December 27, 2013

One Night Stands in Farringdon

             Pop-up shops: they come, they go, but they never fail to make a lasting impression during their short-lived timespan. One such pop-up shop at the Clerkenwell Gallery in Farringdon left me dreaming of gold, gems, and jewels. I was invited to a clandestine viewing of 12 designers and one artist that occupied a slot for a mere few hours on a Thursday evening. With complimentary beer from Peroni and coconut water in flavors various, a seamless evening appeared to be on the cards.

             Out of the assembled, while clothing was also on show, the brands that really caught my eye were of the jewelry variation: SMITH/GREY, Tessa Metcalfe, Pearl & Queenie, Kasun London, and Gogo Philip Vintage Bijoux. As an added bonus, I was introduced to artistic talent, Domenico Cordua, and was able to catch up with Laura Smith of the LAURASMITH line, whom I met for the first time during this year’s London Fashion Week.

             The Clerkenwell Gallery seemed at first glance a rather odd venue to show off bespoke pieces due to its cramped interior, but it is that same interior that also made every designer stand stand out. Although jostling other patrons became commonplace, the up-and-downstairs areas were inviting, with the collections taking center stage. The stalls were overseen by most of the designers themselves, offering a unique opportunity to interact directly with the creative minds behind the products laid out in front of us.

             As I headed to the bottom floor, Smith, as ever the delightful and unassuming designer of the room, greeted me at the bottom of the stairs. As we chatted, I fawned over her coral sheers and tried-and-true blacks just as I had fawned over her golds and lilacs at London Fashion Week. Smith wore the X Dress - Silk and Jersey from her Autumn/Winter 2013 collection, epitomizing what it means to keep things simple, but still standout. To avoid repeating myself, have a read here of my interview with Smith during London Fashion Week for more on her inspirations, what she has in store for next season, and an overview of her line, its trademark being Nottingham lace.

The two Lauras; pictured with Laura Smith and her Autumn/Winter 2013 collection
             I was immediately awestruck by Kasun London, the jewelry range consisting of what could be considered dark fantasies, or guilty pleasures. I couldn’t resist trying on the Black Vampire Bite Ring, a gilded and fanged showstopper encasing synthetic onyx. It originally reminded me of a shark’s powerful grip, but considering the stake cross, vampire heart, and silver bullet pendants, it soon became evident that the blood-sucking creatures were the intended focus. I later learned that the collection was called “God Loves Fangs,” featuring skulls, claws, and jaws aplenty, treasures that would act as the perfect conversation starters. My infatuation was running dangerously deep and I had to admit that I had been bitten by the brand, placing that dazzling ring high up on my wish list.

             Still sticking with the theme of skulls, except of animal rather than human origin, Pearl & Queenie’s delicately quirky Longhorn Herding Necklaces were next on my fixation radar. Taken from the Equestrian Treasures collection, expect to also see hunting coins and horseshoes. All of the jewelry is handmade and paired with engraving and symbols of love, luck, and fortune, with credit owed to best friend duo Becca Hulbert and Kathy Dyton. Romance and sentiment dominate the rest of the jewelry in bridal, gypsy, and love story collections. Stamps of “Sweetheart” and “My Heart is Yours,” pearls, cameos, fortune teller hands, charms: this is the stuff of nostalgia. Pearl & Queenie captures the no frills, unapologetic personal meaning of jewelry and how that meaning translates from person to person.

             Back upstairs, more designers were bound to draw me in, and through familiarity, I immediately recognized Tessa Metcalfe’s pieces, which I had first encountered during this year’s London Fashion Weekend. It would actually have been harder not to take notice with a dead pigeon as the focal point of the table’s layout. Speaking to Metcalfe, she revealed that taxidermy was responsible for her designing direction. Indicative of this is the recurring pigeon claw that appears in her rings, necklaces, and earrings. I guess that would explain the bird on the table then, which actually was a wearable hat. Metcalfe’s goal was “finding beauty in the gutter” and she certainly did that by creating her own distinct kind of jewelry, formulated from perhaps an unusual, but nonetheless inspired, idea.

             The running theme of the night actually leant towards that unusualness, that atypical quality. Birgit Marie Schmidt and Sofus Graae, the masterminds behind SMITH/GREY, weave together rugged utilitarian pieces that are chunky and bold (especially for the men) with whimsical horses, bulls, and roses, reminiscent of a fantastical merry-go-round that is just a little “off” upon closer inspection. The roses still protrude with thorns, giving the collection an edgy prettiness, and the horses meld together in succession, but their faces are not always on view, replaced instead by torsos and suspended, dangling legs. The Fighter Ring, a gold plated bronze knuckleduster, is my devilish pick, with tusks that thrust upwards. The SMITH/GREY website says that their jewelry is used as a “narrative medium to unlock the imagination and awaken curiosity.” Mission accomplished.

SMITH/GREY designer, Birgit Marie Schmidt, reflected amongst her roses (top)

             To wrap up on the jewelry front, we have Gogo Philip, founded by Georgi “Gogo” Philip Pecenikov in 2007. Think chains, chains, chains. A chain is a go-to, never out of style accessory, and there is always one swinging from my wrist and most likely my neck in this classic design. Gogo Philip is a surefire “forget-me-not” brand, drumming in the mantra that bigger truly is better. During the night of the pop-up shop, I actually was wearing a heavyweight chain-link necklace and I caught the Gogo Philip vendor taking a look at it as if to nod in accordance with the choice. The clasps are also less discreet than those seen on regular necklaces, projected as part of the whole ensemble. The half gold, half rhodium chain would be my choker of choice, but Gogo Philip makes it difficult to choose just one. Like a magpie attracted to all things shiny, I lingered over the stand, silently desiring.

             Last, but definitely not least, the walls of the Clerkenwell Gallery were filled with limited edition illustrations from Cordua, each representing a darker rendition of someone famous. His psychedelic colors and elegant caricatures are eerie yet very fashion forward. Cordua’s website shows just a handful of what he is capable of, including, to my surprise, an illustration of Madison Montgomery (played by Emma Roberts), a character taken from American Horror Story: Coven, one of my favorite television shows. This is just further evidence of Cordua’s all-inclusive scope. If you have a favorite celebrity, it is highly likely that Cordua has depicted said celebrity in his work, so that he or she may become pride of place in your own household. The streaky results are one-offs fresh from the paintbrush of Cordua, the kind of art we all wish we were making when we blindly tampered with watercolors.

             Well, there you have it; the naughty inside gossip of my one night stands in Farringdon taken straight from my little black book. They were every bit as risqué, gorgeous, and pleasurable as you could imagine. It would seem that I have been a very busy girl, so next time some one night stands come knocking, don’t you be afraid to “get busy” either.

             Discover SMITH/GREY here, Tessa Metcalfe here, Pearl & Queenie here, Kasun London here, Gogo Philip here, Laura Smith here, and Domenico Cordua here. You’ll thank me later!

December 24, 2013

Braving the Elements, Cocktail in Hand

             Winter is well and truly upon us and why I felt the need to subject myself to a bitter 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius) when the current weather outside is biting enough as it is, is unknown to me. I suppose I am always on the search for novelty and ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL London certainly is novel. For the rest of this review, I will try to refrain from cheesy jokes referencing how I was “chilling” in ICEBAR or how the crowd was hardly “frosty,” but for now, just indulge me and believe me when I say that ICEBAR was indeed very, very “cool” – figuratively and, perhaps more obviously, literally.

             ICEBAR claims the title of the United Kingdom’s only permanent ice bar. Tucked away on Heddon Street, about halfway between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, ICEBAR is a well-secluded luxury that can be discovered only by those looking for it. Upon first entry, I was lulled into that false sense of security that comes with hanging heaters and inviting seats. If a cold climate isn’t your thing, the lounge area sells drinks without the added frigidity that ICEBAR offers and the much cozier restaurant situated downstairs serves European cuisine.

             After gathering tickets with my friend, who agreed to come along for the rather unusual expedition, we waited until it was our time to enter ICEBAR. A surprisingly long line started to form of apprehensive adventurers waiting their turn to embark on an unforgettable excursion. Staff members cloaked us in arctic blue thermal capes with white fur trim with a single swoop over our heads. Looking magical and mystical, we stepped into our ice kingdom.

             The cost of our tickets came to 16 pounds each, not a bad price considering it included a 40-minute session within the bar (trust me, you probably wouldn’t want to stay longer), a cocktail of choice, and how can I forget the fetching robe with attached gloves to help endure the shocking environment. I recommend booking online, because ICEBAR operates by sessions and there’s no telling if you would be able to get in by just purely showing up on a whim. Prices also vary depending on what time and day you decide to go. A champagne session is also available for those of you looking for a more opulent way to warm up.

             The bar itself was crisp and bright, modernly harsh and angular. The space was rather contained, but with attendees not in short supply, it mimicked the atmosphere of a well-established bar. The bar vastly lived up to its namesake; the tables, chairs, walls, bar, and even the cocktail glasses were chiseled to glacial perfection and undeniable “blueness.” I chose a cocktail with a lingering aftertaste of lychee, passion fruit, and lemon juice and sipped it dutifully from my square elongated ice cube of a glass. The more I sipped, the more the warmth of my breath managed to wear away its transient nature to leave a mouth-shaped groove in its side.

             The bar blared funky soul and smooth jazz overhead, which was rather quirky, but somehow appropriate. Before you envision people slipping and sliding around the floor showing off their dance moves, ladies will be glad to hear that heels are permitted due to the non-slip metal, not ice, floor. I felt rather uncoordinated in my hooded fashion statement as I balanced my camera in one reluctantly ungloved hand and my cocktail in the other. The hooded garment actually equalized everyone in the bar, taking the focus off appearances and turning it towards enjoying the atmosphere. A maximum capacity of 60 people inside ICEBAR already makes it unique compared to the sardine level of compaction in typical bars and pubs in London during weekends. Little nooks and crannies in ICEBAR allow guests to hide away with the group they came with, while exposed areas leave room for mingling.

My friend, Catherine, beaming despite her polar surroundings    
             The slivers, shards, and slabs of precisely carved and sculpted Torne River ice are gathered from Jukkasjärvi in Northern Sweden. Each autumn, ICEHOTEL’s experts use chisels and chainsaws to construct an entirely new design different to that from the previous year. The current theme, “Frozen Architecture,” was devised by Jens Thoms Ivarsson and Mikael “Nille” Nilsson. ICEBAR might not become a frequent haunt, but it is certainly worth at least one trip for memorability’s sake. The bar is open all-year round, so no matter what the season, you are in for an extreme voyage that, while it might come as a shock to the system, good drinks, great company, and even better outerwear (ahem) more than help to soften the blow.

             Plan your visit to ICEBAR here.

December 02, 2013

Winter is Just a Walk in the Park

             Having initially moved to London from Germany, I thought there would be no substitute for the famous German Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte). My premature assumption was proved wrong by Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. This was my second year attending the spectacle, and from the mulled wine (Glühwein) to the aptly German-named stalls to the transformative state of the park, Winter Wonderland had me every bit convinced, and a lot less homesick. 

             Having initially moved to London from Germany, I thought there would be no substitute for the famous German Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte). My premature assumption was proved wrong by Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. This was my second year attending the spectacle, and from the mulled wine (Glühwein) to the aptly German-named stalls to the transformative state of the park, Winter Wonderland had me every bit convinced, and a lot less homesick.

Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

             Where my flatmate and I currently reside in Bayswater, we live in close proximity to Kensington Gardens and we have the pleasure of early morning walks to our university campus as we casually pass Kensington Palace. With this brings the added bonus of being a twenty-minute walk away from Hyde Park. For those of you not living in the vicinity, making your way to Winter Wonderland by way of either tube or bus is just as convenient. It’s just a matter of who spies the bright lights and familiar shapes of fairground rides first to navigate the route.

             This time, we approached Winter Wonderland by sneaking up on the Ferris wheel through the woods as it morphed from a tiny starburst into a massive sprawl of light as we became ever nearer to it. The night’s agenda had already been established in our flat beforehand: make a beeline for a crepe stall. A rich and sumptuous treat such as a Nutella crepe is only really excusable on such an occasion and I was more than willing to take advantage of that. However, my wandering eye did betray my poor beloved crepe once or twice, with other stalls offering me doughy pretzels, chocolate-covered strawberries, and even bratwursts, or sausages.

             Often, it felt as if we were swimming against the tide in a large and aggressive ocean. Everyone was on their own mission, whether it be to find the closest Christmas ornament stand or to listen to live music or to experience that first all-over body warming sip of mulled wine. My flatmate and I decided to break with tradition and grabbed a cup each of mulled cider. Let me just say, that was some potent stuff! Although it might have seemed harmless enough at the time and the preferred option to mulled wine, it definitely had a punch that knocked me enough so that finishing it would have had serious repercussions. 

The “before” photograph of tasting the mulled cider in its full glory, photo courtesy of Heidi Maunder
             Splayed out at Winter Wonderland is the United Kingdom’s largest ice rink, which is tastefully decorated with colorful fanned out lights draped in mid-air. While tickets must be purchased, skate rental is free. Also available for booking is the Magical Ice Kingdom, a tour around ice sculptures in fanciful designs, the Ferris wheel with various seating options inside the pod, Zippos Christmas Circus, and Zippos Cirque Berserk, which is a slightly more dangerous circus experience that involves less ball juggling and more knife throwing.

Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
             Not to mention, there are plenty of ride favorites that are sure to delight and also to terrify. We settled for the haunted mansion ride, which elicited some probably irrational screaming on my part. However, little did I know that I would exit the ride being able to say that Freddy Krueger had caressed my hair, but I guess that’s one to cross off the bucket list. There are various token booths situated around Winter Wonderland, which can be used for access to children’s rides and general rides. For those wishing to keep their hair free of Krueger’s claws, roller coasters, a fun house, a drop tower, and suspended swings are more viable options.

Preparing to embark on the haunted mansion ride, photo courtesy of Heidi Maunder
             If there were any excuse to get some last minute Christmas shopping done, it would be at a Christmas market. Although, you might find yourself, like I did, perusing and trying on furry Cossack hats that you know none of your relatives would ever wear. You, on the other hand, might just find use for one…along with an assortment of gemstone jewelry, a few beeswax candles, and definitely some more Christmas decorations. Maybe just push yourself to the limit with one last crepe, but switch it up and go for the Kinder Chocolate or sugar and cinnamon variation.

             Sometimes, it can be easy to lose sight of the Christmas spirit and replace your festive self with a Scrooge-like character because you are swamped with schoolwork, mithered by something at work, or just plain stressed about Christmas shopping and card sending. If this is the case, I prescribe a high dose of Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland until you feel better. Just don’t try the mulled cider, unless you’re feeling brave. It could potentially have the opposite effect.

             Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is open from 10a.m. to 10p.m. every day until January 5th, excluding Christmas Day. Plan your visit here and experience a taste of Germany done in a flashy and all-out London way.

Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

November 20, 2013

Matthew Bourne’s Swans Fly South for the Winter

             This past weekend, I travelled to Manchester by way of a very convenient two-hour train journey. You might be wondering what this has to do with London-related events, the chosen theme of this blog. Well, not only was I in Manchester to visit my relatives, but a viewing of Matthew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake also featured on the agenda. Swan Lake will be coming to London’s dance theatre, Sadler’s Wells, on December 4th, but I had the opportunity to see it firsthand up north at The Lowry Theatre.

             I openly attest to the fact that I am a fan of Bourne’s, having previously seen his ballets Nutcracker! and Sleeping Beauty, the former at The Lowry and the latter at Sadler’s Wells. However, Bourne prefers to classify Swan Lake as contemporary dance/theatre rather than ballet. Bourne is a British choreographer and director and is the recipient of five Olivier Awards and the Tony Award, an award to recognize excellence in Broadway theatre, for Best Choreographer and Best Director of a Musical. He was the Artistic Director of his company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, from 1987 to 2002. Alongside co-director Robert Noble, Bourne erected his current company, New Adventures.

             Swan Lake has been running strong for 18 years since it first debuted in 1995 at Sadler’s Wells and it still continues to challenge our ideas of typical gender roles today. Bourne chooses to cast all-male swans, with not a female swan in sight. To some, the idea might seem laughable, but what this new role designation creates is an aggressively charged and highly athletic performance, something that simply would not have been possible with the traditionally feminine tutu-clad swans. However, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in all its perfection is not tampered with despite Bourne’s otherwise modern twists.

             The original Swan Lake storyline follows Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with Odette, the Swan Queen. Bourne’s Swan Lake is less about love than about affection. Referred to as The Prince (Sam Archer when I attended) in Bourne’s rendition, he is stunned by the powerful beauty of a male swan (Glenn Graham when I attended) and they quickly form a mutual bond. The Prince is often rejected by his mother, The Queen (Michela Meazza when I attended), but The Swan offers him a new sense of purpose and direction for reciprocated fascination. Swan Lake has been characterized by some as homoerotic, but the onstage chemistry between The Prince and the Swan defies sexual orientation and should be translated as undeniable in-“Bourne” talent on the part of the dancers, regardless of underlying inclinations.

Sam Archer pictured as The Prince (left) and Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan (right), photo courtesy of London Calling
             I was enraptured by the very strong stage presence of the male swans with their toned chests, synchronized movements, and exceptional poise. I cannot diminish the female characters however, as their glitzy ensembles were tantalizing in their own right and their soft nature complemented the male figures’ abrasiveness. The original Swan Lake features Odile, the Black Swan to Odette’s White, an imposter to trick Prince Siegfried. Graham donned all black and leather trousers in Bourne’s masterpiece, shedding his powdery white skin and feathers to torment The Prince, slinking his way around the stage like a top-class seducer, everyone in the palace (and the audience) falling at his feet.

Photo courtesy of Show & Stay
             Whilst debatable if Swan Lake is indeed homoerotic depending on your standpoint, there is no question that it is erotic. My favorite scene occurs when The Prince is asleep in his room and swans suddenly crawl out from beneath his bed, their stretching arms the only discernable body parts upon first glance. They are soon accompanied by The Swan, who wiggles his way out from underneath The Prince’s sheets. The male swans’ arm movements are utter precision, especially when paired with the dancers’ conviction in their nuzzling, fighting, hissing, and squawking. Throughout the performance, they imitate the gracefulness of actual swans while preserving a pristine composure, even in the face of excessive amounts of exertion.

             Bourne creates subtleties in his work and pays inordinate attention to detail. The eyes have to overcompensate in order to keep up, because Bourne visually overloads the audience, making it nearly impossible to capture everything going on at any given time. It could be observed in a sly look or a mini scene captured within a bigger scene. Bourne also likes to incorporate elements of humor in his work, as evident with the role of The Prince’s girlfriend (Kerry Biggin when I attended). During a ballet within the actual ballet, her phone goes off with an all too recognizable tone, much to the chagrin of The Queen and The Prince. Popular culture such as this is easily identifiable, with flashes of paparazzi’s cameras and the pink neon flicker of the Swank Bar sign. The props earn a rightful place on stage just as much as the dancers. I had to reign myself in to remember that I was watching a dance performance.

The Lowry Theatre in the background with my grandparents aptly and unknowingly featured in the foreground
             The only part of Swan Lake that seemed to drag on was the 20-minute intermission, because the entire show glided effortlessly from its triumphant start to its heart-wrenching conclusion. The performance is grossly absorbing and all of its magic comes just in time for Christmas. The Lowry was surrounded by stalls of Christmas treats and goodies outside and the Lowry Outlet Mall just across the way already had their silver trees and shimmering lights out on display. After the performance, all I could do was sing the praises of Swan Lake,over a plate of fish and chips no less!

             The Lowry proved to be full to the very back row, so book to see Swan Lake in London here and view the show’s official website hereSwan Lake will run at Sadler’s Wells from December 4th to January 26th until the swans take flight for their next destination.

             [Author’s Note: I mentioned briefly in an earlier post that I contribute to my university’s online newsletter, The GazelleAs well as remaining a staff writer, I now also hold the position of Arts and Entertainment editor. Today, December 10th, I can proudly announce that we have released our second print edition, where my above review of Swan Lake has been published.]

The Gazelle pictured against the Christmas tree that is currently adding festive cheer to my flat