REVIEW * Style Me Vintage, Home*.

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The lady to go to for vintage home wear and the organiser of arguable the best vintage fair for shopping in the UK has joined our Style Me Vintage family. Keeley Harris has penned Style Me Vintage, Homes (Pavilion books) an ode to all things house and home. Her book is beautifully designed, full of colour and laid out in the style I set with Style Me Vintage Clothes (decade by decade, introductions to vintage, suggestions where to shop).

I found it clearly written and satisfyingly devoid of hyperbole. Its is truly a feast for the eyes and my pics don’t do it justice. This book shows you how to do retro style with colour, not darkness and dust. As an avid collector myself, it’s the little snippets of previously unknown information that give me the instant hit of gratification. I admit I didn’t know that Art Deco is a term that was coined in the 60s. It simply never occurred to me to question the origins. You can tell the author is a lover of china. Lots of collectables that I have seen before are featured, which allowed me to put a name to pattern. A good friendly mix of practical and historical, I liked Keeleys’ helpful suggestions for alternatives: bamboo frames of all eras for a 20s living room for example. Keeley touches on one of my favourite thing: THAT 30s green – but why were so many things made in that colour?

SMVH is a visual feast, peppered with good knowledge and useful suggestions. I particularly liked the fact that she touched on modern visions of vintage style, such as Eclectic ( my own home) and Industrial – a style I first saw in France. I know first hand how hard it to cover decades of design in one book and I think Keeley has more than done this justice.

*PREVIEW* Style Me Vintage, 1940s by Liz Tregenza

 

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NB – no matter how high the res, WordPress is blurring all my pics – does anyone know how to sort this?

This week my publishers Pavilion and dear friend Liz are launching something a little bit different: A Style Me Vintage book dedicated to one era: the 1940s. There was only ever going to be one person to do this era justice. Having recently completed an MA on ‘British ready-to-wear 1946-66’, Liz knows this decade inside out. We are talking about the woman who can spot a Horrockses from a mile off, date it to the year and tell you the person who designed the print.

The 1940s is a divisive decade for vintage lovers. People either seem to love the ‘make do and mend’ element or loathe it. Reenactors can obsess over it yet it has been somewhat marketed as drab in this country.  This is about to change: Liz is on a mission to dispel myths.  The look and palate of her book are instantly 1940s  – but the drabness associated with this era is very much absent. Nor is it full of clichés or stereotypes and the abundance of novelty prints and evening dresses is a visual delight. The level of knowledge shared in this tome is astounding, but this will come as no surprise if you are a follower of her blog.

Liz effortlessly seams together the decade on both sides of pond, with nods towards trends in Germany and France. One forgets just how much went on fashion-wise in the 1940s. Being the decade primarily associated with wartime frugality in this country, we forget that the second half of the decade saw the explosion of another kind: The ‘New Look’. Liz dutifully takes us full throttle into post-war milestones and beyond.

As a dealer I love discovering information that helps to identify a dress. Who knew that black garments were rarely found in the UK as too much dye was needed? If that is not enough, Liz really flexes her historian muscles with her introductions on the Theatre of Fashion, Parisian scarf hats and the Zazous – an early French subculture. The book also covers weddings, swimwear, uniforms, as well as hair and make-up. In all, a complete compendium to the 1940s look.

Even if the 40s is not the era that most piques your interest, this is an excellent read for any vintage lover, history buff or fashion aficionado. This book is saturated with history, tips and insider knowledge that can only come from the rare, if not unique, combination of being a top notch fashion historian and fully paid up vintage lover, wearer and collector. This book certainly does not provide style at the expense of substance. This is just a hunch but I have a funny feeling this book is probably superior in its content than the one created to go alongside ‘Fashion on the Ration’ – the current exhibition at the Imperial War Museum… Style Me Vintage, 1940s  is published this Thursday by Pavilion.

Outfitting or Off-Putting – The Great Charity Shop Debate Continued…

The exorbitant sums that some charity shops now charge… Is it right? I’m beginning to think not. And not for the reasons previously touted elsewhere.

To put this into some context I frequent six to eight charity shops around two or three times a week. I estimate that I spend somewhere in the region of £300 a month in charity shops. According to my tax returns I have done this for years. It’s a nice feeling that 90% of what we need to live and run a business we can find second hand. I would not change it for a second. No one in their right mind would want a charity to make anything less than the value of their items. I have given a few of my favourites copies of my books to help them look out for brands and styles. I want them to keep going.

Yet sometimes I am put off by charity shops. I will admit it. I find some of them greedy and I sometimes find them unethical. Looking past the fact that some charity shop workers do not know that Atmosphere is Primark and that no item should be priced above a pound or two (EVERYWHERE) and that sparkly New Look shoes cannot be priced at £10.99 when they are in the sale in the actual shop for £7.99 (you should know better, Oxfam). Regardless of the fact that you cannot price something as ‘new’ just because it still has a price tag attached (where has it been?). There are some things I find unforgivable. There are two examples I wish to share. These happened in big brand high street chains.

1)      Last year I saw a stunning 50s tiara with attached wedding veil in a second hand shop. The shop in question had a ‘vintage section’ – more on that later. The veil was priced at £45. The tiara had spokes of aurora borealis and the netting, although not fine, was in good condition. It was not a particularly sophisticated piece but it was immaculate. I would have said a fair price would have been £25 – £30 (unless you are putting it in a West London wedding dress shop, but that’s a whole new blog – one I will explore at a later date.) They would not budge on the price and over time it went through a very sorry decline. First a spoke was pulled off. The next time the netting had a tear. By my third visit a second row of beads made an escape across the floor, I just could not witness the destruction anymore. I picked it up and pointed out to the manager that it was a shame that it was getting ruined ‘at least try and fix it?’ I reasoned, ‘before you have nothing less to sell. Or maybe reduce the price to reflect its condition’. It was removed from the shop floor, never to been seen again. Had it been priced a bit better the charity would have made a sale and a happy bride could have looked after it.

2)      Three days ago I went to another well-known charity shop with branches nationwide and witnessed another careless act. Volunteers were being ordered to remove the bric-a-brac that had been on the shelves for over a week…and bin it. Yes, throw it in the bin. It all went in an industrial waste bin on the pavement outside. Some of that stuff was perfectly usable and sellable. Here is an idea: why not reduce it a bit? Sell it for a pound or two instead of trying to get £3.99? I wouldn’t want my donations to end up in landfill. That’s not right in my book. This was done in front of customers. How is that going to encourage people to donate?

I’m going to touch on another contentious issue. The ‘vintage section’. The shop that had the aforementioned wedding tiara is full of 70s crimplene priced between £19.99 and £29.99 (actual value £10-15 TOPS) Yet in the non-vintage section I pulled out a silk 60s Norman Hartnell for far less. In the shop across the road the manageress was proudly showing me the Polly Peck dress she has priced at £20 yet elsewhere in the shop was a 1950s cotton novelty print St Michael skirt for £7.50. The problem is, good vintage looks timeless, whilst terrible ‘vintage’ that is  more obviously old and outdated seems to be priced higher. I guess my beef with charity shops that have a vintage section is that they seem to be running on guesswork.  In my humble, those pricing the products are not looking close enough at the items. They are seeing old, pricing high and ignoring quality and aesthetic. My other half has a similar issue with records. Little attention to condition and pricing based on one instance of an eBay Buy-It-Now.

We do have one chain down here who get it right most of the time: The Rowan’s Hospice – 1980’s Laura Ashleys for £10 and simple 1950s dresses for £20. More than happy to pay that. They obviously have someone on board who knows their stuff but, crucially, they also recognise that they need to balance their pricing if they want their items to actually sell. No wonder they have expanded across Hampshire at a rate of knots.

OK, so there are costly overheads and targets to meet. Fine, I understand that. I work in two shops. However the busiest ones I know are the no-nonsense indies that price everything equally and put it all out on the shop floor. If shops skim off all the interesting bits to sell to dealers, the internet or worse, or let them get damaged beyond any real use due to over pricing, what do they think is going to attract people into their shop? A £4 Primark top? I think not.

So what is the answer? I am genuinely interested. Do you work for a well-known chain of charity shop? I can only comment on what I know as a consumer. Or have you experienced something similar. Do you have a completely different view? Please comment below.

A Vintage Year

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2014 was a vintage year for me for sure.

I had a child. She is asleep next to me, snoring gently as I type. I am not sure I can yet fully comprehend how much this has changed me and my world for the better. Let’s just say that the time before my little Kewpie doll came along doesn’t seem to be the same life.

I got to make and publish a book with Liz Tregenza. I have been in awe of her talents since first meeting her back in 2011. Let me tell you this: I have never come across such a hard worker and her brain processes the history of fashion in an academic manner that frankly elevates the subject on to a whole new platform. I don’t know know how she put up with working with someone who was either pregnant or in the throws of new parenthood.

I was nominated and short listed for a Portsmouth News Woman of the Year award and had a brilliant night with my date (my dad) and many ladies that I have a huge amount of respect for.

My website was listed in the top 50 blogs of the year by Homes and Antiques magazine.

On a personal level I recognised that there is a neutral place between happy and unhappy. A point of equilibrium, a time in which you can grow. Sometimes doing nothing is ok. I also refuse to glorify ‘being busy’. If you fill your life with distraction, how can you ever appreciate the moment?

I feel good. Tired, but good.

For me happiness took on whole new meaning. It is the feeling that derives from the fact that everything in life feels balanced and manageable. It’s a frame of mind rather than a flush of euphoria. It is the peace that comes with knowing I have done right by my daughter, that I have my priorities in order. On that note, parenthood gives you super powers. Instincts become razor sharp and are always followed not ignored. Decision making becomes supersonic and the bullshit radar is honed. This has served me well in all other areas of my life and I feel for the first ever that I can fully trust my own judgement.

It’s also the year that I wondered if I was really an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. I love the sound of, well…silence and am happiest when left uninterrupted and with my own thoughts. Despite this I have made it a resolution of 2015 to see more of the friends I left behind in London.

I 110% came to the conclusion that a quiet drink at home or to celebrate a big occasion such as a wedding or a milestone birthday is nice, but drinking for me no longer represents ‘fun’. In fact I’m not sure it ever did. I simply don’t need it and I hope I can teach my daughter that drinking to calm nerves or enhance an already perfectly good moment is not needed. I have long felt uneasy with the cultural norm that weekly, even daily drinking to cure the ails of life is just ‘what we do’. In a similar vein I am no longer afraid to tell people that I loathe going out at night and that parties are not my idea of fun.

Funnily enough it was also the year that I pretty much stopped wearing vintage clothing. I still love and collect them. I wear fairly non-descript comfy clothes often in block colours yet I still feel just as confident as when I was all dressed up, if not more. Then last week my brother was told me how much he likes my new ‘Normcore’ look (I pretended I knew what he was talking about but really had to look it up). I have to confess, reading up on it, that it pretty much sums up my attitude to getting dressed and it is deliciously liberating. Is it too late to rename it ‘Nomcore’?

I have lots to look forward to in 2015. The-shelf-of-books-by-friends will expand. First up two more Style Me Vintage books by Liz and Keeley Harris on Interiors and the 1940s respectively. Amber Butchart is releasing her magnum opus: Nautical Fashion.

Most of all I am looking forward to year with nothing planned. For the first time ever I don’t have the next six months mapped out, and for me, that is beyond exciting

The Curious Case of South Parade Pier

It is of course a given that I like old things. I also believe we should preserve our heritage. I often wander down Old Portsmouth High Street and wonder what it would have looked like had half of the 17th century houses not been blitzed. Many people in Portsmouth feel the same. There are preservation groups for Portsmouth Football Club, for the Mary Rose and for the Kings Theatre – a Frank Matcham creation and a little slice of our capital (he also designed Hackney Empire and the London Palladium and Coliseum). Another group, the Portsmouth Society, has been awarding plaques and campaigning for conservation issues for decades. My formidable Grandma Jean was their treasurer for over 30 years and at 86 she still attends every meeting. A bit like Florence we probably have more heritage than we know what to do with and as a result our beloved South Parade Pier has been overlooked in favour of our more prominent tourist attractions such as the Dockyard and Southsea Castle.

Over the last few years the sea has attempted to reclaim our Edwardian masterpiece. South Parade Pier has seen some incredible action and most people here have a saucy memory or two of shenanigans and fumblings both above and below the pier. I won’t bore you with my own cherished memories – they are irrelevant. Nor do I need to list its historical importance as many other articles have done justice to its links to World War II. Proper repairs are needed and the previous owners decided not to dig deep into their pockets a long time ago and, quite frankly, when the bills start to run into the millions, can you blame them? Herein lies part of the problem. To fix the pier correctly would cost private investors more than they could expect to make back.

Pier saving has become a bit trendy. Once the poster girls for jaded seaside towns up and down Britain, their sea legs are being strengthened ensuring they are ship-shape and Bristol fashion for many generations to come. Their cultural relevance has been remembered; like horizontal totem poles of Edwardiana. The National Lottery has got behind this and provides weighty donations to help with crippling costs. Not to private entities though but to organisations who pledge to save them with no financial benefit to themselves. The outstanding example of this has been Hastings Pier which has been in community ownership for over 16 months. Another restored pier of note is Penarth Pier Pavilion, a stunning Art Deco restoration which is now a multi-functional community space with the motto ‘involve, educate, inspire’. Looking around the websites of many recently saved piers one thing is clear from the numerous logos that line the bottom: lottery funding and other charitable aid has been crucial to their resurrection. Hastings Pier Charity was awarded a whooping £11.4 million. Why should our pier miss out on the same chances?

As nice and community focused as this sounds, this is not to say it’s not a serious business. For every group trying to save a pier there is often a counterweight trying to pull it back down to their level. In 2002 I stood in the glass-fronted dining room of the Hilton West Pier Hotel in Brighton and watched the pier collapse into the sea after what was widely assumed to have been an arson attack earlier on in the year. The entire metal frame simply melted into the waves.  For years there had been talks of renovation. The rumour at the time was this did not feature in the business plan of another highly successful local pier. The point is, there are always people who will seek to further their own interests above and beyond all else.

Luckily here, we have the South Parade Trust. This super group of financiers, historians, architects, engineers and media professionals also include an IT consultant, a travel and tourism lecturer, a doctor, a retail manager, and a design lecturer. They are some of the most experienced people we have in this city. They dedicate their own time and resources to ensuring that, whoever owns it, they will do the pier justice and not just patch it up around the edges. If no private owner can do this they are looking into community-based ownership – I refer you again to the successful case of Hastings Pier, which launched a community share scheme in October 2013. Our Trust is the embodiment of the affection many people have for the pier and they firmly believe that community ownership is the only way that the pier can both be saved for future generations and deliver the enormous sums needed to restore South Parade Pier to its former glories.

I should probably add, with pride, that my father is part of this group. I am not. I cannot be – too hot-headed to do their professionalism justice. He watched the Pier burn down in 1974 during the filming of Ken Russell’s Tommy and now wants to make sure, 41 years on, that it remains standing. His involvement has made me chuckle quietly to myself on a number of occasions. Growing up, my dad was Mr. Capitalism. We earned our pocket money and he spent over three decades working as an international financial director for companies such as Boston Scientific and General Electric. Here he is now, putting his vast experience in billion pound deals to exactly the opposite: a self-sustaining, non-profit, community owned pier that will secure its future for years to come. For me personally this sums up the work of the trust, people using their expertise for community benefit. None of the trust has any vested interests in the Pier.

Unfortunately the Trust has suffered a prolonged and sustained attack. Not by any prospective owners but by one individual who is on a complex and bizarre personal crusade. The barrage of accusations and finger pointing has at times reached hysterical levels.  Even more baffling, this opponent claims to represent both the views of the community and the views of a consortium of prospective buyers. Any opposition or even questioning of these views has been quickly silenced in a gross breach of the ethics of internet forum moderation. These character assassinations have proved time and time again to have little or no foundation. Thankfully this messiah complex has not yet yielded anything more tangible than a couple of Facebook pages filled with ‘followers’ who are being systematically spoon fed inaccurate information. Trying to be a big fish in a small pond is not uncommon on an island but the trust has dealt with this herring with dignity.

South Parade Pier has now arrived at a stage where it may be under new ownership and this will hopefully see the beginning of real action and discourse. We might now get the chance to hear from the new owners directly without third party interference. I personally wish them good luck. They may want to look to Southwold Pier for 21st  century pier management  inspiration, yet it is a huge task to undertake and private ownership has consistently failed our pier. Thus, the Pier Trust needs your support now more than ever. Until South Parade Pier is fully repaired along its entire length and opened, the Trust will continue its work. If you want to read their FAQ, have a look around their Facebook page and if you agree with them please lend them your support. They stand for transparency and clarity and even just simple ‘Like’ will help them achieve that. 2015 looks set to be a pivotal year for the pier and if the chance for community ownership arises they will have to move quickly.  According to the National Pier Society we have already lost 41 Piers in the UK including seven on the Isle of Wight alone. Lets not add to that number. South Parade Pier is still a long way from being saved.


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