Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Having a Grape Old Time!

It's about time I took a foray back into the more distant past for a fresh King's Ginger adventure. Luckily enough, I have had one up my sleeve for a few months, ready to unleash on my loyal readers at the most opportune moment! This particular story revolves around sparkling wine (and horses), and what better time to enjoy such things than in the lead up to Valentine's Day? Well, sparkling wine, not horses. Though what you do with your own time is no business of mine.

Onto the tale!

In stories gone by, I have written about King Edward VII's big love of horse-racing, and taken a trip to Goodwood. He visited racecourses all over the place, of course. But he was a regular visitor of one in particular - the Stockbridge Races. Stockbridge Racecourse itself no longer exists, having sadly been forced to close in 1898, before our hero even ascended the throne. More on this later. In its time, days at the Stockbridge Races were described as 'among the pleasantest of the whole season', with none of the 'bustle and excitement of Epsom, Ascot and Goodwood'. While the aforementioned other races were quite graced with the presence of his Highness, the Prince of Wales, so he frequented Stockbridge too, quite often with famous mistress Lillie Langtry in tow.

Stockbridge Racecouse - the Bilbury Grandstand, 7th July 1898

The Prince and Lillie were only together three years, from 1877 to 1880 (though they remained friends for decades), but he was so taken with her that they were almost inseparable in that time. He even built her a house, which I visited a few years ago. As you can imagine, due to their celebrity couple status, her appearances at Stockbridge were quite the event, but what's interesting is that the reverse was obviously quite true as well. In 1885, she bought a stable of racehorses and was variously involved with racing her horses, winning prestigious cups (under the name Mr Jersey) and even trying to breed them. She was eventually obliged to sell up by, you guessed it, a chap. She married in 1899 and later that same year, it was reported,
Mrs. Lily Langtry, known in racing circles as "Mr. Jersey," under which name her horses are nominated in English stakes, is about to dispose of her racing stable and to wash her hands forever of the turf. She will do this at the expressed wish of her husband, Mr. Hugo Gerald de Bathe, who does not think It Is a woman's province to own a Race horse.
I digress, because despite winning cups at Ascot and Goodwood among others, she never won anything at Stockbridge with her horses. And neither did the Prince! In 1881, he apparently said,

“I have only won one race myself under Jockey Club rules, but far from being discouraged, I still continue racing, and hope one day to own a Derby winner of my own breeding, although I really think, at the present time, my luck is so bad that if a horse of mine were winning a race, it would drop dead before passing the winning post.”

In 1886, he entered the Stockbridge Cup with his horse, Counterpane. Perhaps the name was an omen, because after a very flat performance, the poor horse limped in last and promptly keeled over dead at the finish line. Apparently, 'souvenir hunters pulled out every hair of the horse's tail. Gruesome!

Tom Cannon

Chose this picture of Tom for obvious reasons

While attending the Stockbridge Races, the Prince very often stayed at nearby Danebury House (in the perfectly-named Nether Wallop) as a guest of the owner Tom Cannon. Tom was described as a 'natural jockey' (which presumably means a short fellow), albeit one who occasionally overindulged and had to 'don several large woollen sweaters and run around the Racecourse' to cut down to optimum jockey weight! He's also great-grandfather to Lester Piggott, so clearly a good jockey gene in the family. He rose from a young stableboy and jockey, to the master trainer of the Danebury Stables, and later, after marrying the owner, John Day's daughter Kate in 1865, became the owner upon the death of Day in 1883. He won an astonishing 1,544 times in his career.

So, what happened to Stockbridge Racecourse? The above ruin is all that remains of the Bilbury Grandstand from the top photo, taken at the last ever meeting. It sadly caught fire in 1973, having stood empty and unloved for nearly a hundred years.  Sadly, it was all the fault of a lady who can only be described as a killjoy! 

The owner of part of the land over which the racecourse ran, Sir John Barker Mill, died in 1860, his widow in 1884. A distant cousin, Marianne Vaudry, then inherited the estate. She was highly disapproving of gambling, racing and betting, not to mention drinking. She gave all the local pubs over to 'The People's Refreshment Association', who sold food, and no booze. She believed drinking alcohol led inevitably to vice. 

She sued Tom Cannon for trespass, claiming he unlawfully training horses and playing cricket and other games on his property. He won the suit and was allowed 'right of recreation' on the land, but could no longer train racehorses there. In order to stop anyone gambling there, Vaudry then withdrew the lease on her bit of racecourse and the major sponsors their meetings moved to Salisbury Racecourse. It was nearly the end. But not quite! Apparently, from Days at the Races:
She had to give notice to the club that she was going to sell it, and the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward Vii, sent an equerry down there, with an open cheque to buy Stockbridge racecourse. But she tore it up and threw it in the fire. There's a strong willed woman...
Apparently, she later said that if she had realised the harm her actions would cause, she wouldn't have closed it. The three days of racing made some Stockbridge residents enough to last a year. But it was done.

Fittingly, one of the last ever events held in the Grandstand was a supper dance to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII, on 23rd June 1902. Guests feasted on lobster, beef and veal plus 'Tipsy Cake' and everyone danced until 7am the following morning. What a fitting end!

Nowadays, Danebury is a private home, but the clockhouse building in the photo above dates from the racecourse's heyday. The site was used for testing Spitfires during WWII. Racehorse stables are still there, but (Marianne Vaudry would be horrified to know) the estate is now a Danebury Vineyard, which was planted in 1988. They produce a fantastic sparkling wine, Cossack, which goes fantastically well with... The King's Ginger!

I brought my own bottle along, of course.

Apart from my fabulous KGL carrier, the starring part of my outfit is from the wonderful Ally Fashion. She will make you this if you ask! 

As I said above, Cossack sparkling wine goes brilliantly with King's Ginger as a Valentine's cocktail - the Royal King! It's crisp and light, perfectly complementing the sweetness of the liqueur. I took it upon myself to sample it at Danebury and, while I only had a very small glass of the cocktail as I was driving, it was definitely to be repeated. And what better way to wake up on Sunday 14th February than with decadent breakfast cocktails? All you need is a couple of fingers of King's Ginger, topped up with fizz. Here's one I didn't prepare earlier, by Instagram legend Symmetry Breakfast:

Pancakes... booze... happy Valentine's Day! You can buy Danebury Cossack online - The Drink Shop carries KGL as well - hurrah!

Fleur xx

Thursday, 28 January 2016

From Hobby to Career – Becoming a Vintage Seller

In the second of my two posts for Shurgard's blog, I am asking: so, you think you have a good eye for vintage clothing and accessories? Perhaps, after many years devoted to your own collection – honing your eye for a bargain – you realise you prefer hunting down vintage and antiques more than your actual job. Well... why not try and make a living out of your hobby? Seriously! You'll have to get used to early mornings, become a photographer, get to grips with social media marketing and, most importantly of all, genuinely have a passion for what you're doing. But the rewards are so worth it! 

Keep your eyes peeled

The casual collector scours eBay and Etsy and probably frequents vintage sales, charity shops and carboots. But the serious stock sourcer needs to think bigger. You can find big lots on eBay if you look, but it's being first through the door at sales of all kinds that reaps the rewards. Pro sellers are the ones lining up at opening time, sweeping through and leaving before the hobbyists have even got out of bed! You can even try going to proper vintage clothing auction houses like Kerry Taylor to battle it out with other dealers, hitting foreign flea markets or making friends with local house clearance companies.

Promoting your collection 

When you've acquired some stock, what then? Sure, you can book spots at fairs, boot sales and so forth, but if you don't have transport, it can be difficult. Selling online is the answer, but it's an art all in itself. Taking decent photos is key. A decent camera (or cameraphone), a plain backdrop (or bedsheet!) and a cheap mini tripod are good to have. It's definitely fair to say that the better your photos are, the more you are likely to sell, and potentially command higher prices.

For clothing, you can model the pieces yourself (check out Butch Wax Vintage, who has mastered pinning larger pieces on herself) or use other models (see Atypical Girl who does both), or get an adjustable mannequin (like Advantage in Vintage). Making sure everything is ironed/steamed (the latter is so much quicker) is crucial! With jewellery, an uncluttered background is good. You don't need to invest in expensive light boxes, you can DIY these things with a bit of effort! Whatever you are selling, you need to go over each piece with a fine-toothed comb to make note of any flaws. Fix, sew and clean anything you can yourself!

Social media is key

Mastering social media is the next step to selling world domination! Have an Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account so that whatever your customers' preferred platform, they can follow you. Even if you aren't a big user of all three, you can use many great automation tools to take the hard work out. Check out IFTTT, Buffer and Schedugram, and if you're not a natural social media addict, spend half an hour a day and schedule your updates, then you won't have to be a slave to it the rest of the time. Plus, you can use Instagram to sell direct, with no fees or on Facebook groups like Ooh La La Vintage Swap & Sell, as mentioned in my last post.

Making space

Finally, in order to stop your new job and supersized collection taking over your life, especially if you wear vintage yourself, consider hiring some external storage. Even if you have space at home, it can be useful to keep your work separate and your spare room, you know, spare. Better than sticking your precious things in a damp loft or an unsecured outhouse, professional storage places like Shurgard are completely safe, with PIN entry & 24-hour CCTV coverage. Plus, they offer the flexibility to store things for the short or long term, perfect for when you're just starting out as a vintage seller and you're still working out which sales methods or events are going to be the best for you.

Good luck!

Fleur xx

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Starting a Vintage Collection: Beginner's Basics

Collecting anything, but especially vintage clothing or accessories, can vary from being a casual hobby to an all-consuming compulsion. As a collector of everything from Beanie Babies (as a kid) to vintage housedresses (ongoing), I have experience at both ends of the spectrum! I was asked by Shurgard Self-Storage to write a piece about said experience for their blog and was only too glad to oblige. I can waffle on a bit as any regular readers know, and I kept it more concise there. So here, in full are some tips to kickstart your collecting career.

Starting out

Firstly, and most importantly, decide what you want to collect! You do need to pick something that genuinely interests you, or you'll lose the passion for hunting it down. Go for vintage clothing that you want to wear yourself or restore and preserve; things you will use and enjoy, like mid-century costume jewellery, bakelite bangles, art deco china tea services or CC41 furniture. I collect clothing and deco china but Naomi Thompson, who wrote the book Style Me Vintage Accessories with fellow collector extraordinaire Liz Tregenza, says that vintage jewellery is the 'lazy' collector's choice! 

'I grew tired of mending, washing, storing and protecting delicate vintage clothing. That pool is getting smaller. Now, jewellery is democratic. It doesn’t matter what size, shape or age you are, everyone can enjoy jewellery.'

Looking for bargains and real steals

Heading to top end vintage and antique fairs is a good first step for any budding vintage collector. The experienced sellers will have genuine wares that will help you get to know what you're looking for. Examine fabrics and fastenings, labels and makers stamps. Once you know what the real thing looks and feels like, you can keep a better eye out in charity shops and car boot sales. The vintage world is unfortunately replete with reproductions, knock-offs (especially bakelite) and 80s pieces masquerading as earlier. Naomi says, 'Car boots and charity shops are still good pickings. It is still overlooked. Everyone is looking for vintage clothing. Plastics are a great example of this. I keep on finding 1920s celluloid in the 20p basket in my local charity shop. Always look in those cheapie baskets. I also love a good jewellery job lot on eBay.'

Once you know what you're looking for, online shopping for vintage items is relatively easy. Head to eBay or Etsy, find sellers on Instagram or (top tip) join Facebook groups specific to your era. The largest by far (and therefore most competitive) is Ooh La La! Vintage Swap And Sell Shop, which is mainly for 1940s and mid-century clothing, accessories and collectibles. For all online browsing, if you are searching by keywords, always try slight misspellings too. Items with terrible photos are sometimes great scores in disguise – take occasional risks as they can pay off!

Storage & maintenance

Storage and maintenance of a vintage collection is extremely important. Any time a button comes off or a seam goes, repair it. Don't wear, wash or dry-clean it until it's been fixed! Invest in some padded hangers to keep delicate dresses and coats from straining their seams. Knitwear and heavy beaded things are best in boxes or cases. Acid-free tissue paper is the recommended padding of dealers! Whatever you do, don't store things long-term in vacuum bags, the lack of air can wreak havoc on delicate fabrics. Inside wardrobes, closely piled shoes or tightly-wedged clothing can get mouldy and costume jewellery can tarnish and chip if bundled together. 

Selling stuff is obviously an option, but as time marches on and vintage and antiques become more scarce, you'll find that your collection's value may grow... better to hold onto it a little longer and reap the rewards in coming years and decades! How do you decide what to keep in circulation and what to store? Naomi advises, 'I keep novelty plastic, anything to do with hands and bugs, anything bright and colourful. The thing about being a collector is you are constantly editing your collection. Things come in, so others have to go out.' If your home is bursting at the seams, do consider looking for an affordable storage facility to keep your finds safe and dry. Shurgard offers units from 10 to 240 square feet, so even if you just need to store one or two boxes full of precious things, it’s a great option.

Happy collecting!

Fleur xx

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Seven Years of Blogging Christmas

When you've been blogging as long as me (8 years next year), you've accumulated a lot of photos of Christmases past. In the interests of nostalgia and laziness, I thought I'd take you back in time to my many and varied (and not-so-varied) vintage Christmas outfits of the past! In a vaguely chronological order...

Back in 2008, I loved swing dancing. I wore this two-piece candy-cane striped set to a Christmas swing dance, complete with holly in my hair! Can't remember the brand, but I do know it is long gone.

The following year, I wore a repro velvet dress from Able Grable, another defunct repro brand.

This vintage inspired coat came from the high street... Oasis I think. A staple of winter for years & years!

Vintage 40s suit jacket, an ASOS jumpsuit & King's Ginger for the first year!

A Rocket Originals jumper, which was not, in fact a Christmas jumper... but it did a damn good impression in 2011!

2012 with some King's Ginger again, back in the velvet and a fur coat. Plus Miss L Fire shoes. 

I also did a shoot with Jeni Yesterday at the Imperial War Museum... I think it was the same year, but who knows?

A festive green jumpsuit from H&M & a Freddies of Pinewood cardi that mysteriously disappeared some time ago...

With me bro... who's now a DAD!?

One Boxing day, when I dressed down. ;)

2013 was the first year of the Heyday Christmas Fleur! Obviously wore this 40s style wrap dress on Xmas day.

And last year - the Holly Berry Fleur dress - there are still some of these available! Though you've missed last post now... still.

Not sure what I'm wearing for Christmas this year - I haven't bought anything new that's fancy enough for ages. Not that there's anything better than the two Heyday Fleurs above... What are you wearing?

Fleur xx

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A Horrible Halloween

There haven't been many years since around 2008 where I haven't thrown a Halloween party, either with my friend Ruby who owns Fontaine's Bar in Dalston, or the Vintage Mafia. This year combined both into the Mortuary of Madness, a horror hospital-themed party the VM threw at Fontaine's! Apart from Jeni's costume getting lost in the post, forcing her to be a patient rather than a Great War nurse, it was a brilliant night and all our guests made so much effort. Here's a selection of snaps by the ultra talented Hanson Leatherby, to see the full album, head to his Facebook!

I think you'll all agree, these photos are really a bit too good!

Fleur xx

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