Gift guide for women, 2017

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So here we are, just a few weeks from Christmas. Soon the lights will be switched on and the festive tunes will be playing wherever you go. As usual, I’ve put together a guide but this year, I’ve decided to do one for women and then a separate one for men by popular request, although of course there are many gifts in both which are unisex. I’ve tried to include a range of desirable things for all budgets but I’m also not afraid to include some seriously expensive ones either because there is no better time to dream of luxury than on those cold, dark nights. My selection is also makeup heavy, reflecting my own personal obsession, but when I contacted several female friends, looking for more inspiration, they requested makeup, perfume and accessories. Your wish is my command. Enjoy! P.S. A final note – all items were in stock at the time of writing but as some are limited edition, certain links may expire.

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Chanel No 5 Fragments d’Or body oil, £70. No other fragrance quite suits Christmas like No 5. The sparkling gold makes is perfect for party season. Limited Edition so hurry!

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A saying from the 1920s stated that no respectable woman should smoke, dance the tango or wear Shalimar. I suggest you at least try the third. Deliciously spicy and comforting for winter. From £51.

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Red lipstick is my great passion as you know and I always have it on my Christmas list. Chanel lipstick is always beautiful and the stunning pillar box shades inside the red casing this year makes them the ultimate object of desire as far as I’m concerned. Limited edition of four red lipsticks, two satin, two matte. But hurry! £30 each.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t really wear nude lipstick very often. But I know many women love them and if I do, it’s always one by Charlotte Tilbury. This year, she has created three limited edition matte shades – two nude, one deep red. English beauty (£24) is particularly lovely. There’s also a lip masterclass kit with all three lipsticks, plus liner and gloss, packaged in a stunning box for £130.

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Beautiful quality brushes to take with you everywhere. Magical mini brush set, £45, Charlotte Tilbury

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The year’s most stunning palettes by Nars, inspired by Man Ray (the glass tears one is currently on offer at John Lewis for £27.50)

Buy NARS Man Ray Glass Tears Eyeshadow Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

The Veil Cheek Palette is £29.50

Buy NARS Man Ray The Veil Cheek Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

Overexposed Glow Highlighter, £23.80

Buy NARS Man Ray Overexposed Glow Highlighter, Double Take Online at johnlewis.com

A perfect kit for cat eyes on the move. Eyeko Eye Travel Wardrobe, £20

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The best nail polish around in a seasonal sparky shade (you can’t go wrong with Pop Art either if you don’t want glitter). YSL La Laque Couture Dazzling Lights Nail Polish, £19.50.

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Giving face cream as a present is a no-no because nobody wants to be reminded of ageing but a luxurious face mask or a beautiful hand cream is always welcome. At £45, the Chanel Crème Main is super expensive but I love the travel friendly, no mess packaging and formula (a cheaper alternative is the gorgeous L’Occitane Shea Butter hand cream).

Buy CHANEL LA CRÈME MAIN Smooth-Soften-Brighten Bottle Online at johnlewis.com

Sadly I’ve run out of the Sisley Black Rose mask (£84.15) and can only dream that someone will give me a tube as a present.

Buy Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask, 60ml Online at johnlewis.com

A yummy Christmas candle by my favourite brand. Diptyque Dragon: Fiery Orange from £28.

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Moomin fans are in for a treat this year with the release of the ‘True to its Origins’ set.  Tove Jansson’s illustrations from her final book, ‘Moominvalley in November’, written just after she had lost her mother, and ‘Moominpappa at Sea’ are incredibly touching and beautiful. The collection comprises a mug, bowl, plate, teapot and cookie jar which can be bought separately. From 24 euros.

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There are also new collectors’ editions of four Moomin books with the original artwork, £9.50 each, published by Profile Books and available here.

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The catalogue from one of the year’s most beautiful exhibitions to make you dream, £50

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The most luxurious vanity case ever to make you feel like a silver screen goddess, even when you travel economy. I’m unlikely ever to own one but have been dreaming of it ever since I saw this in someone’s Instagram gallery. Safari 13″ Vanity Case, £695 from Globetrotter.

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Leather gloves from Madova (from 32 euros) a very old company in Florence, to remind you of the wonderful time you spent there. Marks and Spencer also do an excellent range, starting at £17.

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A beautiful leather bag in a stunning shade of green to enjoy using for many years. £135, And other stories.

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A couple of cosy scarves

John Lewis glitter yarn scarf, £30

Buy John Lewis Glitter Yarn Scarf, Teal Online at johnlewis.com

 

Oasis Jenny chunky knit scarf, £20

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Some Art Deco inspired statement earrings, £20, Accesorize.

Or some sparkly ones for the party season. Monsoon short sparkle teardrop earrings, £8.

 

Some stunning silk pyjamas for that Carole Lombard glamour. Pure silk tie front long sleeve pyjamas, £150 Marks and Spencer (there are also some beautiful black satin ones for £35).

A personal notebook to inspire you to keep a journal. Kate Spade Initial Notebook, £16

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The best marzipan there is in a cake form. Amazon, £6.99

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A selection of Christmas teas, Fortnum and Mason, £13.95.

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And finally some of the finest shortbread biscuits to go with the tea. Traditional shortbread fingers, £5.95 from Fortnum and Mason.

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Favourite books of 2017

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Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles is just one of my favourite books I read this year. Some are new, some were published a few years ago but all are wonderful. I hope you find something to interest and inspire you on my list.

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One of the greatest living photographers, Fred Lyon, pays homage to his beautiful city of San Francisco and its noir heritage. Stunning and atmospheric photos.

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Two books about the darker side of Hollywood. Piu Eatwell makes a convincing case for finally solving one of the most notorious crimes of all time, that of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia. Gripping and well told with great compassion for the victim. While in High Noon, Glenn Frankel turns his attention to the blacklist and the making and influence of one the great westerns, High Noon. A revealing portrait of America which still resonates today.

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In Les Parisiennes, historian Anne Sebba looks at the testimonies of both ordinary and well known French women who lived through the German Occupation. So compassionate, fascinating and well researched that I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary fiction but I loved All The Light We Cannot See which is also set in Occupied France. A heartbreaking and beautiful book which I still can’t stop thinking about.

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Nicholas Ray’s adaptations of In A Lonely Place is one of my favourite noirs but I had never read the book which is actually quite different. One of the greatest books about Los Angeles too along with Slow Days, Fast Company. Eve Babitz was one of my discoveries this year. Her writing is deceptively simple but so good and I laughed out loud many times. Eve’s Hollywood by her is also highly recommended.

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I’ve posted quite a few photos by William Claxton on Instagram and then someone recommended me this book which features his journey across the States and experience of jazz. Brilliant photography as you would expect and such a magnificent and huge volume.

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The Essential Marilyn Monroe by Milton Greene features all the photos from their 50 sessions together, many beautifully restored and quite a few published for the first time. All are remarkable and revealing photos of a woman at her most beautiful by a friend and photographer who knew how to get the best from her.

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Gleb Derujinsky was one of the greatest fashion photographers of all time and this book is both a revelation and a joy. My friend Jan wrote a superb review of it here which I recommend reading.

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Robert Doisneau is one of my very favourite photographers but I had no idea about his work for Vogue in the post-war years. This stunning book is available in English and French and you can see more beautiful photos from it and read Jan’s excellent review on his blog here.

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And finally thanks to Jan’s blog, I discovered two wonderful books on Coco Chanel, including this one which you can read about in more detail here.

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A superb book about remarkable interiors inside the homes of the twentieth century’s most remarkable women with amazing photos and illustrations too.

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A deliciously gossipy book about film, fashion and Rome. Unputdownable and fun.

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The story of the Palazzo Venier and the three women who lived and transformed what is now the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Beautifully written and endlessly fascinating.

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One of my favourite Instagrammers recommended this book. I can see the influence of John Piper in these remarkable illustrations and drawings which bring Britain’s lost buildings to life. Accompanied by a superb text.

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Extracts from Raymond Chandler’s works accompanied by atmospheric photos of Los Angeles taken in the 1980s which create the perfect mood. A must!

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I never thought I’d get the chance to buy a book of newly published Fitzgerald stories! Not all are masterpieces but some are exceptional and it’s an essential for any fan of his work.

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The story of the Riviera and those who graced it when elegance and sophistication still ruled makes for a fabulous read. At the Existentialist Cafe brings back memories of my own pilgrimage to these famous places and studying philosophy. The author explains the ideas clearly and makes you want to learn more.

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2017 was the year I officially became addicted to Joan Didion and her razor sharp prose. I bought this on a rainy day in Berlin and it was such a tonic to read someone use the English language so well and have a real understanding of the people and issues she encountered.

The fragrance of summers past

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Impressions of my first trip abroad are still vivid in my mind. Our departure in the early hours of the morning, sitting in the back seat of the car in between my two older half-brothers and spending the long journey to Dover listening to cassettes on my Walkman (though whether it was the Beatles or ’80s pop, I couldn’t possibly tell you). And then after so long on the road, suddenly catching sight of the sea, that mass of blue with the seagulls squawking overhead. It never ceases to astonish me. Travelling by ferry really makes you feel you’re going somewhere, watching the boat pull away from those famous white cliffs while strangers on the quay wave you off. And then just under an hour later, seeing the French coast emerge. We drove with our caravan to a campsite on the coast of Brittany. Every morning, my parents took me for walks along the seemingly endless and beautiful beaches.

I recall the taste of galettes with cheese and of crêpes with ice cream. And most vividly of all, I remember trying to look in through the gap in a circus tent on our campsite to catch a glimpse of a magician and his glamorous assistant doing a show before getting caught by one of the staff and told off in incomprehensible French.

If summer had a particular scent back then, it was probably my mother’s Mitsouko which I secretly used to spritz and later on my eldest half brother’s bottle of YSL Kouros until he complained about me using too much. Or perhaps my American aunt who rented a house in Brighton where we spent one summer. She always smelled of Giorgio Beverly Hills which made me think of those striped yellow awnings I had seen in my favourite TV show back then, Beverly Hills 90210.

The first summer scents of my own were Ô de Lancôme, Clarins Eau Dynamisante, Prescriptives Calyx and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures. The last one was a particular favourite, worn the summer I finished high school when spent the long holidays in the garden, reading under the apple tree. I was reminded of this after finding a bottle the other day in a discount store and felt inspired to recommend some of my other current favourite summer fragrances paired with books for summer I love. Alongside Pleasures in the first shot. I chose a delightful Moomin book which never fails to lift my spirits and will make you long for adventures.

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I love the greenness of this Diptyque fragrance which counters the sweetness of the figs. There are many other fig fragrances out there but for me, this is the best. This classic book transports you back to Greece before mass tourism and is a delightful account of childhood discovery and English eccentricities. Frequently adapted for television but none have the charm or magic of the original.

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The first time I tried this classic fragrance, I found it rather intimidating but with a little patience, I’ve become addicted to its green sharpness which comes into its own in summer. Heartless but utterly brilliant, rather like this Evelyn Waugh masterpiece.

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I cannot wear Acqua di Parma without thinking of Venice. I wore it every day on my trip there last year and saw it in almost every shop window. Although I recognise that the Colonia Intensa is probably a more complex and interesting fragrance, this is still my favourite. I cannot get enough of it citrussy opening and sexy woodiness, warmed by the sun. It’s the essence of summer for me. The Brodsky is probably the best book ever written about Venice by a Russian poet in exile who loved the city as much as I do.

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I love No 5 and wear it all year but on hot days, it’s nice to have something lighter. I consider all the fragrances here unisex but this one smells especially nice on men with more vetiver than in the original. I also much prefer it to last year’s lighter version of the classic. Paired with a lovely Folio edition of a wonderful book which inevitably makes you think of No 5’s most famous wearer.

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Created for the Duke of Marlborough in 1902 and worn by Winston Churchill, this is an invigorating  blend of citrus, woods and spices and goes perfectly with Tove Jansson’s stories of summer on an island which has to be one of the best holiday reads ever which its quirkiness, humour and poignancy.

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Cristalle was created to remind us of the dazzling structure of a crystal. It’s a citrus chypre and its crisp opening makes me think of the dazzling California sunshine and beauty described in Ross Macdonald’s crime novels which mask a bitter heart. This is the reason why I love reading noirs in summer. I bought the Eau de Parfum which is a little softer and was developed much later but next time will try the Eau de Toilette which is closer to the original by Henri Robert from 1974.

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Acqua di Parma has always been my favourite cologne. Until I tried this one from Les Exclusifs. It’s the kind of fragrance you want to drown yourself in all day which explains why the large bottle is always sold out and its dazzling, polished beauty goes perfectly with the magnificent prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic masterpiece set in the South of France.

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I was inspired to buy this thoroughly delicious Guerlain scent after reading how much my friends Jan and Patricia love it. Depending on your point of view, it may make you think of sherbet lemons or freshly pressed lemon juice but the fact that it reminds me of them makes it extra special. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is my absolute favourite summer book, best read around midsummer. It’s full of the dreams and heartbreak of youth. Quintessentially English.

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My current summer read. It’s the perfect companion for a long journey – compelling, beautifully written and moving. Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée is a very old and magical scent which is like a soft blanket and reminds you of flowers in the garden after the rain with violets, irises  and carnations.

Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

Old masters

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My devotion to my cultural icons has always bordered on the extreme – once I even visited a museum devoted to the socialist politician Jean Jaurès, just because Jacques Brel wrote a song about him. So when my (then) long-term boyfriend suggested a trip to Austria, all I could think of was getting to Ohlsdorf, former home of one of my favourite authors, Thomas Bernhard. I had read his work practically non-stop since discovering the brilliant Alte Meister (Old Masters) some years before. I loved the musical structure of his sentences which makes him surprisingly easy to read in German with frequent repetition of phrases, his black humour and contempt for humanity.

My boyfriend’s idea of a great trip were days devoted to hiking for 8 hours, kayaking and rock climbing, camping in the wild at night as it was free, whereas all I wanted to do was visit museums, take pictures and sit in cafes which didn’t go down well as these things normally involve spending money. However, he did agree to take me to Ohlsdorf. I remember we set off on our trip at Easter and that I was astonished to find all shops open on Good Friday, unlike in Germany. That though was my mistake as the house was only open at Bank Holidays and weekends so as everything else was open, it was completely closed. My boyfriend was absolutely furious with me and refused to stay until the following day and waste another day’s kayaking. Sad and frustrated, I tried to make the best of things by peeking in through all the windows and exploring the countryside around to get an impression of Thomas Bernhard’s world.

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I did get to speak to his former neighbour though, a man who unsurprisingly wasn’t much liked by the author. The feeling was mutual as he explained what a misanthrope Thomas Bernhard really was and how he exaggerated everything.  I forget the exact details in Karl Ignaz Hennetmair’s ‘My Year with Thomas Bernhard’, but distinctly remember that this same neighbour figured in the infamous episode where TB almost cut off his own leg with a chainsaw. The man was deeply suspicious of all these literary tourists, especially of me as I had read so much of his work, yet was not an academic, although he did pay me the greatest compliment of my life by asking if I was German so obviously, I spoke quite well that day. I made a serious gaffe, however, when I asked where he was from. His eyes narrowed as my boyfriend whispered that he was a farmer and his family must have lived there for generations.

I won’t deny that I didn’t feel a pang of regret on leaving the village as it seemed unlikely I would get there again anytime soon. Strangely, I haven’t read any Thomas Bernhard novels for several years since finishing the autobiography. The man I found so funny turned out to have had the saddest life. Reading about his illegitimacy, his hatred for his stepfather, the death of his beloved grandfather, his own stay in a hospital for a serious lung condition from which he never fully recovered and then the death and destruction in Salzburg during the Second World War was truly harrowing. Opening one of his other books later, the laughter simply stuck in my throat. But he remains my favourite German language author and I hope to return to his books anew very soon. In the meantime, I’ll always have Ohlsdorf.

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A bookish Resolution

Loretta Young’s private library, 1943:

Loretta Young with her library

So first of all, Happy New Year! I can’t deny I was glad to see the back of 2016, even though I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends which outweighs all the bad stuff for me. There is something a little daunting, as well as exciting, about being at the start of a fresh new year, wondering what it will bring.  Do you ever make New Year’s Resolutions? Mine have been the same for years – to be tidier, to throw things away I don’t use, to keep my papers in good order, to stop biting my nails, to buy fewer red lipsticks, to keep in touch with my friends regularly instead of just thinking about them often and then writing apologetic emails once or twice a year. I fail miserably with most or all of them, so this year have decided to make just one main resolution which is to read more.  I’m a slow reader but intend to take advantage of every opportunity available to open a book which means having one with me at all times whenever I leave the house, reading while the dinner is cooking and most of all, trying to stay awake for more than 10 minutes in bed each night to get through at least 1-2 pages. I don’t have a set list of things I wish to read this year because my book choice depends on my mood but here are some I’m hoping to get around to:

‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley

‘Put out more Flags’ by Evelyn Waugh

‘Hunters in the Dark’ by Lawrence Osborne

‘Stoner’ by John Williams

‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

‘Eugénie Grandet’ and ‘Le Père Goriot’ by Balzac

‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’ by Dumas

‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann

‘Ungeduld des Herzens’ by Stefan Zweig

Let me know if there are any books you have your heart set on this year. To finish off this post, I thought I’d include some Old Hollywood stars enjoying some reading for inspiration.

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James Stewart who rightly understood the need of a comfortable place to read.

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Rita Hayworth

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The famous photo of Marilyn Monroe reading ‘Ulysses’ by Eve Arnold, 1955.

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Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the set of ‘North by Northwest.’

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Bette Davis with the morning papers in 1939

Fred Astaire via the tumblr Old Hollywood Stars Reading:

Fred Astaire

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Sophia Loren

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Marlon Brando by Cecil Beaton, 1946

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Clark Gable

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Barbara Stanwyck – I dream that one day someone will bring me breakfast in bed.

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Gene Tierney in ‘Leave Her to Heaven.’

Happy reading!

Le Rouge et le Noir gift guide, 2016

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Christmas Tree Lane in 1953. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection

I’m going to start with a confession – I enjoy the process of getting ready to go out much more than the night out itself and frequently, after washing and styling my hair, doing my makeup and choosing an outfit, I prefer to simply curl up on the sofa, watch a film noir and order pizza. It’s the same with Christmas presents – I feel the actual buying and requesting presents for myself is less enjoyable than the window shopping, both real and virtual, and also selecting presents for others. This guide is partly based on things I already have and love and partly, on things which have caught my eye, although not everything here is red or black.

Burberry Lip Velvet in Military Red, £26. I always have a new red lipstick to wear on Christmas Day and this is my choice for 2016.

In terms of eyes, my favourite purchases this year were the Victoria Beckham Estée Lauder Eye Ink in Black Myrrh (above) and the Eye Metals in Bitter Clove and Charred Emerald, £36 each. The packaging for all of these is stunning, very Tom Ford and satisfyingly heavy.

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Paul and Joe beauty mirror, £14, from Asos. Every makeup addict needs a beautiful compact and this one comes in a bag with cats on it.

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The cutest hand creams ever by Tony Moly, £10 each, from Cult Beauty.

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The cherry lip balm, £8, is also pretty irresistible too.

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My favourite cleanser in the world by Emma Hardie, from £38, although I much prefer hot cloth cleansing with a flannel to the scratchy muslin cloth that comes with it. Smells divine too.

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My favourite winter scent, from £105, which is both soft and warm and then cool and elegant.

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This new one, Scent of a Dream by Charlotte Tilbury, from £68, is also lovely, very vintage and sexy. Great if you want a change from Chanel No 5, although personally, I can’t get enough of it.

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Diptyque Christmas candle in Le Roi Sapin, £48, so that everywhere can smell woody and festive. There are also two others, Un Encens Étoilé and Épices et Délices, that sound lovely.

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Every year, I buy a new Christmas jumper. I love this one by Boden which is available in white or grey and it currently has 30% off, £69.65 (run, don’t walk!).

A sparkly Fair Isle scarf to brighten up grey winter days, £12, from Tesco

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As a Christmas gift, it’s hard to beat a new pair of pyjamas. I especially like these, £40, from Marks and Spencer’s.

2 Pair Pack Thermal Socks

And some cute thermal socks with wool and silk to go with them, £10 for two pairs, also from Marks and Spencer’s.

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I always look forward to the Moomin winter mug each year, £19. The design for 2016, with the snowhorse, is so beautiful.

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Iittala cranbery kivi, £33, because it looks so festive and pretty. Some of the other colours are much cheaper but not surprisingly, I’m drawn to the red.

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I’ve always wanted one of these iittala Aalto rain vases, £95.

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And I so love this Marimekko teapot, £65.

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Christmas spiced tea, £15, Christmas Coffee, £12.50 and Christmas biscuit tin, £17.50, all from Fortnum and Mason’s.

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A selection of favourite beauty books: Pretty Iconic by Sali Hughes, £12.50, Face by Sam and Nic Chapman, £9.99 and François Nars by François Nars, £42.25.

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And to finish, a selection of non-beauty books. Conclave by Robert Harris, £9.50, The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon, £17, Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon, £6.99 and A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, £20.37.