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.

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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.

Finn Family Moomintroll

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Reading my friend Jan’s wonderful article about Snoopy this morning brought back memories of my own love for the Peanuts Gang and other childhood favourites, including the Moomins so I felt inspired to write about them.

Here are some things you should know about the Moomins. Firstly, they were created by Tove Jansson, a Finnish author and artist who wrote in Swedish. Secondly, don’t ever call them hippos – only a complete ignoramus would do that because they’re trolls, obviously. Thirdly, I’m obsessed with them. It all started in the ’80s when the animated stories were shown on children’s TV in what I later realised was an awful dubbed version. Still, to my untrained ears, they were perfect. Stories about the most extraordinary range of characters, each with their own distinctive personalities, going on adventures. I still know all the words to the theme song too. But then I discovered the books and how much richer and better they were. My mother and I read them together at first and then I returned to them time and again myself. Most of all, they reminded me of my own family. They lived in a strange house far away from everyone else like we did. As an only child, I identified strongly with Moomintroll and my reclusiveness and taste for solitude was just like Snufkin’s. My mother is Audrey Hepburnesque and doesn’t look at all like Moominmamma but she frequently wore aprons for baking, always carries her handbag with her and is able to rescue me in self-inflicted chaos. My father with his eccentricities and taste for adventure could only be Moominpappa.

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As I grew up, I somehow lost sight of them until the day I visited a small Moomin exhibition on Mehringdamm in Berlin. As the only adult in a sea of children with colouring books and Moomin toys, an amused guide kindly took me to a small exhibition of photos about Tove Jansson and her life. I learned about her artistic parents, her own journey as an artist, that she had written so many other amazing books, how she and her female companion spent whole summers on a wonderful island on their own every year until the end of their lives. As luck would have it, The Summer and Winter Books along with many of her other novels were published to great acclaim and I devoured them all. At the Iittala store on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, I discovered Moomin items, even getting the last Moomin limited edition winter mug in stock. Since then, I have been collecting various items with them on – not just china but also bed linen, handbags, T-shirts and toys. My addiction even continued in the UK with the opening of a wonderful Moomin shop on Covent Garden a few years ago. Returning to the Moomin books themselves, I came to realise that these are stories for all ages, full of adventures, good humour but also plenty of dark moments, loneliness and disappointments, rather like life itself. The final Moomin book, Moominvalley in November, is almost unbearably sad and doesn’t feature them at all in fact, only others waiting at their home for them to return some day.

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I use the Moomin china every day but have a special place in my heart for this plate on the left showing Moomintroll eating at the table with his parents. I remember it was called something like ‘Together’ and that I bought it from the Arabia store in Helsinki shortly after my father had died. It reminded me of something that I loved the most – meals with my parents and that nothing would be the same again. Today I still cannot look at it without feeling some sadness but the Moomins also inspire me with their independence, good humour and rebelliousness. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.

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:

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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!

Christmas gifts according to Clovis Sangrail

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Emily’s note – after writing my gift guide for women the other day, I was asked to come up with a gift guide for men. Naturally, there could be only one person for the job – Jan, who writes the fabulous Clovis Sangrail blog and who kindly agreed. His choices are exquisite and erudite, as you would expect. Enjoy!

Clovis Sangrail’s Christmas Guide

I love Christmas. Not for the gifts lying under the Christmas tree, but for the family reunion. The beautifully set dinner table, the decorations, the splendid wine from my parents’ wine cellar, quite a small cellar actually, but surprisingly well equipped, and the Charlotte Russe for dessert. Which brings me to my first gift ideas:

I love everything Russian. The very mention of this country makes me happy, although, to be quite precise, I always think of a pre-Putin, pre-Stalin, pre-Lenin Russia, my Russia is the one of the Czar, of Anna Karenina and Prince Bolkonsky. I love Andrej’s uniforms. So handsome, so becoming. You’ll find a lot of them in Russian Splendor, published this October by Rizzoli.

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Russian Splendor: Sumptuous Fashions of the Russian Court by Dr. Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, $95 from here or £50 on Amazon UK.

The matching scent could be Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Ernest Beaux created it in 1927, giving Coco Chanel the olfactory equivalent of her love affair with the Czar’s cousin, Prince Dmitri Pavlovich, a blend of birch, tobacco, hay and smoky woods, counterpointed with some jasmine.

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Cuir de Russie, from $185 here, or from Chanel boutiques in the UK.

The best way to look good is a good complexion. And to achieve that, men need the right soap. The best moisturizer won’t help if your face is irritated by the wrong cleanser. Erno Laszlo’s black sea mud soap does the trick. It’s so famous, it even starred in Woody Allen’s classic masterpiece “Annie Hall”.

Image result for ernest laszlo soapErnest Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar, $38 from here (or £39 in the UK. Lookfantastic currently has 20% off until midnight on the 27.11.16. Click here.)

Even something as simple as a USB stick can be a stunning gift if it comes from Hermès. You get it in the most amazing colours, mine is in étoupe, and I have it with me all the time, even when I don’t need it… Style goes a long way, doesn’t it?Hermès

Hermès In the Pocket, £200

My last idea for Christmas is utterly stylish and smart and witty and philosophical at the same time: Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Brideshead Revisited”. It’s the ultimate gift actually, it’s an experience that will stay with you forever.

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$11.21 on Amazon.com or £8.83 on Amazon UK

Happy Christmas!

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.

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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.