Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas at Harrod's

I thought it would be fun this month to share with you some Christmas impressions from London. Let's start with Harrod's, shall we? All decked out in green lights this year transforming it into the Emerald City to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the classic Wizard of Oz movie. 11,500 white lights were changed by 2 men over a period of 48 hours into the green lights that now shine on Brompton Road.

This year the store windows tell the story of Dorothy and her friends. You'll find they tweaked the plot a bit to give it a Harrod's slant.

Watch out!

I'm quoting,"The little Munchkin people were playing happily, dressed in their colourful warm, winter clothes and chatting in excited voices-totally unaware of the dark, spinning cyclone creeping closer and closer."

"When Dorothy looked around her, she noticed that she was in the midst of a country of enchanting beauty,with banks of gorgeous flowers all around, as well as rare and beautiful gifts for all to enjoy."

Be sure and notice the big dangling "D" on the strap of the shoes. You guessed it--Dior red slippers.

"Dorothy changed into a beautiful designer dress and set off down the Yellow Brick Catwalk with Toto."

"Before long, they met the Scarecrow, who cried, 'O Dorothy, please take me with you, my head is full of straw, I want to ask the Wizard for a brain.' "

"Toto's friend, Cesar, left the Urban Retreat with fur as white as snow. No one could take their eyes off him as he skipped down the Yellow Brick Road."

"In amongst the trees, something was shining, it was a man dressed from head-to-toe in the most splendid, silver outfit---

in fact, it looked almost like he was made from the most wonderous, precious stones, yet a heart was all he desired."

" 'See those Ruby Slippers' said the Good Witch, 'they have wonderful powers. They can carry you to any place in the world, all you have to do is click your heels together three times and command them to lift you into the glistening realm of enchanting fragrances in the dark and mysterious Perfume Hall. ' "

"Cavalli, Missoni, Jimmy Choo, OH MY! Dreams really do come true."

" 'Hello my pretties,' said the Wicked Witch as she looked down at Dorothy's slender feet and seeing the ruby slippers, she began to tremble with jealousy, she had to have them for her own, no matter what."

"We've arrived! Our long journey is over at last, for we have reached the Emerald City in Knightsbridge--and all seven magnificent floors, owned by one Oz."
So friends, there you have it, the Harrod's version of The Wizard of Oz. So what do you think of Oz's, I mean Mr. Mohammed Al Fayed's take on the classic story?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Laundry in London

Let me tell you a little about doing laundry in London. When our landlords remodeled our townhome, they attached a remarkably good size utility room with plenty of storage, deep sink and a state-of-the-art Miele combination washer/dryer. Yes, the magic machine does both!

I recently priced the model of our washer/dryer and it retails for about $2000. I'm telling you it has an unbelievable amount of options for soaking, washing, drying, smoothing, you name it, the machine has a setting for it.

I should feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have such a space-age appliance at my fingertips. I should be thrilled to have the latest and greatest--I should be so grateful to do laundry with this fabulous new technology.
It is the most frustrating piece of equipment I have ever owned. To begin with, you need to plan on 3 hours at home to wash and dry a single load of laundry like towels.

When doing permanent press items, your shirts come out of the dryer, as soon as they have finished, looking like this. A wrinkled mess! Did you know that towels can wrinkle? It's true, if you were to walk away for awhile and leave them in the dryer when finished, you would find them with deep wrinkles when you pull them out. I promise! Another curious thing, I'll mention here, is that there is an automatic lint removal system which means you never have to clean a lint screen. I don't quite know where all that lint is going and I'm not going to ask!

Take washing sheets for example. Allow an hour and 20 minutes for the average wash cycle. Remove sheet from small drum in washer and shake it out. I wash only one bottom sheet and 2 pillow cases at a time. Then it's time to dry. If I allowed them to dry completely, they would be such a wrinkled mess, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night out of horror. Since you can not choose the amount of time you want the machine to dry, instead only the category of what you are drying, I trick the machine into thinking I have some woolens drying, and then it sets it for 3 minutes. One 3 minute cycle, remove from drum, shake out, dry another 3 minute cycle, and then while still damp, stretch sheets over kitchen table or on the bed. Then I can start on the top sheets.

Repeat process with top sheet, and when finished drying, a little touch up ironing is still required.

Then there is the issue of Mike's shirts, which he had always had done in the US at the dry cleaners with medium starch. Usually 99 cents in the US, it costs about $4 a shirt in England, and even then the concept of medium starch does not translate. We started requesting heavy starch hoping to get close to the feel of the way he enjoyed having them in the US, and they charged us even more for heavy starch. Other than being entertained by the sweet Polish lady with big hair who runs the laundry, and who always calls both of us "My dahling," it was an exercise in frustration. SO, we found another solution. It was a happy day when we discovered Dillards' Gold Label Roundtree and York shirts which claim to be wrinkle-free. Now we're in the shirt laundry business ourselves.

Once again, tricking the machine into drying 3 minutes at a time, then shaking shirts out and replacing them for another short cycle has enabled us to pull out shirts with moderately less wrinkles.

Heaven forbid that you let any laundry run a full dry cycle, because after the cycle, the machine decides for you that the clothes are too hot to be safe for you to handle, and it locks down for 5- 8 minutes to cool off. As you watch the glass door in frustration, knowing your clothes are wrinkling even more, you try over and over checking the door to see if you can possibly coax it to open. You even try begging it to let you in, but we just have to cool our heels and wait it out.

Taking out a shirt one at a time, leisurely hanging it up to dry while the others keep tumbling, is not an option. No siree! There is no stopping that dryer once it's on its mission to the time that has been programmed.

So we put in five shirts maximum at a time, then hang them up to dry, and finally some touch-up ironing gets them close to where they need to be. Personally, for my clothes, I just take them back and forth to have them cleaned in the US when necessary. Mike keeps wondering why so many of my clothes are being shuttled back and forth across the ocean, to which I respond, "Don't worry about it, my dahling!"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Victoria Station Wackiness

There was a strange karma at Victoria Station today. It's hard to put my finger on it, but you just had the sense that something crazy was about to happen any minute.

Amidst all the coming and going from the underground service, train service and bus terminals, there was a tremendous amount of activity for a Friday afternoon. Even bears were on the loose.

This big dog was in my bus line, but thankfully he got on a different bus, because I wasn't sure both of us would fit!

One of the craziest things of all that I saw was this group of nuns who had just arrived and were trying to sort things out to their destination in town. I seriously had to wonder if they were part of the cast from Sister Act playing here. See the cigarettes in their hands--nearly all of them were smoking like chimneys. I don't know when I've seen such huge crosses, long hair peeking out of their coifs, silver metallic bags, and a general spirit of a "girls weekend away" mindset. They were ready to party!

And how did I get drug into this little mariachi band playing there? It was all in the spirit of the day--I just wanted the enchiladas and queso to go with it all. It really surprised me that the crowds did not break out into an organized dance like you all have viewed on YouTube. It would have been the perfect way to top off a wacky afternoon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meeting Cath Kidston

Recently I had the chance to meet Cath Kidston, sometimes referred to here in England as the Queen of Flowers. She was speaking at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I jumped at the chance to hear her story. She's quite the success story, having opened her first shop 16 years ago. Today she has 28 shops, 5 of those in Japan, and has become quite the household name here in the UK. She is often considered the Laura Ashley of today's time.

Her first shop focused on vintage fabrics, curtains, and second hand furniture, which she picked up at car boot sales and repainted. She called it a glorified junk shop. Doing some design work on the side allowed her business to build until her own signature products could carry the store.

Today her stores are experiencing a significant increase of profits amidst the gloom of a recession. She's not to be left behind in the world of technology either, since her design is one of the themes that you can choose for Google's new web browser, Chrome, that was just launched. She's in good company with other designers in this effort such as Dolce and Gabbana, Tory Burch and Donna Karan.

Perhaps it is because her products are so cheerful, bright and whimsical that the appeal just continues to grow. Her Christmas windows are inviting and fun.

Her signature look is florals, dots, and small patterns. The rose pattern was the first fabric she developed, followed soon after with her first product -- an ironing board cover.

She was well on her way to teapots, plates, cutlery, radios,

tea towels, sewing baskets, tins, and aprons to name a few, as well as

clothing, and her ever popular bags, seen all around London town.

Bags of all shapes, sizes and for all purposes. Popular with some of my American friends is a pattern with sites from around the city. She gave us a sneak preview of a new pattern due out next year-- a pattern with landmarks from around the United Kingdom: Windsor Castle, Edinburgh, Dover, and York to name a few.

Some of her stores are devoted entirely to her children's line

with the sweetest bedding, linens and accessories for little girls and boys alike.

And guess who has her own Cath Kidston backpack? Of course, you guessed that Jordan would have to have one of her very own, and she might just find a few more Cath Kidston surprises under the Christmas tree. You can take a peek at her wide selection of products at the Cath Kidston website here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Royal Warrants

I do a lot of walking in London. Having no car, we take advantage of the public transportation system and walking--often several miles a day. Except for those days when I'm under an umbrella, I'm always looking around and looking up because there are some fascinating markers--historical, cultural, and royal, displayed on buildings. Shown in this photo is a Royal Warrant. They indicate a supplier of goods or services who has been awarded the warrant in appreciation of service to Queen Elizabeth; her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; or her son, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Recently, I wrote about Twinings, which has received the Royal Warrant as a supplier to the queen. You'll see it displayed prominently above the door. There are approximately 800 warrant holders who hold over 1100 Royal Warrants.

Near to my house is Rogers de Rin antique shop, a supplier to Prince Charles. Suppliers include a widely varied group such as dry cleaners, fishmongers, computer suppliers, cologne makers, and food suppliers.

Evidently the Prince's taste extends to Cartier-how can you go wrong there?

Some shops display their plaque in an understated way,

but most, like this shoemaker, proudly display their gilded warrant, or as in their case, warrants. The award which is awarded after 5 years of service to the crown gives enhanced prestige to the supplier, and is usually used in all their advertising.

Hatchards, a bookseller since 1797, displays their Royal Warrant inside their shop,

as well as the certificate that accompanies it.

Some stores like Daks, a clothing shop

have several warrants, meaning they supply to the Queen, the Duke and the Prince. That's quite an honor.

General Trading Company is another example of a shop holding three warrants. They have the distinct honor of having held 4 warrants at one time. Formerly, The Queen Mother also awarded the Royal Warrant during her lifetime. You can see the empty spot on the wall where her plaque once was hung.

In fine print, under the Prince's name and his emblem of three feathers, it states that General Trading Company is the supplier of "Fancy Goods." Where do you shop for your fancy goods?

Phot0 courtesy of BBC
To close, here is an interesting anecdote. In the year 2000, the Duke of Edinburgh declined to continue giving Harrod's his Royal Warrant, stating there had been"significant decline in the trading relationship." If you recall, the owner of Harrod's, Mohammed Fayed, the father of Dodi Fayed who was killed in the car crash with Princess Diana, had accused the Duke of masterminding the car crash. That would tend to cool things off between him and the crown, I suspect. Later that same year, Mohammed Fayed removed all 3 Royal Warrant badges that Harrod's had held since 1956. Instead today, you'll find a memorial to Dodi and Diana inside the enormous store, but you'll find no Royal Warrants as hard as you may look.