Monday, 18 July 2011
With the Harry Potter era coming to its momentous finale as the very last film is released (which was better than I had anticipated – I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it yesterday), there has been the inevitable round of memories, reminiscing and ‘Favourite bits of the series’ in the media. One detail that struck me, alongside the great service JK Rowling performed by encouraging a whole generation to read (who will be her successor? We need someone else to fill that gap – and in my opinion, it never will, and never can, be Stephanie Meyer), was the mention of platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross station. A portal that leads to a fantastical world is something every eleven year old would kill to enter. Of course, she was not the first to put this idea into play – read the utterly magical ‘The Secret of Platform 13’ by Eva Ibbotson (one of my all-time favourite childhood authors, alongside Margaret Mahy), which was published three years prior to the Philosopher’s Stone.
We may not have Hogsmeade or broomsticks (although the ongoing News of the World scandal suggests there might be a few Voldemorts and bumbling authorities around), but there is a place I sometimes visit that bears more than a passing resemblance to that mythical train platform (and even better, it is accessible by train too!)
Whenever we get the chance, my mum and I take a special day trip to the gorgeous Bertie’s Vintage of Craven Arms. Plenty of time needs to be set aside for these excursions, because the minute one steps into the shop, off the perfectly ordinary market town Street, it is quite difficult to extricate oneself again. Like the King’s Cross platform, this shop is completely unexpected.
Escaping from the drizzle (which seems to be a pastime for us British), and being confronted with a room where a vintage mannequin greets you like the figurehead of a ship, before your eyes pick out a small changing room with magnificent gold curtains to hide your modesty, and several period glass cabinets housing forties’ snakeskin shoes and feather fans, can only be described as extraordinary. Who needs the Triwizard tournament when one can instead marvel at stacked hatboxes (and name spot – Elsa Schiaparelli anyone?), and savour the look of the elegant black hands that emerge from one gold and black wall-papered surface – the fingers nonchalantly bearing forties and fifties handbags. In the same way that Mary Poppins led her charges into a chalked picture on the paving, so this place makes one feel as though a running leap has been taken into a particularly chic kodachrome photo.
And how best to describe the feel of gently riffling through the two racks of exquisitely chosen vintage garments? I think the owner, Robert, described it best – it is “bespoke shopping” – a couture-made experience. Like the clothes, with their pin-tucked details and bias cuts, the hours spent perusing can only be thought of as ‘tailor made’. Thirties striped Katharine Hepburne-esque hand-knit sweaters can be spotted among floral fifties day dresses and the occasional breathtaking evening gown.
I currently own three items from Bertie’s (although I have my eye on a fourth) – two I carefully saved up for myself, and the other was a birthday present. The first, a two piece suit, can be seen in all its wide-collared glory here. The others are yet to grace the web-pages of this blog, but that will soon change – as I can’t wait to share my new sixties (quite Prada-ish) blue and white mini-dress with a pleated skirt.
On the back of these much anticipated sporadic visits, and the fact that Robert has now seen my blog, he recently offered a very exciting proposition. How would I like to style some of his precious dresses to demonstrate how they might be worn?
Even before he finished the sentence, I was already nodding eagerly and casting my eye around the room, like a fisherman preparing his line for a catch. Four pieces were borne away (I was terrified about anything happening to them – especially as some of the loaned items were from his personal collection, rather than stock for the shop), and have now been returned once more. The photos above are the first set of ‘styled’ looks, based around a rather delectable forties lace dress, that I had considered buying. Instead, I settled for borrowing it and dressing it in three ways – the first, a classic interpretation, complete with my late paternal granddad’s straw panama and my paternal grandma’s belt (she wore it to the Czech equivalent of Girl Guides), finished off with my beloved high heeled Carvela brogues.
The second two ‘looks’ were put together with the idea of ‘similarities and differences’ at the back of my mind – ergo the two sets of shirt and shorts with a hat, but presented in contrasting colour shades.
The green silk shirt was from a charity shop, along with the khaki shorts. The hat is vintage.
The pink shirt is also second hand, as are the plum coloured shorts. Likewise, the hat is vintage – even the origins match up! Shoes as before, and all jewellery and accessories are vintage, or family owned.
If you ever get the chance to visit Craven Arms (located very near Ludlow – home to the nationally known food festival), then I can’t recommend Bertie’s highly enough. There are details on his website, and the shop is rooted right in the middle of the aptly named ‘vintage quarter’ – the display window facing off the oh-so magnificent ‘Land of Lost Content’. An extraordinary museum, that houses every household item one could think of, dating back to over a hundred years. Where else would you find a whole room stuffed with vintage cameras, living alongside Beatles’ memorabilia and WW11 uniforms, all under one roof? Stella, who created the museum, is an amazing lifetime collector, and is instantly recognisable by her incredible vintage (and often bright) clothing and beautiful smile.
It is well worth a ‘day out’ to discover the delights of these two places, standing out in the town like peacocks compared to pigeons – it is accessible easily by train on the (I think) Manchester to Swansea line, and takes only one change from London. (Although, you do have to cross a busy main road and go past a cavernous supermarket before you can find it.)
I had a very wonderful and relaxing holiday, which I will talk about in another post.