Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shops of the World

As you may know from some of my previous posts and if you follow me on Twitter, I've spent the last 18 months living in France, Germany and Spain. Tomorrow morning at a disgusting and frankly unspeakable hour I shall be lugging my suitcase, my hand luggage and myself off the airport and back home via Paris Charles de Gaulle (for my sins). But before I trundle back home for a while I thought I'd give you a quick run down on the shopping experiences I've had during my time as a European.

So starting with my first: France.
I had a rough time in France, I was stuck in the midst of educational strikes at one of the most militant universities in France, and the riot police had to be sent in to remove protesters after 5 months of strikes, blocages and vandalism. The other thing you should know about FR is that it is a VERY expensive place to live.

So... 2 Euro Shops. Everywhere else you'll find £ shops, or Euro Shops, but in France it's 2 euro shops. They're great for odds and ends, things you don't need to be of high quality or lasting, or home items. This isn't fashion related I know, but worth knowing.

Bershka, a Spanish shop operates in France- a great place to find something basic, or something to set apart your jeans. My favourite studded vest top came from Bershka in FR- 12 Euro.

You'll also find New Look in FR. However it may pain you to purchase things there, because like a lot of British shops in Europe, the Euro mark up is horrific!

So moving on. Germany. Despite the Wall coming down 20 years ago, there are still differences between East and West. I've visited former Western cities before on several occasions, and they tend to be large, cosmopolitan, filled with a variety of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. They feel warm, inviting and thriving. I lived in former East Germany for 5 months, about as far East as you get without being in the Czech Republic in fact. The cities feel different. Disjointed, a mash of beautiful ancient architecture and ugly concrete blocks that take you back. The choice seems to be more limited, and the cities have  a harsher feel to them. They also have thriving artistic, musical and dramatic cultures. I LOVED it. By far my favourite place despite it being -18 degrees for most of December and January and not having central heating in my flat. There again what did I expect for 120 Euro per month all in?

DE is a reasonably priced place to live. Cheaper than UK, and if you're a student your money will go a long way. Shopping is however a little limited. H&M seem to have a massive hold on the market out there. Good news- cheap, good selection as there's likely to be 3+ in any one city, the shops have GREAT heating! Bad news- someone else is often likely to be wearing the same thing, there are only so many times in one month you can trawl the shops and hope there's something new in, if their sizing isn't great for you (I struggle with getting my top half to fit their clothes) you're stuffed. Other discoveries.... there weren't any of note really. Zara seem to do well there, although their prices can be a bit steep and there are a couple of low priced shops specific to DE. Maybe I'm spoilt by having Primark to enjoy at home, but I found the choices in those cheaper shops limiting, boring, and not exactly up to the minute fashion.

I'm hoping to head back to DE soon. In particular Berlin. I lived near Berlin and visited, but felt I maybe only scratched the surface of what was there. Maybe the capital will provide me with more to say at a later stage?

So last, but not least. Spain.

They say we Brits have the best high street in the world, and certainly the most unique. Whilst I wouldn't say that's inaccurate, Spain has a lot to offer. In fact Spain is very present on our own high street. Primark is a Spanish company, as are Zara, Mango and Bershka.

The nicest thing about shopping in Spain has been a combination of high street shops which are affordable and offer plenty of choice. Competition can be a wonderful thing. My two favourites are Blanco and Stradivarius.

Blanco seems to be a favourite amongst 16-20 year olds here. For me this was majorly off-putting. I already look younger than my (almost) 21 years, I don't need further help, but upon wandering in, I realised with a bit of a poke about there were some bargains to be had. Blanco seems to have great sales. I still haven't quite cracked the logic on when they have them, but they're great. Lots of items, lots of sizes, great prizes and not just the stuff that reminds you of something your Gran might wear. One of my new favourite dresses came from there (pictures to follow I promise, but my camera cable is packed already!!!) it's checked, lightweight and a great summer find. It was also half price at 10 Euro. Score. Blanco also have a great selection of flat shoes. I live in flats, so it was heaven for me. They may not last that well, but they're cheap, cheerful and generally colourful!

Stradivarius. Violins right? Wrong. Well here in Spain anyway. Expect to pay a little more at Stradivarius than at Blanco, but still within my student budget. The shop has a cohesive feel to it with clothing organised into sections by trend, and everything seems to work together really well. They're bang onto current trends, but with a range of styles to suit everyone. I can't wait to bring out my latest buy from Stradivarius, although I'm saving it's first outing for my birthday. The floral dress is made of gorgeous cotton, and even more gorgeous is the pixelated floral print covering it. I am so excited to wear it!

So there you have it. Mapping Europe with the high street. I'd love to hear about anybody else's experiences shopping in Europe, finds, places to note, and places to look for, fill me in!

Hasta Luego, and hopefully on terra England with all my luggage!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

P.S. I Made This

I love to dabble in a bit of DIY Fashion. When at home I like to make clothes of my own, I indulge in customising quite frequently. So when I spotted this earlier today via a friend of mine, I couldn't resist sharing.

P.S. I Made This is a great little website featuring ideas for DIY everything from shoes to shirts. There are some fab ideas and the site is a great demonstration of how a little creativity can go a long way.

I'd love to hear about anyone who has had a foray into the world of customising and DIY fashion.. the good, the bad and the accidental.


Bodily Resistance

Hareem trousers have been everywhere over the Spring, and continue into the summer collections in all the high street shops here in Sunny Spain. Everywhere I go I see Spanish women wearing denim hareems, jersey hareems, cotton hareems, silk hareems, cropped hareems, printed hareems. I like hareems. My body however, has other ideas.

I have tried on all of the above trousers, for 4 or 5 different brands in the last month or so. Every time I leave the probadores dejected and disappointed. no matter the fabric, the length, the colour or the height of the heels I try them with I STILL look squat (I'm five and a half feet tall and usually take a long length leg). It is the ultimate frustration for me, all I wanted to do was try something new.

So, anybody else have this problem? Seen a trend or a silhouette you want to try but can't seem to make it work? Seen something you love but not brave enough to try (Jumpsuits!)? Anybody got any tips on working some of the summer trends about?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

British Is Best

I've been living abroad for the better part of 18 months now. I've done time in France, I spent a particularly harsh winter in Germany and right now I'm enjoying the early summer sun in Spain. In all the time I've lived away, guessing my nationality has been an amusing sport for those from around the world for a couple of reasons. The first being that I speak all three langauges reasonable well, so unless I'm heard speaking English, it's not the immediate thought, but the second and more relevant is that I'm what you might call exceptionally average. I stand five feet and five inches tall which puts me (although at varying ends depending on the country) at average height, I'm not olive skinned but I am at the darker end of fair skinned and I tan very easily. I have dark blond hair and brown eyes, both of which are commonly found all over Europe.

So imagine my surprise when I was out shopping and I hear someone behind me saying "You're British?". I wasn't entirely sure how to react. I did at first think this mystery person was merely talking to someone else. But alas no, she meant me. I turned to be confronted with a fairly attractive Spanish woman, early 20's like me, channeling a grungy London look with an oversize slogan t-shirt and a leather jacket (at 26 degrees, some people still feel the need to guard against the terrible "cold"). Having recovered from said shock, the first thing I could think of in response was to ask how she knew.

A short conversation revealed that us Brits have a very distinctive style, which is apparently envied amongst the other Spanish women she knows. I feel it's probably my duty to point out here that the day's ensemble was a running late creation, having cut it a bit too fine to change between classes and meeting a friend my dark skinny jeans and breton stripe 3/4 length sleeve t-shirt remained.

After hastily thanking this woman for her complement and even more hastily exiting the shop (without the garlic, water and yoghurt I'd gone in for) I set to thinking. What is it about our style that makes us Brits so distinctive? Or is that only those who have an active interest in British style, who find us distinctive? Or even just that certain cultures or countries find us interesting or stylish. I'm certainly intrigued by this thought... what about you?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

That's So Last Season

So I've been doing this for a while, and never realised what a good idea it could be, until someone stopped me on the street to ask about my shoes today.

Said shoes were purchased from Primark last summer, cost £9, and are purple platform wedges with a wood look heel. I bought them, and they got thrown to the back of the cupboard because I got home and couldn't find anything to wear them with, having just "cleared out" a bit too heavy handedly. They got thrown into the suitcase for this stint abroad on a last minute whim, because they're peep toe, and I thought "ah summer".

My point (yes I know, I know, get on with it) is that keeping things back for next year isn't such a bad idea, particularly with some simpler or more basic items. Upon turning up for work, and seeing your colleague wearing the same H&M shirt you were hoping to pass off as vintage, or seeing your neighbour wearing the jacket you just purchased from Topshop today, it can be frustrating to be stuck with the same options as everybody else, even more so if you're not handy with customising or don't have the time. Having something different to pull out is the secret weapon that could make all the difference in the unspoken Fash-off between you and that girl you always see at Starbucks.

Wearing these shoes today, I did find myself wondering why I ever thought I had nothing to wear them with, as they seem to go with most of the clothes I brought out here, and they do, if I say so myself, seem to make my legs look just that bit longer and trimmer. They might be last season, but they're kicking up a storm in this one.

Upon realising that my "hoarding" as my mother likes to call it, is actually rather helpful I promptly realised I had a new excuse to shop, and have subsequently bought 2 new tops online, ready for layering in the autumn. I'm pretty sure every 5th person I know will be wearing something like the longline blue and white striped t-shirt, with military detail right now, but come September when they've all forgotten about that t-shirt, I shall be pulling it out to wear with my jeans and and jackets for the autumn, looking just that little bit different to those around me.

So go forth and hoard away.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

If my home were on fire...

As I write this the well known blogger Liberty London Girl is tweeting about her appartment building burning down. She tweets "I got my pc and passport. That's it"

This set me thinking... were it my home on fire and I could only take with me two or three items I could carry, what would I pick up? Because I've moved flats (and countries) 3 times in the last 18 months I'm quite skilled at living out of a suitcase limited to 20 (ish depending on how nice the check-in attendant is, orhow bribe-able) kilograms. I don't consider myself particularly materialistic, and at least a fire would resolve the cockroach problem we have in this particular flat, but I don't know if I could bear to watch my possession perish.

Fortunately some of my most precious possessions remain about my person at all times. 2 rings that were 18th birthday presents from family members only leave my fingers to be cleaned, and having worn glasses and contact lenses for almost 20 years, I reach for something to see with pretty instinctively. Not too long ago an airline temporarily "misplaced" my only suitcase which contained pretty much everything except my laptop and a couple of books that I had deemed to push the weight limit just a bit too far. Whilst frustrating, it wasn't really the end of the world. But what if I had to watch the spectacle of everything I owned, including my roof disappearing, burning?

What of my favourite, irreplaceable handbag that's seen me through 11 airports, university and every business fuction I've ever attended? My perfect trousers, the ones that always fit (despite the stone that slips on and off) and that go with almost every top I have? And Maus? My red and orange 5 cm tall travel companion who's seen me from my, through Germany, France, Spain, a busted pelvis and a couple of ex-boyfriends.

At these thoughts I shudder, and feel the distinct urge to check that my somewhat slovenly flat-mates haven't left the hob or the oven turned on, that the box containing the electrical stuff for the lift (conveniently located outside our door) is properly shut and intact.

In case of emergency who knows what I'd do, but please comment to let me know if you have that one special thing you couldn't leave a burning building without. I'm intrigued....