“How do you afford all these designer labels?” is a question that frequently pops up and is one that I answer over and over again in numerous ways when I re-iterate like a boring broken record that I rarely ever pay full retail price for designer labels.  Back in the day, the reason used to be single-fold – the good-old fashioned seasonal sales and markdowns.  Then eBay came along and changed the game.  Then I started seeking out designer consignment stores like Bang Bang in London or INA in New York.  Then charity shops got savvier about taking in designer stuff.  Then I’d snoop out sample sales in London.  Then the sales came earlier and earlier and discounting, heavier and heavier.  Then sites like The Outnet popped up.  Then I’d luckily began to pay wholesale prices on personal orders (applicable to young designers in London).  Then I was fortunate enough to receive discount cards.  Then I developed an addiction to Yoox.  Then I started to go out to Tokyo twice a year to scope out the sprawling network of designer resale shops, where I could really go buckwild and indulge in my love of Japanese designers.  Soon, the reasons became multifold.  In fact, it’s probably never been easier to go and get yourself some designer bargains than it is now and so in my head the sort of equations that pop into my head are… three full-priced Topshop tops at £30 each = one discounted Prada top at any one of the sources above.  Or to bring the recent heartbreaking BBC2 This World documentary about the Rana Plaza factory disaster into the conversation… five Primark vests at £6 each = one heavily discounted Marni vest (Made in Italy – not 100% assured of course but still better quality wise).

Before you throw around accusations of “snobby” thinking, I’m merely stating the above as my own shopping preferences and habits, not to impose on other people or to pass judgement on what your shopping choices are.  Everybody’s circumstances are of course different.  All I’m saying is that today it’s really not as simple to associate designer clothing with being wildly expensive and vice versa, that the high street is categorically always cheap as chips, especially when you factor in cost per wear of these clothes.  At the end of Paris couture fashion week at the beginning of July, I, along with Vogue.co.uk, went to visit the new headquarters of Vestiaire Collective, a social site dedicated to luxury resale founded in 2009 in France.  It’s something of a hybrid of a traditional consignment store and a third party selling conduit like eBay with the added in-house expertise of an authentication and quality control team that deal specifically with designer and premium fashion.  With over 2.4 million members, across 40 countries, Vestiaire Collective has grown to become a trusted environment for both sellers and buyers to safely trade designer goods.  The social aspect is especially important as individual sellers have rated profiles for all to see and buyers can ask sellers questions directly so that it becomes entirely transparent.  Sellers become “Influencers” if their wares are presented in an attractive manner and if you’re followed by other members.

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Vestiare Collective’s USP, which separates it from say an eBay, is its focus and in-depth knowledge of designer fashion.  A seller uploads their item online, including descriptions and photos and that is then vetted and checked by the curation team.  70% of items submitted are accepted depending on whether from first glance they can ascertain authenticity (a conversation might ensue between seller and curating team about receipts, invoices etc) and also whether it’s aesthetically fitting for the site.  Prices are first suggested by the seller and then finally confirmed by VC’s curation team.

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Then when the item is sold on the site, the seller sends the item into the Paris head office to be physically checked by the team, who are all trained in spotting the real from the fakes.  VC are actively  Saying No to Fakes and in February 2012 signed the ‘Fight Against Online Counterfeiting Charter’, initiated by the French government which aims to protect consumers against the sale of online counterfeits.  Even though in actual fact, VC only get less than 1% of counterfeit goods coming through their offices, they take the matter incredibly seriously when authenticating products, especially bags, which of course is big business in the designer resale sector.  One of the experts Saloua El Yazid showed us some tell-tale signs with the ever-popular 2.55 Chanel bag.  We all know we need to look out for serial numbers and the holographic sticker but a bag made before 1984 wouldn’t have one.  Similarly, a bag that has come from a sample sale (yes those fabled Chanel sample sales…) don’t have them either.  It all comes down to knowledge of the leather, the hardware and the stitching, something that the authenticating experts like Saloua know like the back of their hand.  And when they don’t know, they can always contact someone from a house to verify whether something is real or fake.  

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The most expensive item ever sold on VC was an Hermès croc Birkin at EUR35,000.  Hermès bag don’t really depreciate in value and whilst that price may sound extortionate, it’s actually cheaper to buy it through VC than at auction.  In addition to authenticity, quality control is also extremely important to VC as they have to tally up whether the defects on any item match defects described the seller on the site.  

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This amazing giant Chanel semi-circular tote needed some extra TLC because of some damage to the handle.  After those famed SS14 backpacks, it’s quite possibly the most practical of Chanel bags I’ve ever seen… laptop, DSLR AND mags can all go in here.

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Jewellery also has its own checks and tests – diamonds are given the once over with some sort of diamond-detector tool and the veracity of gold is tested out with a special chemical.

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Certain VIPs and celebrities (they did namedrop a few well known fashion editors who are big Vestaire Collective sellers – *ahem ahem*) are dealt with in VC’s consignment department  as all items are taken in-house before they are sold to be checked and held until they are sold.  Delving into the clothes rail was the real highlight for me, seeing as I’m always going to be more of a clothes fiend than a bag hag.  One surprising find was a Dior neon yellow knit dress from Raf Simons’ first ready to wear show for the house, which I actually borrowed and wore to the cruise show in Monaco last year.  The VC team said it came from the UK and is a press sample so this was probably the very dress, which I wore and somehow, inadvertently it has ended up here waiting to be sold at a heavily discounted price.  Current season pieces the markdowns on VC will range from 20-30% and beyond that of course, the prices will dip dramatically.

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Then came the “fun” part of  the day – or fun if you’re a designer bag expert like Saloua and have the all-mighty KNOWLEDGE when it comes to differentiating between real and fakes.  We played a game of “Real or Fake” as a table of real and fake examples of Balenciaga motorcycle bags, Louis Vuitton epi leather and monogram bags, Chloé Paddington bags and Isabel Marant wedge trainers were laid out before us.  Vestiaire Collective, to support their Say No to Fakes campaign, recently conducted a study which revealed that 35% of the female online marketplace in the UK have been misled into purchasing counterfeit designer goods, spending between £200-£1000 on their purchase and that scarily, 66% of women admitted they don’t feel they possess the knowledge to accurately identity a counterfeit product from a genuine item.  Apparently women living in London were most confident in their ability to identify a fake.

Well, you can put me in that category of clueless and slightly arrogant Londoner.  I was vaguely confident I could spot the fake by looking at linings, hardware and sniffing out the leathers but the truth is out of the five pairs of examples we were presented with, I only got one right.  Admittedly I’ll put my hand up and say that I haven’t really had that much first hand experience of any of these items.  I don’t actually own any of these items myself and have only man handled some Louis Vuitton bag samples from the press office.  The Chloé Paddington leathers were easy to tell apart as the red one had a very plastic-feel to it.  Ok so then smarty pants-me applied the same approach to the Balenciaga motorcycle leathers – the blue one looked more weathered than the berry one so I thought the latter would the fake. WRONG!  Apparently I didn’t spot the fact that the serial numbers aren’t correctly marked and whilst we were looking at the mis-matching coloured hardware of one bag, Saloua pointed out that the real Balenciaga do sometimes come with mis-matched hardware.  Then we looked at the Isabel Marant trainers.  Whilst bags run the biggest risk of being fake at VC, they also have to watch out for items like fake Moncler jackets and increasingly, fake Isabel Marant wedge trainers.  Odd.  I’m not a fan myself nor have I ever felt them so I was completely out of my depth with this one.  I’d vaguely seen the suede ones and so said the denim ones were fake.  WRONG!  The suede ones are apparently too “puffy” and the soles are not quite correct so the denim ones are the real deal.

Then we get to the most faked of all fakes – Louis Vuitton.  Looking at two examples of Louis Vuitton Epi leather bags, I thought the red Speedy Epi just looked wrong.  It had a funny plasticky pocket with no lining.  The purple Noé felt right.  Wrong!  The red Speedy is actually an older Louis Vuitton style, hence why the pocket is a like that.  The purple Noé is a good fake but the stitching gives it away.  And then the monogram.  By then, I was thinking “F*** it – I’m shit at this game!” so I think I got it wrong without looking properly.  The way the LV monogram is positioned of course gives the game away and how the monogram print is aligned at the seams.  Again, stitching and hardware are also tell-tale signs.

So I know nothing… which didn’t surprise me that much considering what a dunce I am when it comes to handbags.  If and when I do get a hankering for a designer handbag, then my sources will be limited to designer resale sites like VC or of course going into the real store itself to get assurance of authenticity.

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0E5A3459Real Louis Vuitton red leather Epi Speedy, Fake Louis Vuitton purple Noé bag

 

0E5A3471Fake red Chloé Paddington bag, Real gunmetal Chloé Paddington bag

0E5A3477Real berry Balenciaga Motorcycle bag, Fake blue Balenciaga Motorcycle bag

0E5A3469Real denim frayed Isabel Marant wedge trainers, Fake suede Isabel Marant wedge trainers

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VC assures us that I’m on much safer ground with clothing (although one quick search on Chinese global market place Taobao and you’ll find some truly scary knock-off Simone Rocha pearl-encrusted tops and Christopher Kane flower sweatshirts going for next to nothing).  In the quick turnaround of collections and the great quantities produced, the value of clothing and shoes depreciates far quicker than that of bags and so the problem of counterfeit is not nearly as serious.  Fine by me as I’m almost always in it for the clothes anyway and VC does consistently have a tasty selection.  I just skimmed a few of my favourite labels to find the following…

vestiairecFrom top to bottom, left to right: Marc Jacobs top, Chanel crop top, Carven skirt and Sophia Webster shoes; Prada sunglassesPrada dress, Louis Vuitton jeans and Marc Jacobs shoes; Miu Miu leather trench, Dior top, Christopher Kane skirt and Balenciaga shoes; Marc Jacobs jacket, Balenciaga skirt and Acne shoes; Comme des Garcons shirt, Dries van Noten waistcoat, Celine skirt and Marni sandals; Celine leather jacket, Prada dress and Tabitha Simmons shoes

>> Following my mammoth Port Eliot post, I thought I’d follow up with something short ‘n’ sweet.  This is basically an excuse to post Jamie xx’s new All Under One Roof Raving track, which samples Mark Leckey’s 1999 all time awesome art short Fiorucci Made me Hardcore and an excerpt from the raving episode of Spaced.  Fiorucci.  Spaced.  Jamie xx – all good things.  But obviously the subject of this video are these most excellent white leather Ashish and Topshop sliders, made by Buffalo.  Again, all good things.  The low-top trainers sold out in nano seconds but for some reason, the sliders are still available in a range of sizes, which I preferred anyway.  I reserved them in my size about a month ago and then promptly forgot about them but the lovely folks in personal shopping in Topshop Oxford Circus kept them for me until I bothered to pick them up today.  Thumbs up personal shoppers!  What makes these the utmost of ace-ness of course are the LED lights embedded into the soles.  Not just one tiresome pattern of blinking lights, but a remote control that goes through about 10 different modes of blinking rainbow lights, with the ability to control the colour selection and brightness.  I’m basically going to be making like Tyres (please watch Spaced if you haven’t done so – you won’t regret it and I can drop more gratuitous references) and bounce around my home raving it up to anything from the telephone to the screaming kids next door.

From seventeen paying punters at Port Eliot’s first ever edition back in 2003, the festival has grown exponentially.  You felt that growth at this year’s festival, which returned after a one year hiatus to give the grounds of Port Eliot in St Germans, Cornwall a rest.  There seemed to be “more” of everything – more tents, more bustle, more words to hear, more drinks a-flowing, more things to eat, more vintage stalls to rummage through.  Or perhaps the “more” was extra exacerbated with the weekend coinciding with an ultra hot heatwave wafting through this part of the world.

Still, that “moreness” didn’t diminish the feeling that you can still find somewhere to escape to in the extensive grounds, depending on your interest.  On top of the big spiky tents like The Bowling Green, Park Stage and Caught by the River where the “big” acts were on, the bustling Wardrobe Department where there were queues aplenty to get your face/hair did, I love that there are smaller pockets that are more tucked away – The Badger’s Sett for kidult crafting, Ways with Weird and Dovegrey Reader for more intimate talks and then if you don’t want to hear anyone speak, feel free to lie on the lush lands/woods, watching the trains go past on the viaduct and take the a restorative nap or two.

Actually, for the most part of the weekend, I wished I could be in more than two places at once as the timetable had quite a few clashes of talks/words/demonstrations that I wanted to see.  The last thing you want to feel though is stress at a festival that is supposed to be something of a restorative experience for the mind and body.  So I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to… I’ve still taken away an extensive to see/read/do list to ensure the Port Eliot spirit carries on beyond the weekend.

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0E5A4648I have no idea what these tea-dress ladies were doing in front of the house but it looks like fun…

IMG_4548The Orangery was “poshed” up with Fortnum and Mason’s coming onboard as a sponsor and Mark Hix doing a feasting menu.  Renowned set designer Michael Howells as always has given it his magic touch…

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0E5A5425Under my favourite tree on the grounds which is split in the middle – wearing Loewe sunglasses, Zandra Rhodes jacket and top, Tsumori Chisato top and Prism espadrilles

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0E5A4628In the Hullabaloo area

0E5A4984Caught by the river – wearing vintage dragon embroidered top and Chinese robe around waist, Phenomenon shorts, Suno pumps, Ray Ban sunglasses

It was good to once again be ensconced in the Wardrobe Department within the walled gardens as Sarah Mower had once again put together a stellar line-up to entertain, entice and charm even the hardiest of fashion naysayers.

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Louise Gray may have put her own label on hold for the time being but she was certainly welcomed with open arms at Port Eliot as she and her ex-assistant current Central Saint Martins MA student James Theseus Buck lit up the MAC make-up tent with prints, pigment and freehand body painting that made most people clap/smile with glee.  Abstract trickles, dots, Haring-like strokes – Gray and Bovan did it all.  I went from van Gogh-esque strokes on my left arm to Yayoi Kusama-type dots on my left leg in one weekend.  It was a real shame to wet-wipe the lot of it off…

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For the face, MAC and a few of their core make-up artists tentatively felt their way into the festival for the first time this year.  Their work was more meticulous and precise with delicate dots and fine brushstrokes around the eyes.

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The lovely Rachel did a colourful Penelope Tree-inspired bottom lash and dotty thing on my eyes this year…

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0E5A4961 Wearing Luke Brooks tree t-shirt, & Other Stories cardigan worn as skirt, Ray Ban sunglasses

For all matters of the head, Stephen Jones teamed up with Bumble & Bumble to hat/hair the more than-willing ladies of Port Eliot.  No wonder people left chuffed.  Jones literally bought boxes of his hats, veils and headdresses to place on people’s heads, according to their personality/look… and they get to keep them.  Erm… I hope people treasure the millinery magic that they experienced with Stephen.

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I didn’t need an extensive consultation with Stephen.  He just instinctively clipped a sparkly black veil on my head and I was done.  Later he revealed that the veil was in fact a first toile/prototype for Raf Simons’ first ever haute couture show for Dior (they went with coloured veils sans sparkles in the actual show).  I had to run away and do a mini-scream.  That’s how chuffed I was.

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Bumble and Bumble peeps were on hand to plait, style and stencil people’s hair with pastel powders.  Here’s blogger Zoe London and her dip-dyed hair plaited up.

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In a rainbow hair-extension festooned teepee, the girls from Bleach London were back, bigger with their own line of extensive products to demo on festival-goers and an anything-goes hair spirit that resonated with most of the tweens/teens present at the festival.  They’ve just recently launched a line of hair crayons which – HUZZAH – do work on my stubbornly temporary dye-resistant dark dark hair (still not plucked up the courage to errr… bleach my hair).  The lovely Bleach girls were on hand to demonstrate how to apply the semi-permanent crayon colours, which I kind of want to talk-up separately once I’ve done a bit of experimentation on my own.

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Bleach co-founder and all-round hair maestro-mistress Alex Brownsell was feeling a bit under the weather but still showed up at Port Eliot to trial her new hair tapestry.  Now I don’t want to inaccurately call it “first” without knowing for sure but it’s definitely the first time I’ve ever seen this done.  Alex developed this especially for Port Eliot to fuse the crafting fads of yesteryear’s friendship bracelets and current craze loom bands with hair.  She made a loom out of a picture frame, carving up notches to separate strands of hair to create the “warp” as it were.  Then she would use a special needle to thread cotton through the hair as the “weft”, creating sections of hair tapestry that she could then embroider over to extra embellishment.  It was a fascinating process to watch as Alex trialled it on fellow hair stylist Lou Teasdale.  The end result is pretty ace, especially in the fading summer sunlight, and you could definitely see girls cementing their friendships and sisterhoods with this hair craft.

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The most popular area in the Wardrobe Department was Haughty Culture where Piers Atkinson was once again on hand to collect up flowers and foliage from the grounds of Port Eliot to turn into festival appropriate head wreaths.  I did fear for flower headband making exhaustion on behalf of Piers and his tireless team and was shocked to hear that people were being a bit pushy and rude when queuing up to have their head kitted out.  Not cool and not very Port Eliot.

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I loved the addition of the seed paper logos which Piers added to the wreaths this year.  Apparently you can plant the paper and the embedded seeds will flower eventually.  I’m very sloooooowly turning green-fingered as my patch of garden at home is now fully planted up and so I took extra interest in Port Eliot’s abundance of greenery and flowers this year.

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By the end of Saturday, my head had been triple decorated with Piers Atkinson’s blooms, Stephen Jones’ veil and Alex Brownsell of Bleach’s multi-coloured hair tapestry.  More is always more at Port Eliot.

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Port Eliot is really a lovely place to encourage young ones to get their creative juices pumping and Port Eliot long-timer Barbara Hulanicki was on hand to teach little peeps a spot of fashion illustration, hanging out Tweeny Fashionista Uni badges and awards in the process to the most promising artists.  I learnt that Hulanicki has just started a new illustrated clothing line Icon Club.

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Scarf designer Emma J Shipley, who designed the poster of Port Eliot  was a newcomer to the Wardrobe Department with her bandana print making workshop.

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Jewellery designer Vicki Sarge also returned to create pretty things out of tin foil and once again turn trash into treasure.

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Jenny Dyson aka Mrs Rubbish and her Pencil Agency crew are pretty much a permanent Wardrobe Department fixture with their Pencil Atelier, teaching kids to do neon potato prints and sew up simple dresses for the culminating Pencil Fashion Show.  Cath Kidston also teamed up with Jenny to lend a hand in crafting these ensembles.

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In other crafting areas, you could create head dresses and do beginner’s crochet in Ros Badger and Christine Leach’s Badger’s Sett.

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The ever-popular workshops in Anthropologie’s tent included mask decoration with illustrator Florence Balducci, jewellery making with Catherine Zoraida and fabric taxidermy with Mister Finch.  Once again, as branded activities go at Port Eliot, the approach is always gently does it.  When they lull you with impressive interior styling and Buddy Holly tunes on the record player, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to ram Anthropologie down your throat.

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The Flower show got a new location inside the basement of the house near the kitchen and there was an added Fodder (food) category too for judges to peruse.  The categories are as ever wildly imaginative – my favourite was “He can take it, but can’t dish it” where flowers, vomit and over-indulgent meals came together and Mrs Peacock in the Library where one entrant created an amazing homage to Great Expectation’s Miss Havisham.

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The Wardrobe Department talks were hefty this year, with Sarah Mower conducting her “If Clothes Could Speak” series.  I’ve already talked up the one with Suzy Menkes, where I learnt a life lesson or two.  The next day, Mower spoke to legendary model Penelope Tree about the Betsey Johnson double-slit dress she wore to Truman Capote’s Black and White ball in 1966.  Tree really entertained the crowd with the minutiae about this incredible night as well as imparting nuggets about her own extraordinary upbringing and life as a model.  There’s an autobiography in the making here.

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I loved that fashion seeped its way out of the walled gardens and on to the larger stages.  At The Bowling Green, fashion historian NJ Stevenson and Mark Butterfield, owner of the infamous C20 Vintage Fashion resource in Devon paired up talk about groovy 1970s knitwear.  Or not so groovy, depending on when you were born.  In lieu of the forthcoming exhibition about fashion knitwear at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, Stevenson and Butterfield focused on 70s knitwear, modelled by teensy tinsy Port Eliot goers.  It was comprehensive for fashion enthusiasts and at the same time and engaging for non-fashion-y people.  More please!

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Back at Five Dials on Sunday, Sarah Mower interviewed Simone Rocha about her rise as a designer in London Fashion Week.  Rocha was endearing and candid when talking about growing up with fashion in her family, her Chirish roots (she’s half Irish, half Chinese) and going from art school in Ireland to studying fashion at Central Saint Martins with the late Louise Wilson.  I loved that Mower got across the special way in which Rocha has created a highly personal “universe” in her brand – in the attitude of her girls and in the types of references which Rocha looks at.  The Warren Sisters – the unofficial go-tomodels of Port Eliot – looked incredible in their various seasons and shades of Rocha.

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What does a fashion show need?  Lots of gin, 6pm summer sunshine and Damian Lewis as a guest host.  The Pencil Atelier fashion show had all those things as all those aforementioned neon-printed frocks were paraded along a haybale catwalk in the Wardrobe Department.  Christopher Kane has nothing to worry about yet but those neon gradiated gingham dresses did look mighty fetching.

0E5A5184Mrs Rubbish hosting Pencil Fashion Show proceedings

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0E5A5185You say Nicholas Brody, I say Soames Forsyte

The fashion show was followed by the inaugural Port Eliot Prom, organised by Sarah Mower.  No left out nerds and jock n’ cheerleader couples here.  Just whoever turned up in their glad rags and wanted to be entered in the prom parade to be in with a chance of being crowned with three beautiful resin crowns, made by Fashion East’s latest addition to their line-up Ed Marler.

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My favourite outfit was number 26.  Just saying.

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There are no winners or losers of course in the spirit of Port Eliot but three lucky girls got to wear and keep these elaborate crowns.  Not that I’m errr… jealous of a six year old or anything…

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I’ve got to say a big thumbs up to my first “glamping” experience thanks to the kind folks at Yurtel.  Electrical plugs inside the yurt, a lockable wooden door (still had the laptop with me…) and a heart-embedded skylight were the touches I loved.

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It was great to discover a new vintage source in Dolly Blue, owned by Lily Walford, who happens to be the wife of catwalk show production expert John Walford.  Lily has a love of Victorian/Edwardian cotton undies and petticoats and she also turns French linen into dresses and jackets.  I bought a sweet Hungarian-embroidered blouse from Lily and hope to see her soon for all my Victorian whites needs.

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On the picture front, I had to end with a trio of rainbow goodness.  Port Eliot really is bursting with colour and it seems to create an environment where people feel it’s safe to express themselves with colour, whether it’s dressing up in silly wigs and hippy dippy clothes or going all out in the Wardrobe Department.  You wonder why that sense of inhibited freedom can’t be felt outside of the grounds of Port Eliot in day to day life.  Apparently real life, normal jobs and judgemental peers all get in the way.

0E5A4483Loved how kids were selling their self-made loom bands as an enterprising business at the festival… this kid was charging 50p a band.  I did say he should charge £1.  

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IMG_4558Easy to picture stalk this girl in her LED lit-up dress…

So we come back to reality.  And back in real land, I’ll be ploughing through a list inspired by Port Eliot’s non-fashion events, which I’ve rounded up here.

To eat…

- I was tempted by Cloud Nine’s marshmallows because I kept hearing people raving about them every time I passed their stall at Port Eliot.  One bite into their strawberry/champagne marshies and I was smitten.  Even veggies who didn’t realise they were eating gelatine were swooning.  Must buy more.

- Port Eliot definitely upped its food game this year with even more choices to indulge in.  My personal faves were The Cornish Fishmonger‘s samphire and seabass, Rum and Crab Shack‘s soft shelled crab burger and everything from The Bowler’s Meatball.  Food trucks/entities that are worth waiting for.

- I missed quite a few of the food talks but now have a foodie book list to get into including the Hemsley sisters’ first tome on The Art of Eating Well and Seb Emina’s Breakfast Bible.

To see/read…

- As I mentioned, Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously sounds like a riot as he recounts his experience of reading fifty great books.  Sounds odd to read a book about reading but since I have gradually lost the time to read to “real life stuff”, I think I need this to kickstart my habits.

- Christopher Simon Sykes was incredibly entertaining when reading excerpts from his definitive biography of David Hockney, focusing on his early career at the RCA.  Sykes’ accurate accents and expressive way of reading brought the book to life but this biography looks like a good kindle on-the-tube read.

- I finally got to see my hero Martin Parr, who is a Port Eliot regular, who along with his authoress wife Susie, talked about their book The Non-Conformists.  In the 1970s they had photographed and observed the close-knit methodist community in Hebden Bridge and it’s a chance to see Parr’s lesser known and altogether “quieter” black and white work published in this book.  I will also have to try and catch Parr’s first ever documentary Tinsel and Turkey, which follows a group of coach holidaymakers in the Black Country, as I missed BOTH screenings of it at Port Eliot.  Boo.

- Louise Gray and James Buck emerged from Viv Albertine’s talk at Caught by the River with tears in their eyes.  A sure sign that Albertine’s memoir Clothes…Music… Boys…  must be read.

- I watched Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne’s wonderful film collaged out of BFI archive footage of London, How We Used to Live in rapture.  I hope it gets released online somewhere as it’s really a trip and a half, traversing through the 50s through to the 70s in London and yet feeling like nothing really has changed in modern city life.

- Give me a book about the Russian Romanovs and I’ll devour it rapidly.  Helena Rappaport has written a new one - Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Grand Duchess Romanov - one to add to my extensive historical biography collection.

- I’ll take any excuse to re-read Elizabeth Jane Howard but Port Eliot celebrated the celebrated novelist’s life and work with an appreciative talk this year at The Bowling Green and now I’ll be out buying up old EJH paperbacks where possible.

This week has been a bit spare with the posts because from my trip to LA, I’ve segued straight into Port Eliot Festival, which kicked off yesterday, after a one year hiatus (to give the beautiful grounds a rest apparently).  One full, hot and sweaty day done and instead of waiting until the end of the weekend to round-up the whole shebang, a pressing thought struck me at the conversation between Suzy Menkes and Sarah Mower today.

Menkes was there to talk about her treasured item of clothing as part of a series that Mower is conducting here called “If Clothes Could Speak” for Port Eliot’s Wardrobe Department programme.  Her piece of choice was an ultramarine blue Zandra Rhodes 70s dress, tasselled and printed with seashells like an ode to The Little Mermaid, modelled here by Menkes’ own granddaughter.  We were treated to a Zandra Rhodes greatest hits show with prime examples of her delicate and whimsical prints on diamond pointed chiffon dresses, modelled by the Warren sisters (a Wardrobe Department fixture) and borrowed from the Fashion and Textile Museum.

It’s always great of course to shine a light on vintage Zandra Rhodes, especially when you see her relevance popping up today.  Menkes even had her other granddaughter wear a Rhodes “inspired” current season Kate Moss for Topshop dress, to hammer home her point.

But that wasn’t my main take away from the talk.  Menkes talked about her time when she was working at the Evening Standard and had to file her reports on the telephone.  In this pre-mobile phone age, Menkes had to be canny to get her story in.  At a Dior show, she clocked another reporter near the exit, where outside there was one singular phonebook in the vicinity.  Menkes then engineered a move to divert the other journalist so that she could race out to the phone to file her story.

In another anecdote, Menkes recalls not having an invitation to the Chloe show, when Karl Lagerfeld was the designer there and “king of ready to wear” at the time.  So Menkes and her colleague decided to buy some cleaning garb and uniform from a shop and dress up as cleaners to get into the show at 5am, hours before the show.  The hid underneath the podium and snuck out just as the show was about to begin.

These two stories spoke volumes about Menkes’ work ethic and attitude.  It isn’t just her vast knowledge and experience of show-going and the collections that make her so highly respected.  It’s her tenacity, her willingness to graft and her unstoppable quest for “the story” that also makes her a great journalist.  She’s the only one on the frow that will take out her laptop in-between shows (I do it sometimes too but in truth, I’m only aping Menkes… and err…there really is too much time wasted waiting for shows to start).  She’s the first one backstage after every show to speak to a designer (how DOES she get there so fast…?)  She always files super fast and in volume, knocking up huge word counts for individual show reports.

She really is the real deal and frankly, as much as I stand for a newguard digital wave (which Menkes is in full support of in her new role as Vogue’s international editor), it’s hard to see how many people still and will operate the way Menkes does with her high level of tireless dedication to fashion reporting.  I wonder too  whether the showiness and surface of the fashion world (and the exacerbated speed of fashion coverage today) can often mask what is actually important – proper hard work.  Journos continue to hash out lazy cliches about generation y/z Instagramming/captioning their way to the top and in fashion, that accusation is ongoing.  That’s too simplistic a statement.  But at the same time, I can count on my one hand, the people my age or younger who go the sort of distance that Menkes had demonstrated.

With these thoughts in mind, I dashed over to author Andy Miller’s talk in the Bowling Green after Menkes had been crowned as “Queen of Fashion” with Stephen Jones and Jenny Dyson‘s collectively made crown.  Miller was talking about his ten point guide to reading books better, based on his humorous tome The Year of Reading Dangerously.  The general gist of the talk was to encourage people to really engage with their books, read them properly, finish them and don’t pretend you’ve read something just because culture vultures prescribe that you MUST have read a certain book.

From Miller’s talk and Menkes’ stories, I could draw parallels and glean some old fashioned advice – be the real McCoy, don’t think you can fake it and make it, worked hard and you’ll reap rewards, take the long route and not the shortcut… if I think of any more cliched nuggets, I’ll add them here.  It is only day one after all…

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0E5A4807Stephen Jones crowning Menkes as Queen of Fashion with a sweet crochet crown of mini Menkes

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0E5A4830Menkes’ two grand-daughters wearing Kate Moss for Topshop dress on the left and a Zandra Rhodes original on the right…

0E5A4832Andy Miller telling it as it is…

We had a loose rule on our second trip to Los Angeles to try and do things that we hadn’t done before on our first trip, which included not repeating food spots and accommodation. In fact we stayed at five different places on our six day trip just to mix things up a bit (there was a meticulous packing methodology). We have still come away feeling like we’re not quite sated and there’s still an arm-long to-do/see list, which means it’s more than likely that we’ll come back for more. LA, we really do heart you. A lot.

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- Trust my British self to moan about the weather on the first day of our holiday. But only because I did feel a bit peeved that for the first few days, it was actually hotter in London than it was in Los Angeles. We had booked ourselves into Shutters on the Beach to spend a lush first night in Santa Monica and woke up to this…

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- In fairness, it did brighten up so that it looked like the above about four hours later so my initial gripes were completely unfounded. Plus Santa Monica/Venice Beach is still awesome regardless of the colour of the sky.

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20140716_081434Breakfast of healthy/not so healthy at Shutters

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IMG_0074Wearing Vika Gazinsakay x & Other Stories dress, Bernstock Speirs visor, Kenzo bag, Tabitha Simmons x Toms shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses

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- As expected LA treated us good food-wise.  Following our rule about not repeating food spots twice we also tried to go for things that are basically hard to find in London.  Our eats included an awesome boat noodle soup at Pa Ord, interesting bacon-imbued and pork-fat-rendered flavour combinations at Animal, ceviche tostadas at El Sietes Mares, sorrel lemonade at Sky’s Gourmet Tacos and a nom nom undressed lobster roll at Blue Plate Oysterette.

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- I really wanted to check out Heritage Square Museum because I had seen pictures of their annual Vintage Fashion Show and Tea online.  Eight historic structures mostly constructed during the Victorian era were saved and reconstructed here by Montecito Heights.  There are more “real” examples of this kind of architecture elsewhere in the city but I loved the odd juxtaposition and assembly of houses right by a busy freeway.

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- Something ultra cheesy had to be on the agenda.  The Dearly Departed tours were all booked up so we headed to the Hollywood Museum in the old Maxfactor Building.  If you’re errr.. into pan-cake style make-up on dusty pink dressing tables and Daryl Hannah narrating a ye olde documentary on the history of Maxfactor, this is the place for you.  I’m a sucker for old Hollywood memorabilia though so I kind of loved it.

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- Unlike London, Los Angeles has a lot of distinctly themed areas dedicated to the many ethnicities that make up the city.  Olvera Street is the oldest part of downtown Los Angeles with Spanish settlers founding the city in 1781.  Today, it’s an ode to its past as a Spanish/Mexican outpost with a ton of tourist-y kitschy market stalls.  Always up for getting any sort of fix of Mexico of course, however cliched.  Nearby, is Chinatown, which isn’t really where LA’s Chinese community live (need to make it to San Gabriel Valley for the good Chinese eats…) but again is a kitschy reminder of the past when it was actually bustling and the centre of the Chinese community.  It feels more like a hammed up Hollywood set than a real functioning Chinatown but it definitely has its charm.  I love that Ooga Booga, an interesting and conceptual zine/book/gift store is nestled in the middle of plaza.

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IMG_0226 Wearing Suno hat, 3.1 Phillip Lim vest, Topshop skirt, Linda Farrow sunglasses and Salvatore Ferragamo slip-ons

- Steve and I kept on lusting after home and garden decorations as stores along Abbot Kinney and Lincoln Blvd were tempting us to overdo it with our luggage allowance (we only bought a few things but still had to plead with the airline to let us go over our limit).  On Abbot Kinney, The Piece Collective, A Plus R, Tortoise General Store and Chariots of Fire were full of lovely things.  General Store on Lincoln Blvd is also fantastic.

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IMG_0105Inside Piece Collective

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IMG_0107Pots at A Plus R

- In particular, we got quite obsessed with cool ceramics and little plant pots.  Since we didn’t bring that many back, I’ve been tirelessly searching Etsy for alternatives.  South Willard had an intriguing exhibition on local pottery artists Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess.  Alchemy Works in Arts District and Fifth Floor in Chinatown also had a few names for us to take note of.

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20140718_125141Bits and bobs inside Fifth Floor

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- There seems to be a lot of love for Craig Green in LA which is great to see!  People instantly recognised and ID-ed his tie-dye shorts from SS14, which I was wearing and there was a healthy amount of his stuff at the store 12345.  Go Craig!!!

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- We’re currently in the process of re-doing our garden and a cactus corner is a must because of all the cool cacti we saw out in LA.  It won’t look as cool in our flat grey light but will definitely be a reminder of our trips.

IMG_0183At Olvera Street

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- Every area in LA seemed to have one of these Apolis Local + Global market bags, which originated in LA-based socially motivated lifestyle brand Apolis’ arts district store and have slowly branched out to partner with stores all over the world.  I love the new Koreatown version sold in Poketo inside The Line hotel.  They’re made by a group of women in Bangladesh and as this harrowing BBC2 documentary on the Rana Plaza disaster attests, any initiative to ensure Bangladeshi women get to earn a fair living under safe conditions is definitely worthy of attention.

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- The ridiculous reason why I wanted to go to Las Vegas for a day was because I needed the air miles to top up my account.  The sensible reason was that I’d never been.  Perhaps less than 24 hours wasn’t really enough time to devote to the city of sin but I have to be honest… Las Vegas basically felt like Leicester Square and Macau x 100 rolled together with the added downside of searingly hot temperatures (walking around outside at night was like having a hot fan heater blowing in your face the whole time).  We don’t gamble and we didn’t really know how (yes, I know I’m betraying my Chinese roots here but my dad abhors gambling and likewise instilled that in me) and spent a while just watching people do it.  Then we went to strip club for the “fun” of it and found it to be an utterly depressing experience, watching girls in mismatched bras and panties sidling up to men for dances (I say dance loosely – they were just bouncing up and down to get dudes turned on).  But…

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IMG_0235View from our room at the Bellagio

IMG_0233Dale Chihuly ceiling in the lobby of the Bellagio

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…I really did love driving further up the strip towards downtown to see the shotgun wedding chapels at night even if we did have to pay an extortionate fare to a cab driver to get him to drive us up and down the strip.

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IMG_0250Wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, vintage Vivienne Westwood swimsuit, Marni shorts, Christopher Kane sandals

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- On a food note, the Bacchanal buffet at Caesars Palace defeated me.  One starter plate, one main plate and a few of the desserts were all I had.  I brought shame to my expert buffet eating family.  Thumbs up to the truffle layered potatoes, the clams in chorizo sauce and the dipped strawberries.

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- Back in LA, we opted to spend our last night in a new-ish hotel called The Line in Koreatown.  It had a fab view of Hollywood Hills and the interiors designed by Knibb Design were pretty ace (especially loved the plastered white t-shirt ceilings) but not everything was open yet – looking forward to coming back to check out the Commissary cafe, which is housed in a greenhouse by the pool.  It was handy to be near all the Korean eats though and it was great to eat a really decent tasting funked-up congee for brekkie.  Didn’t get to sample Roy Choi’s food at the restaurant hotel Pot but like I said, this place is definitely one to revisit.

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- Downtown LA is still a pretty interesting area to comb through.  This time we checked out Bradbury Building aka where they filmed Blade Runner in.  It’s an incredible mishmash of architecture inside with Parisian-derived apartment iron fretwork coupled with Mexican tiles and Italian marble, with a central skylight allowing light to flood in.  Across the road, Million Dollar Theatre and Grand Central Market are also worth snooping around.  Especially in the latter, where we tried Salvadorean pupusas.  Plus there’s an eatery called Eggslut.  Yup, Eggslut.

IMG_4482Inside the Bradbury Building

IMG_4484Million Dollar Theater

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- In a shop called Round2, the owner described downtown as “kind of like New York in the 80s… things are just getting started around here.”  Not sure if the analogy is entirely true but DLTA definitely has its own vibe, that’s very separate from shopping in Hollywood or out in Silver Lake/Echo Park.  Round2 felt like an LA version of Cyber Dog and I found great plastic fantasic pieces by local designer Michelle Uberreste (apparently an ex Project Runway contestant).  I also loved The Last bookstore, quite possibly the largest and most well-organised second hand bookstore I’ve been to.  I didn’t get to check out Please do Not Enter, a newish concept store downtown but again, leaving one for next time.

IMG_4496Michelle Uberreste vest at Round 2

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- Outside In ‘n’ Out near the airport (our only repeat eating experience because well… it’s In ‘n’ Out!), where a girl yelped my name and repeatedly screamed/hugged me and then ran away without saying anything.  I kind of loved her.  Please make yourself be known if you are reading!