Diary of a Londoness | A London Arts, Culture and Lifestyle Blog
Diary of a Londoness is my personal and oftentimes quirky London blog. Walk with me through the streets of the metropolis and beyond, and experience what it's like to live in the world's culture capital. The London blog includes outings to the theatre, film, opera, as well as where to eat, drink, shop, and what to do with the little darlings. You can always find me in a London museum..
I asked some of London’s top bloggers to come up with that one place that should be on every visitor’s radar – a must-see London gem. Imagine you only had half a day to spare in the city…here’s a curated list from those in the London know. I hope you enjoy jaunting around the city with our bloggers and reading their top recommendations of cultural things to do in London.
London bloggers share unusual and cultural places to visit in LondonDiary of a Londoness (yes, that’s me!)
The Soane Crypt in candlelight. Image Gareth Gardner
Forget Madame Tussauds and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and head straight over to my favourite must-see London gem: the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. It’s one of London’s most eccentric house museums, stuffed full of jaw-dropping treasures collected by the neoclassical architect during his globe-trotting years. Soane even wrangled himself an Act of Parliament prior to his death which stipulated the house was to be left exactly as it was. Crossing the Soane Museum threshold means you step straight into a London time-capsule.
Some of the 40,000 eclectic objects include a sarcophagus of Seti I. Soane inaugurated his treasure with a three-day candlelit party to which who’s who London was invited. It also houses an extraordinary collection of paintings by Canaletto, Turner and Hogarth as well as ancient sculptures and plastercasts. Don’t leave the museum without entering the Picture Room in which a museum assistant will do a big reveal. I will say no more.
You can read about the Soane and some other of London’s best historic houses here. If you love Soane and his wacky house, you’ll also love a visit to his other London home, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. PS John Soane’s design for his wife’s tomb was the inspiration for the iconic red phone box.
Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays
The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is tucked away just behind busy Oxford Street and is ideal for a flying visit. Inside, you will find a perfect small collection that reflects the passions of the three men who gathered it together. Flirty French romantism is here with Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’. Marie Antoinette’s writing desk nestles nearby. Frans Hal’s ‘Laughing Cavalier’ merrily oversees the great gallery. Visitors with small boys in tow will be delighted to discover one of the world’s best collections of armour. Best of all, in the middle of it all is a delightful tearoom.
Catherine is a culture vulture par excellence. You will often find her in a museum, a bookshop or a café (or a combination of all three), munching her way through cake, of which she is a connoisseur. You can follow her cultured journeys on her blog.
It’s Your London
Make sure Greenwich is high on your list when visiting London. The UNESCO sites and Greenwich town will take you back to the 17th and 18th centuries and to a London of architectural splendour and scientific discovery. Stand across the Prime Meridian, stare at the awe-inspiring Painted Hall, board the Cutty Sark tea clipper, or visit the Maritime Museum’s historic collections. There’s a covered market and the delightful streets of Greenwich town to stroll around, and don’t miss the spectacular views from the Observatory over London and the Royal Naval College below.
No one knows London quite as well as Sue. After 30 years of living here, she is still just as much in love with the capital, and you’ll often find her in a museum, a gallery, at a concert or at the theatre. Sue also organises bespoke tailored tours.
Just Helen Marie
When Scarlett asked me to provide a must-see London place that I would recommend above anywhere else, I knew instantly that it had to be the Royal Exchange in the City. This place not only looks incredible from the outside with its majestic pillars and stunning architecture, but the inside is a total design dream, full of elegant bars and restaurants with balconies above a galore of beautiful shops -even if only for sparkly glitzy window shopping. A must visit in my opinion.
Helen zooms around London snapping shades of the city in Florence, her pink Figaro (a superstar in her own right). She’s the Queen of Instagram and also has her own blog.
Little London Whispers
Without question I would head over to the Tate Modern for an afternoon with Olafur Eliasson. He has weaved his magic into a visual senses overload of an exhibition. There are exhibits that will appeal more than others, but his message of exploring the exhibition by sensing yourself is an interesting one. From playful lighting, to corridors of dense beautifully lit fog, to a big bang fountain – you can’t help but leave the exhibition joyful.
The area around the Tate Modern has developed so much over the years: the shopping, eating, culture, architecture and iconic London views make it a one hit wonder. The Tate Terrace also has a collaboration with the exhibition offering locally sourced vegetarian food. You can do it all in an afternoon, but you may not want to leave.
Emma and her team at Little London Whispers explore and eat their way around London. Their fingers are always on the pulse with the latest in theatre, art, food and shopping and they feature their favourites in a monthly Super Seven.
Ok, I know this isn’t a ‘hidden gem’ but hear me out. I’ve lived in London all my life and I had never been inside the Abbey until I became a qualified tour guide. It blew me away. Not only is it jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but each square inch of it is covered in history.
Walk amongst the graves of Kings and Queens as well as national heroes like Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. You should also be sure to visit the Diamond Jubilee galleries to enjoy this stunning church from above. It’s a unique view in London.
Katie is a Blue Badge tour guide and an award-winning blogger. She knows all of London’s stories and secrets and is always encouraging people to look up.
Mum What Else
GoBoat in Little Venice
A recent discovery and one of the top things I would recommend is boarding a self-drive GoBoat for a trip down the London canals. We rented a small boat, and from Little Venice we reached Camden Town, the punk soul of London. There are several routes to choose from and of different lengths. On the boat you can also have a picnic or drink a glass of Prosecco whilst admiring a unique perspective of London. The boats areelectric and made of 80% recycled plastic which make this experience totally environmentally friendly! You can read about my full experience here.
Francesca is an Italian mama-of-two who lives in London. Her blog is bilingual and is stuffed full of things to do with kids in London.
The Postal Museum
I recommend a unique London experience – the Postal Museum. Start with a ride on Mail Rail, the Post Office’s own underground railway. This tiny train takes you on a 15 minute immersive ride through abandoned tunnels and platforms, followed by fun, hands-on games in the gallery. The Postal Museum itself tells the fascinating story of the first social network through hands-on and digital interactives, intriguing people stories, bright and wacky vehicles, historic dressing up for kids AND adults, and a Jolly Postman Trail. Under 8s will love Sorted! It makes for a fun half day for all the family – and you’ll never look at a letter the same way again!
Vyki is a curator at the Museum of London and writes her award-winning blog with hands-on help from her very cultured Museum Kids.
Swedish Girl in London
Image: Phillips Auctions
One of my favourite “hidden” spots in London must be Phillips Auctions on Berkeley Square. I love popping in whenever I’m in Mayfair just for a glimpse of what is up for sale. If something is of interest, I will attend their auctions to try and acquire a new treasure.
What many people don’t realise is that one doesn’t have to be a registered buyer to go to a Phillips auction. It is like stepping into an ever-changing museum. You can often come really close to the pieces and even touch or hold them (if you ask), as well as of course buy them! Many of these beautiful items will never be seen in public again, which makes it extra special to visit.
At Phillips they also really know how to display the pieces in the best possible way, with daylight streaming through the floor to ceiling windows on the ground floor and the clever way they use lights on the other floors. And their basement is amazing! I hope you feel as inspired as I do to pop-in to Phillips when you are next in Mayfair.
Annmarie is London’s coolest Swedish girl. You can find her wandering around galleries, museums and design shops, and she’s always dressed to impress. You can follow her on Instagram.
The Curious Pixie
Underneath Waterloo Station is a street artist’s paradise and hidden hotspot for food and entertainment. Leake Street Arches comprises of eight former railway arches next to the famous graffiti tunnel. Most tourists and Londoners in fact will inadvertently bypass it for the allure of the Southbank and the London Eye.
The 300-metre tunnel is a great way to see some organic art for free. It was made famous in 2008 after Banksy hosted the Cans Festival with 30 artists turning the tunnel into an ever-changing art gallery. Now, it’s one of the largest areas to legally allow street art in the city. If you’re a fan of political expression, humour and unique design this is one place not to miss!
Sima is a travel, culture and foodie junkie. She shares her adventures with and without the mini pixies and is always on the look-out for the extraordinary in London and beyond.
This Postcard Life
Steeped in history, St Paul’s is one of the anchors of London’s cityscape. Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece links to a range of London’s stories: the Great Fire of 1666, the Blitz during WWII and Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, to name a few. Climb its steps to get panoramic views of the city from the exterior viewing galleries. Finish in the cathedral’s crypt at the cafe and one of London’s best gift shops. Round out your St Paul’s experience by walking across the street to the shopping complex One New Change, taking the glass elevator (for free!) to the rooftop terrace (also free!). There you can take in the magnificence of the dome and see St Paul’s from a different perspective.
Beth is an American living in London and writes about family travel with a focus on teens and her expat life in the UK. You can follow her on her blog here.
Feature image of the Soane Museum by Gareth Gardner
A balloon dress designed by Central Saint Martins student, Fredrik Tjærandsen, bagged the top prize in the 2019 MullenLowe NOVA Awards announced last Thursday evening. 1300 final year students were whittled down to a mere 14 to represent the school in the coveted design prize. A total of six awards were presented, but Tjærandsen’s design, ‘Moments of Clarity,’ which went viral on the internet and was the talk of fashion houses around the world, was the design champ of the night.
Norwegian Fashion Womenswear student Tjærandsen received £6000 for his inflated works of art. His collection is made up of womb-like balloons each of which contain 3,500 litres of air. He worked with Sri Lankan rubber growers and incorporated an internal air pressure system, allowing the wearer to breathe inside for several hours. As the garment deflates, the performer is born out of the shrinking bubble.
Posing with Fredrik Tjærandsen, winner of the 2019 MullenLowe NOVA Awards
“I am deeply concerned with the relationship between what is seen and what is unknown, through the memories and misty impressions of childhood. This is a personal journey of documenting, researching and understanding how one communicates with the world through memory.”
NOVA Awards runners-up
Elissa Brunato, an MA Material Futures student, was a worthy runner-up with her ‘Bio Iridescent Sequin,’ a material inspired by the ancient art of sewing beetle wings onto fabric. Her 21st century sequin is a sustainable alternative made from wood instead of plastic. Brunato also picked up a second prize with the Creative Review Innovation Award.
Xiaoying Liang’s ‘The Dictionary’ is a 3-minute video exploring and questioning definitions from the Oxford English dictionary. Her piece, for which she received a runner-up prize, experiments with stretching and interrogating the linguistic definition of ordinary objects.
2019 Unilever #Unsetereotype Award
Sara Gulamali’s project, ‘Can You See Me, Still?’ follows a green burka-clad being which cannot be identified by race, religion, gender or sexuality. Gulamali took inspiration from her life as a Muslim woman and her experience of nonexistence in society. By donning the bright green garment, Sarah becomes both invisible and unmissable.
The public awarded Haemin Ko for her short film, ‘No Body,’ a hand-drawn charcoal animation which illustrates her autobiographical journey in London. The film focuses on loneliness in three emotional chapters dealing with excitement, frustration and hope.
You can read more about the Mullenlowe NOVA Awards shortlist here.
From left: Haemin Ko, Xiaoying Liang, Elissa Brunato and Fredrik Tjærandsen
About the MullenLowe NOVA Awards
Now in its ninth year, the MullenLowe NOVA Awards is an initiative run by the MullenLowe Group in partnership with Central Saint Martins. The college is one of the world’s leading art and design schools with a student roster that includes the likes of Antony Gormley, Terence Conran, Tom Hardy, Stella McCartney, Alexandra McQueen, Laure Prouvost, Mathew Williamson and John Galliano.
The shortlisted students for the 2019 MullenLowe NOVA Awards
14 students are shortlisted from 40 nominees across 1300 final year students working in fashion, fine art, design, photography, science and more. The nominated students participate in two shows: one in May, and the other in June. Twelve judges analyse the body of work with criteria that includes cutting-edge design, beautiful execution and work which pushes the creative boundaries to the absolute maximum. The awards evening took place on July 4 at the Tanner Warehouse in Bermondsey, London.
This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.
If you’ve ever wondered what a rainbow might look like inside a restaurant, head over to Pomona’s. This Notting Hill restaurant is dishing out the happy pills with its vibrant colour pops of turquoise, coral, red and zesty lemon set amongst leafy greens. And it’s not just the sunny decor that lifts the spirits – the menu here is a delight, a heady mix of intense, vibrant ingredients from the earth, land and sea which pack a culinary punch.
Pomona’s is tucked behind Westbourne Grove, one of London’s main yummy mummy outposts. It’s no surprise then to see a mixed crowd of Vogue cover-worthy mums and babes, with a bank of designer prams in tow. The young patrons are thankfully well-behaved, as are the grinning pooches (dogs are most definitely welcome). Yes, there is definitely the whiff of the Westbourne Grove set in here.
Ruth Hansom is the top dog in the Pomona’s kitchen. This Yorkshire-born head chef spent five years at the Ritz London before taking over the Wernher restaurant in Luton Hoo. She’s been head chef at Pomona’s since April, and I think Notting Hill is lucky to have her and her chef’s apron in the kitchen.
Pomona’s has a charming summer garden, perfect for lunch or coffee.
I love eating out, but my diet is chef’s hell: gluten and dairy-free with a host of other no-nos. We both decide to order from the All Day Menu. We are encouraged to order two dishes each with a couple of sides. The staff are knowledgeable about all the ingredients and wherever possible, try to accommodate a tweak here and a tweak there. Other options for non-fusspots include two sharing menus (one if vegetarian) at £55 a person.
As Clarissa is a nutritionist and keeps a beady eye on my alcohol consumption, I decide to be a good girl and kick off with a Mint Press – it’s fresh and zesty with a hint of elderflower. Clarissa opts for a Virgin Mary, spiced up with Pomona’s Mad Mary Mix and slurps her way through it in seconds. You’ll be pleased to know she doesn’t lose the plot, (or her head) over the peppery libation. You could opt for one of their super smoothies (a chia fix or an express kale) or a signature cocktail. I’ll be back to try a Strawberry Fields sans Clarissa: tequila, Whispering Angel rose and home made strawberry syrup and citrus. The wine list is reasonably priced, although I do also notice a Margaux on the menu at an eye-watering £365.
I really really want to try the smoked potato foam with yolk, watercress and summer truffle and the Dorset crab with watermelon. But there’s a trace of dairy in both dishes and as some elements are pre-made, it’s a no for me. I am, however, informed that the kitchen only uses Clarence Court eggs, which I guess is a good thing.
We decide to kick off with a chicory salad instead, with charred nectarine, fennel, walnut and honey. It’s sweet, salty and bitter, and if you left this dish until last, chances are you wouldn’t need a dessert. Except that the dessert in Pomona’s is the stuff of pudding dreams (more on that later).
The star of the next dish is the Wye Valley Asparagus, laced with a truffle emulsion. Pickled mushrooms and a sprinkling of pea shoots complete this dish which tastes of spring in the forest. Every mouthful is extraordinarily intense.
Oh, halibut my halibut. I could eat this dish every day. The fish is perfectly roasted and sublimely moreish, with added Jerusalem artichokes, pickled grapes (yes, it really works!), almond and chervil. If you eat dairy, it also comes with a fennel broth. Clarissa tucks into a herbaceous dish of sprouting broccoli with soy, chili and cashew, describing it as intense with a good bite. She pairs the dish with a crunchy side summer salad and we share some sweet potato fries – perfect with just a hint of salty crunch.
Let’s discuss Le Pudding. I would come back time and time again just for this dish. The strawberries are drunk on champagne and hang out with gooey meringue clouds dotted here and there, as well as a delicate lime sorbet and a dusting of fresh mint. And as we couldn’t have the white chocolate, we were offered a side scoop of flower-fairy worthy elderflower sorbet.
OK, Pomona’s may not be cheap, but I daresay it’s well priced. Having said that, a cheaper lunch option might open the doors to a bit more lunchtime trade. With food this good, this Notting Hill restaurant ought to be full every day. Pomona’s offers quality British flavours in every forkful, cheery service and a zingy space in which to sit for a couple of lazy lunchtime hours. I leave happy as a pig in pooh.
I was a guest of Pomona’s. All views and images are my own.
Manolo Blahnik, who has taken up a well-heeled residence at the Wallace Collection in London, would feel right at home on the Garsington Opera stage this summer. That’s because its version of Offenbach’s Fantasio offers a powdering of Marie Antoinette (the Sofia Coppola version) with some flamboyant Commedia del Arte thrown in. And whilst poor old Offenbach didn’t have much luck with his Fantasio (it flopped back in 1872), Garsington has polished it up and delivered a successful first UK staging of the romantic comic opera.
The plot is a little kooky, so bear with me for a fanciful moment. Elsbeth of Bavaria is betrothed to the Prince of Mantua but she’s in mourning for her court jester, Saint-Jean, who is recently deceased. Enter Fantasio who tries to dissuade the apple of his eye into marrying the Prince (she’s not keen, so it’s not too difficult). He comes up with the rather odd idea of disguising himself as a jester in order to ingratiate himself with Elsbeth. It works.
Meanwhile, the Prince is desperate to know Elsbeth’s true feelings towards him. So, he decides to pose as his valet Marinoni in order to spy on her. But Fantasio, lurking in a tree above the royal party, exposes the Prince’s disguise by lifting his wig. It all goes pear-shaped, and the wedding is cancelled. Fantasio is locked up for insubordination, but wait for it: Elsbeth visits him in prison and breaks him out. All’s well that ends well when Fantasio is declared King of Fools and is given the keys to Elsbeth’s “garden.” Phew.
It’s a play within an opera, delivered in English with a superb translation by Jeremy Sams (I’m not normally a fan of translated opera, but this one works). Director Justin Doyle makes an excellent Garsington debut, and the imaginative rainbow-coloured set design is by Francis O’Connor. Stepping into the court jester’s trousers is mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp who delivers a charming and spirited Fantasio, although it takes a little time for her to relax into the acting. It’s all eyes on Jennifer France as Princess Elsbeth, dressed to impress as a pink bonbon with Antoinette-style pouf. Her vocal twirling is a joy to listen to – her wedding aria drew the biggest applause of the night. Baritone Huw Montague Rendall as the Mantuan Prince, and tenor Timothy Robinson as his sidekick Marinoni, provide plenty of comic relief.
If you’re thinking of introducing the kids to opera, this one fits the bill. It’s entertaining in a panto kind of way, the chorus, all trussed up in 50 shades of purple, packs a vocal punch, and it’s punctuated with dialogue, making it much easier to understand the daffy plot. It’s fun and frisky, and you’ll be kicking up your heels, Manolo style, with this high-octane production.
You can catch Fantasio at Garsington Opera until July 20. The box office occasionally receives last-minute returns during the opera season. If you are under the age of 35 and interested in learning about last-minute £30 ticket deals, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for alerts to availability.
I was invited to review Fantasio at Garsington Opera. As always, views are entirely my own.
As London prepares for tennis fever, I’m sticking to the non-sporty side of the city where you’ll see me hanging out in our cool museums and theatres or sitting lawnside, but with a Pimms in hand and listening to jazzy tunes. Here are some of the best things to do in London this July. Stay cool, London!
Pick of the MonthShakespeare’s Rose Theatre – Blenheim Palace
OK, I know this is supposed to be about the best things to do in London this July , but I think the Bard would agree that Blenheim is worth the small trek. Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, a 13-sided Elizabethan-style playhouse complete with an Elizabethan village, will be constructed over a three-week period and located next to Bleinheim Palace. Inspired by the famous London Rose Playhouse built in 1587, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre will house an audience of 900, with 560 seated on three tiered balconies around an open-roofed courtyard and standing room for 340. This year’s productions include Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 8 July to 7 September.
Carmen – Royal Opera House Free BP Screens
I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Carmen last week at the Royal Opera House with the lovely Louise Loves (you can read her post and my mini review here.) And if you’re looking for free things to do in London, you can watch Carmen for the princely sum of nothingin various locations around the country this July 2. On July 9, you can also catch Mozart’s great comic masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro. Check here for locations.
Staying with free things to do in London, head out to The Regent’s Park for a free dose of outdoor art with Frieze Sculpture. Artists include Tracey Emin, Huma Bhabha and Robert Indiana. 3 July to 6 October.
Love is Only Love, The Other Palace
It’s not every day Stephen Fry endorses you on Twitter, but so he did with Love is Only Love, written by and starring the absolutely brilliant Sam Harrison. After a sold-out run at the Other Palace in 2018, the play returns in time for Pride. Be quick, as it’s only on from the 1 to 6 July.
Mr Handel’s Vauxhall Pleasures
Join the Foundling Museum in Coram’s Fields for an outdoor spectacular of music from Vauxhall Gardens, the first great pleasure garden of Georgian London. Lars Tharp introduces a family-friendly concert of music by Handel and his contemporaries, performed in eighteenth-century style. 7 July.
Whodunit – Park Theatre
Whodunnit [Unrehearsed] features the voices of Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Miriam Margolyes, as well as a different celebrity in each performance stepping in as the Inspector (without any rehearsal and without ever having seen the script). Guests including Clive Anderson, Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent, Damian Lewis, Maureen Lipman, Joanna Lumley, and Catherine Tate. They will have their lines fed to them live onstage via an earpiece as they attempt to crack the case. After the show hear from our celebrity in a ‘behind the scenes’ conversation when it’s your turn to do the interrogation. 15 to 27 July.
Whodunnit [Unrehearsed] Coming Soon - YouTube
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing at a major new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Highlights include lunar samples collected from NASA’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Union’s Luna programme; a Mesopotamian Tablet from 172 BCE showing how lunar eclipses were considered to be bad omens; and The Hasselblad camera equipment that captured some of the most recognisable and iconic space photos.
Victoria’s Palace, Buckingham Palace
Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019
To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, a special exhibition at this year’s Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace will tell the story of how the young monarch turned an unloved royal residence into the centre of the social, cultural and official life of the country. Through objects from the Royal Collection and an immersive experience in the Palace’s Ballroom, visitors will learn how Victoria made Buckingham Palace what it remains today – the headquarters of the Monarchy, a rallying point for national celebrations and a family home. A waltz danced at the Crimean Ball and the Ballroom’s original decorative scheme will be recreated as part of the exhibition. A Victorian illusion technique, known as Pepper’s Ghost, and projections around the room will enable visitors to imagine the Ballroom as Victoria and Albert would have known it. Queen Victoria’s Palace is on from 20 July to 29 September.
Where is Peter Rabbit – Theatre Royal
The critically acclaimed musical adventure returns to the West End for a limited summer season of performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Stories and characters are brought to life in this theatrical spectacular, with beautifully handcrafted puppets, enchanting original songs and a sprinkle of magic. Shake your tail to 15 songs with lyrics by Sir Alan Ayckbourn. From 20 July.
325 years, 325 objects – Bank of England
Image: Bank of England
The Bank of England turns 325 years old this July and to celebrate, the bank launches a new exhibition, 325 years, 325 objects. Items have been selected from the vast collections amassed since the Bank was founded in 1694. Highlights include the first banknotes, with an early note dated 26th June 1702; Roman relics found during archaeological digs on the Threadneedle Street site; artwork sketches and test plates for banknote designs; and a woodblock design for the first postal order from 1880. 22 July to 15 June 2020
The Worst Witch, Vaudeville Theatre
My girls loved Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch, but sadly, they are a little too grown-up to don their broomsticks and zoom over to the Vaudeville Theatre for this action-packed play opening on 24 July. I might just have to cackle in the audience on my lonesome.
Jazz on the Lawn
606 Club London joins with historic house and garden Fulham Palace to present Jazz on the Lawn, an outdoor live concert series taking place over two successive evenings this month. The lineup includes soul singer Wayne Hernandez & his seven-piece band on Friday 26 July and the internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Claire Martin on Saturday 27 July. Remember to pack a picnic.
Kew Palace – Cook like a Georgian
Take a jaunter down to Kew Palace, once home to George III (yes, the mad one) and his queen, Charlotte. Join the history cooks as they whip up some tasty Georgian treats in The Royal Kitchens. Learn how to make dishes such as ‘Mutton Chops in Disguise’ and ‘Apple Dumplings’ and find out what life was like working in King George III’s kitchens over two hundred years ago. Various dates throughout the summer.
If you could transplant the hearts face emoji onto humans, then the crowd at the Old Vic last night would have radiated red, pulsating love for Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. That’s because Andrew Scott was in the house, having recently traded in his cassocks from Fleabag, for a much more jazzy, art-deco inspired wardrobe in this Coward classic. And OMG (heartface emoji again) what a whoopee of an evening was had by all.
Andrew Scott in Present Laughter (Photo: Manuel Harlan – Old Vic)
The play is semi-autobiographical and deals with the perils of fame. Garry Essendine (aka Coward and played by Andrew Scott) is a flamboyant, narcissistic comedy actor who is preparing for a tour of Africa. He’s in the throes of a midlife crisis, having recently turned 40 and is surrounded by both men and women who want a piece of him.
Present Laughter is set in Garry’s swanky apartment, all glitz and glamour with plenty of Art Deco flourishes. It’s frenetic in the Essendine household. A girl who is dressed in a Tinkerbell outfit wakes up on his living room sofa, looking like she’s had a good night, if you know what I mean. Daphne (Kitty Archer) we find out, is one of Garry’s obsessed fans, and she’s hoping to star in his life – forever. His staff storm around her nonchalantly, presumably used to morning-after scenes of this nature. The Scandinavian housekeeper, Miss Erikson (Liza Sadovy), is a study in gloom, sweeping in and out of the action without so much as a drop of hygge. Garry’s staff also includes cheeky valet Fred (Joshua Hill) and Garry’s ever-patient secretary of 17 years, Monica (the brilliant Sophie Thompson that we loved so much in Four Weddings and a Funeral.)
Sophie Thompson in Present Laughter (Photo: Manuel Harlan – Old Vic)
Garry’s ex, Liz Essendine (Indira Varma), swans in and out with great panache. She is still firmly grounded in his life and gets her hands dirty cleaning up his romantic interludes. Roland Maule (Luke Thallon) is the Garry-obsessed young playwright who surely ends up in a straightjacket at some point in his future.
Garry wants to grow old “with distinction”, but he’s acting like a man who can’t let go of his youth. He’s full of hyperboles (I’m maaaaaad about it”), jazzy hands, and affectation which we associate with Coward. I mean, Scott could be straight out of Coward’s “I went to a Marvellous Party” (well worth listening to if you haven’t already had the pleasure).
“I’m always acting…my life belongs to the public.”
And this is where there’s a twist and turn to the original plot: Joanna of ‘ye original version has morphed into Joe, a predatory stud with an Italian accent who conveniently forgets his key so he can spend the night in Garry’s flat. I’ll leave it there in case you don’t know the rest of this comedy of errors, but let’s just say, the sofa gets plenty of saucy action. This is effervescent chaos as its best.
Kitty Archer and Andrew Scott in Present Laughter (Photo: Manuel Harlan – Old Vic)
Yes, it’s hammy and yes, it’s camp; perfect ingredients for this applesauce slapstick, tinged with hints of sadness of what could have been and what lies ahead on the star’s slippery slope to old age.
And Andrew Scott? His acting reeks of physicality. What can I say….the man is just a pure joy to watch. His Garry Essendine is full of pathos. There’s a quietness about Scott that hits you over the head and can literally take your breath away as you watch him tread the boards. I imagine one day, we will hold him in the same exalted regard as Olivier and Gielgud. How lucky are we that he left his fleas and his dogcollar behind to impersonate one of Coward’s most delicious characters.
Be warned: the Old Vic is undergoing some serious renovation, and you’ll have to stand in long queues to access the stalls. My tip: avoid the queue by heading straight to the bar upstairs for a quick swifty. You can access stalls via a couple of doors off the bar. Oh, and the toilets are under construction too, so follow the signs outside if you need a jaunt to the loo.Tally-ho!
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SACRE BLEU – THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FRENCH AND THE ENGLISH
Always looking for a good excuse to go back to school, I found myself heading to Central Saint Martins in London’s Kings Cross not once but twice in the space of a few weeks. I’d been invited to look at the finalists for the Degree Shows, an annual design brouhaha which has tongues wagging, eyes popping and companies flocking to find the next big thing in fashion, art, architecture and science. The culmination of the shows is the king of design accolades, the MullenLowe Nova Awards, where the trophy for ingenuity and creativity gets dished out on the 4 July, together with some other exciting prizes.
Hot off the design press, the explosive young minds of Central Saint Martins showcase the latest and greatest in forward-thinking, provocative, smack-in-the-face concepts. It’s also refreshing to see students focus on sustainability, and not just because it’s fashionable but because it really, really matters to them.
There’s an inflatable balloon dress which is much more than hot air, pearlized condoms, a Wes Andersen and Yoko One architectural collaboration (fictitious and fabulous), sustainable sequins fashioned from cellulose, and much more. Put it this way, there’s nothing banal in this building.
What are the MullenLowe NOVA Awards?
Now in its ninth year, the MullenLowe NOVA Awards is an initiative run by the MullenLowe Group in partnership with Central Saint Martins. The college is one of the world’s leading art and design schools with a student roster that includes the likes of Antony Gormley, Terence Conran, Tom Hardy, Stella McCartney, Alexandra McQueen, Laure Prouvost, Mathew Williamson and John Galliano.
14 students are shortlisted from 40 nominees across 1300 final year students working in fashion, fine art, design, photography, science and more. The nominated students participate in two shows: one in May, and the other in June. Twelve judges analyse the body of work with criteria that includes cutting-edge design, beautiful execution and work which pushes the creative boundaries to the absolute maximum.
The MullenLowe NOVA Award Winner receives £6000, the two runners-up get £2000, whilst the Unilever #Unstereotype receives £2000. There’s also a Creative Review Innovation Award.
This is where we all come in. The public can get involved in supporting these extraordinary young artists by voting in the YourNOVA Award, a prize which delivers £1000. Voting opens on Monday 24 June and closes on Tuesday July 2. Check the YourNova page for details of how to vote.
Show One Shortlisted ArtistsSara Gulamali (BA Fine Art 2D)
Image: NOVA Awards
“The work follows a being, one who cannot be identified by race, religion, gender or sexuality – however they embody this bright green. A green screen. For an audience who is familiar with a Muslim background, one may see the likeness to women who wear burkas, alluding to the current political climate towards Muslims who are often treated as something to be feared and embody feelings of alienation.”
Jacob Bullen (MA Fine Art 2D)
Image: NOVA Awards
“The title of my degree show piece is Moors Burning; archive. It consists of a painting, VHS tapes, a revolving reproduction of my own head (with removable gargoyle nose addition), sea water from the Dorset coast and a bag of earth dug from Saddleworth Moor. The work archives my obsession with Saddleworth Moor…I began recording and painting the Moors, because of identity crises regarding my sense of my own ‘northern-ness.”
Mita Vaghela (MA Fine Art)
Image: NOVA Awards
“The Net has been made following a period of research into colonial and post-colonial theories, cultural studies and diaspora discourse interwoven with personal and shared anecdotal recollections. My practice centres on questioning my social heritage and the value of the female in Hindu culture. The repetitive process of making the net allowed me to reflect on my research to understand that as a British Indian woman; my identity is fluid, adaptable and built on a series of networks.”
Lara Orawski (MA Photography)
Image: NOVA Awards
“My work reflects on the occupation of space as an extension of the body, how we externalise that which is internal and in turn how the external is consumed to shape the image of what we become. Interrogating experience, the ways that I have loved and lost, the ways in which I’ve allowed myself to be loved and lost to others and the grief I now wear on my body.”
Show Two Shortlisted ArtistsWen Ju Tseng (BA Jewellery Design)
“The aim of my work is to encourage a rethink on how individuals are valued, using humour, wit and an irreverent attitude to tackle some of these thorny issues by talking about them. By referencing familiar objects such as a credit card to a condom, I have elevated their status by highly crafting each piece of jewellery in precious materials to create a tension between our free selves and the bureaucratic dataset identities that govern us.”
Elissa Brunato (MA Material Futures)
“Working alongside material scientists from RISE Research Institutes, I created sequins that use wood’s ability to form structures that refract light. In this way, it is possible for this ‘future sequin’ to shimmer naturally without added chemicals. By extracting the crystalline form of cellulose, the wood-originating matter can imitate the alluring aesthetics of beetle wings. The material remains lightweight and as strong as plastic yet it is compostable.”
Cecily Cracroft-Eley (BA Fashion Knitwear)
“My graduate collection, ETAKA, is my projection of beauty among apocalyptic visions of a destroyed landscape… Considering my own place in the creative renewal of this catastrophe, my collection follows certain principles of wabi sabi, in that it is made primarily from recycled and natural materials. For my graduate collection, I worked with local craftswomen in Uganda and Rwanda who helped me create entirely handmade and hand embroidered garments.”
Fredrik Tjærandsen (BA Fashion Womenswear)
“Alternating between reality and dream, the garment is recognisably a bubble, but it is also a potential mask or uterus. I am deeply concerned with the relationship between what is seen and what is unknown, through the memories and misty impressions of childhood. This is a personal journey of documenting, researching and understanding how one communicates with the world through memory. The bubble contains circa 3,500 litres of air, which means the wearer can be inside for several hours.”
Xiaoying Liang (MA Graphic Communication Design)
“My work is a set of moving images of words from the alphabet. Each of the moving images is an experiment in destabilising, stretching, and interrogating the boundaries of day-to-day objects created by their Oxford English Dictionary definitions, in order to deal with the ambiguity and complexity in words that are either relatively static or ‘clear’.”
Minh Le (BA Architecture)
“LGBT, a spatial concept and design aimed to house experimental, radical and socially-empowering art practices, has been developed as an imaginary collaboration between two ground-breaking artists – Wes Anderson and Yoko Ono. Anderson’s unmistakable aesthetic and Ono’s unique upbringing served as an inspiration for the aesthetic of the project which strives to bring back the almost forgotten historic theatrical character of Brixton. The final outcome serves two functions: refreshing the theatre scene of the area and cleaning up the area’s plastic pollution as well as the Effra River, Brixton’s once bloodline.”
Haemin Ko (MA Character Animation)
“No Body is an autobiographical poetic short animation film. It focuses on our loneliness and (dis)connections. It is an experimental charcoal animated story exploring my relationship with the city through three emotional chapters of excitement, frustration and hope. What does it mean to belong, to be part of a whole?”
Nicola Jane Francis (MA Character Animation)
“This film is based on my own experience of my father passing away unexpectedly in December 2018. My intention with this film was to use symbolism and metaphor to create a releatable narrative onto which each audience member can project their own personal experience of loss. The project was created using digital 2D frame-by-frame animation techniques to help preserve an illustrative, handmade quality to the film. ”
Diane Dwyer (MA Narrative Environments)
“Abandoned Grace is an installation set in a disused grace-and-favour residence at Hampton Court Palace. It tells the story of the abandonment of women’s perspectives in history within their abandoned living space. Upon entering the apartment, visitors encounter cloth-draped representations of each former resident, from 1766 to 1992. These cloths contain the residents’ patriarchal biography. Visitors are encouraged to remove these sheets and reveal messages from each resident. Abandoned Grace aims to inspire visitors to consider the inequality of representation in our historical record, how this continues to impact society today, and how they themselves would want to be remembered.”
Mael Henaff (MA Material Futures)
“In the next 15 years, it is estimated that at least 40% of jobs will be replaced by machines. Nowhere is this future more apparent than in Jaywick in the UK where 60% of the population have already either lost their jobs or are out of work, mostly because of the insurgence of automation and machine learning . Through this project, I collaborated with Jaywick’s local community to create a practical workshop where local people could build fully-functioning crypto-miners to allow them a real means of generating a secondary, supplementary income.”
This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I know, you won’t be able to pronounce the name, so just refer to it as the Neasden Temple. Yes, you read that right. Neasden. This divine temple, which you would expect to see in Agra, actually resides in north west London. It’s a masterpiece in Indian craftsmanship and it shimmers in that Taj-Mahalesque way. Here’s what you need to know about this architectural curiosity, known as one of the seven man-made wonders of London (and which anyone is free to visit).
It’s a labour of love, art and design
This was Europe’s first traditional Hindu stone temple funded entirely by the Hindu community. It is dedicated to the worship of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the Hindu faith. It’s the brainchild of Pramukh Swami, the spiritual leader of BAPS (the organisation behind the temple). The temple was constructed using traditional Hindu architectural methods which means no structural steel whatsoever was used. Gulp.
It was made in India
The temple is an act of faith on another level. Building work began in 1992 when 1200 tons of Italian Carrara and 3000 tons of Bulgarian limestone were shipped to India. Some 900 tons of Indian marble was added to the sacred mix, whereupon 1500 Rajasthani and Gujarati sculptors carved away for 3 years to create 26,300 individually numbered stone pieces. This is where all those years of Lego-building come in handy: the pieces were all shipped to London where the intricate three-dimensional jigsaw was re-assembled by 1000 volunteers over the space of two and a half years. Children raised money for the effort by collecting 7 million aluminium cans for recycling (that’s a heck of a lot of Coca-Cola).
You don’t need to be a Hindu to visit
Anyone is welcome to visit Neasden Temple. Just remember this is a place of worship, so you need to play by the house rules. You will need to remove your shoes (there are lockers for storage), and do wear appropriate clothing. For more visitor information, click here.
The intricate carvings of the Havali (photo: BAPS)
If you need some brushing up on your Hindu history, there’s a handy museum on the lower ground floor of the Mandir. Spread over 3000 square feet, the exhibition provides an overview of Hinduism using 3D displays and craftwork. There’s also an 11-minute video which documents the history of the Mandir from conception to completion.
It’s the sum of two divine parts
The temple consists of the Mandir (the stone temple) and the Haveli (the wooden cultural centre). Visitors enter via the ornate wooden Haveli, built in traditional Gujarati style. This is where you can pick up an audio guide, or you could join one of the tours. There’s a souvenir shop where you can take away some incense or a Hindu deity for your home (I have a good 15 of these beauties dotted around my home). The Haveli leads into the Mandir which is the space used for worship.
You are welcome to participate
Shri Ghanshyam Maharaj (photo: BAPS)
At the beating heart of the Mandir temple is the Maha-Mandap (the Great Hall) found on the upper floor. Look up at the eye-popping cantilever dome, but also take time to look at the deities around you, as well as the exquisite carvings.
The Maha-Mandap (photo: BAPS)
When we visited, the shrines were open for prayer, and we witnessed the ancient Hindu Arti ceremony (performed daily at 11.45am.) You can wander around the hall or just sit in quiet contemplation.
Here I am performing the Abhishek ritual with my daughter Eloise.
Head downstairs and participate in the Abhishek ritual, an ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over a sacred deity. The ritual takes approximately 15 minutes. More information here.
You can visit any time of the year
Come rain, snow or sun, there’s never a bad time to visit the temple, although the gardens do close if the weather is particularly bad.
Take some time out to wander around the ornamental gardens, a marriage of Hindu-influenced lotus-shaped beds and ponds and classical British azaleas, begonias, roses and boxed hedges.
During Diwali, the temple really puts on a flaming good show with a fireworks display to mark the Hindu New Year. It’s also a good idea to visit during Open House in September when the temple organises tours.
No that’s not Disneyland – it’s the Neasden Temple during Diwali. (Photo: BAPS)
Need to know
Entrance to the Neasden Temple is free except for the museum which charges £2. There are free public tours, and audio guides are also available. There is a free car park across the road from the temple with a restaurant adjacent where you can spice it up with some traditional Indian vegetarian fare. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a deli selling Indian sweets and a shop selling Indian groceries. Please note, you cannot take photos inside, but you are free to take photos outside.
Miami. The American Riviera with its pastel palaces, its swaying palms and Art Deco curves is one of my favourite haunts when I need a break from the slate-coloured skies at home. Eye-popping art and sleek design sit in every corner and crevice of this sorbet-coloured city, so it’s surprising to those who know me that I had an art-free break in Miami recently (well I did cheat a tad, but more on that later). I needed a cultural calm-me down fix, and the Carillon Miami Retreat was just the tonic. Off I headed into the tropical metropolis for a 3-day session of nutrition workshops, pampering, meditation and downtime. Bliss.
The Carillon Miami
The Carillon is located in Miami’s North Beach, about a 20-minute drive from the airport. It’s an oceanfront property with the sparkling sea on one side and the shops and restaurants of the world-famous Collins Avenue on the other. The Miami Boardwalk runs alongside the hotel on which you can walk or cycle (using one of the hotel’s cute bikes) all the way to South Beach.
I came with my daughter, Clarissa Lenherr, who was running a retreat that week: Become the Healthiest Version of You. The aim of the retreat was to nourish the body and mind through a series of workshops led by Clarissa and supplemented with meditation and yoga sessions, delicious food and spa treatments. There was plenty of time for sun-worshipping and “me-time” in-between.
The Carillon is a big hotel but it’s super generous with bedroom size and with its public areas – and yet it feels intimate, and friendly. And for this Londoness with a serious case of directional dyslexia, it’s easy to find your way around. It has both an elegant and casual feel about it. Oh, it’s also pooch-friendly, so a big paw clap for that.
The retreat included our accommodation in a gorgeous one-bedroom suite with floor-to-ceiling windows (there wasn’t a bad view in the place). Each suite comes with a kitchenette, living-room, and a luxury bathroom with a walk-in shower and generous tub.
The kitchen is fully equipped with Nespresso coffee and tea-making facilities (topped up daily), a microwave, fridge, hob with kettle, toaster and a dishwasher. If you feel like dining in, there’s a well-stocked Publix with a Starbucks across the road from the Carillon.
There’s a Bose Wave Radio (which even streamed Classic FM from London), and not that you’ll be using these much during your stay, but there are two TVs in the suite.
A piece of technology which you will want to use is the tablet with online access to the spa, valet, in-suite dining and restaurant reservations.
Carillon Miami Adult only Pool
The Ocean Pool
The Carillon has four pools. The rooftop pool is an adults-pool only and there’s a family pool just off the beach.
Carillon guests have access to a 750-foot private beach from which you can order drinks and snacks.
The Carillon has a 70-000-square-foot spa and wellness centre with one of the most impressive gyms I have ever seen. Use of these areas is included in your stay including unlimited access to the 20 plus fitness classes each day. Classes might include Latin Cardio Dance, Gyrokinesis, Ballroom Dance, Beach Bootcamp, Slow Flow Yoga, and Buff Ballet Booty.
Even the two-storey climbing rock has spectacular ocean views – that is, if you can open your eyes when you’re at the top!
The Herbal Laconium (image Carillon Miami)
Also included is access to the Thermal Experience, one of the country’s largest hydrotherapy circuits. We relaxed on heated loungers, took showers in Caribbean monsoons and Polar mists (heaven), went for an Igloo drizzle where we were enveloped in cool minty air, and finished off with my favourite, the Herbal Laconium. This room detoxifies the body using heated herbal aromatherapy. You’ll also find all the standard treatments including a sauna, crystal steam, foot bath and a party-sized hot tub. The Thermal Experience is open to all hotel guests over the age of 14.
You can eat at the Strand restaurant which has both indoor and outdoor areas, or you can eat pool or beachside if you prefer. As the retreat included two buffet breakfasts and two lunches at the Strand, we chose to go out for dinner in the evenings. My one criticism of the Carillon was that it did not offer a wellness gluten-free and dairy free menu, and the staff did not seem to be well-educated with allergens on the menu – although they were always happy to enquire on my behalf. They did have a delicious gluten and dairy-free pizza (pictured above) on the menu which everyone happily devoured during the Retreat.
If you want to head out of the hotel for food, there are plenty of neighbourhood places where you can grab a snack. Carrot Express was a favourite amongst the wellness guests, and there are supermarkets and takeaways on Collins Avenue. You could also order from The Strand hotel restaurant or from most local restaurants on Uber Eats if you wanted to dine in your suite. There’s also a Corner Store café located inside the hotel which makes delicious juices and coffees.
The Carillon Retreat
Clarissa led the retreat which included suite accommodations for three nights, two group breakfasts and lunches, two evening socials, a $200 spa credit, four workshops and two retreat group-only meditation/yoga classes. The retreat also included unlimited access to all the facilities and classes in the hotel.
We were welcomed with this gift bag which contained the best gift of all – the Carillon tote, perfect for carrying around your retreat notes as well as sunblock and water.
The retreat kicked off with a tour of the facilities and was followed by a welcome social hosted by Clarissa. We had our first Q and A session with drinks and some very yummy nibbles.
Don’t worry about coming to the Carillon Retreat on your own – you’ll make friends quickly. Group lunches and evening socials were organised during our stay. (Image: Carillon Hotel Miami)
On Day two, we had our group breakfast in the Strand restaurant and then took over one of the hotel’s event rooms for our second workshop and lunch. We also had a healthy snack workshop during which Clarissa taught us how to make healthy lemon, coconut and cashew energy balls.
We all left with a spring in our steps after the second workshop, the Four Pillars Approach to Wellbeing.
In the evening, we had our second social in the stunning private Dining Room. We kicked off with an organic wine tasting, paired with scrumptious snacks prepared by the head chef (these included vegan and gluten-free options). During our workshop we discussed the stigmas around food and how to free ourselves from diet culture and its negative connotations.
We had two sunrise yoga and mediation sessions held in the Ocean Studio. The view alone was enough to send me into deep relaxation.
On our final day, we held our workshop just after breakfast on the Strand patio. Over the course of four workshops, we discussed diet and sleep optimisation, gut health, how to boost energy, and choosing good mood food.
We finished the retreat with a flourish – the individual spa appointments. I had an Aromatherapy massage, and I can tell you it was one of the best I have ever had (thank you Mary-Lou!) There’s an extensive spa menu from which to choose with more unusual treatments such as cryotherapy and Ayurvedic treatments.
Here I am, spruced up and ready to hit London running again.
After three days at the Carillon, I was re-booted. I felt healthier, nourished and relaxed. I survived a full three days of just floating about and having someone else look after me. It was quite hard to pull myself away, so I made myself an absolute promise to come and visit again for an annual chill pill. There might be a little bit of art thrown in, mind. Hasta pronto, Miami.
The Carillon hosts retreats throughout the year – more information here.
Just before I go, I did promise you a little art…
Brazlian muralist, Eduardo Kobra, Wyndood Walls
Clarissa and I headed over to Wynwood Walls one evening. The brainchild of Tony Goldman (the man behind SoHo and South Beach revival), the walls are now curated by one of the art dealers inside the walled area. It’s an open-air art gallery featuring some of the greatest graffiti artists in the world and it’s a must-see if you come to Miami.
Note: I was a guest of the Carillon Miami. All views and opinions my own.
Nobody clads a foot quite like Manolo. Women fantasize about having a pair of his arty concoctions in their shoe rack. My eldest daughter asked me for a pair of Manolos for her eighteenth birthday. We know he was Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe designer of choice in Sex and the City, and who better to adorn Marie Antoinette’s dainty feet in the Sofia Coppola film but the great man himself? It’s no surprise that Manolo Blahnik loves the Wallace Collection so – it has one of the world’s largest collections of art and furniture owned by Marie Antoinette. And this summer, the Marylebone museum plays host to a dazzling exhibition Manolo Blahnik: An Enquiring Mind,¸ a dramatic display where art and design put on an Oscar-worthy show.
I always think of the Wallace Collection as the museum equivalent of a decadent, luxurious cake filled with crème anglaise. Tucking into the art here is an operatic experience. Pairing the jaw-dropping collection of art with the world’s most desirable shoes makes perfect sense. The Blahnik exhibition features over 100 shoes displayed across ten of the Wallace’s resplendent rooms. From Madame de Pompadour’s Rococo, to the candy-coloured shoes worn by Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, the theatre of the Commedia del’Arte, and the baroque, Blahnik also explores the English penchant for pastoralism and the natural world.
Hand-picked by Blahnik himself, the shoes are leather sculptures; perfectly formed works of art sitting amongst the Wallace’s collection of fleshy art. Every shoe tells a story, although none of these are theatrical shoes – they were all sold in Blahnik’s shops at one point.
Blahnik is intimately acquainted with the Wallace – he’s always been a big fan of the museum. He worked with the Wallace curators to select masterpieces from his archive, planting his shoes next to porcelain, paintings, furniture and sculpture, the result of which is a dialogue between old and new, craft and imagination.
The Oval Drawing Room is home to Fragonard’s The Swing and Boucher’s Mme de Pompadour, making this the room of choice for the Marie Antoinette shoes from the Sofia Coppola film. In Fragonard’s Rococo masterpiece, the erotic thrill contained in the lost shoe from the Swing is mirrored by the collection of Blahnik shoes celebrating the passion of eighteenth century Paris.
Every shoe has a narrative in the exhibition. Kristina Blahnik likes to think that her uncle was thinking of Madame de Pompadour when he designed this rose trellis boot, set amongst Boucher’s pastoral paintings.
The West Room focuses on Blahnik’s interpretation of British masters such as Reynolds and Gainsborough. This shoe reflects the British love of nature and could easily be mistaken for perfectly preserved shoes from the eighteenth century.
Kristina Blahnik is CEO of Manolo Blahnik. She stands next to one of Marie Antoinette’s chest of drawers above which sits a Vigée le Brun painting. The Wallace is one of her uncle’s favourite museums and was the source of much of his early inspiration. She explains that Blahnik is not about fashion – he is about curiosity, and he never suffers from creative blocks.
The high baroque East Drawing Room displays a collection of black and gold shoes which complement the grand Boulle furniture.
Blahnik’s jewel-encrusted shoes strike an intimate pose inside the Boudoir Cabinet with its charming collection of painted miniatures.
The Blahnik shoes in the Great Gallery are amongst the designer’s favourites. Carefully-curated creations from the 1980s on one end of the gallery face off against footwear made in 2014 and 2015 on the other end.
A high-heeled boot is the footwear of choice for the Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier. Both the painting and the boot reflect arrogance, subtlety, and a dash of humour. Blahnik and Hals are having fun with the viewer here.
So, do I need to give you a good kick up the le derrière in a pair of 10-inch heeled Manolos to get you over to the Wallace? I hope not. Go. It’s fabulous (and it’s free).