It’s hard not to be impressed by an English product bearing a gold-stamped Royal Warrant. Especially one that’s packaged in the most delightful bright yellow box with swirly gold designs and crammed with white chocolate truffles oozing with the softest, creamiest caramel and banana centres.
I’m talking, of course, about Prestat’s luscious Banoffee Truffles, £10, one of the more adventurous options from this traditional London chocolatier.
Established in 1902, Prestat has been a royal favourite since 1975, and the tiny old-fashioned shop on Piccadilly’s Princes Arcade was apparently a favourite pitstop for author Roald Dahl.
And with flavours such as Organic Milk Choc Wafers with Ground Cinnamon and Organic Milk Choc Wafers Infused with Earl Grey, is it little wonder that Dahl was inspired to create Willy Wonka’s weird and wonderful business?
For a unique taste of England, try Prestat’s Violet and Rose truffles, £13.50. The sugar-crème fondants are infused with rose and violet oils and covered in dark chocolate. With the royal nod of approval, you really can’t go wrong.
I’ve been harbouring a secret girl crush all year. Her name is Nancy and she’s a bag. Her last name is Smythson, maybe you’ve heard of her?
Just look at her sitting there in all her cute and quilted glory. And her large retro-style clasp is quite heavenly in a Jackie O kinda way. But at £750 for her small version, she doesn’t come cheap, so for now she will reluctantly remain on my crazy-dreamin’ wishlist.
But apart from being so damn good-looking, there’s so much more to like about young Nancy here, not least because of her fine pedigree.
Smythson is synonymous with stylish bespoke stationery and quality leather goods, and is steeped in a rich London heritage dating back to 1887, when Frank Smythson opened his first store at 133 New Bond Street.
The brand is also famous for its covetable leather diaries and notebooks in fashion-forward colours and tongue-in-cheek titles, like the Blondes, Brunettes, Redheads address book from the 1950s, and more recently, Me, Me, Me; Therapy Notes and Seduction Notes. Handsome and practical!
Trademark features of a Smythson book include “featherweight” pale blue watermarked pages; supple leather binding and gold or silver-stamped cover titles, which can be personalised for an extra fee.
The Beauty Bible, at £40, makes a stylish London souvenir. It's bound in soft grained lambskin leather and includes indexed sections for make-up, skincare and hair, diet, exercise and treatments.
You know it's almost Christmas in England when Marks & Spencer start running their annual Christmas food porn adverts on TV (cue: stripper music, oozing baked Camembert undressing itself, steamy molten chocolate pudding dripping in luscious whipped cream, and food just about falling off the plate it's so sexy). It gets so hot and bothered it's enough to make a girl grab the nearest glass of mulled wine to steady herself.
Or, you could do what I do and start thinking about your Christmas card list. Ah, there's a bucket-load of icy cold water if ever there was one. But for a stationery-obsessive like me, shopping for this year's cards is actually a wee bit exciting, especially with the tasty morsels from super-duper website Etsy. Check out my top picks of the bunch and see if you're seduced.*
* We regret to advise that the whipped cream gift with purchase is no longer available.
You’ve got to hand it to Christian Dior when he declared that the 1950s was the “golden age” in fashion. Self-promotion aside, he was right on the money, and deservedly so. The launch of Dior’s New Look in 1947 marked a turning point in fashion history, and it’s never been the same since, as you’ll find at the V&A’s sumptuous exhibition, The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957.
This exhibition is truly gold, so good in fact (and being a retro girl myself), I went twice – and it’s not exactly cheap at £9 per adult! But I fell in love with the opulent gowns and extraordinary dressmaking skills, such as the embroidered tiny velvet bird nests with clusters of pearl “eggs” on Christian Dior’s ‘Bosophore’ silk velvet evening dress. The Parisian couture houses employed hundreds of seamstresses in the ‘50s who spent god-only-knows-how-many-hours hand-embroidering gowns in exquisite detail.
'Les Muguets' (Lily of the Valley) evening dress by Hubert de Givenchy. Paris 1955.
Zémire' evening ensemble, Christian Dior (1905-57) Paris, 1954-5 autumn/winter.
And while my mum got misty-eyed, I stared in awe at the utterly beautiful ball gowns worn by Margot Fonteyn. She had the tiniest waist! And the display of 1950s corsetry was a tribute to their incredible design and construction. They are like little works of art in themselves!
Dress and petticoat, Pierre Balmain, Paris.
Other highlights include the 1950s Balmain silk organza evening dress with ostrich feathers, sequins and rhinestones. Totally and wickedly decadent. No wonder the New Look caused outrage from still-on-rations Britain (and can you believe that the Queen and Princess Margaret chose to view the new collections in secret?).
I also adored the Miss Virginia Lachasse couture doll, who had her own complete wardrobe which included tiny nylon stockings, toiletries, corsets and a cigarette holder. Miss Virginia Lachasse was one of a collection of touring dolls in England which raised money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind.
And I particularly loved Dior’s fragrance “glorifier”, a mini set complete with stage and mirrors, which started the trend for displaying and marketing perfume bottles in department stores. Pretty interesting considering how fragrance is such big business now (and a major money-spinner) for the top designer houses.
The exhibition’s museum shop is also well worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for Christmas gifts for sartorially-minded friends. Better still it’s available online. Here are my top picks:
The Golden Age of Couture Hardback £35; £24.99 paperback, exclusive to the V&A Shop. This book showcases the sumptuous gowns from the exhibition, as well as the dramatic work by fashion photographers such as Cecil Beaton.
Unicorn brooch, £20. Inspired by the pieces in the exhibition, this sparkly brooch is exclusive to the V&A and features Swarvoski crystals.
Shoe charm bracelet with seven charms, £75. Made with gold enamel and Swarvoski crystlas, the charms are inspired by the shoes from the ‘40s and ‘50s in the V&A’s collections. Individual shoe charms are £10 each – the perfect Kris Kringle.
Woman with Parakeets Mug, £10. This delightful image is from one of three drawings by Lee Miller (circa 1930).
Thread Spool Brooch, £32. Gorgeous and fun brooch featuring stirling silver fittings by German jewellery designer Ina Seifart.
Dress Up Paper Doll, £4.50. Perfect for little (and big) girls, the cut-out clothes are based on couture garments featured in the exhibition.
The Little Dictionary of Fashion: A Guide to Dress Sense for Every Woman by Christian Dior, £9.99. Words of fashion wisdom and style secrets from the man himself, Christian Dior.
Fashion History Tape Measure, £15. Nifty (and fun) way to learn the history of fashion.
I’m back home in London after spending three glorious weeks in Sydney for the nuptials of a very special couple. Couldn’t resist showing some pics of another couple of love birds in NSW’s Hunter Valley … aaah.
More London shop reviews (and Christmas previews) coming very soon!