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Mary Martin London + The Collections

The Fashion Years

“We have seen that a Fashion utterance involves at least two systems of information: a specifically linguistic system, which is a language (such as French or English) and a ‘vestimentary’ system, according to which the garment signifies the world or Fashion. These two systems are not separate: the vestimentary system seems to be taken over by the linguistic system.” So wrote our favourite philosopher Roland Barthes in his 1967 revelation The Fashion System.

It’s like the arrival of the Queen of Sheba with the beauty of Queen Esther and the wealth of King Solomon. “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?” she cries, channelling her inner Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee in Some Like It Hot. Applying a blonde wig and beauty spot before donning a Mary Martin London little black number with extended faux fur later, she is soon standing over air vents and blowing kisses to admiring onlookers. Some like it very hot! She starts singing, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has entered the building.

Musical model Funmi Olagunju literally rocks up strumming her guitar. Lavender coloured clothes clad, she sings, “I only wanted to see you, laughing in the purple rain, purple rain purple rain…” Funmi shares, “Mary’s clothes are so crazy! They’re elegant and theatrical. They’re regal. She thinks outside the box!” Beautiful Natasha Lloyd bursts across our vision in a radiance of red. Crimson is the new black. She next models  the Queen of Africa dress. Over to Mary, “I’d just won African Fashion Designer of the Year and I felt like I was the Queen of Africa! The colourway in this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun.”

While getting ready, model Sienna Kinley advises on confidence, “You forget who you are. You go into fear mode. The mindset is to remind yourself who you are. Who you are is everything you need to be in this life. Everything you’ve been given is enough for you in this world. Sometimes you can forget that’s enough. Confidence is recognising who you are: you are a perfect being. All the gifts and talent you have are enough.” Makeup artist Sofia Mahmood adds, “Be creative. You need great patience to be a makeup artist. Patience with creativity.”

This Old Street London warehouse is rocking with a carnival atmosphere and a festival of talent. All of us are in front and to the side and behind the cameras as filming continues… yes, that film. In the midst of the mayhem and madness and fashion miscellanea, Mary emerges, as ever a human whirlwind of orders and changes and directions and laughter. “I don’t like ordinary,” she understates. Natasha reappears modelling The Hidden Queens Collection dress with its socially distancing crinoline.

The dresses of The Collections flow onto the film set amidst falling roses and oversized poppies. World class ballerina Omozefe (“just call me ‘Sue’”) performs pirouettes and shows photograph of herself with Margot Fontaine. “It was her last performance ever at the Royal Opera House! I have met Rudolf Nureyev twice. I love dancing to The Nutcracker, Carmen and of course Swan Lake.” Soon Sue is teaching model Hassan Reese some Pilates moves. “Pilates is similar to ballet – it’s about micro movements stretching muscles. You can’t get up on point unless your core being is very strong.”

Cleopatra, brought to life by model Natasha Lloyd, struts her stuff. Three times Taekwondo World Champion Carol Hudson, modelling herbaceous headgear, says with some understatement, “Mary’s clothes aren’t for the fainthearted!” Photographer Monika Schaibel agrees, “Mary has a vision and is always true to her vision. Amazing eye to detail. Her fashion shows are pure theatre – they’re art happenings.” Kiki Busari, modelling The Red Dress, adds, “I love the opulence. These dresses take you to a fantasy world. A world where you are empowered and strong.”

It’s like the creativity of King Jotham with the boldness of Queen Vashti and the power of King Xerxes. “Never try to explain your work,” once said our fav photographer of all time, Deborah Turbeville. So we won’t say we are a muse or the bridge between the bright lights or something else far more mesmeric and fantastic. Let the wrap party begin! To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, we all just want to be wonderful. “Fashion dissolves the myth of innocent signifies,” ends Roland Barthes, “at the very moment it produces them.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has left the building.

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Mary Martin London +

Bouquet Crochet Touché

Some girls just wanna have fun!

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St Thomas’ Church + Duddell’s Restaurant London

Saints and Dinners

There are certain certainties. There are certain things we are certain about. There are certain uncertainties. That is to say, there are things that we are certain we are uncertain about. But there are also uncertain uncertainties. That Murano is the best Italian (and not just because double Michelin starred chef Angela Hartnett is a fellow Christ Church Spitalfields goer) and Hakkasan is the best Cantonese restaurant in London are certainly certain certainties. Tonight we will certify Duddell’s to be London’s second best Cantonese.

Siberia isn’t only a bad table at The Ivy. Snow is gifting a temporary white delineation to the Queen Anne architecture of Duddell’s. Tonight’s table is in the gallery. We’re looking down on everyone. We’re looking up at the dentilled-egg-and-dart-and-paterae cornice. We’re looking across at the reredos for this was once a church. Understated interior decoration by Michaelis Boyd lets the architecture do the singing. We’ll be singing for our supper when the bill, £232.31 for two, arrives. That’s a lot of truffle. Are you having a cod? For certain, truffle roasted black cod with lily bulb and Nameko mushrooms.

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Town Hall Hotel + Typing Room Restaurant Bethnal Green London

Indefinite Article | Our Type

Goodness. Two far east trips in one season. We’ll be in Ichinomiya by spring at this rate. Nuala was well worth the trip for midweek frolics. Hopes are riding high for Saturday lunch in Typing Room. We’re liking the name already, even minus its definite article, spending half our lives typing up storms. We’re here to snatch the three course (plus snack) set lunch menu. It’s fashionably short: two options per course. Fortunately it caters well for pescatarians:

We’re very partial to Michelin style madness and had been reliably informed to expect multisensory sensations. Cow bells ding-a-ling? No; just lively piped music towards the close of the afternoon. Surely foam at the very least? Our sense of anticipation rises. One of our carnivorous companions chooses the venison. Will it vaporise upon arrival with said guest merely left to inhale the gamey scent as if the doe was gracefully passing by on a moor? Before being shot dead? Not quite: it arrives solidly three dimensional, delicately seared, with the closest nod to starry styling being its geometric presentation (an oblong cut next to a cabbage roll). Belcanto’s fag ash butter pushed boundaries; Typing Room’s marmite butter is easier to love.

The snack is really an oversized amuse bouche, crispy and colourful, balancing on a rolled linen napkin. The crab is pure seefood. See it. Eat it. Delish. The brill is brill (sorry, couldn’t resist). Honestly, it’s as light and wholesome as our writing (we weren’t once described as “architecture’s answer to Hello! magazine” for nothing). Sheep’s yoghurt was but now isn’t on the menu. Pity. We could eat sheep’s yoghurt till the cows come home. But a colourful cacophony (pudding arrives to the beat of that lively music) of sweet meets savoury is worth writing home about. Under the aegis of Jason AthertonCity Social (his goat’s cheese fritters with honeyed white truffle oil are particularly memorable) being one of his many other forays – is Executive Chef Lee Westcott who formerly worked for Tom Aikens.

The restaurant is naturally lit by large sash windows on two sides. A central chimney breast divides it into two spaces. We’re in the larger space, overlooking the kitchen with its eight rolled-sleeve-white-shirted-navy-aproned-mostly-bearded staff. Walls are painted an inky charcoal grey. Seats look Scandinavian and must be comfortable because, afterwards, well, we don’t remember if they were or not, and you always remember uncomfortable chairs, don’t you?

Typing Room is in the same building as the five star Town Hall Hotel (lack of definite article clearly being a theme). It’s a sturdy Portland stone monument to municipality designed by Percy Robinson and Alban Jones in the final year of the Edwardian era. It was added to 30 years later in a similarly robust manner. Rare Architecture completed the recent conversion adding a daring metallic intervention. Or “abstracted veil” in the words of architect Nathalie Rozencwajg. The interiors are furnished to reflect all these eras: neoclassical antiques; vintage mid century pieces; and contemporary sculptures. Eclectic and eccentric: a doll’s house cupboard here; a dentist’s chair there. And – holy cow – a big yellow fish. Taxi!

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Bilbao + The Hermitage

Winter Refuge

Bilbao Hermitage © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No, not that Hermitage.

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Kevin Stone + Stephanie Stone + Sha-Roe Bistro Clonegal Carlow

Monty Carlow

Sha Roe Bistro Clonegall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Clonegal, County Carlow, population 280, isn’t at first glance the most obvious place to come across one of Ireland’s finest restaurants. “You might say we’re in the middle of nowhere,” laughs co-proprietor and host Stephanie Stone. “But we’re close to the borders of Counties Wicklow and Wexford. Towns like Enniscorthy and Gorey aren’t too far away and Dublin is handy enough to get to.” That in part explains why it’s impossible to get a table on Friday or Saturday nights at Sha-Roe Bistro without booking. That, plus great food, atmosphere and craic.

 

Much of the food, as you’d expect in this green rural location, is locally sourced. Fish is from Seatrade in Dunmore East, County Waterford. Carlow Cheese is another, even more local, source: “Owner Elizabeth Bradley is just up the road from Fenagh!” Stephanie’s husband Henry, originally from Arklow, is head chef and self explanatory as this may sound, actually does cook what’s on your plate, a rarity in this golden age of named chefs. He was chef at Marlfield House near Gorey for seven years. That’s where the couple met. “I love Marlfield!” enthuses Stephanie. “It’s like entering a different world and all your worries flying off your shoulder. We were there last weekend for a family celebration.”

Named after the village where Stephanie was brought up, Sha-Roe occupies the ground floor of an elegant Georgian end of terrace. To the side is the entrance to historic Huntington Castle and opposite flows the River Derry. What’s not to like? Orders are taken in the quiet sitting room on one side of the fanlit entrance hall. The lively restaurant occupies the room on the opposite side of the hall. “We’ve 32 covers and are serving 54 customers this evening,” she confirms. The place is buzzing. A fire roars in the massive inglenook fireplace and conversations sparkle like the wine. Candles and artwork are set in rugged stone niches. Tables are simply laid with stone mustard jars of fresh flowers.

Henry is renowned for taking seasonal country cooking to a whole new level. Sharper, more refined, make that much more refined. Those seven years at Marlfield clearly show. It’s hard not to OD on sourdough balls before starter arrives. Mushroom and parmesan tart, roast parsnip, butternut squash and beetroot (€7.50). Main is bouillabaisse of monkfish, scallops and plaice served in a shellfish sauce (€23.50) with chips (€3). Finally, an Irish cheese board of Wicklow Blue, Bradley’s Sheep Milk and Carlow Tomme with apple chutney and homemade crackers (€7.70). There’s plenty more of course(s) on the menu but choices must be made. Sure enough, Sha-Roe lives up to, and surpasses, all expectations.

“We’ve been here nine and a half years now,” confirms Swiss born Stephanie. “It’s very funny by pure chance we came across the house for sale in an estate agents in Gorey. I love living here!” Henry and Stephanie live upstairs above the restaurant with their three year old child and another is en route, so to speak. Soon the population of Clonegal will be 281.

Sha Roe Bistro Art © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Pininfarina + e320 Eurostar

You Got a Fast Car 

Eurostar e320 Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce. Fast cars. Keep up. Snaidero OLA Kitchen 1990, Juventus Stadium 2008, Calligaris Orbital Table 2011, Millecento Residences 2012, Sergio Pininfarina Concept Car Ferrari 2013, Fuoriserie Bike 2014. Steady excellence. Keep going. It was only a matter of time, time being of everyone’s essence, waiting for no woman, until Pininfarina was asked to design the fleet of trains travelling up to 200 miles per hour that link the UK to continental Europe. The French – and Belgian – connection. All aboard the Eurostar. Happy 20th birthday.

City lights lay out before us | We don’t need anything or anyone

St Pancras Eurostar e320 Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s the unveiling of the first new state of the art e320 train. The world class Italian design house has gone full steam ahead with the interior design covering styling, engineering and livery to boot. Pininfarina’s brand values, as ever, are at work and play here: creativity, experience, innovation. Nothing jejune. Nothing ersatz. Nothing déclassé. Nada. That hasn’t changed since 1930. Unlike the number and whereabouts of the employees. The company now has a workforce of 3,000 across Italy, Germany, Sweden, Morocco, China. Bigger picture, devilish detail. After all, Pininfarina has in the past gone micro, designing an exclusive bottle of Chivas 18. Back to macro, delivering it large.

Is it fast enough so you can fly away | We’ll do it all everything on our own

Pininfarina Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Pancras Eurostar Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A double decade ago, Eurostar really was the most momentous event in the history of cross Channel travel since Blériot wobbled his way over the white cliffs in 1909. At first departing from Waterloo, the smart move was to relocate to St Pancras, a destination itself with two of London’s finest hotels at the end of the line. Beautiful staff line the platform as a DJ and poptastic quartet perform. More seats, more room, more fun. Pininfarina has given Eurostar all that pizzazz. Business class culinary director Raymond Blanc says salut.

Leave tonight or live and die this way | Just know that these things will never change for us at all

Pininfarina Eurostar Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over to Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic: “We’ve changed the way people think, live and work between the cities of London, Paris and Brussels. So far we’ve carried 150 million passengers. Eurostar has doubled the size of the market between our three cities. Our DNA is product innovation and customer service. We aim to make travelling a pleasure, an experience in itself.” Next year, Eurostar will travel direct to Lyon. The following year, Amsters.  A star is reborn.

Maybe together we can get somewhere | Let’s waste time

St Pancras Pininfarina Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley