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.



Behind the Scenes at Liberty: A Secret Tour

Today was an extra exciting jaunt to Liberty, as myself and a dear friend were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the lesser- spotted aspects of Liberty’s history.

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Meeting Anna, the in-house archivist for Liberty at the appointed hour in Customer Services, we were whisked downstairs and across the narrow street to the original frontage of the building (now owned by clothing brand COS), where Anna asked us to walk a little further on and raise our heads to the skies…

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Above, barely seen, are huge Oriental style columns and carvings, which marked Liberty’s original raison d’être as an Oriental Emporium; bringing luxury exotic goods to the (albeit well-heeled) masses.

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When Liberty opened its doors in 1875, built on a loan of £2,000 from Arthur Liberty’s future Father-in-law, and with just 3 staff, it was excellent timing. Liberty offered its clientele objets d’art, luxurious rugs and fabrics at the height of fashion with the public clamouring for desirable Eastern exoticism mixed with the comforting backbone of British tradition, and a sort of passionate longing for a romanticised Heritage which described the ideals of the Pre-Rapahelite movement.

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As we re-trace our steps and walk back to the entrance, Anna tells us to look up again at the strange little bridge between the original building and the newer part that Liberty now inhabits. This was specifically built to join the two sides together, but with the written stipulation that “…should one of the buildings be sold and used by another company, the bridge should immediately be pulled down. Which means, of course, that it shouldn’t still be standing,” Anna laughed, “though as it’s been listed, I think it’s pretty safe now.”

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The Tudor facade of the building we now think of as Liberty was actually built while the original building underwent refurbishments, so they could continue trading; and was chosen to stand for all that the ultra fashionable householder could desire – the entire building was meant to be a kind of Show Home Par Excellence. And indeed, for a price, you could walk in and have the exact carvings and “draped linen” effect wooden panels in your own home – built and furnished entirely by Liberty. Very nice, too. Put me down for one of everything, please!

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Climbing into one of the quirky wooden lifts, Anna remarks that people who work on Liberty occasionally like to gently poke fun at a certain kind of wide-eyed tourist, by loudly acclaiming the wonders of their “original Tudor lifts.” The thought of this amused me greatly, though as we guffawed, I couldn’t help noticing the slightly crestfallen face of the lady standing beside us, and hoped we hadn’t crushed her marvelling at the advanced technology of those Tudor types. Bless.

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The dark wooden beams and chunky Heraldic carvings in the 1920’s Tudor style building that so epitomises the Liberty aesthetic were actually taken from two massive ships, the HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage of the building on Great Marlborough Street was supposedly constructed to be the same length and width as the Hindustan, though to Anna’s knowledge this has never been absolutely verified. It’s a pleasing thought, so let’s just imagine it’s true and leave it at that.

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There is definitely the salty tang of the sea about Liberty’s interior. Perhaps it’s all the creaking timbers and the way it’s laid out, but one can certainly imagine you are all aboard the Good Ship Liberty, a proud galleon of British idealism, all oak leaves and marigolds, in full sail, carrying exotic goods gathered from each corner of the Empire.

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Trotting through the store at a cracking pace, startling crowds and scattering tourists as we went, Anna got us to notice the way the wood is treated differently in certain areas – variously varnished, gilded, painted, and (horrifically, in my opinion) bleached with vagaries of fashion and reflecting the changes of what is seen as ‘good taste’ in different eras. “In the sixties they wanted everything modern and new, none of this old stuff, so the thought was that the woods was far too dark. So they either ripped bits of it out or had a go at bleaching it.”

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Some of the wood was re-stained, some left as it was, and this adds to that patchwork Make Do and Mend, higgledy-piggledy nature of the place. And this is the way it has always been, the building is constantly changing shape with use, and so it should. This is a living, breathing business, not a museum piece trapped in aspic.

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Luckily they didn’t destroy too much if the original carvings, but a great deal of the original plaster work was chiseled out. In a few places you can still see the moulded oak leaves and ornate ceilings that would have been everywhere, but most walls are plain these days.

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The tea rooms originally used to be in the basement, the clue to this being the tiled walls, though this now fits very well with the menswear section and traditional style barbershop that now lives here. In what is now used as the hat department, along one wall, is a huge and incredibly ornate safe with a massive lock. “This used to be the jewellery department, and they kept the most valuable pieces locked away.”

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Luxury leathers, now full of designer bags, once housed Liberty’s Goods In delivery area. “The street that runs alongside it was once a quiet little alleyway, so perfect for having their deliveries brought into; but when the street became more wealthy and successful, the store had to increase its frontage and entrance ways to entice the shoppers in, so the area became prime floor space instead.”

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Liberty has changed to meet the world around it, too, then, just as it has changed internally over the years. As we cautiously peered over the railings on the top floor, Anna bade us look right down to the ground below. It’s a rather dizzying sensation, I can tell you. Next, she showed us another section in which a floor had been inserted in the 1960’s, again to maximise floor space, which is understandable but rather regrettable, like much of the Sixties architectural choices, if you ask me. She said, sounding like Prince Charles. ;-p

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When I’m usually in Liberty, my eyes are darting from one one thing to the next, there is so much to see you quite literally don’t know where to look next. It’s quite wonderfully exhausting, just trying to take it all in; every surface laden with goodies.

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My favourite throughout the whole tour was the way Anna would suddenly pause and point out the things you normally miss amidst the sumptuous offerings. “Look, there’s one!” she exclaims, and we creep closer to the window she’s pointing at, peering at the tiny fragment of stained glass the window pane had been patched with.

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“There are simply loads of these scattered through the whole of Liberty’s,” Anna explained. They would buy up antiques and old windows in auctions and patch the glass whenever a bit got broken or damaged.

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Larger clues to the original look of the Liberty Ideal Home are found in the many fireplaces around the building, dating from various periods in Liberty’s history.

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Anna explained this informal way of displaying goods for sale was quite revolutionary. Instead of just relying on special cabinets and shop fittings, Liberty revelled in the backdrop of the building itself to best display their wares: rugs draped over wooden railings, fabrics arrayed over antique tables, baskets arranged in fireplaces – just as they are today.

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Fabrics must be what Liberty is most famous for selling, but in fact the rug department is the only original link to their true beginnings as an Oriental Emporium. The rugs are still draped nonchalantly over the wooden railings, as though awaiting the attentions of the maid and her brush.

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I love the cosy homeliness of Liberty – albeit on a grand scale. The fact that around every corner peeps a carved wooden figure, peeking through the Liberty Print shirts, mischievous little links to the past. Anna’s favourite is the Elephant “It has really odd, strangely human ears, don’t you think?” My favourite has to be the lion, as it looks really worried and a bit scared. A cowardly lion, perhaps? This playfulness only adds the charm and character of the place.

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At the moment, Liberty is festooned with elegantly naive Christmas decorations, the golden chains harking back to the crepe paper ones of childhood, and hug from the original carved beams, some of which are from the ships that never made it to sea, some from the specialised wood turners Liberty employed, who would also make them to commission for your house, if you had sufficient funds for the task.

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The awe inspiring chandeliers which drop almost the full height of the building are always there, though these obviously aren’t original. “They replaced them in the 1990’s as the weight of the previous ones were found to be pulling the ceiling down!” Anna chuckled. “These are far lighter, and were chosen for their airiness while retaining that same grandeur.”
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There are far older chandeliers in the building, like this one which dates back to the opening of the 1920’s section, and according to Anna “…was once the longest chandelier in Europe. Or maybe it still is, I must admit I don’t know for sure.”

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Whether or not it’s still the longest original chandelier of anywhere at all, it is quite a sight to behold, and must be a nightmare to change a bulb in!

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The glowing ice-crystal like droplets really are magnificent, and I like the fact they are obviously very modern but with a splendour that seems to belong to an earlier age. This very much fits Liberty’s clever balance of strikingly new designer ranges and the incredibly classic patterns and designs they built their name on.

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Now when I come to Liberty, as well as gazing in awe at the thousands of Wondrous Things to buy, as I always have, I shall definitely be looking at the building itself a lot more. “There’s always more to see, I find new things all the time that I’d never noticed before, even more patched windows!” Anna tells us. She is based over at the Wholesale building across the narrow alley (that runs under the infamous bridge), but is in the Tudor-esque bit very often, on one fact finding mission or another. “People write to me from all over the world, sending me scraps of material from their bridesmaid dresses and trying to trace the pattern’s name.”

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It was a pity the Heritage Suite was still being used at the end of our tour, Anna had hoped it would be empty by then so she could show it to us. “It used to be the Director’s dining room,” she explained, “but is now hired out for various functions, meetings or events. Ooh, and if you ever have a beauty treatment here, you must get them to show you the room off the makeup hall which is all gold panelled and was used to formally receive Queen Mary!”

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Although there are several department stores around the world that have become tourist attractions in their own right, there can surely be few where the actual building and interior is so vitally important to the ethos of the company and the very goods they sell. Liberty sell you pieces of the dream you’re standing in.

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Home is where the heart is, and I lost mine to Liberty years ago…

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Stuff & Good Sense: Vintage Soiree

Stuff & Good Sense is a little treasure trove of a boutique, nestled away in that sacred heart of Tunbridge Wells: the picturesque Pantiles. This historic area of the town has always drawn tourists but previously became written-off as being perhaps a bit Cream Tea Twee (though I love a good ol’ cream tea, me).


In the last year it has definitely become apparent The Pantiles is quietly booming & actually quite a (whisper it) funky/alternative location for locals AND tourists to shop, eat, drink and generally parade themselves about.

A plethora of really interesting independent shops abound and I cannot overstate how refreshing it is to wander around an area free of big chains and the corporate big boys: a shopping experience that’s becomming distressingly rare these days, it seems.


I love supporting local, hand-made and independent shops, so when I received an invitation to attend a Vintage Soiree including PINK FIZZ, delicious food, retro furnishings, vintage designer gowns & all manner of fabulous nick-nackery… It would be rude not to go along and show one’s support, wouldn’t it? Quite.

Knowing full well that friend & colleague in crime, Sallie the Sausage Queen (see below), would be up for a bit of fizz sipping while shopping, we’d hot-footed it to the Soiree straight after work.


Stuff & Good Sense is tucked behind the inimitable Trevor Mottram’s – a veritable maze of a shop containing every cooking impliment known to man. And many unknown to man or, indeed, his dog. As we arrived the party was already in full swing, with the laughter and chatter bursting out of the open door to greet us.


Plunging forth, we made straight for the makeover area with the utterly charming makeup artist from Powder & Glow (I think it was Caroline herself, but do forgive me if I remember incorrectly!) giving good lip (I was complimented on my pillarbox red lipstick, which was pleasing) & Sallie’s pout was painted, too. Just before she applied herself to some refreshments.


The makeover area just happened to be right next to the table of alcohol and an extremely tasty selection of nibbles, kindly provided by The Bijou Bakery. Imagine: Sallie & I plonked next to a table of plonk. Oops, what a coincidence!

We were particularly fond of the Sticky Sausages (indeed, I imagine there are very few times either Sallie or I would willingly turn down a sticky sausage). We could quite easily have polished off the whole plate, and very nearly did.

A few glasses of PINK FIZZ saw us glowing rosily (well, Sallie had just the one, as she was driving, so I drank her share. It seemed the right and proper thing to do).

No vintage event seems complete without a pretty stand of cupcakes, but the ones here were truly, gobsmackingly gorgeous.


Look at them. LOOK at them!

We looked at them for several minutes before deciding that no, they weren’t ‘too good to eat’ and cramming them into our mouths. They were meltingly light and the frosting wasn’t too sweet – the downfall of many a cupcake, in my opinion. Some look nice but you find you’re left with a mouthful of what is basically pure sugar, with your eyes spinning in their sockets and the onset of diabetes. These were simply cupcake perfection, and you, too, may experience their delights at Vintage Rose Cupcakes. HIGHLY recommended!

The Stuff & Good Sense soiree was such fun, a really friendly atmosphere of celebration and larking about. It was really quite uplifting to the spirits, seeing the lovely laydeeees of Tunbridge Wells all quaffing, laughing, scoffing and browsing.

Shop owner, Gaynor, has amassed a fantastic collection of desirable goods, from mid-century furniture to Liberty patterned dog collars – with pure, handmade soaps, & cosmetics, retro crockery, quirky jewellery, art and all manner of Perfect Gift type pieces in between.

I really liked a lot of the prints they had hanging in the shop – but am always drawn to things like this, being a bit of a font nerd of old.

Knowing a good thing thing when they see it, the fabulous frock purveyors Gently Worn Vintagewww.gentlywornvintage.co.uk now have a tempting closet of gorgeous vintage clothes & accessories within Stuff & Good Sense.

We all spent quite a long time cooing over various glamourous hats bedecked with pearls or overlaid with peacock feathers.

So glamourous! People should wear hats more often, I think.

Sallie tried virtually all of them on while I sipped another glass of pink fizz, so that she didn’t have to. I’m SO NICE like that. Here’s Sallie hiding in a corner while Cath (independent tour guide who runs Discover Southeast England & is a general font of local knowledge) looks slightly alarmed.

The conversation ranged from hidden wells (not a euphemism, get your mind out of the gutter, dear), and the history of various local buildings; to mad aunts, fur-lined gloves (also not a euphemism) and a Fashion Tour that Cath’s hoping to arrange in the near future. Also, lots of dressing up (them) and drinking fizz (mostly me). It was all rather marvellous.

My eye was taken with a stunning brocade evening coat, while Sallie fell head-over-heels for this perfect condition patent leather vanity case/handbag complete with original contents. Lined in watered pink silk and with dinky little bottles & pots for ones lotions & potions to be decanted into, it was pure Mad Men! Sallie put it by in order to purchase for her birthday. I think many of us are quite green with envy. 😉

For those of you who didn’t make this special event (or weren’t important enough to be invited. JOKE! ;p) you will be very glad to hear that future soirees are planned – in fact, one is happening this very week, on Wednesday 26th of October, 7-10pm.

Cocktails, decadent treats and music from a bygone era are promised along with the chance to learn the secrets of the art of couture. Which can’t be bad.

Against the fabulous retro backdrop of the shop, guests will be transformed with a personal makeup consultation and given a face chart to take home (estimated value of this service is £75, so worth the ticket price alone!) and a professional photographer will be present to capture the new look. In addition, guests will also be given an exciting goody bag, with a specially selected vintage gift in each one.

My goody bag from the soiree was full to brimming with exciting stuff, and I loved my vintage jade green silk scarf and twinkling hair clip – so cute!

Tickets for this event are £30: If the forthcoming soirée is even half as much fun as the one we attended, then it’s worth twice as much as that! Hopefully some are still available if you’re interested; contact Carole on 07827 960389 to reserve a place, or pop in to Stuff & Good Sense itself.

Stuff & Good Sense
29 The Pantiles,
Tunbridge Wells,
Kent
TN2 5TD

Thank you so much to the lovely Gaynor, all the hard work that everyone put into the event and to all the lovely ladies we met that night. It was a huge success and created a real buzz – and that wasn’t just the alcohol! I’m just sorry it took me so long to finally upload this post – a perfect storm of work pressures, illness and NO TIME AT ALL for ANYTHING (the usual) kept me from getting it up as soon as I’d have liked. Oooh, Matron.

I do hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventures at the vintage soiree. You must go and visit Stuff & Good Sense yourself, it’s a real gem and we’re lucky to have such quirkily interesting shops as this on our doorstep.

 



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!



Pantiles Vintage Fair & Flea Market: Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th July

Hot on the heels of May’s hugely successful Pantiles Food Festival, tomorrow my darling colleague Sallie and I shall be lapping up the Pantiles Vintage Fair and Flea Market. I am SO excited I might actually burst. Though I’ll try not to.

Vintage dresses (from May's Pantiles Food Festival)

Held by The Association of Pantiles Traders, this event will span the weekend, meaning most people should be able to attend. I actually have two weekends in a row off work, as I have booked them as holiday leave. This is an occasion so rare, I fully expect a star to rise in the East, and for 3 wise men to begin their trek to Tunbridge Wells.

Bunting & crockery (from May's Pantiles Food Festival)

Last night I began celebrating by drinking Prosecco like it was going out of fashion and dreaming of all the fabulous vintage goodies I may get my paws on this weekend.

“Vintage is hugely in vogue,” says Richard Simm, chair of The Association of Pantiles Traders. “A younger generation are discovering and embracing mid-century style, while the older generation are happy to immerse themselves in the nostalgia of the era. “New shops, like Stuff & Good Sense on The Pantiles are proof positive of the popularity of vintage items – that only a few years ago would have been thrown into a skip,” he says. “The Pantiles has a tradition of antique shops, we see the Vintage Fair as continuation of a theme – and something we can have some fun with.”

Held in the year of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, we should be in for a bumper day of vintage delights. In addition to many stalls hawking their wares, we are promised vintage fashion shows, live bands, free antique valuations, a competition for the visitors wearing the best vintage outfits, and a controversial Turner Prize winning artist… Intriguing!

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)

Crowds enjoying May's Food Festival

There are some really exciting shops opening up in the Pantiles, now, and the diversity of the boutiques really serves to maximise the area’s originality. It’s interesting to see the range of fashions, homewares, art and accessories (both new and vintage) available, and positively cockle-warming to witness once empty shops blooming with renewed life. Please read the ever-wonderful Bettina (aka: Mrs Anke)’s latest blog article, focusing on these Pantiles boutiques, for an overview!



The Crimson Petal and the White: BBC2, Episode 2 (Spoiler Free)

Last week I breathlessly began watching the BBC’s four-part adaptation of Michel Faber’s epic novel, The Crimson Petal and the White.

Vintage Shoe Pin Cushion: $20 from Sweet Love Vintage - There's something eerily beautiful about this pin cushion. I'd love to have it on my dressing table with 'To Do' lists secured to it with hatpins, or just to display brooches.

I had been concerned that, for want of a better expression, they would bugger it up, and wrote in my last post about the unique type of fear that ripples through you when you discover they’re filming a book you’ve really enjoyed. I know not everyone feels the same, but I happen to think they’ve made a pretty good stab at adapting a novel which mainly consists of richly detailed descriptive passages of narrative – surely a difficult task by anyone’s standards.

Let the Light In, photograph: $12 by 3 Lambs Design - This is just stunning, I love the way the photographer has captured the light on the petals of this peony, and the shocking splash of red at the heart of the white petals.

(By the way, if you missed the first episode of The Crimson Petal and the White, catch-up by watching it here)

In the first episode we spend more time at Mrs Castaway’s house of ill repute, learning about the inhabitants and their various vices. We meet Sugar, just as the narrator introduces us to the cast of characters in the novel, and we know just as surely we’re in the wrong side of town.

Burlesque Red Hat: $155 by Order Abandon - People don't wear hats enough these days, do they? I think this is just darling and would make a welcome change to the usual creations one sees at weddings, Ascot and so forth. Great photo, too!

In my previous post, I squealed about how gorgeous the pictures of the costumes and sets were; having watched the first two episodes, I’m here to tell you the pictures don’t do them justice. I could gaze for simply ages at the way the sets have been dressed, that overarching Gothic gloom that shrouds both the worlds of the velvet-clad upper classes and the ghastly wretches in tatters.

Victorian Drawstring Bag: $12 by Giddy Now - This is an original Victorian bag, with the cutest little button bottom. Perfect for the next Gin & Whores event (see earlier posts!) or just as a unique evening bag. I love wondering who owned objects like these; how often they used them, what happened in their lives...

Even the filth and mire of the notorious St. Giles Rookery area of Victorian London is lovingly realised, with the raucous dens of iniquity thrown into sharp relief against the lusciously opulent interiors of the upper echelons of society.

Private Collection Victorian Tile & Pearls Bracelet: $75 by Wickedly Good - This is from the artist's private collection, unique items not previously available to the public. I always enjoy pieces which celebrate beauty and decay, and this bracelet perfectly encapsulates that theme

In the second episode we see the two worlds colliding, the velvet besmirched as the rot sets in. It’s wonderfully vivid stuff and, despite critics’ fears (hopes?) that it would be wall-to-wall rumpy pumpy; it’s really not that filthy, considering the subject matter and how salaciously titillating it could well have been!

Hand Blown Glass Perfume Bottle: $165 by Kiva Ford - There are so many utterly stunning hand blown bottles & glass objects in Kiva Ford's shop that I hardly knew where to begin. This one really caught my eye, though. I think it's those vivd splashes of red against the white background. Sinister and beautiful.

I think Romola Garai makes a wonderful Sugar – I especially liked the way she kept her facial expressions entirely free of emotion – except perhaps of sheer boredom – as she, um, welcomed her clients. So to speak. Until she knew they could see her face again, at which point it lit up like an overly decorated Christmas tree.

Oriana Ruffled Victorian Shrug: $165 by Countessa - Utterly delectable in every way, this shrug/jacket is just the sort off thing I'd like to have in my own wardrobe. Adore the rich colour and just the right amount of ruffles - pretty without being too frou-frou to wear in reality without feeling like the Sugar Plum Fairy.

All of this is nectar to me, as you may imagine, and very inspiring. Even before the first episode, I began building a collection of seedy Victorian items for use in an Etsy Treasury. The layout of that treasury may be seen at the start of this post.

Infatuation Antique Repurposed Tintype Necklace: $36 by Luminoddities - Old photographs are always engaging, aren't they? I wonder who this handsome chap was, if he was in love when this picture was taken, if his heart had been broken, or if he was a disreputable cad. Luminoddities has some wonderfully imaginative pieces, I love their style.

I hadn’t had time to finish that before posting previously, but it’s now been published (linked above), and I thought I’d share its contents with you here.

London Fog Fine Art Photograph: $12 by Keri Bevan - Gorgeously murky colours, here, that sickly yellow and the violet tinging, like a bruised sunset.

Pictures from my treasury are scattered throughout this post, or click the link to go to the full-sized treasury list, and browse from there if you prefer.

Red Curled Feather Hairclip: $13 by Midnight Boudoir - Release your inner harlot and wear red feathers in your up-do, I say. Make sure a few curls are escaping and that you recently rumpled, or it could look too prissy. And we don't want that. This clip is gloriously decadent - don't just save it for weddings!

Anyway, yes. It’s right up my street (or St. Giles alleyway), really, this tickling of the seedy underbelly of Victorian London. A look right up the lacy petticoats at the seething moral dichotomy which Victorian society so loved to wrestle with. Wonderful stuff.

1880's Stranger's Guide to London: $8 from sandp1 - This antique guide looks fascinating, I wonder how many of these places still exist, if any?

If you read my previous post on The Crimson Petal and the White adaptation, you will have seen that some people got all hot under the collar, they felt it was “gaudily over-painted” and full of “Victorian Gothic Melodrama” – as though they’re BAD things. Well, anyone who thinks that would put me off obviously hasn’t cast an eye over the rest of this blog, and we doubtless wouldn’t see eye-to-eye. The gaudier and more melodramatic the better, if you ask me!

Antique Postcard Couple, by Old Tyme Notions: $3.00 - I have a small collection of hand-coloured vintage photographs, they're fabulously romantic and tacky, but in the good way. Yes, there is "good tacky".

I find it rather amusing that sniffy people peering over the tops of their glasses are declaring it rather declassé, and in doing so, have completely and utterly missed the point. The Victorian public adored high Gothic melodrama, and both the book and the television adaptation are tipping the wink to this era in the form of an affectionate pastiche. As for gaudy, well, the Victorians could hardly be called minimalist, and thank the Lord for that.

Antique Velvet Photo Album, by La Petite Abeille Ruche: $21 - Gorgeously faded cover, just waiting to be filled with photos and scraps from your own life. I think an empty photo album is very poignant, somehow. Lonely, forgotten, mysterious. I wonder what images it once held...

Indeed, you could say it’s the decadence and the “pantomime characters” that serve as an attraction for me, in this austere age of dowdy realism and dull, lifeless, clumsy ‘re-imaginings’ of novels. I dare say that if you loathed the novel, you wont enjoy the BBC adaptation – just as if you detest mandarins, you should probably steer clear of mandarin flavoured sorbet. My advice is: Go for the lemon, old bean! Don’t put yourself through hours of torture on anyone’s behalf. I loathe Hollyoaks. I watched it once and hated it, and decided never to watch it again as it wasn’t at all my thing, but I shouldn’t dream of saying it should be banned, or criticising others for liking it.

Red Geranium Petals, dried, by Pleasant Hedges: $6.00 - These would be heavenly scattered over a table as the finishing touch to a decadent dinner party. Or strewn on a bed, as a change from rose petals (yawn), if you like. I have no idea what you lot get up to in your spare time, and prefer to keep it that way. Even the description of these is blowsily romantic: "I grew these flowers in my garden, here on Larkspur Hill, and dried them to be preserved until your special day..." How lovely Larkspur Hill sounds! Let's all don straw hats and eat strawberries whilst running through the fields at Larkspur Hill! It could be an industrial estate for all I know, but it sounds beautiful so I don't care.

I am here to tell you that television producers very rarely have my taste in mind when they make programmes. They practically never consult me before spending millions on their latest project. But neither should they, because I do not consider my taste (or lack of) is more or less important than anyone else’s. If I dislike a programme I may give it another go, or I may choose to switch it off and never let it darken my life again.

Turkish Mocha Victorian Teardrop Soap, by Stockwell Cottage: $2.00 - I'm a huge fan of handmade soaps, particularly those with goat's milk in, as they seem kinder and more moisturising to my skin. I have always hankered after a huge conch shell filled with exotic soaps, but instead make do with a Victorian looking wrought-iron cakestand, on which I place soaps, perfume bottles and other assorted nick-nacks. Again, I should stress that I'm not generally in favour of mimimalism... 😉

One thing I will never do, is apologise for liking gaudy melodrama. Never. I’m really quite awfully proud of it, as you can possibly tell by the merest glance at the rest of my blog! I rather suspect that persons who are troubled by things being too over-the-top and showy will have found their entire (albeit fleeting) visit to my blog to have been jolly upsetting…

Early Victorian Skate Cape, from Petrune: $750 - Now, there are probably very rare occasions when you could wear an early Victorian skate cape (except perhaps in an early Victorian skating party, of which there are shockingly few), but this is so colourful and jolly, in a sort of toothpaste stripe way, that I just had to include it.

Nurse! The smelling salts!

I do hope you make a full recovery, dearhearts. Don’t forget to loosen a few stays, put your head between your knees and breathe deeply into a paper bag.

If all else fails, have some gin!

Until next time,poppets

Yours Gaudily,

Miss Nightingale

x



Magpies Fabulous Vintage Fair

The highlight of last week for me was, without doubt, Magpies Fabulous Vintage Fair.

 

Please excuse the dreadful quality photos – they’re from my phone. 😉

Held at Salomons in Tunbridge Wells, within the Victorian wood-panelled Science Theatre, this was the perfect venue for an eclectic assortment of vintage sellers to hawk their wonderous wares.

Run by local vintage & designer emporium, Love is Boutique – who I have previously waxed lyrical about – the Magpies moniker certainly lived up to its name: everywhere the eye rested, a bejeweled creation or fascinating piece of designer ephemera jostled for attention.

Ladies munching cupcakes almost too beautiful to eat (almost!) by Everything Cupcakes, chattered excitedly in glamorous huddles, surrounded by an Yves Saint Laurent couture suit here, a 1920’s feathered boudoir robe there. It was all quite gloriously giddy-making.

 

Absolutely the only way to browse effectively was by completing several laps, to make sure you hadn’t missed anything. Luckily I was with three hardy companions who’d run away to the fair with me as soon as we’d finished work.

Half the fun of a vintage fair is having a good old rummage. Plunging in and holding aloft some lurid jumpsuit & remarking how your mum used to wear one just like it, or spotting homewares that remind you of your childhood.

It was really interesting seeing how many pieces looked so contemporary – as though they’d just been used in a Vogue photoshoot – which shows you how much fashion still relies on looking to the past for inspiration.

One of the standout stalls, for me, was the breathtakingly beautiful range of wedding & evening dresses by Charlotte Casadejus . www.charlottecasadejus.com

Her passion for vintage designs can be seen in her exquisite contemporary pieces, which echo the past and give the appearance of having been whisked from the very hands of couture dressmakers from the 1900’s right through to the 1970’s.

 

I plan to do a separate blog piece about Charlotte Casadejus , I was so taken with her designs, but do go and feast your eyes on her website, linked above, for the moment.

Another stall which blew me away was Coucou Heart. It held all manner if enticement in the way of cleverly repurposed vintage bits & bobs strung into incredible pieces of jewelry. [Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the stall. This one is from the Etsy shop…]

My eye was immediately drawn to a long, silver necklace with a tiny antique key hanging from a shorter, central chain and a large – um, lamp? Incense pot? Censer? – hanging from the longer chain, and bedecked with tiny grey glass beads which tinkle merrily as you move. This is a terrible picture, but believe me, it’s a gorgeous necklace!

Having purchased, I had a lovely little chat with the lady behind Coucou Heart herself, about how much we love antique keys. It’s the mystery behind them that gets me going – wondering what doors and locks they once opened, and if that door or lick remains sealed to this day. I then perused the rest of her pieces, and could literally (and quite happily) have taken home one of everything, it was all so in accord with my own taste.

Again, I plan to do a blog post based entirely on Coucou Heart, so shall leave it be for the moment, but I urge you to grab the pieces as soon as you can, because I will surely be snapping at your heels!

As always, there were several items on practically every stall that stood up and waved at me, begging to be taken home.

Tiredness & lack of funds were the twin evils keeping me from going mad. I’ll definitely be attending the next one – it was a delightful atmosphere, and a joy to see so many familiar faces all aglow with the buzz of a bargain, or clutching some cherished vintage piece that now belonged to them.

For FAR superior pictures of the evening’s shenanigans, please visit the lovely Mrs Anke. 😉