The Lipstick Tag

I have always thought of lipstick as 'proper' grown-up make-up; there's something about it that just makes you look very 'done' in a way that other products, apart from maybe very bright eyeshadow, don't. Consequently it was always something that scared me a bit until I started getting into make-up a few years ago, and then I was all over it like a tramp on chips. I did stop wearing it for a bit when I went backpacking (which coincided with epic chin breakouts) but now my skin's cleared up I can wear it again and I love it, especially for work with my glasses.

As today is National Lipstick Day, I thought I would mix it up a bit and do the Lipstick Tag. This is a mash-up of two lipstick tags - I can't remember where I saw the first one but the main one is from Peacock Beauty. I'm not going to tag anyone specific but let me know if you do this tag or have done it already, I'd love to read your answer!

1. How many lipsticks do you own?
Depends what we're counting as lipsticks, but if we include glosses, balms etc then it's 30 *blushes* That seems like a worrying amount!

2. What was the first lipstick you owned?
I think it was Rimmel Lasting Finish in Heartbreaker - a kind of bright pinky-red. I don't have it any more but this post is making me think about repurchasing it as I loved that colour!

3. What is your favourite luxury and drugstore lipstick brand?
MAC is probably my favourite luxury brand - really well pigmented, beautiful sleek packaging, great mix of colours and quirky names. But I really like Rimmel, Revlon and Topshop for high-street brands as well.

4. Best MAC lipstick?
I have so many I like, but would probably say my favourite is Ruby Woo. It can be a little drying and I do have to make sure my lips are in good condition when I wear it, but it was the first high-end lipstick and the first 'proper' red lipstick I ever bought, so will always be special to me.

5. What is your most worn lipstick?
MAC See Sheer - it's my work lipstick because it's got that very 'my lips but better' vibe and goes with everything. If I've got an impromptu meeting or dinner invite I'll whack this on and instantly feel a bit more 'done'.

6. What is your favourite red lip colour?
Estee Lauder Pure Envy Sculpting Lip Colour in Vengeful Red. I bought this a few weeks ago and absolutely love it - it's now my go-to 'posh' red and may even end up being my wedding lipstick!

7. What is your favourite finish?
I don't really have one! It kind of depends on my mood and the weather and what outfit I'm wearing, plus I tend to go more on colour than finish.

8. Best matte lipstick?
MAC Ruby Woo - see my comment above. Also I think it is one of, if not the only true matte lipstick I own so there weren't really a lot of contenders for this category...

9. Best liquid lipstick?
I really like the Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet liquid lipsticks - they last all day, are really comfortable and easy to wear and come in really lovely colours. I have Hot Pepper and it's a great red with a lovely matte finish but isn't too drying. Rimmel Apocalips are good too.

10. Best gloss?
I'm not much of a gloss person, but I do like Liz Earle Sheer Lip Gloss in Mallow. It's a lovely nude shade and just the thing when you want a more toned-down lip, say with a smoky eye, but also doesn't feel tacky on my lips which a lot of glosses can.

11. Favourite balm/treatment?
It's got to be Carmex. I love the slightly minty smell and the tingling sensation you get when you apply it.

12. Most disappointing lipstick?
It's not a lipstick so I'm not quite sure why it disappointed me, but Clinique Chubby Stick in Whoppin' Watermelon - there is approximately zero colour in it and my lips virtually inhale it. It's OK as a lip balm but I'm quite glad I got it as a magazine freebie rather than forking out for a full size.

13. Favourite 'crazy' choices?
I don't actually own that many crazy colours! I'm quite boring and tend to stick to reds and pinks, but I suppose my closest is the Laqa & Co Sheer Lip Lube in Menatour, which looks really purple in the bullet but isn't too bad when it's applied.

14. Liner - yes or no?
If I remember, yes. I use the Body Shop Lip Line Fixer which has the advantange of being clear so whilst it still creates a barrier you don't have to find a liner that matches every shade you own.

15. What was the last lipstick you bought?
I got a Yves Rocher Sheer Botanical Lipstick in Rouge Groseille in my June Birchbox that I've been wearing a lot recently as it's sheer so not too much on hot days, but the last lipstick I handed money over for was Topshop Rio Rio.

16. How many lip products do you currently have in your bag?
In my work bag currently are MAC See Sheer and a Burt's Bees lip balm, and in my day bag it's a superhero-themed Carmex lip balm pot - so three across two bags.

17. How do you store your lipsticks?

I have a couple of plastic lipstick holders from Tiger (you can see one of them in the picture at the top) where my lipsticks live if I'm not wearing them that day - I got these as I was sick of rootling around in my make-up bag for lipstick and they make it so much easier to find the colour you're looking for! Some of them live in my Muji drawers as well, and when my lipsticks are in my bag they go in a small striped make-up bag that I got free with Company magazine last year.
18. Which lipsticks are you currently lusting after?
It's probably easier to ask which ones I'm not lusting after! I'm really into Bobbi Brown lipsticks at the moment, particularly Nude, Heart and Old Hollywood, and have had my eye on Nars Jungle Red and Schiap for what feels like forever. But if I had to pick one then it would be Guerlain Rouge G in Gracy, which comes in the most beautiful sleek silver bullet and is a perfect summer coral-pink.

What's your favourite lipstick?

July Favourites

It's that time of the month again - my July favourites! I really enjoyed writing my June favourites post last month and am looking forward to making this a regular feature on the blog, at least until I get a decent camera and can shoot favourites videos (though I have just ordered a microphone so watch this space!). In the meantime, read on to find out what I've been loving this month...

Image sources: The Book of Life, Nashville Season 2, The Glamour of Italian Fashion. All other images my own

Favourite item of clothing: Birkenstock Madrid sandals
I posted about these in my shoe collection post last month but in the hot weather we've been having recently they have been absolutely invaluable. They're easy to throw on in the morning, really comfortable even when you're walking around in them for hours, and they go with loads of different things in my wardrobe. If you don't own a pair of Birkenstocks I really recommend them - they're not the cheapest shoes but you'll have them for years so they're a great investment (though I recommend going down a size as they do come up big).

Favourite beauty product: Caudalie Divine Legs
I wrote a full review of this product earlier this week, but I really cannot sing its praises enough. It sinks in quickly without feeling sticky or tacky, gives a really natural glow to the skin, smells lovely, is nicely moisturising and doesn't rub off easily. For someone like me who does not tan naturally but who's been turned orange by too many dodgy fake tans, this is an absolute godsend of a product and definitely worth investing in.

Favourite book: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
July has been a bit of a slow month on the reading front as I got so bogged down in Martin Chuzzlewit for most of it, but The Book of Life couldn't have been more different. The final part of Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches trilogy, it tells the story of witch Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew Clairmont as they race to find the missing pages of a mysterious book that may or may not reveal the origins of all 'creatures'. I don't want to say too much else as it'll spoil it for those who haven't read it, but this is much more than the 'Twilight for grown-ups' it's being billed as. I tore through it in four days and desperately wished there was more when I was done. If you like your romances with a dollop of supernatural and a dash of thriller, then you'll love it just as much as I did.

Favourite music and TV show: Nashville season 2
Combining two monthly favourites in one, this month has been all about Nashville for me. Set in the eponymous city, the show follows the fortunes and love lifes of country queens Rayna James (Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panetierre, best known as Clare the cheerleader in Heroes) and their friends and families, all set against the most amazing soundtrack. This season deals with the aftermath of a dramatic event from the end of last season, a numbers-obsessed record label boss and the pressures of fame. Again I can't say too much because I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but it's utterly addictive and will have you singing along for days.

Favourite food: Salvation Jane maple French toast
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, and the breakfast at Salvation Jane is one of my favourites in London. Whilst bacon and banana might initially strike you as a weird combination, the saltiness of the bacon actually works brilliantly to cut through the sweetness of the rest of the dish and stops it being overwhelmingly sickly. Honestly, just thinking about it is making my mouth water... The coffee is great too, and it's a lovely relaxed atmosphere where the staff will look after lone diners but equally happy to leave you in peace if that's what you want. It's the perfect place to spend a lazy weekend morning in the city.

Favourite thing I've done this month: The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A
I feel slightly bad posting this as the exhibition has now closed, but it was just utterly amazing. The dresses were so, so beautiful, especially those from the 1950s, and there were some fantastic pieces throughout the exhibition (Pucci jumpsuits! Beautiful tailored coats! Gorgeous handbags! Prada 'hot-rod' sandals! Dresses covered in flowers! Dresses that looked like leaves were growing out of them! I'll stop now!), but the other thing I loved about this was how brilliant it captured the transition of Italy as a country in the decades after it emerged from the shadow of the fascist regime. It was just so utterly vibrant, with designers constantly pushing boundaries and not being afraid to be playful with their clothes, and even now I'm still thinking about pieces in there. This is my current contender for exhibition of the year - everything else will have to go some way to top it.

What were your favourite things this month?

Beauty Review: Caudalie Divine Legs*

Disclaimer: This post contains PR samples. All views are 100% honest and my own.

When the weather's hot like this I get frustrated that my legs take a long time to tan naturally. I see all these gorgeous girls walking past with lovely tanned limbs and my own milk-bottle legs pale (literally) in comparison. But I've been a bit scared of fake tan after too many bad experiences as a teenager when even the lightest shades of many tans just went orange on me. However, recently I was lucky enough to get sent a bottle of Caudalie Divine Legs by the lovely people at Birchbox UK, and it's converted me to the ways of the tan! Read on to find out why...

First things first: the packaging. Whilst the glass bottle is a little on the heavy side, I like that it feels solid and adds a sense of luxury to the product, as does the gold writing on the packaging. The fact that the nozzle locks by twisting so you can travel with it without fear of it splurging everywhere is good too, although just because it's glass it's something I'd keep wrapped in a plastic bag and very gently placed in my bag rather than just tossed in there.

In the packaging, the product looks a very dark caramel brown shade, and out of the bottle it looks even darker. I have to admit that at this point I was very much 'Oh. O-K...', because I didn't want to go from pasty white to suddenly looking like my legs had made a guest appearance on The Only Way Is Essex. However, I have to say once it's applied it evens out really well and doesn't look too dark at all - instead, it just lifts my skin and adds a nice bit of colour, as you can see in the photo below:

The left leg is with Divine Legs, the right is without. Yes, I really am that pale.

Another big advantage: it has a lovely warm slightly floral scent that you get hints of occasionally when you move, as opposed to the slightly stale biscuity scent that a lot of other tanning products have, which is definitely a plus point. The texture is ideal too - not too heavy or thick, but not too thin or watery either, and once it's sunk in it doesn't feel sticky or greasy at all. I normally use a pump's worth on each leg, but depending how much tan you want you can use more or less than that as it's a really buildable product.

In terms of durability, it does take a couple of minutes to sink in, but once it's on it's not going anywhere - I sat on my white couch for a few hours wearing this in sweltering heat and it didn't leave any marks, result! However, it's also really easy to remove with soap and water, so if you do put too much on you can easily start again. I also liked the fact that it was super-moisturising; I have a tendency to dry patches on my shins, but once I'd applied this they were barely noticeable, so if you're concerned about fake tan settling in your dry patches this could well be a great product for you.

Overall, I really love Divine Legs. It's so easy to use, gives enough colour without looking like too much, lasts all day and doesn't dry out my skin. Plus it's 92.8% natural ingredients, contains no nasties like parabens or isn't tested on animals - all of which are Very Good Things. It is slightly pricey at £26 per 100ml bottle, but personally I think that's definitely worth it for a product that works on every level. I think I may have found my tanning Holy Grail!

Have you tried Caudalie Divine Legs? What's your favourite tanning product?

What I Wear To Work: Summer Edition

Today's post was inspired by one of my favourite bloggers, Charlotte over at Lilmisschickas. She recently did a workwear haul video and mentioned that lots of bloggers don't really talk about their workwear, so I thought that for today's fashion post I'd show you a typical week's worth of outfits for me.

I tend to go for the same sorts of shapes for my work clothes - fitted plain top half, printed flared skirt - and this week mostly confirmed to that, although because it was so ridiculously hot in London I did go for slightly lighter clothes than I normally might! Most of my work clothes come from Dorothy Perkins, Primark, H&M and New Look, but I will mix in other things as well depending on what I'm doing that day and the weather.

(By the way, apologies that these first two pictures are a bit rubbish - the only way I could take the shots was in the mirror and the lighting is not good in our bedroom! I really need to get a proper camera and tripod...)

Monday: This is one of my favourite spring/summer work outfits - I love the colours together and the effect of blue sky over a field of flowers. The top and skirt are from Dorothy Perkins and the shoes are from H&M.

Tuesday: I really like a good floaty wrap dress, and this one is great to layer over a vest with flats in summer or with boots and a long-sleeved top in winter. It's from Joe Browns, with a vest underneath from Zara and the H&M shoes. You can also just see my glasses on this photo which are another link to Charlotte as I won them in a competition on her blog! They're from London Retro and the style is called Angel.

Wednesday: This is one of my favourite summer dresses - I love the 1950s-style shape and the unusual print, and always get loads of compliments when I wear it. It's from Oasis, the cardigan is from New Look and the belt is out of an H! by Henry Holland at Debenhams dress.

Thursday:  This skirt from Joy is one of my newest workwear purchases. I love the print on it (though I'm not entirely sure why some of the petals on it look brown - I think it might be the light shining through our bedstead and couldn't fix it in Picmonkey), the bow detail at the waist and the fact it has pockets. I put this with a white Dorothy Perkins T-shirt and black Dorothy Perkins cardigan for when our aircon was a bit too chilly.

Friday: A more casual look today for the end of the week. This is one of my go-to Friday work outfits in the summer, as it's just smart enough for the office but still quite relaxed. The top is from a New Zealand shop called Glassons and the skirt is from H&M.

I've really enjoyed doing this post - I know I don't do many fashion posts but this has been a fun one to do. I'm thinking about doing another one of these in a couple of months with my autumn/winter workwear so if you'd like to see that let me know in the comments. I will also be doing a post on my work make-up soon so make sure you look out for that!

What do you wear to work in the summer?

Restaurant Review: Salvation Jane

One of my favourite treats if I have a bit of spare money and a free weekend morning is to treat myself to a nice breakfast somewhere. There's just something really decadent about sitting down in a café and tucking into something a bit nicer than the usual toast or cereal. So as Nick was away this weekend on his family stag do I thought I'd take myself out to try somewhere new, and Salvation Jane has been near the top of my to-try list for a while.

The 'bigger little sister' of Lantana in Fitzrovia, Salvation Jane is named after a tough Australian plant and specialises in great coffee and putting their own spin on classic Aussie dishes. As I've mentioned before I'm a big fan of the breakfasts at Lantana, so was hoping for more of the same at Salvation Jane.

For the full experience, I'd recommend sitting inside; as it was hot I decided to sit outside but I did miss out on a lot of the decor. However from what I could see glancing in it was lots of wooden benches and beaten-up long tables; think the rustic meets industrial look that's pretty common in the coffee shops around Old Street (you can see it a little bit through the window in the shot above). And ouside also had the advantage of being pretty sheltered - vital on a weekend like this when the weather's been turning so quickly.

The weekend brunch menu covers a wide range of fairly typical breakfast dishes, but most of them have a twist of some kind. I've heard great things about the corn fritters, but opted for the maple French toast with bacon, banana and pecan nuts. Mainly because, in my view, it's not a proper breakfast if it doesn't have bacon in it.

First things first: the coffee is seriously good. If you like your coffee strong, full-bodied and kicking like a mule then this is the place to come to. I ordered a flat white - my standard coffee litmus test for whether a place is any good - and, despite being slightly on the small side for the price, it was really good. (Sidenote: I really like the blue tones in this picture. And does anyone else always get slight barista envy about the fancy milk designs?)

However, the breakfast itself knocked the coffee into a cocked hat. I would never have put bacon and banana together myself but the saltiness of the bacon really cuts through the sweetness of the rest of the dish. The French toast was cooked perfectly, light and fluffy yet able to soak up the maple syrup, and the banana and pecans made it feel (slightly) healthier than it was. It's also really filling - I ate the lot, felt satisfied but not overly full, and surprisingly didn't feel hungry for the rest of the day which is quite unusual if I have a sweet brunch like this.

Overall I really recommend Salvation Jane if you're in the area. The portions are a decent size, the service is good (I've heard complaints about it but personally felt that, despite the fact it was almost full, I got served really quickly and was never made to feel like they were itching for me to get out, which often happens when I go to cafes or restaurants by myself) and the coffee is some of the best in London. It is a little on the expensive side - my breakfast and tip came to just short of £15 - so it's probably something to do as a treat rather than as a regular activity, but if you're feeling flush it's worth paying them a visit. They also do lunches and evening meals, which I'll definitely be checking out sometime soon.

Do you like going out for breakfast? Where's your favourite place to go?

Charles Dickens Challenge: Martin Chuzzlewit

I'm almost halfway through the Charles Dickens Challenge, and I seem to have hit a slightly rough patch where Dickens' work was becoming more diverse, but also much less appreciated than his previous efforts. This is very apparent in the case of Martin Chuzzlewit, which Dickens thought was his best work but was deeply unpopular with readers - to the extent he radically altered the plot and sent his lead character to America. In a week when the government was accused of looking desperate by promoting more women to the Cabinet, I can't help thinking there's a lesson in there...

Image source
Martin Chuzzlewit is the story of the eponymous Martin, who is apprenticed to the architect Mr Pecksniff, a distant relative of Martin's grandfather (confusingly also called Martin Chuzzlewit). Old Martin is incredibly rich and very old, and consequently his relatives - including his brother Anthony and nephew Jonas - are squabbling over his fortune. Whilst young Martin was expected to inherit the bulk of the money, he has become engaged to old Martin's companion, a young woman named Mary Graham, and consequently old Martin has disinherited him, leaving him to make his own way in the world.

This seems to be a period where Dickens was playing with the notion of what it means to be a lead character; whereas in Barnaby Rudge Barnaby was a very peripheral character, Martin junior is actually downright dislikeable for a lot of the early part of the novel. I'm beginning to wonder if Dickens' skill lies not in writing heroes (or at least not in straightforward ones) but in writing villains and peripheral characters, as the only heroes of his that I've genuinely liked from the off are Barnaby Rudge, Samuel Pickwick and his gang, and Nicholas Nickleby.

There were also some very odd parallels with Oliver Twist going on, from the relationship between young Martin and his grandfather to the marriage of Jonas Chuzzlewit and Mercy Pecksniff. In a way it almost felt like Dickens was attempting to rework his earlier novel but with a flawed lead character, as opposed to the irritatingly good twist, as the villains of the piece are more than worth rivals to Bill Sykes and Fagin for their cunning and downright nastiness.

That said, the characterisation in Martin Chuzzlewit is done wonderfully well. I absolutely love the characters of Tom Pinch, who is so ridiculously good-natured compared to pretty much everybody else that the ending he gets is absolutely heartbreaking (even if you can see it coming a mile off), and Mark Tapley, whose determination to find a situation that enables him to master his cheerfulness and acts almost as a mirror image of The Pickwick Papers' Sam Weller. Finally, whilst I mentioned that young Martin starts off as horribly unlikeable, he's also one of the first of Dickens' heroes who I've actually seen grow over the course of the book, and by the end I was actually really enjoying reading his scenes (even if his personality change did come on a little too suddenly for my taste). And I must add that if you love Dickens' ability to come up with the most utterly brilliant names, Martin Chuzzlewit is an absolute goldmine.

Overall, I think Martin Chuzzlewit is possibly the most underrated Dickens novel I've read yet. As well as showing his maturing as a writer in terms of being able to develop characters over the course of the novel and the fantastic names he gives them, it's also interesting to see him once again attempting to rework his characters and plots to breathe new life into them and see them from other angles. Next up for the challenge is Dombey and Son.

Birchbox Review: July 2014

I'll be honest, I'd fallen out of love with Birchbox in recent weeks. The products I was getting were a real mixed bag and, whilst I'd had lots of stuff I really liked, I was also getting sick of being sent the same types of things. So I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive about this month's box, yet hopeful that I'd get some things that I'd like.

First things first though - the unboxing! Is it just me who always thinks that this is one of the most fun parts?

First impressions: it's very purple isn't it?

Now onto what's in the box:

Whish Three Whishes Lavender Body Butter
As I mentioned in my June Birchbox blog, I have got body lotions in all but one of my boxes so far. Not that there's anything wrong with body lotions per se - especially if like me you're prone to dry patches - but I would like a little more variety sometimes. That said, this is a really nice body lotion. It sinks in quickly, feels very light on the skin and has a slightly floral smell that's not too overpowering. Plus lavender is good for irritated skin, so this would make a good alternative to an aftersun lotion.

Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream
I've had a bit of dry skin around my eyes recently so this was a timely product for me. I've tried a few Balance Me products before and they've been OK, and I kind of felt the same about this. Whilst it was very light, easily absorbed, moisturising (the dry patches vanished overnight) and had a nice cooling sensation, I wasn't keen on the strong herbal smell and it didn't really do a lot for my dark circles

Laqa & Co Sheer Lip Lube Pencil in Menatour
I will admit that I was a bit scared of this because, whilst I am a sucker for a bright lip product, purple just strikes me as too Halloween party. However, when it was applied it actually went on very sheer and was a lot more pink than it looks in the tube - although I'm still not entirely sure I'd wear it out of the house. Wearability wasn't the best at about two hours, but to be fair that's kind of what I expect from a product like this so I'm not too disappointed. I really liked the peppermint fragrance of this too - a red version for Christmas with a candy cane-striped tube would be amazing. (Also, apologies for terrible skin.)

Benefit The Porefessional
I have a tube of this in my stash at the moment but extra primer is always useful, especially as I have a tendency to oiliness so make-up can slide off me. The Porefessional is one of my favourite primers as it's got a nice silky texture, isn't too heavy (provided you don't overdo it) and makes your makeup last - with this mine held up for about eight hours which I don't think is too bad. Plus, how could you not love that awesome candy-striped packaging?

Models Own Nail Polish in Rocket
I've got quite a few Models Own Nail Polish so was really pleased to get this one. Rocket is packed with strands of red and green glitter as well as lots of smaller glitter particles, and looks utterly amazing when it catches the light. In the photo on the right it's been dabbed on rather than painted, which makes it really dense - if something of a pain to get off admittedly. It's definitely a colour for a party rather than for the office (unless you work in an office where glitter is encouraged), but it is utterly fantastic if you love your sparkles.

Filosofille 4-Sided Nail Buffer
And finally, we have this month's lifestyle extra, the Filosofille nail buffer. I've had a couple of these types of product before, and even if you prefer a glass file it's always useful to have something like this in your bag in case you need to hastily tidy up your nails for any reason. I haven't used it yet but it looks pretty decent so hoping it'll work well for quick fixes.

Overall I was fairly pleased with this month's Birchbox. Yes there was another body lotion, but otherwise it was a good mix of useful products I can use now and some slightly more frivolous things for the future. The one thing I'm not so keen on is the lip pencil - I would have preferred the nude shade as it's a bit more wearable - but other than that it's a hit. Looking forward to the August box now!

Did you get a Birchbox this month? What did you think of it?

The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945 at the V&A

I always find exhibitions in London are like buses - you wait for ages and then three you want come along at once. That's certainly the case at the moment, with three amazing fashion exhibition currently going on in London. Today's post is on one of them: The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A.

Image source
The exhibition opens with two suits made under the fascist regime, with broad shoulders, slightly - but only slightly - nipped-in waists and knee-lengths skirts. They're a sharp contrast to the room that follows, which is like stepping into a dream of 1950s Hollywood, all enormous full skirts and tiny waists. I particularly loved the graduated pink and black lace Emilio Scuberth dress, which you can just see on the left of the picture above, but I could have literally taken that entire room home with me.

The big takeaways from the first section was not only the ballgown shapes, but also the effects the designers created using fabric, whether that was a feather effect on an amazing gold Simonetta gown, massive bows at the side of the waist, or the peacock-like bustle on a flesh-coloured dress with black lace overlay. I also really loved the rich colours, particularly the bright reds, purples, golds and blacks which create a real sense of opulence, and the level of beautifully detailed and often handsewn embroidery in the dresses.

The second room was dominated by items from the era of the Cinecitta studios, but what drew my eye were the beautiful brightly coloured handcrafted silk and leather shoes and bags, a gorgeous Pucci printed jumpsuit and bikini, and the utterly beautiful tailoring. I liked that it was a brilliant blend of sharp clothes and relaxed, as captured by the spezato look of mismatched jacket and trousers, as well as the beautiful wool coats - there was one by Carlo Palazi that had black flecks in the camel wool, making look it the wearer had just emerged from a shower but still looked impeccably glamorous.

In the next two rooms there was much more focus on the key Italian designers of the latter half of the twentieth century, especially some of their more outlandish creations - a particular standout was a 70s Roberto Cavalli piece that was a riot of leather fringing and wouldn't have looked out of place at a Wild West fancy dress party. But there was still that emphasis on texture, from a Versace suit mixing quilted leather with monochrome houndstooth to a sky-blue Moschino shift dress with a multi-coloured appliqué map of Italy.

Image source
The last room features an array of amazing dresses from more recent Italian designer collections of the last 15 years or so. I must admit that I really struggled to pick out something I loved here because there were so many amazing things - the Prada hot rod sandals, a gorgeous quirky Miu Miu ensemble of a flapper-esque sequin dress under a printed wool coat, a classic Roberto Cavalli slinkly leopard number, the beautiful painted floral dress second from the left in the photo above, dresses made to look like they were growing leaves... Seriously, the combination of that final room and the first one was worth the entire exhibition price for me.

The final thing I would say about this exhibition is to factor in plenty of time to get round it, especially if like me you like to watch all the interactive videos and read all the cards next to the displays. I had foolishly booked to go to the Wedding Dresses exhibition an hour after getting into Italian Fashion (post coming soon!, and in hindsight I wish I'd gone for at least an hour and a half so I could have seen everything properly.

Ultimately, what I learnt from this exhibition is that, since 1945, Italian fashion has been about opulence - there seems to have always been a 'more is more' philosophy - beautiful tailoring, and above all about celebrating the female form in all its glory. But it's also fascinating to see the craftsmanship and level of details that goes into the clothes; that truly shows that in this case, fashion can also be art.

If you fancy checking out the exhibition it's on until 27th July and tickets will cost you £12 - which I would say is definitely worth it, especially if you are a sucker for a beautiful dress.

Book Review: Falling Leaves

In the last few weeks, I've been trying to develop a regular exercise habit, which has included walking from work to the train station three times a week instead of getting the bus. However, this has meant that I've lost a big chunk of my reading time, so I'm trying to catch up - which means there'll be a lot of book reviews on the blog. So today's review is Falling Leaves, Adeline Yen Mah's biography of her life as an 'unwanted Chinese daughter'.

One of five children from her father's first marriage, Adeline was believed to be unlucky because her mother died giving birth to her. After her father remarried, her stepmother Niang favoured her two biological children over the children from her husband's first marriage - and Adeline was at the bottom of the list, with only her grandfather and aunt showing her any love or kindness.

I had previously read Chinese Cinderella, which covers Adeline's childhood in far more depth, so for me the first half of the book was a bit odd - even though it's years since I read it, the fact that some of the incidents were repeated in that book gave me a sense of deja vu. That said, the stories still have the power to pack an emotional punch, such as Adeline being left entirely alone in her convent school over the school summer holidays. And the depiction of her grandfather, and how he is mistreated by her stepmother, is just heartbreaking - especially coming from a culture where the elder members of a family are given the utmost respect.

The second half of the book focuses on Adeline's life building her career as a doctor (despite her lifelong yearning to be a writer), her failed first marriage and her successful second one, and ends with the conclusion of a dispute over her father's will which opens the book. I found it really up and down in terms of the tone; every time something positive happened in Adeline's life, there seemed to be another step back, usually in the form of more negativity from her family. After a point I found the book quite frustrating for this reason as it felt like Adeline increasingly cataloguing her negativity but not really doing anything to change it - or her attitude towards it.

On the plus side, the descriptions in the book are really good, especially those of Shanghai and Niang - they completely bring the characters and their world to life, which adds a layer of depth and realism to the novel. It's also a fairly quick read at just under 300 pages, so relatively easy to get through, and I liked the chapter titles which are all based around ancient Chinese proverbs.

Overall, this was a fairly underwhelming book - whilst the descriptions were good, it just felt too relentlessly negative for me, so probably not one I'd recommend. That said, if slightly sad autobiographies are your sort of thing, it might be worth giving it a go.

Vintage Adventures: A Retro Playlist

Do you ever have those days when the perfect post idea comes out of nowhere? They don't happen to me very often, but it did last night. Essentially I forgot to take photos for the restaurant review I meant to write today and was a bit stumped, and then suddenly it hit me: a playlist of my favourite vintage music!

Before going further in this post, your mileage may vary when it comes to defining 'retro' music. I have mostly picked things from the rock 'n' roll era because that's the time period I love, but your idea of vintage/retro might be something more like the Beatles or even '80s classics - and that's totally fine!

Frank Sinatra - Fly Me to the Moon

Ah, Frank. Ol' Blue Eyes himself. Sinatra was the original smooth crooner, with his trademark fedora, love of a good Scotch  and the sharpest suits in Vegas. His songs just make you want to be sitting in a swanky bar drinking a classic cocktail, and 'Fly Me to the Moon' is one of my favourites of his. I defy you not to sway and sing along.

Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock

If Frank's the kind of guy who'd treat you to the fanciest dinner and drinks in town, then Elvis is the kind who'd take you to a dodgy dive bar and buy you a bag of chips on the way home. He's also probably the first musician I fell in love with, in the sense that I thought he was ridiculously cool. My parents had an Elvis greatest hits CD and I played it constantly when I was about eight, and 'Jailhouse Rock' was always my favourite. Plus this video is proof that monochrome never goes out of style.

Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell

Chuck Berry seems to be film-makers' go-to when they want classic rock 'n' roll - his hit 'Johnny B Goode' is how Marty McFly introduces the genre to the world in Back to the Future - but I have a soft spot for the more overlooked 'You Never Can Tell', which became famous as the song that John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance to in Pulp Fiction. (Sidenote: I once dressed up as Mia Wallace for a fancy dress party. It is the world's easiest costume.) It's one of those songs that just oozes cool and would be a great choice if you're having a vintage wedding - I'm considering it as our exit song...

Buddy Holly - That'll Be The Day

Before bow ties and nerd glasses were cool, there was Buddy Holly. Tragically killed in a plane crash aged just 22, he was a pioneer of rock 'n' roll and a massive influence on the likes of the Beatles. 'That'll Be The Day' was his biggest hit and a brilliant example of how he managed to tell a story in just over a minute of ridiculously catchy music. It's one of my more recent vintage favourites but I really love it and play it constantly. Love his tricks with the guitar too - if you listen closely you can hear the tone change slightly.

The Puppini Sisters - Walk Like An Egyptian

Finally, I couldn't resist a nod to the modern-day singers who are reworking songs in a vintage style or are producing their own music harking back to the sound of days gone by. Amongst my favourites are Michael Buble, the Overtones, the Baseballs, Imelda May and Caro Emerald, but if I had to pick one it would be the Puppini Sisters' cover of the Bangles' 'Walk Like An Egyptian'. It's a great example of mixing the harmonies of 40s groups like the Andrew Sisters with a modern song and a brilliant example of how to add a fresh take on an old song (by making it sound even older!).

I could have included so many songs on this list - the Overtones' version of 'Runaround Sue', Dean Martin singing 'Mambo Italiano', the entire soundtrack of 'Guys and Dolls' - but hopefully this will give you an idea of what I listen to when I'm in the mood for some great songs from the past.

Do you have any favourite retro/vintage songs or artists?

Beauty Review: Revlon Nearly Naked Foundation

Foundation is something I am constantly trying to get right, mainly because I am ridiculously pale so often struggle to get good colour matches and because my skin is so temperamental. As I'm on a budget at the moment due to saving for our deposit and the wedding, I'm always looking for good drugstore foundations, and had heard good things about Revlon's Nearly Naked Foundation, so decided to give it a go.

I bought this foundation in the shade Shell, as I'd been matched to other Revlon foundations in the same shade and (in the bottle at least) it looked OK for my skin. As we will see, this was something of a mistake. Moral of the story: don't just rely on what Findation says Laura, always swatch before you buy!

 In terms of the packaging, it's a rectangular glass bottle with a square white lid. Whilst I like the sleek look of the packaging and script and the weighty feeling of the bottle, I'm also slightly concerned that the lid doesn't seem to fit securely - it seems like it should click on but it doesn't, and so there's always a gap between the bottle and the lid that makes me a bit paranoid that the foundation is going to leak all over my make-up bag. The other issue is that it doesn't come with a pump, meaning that it's quite difficult to measure out the exact amount that you want.

In the packaging, the foundation looks quite pale with a slightly pink tone to it. On the skin, however, it initially looks slightly orange. You can see from the swatch on the back of my hand that it's a little bit too dark, but I feel like I can get away with it at this time of year - if it was winter though I'd definitely go down at least one shade or possibly even two.

I apply this foundation with my Real Techniques Expert Face Brush, buffing it into the skin. Once on the skin, it actually blends in pretty well, but as you can see it doesn't quite cover my blemishes so I do have to use concealer on them. However if you don't suffer from blemishes then you may not need concealer on top.

Apologies for my terrible morning hair here by the way!

In terms of durability, I find that with primer and powder I can normally get about six hours out of this, which I don't think is too bad. It also doesn't feel too heavy on the skin and as you can see the finish is quite dewy, though I do feel that I need a little powder on my nose and forehead so it doesn't look overly shiny. However, if your skin is drier then you might not need a powder as well.

Overall, I really liked the formula of this foundation, especially for everyday wear, but it is definitely one for a good skin day - if I've got a breakout then I'd go for something else - and I didn't like the fact it doesn't have a pump. But at £8.99 a bottle, if you've got good skin then it's definitely worth giving it a go.

What's your favourite high street foundation?