About Charlotte Rottenburg

In 2010, Charlotte Rottenburg launched her fashion blog and from starting with writing about what she thought about the new season’s trends, her writing has now expanded to a wider range of topics that goes beyond just fashion. Charlotte joined the City Connect team in September 2011 and whether it’s fashion, film, music, or popular culture, Charlotte enjoys writing about things that her generation can relate to, and in a style that is both engaging and honest. Her main interests, other than the ones already mentioned, are travel, skiing, languages and cooking. Charlotte’s motto for life is “Be interested and interesting”. Follow Charlotte on Twitter @charlotte_r24

Snow Time

Saturday 22nd October, Earl’s Court, 11:15am: I had just arrived at Metrosnow, billed as ‘the greatest wintersports show in the world’.  It still being relatively early on a Saturday morning, there weren’t many punters hanging around, and the poor people manning some inflatable promotional activity outside Earl’s Court looked bored and cold.  Once inside the venue, I was confronted with what can only be described as a wall of enthusiasm.  My friends were running late, and so I plunged into the maze of stalls alone.  Wrong decision.  Single drifters are easy prey for those trying to sell something, and before long I was weighed down with more than enough goodie bags containing, among other things, cereal, toothpaste, an energy drink, magazines and a DVD.  It was the kind of situation where you end up pretending to talk to someone on the phone in order to avoid catching and would-be pushy salesperson’s eye.

While the front section of Earl’s Court was given over to travel companies, resorts, and national tourism boards, the back section was completely dedicated to retail.  There was everything a wintersports enthusiast could wish for, minus the snow.  The main reason for my going to the event was to stock up on ski gear, and I was on the lookout for some exclusive deals.  I was successful in some areas, but none of the bigger brands such as Dakine, Salomon and Atomic were cheaper than normal.

 One of the more interesting aspects of Metrosnow was that it was one of the few occasions that all types of snow-lovers congregated under one roof.  From fur-wearing chalet bunnies to ‘steazy’ snowboard types with hoodies down to their knees and multiple piercings and everyone in between, it’s safe to say that it was a mixed crowd.  Throw in a few convention-obligatory characters (sexy ski girls, someone dressed up as a mountain goat, and some unfortunate individuals in onesies) and it makes for very entertaining people-watching.

A main attraction was the London Ride competition, which consisted of guys and one girl with little notion of self-preservation hurtling down an artificial slope, flying off a hip kicker and performing some jaw-dropping stunts in the air.  I couldn’t figure out what was more impressive: the speed and height at which these nutters were turning and flipping, or the fact that most of them were teenagers.  It made me feel rather self-conscious about my comparative lack of skill with a pair of skis…

Overall, I felt that Metrosnow was a successful event that had something for everyone.  Children were kept entertained with ice skating, curling, and a huge inflatable slide.  Die-hard skiers and boarders were in seventh heaven with the mind-boggling array of hardware on offer.  And for everyone else there was plenty to look at, buy, eat and drink.  The only thing I would say it was lacking was any kind of atmosphere.  Granted, Earl’s Court is a fairly dead space to work with, but I think the event organisers could have tried a little harder with what people were greeted with, and also with the music sporadically played over the tannoy system.  The retail aspect was great: where else would you get everything under one roof?  But having now kitted myself out with enough ski gear to last several years, my reasons for going to an event of this kind would not balance out the £16-£18 ticket price.  It was a good day out and a very successful shopping trip, but not one I see myself repeating next year.

Images courtesy of Charlotte Rottenburg

Life Unexpected

When one thinks of the Alps, several things come to mind.  Skiing, vin chaud, fondue, beautiful scenery…  For the most part, these visions become reality, give or take a few groups of rowdy British students.  However, should you ever find yourself in Courchevel 1850, the Alpine ‘norm’ and what you’re actually confronted with are worlds apart.

Most ski resorts consist of a varied selection of hotels, chalets, bars, restaurants and ski hire shops.  Retail therapy is limited to new goggles or at a push a new jacket.  This is what I have become accustomed to in every resort I’ve visited so far.  So you can imagine my surprise upon arrival in Courchevel 1850 to find Chanel, Valentino, Cartier and Hermès boutiques in prime position on the main shopping streets.  And the reason for this?  Two words: rich Russians.

It appears that each year between mid-December and Russian New Year, Courchevel turns into something of a mini Moscow.  Nearly everything in resort is triple-translated into French, English and Russian; there are hotels that have exclusively Russian clientele, complete with tinted-windowed taxis with fur hat-wearing drivers; there are clubs that charge €20 for a small beer…  This is not the kind of Alpine life I’ve experienced before.  There is even a 30-foot yacht parked outside one of the main chair lifts, presumably on the off-chance that Mr Russian Oligarch might make a spur-of-the-moment purchase for Mrs (or Mistress) Russian Oligarch.  Only in Courchevel…

And yet these Russians seem to have been afflicted with Nouveau Riche Disease: so much money yet so little taste.  I encountered a horror of a ski outfit last week on a chair lift:  Barbie-pink onesie with suede fringing on the arms and legs, topped off with a multicoloured confection of a fur hat.  And no, she couldn’t even ski that well.  There’s the small army of handbag-sized dogs that wear as much bling as their owners as well as Burberry coats and tiny booties.  And then there are the women themselves.  If the amount of fur I’ve seen in the last month is anything to go by, there can’t be a live mammal found east of St Petersburg.  I personally have nothing against fur, so long as it’s worn in moderation.  No one wants to look as if they couldn’t be bothered to skin the fox before slinging it around their shoulders.  But these women wear the stuff literally from head to toe.  It’s like sharing a resort with a bunch of yetis.  Topped off with excessive amounts of jewellery and a tad too much plastic surgery, the effect is rather grotesque.  Granted, there are some girls that look amazing and make me slightly jealous of their beauty and style, but overall it’s a severe case of more is less.

Given my rather conservative outlook on tasteful fashion, I find this ostentatious display of wealth rather hard to digest.  Is it a visceral need to flaunt your wealth in every way possible?  Is it the men dressing their trophy wives as a way of competing with each other?  Even the children get involved with their mini Dior moon boots and fur-lined Moncler jackets.  I’ve always been a huge advocate of simple and elegant fashion, so from what I’ve seen here in Courchevel, I don’t think Russia is quite my scene.  I am currently working as a rep for the winter season, and before I came out here several friends suggested that I find myself a Russian oligarch boyfriend who could set me up in a lovely chalet and cater to my every need.  But having seen how the female half of new rich Russia is expected to dress, I don’t think I’ll be going down that route.

Having lived in France before, I know how much sartorial choices can change across different countries, and I’m all for cultures having their own style identities.  It’s part of what helps define a nation.  Perhaps the reason I’m so averse to all of this fur and bling is that it’s so alien to me.  But it’s certainly been something of a revelation as to how the (extremely rich) other half lives.

Image reproduced from thebluevinecollective.org

Tinder Dating App: Light Me Up!

TinderSo… Tinder.  The free app that lets you anonymously ‘like’ people based purely on their photos, and then ‘matches’ you if you both like each other.  Online dating made incredibly simple.  No cringe-worthy Match.com profiles here, no description of personality, no ‘this is what I’m looking for’.  The only question that needs to be asked is ‘do I think this person is hot?’

I’ll admit, when I first heard of the thing, I was very sceptical.  Surely it’s just a different version of Facebook stalking?  Or just allows guys to flick through literally thousands of girls’ photos and make snap-shot decisions on whether they’re fit or not?  Well, both of these aspects are true (for both sexes), but what I hadn’t banked on was the ego boost or entertainment factor that Tinder can provide.

Having been unceremoniously dumped for no apparent reason, I was in need of a bit of cheering up, and friends (both male and female) recommended Tinder – not as a way of finding a new boyfriend, but just as a way of taking my mind off being miserable.  A little flirt, a little fun… where’s the harm.  So, moderately tipsy on a Tuesday night, I found myself downloading the app and scrolling through endless photos of guys to be found within a 5-mile radius.  This is London, and the app connects to Facebook, so it’s literally a bottomless pit of potential.

Several things became immediately apparent:

  1. Men who post ‘mirror selfies’ are an absolute no
  2. Those who are wearing sunglasses in every photo: again an absolute no (there has to be a reason why they won’t show all of their face)
  3. The guys who only post photos where they’re in a large group so you can’t be 100% sure which one he is: same story
  4. In general, there seems to be a rotation of the same 15 or so male names across London.  Tom, James, Ben, Dave, Will, Rich etc. etc.  Where’s the variety?!
  5. A lot of guys are seriously lacking in creativity when it comes to profile pictures

Not having ticked the ‘Interested In Girls’ box, I’m not sure what the female version of all of this is, but apparently the fairer sex is just as bad when it comes to awkward mirror selfies and the ‘less is more’ approach to clothing. (Ok so my profile picture is me in a bikini, somebody shoot me…)

Moving on to the next stage in the process, where ‘matches’ have begun to pop up, is where things begin to get a bit more interesting.  This is where the ego boost comes in.  Look, a hot guy finds me attractive too!  Maybe I’m not completely undesirable…  The range of opening lines is really quite impressive.  So far I’ve received messages along the lines of ‘Great rack’, ‘Come round my place this evening?’ and ‘Tip top tits’ (I think the aforementioned bikini shot might have something to do with this).  At the other end of the scale, there are the slightly more creative ones that ignore the bikini and focus on jokes, skiing banter or not sitting on chairs properly (all related to the non-bikini photos I have on my profile).  Needless to say, the latter category is what grabs my attention a little more.

Now I’m well aware of the fact that most people are on Tinder for some light-hearted fun and a few easy hookups.  For my part, I’m certainly not looking for anything serious (look how well that turned out last time…).  But there is a huge difference between looking for your soulmate and being prepared to show up to the house of someone you’ve never met for a night of no-strings-attached nakedness.  After all, I ain’t no ho.  Stories of girls who message guys with phrases such as ‘what’s your address I’ll come over in an hour’ and ‘want to give it to me now big boy?’ simply aren’t doing the rest of us who aren’t prepared to instantly drop our knickers any favours.  You can at least pretend to have an interest in what the other person does for work, what they do for fun etc, and shockingly enough you can actually have some fairly decent banter over instant messaging.  Now call me crazy, but surely this is a better way of piquing someone’s interest rather than unsolicited trouser shots via WhatsApp?

Moving onto Stage Three: the Tinder Date.  Public area, generally daylight (no excuse really, it’s summer!), and ideally a back-up plan to leave early if it all goes really wrong.  Now so far I’ve been on four TDs, three of them good, one truly awful.  The first three were all normal attractive guys, not axe murderers, all with decent conversation.  It also helps that usually by this point you’ve exchanged enough messages to know what the other person does professionally, which friends you have in common on Facebook (Tinder helps you out there), and if they’ve done anything interesting recently, so more than enough conversation starters offered up on a plate!  However, there will be various factors that you can’t be sure of until the TD actually happens.  Someone might have great banter in written form, but be really quite dull in person.  The guy might have somehow managed to look better in pictures than in the flesh.  And then there’s the height issue, which for me is a total deal-breaker.  This is NOT something you can get away with lying about.  The aforementioned awful date was a culprit of all three crimes.  Cue a fake phone call to my ‘locked out housemate who is simply desperate to get inside as she’s diabetic and needs her insulin’.  RUN AWAY!!

Overall, as far as Tinder is concerned, I’d have to say I’m a surprised fan.  One bad date out of four really isn’t bad going, and it’s certainly dragged me out of my self-pitying post-dumped ditch.  There’s a certain liberating factor to it as well: so long as you don’t have any mutual friends and you never actually meet, how are they ever going to find out you’re not French/a quantitative analyst/Australian/really rich?  You can be as flirty/weird/boring/confident as you like.  There’s no pressure to go on a real date, and if they start getting pushy you can just block them.  Simples.  It also opens you up to a whole range of people you’d never otherwise encounter from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions.  Architects, engineers, management consultants, civil servants, traders, bartenders, the list goes on.  For someone like me who is genuinely rubbish when it comes to being chatted up in a bar, Tinder is a goldmine.

This is first time I’ve done what’s I call ‘proactive dating’, and so far I’m having a lot of fun (all with my clothes staying on, in case you were wondering).  Where will it all lead?  Who knows.  For now I’m happy to just roll with it, and avoid the men whose creativity is summed up by an opening gambit of ‘nice pair’.

Read more here: http://datingcritic.org/review/victoriabrides/ 

An A-Z of New Season Style

There are many people out there who feel that a new season means a completely new wardrobe.  Indeed, this is one of the main criticisms of the fashion industry, in that it promotes mindless consumerism.  However, I don’t believe that this is the case.  It is for the designers to come up with brand new collections several times each year, and it is for us to look at what we can pick and choose to insert into our existing wardrobe.

With this in mind, here is a brief synopsis of this season’s key trends.  Happy shopping!

A – Androgyny.  Each season this trend takes on a new guise, and this time round it’s all about slick tailoring teamed with slick hair.  Keep it feminine with a touch of red lipstick and colourful shoes.

B – Bomber jackets, the new must-have piece of outerwear.  Boots are also an essential item for anyone’s autumn/winter wardrobe.  This season sees the classic knee-high take centre stage once more.

C – Capes.  Wear with skinny trousers and high heels for a longer silhouette.

D – Dresses.  Whatever the weather, find one that makes you feel like you never want to take it off.

E – Evergreen.  Pine-needle green works as a great alternative to black for work wear.  Try it in the form of a blouse or court shoe.

F – Florals.  Usually the reserve of spring and summer, floral prints have made an unseasonal appearance.  Think less ditsy Liberty print, more big and bold statement.

G – Gold.  Whether it’s your accessories or clothing, it’s time to get your shine on.  Just be wary of turning into a bad 80s throwback.

H – Hats.  Arguably the must-have accessory of the season, hats add that little bit of drama to an outfit.  Fedoras, cloches, caps… the choice is yours.

I – Indigo.  Nails, bags, shoes or suits: all suit this versatile colour

J – Jewellery.  Autumn colours are naturally a bit more muted, so make your jewellery do the talking with bright splashes of jade, turquoise, silver and garnet.  Layer chunky necklaces for a modern update over workwear.

K – Knitwear.  Chunky knits, cable knits, slim silk knits… they’re all for the taking.  An elegant piece of cashmere is the perfect way to dress down a silk maxi skirt for day wear.

L – Legs.  Yes it’s getting a bit colder, and our summer tans have worn off, but that’s no excuse to hide behind trousers for the next six months.  Get your legs out in an array of brightly-coloured hosiery to set off that brand new pair of boots.

M – Men’s shoes.  If heels are a bit of a struggle, then why not try some brogues, Chelsea boots or loafers?  Best worn with skirts to keep the look more ladylike and less ladylump.

N – Neoprene.  The surprisingly successful fabric of the year.  Don’t go all out and wear a wetsuit; keep it subtle with a clutch bag or shoes.

O – Origami.  Structured shoulders, peplum waists and cocoon silhouettes are all key looks this season.

P – Pencil skirts.  This is not just for those sitting behind a desk.  When teamed with an embellished top and a pair of killer heels, a pencil skirt makes ideal evening wear.

Q – Quilted jackets.  Available at every price range, there’s nothing cosier than snuggling down into a padded collar and soft sleeves.

R – Regal.  You’d be hard-pushed to find a brand that hasn’t got something with a crested breast pocket or mini crown motif.  Tongue in cheek required.

S – Scarf.  So long summer silk, hello winter woolliness.

T – Trousers.  Yet another season of different shapes is upon us.  Palazzo pants make a great alternative to maxi skirts, and you can hardly move at the moment for the glut of seventies-style flares in ochre, plum and teal.

U – Umbrellas.  A true British staple, not to be left at home.

V – Velvet.  This fabric makes a comeback each year.  My personal favourite would be a velvet body teamed with cigarette pants.  Understated glamour at its best.

W – White.  How to convey luxury and glamour in one item of clothing.  Just watch out for buses and large puddles.

X – X-rated.  The fetish trend was going strong on this season’s catwalks.  While feather dusters and bondage boots might not be to everyone’s taste, there’s always room for a little lace or leather in your winter wardrobe.

Y – Yellow.  Less sunshine, more mustard.

Z – Zoo time.  Animal prints are still everywhere, albeit in a slightly more subtle way.

This is a Man’s World

There is a common misconception that the fashion industry is run by bitchy harridans with ferocious nails, immaculate blow-drys and walk-in wardrobes.  Ask the average man what he thinks of fashion, and he will generally reply with something similar to ‘well, it’s for girls isn’t it?’.  Given that the majority of the male population seem resigned to this view, I wonder if they’d take more of an interest in the fashion industry if they knew that it is, in fact, the men who run the show.

Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Roland Mouret, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren… I could go on.  These are all designers at the top of their game, all of them dictators of style and taste, all of them hugely successful, and all of them are men.

Man’s man Tom Ford has enjoyed success as the creative director of both Gucci and YSL, creating the TOM FORD brand in 2005.  Here is a man that really understands how to enhance, flatter, and dress a woman’s body, with SJP, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman amongst his celebrity fans.  But Mr Ford does not only design womenswear; he has his own line of sunglasses, skincare, make-up, and fragrances, as well as a menswear range that won him the 2008 CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award.  Ford is a man of many talents and a key player in the fashion industry.

There are of course the female heavy-hitters of the business: Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, and Miuccia Prada to name but a few.  But the past decade has turned up a flurry of fresh designer talent, and it’s the guys who have come out strongest.  Take Christopher Kane for example.  Even before he left Central Saint Martins in 2006, he had worked for Giles Deacon and attracted the attention of Donatella Versace.  From his debut collection in September 2006, Kane has gone strength to strength, winning the BFC British Designer of the Year in 2009.  Another bright young thing is Prabal Gurung, who saw his first solo collection go down the catwalk as recently as February 2009.  Since then, he has dressed the likes of Michelle Obama and Demi Moore.  Similar stories are found with Thakoon, Mark Fast, Bora Aksu, and many others.  It’s now the girls who are fighting to be recognised in a world that’s supposedly run by women.

And what of the old establishment?  Seasoned experts like Giorgio Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, and Marc Jacobs are still at the top of their game, producing up to six collections a year for womenswear alone.  Chanel, probably the brand that is most synonymous with femininity and women, has now had Karl Lagerfeld at the helm for over 25 years, showing that yet again a man is behind one of the most successful and creative fashion houses in the world.

Over at the business end of fashion, there is even more male dominance.  Bernard Arnault is CEO of the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennesy, and is chairman of both LVMH and Christian Dior.  The House of Chanel is owned by brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer.  PPR, another French holding company that owns Gucci Group and other luxury brands, has François-Henri Pinault as its chairman and CEO.  Everywhere you look, it’s the men who hold the power.

On the high street and in the world of online shopping, menswear is finally coming to the fore.  Websites such as ASOS and Matches play host to a huge array of clothing and accessories for men, whilst February saw the launch of Mr Porter.  Brainchild of net-a-porter.com’s founder Natalie Massenet, Mr Porter is the first online luxury retailer aimed exclusively at men.  Away from cyberspace, the size and number of menswear departments and exclusive stores on the high street has been steadily increasing.  Topman alone now boasts over 175 stores worldwide, and is well on the way to catching up with the 400+ stores of its sister brand, Topshop, launched 14 years earlier.

The high street may be a bit slow on catching up with the male trends of the catwalk, especially when compared with how quick the turnaround is for womenswear, but it certainly seems to be adapting to the high demand for on-trend menswear.  The perception that the fashion industry is nothing but lipstick, stilettos and hairspray is seriously outdated, and both men and women need to work equally hard to modernise how this powerful and influential world is viewed by the general public.

Image reproduced from millionlooks.com

Summer Loving

It’s that time of year again – hemlines come up, necklines go down, and the opportunities to hide our lumps and bumps under thick and forgiving fabrics become more and more scarce.  So, what are our sartorial options this summer?

My personal favourite is the decorative day-wear trend that was prevalent at Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.  Dresses with lace overlays, embellished lightweight coats, and floral prints in abundance all give daytime dressing a smarter sheen.  Think ladylike as opposed to girly, so choose glamorous accessories such as gloves or a chic hat.

Pastels were on every catwalk for this season, and designers have finally succeeded in creating clothes in sugared hues that don’t look like wither nightwear or something from the bottom of a seventies bargain bin.  Through use of fine fabrics such as silk and lightweight cotton, dressing all pale and interesting just got a whole lot easier.  Pastel pink is a suits-all shade, whereas minty green is slightly harder to work with and should generally be avoided by those with a complexion similar to Casper.  Various grades of blue and aqua look great when teamed with metallic accessories, and if you can’t decide which bit of rainbow sherbet is your favourite, then there’s always colour blocking.  A lot of detailing can go into pastel colours without looking ostentations – lace appliqué, feathers, embroidery… with a neutral background, these delicate additions can go a long way to making an outfit go up a notch or two.

On the subject of detailing, it looks like the peplum trend is here for at least another season.  I personally am a huge fan of this – what better way to show off your waist and conceal your hips?  The key with peplums is to keep things simple.  Think colour blocking, minimal patterns and detailing – let that flare do the talking.

Of course, you could go extreme in terms of simplicity and adopt the all-in-white look that was seen at Celine, Calvin Klein and Jil Sander.  Whether you go graphic or girlish, this is a high-maintenance look that won’t tolerate spaghetti Bolognese or smeared lipstick.  The appeal is in staying as fresh as possible, so low-key hair and makeup are a must.  It might also be an idea to get the St Tropez out in order to avoid the all-in-white look extending to your limbs.  Just don’t use the instant stuff – trust me it’s a nightmare to get off fabric.

A slightly more avant-garde trend that graced this season’s catwalks is the one for high-shine fabrics such as lame, PVC and leather.  Perhaps opting for Chanel’s plasticised swing coat and trousers isn’t quite what one might do on a rainy day, but a glimpse of glistening silk organza will go a long way to updating an evening outfit.  And then there’s what the magazines are calling Vintage Americana, which seems to pop up ever four years or so to remind us how great the fifties were, not that any of us can actually remember them.  Cat’s eye sunglasses, rich and glossy leather skirts, nipped in waists and retro prints all make dressing up an every-day activity.  For the slightly more daring, there’s the option to expose an inch or two of (preferably toned) midriff by teaming together a high-waisted skirt and a pretty bra top.  Now where’s that drive-in movie?

Time to Bare

Think of Summer and you might conjure up various images of beaches, picnics in the parks, Bank Holiday weekends and a lighter atmosphere.  For the fashion-minded among us, these images might focus on colourful accessories, shortening hemlines, and the need for long, tanned and smooth limbs.  And it’s this last one that gets me worried every year.

The paranoia starts towards the end of March.  That freakishly warm day where everyone decides it’s time to put on shorts has me running for my duvet, willing the sun to go away so I can go back to wearing jeans.  Because let’s face it, Summer is high maintenance.  All of the extra flesh on display requires a monstrous effort in terms of tanning, toning, scrubbing and smoothing.  Sometimes I’m willing to go that extra mile (or hundred) and make the transformation from hairy caterpillar to beautiful butterfly, but quite often the expectation to keep this up just seems a bit too much.

When the ad campaigns start appearing in magazines shortly after January, complete with Allessandra or Cara or Lara and their miles of perfectly hair-free, honeyed skin, I just want to curl up into a furry little ball until Autumn.  Is there a term for hibernation during Summer?  I’m all for a bit of personal maintenance, and I would never go out sporting the ‘European look’ (furry armpit friend, anyone?).  It’s just the fact that during Summer there are no handy chunky jumpers and thick leggings to hide under if you haven’t recently wielded a razor or gone to the gym.

My Winter beauty regime is very simple: lots of moisturiser, shave legs every week or two, keep up the monthly waxes, done.  And that is truly enough for a time of year where the most amount of flesh exposed is my face and arms.  Summer brings in a whole different ball game.  The war on cellulite starts somewhere mid-February (after Valentine’s day and pity eating have been and gone); the transformation of skin tone from milk bottle to something less offensive might start in the second week of March; feet that have spent months happily snuggled in socks and boots must be wrenched out of their cosy caves and given a thorough service.

It’s a fact: Summer beauty trends are harder work and more expensive.  Even getting that perfectly tousled look with my hair takes ten times longer than a glossy blow-dry.  And yet, as much as I might moan and gripe about it, I still do it.  I find myself getting out of bed half an hour earlier in order to stage the next battle on whatever body hair might have appeared overnight.  Evenings are spent applying self-tanning moisturiser and perfecting the home pedicure.  Each year I persuade myself that I’m one step closer to coaxing my dead-straight hair that refuses to be styled into something resembling a boho beach look.

And so, reluctantly, I admit it: the effort is worth it.  After hours (and sometimes days) of waxing, plucking, shaping, painting and grooming, I genuinely feel amazing.  Hello Summer, I’m ready for you.

Thailand Types

This year saw my first trip to Thailand, and while I was determined to not fall into the student-esque stereotype of riding on elephants, drinking my body weight in cocktail buckets, and covering myself in neon paint, I couldn’t help but notice that there were certain other categories that many people I met fell into…

Gap yah girlies:

Lou, Henny and Fi are at nearly at the end of their gap yah travels.  They started off with Gee, Tops and Poppy in South America, worked at an orphanage in Africa for a month, went to Burma for a bit (‘none of the food was Western!’) and travelled down through India (‘such a humbling experience’) before arriving in South-East Asia.  Gee, Tops and Poppy decided to go home early (‘simply too exhausted’) but our three girlies are just super excited to be in Thailand.  This is, like, the last freedom they’ll have before uni, so they totes want to make the most of it by getting silly drunk on buckets and snogging boys that are, like, really old (i.e. 21+).

Traveller Tw*t:

Greg has been everywhere, and as a result knows exactly where you should and shouldn’t go, and what you should and shouldn’t do.  He can’t believe that you wasted your money on that boat trip to Maya Bay – apparently the whole thing is overrated and spoiled by all the tourists.  You flew down to Phuket?  Mate, should have taken the bus – it’s just a more authentic experience.  He’s been to Koh Phangan three times, and thinks it’s a great thing you didn’t go for Full Moon.  Mate, he just happened to be there for the party each year, thinks the whole thing is a total waste of time, and just went because he was bored…  It’s a bit of a mystery as to how Greg funds his travels, but it seems his currency is unwanted advice.  You’re talking about a holiday you took in Italy, did you know that Italians love African exports?  Speaking of Africa, did I tell you about the time I was in Mozambique?  You have to go, but make sure you avoid Heights Resort, completely Westernised area, you get no idea of true African culture…  Cheers Greg.

The one who never left:

Martin is from Austria, and came to Thailand 15 years ago.  He’s yet to go home…  After having an amphetamine-laced Red Bull-induced epiphany that his life in Europe was going nowhere, he decided to stay in the islands for a few more weeks.  Weeks turned into months, which turned into years, and he’s now the owner/manager of a backpackers’ hostel just near Haad Rin beach.  Martin is seen as a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Koh Phangan: where to go, what to see, best places to eat, where to avoid, which bars sell the best spliffs…  Martin is more local than most of the locals.

Lad soc:

Mike, Zach and Jonny are tearing Thailand up!  They’ve just finished their first year of uni, so are well-versed in how to drink to the point where you feel invincible and can still perform with a girl.  LAD POINTS!  There was that hilarious week on Koh Phi Phi where all three of them snogged the same girl (jokes mate), and they’ll make it more hilarious when they get home by telling their uni pals that she did more than just a kiss and fumble.  The boys are on a tight budget, so it’s pad Thai by day and multiple buckets by night, teamed with the lower end of the accommodation spectrum.  Mate, all the more incentive to score each night, you might get some air con!

Tinder: 2 Months On

My last article saw me about a month into the ‘Tinder Experience’. Back then, it was still early days, and I wasn’t being overly selective with who I chose to have online chats with or chose to meet. Since I first downloaded the app in July, the learning curve has been steep.

Tinder was my first foray into the murky pool of online dating, and I have to admit I became addicted very quickly. I was being called ‘beautiful’ or ‘stunning’ pretty much on a daily basis, and let’s face it what girl wouldn’t love that? The great thing about Tinder is that you’re only allowed to send messages to someone if you’ve both liked each other’s profiles, so at least these compliments were coming from guys I had already liked the look of. I’ve recently joined Plenty Of Fish (aka Plenty Of Freaks), where literally anyone can message you, and some of the stuff I’ve received on there has been jaw-droppingly weird/perverted/rude.

tinder feetFor more of the same, go to http://charlotteevr.wordpress.com/type/aside/

So, moving forwards: on to the dates themselves. So far I’ve been on a total of 10 first dates through Tinder with quite a varied bunch of guys. A civil servant, an engineer, a project manager, a digital marketing executive, an accountant, a portfolio manager, an estate agent, an IT sales specialist, and investment banker and a guy who’s job completely baffled me and I’m not too sure how to describe it (he was very boring so it was difficult to take in much of the drone). Out of the ten, only four made it to second date status, and fewer still to the third. Am I still single? Yes. Am I still going on dates? Yes. I think the first Tinder wedding is quite a way off yet.

What has been a complete revelation is how different can be in person from how they come across in written form. As a total newbie to the online dating scene, this conundrum hadn’t really been presented to me before. Everyone I’ve ever texted I’d met previously at least for a few minutes: long enough to get some idea of their personality. I can think of at least three dates where the guy turned out to be no way near as funny or charming or flirtatious as they were via WhatsApp. Which got me to thinking: have any of them thought the same of me?

A few dates have definitely stood out from the others. There was a first where I got so drunk that I could barely walk and had to be pretty much held up whilst attempting to dance in a bar where there is no dance floor (http://singlechicksblog.com/2013/10/02/how-not-to/). And yes I did hear from him again, shockingly enough. There was the time I got taken for a ten-course taster menu at a newly-opened restaurant in Clapham, which I never would have done of my own accord. There was also the date where I agreed to go on a run with someone. Hey if a guy can still be attracted to you at the end of a 5k run then surely that’s a good sign??

There have also been the dates that never happened. By this I mean you get to the point in messaging someone where you agree to meet for a drink. One of you has to reschedule at the last minute. A few days later you’re mulling over outfit choices again for tomorrow’s re-arranged date, only to have it postponed once more. Having been through this several times now, I know that a double reschedule means you should drop the guy and move on. In a similar vein, it seems that it’s quite normal to have a ‘conversation’ with someone (via WhatsApp or Tinder) that lasts for weeks but neither side makes to move to meet up. Again, not worth the time or hassle.

Overall, Tinder’s been a bit hit-and-miss, but I’m having fun and enjoying being taken out on dates. Plenty of Fish has been thoroughly entertaining in throwing up the downright strange dregs of society that can be found on the internet, and who knows there might be a couple of potentials on there. In a less tangible sense, Tinder has done a lot more for me in that it has made me re-think my attitude towards online dating. Before the summer, I was firmly believed that places like Match.com were purely for the desperate older people who thought they were going to find The One on the internet. But now I realise that this is not the case. To put it simply: it’s hard to escape the weirdos in a bar, but it’s easy to block them on the internet. Online dating means you can filter out the crazy ones (to a certain extent), and also have that boring where-do-you-work-where-are-you-from chat without having to shout over some awful Miley Cyrus remix.

tinder cheeky

Tooting: SW17 is Worth a Second Look

Tooting Broadway Tube

For those of you who are familiar with the Tooting area, you will know that it’s not the most happening of places when it comes to eating and drinking.  And for those of you who have never heard of Tooting, I don’t blame you.  Tooting gets over looked by its richer neighbours – Balham, Clapham and Wimbledon.  It’s just that bit further down on the Northern Line, a few stops too far.

BUT, there is a gradual change happening in SW17, and as a resident of this slightly less favoured area of south-west London I am crossing my fingers and toes that this change starts to gather some speed.

The high street at Tooting Broadway has everything you might expect: Primark, a bingo hall, a 99p store, shops that offer to unlock phones, two McDonalds, and butchers catering to every religion and ethnicity you might think of.  So far, not so many places you might want to go on a Saturday night or for Sunday lunch.  But look a bit closer, and there are the hidden spots that have appeared in the last few months that show Tooting is beginning to shoulder its way towards something better.

If it’s a Saturday night drinking hole you’re after, look no further than the Tram & Social – tootingtram.com.  Reasonably priced drinks, good music (i.e. not the Top 40 mega-mix you might get at Infernos), and a very different setting from what you might expect.  At the end of a short alley, tucked between Maccy D’s and a pawn shop, you’d be forgiven for being slightly surprised to find yourself in a spacious venue (complete with bunting in the summer months) where there’s a complete absence of people who might shoot you for looking at them in the wrong way.  The Tram is my local, and what a local to have!

Then, just down the road is Graveney and Meadow: a ‘bar, bakery and tapas restaurant’ that is owned by the same group as the Tram & Social – graveneyandmeadow.com.  Home-baked goods, wooden chairs, chalk boards and a general boutique-meets-country-kitchen feel, where better to spend a chilly afternoon at the weekend?

Walk towards Tooting Broadway tube and round the corner, and you’ll find Tartine – www.tartineartisanal.com.  This French-Moroccan café offers more than croissants and bread.  Mezze, burgers, salads and desserts can all be found in this busy and friendly place.  The décor is simple, the menu comprehensive – a great place to go with friends that have quite varied tastes.  Just don’t expect to go there for dinner as they close at 7pm.

And finally, about two doors down from Tartine, we have Tota – www.tota-restaurant.co.uk.  This restaurant has popped out of nowhere and has quickly established itself as the go-to place for Sunday brunch.  I was there two weeks ago and had some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  My friend’s full English was perfection – crispy bacon, sausages that looked like they actually had pork in them, and properly poached eggs (i.e. not microwaved).  The dinner menu is simple but effective – all the favourites like steak and fish, along with something different like pork belly in a curry sauce.  The service is faultless as well.

So it seems that Tooting is gradually upping its quota of decent places to eat and drink.  Yes, the general locality needs a bit of a scrub, and there are still quite a few things that make one want to get a taxi home rather than walk from the bus stop. But perhaps Tooting is going through what Angel went through a few years ago.  And with places like the Tram & Social and Tota sprouting up every few months, this little corner of south-west London could be destined for greater things.

Alpine Antics in Courcheval

What do you think when you hear the word ‘seasonnaire’?  Someone staggering around beach resorts trying to organise bar crawls and wet t-shirt competitions?  Posh girls named Isabella working in a chalet?  Jack Wills reps encouraging punters to get drunk and buy some, like, really cool stash?  All of the above might apply, but having worked as a seasonnaire in Courchevel for the last four months, I can safely say that these stereotypes are more often than not very far from the truth.

"seasonnaire", "France skiing", "skiing", "chalet girl", "piste", "apres ski"

Fair enough, we seasonnaires do party hard.  Après sessions that result in people skiing off bus stops or running down a red run in the dark are commonplace.  Our days off generally start at 9pm the day before: drinks, heavy night out, beer for breakfast, skiing, après bar, collapse.  But one of the main reasons for this play hard attitude is that, believe it or not, we do actually work hard for the rest of the week.  Before I came out to the Alps, all of my previous customer-facing roles had been ones where the customer leaves after a few hours.  If you have a tricky customer in a restaurant, it’s bearable because you know they’re going to leave at the end of the evening.  Out here, this is not the case.  These people are here for a full week, and when your job description dictates that you are ‘on call’ 24-7, the work takes on a new dimension.

My job title is ‘resort rep’, which in a nutshell means that I am the point of contact for my company’s customers in resort.  Our week starts on a Saturday, where we ship all outgoing customers to the airport, and bring the new ones back to resort.  Sounds fairly simple, you might say.  Now add in factors such as snow, fog, ice, missing skis, and an airport that is essentially a large shed and requires a special pilot’s license to land there.  You might begin to understand why out here we have a completely different kind of ‘Friday Feeling’.  Once everyone has finally got on the coach to go to resort, you then have just over an hour to speak to all fifty-plus of them, and sell them their lift passes and equipment hire, all the while trying not to be flung down the aisle as a crazy French driver barrels his way along mountain roads.  By the time everyone has finally been delivered to their hotel or chalet, the work is far from over.  The weekend continues with getting up at the crack of dawn on Sunday and delivering everyone’s lift passes, smoothing out and problems that may have arisen with rooms or similar, making sure everyone gets to ski school and basically running around resort like a headless chicken.  This is generally where one encounters the clientele that are going to make the next week something of a nightmare.  Rooms aren’t big enough, view isn’t good enough, speck of dust on the carpet…  These are particularly fun to deal with when it’s peak season and the whole of the resort is fully booked.

Admittedly, it’s not all stress and tantrums.  Once Sunday night’s accommodation visits are over, the rest of the week can go very smoothly.  One great part of my job is ski hosting – taking groups of guests skiing around the Three Valleys and getting a free lunch.  At this stage of the season, the sun shines all day every day, and life doesn’t get much better than sitting on a sun terrace on top of a mountain thinking ‘I’m getting paid to do this’.  And then there are the days where we’re not required to do anything until the evening, and can spend our days skiing some of the best runs in Europe.

So as with any job, the life of a seasonnaire has both highs and lows.  There have certainly been some weeks where a customer drives me to the edge of quitting, but then a blue-sky powder day turns it around again.  It’s certainly harder work than I was anticipating, and I’m not sure if I’d do this job again.  But for now, I’m living for days like the one I’ve just had – sunshine, snow and après.

Image courtesy of the author

Film Review: In Time

Imagine a world where time is money.  Imagine a world where you stop aging at 25, but you’re only engineered to live for one more year.  Imagine a world where the rich live forever, and the poor drop dead with no warning.

This is the world created by director Andrew Niccol in his latest action thriller In Time.  With Justin Timberlake as the male lead, and Amanda Seyfried as his busty, pouty hostage/love interest/partner in crime, this film could easily have gone down a rocky route of bad one-liners and over-played ‘intense’ emotions.  However, it is becoming increasingly clear that JT has successfully made the transition from musician to actor – a transition that has not always gone well for singers in the past (Christina and Britney, need I say more?).  Timberlake is credible as a lower-class factory worker who suddenly comes into a lot of time, that is, money, that is, time.  His quest to use this time for good takes us into what is essentially a class war, and JT turns out to be some kind of futuristic Robin Hood.  There is a scene where he suddenly busts out some Bond-style action moves, which leaves you wondering where he learnt how to take out three or four men in black in ten seconds flat, but the rest of his performance is believable and enjoyable.  The chemistry between Timberlake and Seyfried isn’t as good as that between JT and Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits, but then again this is not a film centred on a sexual relationship.

Visually, In Time is incredibly stylish.  Instead of creating a space-age world of chrome and LEDs, Niccol has made a world that looks like a slick seventies photo shoot.  The cars are old-school, but have electric motors.  Everyone wears shades of grey and black: suits for the rich, tattered overalls and ripped tights for the poor.  Niccol has essentially continued with the theme used for his 1997 film Gattaca – elegant, pared down, modern yet recognisable, both In Time and Gattaca are set in worlds that the audience can relate to and understand.  Add the fact that nearly all of the cast are young and attractive, and you’ve got yourself one good-looking film.

If I were to criticise In Time on one thing, it would be the pace of the film.  The action jerks between fast-moving car chases, fights and getaways, and rather stilted scenes of dialogue and facial expressions.  I found myself growing bored, and I think this is due to the film trying to be both an action/thriller and a thought-provoking intelligent interpretation of what our future might be like.

Personally, I thought the concept of In Time was brilliant and original.  How refreshing to watch a film set in the future where there are no robots or aliens, and where there is no second planet because Earth has been destroyed.  The idea of time as money is one that is simple and yet opens up a vast range of complexities.  Do you really want to live forever?  For those who live day-to-day, how are you meant to travel anywhere?  And then there were all of the little nuances created by this time-sensitive world.  Phrases like ‘got a minute?’ take on a completely different meaning.  I particularly liked how one distinguishes between the rich and the poor: the poor run everywhere, whilst the rich amble along with, quite literally, all the time in the world.

Overall, I would highly recommend In Time.  Yes, it has its moments of rather stagnant play, but if you want to see a film that might make you think about how you use the time you have in a completely different way, then this is the film for you.

Film Review: The Help

There is a tendency for the film versions of popular and successful books to be disappointing.  The Harry Potter series, The Time Traveller’s Wife and One Day all come to mind.  I was therefore slightly sceptical before going to see The Help, the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s number one bestseller.  After all, how was a book that deals so sensitively with the lives and emotions of both black and white women in 1960s Mississippi going to translate effectively onto the screen?  The trailers didn’t fill me with much hope: chick flick-esque music and a series of shots that showed little of the book’s intelligence.  So it’s fair to say that I sat down in the cinema with a certain amount of trepidation.

But, to my surprise and relief, The Help had nothing of the schmaltzy Hollywood vibe that had been advertised.  Most of this was due to impeccable casting: Emma Stone as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, the idealistic journalist who decides to write a book about the stories of the African American maids; Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, a maid who has raised the children of rich white families all her life, and is the first to help Skeeter with her book; and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s best friend and also a maid, complete with a dynamite temper and a wit so quick it leaves you reeling.  Indeed, one of the main praises of this film has been its use of little-known actresses to play some of the main characters.  Spencer’s eyes are the most expressive I have ever seen, and the inner turmoil she experiences in the book when confronted with an employer who has no concept of racial divides are portrayed beautifully in the film.  Viola Davis’s Aibileen is the calm to Minny Jackson’s storm, and Davis’s interpretation of her character’s grief, loyalty, integrity and bravery makes for a magnificent performance.

Also worthy of mention are Bryce Dallas-Howard and Jessica Chastain, the former playing Hilly Holbrook (the film’s ‘villain’ with extreme racial prejudices and ignorance) and the latter playing Celia Foote (Minny’s boozy and breasty employer who is the only character apart from Skeeter to treat the maids as anything other than lower beings).  Dallas-Howard plays her detestable character to perfection, right down to the smug smile that is never far away from her lips, and Chastain is endearing as a 1960s Barbie from the wrong side of the tracks.

The Help is not all serious racial tension: there are some brilliantly comedic moments that lighten what could otherwise turn into a rather sombre film.  The scene where Minny reveals the secret ingredient to the pie that her former employer just ate (I won’t give it away) is one that had the whole audience in fits of laughter, especially as it was a reference point for the remainder of the film.  Then there are the moments between Skeeter and her mother that any daughter can relate to: hiding in a cupboard to make a secret phone call, having your mother force you into something pretty to wear for a ‘suitable’ young man…

Speaking of men, how refreshing to watch a film where the men play almost no role at all.  There is a small love interest for Skeeter, but apart from that The Help is about women and women only.  Even the men in the film seem to realise this: when one maid begins to ask her employer about a loan, the husband scarpers in double-quick time.  This is a story that focuses on the 1960s woman’s world of the home and the family, and everything that comes under that label.

So, did the film live up to the book?  In my opinion, an unequivocal yes.  It did not make light of the poor treatment of the maids, nor did it shy away from showing some of the more racist behaviour of the employers.  This is not a happy-ever-after film, as not all of the story lines turn out the way you hope they might.  But it does leave you with the sense that some people got their just desserts, either literally or metaphorically.

Overall: 8/10