Thursday, December 14, 2006

Florence, Italy - Culture And Shopping

Photo by and copyright Louisa McKenzie.
Florence is a paradise for art lovers and avid shoppers alike, a place where one can see world-renowned art and architecture but also be enchanted by a fresco or terracotta frieze in a small side street. It is also a destination which offers a broad spectrum of shopping opportunities.

Obviously, a trip to Florence would not be complete without a visit to its key museums and galleries: the Uffizi, the Galleria dell'Accademia and the Pitti Palace. In the high season, these can get very busy. It is a frequent occurence in the summer for the queue for the Uffizi to stretch all the way around the loggia and outside again. Those "in the know" never queue. The way to avoid queuing is to book tickets in advance from (+39) 055 294 883. This service allows you to book in advance for any of the state museums in Florence. You do not need to give credit card details, just your name. Your are then given a booking number which you take along with you when collecting your tickets. This service is invaluable, saving as it does hours of queuing under the beautiful, but sometimes harsh, Tuscan sun.

Also, almost all of Florence's churches contain important artworks, although I suggest that an attempt to view all of these is only for the extremely studious. In my opinion, the best are the cathedral church (the Duomo), for Brunelleschi's inspiring dome; the Baptistery opposite the Duomo, for its fantastic Byzantine inspired mosaic ceiling; the serene San Marco to view the work of Fra Angelico and Santa Maria Novella, for the fresco cycles of the Tornabuoni and Strozzi chapels and the Trinity by Masaccio. The latter work is fantastically important from an art historical point of view as it is the first example of perspective being used in a painting.

However, Florence also contains some hidden gems, mentioned by guide books, but not often visited - lost among the multitude of things to see and do in Florence. They are, however, a delight. Also, by their very nature, they are often far less crowded than elsewhere. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, relatively hidden on the opposite side of the street at the rear of the Duomo, is an efficient and well planned museum containing many important works. The original bronze Baptistery door panels, realized by Ghiberti in the fifteenth century are to be found in the Museo. The doors on the Baptistery are replicas. The museum also contains a Pieta by Michelangelo, Donatello's Mary Magdalen and a set of exquisite Renaissance vestments designed by Antonio dell Pollaiuolo. The church of Santa Trinita, nestling behind a nonedscript facade opposite the Salvatore Ferragamo shop and museum, contains a beautiful set of works by Ghirlandaio.

An ideal location for magnificent vistas of Florence is San Miniato al Monte in the Oltrano. San Miniato is a church situated on a hill in a smart area of Florence, easily accesible by bus or taxi. It is far better to walk down from San Miniato than to walk up. The journey down provides more great views of the Arno winding through the centre of the city. If arriving by bus, get off at the Piazzale Michelangelo to take best advantage of this. A great cafe is situated on the Piazzale, called La Loggia. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for taking in the view whilst the occasional harmless gecko scampers through the shrubbery.

The church of San Miniato is far more simple inside than the majority of Florentine churches, due to its early date, with beautiful painted beams stretching far above the worshipper's head. The only exception is the breathtaking Cardinal of Portugal's chapel, a masterpiece of the marriage of the sculpted and painted arts. The altarpiece is a replica, the original being housed in the Uffizi.

When you are suffering from art fatigue, Florence provides excellent opportunities for shopping, due to its manageable size and the breadth of the products available. The high-end shops can mainly be found on the via Tornabuoni. Salvatore Ferragamo's headquarters are to be found here, the first shopfront when approaching from the river. As befits headquarters, there is impressive stock coverage: shoes, clothing, bags, sunglasses. Above the shop is the Museo Ferragamo, exhibiting some of Ferragamo's outstanding historical designs. A walk along the via Tornabuoni finds all the designer suspects present and correct. The Roberto Cavalli store houses its own cafe for light refreshments. Louis Vuitton and Fendi are noticeable absentees but can be found in the via degli Strozzi which runs between the via Tornabuoni and the Piazza della Repubblica. For a mix of high-end and innovative designers who don't have shops in Florence, for example, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen, head to Luisa Via Roma at the top side of the Piazza della Repubblica. The staff are also fantastically helpful.

Photo by and copyright Louisa McKenzie.
One of the best things to buy in Florence is leather gloves. I always buy cashmere lined ones from Martelli in the via di Por Santa Maria during visits to Florence. The selection is second to none. In addition to plain cashmere lines gloves, which I choose for warmth and adaptability, they carry myriad other styles and a full range of colours for men and women. Also, staff fit the glove size to the hand of each customer, even if you know your size, to ensure the best fit. The Antica Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, of which the London, New York and Los Angeles stores are additional branches, is a must (via della Scala). The shop is a treat for all the senses and one really does feel as if one is stepping back in time. The staff are friendly, multi-lingual and leave the customer to explore the rooms and products at leisure.

There are some great day-trips to take from Florence: Siena, San Gigminano, Fiesole and Arezzo. However, the beauty of Florence, is that each visitor can discover something new or unique during their stay.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What A Good Idea...Cath Kidston Toiletries

The retro-chic of Cath Kidston continues to go from strength to strength. One of the latest additions is the toiletries range, combining all the elements which have made Cath Kidston great: colourful packaging, good quality and attractive vintage ideas. Bubble bath, body cream, talcum powder, hand cream and soap are all available.
Just in time for Christmas, the range is available in a variety of gift boxes, for example a hat box (above). There are three different scents: rose and carnation, lemon and geranium and lilac and lavender, so there is enough to please anyone.
Available in Cath Kidston shops worldwide. Please see for details.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ethical Fashion - who, what, where, how?

Image courtesy of and copyright Edun. Shows design from Edun Autumn/Winter range.
Ethical fashion is big news these days, and so it should be. However, in practice, few of us really know where or how to buy ethical items, or we assume that they will be badly designed or prohibitively expensive. This is not the case.

One of the most widely known ethical clothing brands is Edun, which describes itself as a "socially conscious clothing company" and is the brainchild of Ali Hewson, Bono and Rogan Gregory. With an emphasis on providing "trade not aid" for the people who produce the clothes, Edun uses factories in Africa, South America and India. Edun clothes are stylish and well-designed, perfect for the chic but practical individual (male or female). The upcoming Spring/Summer 2007 collection has three ranges: Madder Red, Primrose and Quill and White Symphony. The inspiration for these collections is very much the natural world. Some of the fabrics used to manufacture items are also part of a sustainable development. The Coco jacket is woven out of a wild silk from Namibia, the cultivation and use of which provides jobs for people in the rural areas where the silk is cultivated. Delicate dresses, tailored jackets and cool separates are key for the women's range; casual separates, funky detailing and modern lines are key to the men's range. Edun garments range in price, making it affordable for anyone. At the moment, Edun also have a special edition t-shirt in conjunction with ONE campaign.The t-shirt is made in Lesotho from 100% African cotton. For every t-shirt sold, Edun gives $10 to the ALAFA fund to fight AIDS by providing vital medicines for those affected in the area.

There are also other, lesser known ethical brands available in the UK. Topshop stocks several Fairtrade ranges (Gossypium, Hug and People Tree) in certain flagship stores and over the internet. Marks and Spencers has also started to produce several items from Fairtrade cotton. For items to be designated Fairtrade, they are awarded the Fairtrade mark. This is awarded to products which meet internationally agreed standards by the Fairtrade foundation, an independent body. It is an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal. The ranges stocked by Topshop also have their own websites and online shops (for details see below). Gossypium is particularly good. It produces stylish, affordable, natural yogawear, casual wear, underwear and even maternity wear. It also has men's, children's and baby ranges and household ranges. The items are sleek and chic, in a range of elegant colours and innovative designs. Hug has similar items, although not such an extensive range. However, it does also produce jeans. People Tree has a particularly wide range of items including dresses and a very good selection of accessories.

So, this Christmas, or in fact at any time of the year, why don't you buy someone (or yourself) some "ethical clothing". No longer does it mean clunky shoes and a hemp skirt. There are some wonderful, affordable items out there. Plus, you can feel good that someone else, somewhere else in the world, someone who you will never meet, is being benefitted by your actions. Indeed, just think of this little-known statistic, pointed out by Edun's Ali Hewson, " Africa has lost six percent of the world trade since the Seventies. If they could regain one percent of that, Africa would earn $70 billion a year. They currently receive only $22 billion a year in aid. "

Where To Buy:
Edun: UK - Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols. Ireland - Brown Thomas. Canada - Holt
Renfrew. Spain - El Corte Ingles. Japan - Beams, Club 21, Isetan. USA - Barneys,
Nordstrom and Fred Segal.
Topshop: selected stores nationwide (UK).
People Tree:

For Further Information On Issues Raised:;

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What A Good Idea....Missoni Scarves

Photograph courtesy of and copyright Missoni.
Usually the idea of receiving an item of clothing (and a knitted item of clothing at that!) as a Christmas gift strikes fear into the heart. Can we ever trust anyone to judge our own taste? There are few of us who can answer "Yes". However, there is one item of clothing at least which is almost guaranteed to put a smile on the face of its recipient - the Missoni scarf. Stocked by all major department stores and coming in a range of colours, this is an ideal Christmas present or seasonal gift. At this time of year, the heavier, winter weight knitted scarves are most popular. Silk scarves, square and long, can also be found but are more popular in the summer. These can be worn both round the neck and as bright headscarves. Look out for the poppy print this year - it is bound to become a collectible.
In any event, a sure fire winner!

Spotlight on.....Colette

Photographs courtesy of and copyright Colette.
This Parisien boutique is unique in every sense of the word. Stretched over three floors of minimalist design, it stocks a variety of goods, from clothes and accessories to cosmetics, jewellery, books, CDs, DVDs, collectibles and electronic goods (IPods and other MP3 players in particular). The emphasis of the shop is very much on contemporary design. Most of the books cover different facets of this topic. The clothes, mainly by high end designers, are all displayed on mannequins, not on hangers and rails, making it seem more like an art gallery for clothes than a shop. The jewellery stocked ranges in price from the fairly expensive to the really expensive. However, you won't find items in many other shops.
On the lower ground floor there is the water bar, stocking delicious snacks. The shop is also renowned for the wide variety of its customers.
Some of the collectibles on the ground floor feature Cap and Pep, two little cartoon dogs exclusive to Colette - the diaries are particularly stunning this season.
Whether you have something specific in mind, or whether you just want to browse, you are sure to find something to buy in Colette. Indeed, even if you can't visit Paris, the website and its eShop are well worth a visit. Truly, it is one of the most innovative shop websites I have ever seen.
Colette, 213 rue Saint-Honore, 75001 Paris. Tel: 01 55 35 33 90.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Karl Lagerfeld - A Profile

Photography courtesy of and copyright Chanel.
After a career spanning six decades, Karl Lagerfeld is still at the top of his game. He is director of collections at Chanel, a label synonymous with high fashion and couture. During Lagerfeld's time in this role, the label has once again attained the zenith of creativity it had in the glory days of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. In addition to designing for Chanel, Lagerfeld has his own labels Karl Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Collection, his first New York based lines and works as an artistic adviser for Fendi (a collaboration which began in the 1960s). As well as designing, Lagerfeld is an accomplished artist, having taken a break from his fashion career in the 1960s to study this subject.

A prodigy, Lagerfeld gained his entree into the fashion world by winning a design competition in 1955, at the age of seventeen. Also at the competition, winning a different category, was another young, unknown designer, Yves Saint Laurent. Lagerfeld's win gained him a position at the fashion house of Pierre Balmain, then incredibly popular. Vintage Balmain has always been sought-after, but is starting to become very collectible. The mark of the early years of Lagerfeld's career, both at Balmain and then Jean Patou (another very fashionable, innovative label at the time) can be seen in the incredible cut and tailoring of Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel. However, as anyone who has watched Chanel's collections from the Lagerfeld years knows, classic tailoring is tempered with a palpable sense of modernity. It was perhaps this desire to be free from the stifling atmosphere of 1950s and 1960s couture houses which prompted Lagerfeld to quickly move into a career as a freelance designer and then take a break to study art. Scenes from the recent documentary "The House Of Chanel" showed just how marvellous an artist Lagerfeld actually is, sketching quickly and accurately the ideas which come into his head, but with the skill of an illustrator.

The fashion bug had not completely left Lagerfeld however. He returned to the industry in the 1960s and made his name at Chloe in the 1970s. His work for this label again showed his desire for the designer and the consumer to be free from the strictures of contemporary couture.

Joining Chanel in 1983, Lagerfeld has made the label his own. The Chanel haute-couture show is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the season. Lagerfeld's ready-to-wear designs are aware of the label's traditions, stalwarts include signature tweeds and quilted bags, for example, but with a thoroughly modern twist. The accessories line, in particular the bags and sunglasses, has become incredibly popular in recent years. No Hollywood starlet seems complete without her Chanel bag, whether a classic quilted model or a more daring design from the current Paris-New York or Luxury By Chanel lines. These lines display classic or signature Chanel details, diamond pattern stitching , chain handles, double C logo, with more unusual and varied fabrics, for example, ponyskin, suede, distressed leather, oversized alligator. Such marriage of tradition and innovation is key to the way Lagerfeld works at Chanel. This season's Chanel collections can be summed up as "rock and roll classic": tweed jackets teamed with skinny jeans, deconstructed leather jackets over ruffled shirts, mini skirts and boots. Eveningwear is both short and long, featuring tiers, black lace and intricate surface detail. The palate, as so often with Chanel, is monochrome, with dashes of colour here and there, mainly blue and red. A sportswear line is also designed.

Lagerfeld's own lines have their unique distinct design ethos. Again working with a palette of mainly, but not exclusively, black they feature more relaxed designs, some deconstructed, some impeccably tailored. Use of a wide range of materials and the concept of drape is key.

In addition to fashion design work, Lagerfeld is also known for his photography, which has featured in several magazines. He is also well-known in recent years for a diet which helped him to lose 92 pounds. This is the subject of a book: The Karl Lagerfeld Diet by Karl Lagerfeld, Dr Jean-Claude Houdret and Ingrid Sischy. Furthermore, Lagerfeld has also produced costumes for several key stage productions for La Scala in Milan, the opera in Florence and the ballet of Monte Carlo.

A true fashion original, he shows no sign of slowing down and we're sure to see more fabulous collections from him in years to come.
Quis Sum?

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's Outerwear Jim, But Not As We Know It

Much in the same way that the original Star Trek series showed what people thought the world would be like in future years, this season's key coats are reminiscent of futuristic 1960s and 1970s designs. Bold patterns, daring shapes, embellishment and a mix of fabrics are all key looks this season. Having said that, there is a great deal of choice out there and you are sure to find your dream coat.
Bold Shapes
This season is awash with bold, futuristic shapes. Particularly popular are swing and trapeze coats. Funnel necks are also about, but these can be a little uncomfortable (at least to my mind) so make sure you don't completely sacrifice substance for style (tempting as this may be). Chloe has some good examples of bold shapes. Burberry is great for swing coats, some of their only designs not belted this season. For a rarer coat, try Jean Paul Gaultier, who has belted coats with wide "skirts" this season. Bold shapes are often collarless, so bear this in mind when you are on the hunt.
If you want bold patterns, you need look no further than Missoni, the make to beat in this field. Admittedly patterns can be daunting, but worn well, with plain clothes and minimal accessories, they can look particularly stunning. Ashish, Charles Anastase and Richard Chai are some other examples of interesting prints.
Embellishment takes many forms on coats this season, from belts to buttons to badges. However, beware, because it can also date badly, leaving you with a coat which is only wearable for one season. With this in mind, embellishment through buttons is perhaps the best thing to look for as these can always be changed in the future. Miu Miu and Prada have some good examples. YSL's sequined astrakhan coats and rosebud capes are the epitome of this season's feminine take on embellishment.
Quis Sum?