Saturday, 28 February 2009

Illustrated Book Of The Week - Bulgarian National Costume


This is one of the jewels in my collection of fashion and costume books, more a folio than a book, it comprises of 60 thick sheets each with a beautiful costume illustration. Published in 1950 my copy is number 552 0f 5000. I discovered the collection some years ago at the Clignancourt flea market in Paris . I have been meaning to get them framed ever since , one day I'll have a whole wall lined with all 60.


Not much more to say really there is a concise text in Russian, French and English, we learn that ' virtually the only outlet for popular creative expression in the past, national dress is indeed one of the most characteristic documents of Bulgarian culture.' and other not so interesting observations, what is truly inspiring is the restrained 50's style of the prints.




Now download the classic "Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares vo1" on itunes and you'll be ready for the total experience.

Spring Is Just Around The Corner III - 70's Crochet Afghans


When I was growing up, there were certain things that were restricted to old ladies. Boiled sweets, antimacassars and crochet afghan blankets were high on the list of geriatric must-haves. If you owned any of these things, you might as well put your hair up into a bun and settle down to end your days with a pile of Mills and Boon romances and a tin of Fox's Speciality Assorted Biscuits.

Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe it's the current ascension of the etsy aesthetic, but recently I've come to see that afghans are glorious homemade works of art. I've always loved traditional patchwork - and these are obviously their simpler, hand-crafted siblings. Because they're usually made up out of remnants of wool, some of the random colour combinations that can be found in them can be very inspiring. This particularly nice one is from Jet Rag in Los Angeles - I love the way that it marries the 70's hippie look with a clean modern graphic pattern.

Even if most of the afghans are made out of 'granny squares' - you no longer need to be a granny (or a square) to appreciate them.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Spring Is Just Around The Corner III - Bernard Fleetwood-Walker


I would love to say that my profound knowledge of Twentieth century British art had led me to recall these delightful images by Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, but the truth is that I first saw his work resplendent on the cover of a Vintage paperback this weekend. I'm an instant fan.

His use of colour and the sweet optimism of his pictures key in perfectly with this week's 'Spring' theme. Like a sophisticated take on Enid Blyton's vision, it takes me back to an idyllic era of British life, filled with picnics, bicycle rides and unselfconscious beret wearing. 

Bernard Fleetwood-Walker's work is examined in great detail at

Monday, 23 February 2009

Winter Aconites


Winter Aconites are brash in-laws of the Snowdrop, the appear at the same time but somehow are much less known. Where Snowdrops charm us with their gentle innocence these the buttercup bright blooms bring a ray of sunlight to the winter gloom and put a smile on our faces.
These beauties were spotted on a recent visit to National Trust treasure Mottisfont Abbey

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Spring Is Just Around The Corner II - The Reader's Digest Complete Library of the Garden

The Easter eggs in our last post have got us in a very vernal state of mind. Suddenly we're feeling all flowery and pastel-ly, so we thought we would continue the theme with our latest 'Illustrated Book of the Week'. 


It's the Reader's Digest Complete Library of the Garden, published in 1963. The perfect books to peruse over a home-made flapjack while wearing a Laura Ashley smock. 

Even without opening them, it's clear that the books are lovely objects. A three volume set, presented in a fern printed box. Each cover made of light wood veneer, with beautifully embossed endpapers. 

The illustrations might not be the most groundbreaking (it is a Reader's Digest product after all), but the charming pastel colourings used throughout give them a particular dash of sixties style.


Friday, 20 February 2009

Spring Is Just Around The Corner...


So, until the daffodils actually blossom, we're going to be enjoying the amazing colour combinations found in these Easter eggs from Fortnum & Mason. The intense pastels on a rich dark brown are quite delicious.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Think Pink


Here at The Curious Eye we think the world can never have enough pink in it. So I was pleased to discover quite an excess of it on a recent visit to Hamble in Hampshire.

Hamble is England's answer to The Hamptons in the USA, There is a lovely walk along the estuary and then after sheltering from the rain in the pink shelter,


One can take the pink ferry over to the village of Hamble and take some liquid refreshment in any one of the fine hostelries.


Once off the ferry, the first thing one sees is this interesting looking gallery of marine art. 


Unfortunately after consulting the quirky opening times the gallery was actually closed.


Quite a shame as judging by the outside I'm sure there would have been some finds inside.


Little Clothes Hangers

Even The Curious Eye is not immune to the current financial situation. So this week, we have a 'two posts for the price of one' promotion.

If you look carefully at yesterday's post, you'll notice that the little blue shirts came with some very interesting hangers. We liked them so much, we thought that they deserved an entry of their own.



I love the symmetry of the red hanger - it almost has an Art Deco feel to it.


Embroidered shirts and Bambi hangers all for one low low price? That's what I call a bargain.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Little Blue Shirts

I have mixed feelings about kids wearing vintage clothes. 

The sentimental part of me loves to see an intricate victorian smock or a miniature 1930's suit. I marvel at the workmanship involved in creating the little beauties. I don my rose tinted spectacles and visualise a forgotten era of white linen clad, flaxen-haired children, romping through fields. 

The pragmatic part of me thinks that anyone who spends a fortune dressing their kids in delicate antiques instead of letting them run free in modern fabrics is taking a retro aesthetic just a little too far. Really folks, if your kids look like extras from The Railway Children or 'Oliver!', there's something not quite right going on


However, when I saw these embroidered shirts  at The Shop in Cheshire St, I couldn't resist buying them. Despite the all-American look, they''re Indian cheesecloth from the 1970's. They're tiny (made to fit an 18 month year old), which is a pity, because if they were any bigger I would definitely be trying to squeeze myself into them. 


I love the crudeness of the embroidery and the strange heiroglyphs that appear on the sleeves - the writing is clear enough, and there seems to be some sort of bird, but the last one is deeply mysterious - whatever it started off as has obviously been lost in translation. 


How can I justify buying these when I have such conflicting feelings about children's vintage?

I'm keeping them for myself and putting them on my wall. 

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Illustrated Book Of The Week - Eskimo Prints


This week we have a little known design classic from 1967,
Eskimo Prints by James Houston.

Houston was a Canadian artist, whose fascination with Eskimo culture led him to spend twelve years studying and painting with the indigenous people of the Arctic. This man was no tourist - he lived in igloos, travelled by dog team and received mail only once a year. These experiences with the Eskimos brought us two huge contributions to our understanding of their art and culture. In 1949 he organised the first major exhibition of Eskimo carvings and sculpture, and in 1957. he introduced the concept of print-making to the Eskimos.

He first discovered that the Eskimos had no culture of printing when he was in conversation with a friend of his, Oshaweetok, a famous local carver. Oshaweetok was casually studying two identical packets of cigarettes, with a sailor head trademark, when he commented that it must be incredible tedious for the artist to have to sit and paint each cigarette packet with exactly the same image, over and over again.

Houston started to explain the printing process, and struggling to articulate himself in the local language, he picked up a carving and dipped it in some writing ink.

He writes:

Taking a thin piece of toilet paper, I laid it carefully on the inked surface and rubbed it lightly and quickly. Stripping the paper from the tusk, I saw that by good fortune, we had a clear negative image of Oshaweetok's incised design.

'We could do that" he said, with the instant decision of a hunter. And so we did.

The resulting prints are stunning. Taking images from their traditional culture, the Eskimos produced prints of incredible simplicity and soulfulness. They have a timeless, powerful beauty that amaze me.


This is an Inukshuk - a stone image of a man used by Caribou hunters to scare the animals into the arms of the hunters - many of the inukshuk in the Arctic are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old.


"The Enchanted Owl."


"Joyfully I See Ten Caribou"

Thursday, 12 February 2009

In Praise Of The Pendleton


Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge fan of vintage American workwear. Show me a piece of antique Filson or classic Carharrt and my heart skips a beat. A pair of 'Key' brand dungarees can dangerously raise my blood pressure. But nothing compares to my love and devotion to the Pendleton brand.

I've already mentioned my feelings about plaid - and Pendleton does plaid better than anyone. After over a hundred years in the business, the number of different colourways and weaves that they have produced is incredible, and the quality of their wool is second to none. These are little masterpieces of design and colour.

In the States, Pendleton has been around so long, and has been so much a part of the mainstream, that it has been largely ignored by the fashion crowd. Recently, there are signs that people are starting to appreciate the brand's heritage and the quality of the product. Nike produced a small scale collaboration with them last year, and Urban Outfitters have started to sell them in their vintage department. 

I think that there's still a huge amount on inspiration to be found in the Pendleton back catalogue. I've seen ivory on white 'ghost' checks that echo Margiela, beautiful autumnal tartans that put Ralph Lauren to shame, and this - which has got to be one of my all time favorites.


I'm always attracted to shadow plaid - as it has a graphic quality that always looks modern to me. But I've never seen a shadow plaid in bright teal before. It turns a simple jacket into a piece that could easily be found in a Comme des Garcons show. Truly stunning.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Who Was That Mustachioed Man?

Facial hair has made a huge comeback in the last few years. Whether you fancy being a big, bearded lumberjack, or a waxed mustachioed dandy - there's a facial furniture trend just for you. Mutton chops will be next - you mark my words.

So, for all of you who are considering a little fashionable hirsutism, here's something to aspire to.


I found this excellent fellow in the Porte de Vanves flea market in Paris - it's a charcoal and pencil drawing - but its origins remain mysterious. All I know is that he looks like he would very good company at a dinner party (unless they were serving soup, which could obviously turn messy).

We like him so much that we've started collecting a series of bearded and mustachioed portraits - keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the hair bear bunch in coming weeks.

For more follicular fun have a look at the marvellous Beard Revue - a blog devoted to facial hair in all its myriad forms.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Do Monday Mornings Make You Feel Like This?


So. It's a Monday morning. In February. With sub-zero temperatures and rain. During a recession.

But never fear - there are still reasons to smile.


Like these excellent Halloween masks made by Harco the late Sixties. Now available at F-art in Cheshire St.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Illustrated Book Of The Week - Follow That String

Freshly published this week. I'm delighted to present this little treasure by my very dear friend Deborah Brown (and her excellent co-author Kathy Bacovitch).


The book is a charming melange of photography, collage and illustration, inspiring and stimulating for kids and adults alike. With Warholesque colours and a zany surrealism reminiscent of Peter Blake, this is Pop art in more ways than one...

followthatstring2followthatstring3See what I mean?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Belgian Window Displays: Retro-A-Go-Go

I don't know why I love the Annemie Verbeke window displays in Antwerp so much, but they definitely strike a chord. I think it's the odd combination of 70's kitsch and avant garde that gets me going. A sort of David Hicks meets Andy Warhol with a little bit of 'Are You Being Served' thrown in there.


And speaking of 'Are You Being Served' - isn't this Brussels hairdressers exactly the sort of salon that you can imagine Mrs Slocombe going to?


I bet they do a lovely lavender rinse.

Loitering Without Intent

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This Parisian graffiti art is the work of FKDL aka Franck Duval, a 45 year old father of 3 whos' ambition is to 'Always have the freedom to make street art throughout all the city and make people happy with my collages' His work is easily identifiable by the paper collage element and his signature fkdl stamp

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Spitalfields Antique Market - The Horn of Plenty

Normally, the phrase 'antique market' strikes fear into the very heart of me. Visions of overpriced Limoges figurines dance in my head, and I resign myself to searching through hundreds of pieces of clumsy Victorian mahogany in the faint hope of finding something worth looking at.

But I can't say enough good things about Spitalfields Antique Market, which takes place every Thursday in London.

That's probably because it's not really an 'antiques' market. It's a great combination of stylish bric-a-brac, eccentric curiosities, and inspiring junk. It also boasts the best dealers for vintage menswear that I've ever seen in London.

On a good day, you could find 
a ridiculously large number of children's tamborines waiting to be displayed.


Or an amazing Victorian scrapbook, full of surreal juxtapositions that would put Terry Gilliam to shame.


But by far my favorite find of recent weeks is this incredible 1930's colouring set from Czechoslovakia. The graphics are fantastic and it's in immaculate condition - barely used.

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even the detailing on the pencils is worth looking at closely.


The set was made by L&C Hardtmuth, a pencil company founded in 1790 and the creators of the worlds first modern pencil lead. More information about Hardtmuth can be found at Bob Truby's Brand Name Pencils - a very beautifully designed site devoted to ones man's extraordinary pencil collection.

Hmm...Maybe I should start collecting pencils....

Many thanks to Jennifer at Spitalfields for allowing me to shoot the colouring set in such detail...