Contemporary women's fashion has had one of its sea changes into something strange and androgynous and blocky. Mainstream retailers aren't handling this well - clothes in most of the stores along Lambton Quay in Wellington look nearly identical, spookily corporate. Here's some options on the independent continuum. Wellington femmes: run, don't walk, to Honour Fashion. This preloved shop is exceptionally well curated, with a full range of sizes up to 18 (with plenty in size 14 and 16), and has a very tempting range of dresses. The prices are just what they should be, too. Clothing by Desiree came to my attention at a fabric sale, Fabric-a-Brac. I'm one of those awful, awful people who shops for clothing with my hands. And based on Desiree's fabrics, they pass the touch test! Contemporary, but a lot more wearable and interesting than many of the season's alternatives. Upper-end Wellington designer Twenty-Seven Names is taking the UK by storm with their latest collection, based on the writing and characters of Jilly Cooper. It's all rawther too preppy for me but it would be ideal summer-wedding wear for those who like contemporary classic garb. Rutshire Forever, indeed. If it's all too much or you just don't have time, here's another option. I ran into a long-term Woman in Tech colleague who was looking smashing, and asked admiringly where she'd found her sophisticated red shirt. She said she'd received a substantial promotion at work and felt that she needed more than her usual uniform of jeans and casual shirts. "I used the personal shoppers at Farmers. It was fantastic." Importantly, my colleague didn't just look polished, she looked like herself. Farmers has also vastly improved their online shopping experience. I wish they didn't rely so much on synthetic fabrics, but they are still New Zealand owned. Meanwhile, my wardrobe continues to be its usual mix of 40% thrifted/swapped items, 40% items from US and UK petites retailers, and 10% new NZ purchases. I'm wearing a lot of olive-with-leopard-print this spring.
This past Sunday, a group of ardent perfume fans descended on Wellington's most venerable department store, Kirckaldie and Staines. We were there to sniff, share, and experience a range of fragrances while bouncing opinions and experiences off each other. We were very fortunate, because Kirk's had set up an hour's perfume encounter for us, and we also experienced fragrances at the Mecca Cosmetica area of Kirk's cosmetics floor. Even at 10 AM on the Sunday morning after Daylight Savings, there was still a crowd waiting to get into Kirk's. Some of us were soignee; I was tired and blinky. We were met by the front door fountain by Mark Conroy, a tall, blue-eyed, career fragrance expert. He greeted us all smoothly, blinky and beautiful alike, and invited us in. We trooped past the space-age lighting of the cosmetic area to Kirk's fragrance department, and the fun began. After listening to our group and getting an idea of who we were, Mark took us through classic French scents from Chanel, YSL, Guerlain, and more. "It's good to smell some of these as reference notes," said Mark, handing around slips of paper sprayed with Mitsouko and Chanel No. 19. "The Italians have a very different approach to scent," he noted, handing around Acqua di Parma, which I fell in love with instantly. Thanks to Mark, by the end of the hour, I'd learned that while I like the idea of a "green" perfume, I'm more drawn to perfumes with a citrus or amber note and a woody base. In between sniffs, we refreshed our noses by smelling... coffee beans! Just as marvelous as the perfumes was being able to share them with like-minded people.* Suggestions and ideas and personal perfume histories were shared. "You know what you'd really like? Can we try...?" I gained a sense of how perfumes really do act differently on different skins, and how they express personality and a subtler sense of beauty. And I learned about scrubbers - perfumes you can't wait to scrub off your skin! We wrapped up with some more modern fragrances, such as the Elie Saab line - extremely popular right now, but very different from the weighty classic scents. We started asking about prices - and we were agreeably surprised. Kirk's fragrance range has become more affordable thanks to some international market changes. Some standouts from our hour of exploration:
- Bvlgari Blue – One of us said, "This is what I wear when I need to wake up on a dismal winter's morning." It starts out as GINGER and more ginger, and dries down beautifully.
- 24 Faubourg by Hermes – I was very taken with the cashmere-sweater-nuzzleable quality of this, along with the markedly pretty bottle. As the blogger Perfume Queen says about this fragrance, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you the smell of money and happiness.”
- Miss Dior Originale by Dior – Several of us were smitten with this revived classic. Mark told us the charming story of how the fragrance was created for Dior's sister.
- Thierry Mugler Angel – One of several love-or-hate ones, this elicited long stories about when-I-wore-Angel and the comment “This smells like…like the sound of a 90s modem.”
- French travel perfume bottles – Kirk's stocks leakproof travel perfume bottles in two shapes. Transfer some of your favorite into these to take it with you securely. High-end yet affordable, most of us picked up one or more of these.
- The entire Serge Lutens line – Deliciously deconstructivist interview with the man himself here. Charlotte noted that they carry more Serge Lutens than they have on display - she brought out Daim Blonde when we asked about it.
- Diptyque’s solid perfumes - "Great for layering".
- Comme des Garcons Wonderwood - "I can't stop smelling myself!"
- A voucher for a complimentary makeup application at the cosmetic house of your choice at Kirkcaldie and Staines.
- Nine carded/boxed perfume samples – Si by Giorgio Armani, Miss Dior by Dior, MaDame by Jean Paul Gaultier, Coco by Coco Chanel, Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, Eau de Sisley 1 by Sisley, Calyx by Clinique, and (drumroll please) two Serge Luteyns samples – L’Eau Serge Lutens and Chergui.
Contact Form Shortcode Error: Form 2 does not existFor those of us in Wellington, I have put together a Fragrance Explorer Day, on Sunday, April 6th. I was inspired by seeing how much fun fragrance lovers overseas have at events like Sniffapalooza and perfume master classes. Discussing the event with several fragrance-loving friends, and with some friendly retailers, I've done my best to keep it accessible and interesting. The morning is shopping-oriented, and the afternoon is dedicated to a demonstration and a swap. And there wil be time for people to just talk and get to know each other. Some people are signed up in advance - serious fragrance aficionados. Some of us are into vintage and "rescued" scents. Everybody over 18 of all genders is welcome to attend. 10 AM - 11:30 AM - An in-depth hosted visit to Kirkcaldie and Staines with a fragrance talk, followed by sampling their selection of Guerlain, Chanel, and Estee Lauder scents, and exploring their Mecca Cosmetica fragrance area. This is free! Plus, if you choose to acquire a Kirk's fragrance on the day you will receive a gift with purchase. Please sign up ASAP for the Kirk's visit - this is strictly limited to 15 people, and only 10 places are left. Use the form below to sign up! 11:30 to 2:00 PM - Rest your nose, stop by a cafe for lunch with us, and we might sniff in at one or two other places. 2:00 PM - At Made on Marion Craft, there will be a fragrance and accessory swap. The swap starts with a fragrance sampling/pipetting demonstration to help us share our perfumes, and the swap itself begins at 2.30. The swap has a koha (cash donation) entry that will be donated 100% to Women's Refuge Wellington. Swap items will be tallied up for swap credit. You are welcome to bring: perfumes, fragrance oils, costume jewelry, bags, scarves, hats, and gloves. Perfume samples and partially used/tried fragrances are welcome. The swap is limited to 30 - 35 people - again, use the form below to sign up. Note: Your contact information is confidential and I will not distribute Fragrance Explorer information to anyone for commercial purposes.
You know how it is - one of your friends catches it, and then everybody comes down with it. The signs are everywhere. Moaning on Facebook, red lipstick, inability to get too much cherry-printed fabric. At first I thought it was a stronger than usual case of the PUG bug - that's a sudden-onset addicition to clothing from Pinup Girl Clothing, fondly abbreviated as PUG. But it's more widespread than that. Wellington's femmes are in the grip of an epidemic of Spring Dress Fever. The awful Wellington spring weather has made this round particularly contagious. How bad is it? 140 kph winds topped off with horizontal rain bad. Multiple flight cancellations bad. Two new spring dresses await in my wardrobe - a deep-magenta cowl-necked charmer and a full-skirted cutie sprigged with coral-hearted daisies. Did I style one of these for work today? No. I wore a sweater, and hermetically sealed myself inside my Arcteryx shell. Still, the vision of one of Wellington's "good days," when a cotton frock is just right, is too tempting. Let me set my soggy Arcteryx, and any chiding about wardrobe practicality, aside. Take my hand and we will ESCAPE into the dream of late spring and summer dresses. PUG is popular here, prticularly because their dresses' fabric weight works well in the Wellington climate, and because their international shipping is insanely fabulous. NZ customers have been known to order a dress on Monday and have it in their hands by Friday. (A Trashy Diva dress, in contrast, took a month to get to me...and the shipping was $10 more than PUG's. Ahem!) Bettie Paige Clothing pleased a friend of mine last year, I had a lovely visit to their store this past May in Philadelphia, sizes go up to 3x, and their sale page is smokin'! To soothe your retro spring dress fever without going overseas... Cherry Bishop has a sweet selection that has better sleeve/shoulder coverage. Sizes up to 18, too. Trelise Cooper is expensive but her sale section, especially for the Cooper line, has some 50% off treasures. Her shipping is free, her sizing goes up to a forgiving 18, and there's an ancillary "Workroom Sale" on.
On Saturday, August 3rd, I'm emceeing the Caburlesque Stage and Screen Bonanza, made extra exciting with the performer Bettsy Rose Lee from "Glamilton". That's next week - tickets are available here. And on Friday, August 23rd, I'll be back in Martinborough for Le Cabaret at Pinocchio Martinborough. Last time featured a packed house enjoying delicious food, sparkling drinks, ravishing performers, and fantastic back-and-forth with the playful audience. Book directly through Pinocchio - they sold out last time. Cabaret L'Amour on Friday the 16th sounds splendid as well - Ewen Gilmour? The Fallopian Tunes? Burlesque classes are springing back to life, too. Not only is the House of Burlesque in Wellington starting its classes again, Courteney L'Amour is teaching a series of burlesque fitness classes in both Wellington central AND Lower Hutt - email her for information. After these events, burlesque is taking a little break until October in Wellington, where it will burst into bloom with the NZ Burlesque Festival.
details here. In my previous blog, I observed the winter styles of Wellington - the Merino Bullet, Parka Girl, and Layer Lady come to mind. We've just had a glorious, if over-dry summer here. Despite this, NOW is the time to get your winter outergear sorted out. Before the weather really kicks in and you don't want to leave the house. Haul out and try on what you've got. Do you need, or want, something new? Not satisfied with how warm/dry/windswept you've been? The Antipodean retailers are just getting their winter ranges in the stores. Northern Hemisphere retailers are wrapping up their winter sales. And Easter weekend has sales and discounts around the world. Bizarrely, our Wellington need for warm, dry outerwear goes almost completely unmet by New Zealand clothing companies. Kathmandu, our sportswear juggernaut, has one or two options, which I mention grudgingly (their profit margin explains why "things are more expensive in NZ"). Kiwis often resort to the Australian-made Drizabone. Swanndri, that Kiwi-est of Kiwi brands, has very limited women's options. What, we're supposed to be home making the scones? Tell that to a farmer (who is, 50% of the time, a woman) dealing with a downed pregnant animal in a sleet storm. Or to Wellington commuters. There's agricultural rainwear, some of which is so radical as to be appealing, but again, lacking in women's sizing. Last winter in Europe and the US was all about puffy down jackets. Is this one of those styles that caught on because it really only suits you if you're slender? Quite possibly. The inevitable Kathmandu has a decent range, but if they are merely water-resistant, they won't hold up to a Wellington downpour. See this discussion here. I often spend the most severe weather hermetically sealed into a waterproof sports shell my mom sent me, with warm layers beneath. The sports shell wasn't cut for petites, so the effect is Darth Vader meets garbage bag. Nonetheless, because the shell is a premium activewear brand, on those rainy winter days, I've been treated in downtown boutiques as if I was dressed in Chanel! Still, I'm not the only one who begs, "Please help me escape the GoreTex shell prison..." For any sex appeal at all, there is, blessedly, the trench coat. I once went to a burlesque event rehearsal in my work clothes and trench coat, where I was greeted with, "Ooooh! You wore your stripper coat!" Make sure you've acquired a water resistant or water proof trench, and try to get one with a hood. Don't let Australian chain stores fob you off with a cotton or non-water resistant trench! If you want something on the trench coat/insulated continuum that can stand up to the rigors of Wellington in July, here are some sources. All of them are mail order, because based on what's available at brick-and-mortar New Zealand retailers, you're going to be paying through the nose anyway. Understandably, good raingear doesn't land in thrift/secondhand venues on a regular basis. So you might as well get something with the fit, color, and features that will make you happy to wear it for four to five years.There's a particular style challenge in Wellington: how to look passable in its windy winter storms. The kind that feature icy, 100-km gales and horizontal rain. Is it really that windy? Yes, it is -
- First on the list, because they're Kiwis: Moa Clothing. Sealed seams, storm wraps, adjustable hoods, and a range of attractive colors, with sleek tailoring. BLESS.
- There's a trifecta of midrange US retailers that ship directly to NZ: Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, and Land's End. These retailers have a large size and color range, accomodating petites and pluses. L.L. Bean's trench coats and Land's End's Storm Squall range are widely recommended. Eddie Bauer is based in our climate twin, Seattle.
- Barbour. For the default wear of Britain's Sloanes, this stuff is priced surprisingly well, has a good size range (up to 20+), and will last forever and a day. Some coats have Liberty of London linings, too. Free shipping via ASOS, shipping also via JulesB - at 40% off.
- London Fog. You'll have to use mail forwarding, but the selection and waterproofing just might be worth it. Many petites, check for the ones with zip-out winter linings. Or check eBay for secondhand/outlet.
In one of those life-phase convergences, it seems like I and half my friends are suddenly updating our vehicles. Hence, a post about driving and buying cars while female in Wellington, New Zealand.Wellington region driving requires vehicular oomph and endurance. We drive and park on steep, winding hill roads, wrangle a storm-swept stretch of highway across Wellington Harbour, and accelerate on other highways that ascend/descend at 45-degree angles. I needed a reliable gas sipper that could take it - my sweet spot was a car with an engine between 1.5 and 1.8 liters. And I wanted to enjoy the 20th-century pleasure of driving while it's still accessible. You know, while we still have petroleum and the resources to maintain cars. The moniker of "girl car" is often slapped, like a cartoon character's feminizing ribbon bow, on visually appealing, fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles. I am grumpy that "girl car" is an insult to the point that I myself feel awkward handling the term - even though I was shopping for a quintessential girl car. "Girl car" stigma followed me around the car lots. During my month-long car hunt, if I went by myself, salesmen (always men) went deaf and failed to hear my engine requirements. Despite this, time to look around and reacquaint myself with cars today was very useful, both seeing them in person and checking online reviews. You can find long-term driving online reviews for most cars from 2004 onwards, and these are more meaningful than one-offs. Search for "long term" and "road tests". In print, even though its authorial voice is "Boys' Town Gazette," I enjoyed the irreverent, informative magazine Top Gear NZ, which has a summary of all the new cars on the market here. Talking with my friends also helped: I had an epic 50-comment social media conversation that was 100% women. "Are you going to get heated seats? A reversing camera? Keyless starting? iPod stereo? A hybrid?" Stymied on hybrids because I don't have anywhere to plug one in, here's what I looked at, and what I thought.
- Hondas - The compact Fit/Jazz is supposed to be good, and I liked it. However, used ones with the 1.5 liter engine carried a premium price, and the ones I did find outside of Honda itself seemed tired after the rigors of Wellington driving. The 1.5 liter Fit Aria sedan finds its way here as an import and, on a test drive, was perfectly adequate, if boxy going around corners. It's popular in Asia and is worth a look if you are on a budget and need space and security rather than an exciting drive - lots of them get imported into Auckland. Mid-2000s Civics were on the stodgy side - the hatchbacks would make great family cars, or cars for surfers, but I didn't need that much room. Civics after 2009 looked appealing, but weren't in my budget.
- Toyotas - Having had the Vitz/Yaris and the Corolla recommended multiple times, I tried these, too. A friend's Vitz has survived an incredible amount of driving throughout New Zealand. 1.5 to 1.8 liter ones were punchy, especially the sports versions. Some of these were keyless, a usability change on a par from changing from an older mobile phone to a smartphone.
- Volkswagen - The boxy but handsome Volkswagen Polo is a favorite with many, and suits Wellington's driving conditions well, if you can afford the service. I heard the caveat often, "If you can't afford a new European car, you can't afford a used one," because of the service costs.
- Mazdas/Fords - Mazdas and Fords, despite massive branding differences, are vehicular cousins today, manufactured in close association. Again, it's challenging to find used ones with engines between 1.5 and 2 liters used in Wellington, because they get bought quickly, with a used-car premium. The Ford Fiesta is similar to the Mazda 2; the Mazda 3 has many fans among my friends; the Ford Focus comes across as a good solid option.
- Based on my requirements, I should have looked at Nissans, but none captured my attention. They seem like good cars for a good price. -shrugs- I also neglected Kias (just not that many of them) and the Suzuki Swift (very few 1.5 liters in my price range, never quite satisfied with the interiors I saw.)
- Lemons to avoid are often the "cute cars" of five to ten years ago. I took a peek at some of these, read the online comments, and said "Never mind." These included: used new-generation Mini Coopers (expensive! CRAZY dashboards), used 2000's VW Bugs (low luggage space, visibility issues for drivers, and body paint problems in the NZ climate), used Mercedes A-class compacts (don't get me started).
- Upper Hutt Car Sales - This is where I bought my car, a Mazda2. Worth the trip: their web site lists incoming vehicles as well as cars available on site. Lots of Toyotas, Mazdas, and Nissans. The sales staff are low-pressure and genuinely helpful. I'd send my sister here if I had a sister.
- Turner's - A large, also low-pressure used car sales place/auctioneer, with a good reputation overall. Largest price range of these three recommendations, from $2000 to premium secondhand.
- Honda Cars Wellington - Trustworthy cars sold by mannerly staff. I showed up one day to test drive in post-dance-event clothes (showgirl makeup, multiple flower hair clips) and was treated as an intelligent car buyer. Also, note their very good finance interest rate.
- The Rise of the Flapper - "The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex."
- Cellomom on Cars - Dry, witty, and environmentally minded, this car reviewer looks at both fuel usage and whether a vehicle can fit her three children and a cello inside it.
- Mis-managed marketing to women - Focusing on the new Honda Fit She, a vehicular embarrassment supreme. "If you just say, ‘Here’s a pink phone for women, or a pink shirt for women,’ women will shoot you in the face.”
- J.G. Ballard on Cars - In this piece, written in 1971, J.G. Ballard, the author of Crash, foretells the demise of the steering wheel: self-driving cars are becoming legal today.
- It doesn't get any more staggering than this history of Hitler and the VW Bug here, complete with photos of Hitler caressing a model of a VW Bug. "Punchbuggy" will never be the same.
More irresistible images from queer pride in Wellington!
Femme Dreamboat and A Style Enthused Young Woman. After reading these, my heart went pitter-pat. Then I went and put on lots of bright lipstick. Lots. And for my USA and Europe readers, here is an enchanting Wellington sewing blog by my friend Joy - not just great sewing projects, but a lovely slice of Kiwi life - A Charm of Magpies. Let's say you love retro looks, especially the curve-flattering silhouettes of the 40s and 50s, but you stop short of the full-scale vintage-pinup-everything look. This discussion at You Look Fabulous about "bombshell" style is for you. And me. More on this soon, in fact. The sweet urbanity of those Tumblrs reminds me that I am going to be in the U.S.A. later this year. I'll be there from May 4th to June 4th. My itinerary: New Haven, CT; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Bryn Mawr, PA; Los Angeles, CA. When I'm in New Haven and Philadelphia, I have some free time. Just sayin'! And I'm going to be at this blogger meetup here in Wellington next Sunday! Last time looked lovely and I'm really looking forwards to it.Blog crushes of the week: for a dose of urban femme realness, check out the Tumblrs
Finally, a 21st-century remix of an 80s classic. Hot pink hasn't looked better since.
Now for the second installment of my WOW 2012 attendee style shots. People who came in groups tended to come in equally-dressed-up groups. What really knocked me out was seeing mother/daughter pairs and trios, and even entire families, dressed to the nines. On the left, green tones with a shot of orange; on the right, a fuchsia flash who lit up the evening. Three friends...one color palette...three different ways! Blue Lady's amazing coat is made of fluffy, silky dyed sheepskin, and I loved her friend's overall elegance. Multigenerational trio brings it three different ways. E is for EXCELLENT - two totally different richly hued looks. This glamorous quartet had plenty of sparkle laced into their black garments. The red dress really stands out in the crowd! I don't even know where to begin with this fab family. So amazing. With all of this going on, would you believe that it was the center lady's hat that caught my eye first? I think she's my favorite out of everyone. For everyone I got a photo of, there were two that "got away", so splendid and busy was the crowd. And I certainly learned a lot, including:
- Stuff about the new camera (will be tightening up focus especially.)
- Elaborate hair and sparkly black catch the eye in real life, but purses, shoes, and colors stand out more in photos.
- Having burlesque content on my blog makes it "risque". Goodness! I had someone say not to a picture on this basis.
- Business cards. I will have blog business cards in the near future.
- People are really wonderful, thank you everyone!