Summer dresses – Country Lane’s pick of the prettiest

Am currently much preoccupied by summer dresses.  Or rather the search for the perfect dress that will take me to smartish summer drinks party and a friend’s wedding in Paris in September.  Both require a special dress and ideally one that will work on both occasions .  A dress that will sit in my wardrobe for quite a while please to not be tossed into the ‘am so over that 2017 look!’ pile.  A dress that is pretty but stylish and modern, not overly trendy but not dowdy classic either, have allure and will suit me perfectly.  That is the brief anyhow…

How am I doing? Easy peasy when you are living in London with the greatest selection of shops to visit:  Libertys, Selfridges, Fenwicks would be my starting points.  But my quest to find the perfect dress is turning into a veritable mission and my heart is sinking fast… A mission that reminds me of the numerous occasions in my costume career when costume brief combined with actor proved to be more challenging than necessary.  The reasons for challenging costuming could be down to the exacting brief from director, the physique of the actor (both perfect or otherwise can presents their own issues) or more often than not down to budget, or rather lack of.

Currently both physique and budget are proving to be the challenge, neither are playing ball, tiresome if nothing else.  For a costume job or a personal styling client I would allow between six to a dozen choices to present at the first fitting: to date I have tried on fifteen dresses, yes fifteen dresses I kid you not!  And I have just ordered some more to try on…My quest is certainly not helped by the fact that I have no access to a good range of shops on my doorstep and am relying solely on the joy of internet shopping which is perfect for me for accessing labels and designers otherwise not available locally.  But this also presents a whole new set of challenges as I have to rely heavily on photographic images, website descriptions and sizing guides to help me in my purchase. So undeterred I am pressing on…Will report back when I have found my dream summer dress but meanwhile here is my edit of pretty dresses.

COUNTRY LANE’S SELECTION OF THE PRETTIEST

Ulla Johnson Paulette Dress - Midnight
Ulla Johnson Paulette Dress – Midnight – £345.00 Avenue 32, image courtesy of www.ullajohnson.com

Ulla Johnson is an American designer who has recently registered on all UK fashionistas’s radar with her upmarket boho feminine collection, custom prints and intricate embroideries.  Demand for her collections is high and sell out very quickly.   Available at Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and KJS Laundry.  Not the cheapest but longevity in your wardrobe will certainly confirm cost per wear value.  This dress is cut very small in the bodice so would recommend sizing up.

 

See By Chloe Floral crepe dress
See By Chloe Floral crepe dress- £365.00 – Mytheresa.com

I have been following See by Chloe for a number of years but felt it had lost its way but recently the collection has been hitting its stride once again with the essence of the main line Chloe collection but simplified and more affordable.  Modern and feminine, this year there are some really lovely dresses, I loved this dress but sadly I am too short (5ft2), the perfect dress to wear for a wedding.  Also like this dress below and have just ordered.

 

See By Chloe Ruffled Dress
See By Chloe Ruffled Dress -£334.00 Farfetch

 

Zimmermann Roza embroidered dress
Zimmermann Roza embroidered cotton and silk-blend dress – £471.00 – Exclusive to Matches

Ever since the Duchess of Cambridge wore a very pretty dress by Zimmermann walking on the beach on her visit to Australia, this label was an overnight sensation globally.  Primarily a beachwear and swimwear label, the collection has been expanded to include the prettiest day and evening dresses. This a personal favourite and perfect for summer parties.

 

Isabel Marant - Palmi embroidered dress
Isabel Marant – Palmi ecru embroidered linen dress £920.00 – Harvey Nichols
Isabel Marant Mabel silk dress
Isabel Marant – Mabel pink embroidered silk dress – £830.00 Harvey Nichols

Can we talk about Isabel Marant? Expensive yes but she creates collections filled with what I would describe as sophisticated boho clothes with added elegance and French chic that you find yourself adding to your must have list.    Personally I have always gravitated towards Prada and Miu Miu, not usually a fan of boho clothing as never felt it suited me but since moving to the country, I have found myself being drawn to this designer increasingly and in particular to the diffusion range called Isabel Marant Etoile.  Could it be my French heritage or is it simply down to the fact that this designer is creating clothes that sit really well in my new lifestyle and work for me on a daily level?  If my budget would allow, I would be making a beeline for the above dresses, I have included cream dress not strictly as pretty as pink embroidered dress but a modern take on elegance.  Will be keeping my eye out for these in the sales.

Mother of Pearl Ellie Dress
Mother of Pearl Ellie Dress – £495.00- Style.com

Lastly I have included this very pretty dress by new up and coming label Mother of Pearl currently BFC Vogue Fashion Fund Winner of 2017 and one to watch.  This dress sings to me as a costume designer as a simple dress made modern and pretty.  Love the pearl detail.

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C’est chic: Country Lane’s guide to modern chic

The French call it chic, Brits would call it smart.  But somehow the term ‘chic’ has been adopted for sounding ever so chic actually.   It is a love affair and fascination with all aspects of French style that has been keeping the world busy persuing style in the name of ‘chic’.  But recently the term chic has been so plagiarised that anything with a hint of style is being described as such.  So I would like to start my own Country Lane campaign to safeguard this very specific French word.

Catherine Deneuve circa 1960s, image courtesy of Pinterest – note the coat slung over the shoulders with Hermes Kelly bag and dark sunglasses, glamourous and chic!
Coco Chanel image courtesy of Pinterest
Coco Chanel, image courtesy of Pinterest – the woman responsilble for introducing French Chic to the World

My own introduction to French chic started as a small girl when I was taken by my French mother to Paris where we met her friend for lunch.  This was the first time I can recall meeting this lady who would play a big part in my childhood and would come to define my understanding of French chic.  I can remember her wearing a Mackintosh raincoat, could have been Burberry or Aquascutum, she was also wearing a Scottish kilt no doubt from The Scotch House (sadly no longer in operation but was the must go to destination shop for all Europeans wanting their own British ‘chic’), no doubt a cashmere sweater, her handbag had an Hermes scarf tied to the strap.  Forgive me the rest is a bit sketchy.  Suffice to say she made a huge impression on me because she dressed unlike any English ladies back home.  As I grew up I would stay with her every time I went to Paris and her style remained constant despite the ebbs and flows of the ever evolving fashions that hit the world in the seventies, eighties and nineties.  She was my first introduction and eventual benchmark of French chic.  So how did she define this for me? She wore classic but elegant clothing that always had a nod to current trends.  Her clothes always fitted her beautifully, this is key to defining French chic.  My mother will always say that everything has to be well cut and tailored, otherwise ‘pret-a-porter’ altered to fit correctly.  She was very faithfull to the same pieces of jewellery that she wore with everything.  She often wore an Hermes scarf folded and tied at the neck.  She had great deportment.  Her perfume was unique to her but no doubt from one of the great French perfume houses.  But her innate sense of chic was not just apparent in her dress style but also in her lifestyle.  Her elegance was evident in all she did and in her home.  She was a great cook and would entertain frequently and it was always a treat to be a guest at her table.

My other great source of chic observation was my late grand-mother’s neighbourhood in Paris.  She lived in the ‘6eme’ St Germain-des-Pres,  round the corner from two of the greatest cafes in Paris: Le Cafe Flore and Les Deux Magots, to walk by was to observe Parisians young and old all exuding style and chic. Sadly this is not so much the case today: I would suggest a trip to Bordeaux where to my delight I recently saw French ladies exuding the same chic and style that I remembered from my childhood visits to Paris.

Ines de la Fressange in a classic little black jacket from Chanel Photo: KARL LAGERFELD/CHANEL

Ines de la Fressange, in my eyes the perfect example of a modern chic Parisian, has recently published her book with the English edition due out April 6th: Parisian Chic Look Book: What Should I wear Today? Reading this is a reassuring joy as it shows how contemporary women can claim fashion and importantly dress for the everyday and for special occasions but with a heavy dose of Parisian flair and chic.  There are no controversial edgy looks (keep this for the complete fashionistas she might say), but easy to wear effortless looks with a nod to contemporary fashion and with added style.  The book presents six chapters with different dress dilemmas or recipes as Ines de la Fressange calls it ranging from what to wear to meet your bank manager to discuss your overdraft to what to wear on your first Tinder date, all underlined with great humour and fashion advice.   I also love her top twenty fashion mistakes and no-nos:  no designer head to toe look which would condemn any true Parisian as this requires sacrificing your own style.  How true!  No over revealing of flesh otherwise you stray into reality tv territory and many other style advice gems.  So thank you Ines de la Fressange for your book and all your charming advice, order your copy now I say.

So Country Lane’s guide to modern chic:

  • classic but never boring
  • requires refinement and flair, not always a given but crucial
  • buying the best quality within personal budget, no frivolous shopping but careful thought out purchases
  • effortless and presentable, no scruffiness
  • knowing how to best dress your body: highlighting the advantages and covering up the perceived flaws
  • making sure that clothes always fit properly
  • not slavishly following fashion, being stylish or a die- hard fashionista does not equate chic
  • confident in making personal style choices
  • outfits are beautifully coordinated with all elements of an outfit complimenting
  • accessories are carefully chosen, simple and of the best quality
  • the devil is always in the detail:  no scuffed shoes, grooming simple and polished, clothes pressed
  • chic also is an attitude that carries over into personal lifestyle
  • deportment and good manners go hand in hand with true chic
  • have an understanding of culture; most Parisian women are up to date on all cultural matters and can you give the low down on the must see art exhibitions, films, theatre and books to read

Chic icons include: Diana Vreeland, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, C.Z. Guest, Wallis Simpson, Catherine Deneuve, Coco Chanel, Carolyn Bessett-Kennedy, Nan Kempner

C.Z. Guest, 1955: The American socialite with a Great Dane at her ocean-front estate, Villa Artemis, in Palm Beach, 1955, image Slim Aarons/Getty Images – this woman lived and breathed true chic

 

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Rome 1967, image courtesy of Rex

 

Modern chic icons include: Ines de la Fressange, Anna Wintour, Emmanuelle Alt, Nathalie Massenet

Emmanuelle Alt, Editor-in-Chief Vogue Paris, image courtesy of Spanish Vogue

 

Modern chic icon in the making:  Alexa Chung for having her own unique style and so looking forward to seeing how her style evolves as she gets older.

 

Alexa Chung, image courtesy of Daily Mail

 

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All images courtesy of Pinterest.

 

 

Gone Fishing Part 2 – What To Wear

It goes without saying that a post about my fly-fishing day also requires some sartorial advice. Here is my guide to beginner fly-fishing dressing with added style.

Wellies of course!  My preference is for any boot by Le Chameau.  My favourite for the countryside are the Neoprene lined boots,  I get very cold feet and wellies do not keep feet warm.  These work a treat, Unisex Country Vibram Neoprene Boot.

Unisex Country Vibram Neoprene Boot – Le Chameau – £135.00

I would not recommend jeans as I have learnt on many a film location shoot that in cold weather or otherwise jeans are the worst trouser to wear.  I would recommend a skinny corduroy or moleskin trouser, easier for tucking into boots and keeps you warm.  Have a look at Farlows who stock these cords by Dubarry. I would always pack a pair of Gortex waterproof trousers to have on standby.  I am a huge fan of this Canadian outdoor specialist clothing brand called Arc’teryx , Canada has the extreme weather and terrains and this brand delivers.  I like these.

You will need some wrap-around polarised sunglasses to protect eyes when casting from any stray fishing hooks.  Have a look at Bolle and Ray-ban.

A really warm sweater, ok a fleece would be practical too but not particularly stylish.  I am currently rather taken with this wonderful knitwear label And Daughter making traditional British sweaters but updated for the stylish modern woman. I am currently wearing this one and absolutely love it.  Look at these:

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The Donegal Aran Roll Neck – £260.00
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The Donegal Aran Knit by & Daughter – £255.00

A warm shirt: how about a stylish flannel check shirt, have a look at J Crew in their Autumn-Winter collections or their sale section.  Also look at a classic but fitted Tattersall shirt like this one.  I did find a great Tattersall style shirt by Isabel Marant on The Outnet, so worth having a look there as well.

Waterproof jacket: I wore my twenty-five year old Barbour jacket but found this more stylish jacket which was inspired by Barbour’s fishing jackets archive:

Women's Barbour Summer Spey Wax Jacket
Barbour Summer Spey Wax Jacket – £249.00

A hat: I love wearing hats, sadly hats seem to be only worn in the countryside, at weddings and funerals.  I wore a green felt Trilby but am impressed with these Fedora hats by Hicks & Brown, they come in great colours but to go fishing I would go for either of these options:

The Suffolk Fedora in Camel - £79.00
The Suffolk Fedora in Camel – £79.00
The Suffolk Fedora in Dark Brown - £79.00
The Suffolk Fedora in Dark Brown – £79.00

Thermals:  depending on the time of year and weather and by the very nature of the sport you will be be standing,  I think some thermals would be worth considering.  Best thermals are in silk such as Hanro Warmwear range or in merino wool such as Icebreaker, whose reputation was well and truly tested when  I was part of of a film crew that got stuck overnight in a blizzard on a Norwegian glacier, yes really! But their thermals worked.  Good tip: always ask a film camera technician which brand of clothing and equipment works best for them in outdoor locations.

Once you have progressed in fly-fishing then the next stop would be to visit Farlows who have the most comprehensive range of specialist clothing for fishing.  I would recommend a trip to the Pall Mall shop, the staff there have expert knowledge and will guide you to the best clothing and equipment.  They are the stockists of what is considered the best make for anglers, an American company called Simms (check out the black and white photography on the website!).

Images courtesy of Le Chameau, &Daughter, Barbour, Hicks & Brown

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Lace story

I have been following a lovely dress label called Self Portrait for a while: www.self-portrait-studio.com  A young label that has made lace cool and contemporary and produces special occasion dresses that are affordable and stylish, not always a given.

Following on from this lace revival, I have been scouting my eye for any interesting lace tops and this week I discovered a gem from Monsoon, not usually on my personal radar but this was such a surprise!  The perfect top to wear with jeans or denim skirt by day or evening.  Dress it up further by adding a velvet skirt or trousers.  The blouse is true to size in fit and for a looser fit I would suggest going up a size.   I would wear it with a white or neutral camisole underneath to preserve modesty.  I got mine from M & S or you could try Hanro for their beautifully soft and comfortable cottons and silks, one of my go to labels for the best underwear that has been a constant in my costume kit.

LACEY VICTORIANA LACE FRILL BLOUSE £59.00  Check your local store for availability as smaller sizes have sold out online.

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My search for the perfect country boots

My search started in earnest as soon as the removal vans unloaded our wordly goods into our temporary rental cottage one very rainy Autumn day in 2012 with my husband and nine month old baby daughter. It was obvious that my much treasured shoe collection was going to be seriously challenged by rain and mud!

Just to put this into context I was and am a real London townie, raised and schooled in Central London.  My late father and my job as an editiorial fashion stylist and costume designer had taught me to truly love my home city, exposing me to the diverse and eclectic neighbourhoods of London, both North of the River and South.  I have been on so many film locations in areas with names I was only previously familiar with on the Monopoly board (Bromley-By-the-Bow one of them).  However I have also always loved escaping London thanks to three years of university in Norfolk where I discovered that country life was equally enjoyable.  Fast forward and as soon as our baby daughter was born, my husband and I were on a mission to find our forever home in deepest rural England.  With Dr Johnson’s famous quote ringing in my head: ” when a man is tired of London, he is tired of ife; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  and determined to prove Johnson wrong we left London to embark on a new chapter of country living.

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Working in television commercials and feature films, I have always had to be very practical with shoes, no tottering around London in high heels for me.   Running around London ‘prepping’ as we call it buying or rather shopping till I dropped, visiting costume houses, fittings with actors and meetings at production companies, always necessitated comfortable and practical footwear but equally a stylish shoe that suggested that yes I clearly understood style to my clients.  Prada Sport had become my go-to brand and one year they produced the perfect knee length boot, their interpretation of a classic riding boot with a rubber sole (lessens the impact on feet on those London pavements), decent heel,  slim fitting on the leg and fitted like a glove so to speak.  Importantly the boots looked brilliant with skirts or dresses as I tend only to wear jeans when filming on set or on location.  They looked so good that I would receive compliments from strangers and colleagues alike and regularly, an endorsement if there ever was one.   I wore these boots to death and if Signora Prada sees this, could I please request that she reintroduces them again in black and tan as before (and oh I am a size 36 just in case the factory asks…).  So moving to the countryside I had to rethink practical shoes and boots as well as my wardrobe (more on that later).

The challenge was to find a slim fitting black pair of leather boots with a rubber sole,  preferably a Welted Commando rubber style (forget leather soles in the countryside in the wet months) that was practical and stylish that did not necessarily scream designer fashion.  Mud I have discovered arrives in the Autumn and stops around late Spring and I needed an alternative to wellington boots which had become my daily default footwear.  Two years of searching every boot in shops, waiting patiently for the first boots to arrive in the stores in the summer and the internet led nowhere…

Then my eureka moment!  I remembered Penelope Chilver’s Long Tassel Boots from many a year ago when I had seen them at a London Fashion Week stand.  I immediately logged on to the website but sadly no boots were available in my size. Undeterred I then embarked on a search of the internet for a Spanish Riding Boot as they are also known and ordered in quick succession several pairs of varying quality that were all too tall 44cms in height to be precise. Village Post Office greatly amused by the returns I was undertaking.   I now faced a problem:  I had found the perfect country boot but they were just too tall for my legs and too wide.  I am 5ft 2 and have never had a problem with boot heights but the nature of these boots are that they are tall to accommodate horse-riding.  So frustrating!

I then did a search for bespoke riding boots and came across an article in the Daily Telegraph by Lisa Armstrong which talked about the made-to-measure service that was offered by Penelope Chilvers.  I emailed immediately and an appointment was made.  I went up to London for my fitting with Penelope Chilvers herself.  I tried on various sizes as the boots do come up big, we settled on a size 35 and worked out the best height for me which was 40cms.  Penelope also introduced me to all her other country worthy boots, great fun and will certainly be back to try on again.  Six weeks later my boots were delivered to me, a belated Christmas present from my husband, hurrah!  They were quickly initiated into Country Lane lifestyle and so far are fairing really well in Hampshire and even made an appearance on Chesil Beach, Dorset.  They are comfortable, easy to clean and versatile as they look good with skinny jeans, skirts or dresses. Further endorsement came this year when the Duchess of Cambridge wore her Penelope Chilvers boots on her trip to Bhutan and Canada which looked well worn and no doubt much loved.  Having road-tested these boots, I now have my eye on the brown version…

The details:

Penelope Chilvers boots – £475 plus additional £100.00 Made-to-Measure by appointment only at Duke Street store, tel 020 7491 9555 or email duke street@penelopechilvers.com

Also worth looking at:

Really Wild Clothing – £315.00 height 44cms but shoe size true to fit

Fairfax & Favour – £310.00 height varies according to size but shoe size true to fit

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