Thursday, 19 May 2011


Caleb Followill marries his lovely
Lily Aldridge: the wedding date
was kept secret from him for fear
he would tell the world (and its media)

Somewhere between the ever more despondent trawling of the web for dresses, my thinking that the mister would, of course, want to heed some tradition in his groom party all wearing suits of the same style, and responding like a woman crazed when he innocuously asked why a bride even needed a bouquet - "I don't recall having ever seen any bride holding just cling onto your dad's hand don't you?" (cue my eyebrows reaching dangerous heights that might need a cosmetic surgeon to persuade them down again, and a stream of incredulous "What? What?! Seriously?F**k!" from me. And I'm not given to swearing) - it dawned on me. I have given into that often levied belief that weddings are a woman's game. Most weddings are now funded by both partners, with budgets that pool resources and any kind contribution from parents, so why are we still governed by this outmoded notion of the big, bad bride presiding over it?

I hadn't intended to be a blithe bride planner, oblivious to his qualms. Nor had I not noticed how mention of our wedding failed to elicit some sort of positive response. For a fairly ebullient, cheery person, albeit one given to winding me up something chronic; this is the man who, some nine months before we became engaged would steer me towards antique jewellery shop windows with an alluring "perhaps we should take a look?" before swinging me away, guffawing in my face - the only reason I put up with it is because I knew he would only tease me so if he definitely did want to marry me - he's a little naughty, not cruel; this was all the evidence I needed that he was being isolated from proceedings.

Catherine Deneuve sure knows
how to keep her groom happy
Now enlightened, I'm embracing and delighting in his being on board as fully as I should have been from the start. This is supposed to be a team effort, after all. If we both commit to having the best party of our lives, surely this bodes well for a marriage that is equally shared in frolics and the real stuff of money, compromise and sensitivity to each other? One of the first things that enthralled us both so much in each other was our kinship of spirit - we couldn't believe we'd had the good fortune to find each other, and this has only grown over time - we share the same rebel streak, fondness for expensive things (much as he would deny it, mister's penchant for George Clooney's suit maker's garb, Barbour coats, steak on weeknights, and Apple's adult etch-a-sketch) historical anachronisms of style, and love of good fancy dress - all of which you might think would come in useful when planning a wedding. But he does frequently have to handle the ennui of life and bills whilst I make salted pecan caramel meringues in the kitchen, or hobble to catch up with him in my heels. Grooms can be the tonic to our Gin, a balm and voice of caring reason when ours has pegged it out of the door.

When it comes to what a groom's traditional role is and the expectations beholden on him, it's all quite prosaic: the word Bridegroom wasn't penned until 1604, and is derived from the old English word guma, meaning boy, denoting perhaps the transferral of said status of boy to that of a man once married. This might go some way towards explaining why the groom's role within the organisation of a wedding has been so maligned - we expect of them their boyish worst, and wouldn't trust them with folding napkins without 'chicken' japes.

A groom's implicit role includes the purchase of rings, the wedding cars or transport, selection of a best man or the more modern two, the payment for the ceremony, the first wedded night's accomodation, gifts for the wedding party, the bride's and bridesmaids' flowers and your grooms men's buttonholes, and naturally, guest list suggestion. Not exactly enticing.

How about sharing some of the more fun planning, not just mere tokenism? Democratise a wedding, and inject some instant male cool by asking that they organise the music/bands with watchwords of 'rollicking', 'happy' and 'no garage metal', the alcohol (I'm thinking Glogg, barrels of ale and cider, a barman not much inclined to watch his measures, and perhaps a single dram of Orkadian whisky as a wedding favour for the chaps Drinks by the, look to classic car owners rather than standard wedding fleets for something thrilling like a Mustang, Aston Martin, Mercedes or Porsche, request their cartographic styling with ink drawn maps of how to get to your venue (think Tolkein's Lord of the Rings maps in the frontice, or pirate booty finding paper), and help you choose your wedding night underwear with a viewing at Agent Provocateur - it's not as sacred as the dress and would be simply a coy anticipatory foretaste.

Nothing will make you feel more star-crossed than bonding over samples of your choosen feast together, and gadding off on an educational wine tour or tasting class to select your accompanying drinks. I'd suggest Ecole Du Vin or London's Vinopolis for a novel break away from the wedding planning.

The other significant player in the wedding (besides you dress) should also look his devastatingly handsome best. Stylish, polished and personally nuanced, gone are the days of plain top hats and tails (unless it's a Favourbrook velveteen tailcoat in stormy skied grey), and although rental offers a budget-kind option, if you opt for a suit that has legs, so to speak, for future wear, then why not buy the most distinguished, sharp suit you will ever wear? If you can stretch to Tom Ford, so much the better.

Style points for Grooms:
Reiss - unleash your inner 1960s cad. Also do fine shoes, and also currently have a grandad collar crisp shirt in palest blue.
The Kooples tiny skull motif print cravat.
The Kooples - stupidly cool Parisian hipsters do surprisingly fine line in suits and cravats.
Favourbrook - dashing, good all rounders
Paul Smith - witty and very British, especially like the chintzy ties and soft silver polka dots.
Mark Powell - aforementioned maker of George Clooney's suits (we found ours in Flannels discount store)
Spencer Hart - Saville Row tailor who does a particularly fetching black silk cocktail suit.
Mr Hare - their tagline is 'Shoes you can attach some romance to'. This is good
Jimmy Choo - no longer just for the aspirant girl. Oh no. For you, too! From June 2011.

For literal grooming, look your loveliest with Darphin moisturisers (, Carita Progressif Eye Patches, £39 for 10 to enliven and put the sparkle back, Truth Serum Collagen Booster by Ole Henriksen for plump, velvety skin. You could also use an illuminating base (speak to your lady friend) to give you added glow on the day. And it's not make up, it's prep - I'm a big fan of Nars and Laura Mercier.

Oh, and absolute must? Hawk like your life/wife depends on it.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The French Connection

On returning from a Royal Wedding exodus in Paris, I have not been able to stop thinking about that certain je ne c'est pas enduring cool Parisians seem to have trademarked. And that's just the girls.

It got me to thinking, if you'll pardon the Carrie-ism, that there are clever ways in which the particular breed of lightly worn style, instant refinement and softly sexy might inspire in a wedding.

As an antidote to the usual suspects of super-girly layers of bridal chiffon evocative of something fresh from a patisserie, French bridal gowns are masterworks of irreverent yet perfect beauty. White lace was always going to have a moment after the now Duchess of Cambridge made her exquisite denouement to national dreams in that majestic Sarah Burton number. But, quel surprise, French bridal wear has been doing it for yonks. Givenchy frequently use finely wrought handmade lace in their gowns, and though I wouldn't usually hold her up as an example (she's that little bit on the side of scary bad girl for me) Courtney Love's white lace dress at the ELLE Style Awards was a triumph fit for a bride.
If you don't want edgy, but do want some of that guileful, sexy and grown-up chic, you could look to Pronuptia Paris, the ravishing Cymbeline, Ugo Zaldi (designed by two French brothers), or fashion sweethearts, Carven - newly stocked at Net-a-Porter or Lanvin. All tend towards the immaculately nuanced, with form and structure beating at their hearts. But it's the way in which French girls wear their clothes and wedding gowns that's the (almost) inimitable bit. If you google doe-eyed lovelies Julia Restoin Roitfeld - daughter of ex-Vogue editrice Carine Roitfeld, Josephine de la Baume, Lou Lesage or Clemence Poesy, you'll see what I mean.

Ugo Zaldi Bridal

Pronuptia Paris

Lou Lesage at Paris Fashion week AW11


Lanvin at net-a-porter

 For a touch of their charm, you could try emulating the bed headed, muted waves, washing your hair in Klorane products, nurturing it regularly with Rodin by Recine's luxurious hair oil £45 at oliolusso and ruffling with Professional Prep by Bumble & Bumble at Space NK. Leave hair loose, or sweep into a dishevelled pleat, paired with antique heirloom diamond earrings hanging like glamorous punctuation marks.

The other legendary facet to Parisian women's allure is their bare-faced beauty. The secret? They invest silly amounts in skin care so they simply don't need it - even their pharmaceutical ranges for naughtier skin types is unsurpassed in it's efficacy, with La Roche Posay now widely available in larger Boots stores here, such is its prowess. For that Bardot softcore polish, try Nars Pore Refining Primer (, a gentle smudge of kohl and a powdery velvet lipstick such as Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture Pure Colour in 24 Soft Pink Peach ( or Nars Semi-Matte lipstick in Morocco for a hydrating, bitten-lip flushed red.

And for the monsieurs? A silken scarf dotted with tiny skull motifs from Parisian demimonde The Kooples in place of a cravat or floral buttonhole.
You could also create a French feel with towers of the dainty macaroons from Laduree make for a magnificent wedding-cake alternative, Toiles de Jouy napkins £5.50 from the V & A shop, or for France proper, dashing 15th century chateau in the Loire valley from

Thursday, 21 April 2011


From a whisper of milky hued chiffon to burnished rose provocateurs, bridal trousseau undercrackers have always appealed to my naughty side. Knickers so good/bad (delete as appropriate) they inspire new husbands to want to whip them off in a twinkling upon discovering that you're not naked underneath that beautiful bridal gown, but better.

Given that my current presiding situation is one of no actual wedding dress: much as Vivienne Westwood's 'Carrie' gown goes by the parlance of 'my dress' in our household: it makes some small sense to me that if I have spectacular lingerie, at least I won't have to go up the aisle completely naked. There will be a quarter inch or two of nuanced silk saving my modesty. And doesn't the common dialectic go that fine underwear is the foundation of any outfit? Get the basics right, to to speak, and the rest will follow? It almost makes the purchase of the prettiest bridal lingerie touched with borderline saucery seem positively virtuous, and very wise.

Agent Provocateur 'Tilly'
Bra £75, Briefs £70
Agent Provocateur are the iconic go-to for feminine, yet rollicking underwear - their latest bridal range is suitably covetable for its stirring, playful glamour that harks to a soft-lit hotel suite in Paris some time circa 1978 (in a very good way).

Myla 'Cherie' in Sugared Almond
Halterneck Balcony Bra £110

Nothing quite surpasses the majesty of ridiculously pretty panties. It's something Myla and Stella McCartney know well, hence their delicate fit, French handmade lace and swoony detailing such as silk satin halterneck ribbons.

For the bad girls among us, there is something slightly ribald about Victoria's Secret's new bridal line, Sexy Little Bride, as modelled by Lily Aldridge, future model wife of Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill. But whipped piles of organza peeping over the tops of bras, and snow white knickers with a miniature veil detail are delightful in their own, slightly asking-for-debauchery way. They have a new store in central London, but will happily ship from their US site, within 21 days.

Victoria's Secret

Go forth and frisk!!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Coming up roses: Seasonal wedding flowers for the novice

Whether marrying in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (commonly known as cider), high summer, a snow-blanketed Michaelmas or giddy springtime, flowers are an incontrovertible must at any   wedding.

Whilst I'm not going to hector or plead my inner hippy, prancing Stevie Nicks-style with a flowery crown, tambourine in hand and goat following - it has become increasingly natural to wish to not only go local with suppliers, but to try (as much as British clement weather permits) to stay seasonal. And with such great beauty available on any budget with our traditional seasonal flora and fauna, why wouldn't you?
Flowers not only add a heady dose of tradition and wild ostentation to proceedings, but sully the air in the sweetest perfumes. Tastes and timbres have changed over the past few years from conventional piles of lusty roses to more indigenous blossoms, delicate blooms clustered together to gain ethereal structure, and my favourite, the renaissance of using herbs with their dark, woody scents and poetic analogies.

There are a host of breathtakingly accomplished and cool florists out there, but if you can it's worth getting yourself to one of these just for a posy-round (sorry) and inspiration:
Scarlet & Violet, Chamberlayne Road, London
LK Lily, Essex (but willing to do events nationwide)
Absolute Flowers - the flowers featured in this month's Vogue Wedding special tucked behind Lara Stone et al's ears, Little Venice, London
The Real Flower Company, Selfridges London and West Sussex
Northern Flower - even if just to see the delightful Rowan in action, Manchester,
I Heart Flowers, Glasgow,
Jamie Aston, London - also runs a fantastic day course in wedding flowers for the green fingered (£185)

With this in mind, below is an overview of each season's flower highlights, some of their floriographical symbolism's, and a few little inspirations of the clothing, catering and other wedding ephemera kind...

If you do, however, have a particular fondness for out of season or exotic overseas blooms, then you might consider 'hothouse' flowers, or at least Fairtrade, reduced airmiles flowers from the likes of M & S.
*Soft-core lecture aside.

Year Round

- Calia Lily
- Carnation
- Dill: symbolises 'lust' (oh-er), and has an olive gold burst of blossom in summer
- Freesia: comes in a cocktail of colours, symbolises 'Trust'
- Gardenia: bountiful soft white blooms, signifies 'You're lovely'
- Hydrangea: the luscious heads of tiny blossoms in pale cerise, mauve, cream/green
- Lily: Symbolises beauty
- Mint: fresh, sweet perfume litters the air with this hardy herb, symbolising 'virtue'
- Orchid
- Ranuculus: Pillowy soft millefeuille layers in washed out rose, or milk tinged with green hearts.
- Rose: can't get more English than these lavish beauties.
- Stephanotis: Creamy star-shaped blooms
- Rosemary: musky sweet scent, with a lilac blossom in summer and narrow bottle green needles

- Cherry Blossom
- Cow Parsley: Dainty white fronds of flowers, technically a weed, but a pretty one.
- Daffodils: symbolise chivalry
- Dogwood: dusky pink clusters 

Top: Peony laced bouquet;

- *Elderflower: a denser, prettier Cow Parsley in appearance, symbolising 'zeal'*
- Forsythia: buttery flowered branches
- Hellebore: Graphic, strong blooms
- Hyacinth
- Lilac: brooms of miniature mauve flowers
- Lily of the Valley: delectable fragrance, swells of soft amber tinged white blossoms
- Muscari: bluebell-like
- Peony
- Tulip
- Quince
- Sweetpea
* Why not have a bash at Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall style Elderflower Champagne?
And spring evening's can cool quickly once the sun has set, stay prettily un-goosebumped with this downright lovely cashmere Valentino shawl, £900 at

- Apple blossom: abundant dainty flowers, symbolising 'good fortune'
- Astilbe: towers of punch-drunk hot pink, lilac, scarlet, cinnamon and cream
- Cornflower: virtuoso purple spikes of petals, symbolising 'delicacy'
- Cosmos
- Dahlia
- Daisy
- Delphinium: a deep purple one for the rockers, looks like a softer Cornflower, symbolises 'fun'.

A Real Flower Company garden rose bouquet

- Garden Rose: the rose for those that don't like roses, gentle, velvety textured blooms in quiet colours.
- Gladiolus: symbolises 'generosity'
- Hollyhock: beacon towers of trumpet-like blooms in country garden colours, symbolises 'fruitfulness'
- Honeysuckle: popping pink trumpets that symbolise 'The bond of Love'
- Lady's Mantle: pale sunshine coloured, tiny, tight flowers
- Larkspur: a regal blue, super pretty bloom symbolising 'An open heart'
- Lavender: abiding soft purple coloured country flowers, with heady scent, symbolising 'Love' and 'devotion'
- Marigold: symbolises affection
- Scabiosa: frilled edged petals with a pin-cushion heart
- Snap Dragon: Bassett's Fruit Salad coloured blossom in hot red, clementine and yellow symbolises 'hope'
- Violet: dinky, velveteen inky purple blooms, symbolises 'happiness' and 'love'
** French Connection's Fuschia 1970s redux 'Shelby' gown is practically crying out for a bridemaid to wear it at a summer wedding, £155 from
Corn sheaves are traditionally associated with fecundity -they made an enchanting embellishment to the Spring/Summer 2011 Alexander McQueen show - harvested in summer, use prodigiously for a puritan, rustic country feel.

Blue Eryngium
- Blue Eryngium or 'Oxford Blue': stormy indigo star-shaped thistley flowers.
- Crysanthemum: symbolises 'abundance', 'wealth' and 'love'.
- Dahlia: Big, ornately architectural, showy blooms signifying 'Forever Thine'
- Heather: highly scented lavender or white fronds, with lilac symbolising 'Admiration' and White, 'protection'
- Sunflower

**You might also want to look to pears, which symbolise 'affection', and look particularly decadent decked in gold leaf.
For added autumnal spirit, scatter burnt gold, firey hued crisp leaves underfoot, use conkers as table adornments,and don these 'Asteria' corkers from Sergio Rossi, £710, under your gown,

- Amarylis: Lily-like petals with hot paprika centres fading out to pink, or snow white.
- Anemone: richly coloured in purple, ivory and poppy red
- Evergreens: For your very own Narnia
- Ivy: the dark horse of plants, sinking green leaves that symbolise - aptly - 'wedded love' and 'fidelity'
- Mistletoe: for the soppy ones
- Poinsettia
- Snowberry: little moon-like berries on branches
The darkest winter months are also ample opportunity to run wild with a snow festooned theme, warming mulled wine or spiced cider and a seriously red lipstick such as Tom Ford's Private Blend in 'Smoke Red', £35 at Selfridges and House of Fraser,

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Having met her (and thus being able to testify to her wanton vim and general stonking all-round coolness) I'm sorry pretty Polly Vernon, but I beg to disagree. In today's Grazia, Polly elucidates on all the valid and personal reasons she cites to eschew trad-bad marriage: and frankly, if you turn them on their heads, they are just as much reasons to wed.

Whilst I find Tracy McMillan's piffle to be shortsighted, insulting and pugnacious as well - I too was once an un-engaged woman. Surprisingly, I never once thought my lack of a man who put a ring on it (if you'll forgive the Beyonce-ism) was due to: 1) my occasional grumps; 2) my wanting a man who was both literate, kind, witty, wise and did funny things to my loins on just merely looking at him; 3) a penchant for harlot antics; 4) being slightly utopian in thinking the best of people 5) trying her best to make her little world and herself as good as they could be; 6) being a bit fragile touched with a latent lack of esteem. In fact, my future husband (hello, lover) probably chose me for many of these reasons, and has helped me to overcome and laugh at my many foibles - although he still doesn't quite get the shoe thing or expensive beauty tinctures littering our bathroom. And I won't even go into the harlot bit. The thing is, marriage isn't for everyone. Not all of us like all the trappings and traditional anachronisms that can make it as passe as carnations or Britney Spears (sorry love, your time is over).

Ultimately it is a matter of choice, and for those of us about to wed? These are exactly the reasons why I'm doing it...

Frankly, most of them are ostentatious netted monstrosities festooned with way too much diamante, cheap silk and yes, look like a literal pavlova. Which could be good, as you could save on a pudding for your wedding breakfast. They cost a small mortgage if you allow them to, but heck isn't the whole point that you can justifiably spend far more than you ever have done on the most significant dress of your life? I don't want to look like a princess, but a highway woman cum lovechild of a Rolling Stone, hence my plan to find as close a frock as I can to a Vivienne Westwood and pair it with a sweeping velvet cloak. Because I can, as the bride, wear my dreams.

I don't. The thought of it just being him, me and our marital bed for the rest of our long years till we're wizened and old and wearing purple (a la Gogol Bordello) actually excites me. BRING IT ON.

I hope I'm vaguely quirky, wild around the edges, inspired and er, cool in my own special way. I don't see getting married as any sort of slight to these qualities, but as a sharing of them with my favourite person in the world. I like that I have this little diamond thing on my ring finger that is a daily reminder that he loved me enough to give me the best ring, ever. It puts some sparkle into my life, which is always a good thing.

This isn't meant as some acrid "ner ner, I was asked and you weren't", but neither my gent nor I had been that sold on marriage until something just changed. It wasn't logic, expectation or coercing - it was just plain love that did it. Plus he asked just as I was tipsily waxing lyrical about the gilded toilets in the rooftop restaurant in Marrakesh we were dining in. From toilet humour to engaged - very us.

But heck, I'm still scared witless thinking of how I'm ever going to get all this nailed. This is where this blog comes in - I pick up titbits along the way, spread the word, and have a big fat reminder of timeframes and tasks. Today's post was going to be on flowers, by the way - that will have to save for tomorrow.

I have quite a lot to do in life, trans-global bridesmaids (two of them at present - trust me to have such itchy footed girls), a myriad of activities and daily musts - but we're doing this whole wedding hohah because it begets a marriage that we hope will be long in the tooth and joyful.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fall-ing in Love: What the AW11 Fashion Weeks mean for Brides

Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen AW11

Whilst wedding dresses can be exquisite masterpieces, both beautiful and stylish, they are not always the most fashionable of things.

How do you wear a wedding dress that is distinctive, steeped in tradition and a fulfils a firmament of expectations without donning a Baked Alaska number, or going get-thee-to-a-nunnery (pronto) prim and demure? Answer: you put in some fashion magic. For one day, you can legitimately go achingly high octane, vogueish and decadent: most of us get few opportunities in daily life to indulge ourselves in such beauty as that a wedding dress can be. Fewer still of us are bold or Carrie-ish enough to really wear what we truly want to. Why wouldn't we opt for the spirited, heartbreaking beauty of a almost intangibly embellished silken sheath, or a couture-worthy swathe with a red-carpet swamping train? Yes, we might take out half the congregation with the latter, but a wedding dress should be incredible, and make you feel likewise. It should be, I feel, an unforgettable virtuoso display of our personalities and often unmitigated fashion desires.

With the denouement of the past weeks' raft of autumn 2011 fashion weeks, and a certain nascent Royal's wedding dress just one of the dramas overshadowing what has been a quietly spoken show season, you might be wondering quite what fashion has to do with bridal attire. Among the moodier, crepuscular undertones of the Paris shows in particular there was, however, just as much to ravish and beguile. The restrained sexuality and careful timbre shot through with the shine and lustre of moonlight tones, ash, pewter and pearl sequin pailletes at Donna Karan, and pre-ordained autumnal blankets of pumpkin, forest green, amber, red and russet - might at first seem utterly at odds with notions of what a bride might look to. And it was all sorely lacking in the whirligig exuberence and disco love of the summer shows. But the surprising thing is, perhaps these shows do have legs for a bride marrying this year. Historically, grey and blue were the colours of a bride, with blue the hue of purity and chastity: Queen Victoria's married Prince Albert in 1840 in white silk designed purely so that she could show off some lace she had been given by incorporating it into her dress. It was the wedding dress that changed Western bridal tradition. Ever since, snowy hues of cream, ivory, oyster and ice white are your conventional bride's colour of choice - fittingly, Burberry's fairytale snow shower end to its London catwalk show was the most beguiling and irresistable of them all.

Guillaume Henry, star in the ascendant at Carven remarked in December's Vogue that "Clothes should be uplifting, like Champagne", and the same is no less true for a bridal dress. In among the blouse and pencil skirt combinations of the autumn shows, there were touches fit for any fashionable bride. Some could just lift a dress from anodyne to captivating. With a flash of Dior velvet, chiffon ruffles, the feathers and sparkle of Versace's closing dresses, the smoky rose as at Miu Miu, sheer polka dot tulle at Stella McCartney, heads swaddled in milkiest coffee hued mantels at Donna Karan, or perhaps YSL polished silk floor-sweepers married with gilt gold chains encircling the waist or dripping down golden backs. Arguably the most lovely of the trends was a Julie Christie kind of beauty - as at Chanel and many others - that softly toed the line between ingenue and sex kitten. Wind flushed cheeks, nibbled lips (you know, as when you were too young to wear make-up proper, and gently bit down on your lips to render them flushed and pink) and almost universally softly virginal, clean swept back hair or simple centre parted ripples.

Naturally, the incandescent north star of the shows was that of Sarah Burton, burning a spell at Alexander McQueen with her stately and incredible show of Snow Queens and Elizabethan stomachers. As befits the whispered winner of the feted commission to design Kate Middleton's wedding dress, this was a breathtaking and romantic collection fit for a queen - yet not shy of the borderline roguery (and thus magnificence) of the McQueen legacy. The millefeuille layers of silk tulle, elaborate surface detail and porcelain-bodiced mantua gowns touched with milky fur may have marked these as dresses of boundless beauty, but the staging of the show in the Conciergie from whence Marie Antoinette was taken to the guillotine was a remarkably incisive and naughty statement to make. A death star perhaps? But the fact of all stars, and of all brides who give in to their inner fashion maven, is that they light up the darkness for a very long time to come - radiant and true to themselves. If Kate has plumped for Burton's McQueen, she would be the future queen who speaks to us all in making such a brave, but beautiful choice. Though we will have to fit the silhouette of our dresses to the venue, not having Westminster Abbey to play with after all.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

All that glitters...

I believe in the common parlance of the fashion firmament, these are known as killer shoes. The sort that make you want to possibly do a Fay Dunaway and stage a heist at your local Barclays to buy them.
Ladies, look. And. Weep.
Tomorrow I promise to be back to the usual wedding guidance and wisdom, but who's to say these can't be secreted under your wedding frock, coyly flashing every now and again?
(*this would be me trying to justify mortgage-worthy shoes).
CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN Sexy Strass 100 peep-toe pumps, £1, 995.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Gonna dress you up in my love...

If there is one dress more important than a wedding dress, I know not what the heck it is. Which might explain why I seem to have developed profound wedding dress fear - you know the scene in Sex & the City when Miranda coaxes Carrie into some trampy bridal shop and a wedding dress brings Carrie out in hives? Well, it's something akin to that. A nice swathe of prickly heat across my chest, and a little voice in my head that jeers at me that I'll look like a prize winning fool in most of them: too curve-playing, too much netting, too much bridal bluster or equally too sexpot, fashion-forward or puritan (the jig is up with most brides - very few of us make it down the aisle chaste these days).

A wedding dress is, after all, likely to be the most you will spend on a few acres of silk and lace in your life. Regardless of your budget: this will be the dress that pales any other in significance. It has to stand the test of time, so that on looking back on your wedding photos not only makes you fondly recollect precisely how that dress made you feel, but that it is as timeless as your marriage will hopefully prove to be.

I feel that weddings are ultimately a celebration of you having had the good fortune to stumble across each other in this crazed world, so why wouldn't you wear a glorious, beautiful and yes, possibly extravagant, dress to such an extraordinary party?

Personally, I want my dress to remind my glorious Fiancee why he's marrying me (besides my raging intellect, baking skills and whip sharp wit, that is...pah!). If there's ever a time to take someone's breath away, this is it. It's about being a woman, a wife. Made for loving - and that's just the dress.

Over the past few months, I've been struck by some particularly good dresses, shops and the sheer pleasure that a truly lovely bridal shop assistant can be - and equally by the postcode premium whereby some areas ratchet up their prices dependent upon what they perceive as what local women are willing to pay and might be oblivious to the fact there is a shop just down the way that is easily hundreds of pounds cheaper. Not naming names, as I am a well mannered thing, but I sincerely wish there was some way of informing brides of said shops. It makes me a touch sad to think that they could shave two hundred pounds off their frock, and spend more on some super pretty shoes.

These have been the highlights thus far (and I still don't have my dress...)
  • The White Closet, West Didsbury, Manchester - a delight of a shop, with a happy mix of guileful, bohemian dresses and softly layered fuller dresses. The shop assistant proved herself to be a gift of a girl - warm and witty but enamoured of her dresses. Plus, there's cake.
  • Clifton Brides - the first dresses I fell for after an educational experience in a grotty dress shop in central Bristol where I had gone in pursuit of a Vivienne Westwood knock off (worst incidence of heat rash so far - whole torso, and itching. Nice). Clifton Brides was a revelation - a well chosen collection of refined, sumptuous gowns that felt just as lovely on. The bridal assistants were also fabulous - gentle and generous yet insightful and wise. Dresses here around the £1,000 mark.
  • Vivienne Westwood - there is a reason the grand dame of all things buccaneer and amazing is so revered. Her dresses are so artfully crafted they would have you believe the little seamstress mice had been at them from Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester, and the weight and quality of the silks speaks of the aristocratic tradition. These made me feel like the quintessential rebel bride I desperately want to be: sadly, the £14,000 price tag means this just isn't going to happen. But, I learnt what I should be looking for in the craft of the dress, and a great deal about spirit and form.
  • There are some corkers on the high street - Monsoon has some swoony Florence Welch appropriate ones for around £200, French Connection some redux glamour 1970's feel dresses with soft pleats for £155, and rumours are that Urban Outfitters' new bridal range will make it's way across the pond next year.
    Monique L'Huillier 2010
  • Dreamy dresses of note from: Paloma Blanca, Ellis bridal, Vera Wang, Jasmine, Charlotte Balbier, Monique L'Huillier, Johanna Hehir, Sincerity, Lusan Mandongus, Jenny Packham...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Cakes away!

And here we have it!
Behold the mini wedding cake as mentioned below, sent to a certain Wedding magazine editrice...who we hope likes cake.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Let them make cake...

It's a misconception universally acknowledged that whilst wallowing in a bathtub, quite possibly being sponged down by the Butlers in the Buff of her day, Marie Antoinette uttered the infamous line "Let them eat cake" in riposte to reports of Parisian plebeians hurling cabbages at her gates, and demanding her head. The truth is that this seemingly blase, facile statement was concocted by a satirical wit who didn't like queen Marie A very much: it's origin a cunningly edited expression of her genuine concern when alarming reports of mass hunger and unrest reached her, and she pleaded with her kitchens to feed the poor rabble anything left over in the Versailles larders.

Anyway, history lesson over: this week saw my first attempt at baking a Wedding Cake (on a miniature scale). I was put off the idea of buying one for our nuptials from the outset when I realised that unless made of solid gold iced with Swarovski, they are - in general - extortionately overpriced. And having long a prodigious cake baker been, thanks to a good Delia Smith cum Mrs Beaton education from mum, it makes sense to put my heritage to use: plus I have a year's worth of practicing ahead of me to rustle up something artisanal, but still suitably special and decadent.

I'll post an image up later of said mini cake, but for now, I'm going to share what is apparently one of the hardest Wedding Cake recipes to lay ones hands on in the world: and no, that's not hyperbole. Cake maker to the stars Laura Wing's Sachertorte Chocolate Wedding Cake recipe was originally printed in Sainsbury's Magazine of May 2008, and sold out in a New York minute. Back issues simply do not exist, such was the demand for the wedding cake recipes it contained. I had a bash at a white chocolate version, but as white chocolate is more oleaginous and sticky than dark (something to do with the cocoa solids to oils ratio) it was far more fickle and tricksy than when using darker chocolates.

(I also found baking works best to a soundtrack of rootsy americana - something to do with images of Dolly Parton in a pinny I suspect).

For the 15cm (6in) cake
225g (8oz) Belgian luxury plain chocolate
1 large egg
4 large eggs, separated
175g (6oz) caster sugar
110g (4oz) ground almonds
1 level tablespoon finely ground coffee

For the 23cm (9in) cake
400g (14oz) Belgian luxury plain chocolate
2 large eggs
8 large eggs, separated
350g (12oz) caster sugar
225g (8oz) ground almonds
1 rounded tablespoon finely ground coffee

For the 30cm (12in) cake
1kg (2lb 4oz) Belgian luxury plain chocolate
5 large eggs
20 large eggs, separated
800g (1lb 12oz) caster sugar
570g (1lb 4oz) ground almonds
1 heaped tablespoon finely ground coffee

For the icing
1.15kg (2lb 8oz) dark chocolate, at least 51% cocoa solids, broken into squares
2 x 250g packs unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 x 454g jar apricot jam

Don’t even think about making all 3 cakes together, as a domestic oven and equipment will not be able to cope with the quantities. Every cake tier uses the same method, but when making the largest cake, whisk the egg whites in three batches, folding each batch in as soon as they have been whisked.

Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F, gas mark 3. Place a shallow dish or baking tin on the bottom shelf of the oven, then fill it with near-boiling water (it isn’t safe to fill it before placing it on the shelf). The shelf for baking the cakes should be placed a third up from the bottom of the oven, just above the water.
Break the chocolate into squares. Place the squares in a large, heatproof bowl set over a medium-sized pan of barely simmering water until melted, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Beware overheating the chocolate, or letting any water near it - it will go grainy like coffee grounds...

While the chocolate is melting, put the whole egg(s), the egg yolks and sugar together in another large bowl. Beat with a whisk until the mixture is thick and creamy and has reached the ribbon stage. With a large metal spoon, quickly stir the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, along with the almonds and coffee, until well blended.

In a seriously clean large bowl, beat the egg whites with the whisk, until stiff, but not dry (see note, above, regarding egg whites for the largest cake). Then, using a large metal spoon, fold 1 heaped tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, to loosen it. Quickly and carefully fold in the rest, using a figure of eight motion, until just combined.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and lightly smooth over the surface, then place the tin on a baking tray. Cover each of the 2 smaller cakes with a double thickness of baking parchment and make a hole in the centre of each the size of a 50p piece. Cover the 30cm (12in) cake with a double thickness of extra-wide foil with a hole made in it, as above.
Bake the 15cm (6in) cake for 55-65 minutes; the 23cm (9in) cake will take 75-85 minutes to bake and the 30cm (12in) cake will take about 23⁄4-3 hours.
The cake is ready when well-risen, with a nicely set crust, and when the bamboo or metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven, take off the parchment or foil from the top of the cake, cover the cake with a damp, clean tea towel to keep it moist and leave to cool in the tin for 1 hour. After this time, turn it out on to a wire rack to cool completely, then remove the baking parchment and discard.

When all the cakes are made and have cooled completely, make the icing. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium-sized pan of hot water over a low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until melted, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the butter, bit by bit, stirring gently until it has melted. Remove from the heat and then set aside to cool until the icing mixture has started to set to the consistency of double cream.
Meanwhile, if the tops of the cakes are uneven, trim with a sharp, long-bladed knife, then turn them upside down on to wire racks so that there is a flat surface for icing. Brush away any loose crumbs and place the flat plates or trays underneath each rack to catch any drips from the icing.
Melt the apricot jam in a small pan over a low heat, strain to remove any lumps and then, using a pastry brush, brush over the surface of the cakes to prevent any loose crumbs from spoiling the icing. Heat the jam again if it starts to thicken up too much.
Starting with the largest cake, pour over a thin layer of icing and then, using a long-bladed palette knife, quickly and evenly smooth it over the top and sides. Repeat with the remaining cakes and chill them in the fridge until set – about 30 minutes. If your fridge is not big enough to accommodate the cakes, you will need to put them aside in a cool place instead and allow longer for the icing to set.
After this time, put the remaining icing back over the pan of barely simmering water to melt again, then remove and allow to thicken, as before, and give the cakes a second coat. Chill the cakes until the icing has set, then repeat the whole process for a third and final time and chill for about 1 hour. Any spare icing on the trays can be saved and used at the last minute to disguise any marks – just melt it, then pass it through a sieve into a small lidded container to remove any crumbs, and refrigerate.
When the icing has set, remove the cakes from the fridge and, using a small sharp knife dipped in very hot water, carefully cut them away from the cooling racks. Using the cake lift, remove each cake to a tray lined with baking parchment and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
NB: The cake freezes well if each tier is kept in an airtight container, un-iced and wrapped in a double layer of foil, for up to 8 weeks. Defrost overnight at room temperature. Alternatively, make the cakes up to 1 week ahead, wrap in a double layer of foil and keep in airtight containers in a cool place. Ice them up to 5 days ahead and store in individual Tupperware-type boxes (put the cake on the lid and click the box into place over the top) in the fridge or a cool place. If stored in the fridge, remove 4 hours before decorating so that any condensation on the cakes will disappear.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A rush of love to the head

Sara Byworth
In among the more serious stuff (such as Champagne), I have been distracted. What I wasn't prepared for in among the more salient production aspects, talking to vicars and romance of it all was to have my whimsical streak tempted by feathered hair concoctions.
                                                                                                  I still have no idea what my wedding dress will look like, besides some tendancy towards silk satins in the exact hue of double cream, with absolutely no diamante: but inspiration came in the unlikely form of a beautiful cobalt and green wing as painted by Albrecht Durer. Then I spotted Sarah Byworth (Associate Director at Relative MO) desporting her unusual headress with pride. And chose to overlook the other, er, interesting guests' guises. A little rootling around on the internet uncovered these lovely things at Pearl & Ivy for just £25 a pop (  This is when all focus on crockery went out of the window.
Hair band - Olive

One of these plumed concoctions was made last summer by my own fair paws. Feathers, velvet ribbon and a clear plastic comb from a local haberdashery, and one headdress later - which I like to think of  as my peasant's crown: made recovered feathers from a befelled Pheasant (I suspect the local fox, rather than rifle-toting country types). It seemed such a shame to leave them scattered there underfoot, their oily lustre and Mitford sisters' country styling on the ground to fade away into mulch...

Ok, so I'll probably end up in some fabulous frock that won't suit such head attire and go with a Jenny Packham medieval-lite gilded band - and I really should get back to the plates and napkins of it all - but they are a ravishing way of injecting some wilder adornments into a traditional get up.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Marriage: The maths bit

Preserve of the overly careful, deeply unromantic - unless there's something in numerology that does it for you, in which case, my numerical dyslexia and I salute you - and prissy old things budgets might be: but they are also essential to weddings.

This week, glorious medieval venue confirmed, it was maths time and I was unexpectedly on very unsure footed territory. It's all too easy to get all blithe and swoony with the romance of it all, and to let the reason you're doing all of this [the wedding which begets the marriage] get lost among the small things. A lovely, personal, unforgettable day is a given with a wedding, so forgetting the whole meeting of what I perceived as other's expectations, trusting our own instincts  - was a must. In the words of wedding luminary Mark Niemierko, you should always walk into a wedding and think "this is so them". And it will hopefully only be the champagne addled bits that might slip off into the ether's of time, anyhow. Equally, although you should always be mindful of knowing when less is more (this especially applies to budget blitzing flowers, guests, and diamante - for which there is very little excuse), it is the time for getting carried away with the sheer joy of a wedding, to be generous, and to wear the most breathtaking dress and say the soppiest things to each other.

One excel spreadsheet later, and numerous "what does a wedding actually need?" ponderings later having rifled through the trusty internet blogs to find out what a budget checklist looks like, I came up with the below....and a few handy tips and titbits of advice I picked up along the way.
  • A venue (see previous post). But don't be afraid to gently ask if the price they quote you is the best they can do - lacing a bit of cheek with nicety goes a long way. One venue we looked at dropped £1,000 from their hire fee once we asked about best price offers.
  • Registrars/Wedding ceremony fees: realistically this is going to cost you anywhere from £120*                                                  *standard registry office fee
  • Venue furniture, marquees, dancefloors, soft furnishings: Many venues are going to fetter you to their own suppliers, but if you are creating most of your reception from scratch, get quotations, pleasantly barter, and be aware that is generally wisest to consolidate your suppliers rather than hustling around - their prices are generally better and it will save the stresses of trying to ensure everything arrives at your venue to schedule.
  • Wedding breakfast: go as 'local' and 'seasonal' as you can with food and caterers - thus reducing your eco footprint, supporting local trade, and the seasonality of your wedding will keep costs down (for instance, autumn and winter are peak season for wildfowl, game, Venison etc).
  • Wedding cake and flowers: don't let talented relatives, friends or acquaintances hide their resourcefulness and skills under a bushel - many would be only too happy to help if you cover costs or would accept in lieu of a wedding present. Also, don't overlook your inner Nigella or florist - many adult education centres offer one day courses in floristry and cake baking
  • Designer Dress Hire
    Girl Meets Dress' Dina Bar-El
    wedding dress to hire from £109
  • Wedding dresses: whilst you can get some corkers in sample sales, these are likely to be that little bit grey and forlorn. Wise girls who wish to hire go to
  • Bridesmaids' dresses: think Sex and the City when it comes to bridesmaids - individual colours, sexy, elegant and with the potential to be worn again as evening gowns. French Connection, Reiss, Coast and Topshop's floor length silk chiffon numbers are all worth a look for a dress around the £120 mark. Traditionally the bridal party pays for these, but you might want to ask if bridesmaids would be willing to chip in if you all fall in love with a more expensive dress.
  • Groom and Groomsmen's outfits: Dependent on whether you decide upon more classic wedding dress for the chaps, or choose to ask they all wear a particular colour suit, you might be expected to help with costs or pay their hire fees.
  • Hairdressers and beauticians for the bride: Whilst it is lovely to be cosseted on your very special day, it is downright expensive. Seek out trainee or blossoming hairdressers/make up artists through friends and offer a reasonable fee (you could also try posting an advert through University or college website where such subjects are taught - such as - for London College of Fashion trained beauticians. Many beauty counters in department stores and larger Boots will also happily help with bridal beauty (Chanel, Mac, Lancome and Nars are lovely).
  • Favours
  • Wedding bands: antique rings are in general much better value. Don't be put off by the thought that they are likely from a failed marriage or given away by families - think of them as a ring that needs another chance, a re-homing, and your loving partnership is just the place for it.
  • Band and music: A rule of thumb goes something like this - pay for a rollicking band you know and love to play your wedding, then stick on a preloaded iPod for the unbridled dance floor action. You can also use it to reference songs that would mean something to particular guests - a little song 'gift' if you will - such as that Van Halen song that he broke his leg leaping from the table to, or the swinging Andy Williams for your aunt, and Kings of Leon for your younger, rocking cousin. Plus, it's free!
  • Venue decoration: fairy lights make an ethereal wonderland paired with gold-sprayed branches, tealights in a motley crue of old glasses sourced for a steal in charity shops as centrepieces, and lace curtains as chair covers, perhaps dyed black for a Gothic glam feel, bundled up in a bow at the back, and sheaves of corn for a summer wedding (a symbol of fertility) - none will break the bank but will finish your wedding off in high, unique style.