Monday, 29 August 2011

Pachacuti Hats

That's Not Me. It's Carry Somers. The founder of Pachacuti (pronounced pa-cha-cu-tee) the UK's only fair trade hat company, and winners of the Observer Ethical Fashion Award 2011. Hooray!

After completing an MA in Native American studies, Somers went off on a PhD research trip to Ecuador, in 1992, armed with a copy of Anita Roddick's autobiography. Inspired by the Body Shop's influence on the beauty industry, Somers decided to do the same for fashion. With just £500 and no background in design, she produced a knitwear collection which sold out in six weeks, 'Seeing the tangible difference this made to the producers’ livelihoods, I gave up my PhD to run Pachacuti.'

Widely known for their Andean Panamas - the Archbishop of Canterbury wears one! - Pachacuti also have an extensive range of felt hats. As of next week, their Fedoras will be available from Net-a-Porter and then on the company's website from September:

'I have a collection of felt cloches in different styles as these are just so useful for winter weather, withstanding any amount of rain,' says Somers. So does she have a closet full of Panamas too? 'My collection varies somewhat from year to year, as I'm very good at putting my hat down at shows, such as Chelsea Flower Show, and then coming back and finding it has been sold!' This year, Yasmin le Bon and Sol Campbell both bought hats, think we can figure out who's wearing yours, Carry.

Here's Helen Mirren in Pachacuti at last year's Chelsea Flower Show:

The company's priority is to build sustainable rural livelihoods for the Chilean weavers, who are often single mums or the wives of miners, by supporting local communities and funding social programmes. Somers travels to South America about three times a year for training and research purposes, and recently when some of the elderly producers mentioned they found working on the finer styles difficult due to poor eyesight and arthritis, Pachacuti raised money for glasses and introduced a range of looser weave crochet hats, ' Surprisingly, the brightly coloured and patterned styles we introduced are woven on average one hour faster than the same Panama hat in a natural colour.'

Hats off to Carry Somers!

You can buy Pachacuti hats online at or from their Derbyshire store (19 Dig Street, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1GF. Tel: 01335 300003). Prices start at around £40.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Banana Republic Mad Men Collection

Don't know about you, but lately I've been missing Mad Men. Let's be honest - in spite of some top-notch acting - The Hour just didn't cut it. I blame the script. And, now that Sky Atlantic have nabbed series five, Mr & Mrs That's Not My Age will have to wait for the Mad Men box set. But that's OK, we love a box set. Staying in for a three-episode bender is a grown-up way to spend a Saturday night. In the mean time, Banana Republic have launched a collection designed by Janie Bryant, the costume designer for the show - so should the mood take me, at least I can dress like Betty Draper.

What do you think of the collection? Will you be going all Madison Avenue this autumn?

Available in store and online now.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Celia Birtwell

Now, this is exciting. Textile designer, Celia Birtwell has a book coming out in October. Woo hoo! Birtwell's fabulous career has spanned five decades, though she's most well-known for being married to Ossie Clarke in the seventies. The pair made some of the best dreamy chiffon dresses, ever. Designs loved by the rock and roll crowd, including Bianca Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Pattie Boyd.

Not that we have room for more books at That's Not My Age Mansions, the library/Habitat shelving unit is full. I even bought the Blog Widower a Kindle to try and cut down on the clutter. But now I need to make space for Celia Birtwell - I'm going to have to get rid of some of his Peter Ackroyds:

In June this year, the 70-year-old designer was awarded a CBE for services to the fashion industry, and not before time. Blimey, even my mum - who knows nothing about fashion - knows who Celia Birtwell is. But that's because I bought her this gardening tool kit from the V&A a couple of Christmases ago:

Anyhow. That's Not My Age was lucky enough to have a quick chat about the book with author Dominic Lutyens - who is a brilliant writer and a bit of an expert on seventies style.

1. How did you get involved in the Celia book? Did she approach you? Was it because of your 70s book?

I was on a press trip to France organised by Sahra Gott, who later set up Celia's book deal, and I got on very well with her. I told her about my book, 70s Style and Design, co-written with Kirsty Hislop, and she and I got talking about where she went shopping in the 70s: from Portobello Market to Biba and Escalade (an ultra-hip shop in Knightsbrige where my own mother used to have her hair cut). Soon after, Sahra phoned me and asked me for lunch with Celia near her Notting Hill shop to discuss the book. I didn’t really think anything would come of it, but I later got a call saying she wanted me to write the text. I had interviewed Celia for the 70s book, but I’m not sure if that helped swing things. I guess they must have factored in that I knew quite a lot about fashion from that era, I’d interviewed lots of Celia’s contemporaries for the 70s book, and knew a lot about that milieu.

2. I read that Celia doesn't really like talking about the Ossie years too much, so how did you deal with that? Did you have to coax her over tea and biscuits?

That’s true. I think it’s difficult for Celia to talk about them as they were traumatic, though we talked a lot about her collaboration with him as a designer. She was honest about the fact that her life with him was very difficult and stormy. But Celia didn’t want a scurrilous, kiss-and-tell book so I didn’t probe much into those personal matters. Essentially, it was her book and she decided not to go down the route of, say, the notorious Ossie Clark Diaries, a tome which shocked many by its bitchiness. She didn’t want to rake up all those memories again, let alone immortalise them in her book. She wanted the book to be a celebration of her life and work.

3. How long did it take you to research/write the book? She's big friends with David Hockney isn't she? Did you talk to him as part of your research?

It took about a year to research and an intensive five months to write. Yes, Celia has been really good friends with David Hockney since about 1969. He was the best man at her small, intimate wedding to Ossie that year. Ossie’s sister Kay, a jazz singer, was the only other guest. I interviewed Hockney at his studio in west London. Celia was there, too. It had taken a while for her to pin him down as he was pretty elusive, but it was worth the wait. I was quite late to meet him as one of the tube lines on my way there was closed, so I was really worried that I’d seriously annoyed him, but he was very charming – in a very good mood that day.

4. Do you know what Celia's going to do next?! Any ideas if there's something in the pipeline? And did you get a chance to go through the archives at all?

Celia once mentioned she’d like to collaborate with some high-end shops, but I have no idea if that’s still so or what her next project is, though she’s showing this September at the interiors fair Decorex. Yes, I looked at all her fabulous sketchbooks – she was very prolific between the years of about 1967 to 1975. Celia, Quadrille’s creative director Helen Lewis and I spent hours going through them all, choosing our top favourites, though Celia had the final say on them. I didn’t look through her photo archive; Celia made her own choices about what she used from that.

5. How would you describe Celia Birtwell?

Celia has a very strong personality and her humour can be entertainingly barbed. I was unsure at first how we’d get on – after all, we saw each other very often and spent hours together, a test in itself – but we really hit it off. She’s a mix of things: very chatty, warm, generous, witty, rather maternal – and, yes, amusingly mischievous. She’s also quite old-school in the sense that she’s not desperate to court the media; she’s modest and low-key. She’s always done her own thing and others have promoted her more than herself, though she’s always worked extremely hard and is very talented and disciplined.

If you're a Celia Birtwell fan, check out this fantastic interview in the Sunday Telegraph.

‘Celia Birtwell’ by Celia Birtwell with Dominic Lutyens, will be published by Quadrille on October 3rd (£30, hardback). For more information, go to

Celia Birtwell will be showing at Decorex International, 25th – 28th September 2011 go to

Celia Birtwell photo: Telegraph

Monday, 22 August 2011

Shopping like a grown-up

There comes a point when you realise there's more to life than fashion. That homewares are important too.

So say hello to my new favourite shop, Darkroom. It's a lifestyle store - a place where 'creativity is developed.' You can find it on Lamb's Conduit Street in London - and online too - which I've only just discovered, is owned by Rugby School. But don't let that put you off. This is not a place for sporty Bullingdon-toff-types, 'They have a policy of only renting the shop spaces to independent retailers,' says Darkroom director, Lulu Roper-Caldbeck, ' The street is a fascinating mix of old and new boutiques, restaurants, cafes, tailors and even London’s oldest funeral parlour - which incidentally buried Lord Nelson! There's a level of friendliness often not found in the bustle of London’s busier shopping districts.'

I give you the perfect spot for some grown-up retail action:

At Darkroom, there are no jam-packed rails or rowdy teenagers, just shelves filled with carefully curated items: gorgeous jewellery, bags and textiles from Parisian trade fairs, degree shows and crafts people around the world. It's easy to while away the time, browsing elegant nick-nackery or flicking through the magazines, though owners Lulu R-P and Rhonda Drakeford may not thank me for telling you that. The knitted pouffe above (also available in mustard), and Established & Sons containers (below) are on my wish list.

If you're in London, Lamb's Conduit Street is a brilliant place to shop. Here you'll find, 'Young fashion-led students and 70-year-old 'Bloomsbury' ladies and everything in between.' It's pretty central, yet crowd-free. And while you're at it, check out some of Lulu's favourite local places:

The Espresso Rooms - serves the best coffee in Bloomsbury if not London.
31 - 25 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3HZ

Folk - a standalone womenswear store selling own-brand casual clothing & footwear, as well other known designers such as Acne. And Aesop beauty products.
53 Lamb's Conduit Street, London

Ben Pentreath - an unusual mix of gifts and things for the home.
17 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QT

Persephone Books - reprinted classics by mostly by 20th century women, bound in their signature grey slip covers.
59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London

Do you have a favourite shop?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Sunday Morning

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is to nip across to Columbia Road in the East End of London. Like proper midlifers we like to spend time at the flower market, browsing an array of stalls and independent shops selling overpriced homewares, prints and second-hand furniture. It's best to get there early. Oops.

After too much pink wine last night, Mr & Mrs That's Not My Age will be stopping off for a coffee here:

And buying some flowers.

And some cheese and olives:

One of my favourite shops is B Southgate, furniture restorers.

Once we've done all that, it'll be time for lunch.

What's you favourite way to spend a Sunday?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Where I meet Mary Portas, again...

'Why is it the minute you reach 40, it's all piped music and James Blunt?' Mary Portas asks me (yes, really!) on a tour of her new shop, 'This is about spirit, it's about creating an exciting environment. It's more than just clothes.' The retail guru, with 30 years industry experience, is fed up with what's on offer on the high street for women of a certain vintage and opens her own shop Mary & House of Fraser today. This is a store-within-a-store for 'grown-up style conscious women' and That's Not My Age was invited along yesterday for an exclusive preview and a chance to chat with the government's high street tsar. I know, beyond exciting. And this time I did manage to string a sentence together without sounding like a complete social misfit. Though the Channel 4 cutting room floor may tell a very different story - the entire event is being filmed for a new series Mary Queen of Frocks.

Anyhow before I go on, grown-up style conscious women everywhere, please take note of the Pret a Portas checklist:

1. Avoid dressing like a teenager.
2. Edit your trends.
3. Work with your proportions.
4. Keep it low maintenance.
5. Don't buy crap!

Makes sense. Though the Mary Manifesto, 'Ready in 10 minutes and looking hot,' may not quite be the statement that menopausal customers want to make.

So the boutique has a New York-y feel, there's a hint of the Anthopologie lifestyle thing going on - and quite a lot of orange. This is not just about fashion, there are beauty products, interiors and second-hand books donated by Mary's Living & Giving shops, with proceeds going to Save the Children. Plus, food and coffee. Coffee, red wine and olive oil are Old Best Friend Mary Portas's (OBFMP) favourite things. ' I'm not a workaholic,' she announces, ' There are so many things I want to do but I like to take the weekends off. I relax by running, going to yoga, gardening and drinking a lot of red wine.' Sounds just like a typical TNMA weekend, minus the physical activity.

There were boxes and builders all over the shop yesterday, Mary & House of Fraser was still very much a work-in-progress. The mannequins weren't quite ready.

The collection is a combination of grown-up labels such as MaxMara, who as Melanie Rickey points out, 'Make the best camel coats ever,' Whistles (in fact, this editing of brands is a little bit Lucille Lewin) and Day Birger et Mikkelsen:

And then there's Mary's own label, which makes up around 40% of the offer. Here are collaborations with some great traditional English brands: Clarks shoes (the boots above are one of my favourite styles), Monica Vinader jewellery and Charnos hosiery - whose Armery (supportwear for arms), is pure genius. As we all know, 'a wobbly upper arm is the scourge of the fashionable woman.' How long before we see Helen Mirren wearing one of these?

All available to buy online soon, though at OBFMP states, ' Online can never be as exciting as great retail.' When I ask about design input, Portas replies, ' Me and Mel went through everything we love in the wardrobe. Clothes I'd had for years, just great pieces, nothing trend-led and then called on Antonio Berardi to take a look.' Whether this is the Roland Mouret/Victoria Beckham kind of look, who knows? But the result, on the whole, is a collection of good quality, wardrobe basics - like the No-Brainer Dress, which comes in a variety of prints:

That's Not My Age loves the fact that forty-something model Cecilia Chancellor stars in the promotional campaign:

One of my favourite things is the Moan Phone. Any customer complaints are directed to an answer machine and will be dealt with personally by Portas, who promises to get back to shoppers herself, once a week.

What are you going to do if you get a message saying, ' Your clothes are designed for tall slim, Portas-shaped women. I'm 5' 2 and size 18 and nothing suits me?' I ask. ' Why look at problems?' replies OBFMP, 'Retailers don't do that when they design for younger women - and we have the standard size range here. I wanted to create great fashion, a brilliant collection with a focus on quality, fit and style.' Ahem. I did want to ask why the Queen of Shops, champion of the independent retailer had opted for a department store rather than going it alone, but bottled that one and asked about the future instead. Will the Mary Portas shop be rolled out across the country? ' I'd love to see this in another 10 cities but it has to be like this - not a rail of clothes and a picture of me!'

That's Not My Age Verdict:
The median age of women in the UK was 41-years-old in 2010 and so a collection for this demographic is a No-Brainer. And OBFMP says she is not in this for the money and genuinely seems to care about the issue. So, maximum respect. This is Portastic if you're tired of trawling the high street/internet for dresses with sleeves, or want a one-stop-shop and a coffee. I know that being 5' 10 and size 12, I could get away with most of these styles - and that some of the stuff that looks fabulous on telly, on Mary Portas, may not be to everyone's liking. In which case, may I point you in the direction of Cos.

Mary Portas photo: The Guardian

Monday, 15 August 2011

Are you sitting comfortably?

Good news from the high street - and this has nothing to do with KFC being boarded up in Brixton - Sir Terence Conran (STC) has been working on a range of exclusive furniture with M&S. Yes, Habitat may have kicked the bucket chair but its founder is still going strong. 'We are creating, useful and beautiful products that can improve the quality of people's lives and give them years of pleasure,' says STC who will be 80-years-old in October:

This teal velvet sofa would definitely give me years of pleasure and make the perfect replacement for our battered old 1950s leather settee.

A small collection of 70 pieces launches in-store and online on 22 September 2011. Expanding to over 300 Conran Exclusive Design products for spring 2012. All the upholstery is made to order in the UK.

STC Photo: Terence Conran

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Glad to be grey

Whilst Jean Paul Gaultier celebrated ageless style by sending models down his A/W 2011 catwalk with gorgeous grey beehive wigs, That's Not My Age prefers the real thing. Click here to see my grey streak - and er, super model Kristen McMenamy looking fabulous sans dye-job. So it's good to see that lifestyle brand Toast, who show their menswear collection on models of all ages, are now using older, grey-haired women too - that's the lovely Daphne Selfe above. Hooray!

'O.A.P/A.O.K: Grab your bus pass - the older lady inspires,' said Elle Collections magazine about Gaultier's grown-up models:

Yesterday market research company Mintel tweeted, 'Just one in seven European women aged over-55 consider their hair to be their best feature. Could more can be done to target this group?'

I'm trying to find out some more about this statistic - but in the meantime, what do you think?

Catwalk photos:

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Style Begins At Forty Awards (SBAFtAs)

So, the blog must go on. Time for the long-overdue, second annual Style Begins At Forty Awards - a bit like the Vanity Fair best-dressed list but without the bankers (that's financiers if you're reading this in America) - let's hear it for all those fabulous people beyond a certain age who deserve a virtual pat on the back. Yay!

The Lifetime Achievement Award: Hilary Alexander
As I pointed out at the inaugural ceremony last year, this is not a sympathy vote for some sad sack who no-one really likes. It is, in fact, well-earned recognition for years of hard graft and a life-long dedication to style. Hilary Alexander (above) won a media award at the CFDAs earlier this year, retired from the Daily Telegraph after 25 years as fashion director and signed up for a degree in archaeology. Meanwhile she continues to freelance and tweet like a person half her age. No staying in with her feet up and a cuppa for Hilary.

The Global Superstar Award: Michelle Obama
Not only is Michelle Obama, 47, a fantastic role model for working-class kids the world over - when she goes into inner city schools it makes me cry - she can dance properly too. And, with an easy confidence and excellent dress sense there's no doubting her fashion credentials. Now, if Mobama could just see off all those Tea Party nutters she can be my favourite First Lady for another term.

The Broken-Glass-Ceiling award: Christine Lagarde

This was a close one. Jill Abramson, the first female editor of The New York Times came a very close second but was pipped at the post by Christine Lagarde. The only SBAFtA winner who's also being investigated for fraud, oops sorry, on the Vanity Fair best-dressed list 2011. The 55-year-old head of the IMF looks at home on the red carpet, gives good scarf action and has fantastic hair too.

Best Actor Award: Mark Rylance

The one-time artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe picked up a TONY for his role as Johnny Byron in Jerusalem - and looks like a cross between Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell. Which is never a bad thing. Rylance, 51, is heading home this autumn for a run at the Apollo Theatre, and Mr & Mrs That's Not My Age have our tickets booked already.

The Technology Award: Bjork
Bjork, 46, has created a new album, Biophilia, that mixes music, science and technology - to be honest I don't really understand how it works but it's got something to do with apps. And Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent designed a raw crystal jumpsuit especially for her. Which makes the Icelandic singer a genius as far as I'm concerned.

The Parisian Chic Award: Ines de la Fressange
She's gorgeous and elegant and wears flat Roger Vivier shoes. OK, it's easy for a model to look good but Ines de la Fressange has thirty years experience in fashion, is back on the catwalk in her sixth decade and has shared her style secrets with us in a charming, witty book. Advice such as, 'To feel better about my lifestyle, I watch documentaries on old rock bands and I feel like a picture of health,' is always welcome.

The Two-Fingered Salute Award: Jarvis Cocker and George Michael

Now this one is a tie. Though it may not have received as much press coverage as the Michael Jackson bum-flashing stunt, Jarvis Cocker, 47, wiping his arse on the last ever issue of News of the World at T in the Park deserves a standing ovation. And, I kind of like George Michael, 48, now that he gets arrested in toilets and crashes his Mercedes into Snappy Snaps. But the best thing he's ever done, even better than Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, was slapping obnoxious, Little Englander, Jeremy Clarkson down on Twitter. After a brief spat, Michael tweeted, 'Good grief Mr Clarkson, I wasn't implying your towering heterosexuality was in question. I had no desire to insult you!' Followed by, 'But I do now, you pig-ugly homophobic twat!!!!!'

Who would you give a Style Begins at Forty Award to?

Hilary Alexander: Daily Telegraph
Michelle Obama: NY magazine
Christine Lagarde: AFC
Mark Rylance: Andy Paradise
Bjork: Dazed Digital
Ines de la Fressange:Sipa
Jarvis Cocker: Daily Record
George Michael: Rex