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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Pantiles Food & Drink Festival 2012

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Any day that begins with eating a rare breed for breakfast (and especially when that breakfast is strictly edging toward lunch, having enjoyed a leisurely lie-in), is a day that bodes well, my friends.

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Even better, the burgers were cooked for us by the lovely staff of the Eridge Park Farm Shop, whose burger & hotdog stall was doing a roaring trade by the time we ambled to the 2012 Pantiles Food Festival, fortuitously located mere minutes from our doorstep.

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The Pantiles Food & Drink Festival was launched last year to great acclaim, and the Association of Pantiles Traders have worked tirelessly to make this an annual event. It’s really my idea of a perfect day out – shuffling from stall to stall, all temptingly laden with the very best of local produce, nodding at acquaintances passing by, stopping to chat with friends and, all the while, wondering “What can I cram into my mouth next?”

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With celebrity chefs giving live demonstrations of their tenebrous arts to crowds openly slavering at their skills, ice cream sellers jostling with cake hawkers and the smell of sizzling juicy venison mingling with saffron-infused curls of paella steam rising into the air; the need to sit down for a coffee and a rest takes over. I think I was born a pensioner, really.

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Sitting outside a cafe and people watching is one of my favourite activities in the world, and The Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells is just the perfect location for that. It always has a holiday feel to it, I think, with crowds thronging the market stalls and weaving through the Regency columns.

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As children by turn cavort among the tables and scream indignantly as they are deftly ushered past sweet stalls by parents well-versed in the methods of diversion “Look at that lovely doggie!” – and deception – “No you wouldn’t like those sweets, darling, they all taste of Brussels sprouts…” it’s good just to kick back and drink it all in, this passing melee of All Human (well, Kentish) Life.

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Of the many mouth-watering wares on offer, we were drawn to the tables of Mccarthy’s Country Stores, groaning with delicious looking homemade cakes and breads. When someone has gone to all the trouble to produce such wonderful items, it always seems terribly rude not to try something, doesn’t it?

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With this in mind, we plumped for (quite literally) a couple of slices of the pecan pie, which we shall have with tea later this evening. I feel it’s my duty to try such things on your behalf, dear readers. I know, I know, I am practically a saint for dedicating my life to helping you, I need no thanks, merely your continuing quiet adoration.

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Having recently started a Well Known Healthy Eating Plan that uses the allocation of Points to all food and drink that isn’t fruit or vegetables, I advise you not to get out your Points Calculator and start totting up how many are in a scotch egg as large as a baby’s head, because you will drop dead where you stand; but having been Good all week, I have oodles of Points left to ‘spend’ (scoff) so couldn’t care less about being Naughty during the weekend: that’s surely what weekends are all about!

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The focus on this year’s festival was on Drink, with an excellent display of local vineyards and drink manufacturers on display. I DO wish I could drink cider – a misspent youth drinking gutrot cider laced with piss and sugar (actually, lager and blackcurrant, but the previous description holds true) called Snakebite and Black (look, it was the early nineties, I was a Goth and at University: it was obligatory to drink it, okay?) has led to a continuing distaste for even the smell of cider. I am sure one day I’ll hopefully get over it, and if I do, I want to to try The Lisping Cowboy by Big Tree Cider. It’s an absolutely wonderful name and made me smile, I do like companies with a sense of humour in naming their beverages.

With TV chef and owner of Thackeray’s restaurant, Richard Phillips, as patron, the Pantiles Food & Drink Festival has once again been a great success, with over 50 stalls and drawing crowds (last year) of around 15,000 people sampling the array of the best Kent and Sussex fare. Ya-boo-sucks, I say, to malls full of faceless, anodyne chain stores – I would far rather spend a weekend like this, celebrating the bountiful wares of local producers and showing our support by scoffing them, wouldn’t you?

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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!



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!



Original Annie: Strength and Beauty in a Homegrown New Fashion Label
May 14, 2011, 11:40 am
Filed under: Fashion | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I thought it was about time I celebrated some true home-grown talent, and with that in mind I was overjoyed to hear that a brand new fashion label called Original Annie was opening in my hometown of Tunbridge Wells. Intrigued, I hot-footed it to their showroom to view select pieces of their collection and discover Original Annie’s Raison d’Être.

Original Annie's Camden Road shop front. Photo by Oliver Lee-Haswell

Approaching their intimate showroom in the now thriving, artsy area of Camden Road (number 121, for those of you itching to see it), there was a throng of people already inside, excitedly chattering about the clothes and the prospect of a new designer in town, and that genuine buzz of eager anticipation among the crowd. I took along fellow fashionista and gal-about-town (who also happens to be a colleague of mine in my fashion day-job), Sallie Gibson, and together we took the plunge into the crowds of people admiring the clothes from this brand new fashion label.

Original Annie sign and reflections. Photo by Oliver Lee-Haswell

The first thing that struck me was the delicious simplicity of the designs on show. I don’t mean that to sound derrogatory – far from it, for as anyone involved in fashion will tell you, the more simple the garment, the less it has to hide behind, so the more perfect it has to be. If that supposedly simple looking piece isn’t exquisitely finished from top to toe, it rapidly becomes apparent, and these pieces are just wonderful for a modern woman to slip into her wardrobe and accessorise however she wishes – to put YOUR very own stamp on an outfit, rather than a designer dictate every aspect of your outfit.

Original Annie side snap sack dress: £99 - A late 1960's inspired sack dress with side snaps in dry waxed cotton with luxury taffeta lining in contrast colour.

The second thing I noticed when viewing the SS11 collection was the highly original fabrics used. The majority of garments on show were made from a thick, waxed cotton in bold, block candy colours – very striking to look at, but utterly divine to the touch. I do so wish you could reach your hand through your computer monitor and stroke the pictures of these clothes, as I stroked them lovingly in person. It was quite amusing, actually, to glance around the boutique and see so many people doing exactly the same thing – reaching out and touching them as my colleague Sallie and I were! It’s impossible not to do, they are soft but with a definite structure. Quite addictive!

Original Annie Bronx Hudson coat: £129 - Washable dry wax paper like cotton. Water and windproof, fitted, gorgeous - THE jacket for 2011

I fell madly in love with a modern take on the waxed jacket – the Bronx Hudson – streamlined and simple, again, with a touch of military styling about it. Completely fantastic and adaptable to so many looks and ages – as are most of the pieces I saw. Sallie fell for a sample of a stunning baby-soft wool shift dress in powder blue with a creamy micro polka-dot running through the fabric. Yes, there are very flirty short dresses, but one could easily wear them as tunic over leggings or thicker tights and boots on colder days, or with jeans and Converse pumps for a dress-down casual look. I could see a number of people I know in many of the designs, ranging from teenage gals about town through sophisticated fashionistas of my age (30’s. Beyond that, not saying ;p) and well beyond. It’s all about the styling, dahlings.

So, buoyed up with enthusiasm (and not just because of the retro Babyshams we were drinking!) and having seen the pieces up close and personal, we discovered a bit more about the team behind this new fashion label.

Oliver Lee-Haswell”]Oliver Lee-Haswell “]Colin Cleaver is the head of design and came up with the concept behind Original Annie. Although Colin’s roots were based in architecture – indeed, he originally trained as an architect at the Architects Association, London – it isn’t such an unusual start for a fashion designer as you may think. The streamlined designs, which are continually re-worked until he is 100% happy with every aspect, are very architectural themselves, in that nothing is there without a purpose.

De-nuded of the frills and furbelows some designers use to trick the eye, with an Original Annie garment what you see is what you get – no seam is extraneous, and this beautiful simplicity underpins their very ethos: Strength and Beauty.

Orignial Annie Bronx Shift Dress: £99 - Architectural fitted and gorgeous shift in black dry waxed cotton - what more could we want?

The Orignial Annie team are fortunate to count among their number one of the very finest pattern-cutters in the business, Jefferey Witkin. On his rather prestigious CV, Jefferey can list Vivienne Westwood, Gucci and Valentino to name-dop a few of the houses he’s been involved with.

Original Annie Patch Dress: £99 - # An A-line fitted shift with a contrast patch - a true Annie Original in dry wax cotton and taffeta lining.

Multi-tasking superwoman, the incredibly glamorous Laura Duret, is one of those effortless-looking plate-spinning types who manages Original Annie’s PR whilst also running the boutique showroom and being in charge of styling. Oh, and she models some of the clothes, and runs about 100 other projects simultaneously! Laura also harks back to Colin’s design roots, explaining to a fellow blogger (the wonderful Lady M Presents, who showcases and models a number of the designs on her own blog piece about Original Annie, which you can read here), that the pieces Colin wanted to make are like “…architecture for the body, to make women look beautiful”.

Original Annie Tricolour Shift Dress: £99 - # Dry wax cotton, taffeta lined, simple shift with that wow factor - limited edition of 50 pieces.

From what will surely become their trademark shift dresses, through to tailored jackets and flowing fesitval capes, we found that Original Annie maintain their design standards throughout the range, whilst managing to encompass a huge number of potential ‘looks’ or the types of women who would wear them – something quite rare in these days when many design houses take that element of fun out of playing with clothes, accessorising and dressing up or down depending on what mood you’re in that day or how confident you feel.

Original Annie Festival Cape: £149 - Dry wax cotton cape, taffeta lined, 12 black snap high collar - festival heaven...

Although very much a homegrown talent, with the flagship store and showroom based in the Royal spa town of Tunbridge Wells, Kent; Original Annie have their eyes on the horizon, too, with a hope to eventually become an internationally renowned label which one could purchase in fashion capitals around the world. Original Annie isn’t only available to the lucky few who may pop in locally, however, so don’t despair! They are already up and running on the ASOS Marketplace website, so everyone can own their little piece of design-history in the making.

An Original Annie shift dress - a classic in the making, and a label to watch!

All photos of the Original Annie shop & launch event © Oliver Lee-Haswell (who is also busy designing their official website page – another of those plate-spinner types with so many projects on the go). All other photos © Original Annie Ltd.

Original Annie Boutique: 121 Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells, England, TN1 2QY.

Buy online: https://marketplace.asos.com/seller/originalannie/collection

Email: info@originalannie.com



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. 😉