Friday, April 27, 2007

I'm Also Not A Plastic Bag!

Photograph copyright Louisa McKenzie.

If you are in the UK, you have to have been living under a rock for the past few days, or at least had something very time consuming to do, if you haven't heard about Anya Hindmarch/Sainsbury's "eco-friendly" non-plastic carrier bag. It has received extensive media coverage (print, TV and radio). Here is a swift recap for the uninitated: the bag cost £5, it has been produced in limited number, it has been photographed on the arm of several trendy celebrities (none of whom had to join the 3am queues for the bag, I should imagine), it is now sold out. The bag was designed by Anya Hindmarch and was first available in her shops, in the aforementioned limited number. There were long queues and many disappointed people. The "£5 bag" is now changing hands for ever increasing sums on eBay (over £200 at the last count). A second consignment of the bags was available, in limited number, in Sainsburys stores. There were long queues starting a 3am etc, etc.
Now, the sentiment which produced this bag is more than admirable. Of course we should be thinking about reducing our impact on this earth by using fewer plastic carrier bags. Some shops are already swapping to eco-friendly, recyclable and bio-degrable paper: Selfridges and Primark (now is not the time to discuss the ethics of the latter) are two examples. However, the furore surrounding this particular bag shows that whilst some of its buyers might be environmentally friendly, the majority just want to have the latest fashion accessory. Anya Hindmarch's chic design of course adds to the popularity. I'm sure no-one would have bought an "ugly" eco-friendly bag. It also has to be argued that those who are environmentally conscious have already been using shopping bags made from eco-friendly materials. They don't need a "special" bag to make them do it. Neither should you. Don't buy into the hype. Pick one of any number of eco-friendly cloth bags and take them out with you when you shop. Decline offers of plastic bags from retailers and pop your purchases in the one bag. This way you can be different - pick a bag which has a slogan or picture which appeals to you. There is no fun in following the herd. Often exhibitions are a good place to find these bags. Museums usually produce at least one example for every major exhibition. The one pictured above is produced by the V&A in association with their magnificient Surrealism exhibition. I use it as an example because it is roughly comparable in size to "the bag". There are many great examples to be found in all sorts of places. There are also plenty of companies able to put your own photos on bags.
Of course, the media furore does at least mean that the need for eco-friendly bags is broadcast to a wider spectrum of the public. I hope that "the bag" succeeds in bringing public awareness to this topic. In particular, there is a lack of adequate shopping trolleys available in this country. You wouldn't be able to carry many groceries from the weekly shop in one little bag. City dwellers, those without cars, or those who seek to reduce their carbon-footprint by walking to and from the shops really need to pull their groceries, rather than stagger along with very heavy, shoulder-wrenching bags. English shopping trolleys are hopeless - either old fashioned or impractical and not very strong. Cross over the Channel and the French have applied their typical je ne sais pas to the matter. There you can find elegant, pretty trolleys, adorned with large photos of flowers, or with cartoons, or just in plain, bright colours. They are strong and perfect. I have two and they are invaluable.
Therefore, if you really want to make a difference to the environment, you don't have to rush out and buy the latest bag, just find one you like for yourself and use that instead!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Quick Tip - Tory Burch

Photography copyright Louisa McKenzie
Tory Burch's line has become the toast of Manhattan. A trip to her Soho shop (above) makes it easy to see why. Her clothes are chic and elegant without being showy. They combine the right about of retro detail with a modern feel. Most importantly, they are designed to be practical, not look practical. It is with accessories, however, that Tory Burch has really taken off. Her signature Reva ballet flat is immensely popular and available in a wide range of colours and prints. These shoes can be seen all over Manhattan and are easily affordable. Despite some of the collection being available in Harvey Nichols, in England the shoes, sadly are not. If you happen to be in New York, stock up.
Tory Burch, 257 Elizabeth Street.
212- 334-3000

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Department Store Wars!

One thing which New York does not lack is department stores. Depending on how flexible a definition is used, the total is at the very least five or six. The cream of the crop are the 3 Bs - Bloomingdales, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman. These are all enviably situated within striking distance of each other.
Bloomingdales offers both the widest range and the biggest floor space of the three (unless you count Bergdorf's menswear shop with the womenswear shop). It would take several trips to fully explore. Items range from cheaper, diffusion lines and youth brands to the most expensive designer items. Bloomingdales is best for basics, such as magnificent hosiery and lingerie departments and t-shirts and casual wear. Also of note is the plus size department. This will be a revelation for larger ladies used to shopping in England: not only is there more choice and everything is cheaper but you'll find you take a smaller size too. Visit Bloomingales Soho branch for an easier shopping experience. This store is smaller and combines the best of Bloomingdales's younger, trendier lines.
The trendiest of the New York department stores, Barneys was always being menitoned on Sex And The City, for good reason. Barneys' buyers have sought out the most cutting edge designers and hard to find lines, for example Trovata as well as more established name. The shop is well fitted - huge white spaces which make the clothes the stars. Furthermore, Barneys, if not small, is compact. You can get through the whole place easily. The shoe department is renowned and indeed offers a magnificent selection. However, for me, it is a close call with Bergdorf Goodman. Barney's shoe department offers a wider range and, in keeping with the shop's ethos, more cutting edge designers. Also of note at Barneys is the restaurant, Fred's. London department store dining has nothing on either Barneys or Bergdorf's eateries. Fred's is a place to see and be seen buit also offers and wide ranging, extremely resonable menu in chic surroundings.
Bergdorf Goodman
Magnificent architecturally, Bergdorf Goodman exudes old fashioned elegance. The emphasis here is on the higher end designers, although there is a floor of "younger designs" for more affordable collections. This is a place which has a whole section devoted to evening dresses of the highest order. The shoe department is sublime, with masses of Louboutins, Alaias and a dedicated Blahnik department. Accessories on the ground floor (floor 1 American) is also well worth a visit, with a great range and some unusual items (Zac Posen handbags). The restaurant, BG, offers sublime views of the park and manageable, delicious portions.

Also well worth a look is the tiny Henri Bendel on 5th, which is distinguished by the Frederic Fekkai salon it houses, a collection of own label jumpers in many colors and styles, and an innovative jewellery section.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spotlight on.....La Goulue

Photograph copyright Louisa McKenzie
It is testament to how expensive London has become that I found a restaurant which is known as one of New York's finest to be more than reasonable. Indeed, in London, you could almost pay the same amount for a meal at a mid-range restaurant as my dining companion and I paid for a fantastic meal with wine at La Goulue.
La Goulue is a little slice of France in New York city. Decorated like a Parisian bistro, with dark woodwork and low lights it has a menu full of typically French influenced favorites which keep customers returning again and again. Personal favorites were the lamb with barley risotto (delicate flavours) and the divine steak. Changing specials are equally inventive and impressive. I sampled a wonderful rabbit dish. If you visit La Goulue (and I highly recommend it) make sure you leave room for a desert. The vacherin and the crepes suzette, in particular, are worth waiting for.
The restaurant, or rather its clientele, can have a bit of a reputation for being snobby. However, I found nothing to be further from the truth. The staff are friendly and accommodating. Having visited on several occasions, with different dining companions, I found the staff able to suit even the most demanding of palettes. Nothing was too much trouble for them.
Personal service and remembering customers after a first visit ensure that returning visitors are treated more like old friends than customers. Furthermore, although the restaurant is popular, you are not expected to hurry your meal and the atmosphere is very relaxed.
A New York must!
La Goulue Restaurant
746 Madison Avenue, New York City