( 1/5 )
( 1/5 )
( 4.5/5 )
I found out about clothing from Swedish outdoor specialist Woolpower only recently, when reading the Ray Mears blog.
Since remaining warm in winter is one of my obsessions, I was interested to see what Mears recommends when it comes to thermals. His site sells a Woolpower garment, but only in olive green, so I had a search around, found the Woolpower main website and had a shufty round.
What's special about Woolpower garments is the Ullfrotte fabric. Developed in collaboration with the Swedish military, it has a smooth outside and a terry loop inside like a towel, in a mixture of non-mulsed Patagonian merino (for warmth) and synthetic (for strength), including 2 per cent stretch. It can be washed at 60 degrees. The garment pieces are knitted in northern Sweden, on a round loom, without seams, and the sleeves are then set in, so there are few seams to chafe or weaken. Each item is hand-assembled in Sweden and signed by the worker.
The Woolpower site is well worth a look, but they don't sell direct - you have to find a stockist, and for me, that meant online, since I don't live anywhere near a retail outlet. In the end, because I specifically wanted a red garment, which are a bit rare (usual colours are black, navy, grey and olive), I ordered from Lissom and Muster. The shipping was a whopping £16 but my garment was only £59, which was a real bargain - they're normally 99 euros and above.
For my first foray into Woolpower, I chose the zip-neck turtleneck in 200gsm, the lightest weight the firm makes, and a garment that I think is very attractive. It will be obvious to anyone used to cold-weather gear that this weight is most manufacturer's mid-weight. Other weights include 400, 600 and even - for socks - 800, designed primarily for people who have to be sedentary in freezing conditions, such as when ice-fishing.
My item arrived in about a week from Lissom, and in a Woolpower box. Since I was on the point of going out, I stripped off my Finisterre Eddy tee and put this on instead. I was immediately struck by its light weight and somewhat 'spongy', soft feel.
I am a size 14 - maybe a 16 on the butt - and bought a Medium, feeling that this would be the 'safest' fit. I didn't want to risk a Small without trying it on and I figured that I could always wear a Medium as a mid-layer. This might indeed be how I wear it in future, as it is indeed a slightly loose fit. The sleeves are very long (the garments are unisex, so it has to accommodate male monkey arms) and somewhat baggy, and it feels a tad like an old-fashioned Shetland jumper in cut.
Notably, the back is very long, cut to keep your kidneys warm, and in my case, it comes right down below my bottom, which feels extremely snug. Next time, I might go for a Small as my base layer, to make it easier to tuck into trousers.
Over it, I wore my usual grey cashmere boyfriend cardigan. It was 6 degrees today in Normandy and as a coat, I wore my Burberry raincoat with zip-in wool lining (IE: a medium-weight coat rather than a warm coat). And after that, I forgot I was wearing it. This is basically what I want from a thermal or base layer - that you can put it on and forget about it, that it's warm, soft, doesn't hamper your movements, etc.
It's only day one, but so far I'm very pleased with this garment and am looking at ordering more in the future, probably a 400 vest and a 600 jacket to get a spread of the different weights.
( 4.5/5 )
I was recently given several dry skin creams to try from Lodesse, a new French skincare company that specialises in dry and sensitive skin. It was founded by a woman named Carole Fichter, who - unusually for France - has no academic training in cosmetology, but was a dry skin sufferer looking for a solution to her problems. She devised the range after working with dermatologists, nutritionists and biochemists over a number of years.
My skin has become much drier with age and now absolutely drinks in moisturiser - to the extent that at home I don't wear foundation, so that I can add moisturiser throughout the day, so I was looking forward to trying the products.
The the products I tested - in thumbnail-size samples - were the Crème Seconde Peau no 1, and balms Baume Seconde Peau no 2 and no 3. All three are water-free formulations (ie: based on waxes and oils) based on alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin E, myrtle polyphenols, co-enzyme Q10, olive-oil-derived squalane, wheat ceramides and phytosterols. They all cost 85 euros for a 40ml pot, which seems steep but you really need a very tiny amount at a time.
Crème Seconde Peau 1, for normal to dry skin, also contains cupuaçu butter, sesame oil and buriti oil. Baume Seconde Peau 2, for dry skin, also contains shea and cupuaçu butters, oils of muscat rose, argan, nigella and jojoba, and carnauba wax, and Baume Seconde Peau 3, for dry to very dry skin, contains the same ingredients as Baume 2, but in a different formulation.
Of the three, no 1 is the most pleasant to use, with a whipped-cream texture that sinks beautifully into the skin. I found this a great cream for use during the day. The other two are heavier - in particular, no 2 is very waxy and has to be left to melt a little on warm fingertips before use - and are better applied at night.
After only a few days of using these creams I could feel a distinct difference in my skin, with far less tightness and irritation, and it felt smooth, plump and nurtured. I would definitely consider buying Nos 1 and 2 for day and night use.
Other products in the range are:
* Démaquillante soin velouté (makeup remover - 200ml, 26 euros), with coconut and sesame oils and vitamin E;
* Lotion tonifiante (toning lotion - 200ml, 21 euros), with laurel hydrolat, ginger extract, gingko extract and ginseng extract;
* Lotion apaisante (soothing lotion - 200ml, 21 euros) with marine serum, verbena, cornflower, mallow and elderflower.
At the moment, the products are available only from the Vitalibio website and a handful of retail outlets, but you can find out full information about the range at http://www.lodesse.com/.
( 4.5/5 )
Phoenix Rising by Nicola Newsome is the story of a horse.
Told in first person, Black Beauty style, it details the rise and fall and rise again of Phoenix, a filly bred to be a racehorse but who nearly dies due to the incompetence and neglect of one of her many owners.
Newsome is a horsewoman who volunteers at a horse refuge (part of the proceeds of the book go towards the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre, UK), and she's filled with righteous anger about the ill-treatment of equines at the hands of humans.
From thoroughbreds created to race and fit for nothing else, to twitching, to hard bits and tough breaking, lack of proper feed and exercise, starvation, neglect and outright cruelty, Phoenix encounters everything that life might throw at a single horse as she is sold from pillar to post and back again and crosses the Channel from England to France - the land where recalcitrant horses are eaten.
On her journey through life she encounters many other horses, each with their own history, and humans of all kinds - good riders and bad riders, horse-whisperers and drunks, passing farmers and enthusiastic pony-clubbers, with the ever-present threat of the knacker and the butcher awaiting any horse that can't earn its keep or dares to show resistance to its fate.
Newsome's knowledge of riding, training and horse communication lend the book great authenticity and fascinating detail (I, for one, did not know horses can't vomit), and parts of it are both terrifying and moving. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, making it ideal to read to children in bed, or for older children to read a chapter at at time, but be warned - like its great Victorian predecessor, there are real deaths and real cruelty in this book; it is not a Disney version of horse life and Newsome clearly wants us all to think harder about our relationships with and exploitation of animals.
Phoenix Rising is downloadable from equestrian specialist publisher Lavender & White (lavender&white.co.uk) for £3.99.
( 4/5 )
I had the unusual experience of sending back an item to Wall last week, so thought I would review my latest batch of clothing.
I bought Baggy Trousers in black cotton and viscose drill; the linen Amalie dress in the blue/white colourway; the Jersey Preppy Dress in dark plum, and pima cotton trousers in black.
I knew the black pima cotton trousers would look great, because I already had these in grey. They are fabulous trousers - cotton jersey, lined to the knee with more cotton jersey, and with big pockets. The front tucks have a very slimming effect when worn. The black are for more posh occasions, such as today, when I'll be wearing them out to lunch.
The unknown quantities were the baggy trousers, linen dress and jersey dress.
First to the jersey dress, because this wasn't right for me at all. It looked great in the pictures and I thought it would work well in mid-season, worn over leggings or thermal tights, but it was totally wrong for my hourglass figure. It made my boobs look like a shelf, it was too big on the shoulders, hid my small waist and was tight on the hips. And too short. I looked like someone's gran in it. A massive shame, as not only did it cost me £12 to send it back, but I loved the thick viscose/spandex fabric - I will definitely look for other items in this fabric.
I'd also taken a punt on the Amalie dress, having not bought a woven fabric from Wall before. I kind of have a rule in my head that I don't buy clothes in woven fabrics, because I should be making them. (I'm not good at sewing stretch fabrics, so I'm happy to buy stretch clothing.) The Amalie dress has a linen exterior and a thin cotton interior, to which the outer is attached to give the asymmetric effect.
When it arrived, it was rather shorter than I'd expected, but I love the asymmetry and the ease of the adjustable tie, and I think it will get plenty of wear this summer.
And finally to the baggy trousers. Well, when these arrived, I was sure there'd been a mistake, as the trousers in the box were clearly a fine wool. Beautiful things but not suitable for my life.
I couldn't find the fabric label on them, so I phoned Wall customer services, thinking I'd made a bad mistake. Except that they told me that these were indeed what I had ordered. Well, blow me down. I was expecting a toughish cotton fabric, like the drill I once covered my sofa with, not a butter-smooth fabric that feels like cashmere. But they are indeed machine washable, which was my main concern, and fully lined.
They are, if truth be told, still a bit posh for my life, so I won't be bumming around the house in them as I'd intended, but will instead keep them for trips out for a year, when they won't be so prone to getting covered in cat hair and wood ash.
I have this as a rule, btw, that things can be posh for one year, then after that you should wear them into the ground - I saw my mother keep a lot of things for a 'best' that never came, but clothing is made to be worn. Otherwise, it's nothing but clutter (of which more later).