offer anyone under 70, but the Pantiles seems to have really balanced the comfortingly antique with the excitingly new, now – it’s almost like a having a mini Covent Garden on our doorstep, and it’s wonderful to see.

There is a forthcoming Pantiles Fashion Market to look forward to, organised by local blogger and fashionista at large, Lady M Presents (August 13th & 14th) in which local independent designers and boutiques are gathering together to celebrate their diversity. Along with the Electric Lantern Festival (September 3rd -11th) celebrating film, photography, art, sculpture, comedy performances, dance, theatre and much more – and with the regular Thursday night Jazz and live bands, these festivals are drawing increasing numbers of people down to this (far more salubrious, dahlings) end of town.

Read more abut forthcoming Pantiles events on the Tunbridge Wells People website.

In a time of economic uncertainty and with only major chains and sprawling, faceless malls seemingly taking over many areas today, it’s more vital than ever to support local and independent businesses who are brave enough to stick their necks above the parapet. Jolly good show all round!



Last of the Bargain Hunters
February 12, 2010, 8:21 pm
Filed under: 2010, Accessories, Bargains, Etsy, Fashion, Sales, Shoes, Shopping

[I have been attempting to post this for simply ages – damn flaky internet connection. *shakes fist to the heavens*]

Now sales are a tricky issue for me. Working in retail myself, I loathe them with a burning passion and can’t wait to see the back of them. However, I am also a dedicated bargain hunter and will scavenge with the best of them.

Ruby Jersey Dress with Wrap Belt by Daniela Besso: was $120, NOW $79

Such is the dual, topsy-turvy, hypocritical twilight world I inhabit.

I think what I loathe about them is that MUST BUY STUFF frothing frenzy that overtakes certain types of people and turns them into mad-eyed, sharp-elbowed head cases. These types will buy anything – even in the wrong size – if they deem it to be a bargain.

You and I, dear reader, are far too discerning [of course!] to be lumped in with the proletariat. WE only buy classic pieces that we can mix & match into our wardrobes, or items we will still be using 10 years from now. Don’t we? {ahem}

Ava Bolero by Plümo, was £69, NOW £39

Now listen, of course you could claim this was an evening bolero for draping over darling little silk cocktail dresses. I claim, however, that it would work equally well draped over a simple t-shirt and worn with battered old jeans and your ever faithful Converse pumps. Thus, it’s a bargain.

Fly London Grace Platform Slide Sandal, was £84.99, NOW £39.99

…and these are a bargain as high-heeled clogs are set to be THE shoe of Spring/Summer 2010. For reference, see the current cover of UK Vogue. By the way, Alexa’s are by Chanel and cost, um, slightly more.

I shall be re-creating the Vogue cover in my next post, hurrah!

Anyway. Hardworking Classics Only. That’s what we are supposed to do, and I must say I have been extremely restrained.

So far.

How about you? Report & share your bargains!