Archive for October, 2010

Excellent guesses, Interweb, but here is what LHR and I were actually up to on the weekend.

Last Saturday, LHR and I headed down (up? over? yes, “over” is more accurate…) to the Soho location of The Powder Room, to cash in the vouchers we had purchased weeks before for “vintage makeovers.”  The location is all pink and black and retro and we even started off by sipping rasberry bellinis out of vintage cups and saucers! Whee!
Can’t think of a better way to spend my last Saturday (for now!) in London.

Below are the final products of the makeovers.

Travelling means not having exactly the right shoes.

LHR got a soft, wavy, 40s/50s starlet style. She looked like a character out of Mona Lisa Smile.  She was not that thrilled, as she wears nearly no make-up on a daily basis and felt that she ended up with “too much” on, but I am here to say that she looked smashing. Her hair was amazing, too, but sadly the style did not hold up (due, I suspect to too little hairspray/glue having been used in the pin-curling process).

Work in progress!

Move over, Brigitte Bardot!


I went with a Joan Harris (née Holloway) look, to go with my smashing new green dress. Miraculously, the lovely Sarah was able to make it look like I have a LOT more hair than I really do. Man, was my hair TALL when she had finished with me. And rock-hard.

She was also able to create the much-coveted cat-eye “flick” on my eyeliner– my eyes turn down at the outer corners, so I will never be able to have the exaggerated cat-eye look for which I pine, but Sarah did a pretty good job of getting me a teeny, tiny (visible-only-to-me) “flick”!

Well, fine, but I know that little cat-eye flick is there!

A very enjoyable time was had by all and then we went out to a vintage-themed evening in Shoreditch.  Sadly for us, the time period for The Last Days of Decadence is the 1920s– LHR fit right in, as her vintage 60s dress had a very 20s vibe to it. I, on the other hand, looked like a total twit in my 50s/60s get-up. But I love my real green dress, so I didn’t mind too much. 🙂 Also, next time I’m in London on a Saturday night, I’m donning my flapper gear and heading back to dance myself silly!

Thanks to J, our dashing escort and photographer for the evening!

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YYZ: Mysterious Ways

The mystery, dear Interweb, is why are LHR and I looking like this?

Stay tuned for the answer!*

*I am travelling tomorrow, so you will have to wait for me to post a bit later on in the week.

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YYZ: Not A Real Green Dress…

…that’s cruel.

Sort of like finding a gorgeous 1950s wiggle dress in an emerald green brocade
(perfect accompaniment for my 1950s silk taffeta opera coat with the emerald green lining)
a week after blowing the bank on the perfectly fitting, rare
(hey! I found out it is RARE to find Roger Freres dresses!)
turquoise and white vintage dress….

While out for a walk on a sunny, HOT London day in October, I stumbled upon two tiny, perfect vintage shops.
The first was Be Dazzle— a teeny little shop full of sparklies from the past. YUM! The proprietress, Naomi Leigh, was friendly and cheerful and we had a great chat about Sarah Waters (my book) and Cecelia Ahearn (her book) while I drooled over the beautiful bits of jewels and the evening bags and fur stoles in her sweet little shop.

On my way out, I glanced over and saw a perfect dress.
Right there.
In the shop next door.
Now, this shop was also a little gem– small, but beautifully-curated, full of impeccably-restored goodies in a range of prices, from “reasonable” to “oh-my-god-that-is-a-REAL-leopard-skin-swing-coat-from-the-40s!”
Even it’s name is great: Cloud Cuckoo Land.
(Which is clearly where my mind was when I even thought about going into the shop in the first place!)
Of course I had to spend some time drooling over the sweet beaded cardis from the 50s– all in mint condition! Eventually, however, I had to try on the green dress. I had to, Gentle Reader! I have been longing for a dress in that colour ever since I found my opera coat last fall and, clearly, the Universe had drawn me to this place just so that I could find this green dress…
Also (sound familiar?), I knew it would not fit.
When does the right vintage dress EVER fit? I’d already beaten those odds once, less than a week ago, so what harm was there in trying it on? I knew I was completely safe.
I knew I would be, as YVR calls it, “saved by size.”

I know you saw this coming, because you are much cleverer than I am.
The zipper went up, and there I was, in this gorgeous jewel of a dress.
The fit was not, however, perfect. It is a bit snug in the waist and a bit big in the hips (typical of dresses from that era– oh, how I long for the armour-inspired underthings of yore…). A quick inspection of the seams, however, revealed the ease with which I could remedy the too-snug-yet-too-big issue.  It is also just a tad too long for someone of my height. Also easily remedied.

What to do?
The budget has been shot to hell already– this dress is not in the cards.


I have a birthday coming up.

M hates birthday shopping.


The camera angle here is ALL WRONG and so are my shoes, but you get the gist. Imagine higher heels, proper hair and jewelry. Oh, and my opera coat, of course!

A quick email, accompanied by the shots you see here and suddenly, my “I-love-it-and-can’t-afford-it” problem and M’s “I-hate-shopping-for-presents” problem are both solved.
Seriously, I should work for the United Nations– I am sure I could work out all the pesky problems of the world!
Heck, I could wear this dress while I do it!

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Last year, for my birthday/Christmas, LHR got me classes. The kind of classes was up to me to choose, but the condition was that I had to take them here, in London; it was her way of ensuring that I actually spent part of my sabbatical with her. Clever girl!

We thought about a shoe-making course.
I was very keen to learn corsetry. (Because I am a drag queen, trapped in a woman’s body…)
Another thing we thought we’d like to try is millinery.
The shoe-making and corsetry courses were too long, at between five and ten weeks each, but LHR discovered a fabulous hat-making course right here in the neighbourhood!
So we have just spent an incredibly enjoyable and instructive, not to mention productive, weekend making hats!

Not the ones we made.... These are Andrew's beautiful creations.

Yes, Interweb, we made our own hats.
From scratch.

We are talking actually choosing and making a shape, blocking, steaming, pinning, sewing, embellishing, the whole shebang. Our instructor was an amazingly talented milliner, Andrew MacDonald; he trained at the Royal College of Art, including under the tutelage of Stephen Jones.  Andrew’s work is gorgeous; one of his hats is even in the Manchester Gallery of Costume. In addition to being a talented milliner, Andrew is also an excellent teacher; he is so calm, kind, helpful and is a font of information.  I learned as much about teaching from him as I did about millinery– which is saying something, believe me!  He is not shy about actually teaching real millinery techniques, even to the likes of beginners like us. He is completely unflappable and has a lovely, gentle way of nudging his students to try even quite advanced things, and of repairing mis-steps we may have made, providing professional expertise and input. It was, all in all, a truly outstanding way to spend a couple of days.
And we are insanely proud of our creations!

Neither of us quite managed to finish– LHR still has to stitch in her lining and I have to (ack! scary!) stitch all my bits and bobs to my hat and then to each other so that they hold their position.

Here are some shots of the process and the finished products.

LHR's hat

My hat

And here is a link to more shots of the course itself.
If you are ever in London, I recommend Andrew’s wonderful course most highly.

Thanks, LHR, for a fantastically brilliant gift!

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Imagine a palace, hundreds of years old, home through time to a series of princesses, each one royal but also individual and subject to all the joys and sorrows of the human condition.  Imagine rooms filled with “A Dress the Colour of Time,” trees growing from the floors, tiny leather shoes and gloves scattered among the poignant words of royal children, written to their absent parents.

Imagine disembodied voices, whispering, crying, cajoling, arguing, the howls of wolves and the chirping of birds. Imagine dark cabinets full of curiosities, both attractive and repellent, mystical and mundane. Fantom footprints that materialize out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly.  Books that metamorphose into enormous feathered creatures. Strange “Detectors” wander the darkened rooms with eerie headlamps and long, grey robes, adorned with mysterious leather tool belts, spouting arcane knowledge, and berating the less-senior “Explainers.”

Imagine the bust of Sir Isaac Newton in a darkened room, surrounded by couture hats, dangling from the ceiling.  Imagine the body of a childless princess, adorned in spangles and suspended above her bed on a length of silk printed with images taken from fetal ultrasounds, in a The Room of Royal Sorrows, where visitors have written their own sorrows on thousands of tiny tickets and tied them to the twisting, turning iron railings while a collection of beautiful glass bottles of all shapes and sizes glows with blue light, illuminating the scene. Imagine silhouettes of dancing princesses on the arched ceiling of a long ballroom, twirling to distantly-heard music.

Can you imagine these things? Among them, we spent our afternoon visiting the Enchanted Palace (no, really– click that link!) art installation at Kensington Palace.  We were not allowed to take photos, but I did find the website of the Wildworks, the company commissioned to create the exhibit. Take the time to visit the link– you will not be disappointed, though nothing can capture the eeriness and the ethereal nature of actually being there.

It rained like the devil today. Clever LHR bought a rain poncho to help her keep dry:

My hair held up okay for the first part of the day, but it was no match for the torrential downpour and driving wind that dominated our day.
Still, while it did eventually go a bit “bendy,” it did NOT get frizzy!
(You will have to take my word for it.)

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