My trip to the Crescent City – Part 1

Last month I took a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.  My husband was privileged to be speaking at one of the biggest cancer conferences in the world, the American Association for Cancer Research, hosted in New Orleans this year, and I tagged along for the ride.  This was our first trip away together since we got married and so it was a special one for us.

Whilst 20,000 conference delegates from around the world descended on New Orleans, I vacationed it up, enjoying the long walks, the historic architecture, the scrumptious food and cocktails, the quirky shops, the music and the bonhomie of NOLA’s lovely residents.   If cities were soulmates, then New Orleans would be mine without a doubt.  This city is so vibrant, beautiful and sultry, with a rich history and cultural tradition, and despite the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina it has managed to pick itself up and march on ahead.  The positivity and generosity of the place was so infectious that I came away happier. Truly!

After a 10-hour flight, with a quick stop off in Atlanta, we were exhausted but happy to be checked in to the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, bordering the famous (and infamous!) French Quarter.  The long day of travelling (and some cocktails! I was on holiday after all!) took its toll on me, and all I was craving a comfy bed and a cup of tea!

The first few days we were so jetlagged (New Orleans is 6 hours behind London during Daylight Saving Time) so after a non-existent night’s sleep, we headed out to the super-popular Ruby Slipper Café at 200 Magazine Street for a good breakfast pick-me-up.  And it did just that! They do great Eggs Benedict in various configurations so I got the one with beef plus a delicious Bloody Mary.  Head there early as it is only open for breakfast and brunch.

The other great NOLA go-to for breakfast and brunch is Daisy Dukes on 121 Chartres Street,  a guilty pleasure of mine.  On one early morning (6.30 am to be precise!), we headed out to this 24/7 café, where I shamelessly took full advantage of the unlimited refills of Bloody Mary cocktails.  By 7.30 am I was on my third cocktail and they even gave me a cup ‘to go’! Nowhere else in the world could this happen, but it felt so right here!  The omelettes were heaven, too.

Aside from scrummy brunches and Bloody Mary cocktails, we visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.  This wonderful museum, housed in the old US Customs Building, has a great collection of live and preserved specimens of a variety of insects.  My favourite bit was the walk through the humid Butterfly Gardens, where tropical butterflies flitter from leaf to leaf and butterflies can be seen hatching from pupae.

When my husband was at conference I took the opportunity to take a long, long walk down Magazine Street, the location of many wonderful independent boutiques, art shops and antiques shops.  It is a shopper’s heaven.  Vintage clothing is really big here, and there were so many boutiques selling exquisite vintage designer pieces as well as retro-inspired clothing.   If I could, I would have bought the contents of the shops Century Girl Vintage and Trashy Diva combined!  Grandmother’s Buttons also caught my eye – I really coveted their beautiful antique button necklaces.

There were also lots of lovely gift shops, including the treasure trove of Sterling Silvia, a magpie’s haven for sterling silver jewellery and Peony New Orleans, for beautiful gifts and soft, floaty clothing.   There are lots of art and antique shops on Magazine Street, selling local artists’ works.  Derby Pottery & Tile make beautiful New Orleans-inspired pieces in aqua colours, such as the Water Meter Clocks.

For music lovers, there’s the epic Peaches Records, where the shop assistants were ever so friendly and even offered me a free root beer to drink whilst I browsed at leisure.  It was perhaps one of my favourite moments of the whole trip – the warm buzz of root beer, riffling through a vast record collection, and good cheer.

This good atmosphere extended to the whole of Magazine Street, where every shopkeeper exuded warmth and took the time to chat to me for ages, without once pushing me to buy anything.  Of course, it worked because I bought a hell of a lot that day!

Magazine street is very long, as I think I’ve emphasized already, about six miles in total, and interspersed between the stretches of shops are residential streets, of unique wooden-panelled French-influenced architecture and bright colours.

I’m going to take a breather here – I have so much more to tell you about the fantastic French Quarter, including a NOLA food tour and the jazz clubs of Frenchmen Street in my next post, plus the big shopping haul from my Magazine Street trip!

 

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Designspiration

Everyone needs a little design inspiration in their lives: whether they’re planning their next evening outfit, a refit for their kitchen or living space, a wedding (that was me about five months’ ago!), their next shop display  (me again!), and even the next blog post, which includes all of us here reading and writing our blogs!

I love to draw inspiration from many sources.  I try to get a good dose of inspo from fashion magazines such as Vogue, or interior design magazines such as Elle Home.  I’ve recently been watching BBC’s the Great Interior Design Challenge in the (false) hope that I’ll create something so utterly fantastic.   Since the planning of my wedding, I’ve discovered the wonderful world of Pinterest, and I use it to pin anything I like the look of, from interior design to fashion to art and everything in between.   Movies and music are also great wells of inspiration – I love the stylised retro worlds of Wes Anderson’s films and the colourful musical worlds of the late 1960s and early 1970s with psychedelia and progressive rock.  Additionally I recently discovered this fantastic visual merchandising blog, charityshopvm.  Like me, you’ll love the impressive window displays on offer, and the high standards of these displays have really inspired me to up my game!

I don’t get the opportunity to travel very much at the moment, but take a trip to a museum or art gallery and you may not always need to, although with the British weather, you’re probably going to disagree with me there!

Last week I took a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.  Just a leisurely stroll through the museum’s wonderful collections can refresh and fix you!  I visited the Islamic and South Asian collections, which has some of the most beautiful and intricate pieces I’d ever seen.

I visited the Fashion collection, which covers the last 300 years in fashion.  For all those Biba lovers out there, see if you can spot the Biba dress in the collection!

I also visited the Al Thani jewellery collection at the V&A during my trip.  I urge you to visit if you haven’t done already – go soon as it closes on 10th April!  It’s a collection of Indian jewellery from the last 400 years, combining traditional and modern jewellery design.  Each piece is exquisitely made and being the magpie that I am, I was completely mesmerised! Unfortunately photography was forbidden so no pictures as a result – but you do have to see for yourself just how extraordinary the collection really is.

For visual merchandising and crafts inspiration, I love taking a wander around the shops on the high street in order to have a look at the visual displays put on.  I’ve been down in London a few times and snapped displays that have been inspiring to me.  My favourite shop Liberty has wonderful bluebell garlands and this huge marigold-like flower, all embellished with classic Liberty prints.  Kiehl’s at Liberty has a humorous tongue-in-cheek take on health and wellness with its skeleton riding a paisley-print vintage bike.  John Lewis has a simple but effective bath display, using glass baubles to imitate bubbles.

I’d love to hear from you all about your sources of creative inspiration and about how you get ideas for your next blog post or next project, whatever that may be!

Technicolor Easter

Easter is just around the corner, so here is another window display from my local Oxfam shop to celebrate!

The last few days have been a bit of a mad crafts rush, as I’ve spent a lot of time making many of the props for this display.  My theme was based on a hyper-intense and psychedelic Technicolor world, a little bit like the chocolate river scene in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.   I wanted to illustrate this theme using bright colours, metallic fabrics and textures which I used in a variety of ways.

First I created a paper skirt, made of blue and green cellophane with a gold tissue paper overlay to simulate tulle.  I added a newspaper waistband lined with purple foil sweet wrappers.  I paired the skirt with a sparkly jumper and made a necklace of little Easter eggs.  I’ve never ever made my own clothes before so this was a first for me!  The whole outfit reminds me of sweet shops.

I then got a bunch of plastic eggs and spray-painted them metallic gold so that they would look like the eggs that the golden goose from Willy Wonka had laid.   These were arranged in a little nest of gold and silver tissue paper.

Another volunteer and I also created no-sew sock bunnies using metallic socks and bags of rice.  Check out Homemade Gift Guru if you want to make these cute critters! I used heart mirror confetti to create the eyes and thin wire for the whiskers, so the bunnies look a little trippy!

We then put together our display as shown below, using a few extra bits and bobs such as fake grass runners and Easter stickers as well as soft toys and home ware:

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A Mother’s Day display

For those of you in the UK, its Mother’s Day this Sunday 6th March.  I’ve done another window display for my local Oxfam shop to mark the occasion.  I was inspired by florals, nature and springtime, and as per usual I had to get creative with the limited resources I had.

Here are some of the items I had in my arsenal: a cake stand, a Wedgwood tea cup and saucer, a 1930s silver-plated teapot, a cloche hat, a floral velvet burnout scarf, owl hand warmers, a china clock, bits of butterfly-themed accessories including a blue handbag, brooches, hair slides and trinket boxes, a blue cat ornament, and some books.

To pull the look together, I dotted origami butterflies in pinks and blues around the display, that I had made previously – if you want to know how to make these little beauties, I strongly recommend you look at Michael LaFosse’s Origami Butterflies book.  I also hung up a few butterflies on a clip-on mobile in the middle of the window.  I found some metal plant pots and filled them with artificial spring flowers in pastel shades, hung them to one side of the window and added MUM in cutout letters to tie everything together.

This is what I came up with:

Paper Hearts and Roses

Valentine’s Day is upon us again, and love it or hate it, you can’t get away from it especially if you’re out and about on the high street!  To mark the event at my local Oxfam shop, I was asked to put together a window display.  Since last year when I organised my own wedding and made origami butterfly decorations, I’ve been into origami and decided to make some origami hearts to put up in the window.  I found a great set of instructions on origami website Origami Instructions.  All you need is some origami paper squares and a little bit of patience, and you will be rewarded with these dinky little hearts, which I made in red, pink and purple.

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I really wanted to make origami roses as well, but this was so much harder than making the hearts.  I had to concede defeat in the end as I was driven crazy trying to follow complicated instructions.  Origami roses are for the more advanced origami enthusiast and I still have some way to go to achieve that.  In the end I decided to cheat and went for a much easier solution, using these instructions from ruffledblog.com.  I cut little spirals out of origami paper and then wound them up tightly to produce these pretty swirly roses, which I then stuck onto a heart-shaped piece of cardboard.  The idea of the paper flowers on a heart came from this box frame of dried roses, which I put together from my wedding bouquet.

The final bit was putting everything together for the display.  With the addition of some shiny heart garlands, a heart-shaped frame of Valentine’s messages, and the help of another volunteer, this is what we came up with!