Category Archives: Inspiration

A day without a plan in London

Living in London is living a dream for me. It is fun, stimulating and exciting. Culture, aesthetics, architecture, people are only a few reasons why London is such an amazing city. But I wouldn’t be honest if I told you that living here is 100% perfect. Like any big city, London living comes with stress, constant speed, which nobody seems to control, and constant pressure to do something, see someone or be somewhere. While I love experiencing all that London has to offer, I won’t pretend it is not tiring. London more than any other European city seems to embrace the “doing” approach of living and “result-orientedness” that defines modern western culture. 

Most recently, having spent two weeks in a non-stop doing mode – work, networking, workshops, business travel – I woke up after a 9 hour sleep still feeling exhausted. Doing my morning pages, a very effective journaling tool I learned from the creativity guru Julia Cameron, I realised that deep inside I am tired of always having a fully booked diary and pressure of “doing” that comes with it. I knew that no amount of sleep would fix that. So I decided to do something radical by my standards: ignore my to do list, reschedule/cancel all appointments, put work on hold and go about my day without a plan (those who know me will know this does not mean watching TV while lying on my sofa all day). I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I new I wanted to enjoy myself and be completely spontaneous.

While doing my morning ritual of thinking about my day and sipping on hot water with lemon, I began to get ideas about what I desired to do and get really excited. I dressed up for the occasion – light greys and pastels to celebrate the arrival of spring – and walked out of the door without the usual rush.

My first stop was Ottolenghi in Islington, one of London’s most exciting residential areas, where I am very lucky to live. They do great breakfast and I simply love their style – I highly recommend it (but do book in advance if coming on weekends). My shakshuka was delicious and my yellow chair was a perfect reflection of my mood.

Next, I remembered that I received an email about a birthday gift waiting for me at Space.NK and decided to pick it up. It turned out to be a beautiful facial rosewater mist. What a lovely treat!

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On my way to Space.NK I decided to stop by a lovely local boutique called Diverse. It stocks on stylish brands, such as Acne, Marlene Birger, Isabel Marant and Maison Scotch. I simply love shopping at independent boutiques without the stress of being on a busy high street. In fact, I love popping into boutiques just to see what they have without always needing to buy something. This time, I could not resist the opportunity to update my spring wardrobe.

After satisfying my food, style and beauty requirements, I felt like going for a walk. Another advantage of living in Islington is being close to the Regent’s Canal, one of London’s best kept secrets. It is my favourite place for walks.

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Walking by the canal and spending time in nature can seem like such a luxury in London. And yet it is one of the simplest ways to instantly add some calm and pleasure to our day.

I suddenly felt called to visit an art gallery for some creative stimulation. I have to confess it had been a while since I visited a gallery. Parasol Unit in Wharf road had a very interesting exhibition of works by Turkish artist Canan Tolon. Her style, using a variety of media, and unusual, at times seemingly random technique really drew me in.

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A painting by Canan Tolon

Next door to Parasol unit is the Victoria Miro gallery, one of the top commercial galleries in London. Here, I saw another stimulating exhibition – a video installation by London-based artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien. It runs until 1 March and I highly recommend stopping by if you have time.

Enjoying the terrace at Victoria Miro
Enjoying the terrace at Victoria Miro

On my way back home I noticed a book that caught my attention in a shop. It was about Paris. I saw it as a sign that it’s time to visit the city of lights and went in to get it in preparation for my trip.

Impulse purchase that revealed  my true desire
Impulse purchase – so revealing of my true desire

I decided to end my afternoon with a beautiful cup of tea and a snack at my local cafe and allow all the ideas, positive emotions and inspiration from this beautiful day to sink in.

Even though all these activities are very simple, I was surprised how much fun I had. The interesting thing is: I enjoyed all these activities because they were not on my to-do list, there was no obligation to do anything, I was treating myself out of inspiration rather than because I thought I had to. This subtle difference creates a very different experience.

The most surprising part, however, was how energised and invigorated I felt all day. Often when we are overwhelmed by too many things on our to-do list, work and personal commitments, leaving it all and simply having some fun seems like the least sensible thing to do. But this is precisely what works. Try it for yourself and see how much energy, motivation and inspiration you will have as a result. Sorry to mention result again, this is my Londoner speaking. Forget the result, take a break and do whatever you feel like with only one purpose – to enjoy.

What do you think of this approach? Please share your own suggestions.

Style tips from designer Liz Cardenas

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a talented Ecuadorian designer Liz Cardenas. Liz is the sister of my close friend Susana, whose stylish outfits (many of them created by Liz) I’ve admired since the day I met her. Having been a fan of Liz’s work for years, I finally got a chance to meet her in person and chat to her about style and how to have more of it.

Liz is one of Latin America’s most recognised and respected contemporary fashion designers and currently lives in Egypt. The combination of these two very vibrant cultures creates a unique design vision. Liz creates colourful feminine clothes from luxurious natural fabrics such as handmade silk and cotton and makes beautiful jewellery from tagua nut (also known as ‘vegetable ivory’) and semi-precious stones.

Liz and her beautiful collection of jewellery
Liz and her beautiful collection of jewellery

So here are the tips I took away from my conversation with Liz:

  1. Style is about expressing your personality, how you present yourself to the world. It has little to do with following the latest trends.
  2. To create a stylish look you need to mix things up: wear a luxury designer piece with something from high street, mix a romantic look with rock chic elements, for example something in leather.
  3. Colour is extremely important. Don’t be afraid to add colour to your outfit and to create your own colour combinations. Experiment. Sometimes the colours we think should not work, will work together beautifully.
  4. Shoes and handbag can make or break an outfit.
  5. So can a necklace! It can make or completely change your outfit. Accessories are very important ‘tools’ in style if you don’t overuse them.

    Susana and I wearing statement necklaces
    Susana and I wearing statement necklaces
  6. It’s not only about your clothes and accessories. Hair and make up are very important too. Make sure your haircut, make up and outfit are age appropriate. Wear make up, but don’t over do it. A good haircut is essential, especially as we get older. Flat long hair, for example, can lengthen the face and make a woman look older.
  7. Present the best version of yourself will make a difference to you and to others. It does no matter who you dress for (women, men, yourself…), the most important thing is to love your reflection in the mirror and be happy with how you look.

This conversation inspired me to get a new haircut with softer layers around the face (pictures coming soon), invest in a couple of statement necklaces and go through my collection of bags and shoes and get rid of the ones that do not make an outfit any more. I hope you find these inspiring too!

Liz Cardenas jewellery

Liz’s jewellery will be available online in the UK in the near future. Watch this space for further news.

Style during transitional season

I have been enjoying warmer temperatures in London during the past couple of weeks. The only downside is I never know what to wear when I leave my house in the morning because one minute it is sunny and warm and the next minute it is cold and windy. The art of layering is essential: carrying a scarf or a cardigan to wear when it gets colder. This is one of the first things one learns after moving to London. But what are other ways to be stylish during the time when we have several seasons in one day?

I am getting a lot of style inspiration in the streets of London. I hope these photographs give you stylish ideas too.

A very well put together outfit: simple with one statement piece (skirt), great colours. Blazer and boots is an interesting idea...
A well put together outfit: simple with one statement piece (skirt), great colours. Blazer and boots is an interesting idea…
Classic style will always be in fashion. Trench is an essential item for any woman's wardrobe, which reminds me I need to go shopping for one.
Classic style will always be in fashion. Trench is an essential item for any woman’s wardrobe, which reminds me I need to go shopping for one.
I love the combination of different textures in this all back outfit. A leather jacket is an essential item for the transition season - easy way to be stylish
I love the combination of different textures in this all back outfit. A leather jacket for me is the item to have for the transition season – easy way to be stylish
Maxi skirts and dresses are not only for the summer season
Maxi skirts and dresses are not only for the summer season
Bold colours and smart layering. I am inspired by the combination of open shoe-boot and bright-coloured tights...
Bold colours and smart layering. I am inspired by the combination of open shoe-boot and bright-coloured tights…

Exploring fashion and design in Antwerp

For a small historic European city with medieval architecture Antwerp is surprisingly cool and avant-garde. Belgium’s second largest city and Europe’s second largest port, Antwerp is rightfully referred to as the fashion capital ever since the 1980s when it was put on the international fashion map by the “Antwerp Six”, six Belgian fashion designers – Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene – who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and shook the fashion world with their avant-garde designs. Today, the Royal Academy in Antwerp is one of the best in the world. And this, in my opinion, has a major impact on this small city and its eclectic style.

I discovered Antwerp in 2000 when I moved to Belgium. One thing I immediately noticed was Antwerp’s very distinct character and attitude that makes it stand out among all other Belgian cities in term of atmosphere and style. Antwerp’s style is bolder, brighter, edgier. For years, I have been visiting Antwerp like a local. First, when I lived in Brussels, I went there for shopping or clubbing, two things Antwerp is known for in Belgium. Then, after I moved to London, I came back regularly to visit friends. But during these visits I rarely took the time to explore the city, as it often happens with cities we know, preferring house parties and dinners to discovering new places. So this year I decided to see this beautiful and vibrant city as a first time visitor.

There are many reasons to visit Antwerp: classical Flemish art, beautiful architecture – from medieval to baroque to art deco and modern – vibrant café culture and nightlife, delicious food, chocolate and, for some, hundreds of varieties of Belgian beer.

I went to Antwerp several weeks ago intending to explore its unique fashion and design scene and get fresh style ideas. By “fashion scene” I don’t mean high street shopping; Belgian fashion often resembles creations of art and shopping is similar to walking into art galleries.

My Antwerp shopping experience definitely felt more like a gallery crawl. Most of the fashion scene is clustered in and around Nationalestraat, where Dries Van Noten’s Het Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) is located. His beautifully designed hand finished pieces decorated with feathers and embroidery gave me an impression I was in a Belle Époque period shop.

Modepaleis
Het Modepaleis
Dries Van Noten's embellished pieces
Dries Van Noten’s embellished pieces

Ann Demeulemeester’s shop is a dramatic space in monochrome colours with an occasional splash of colour breaking into the black and while palette from one of the clothes rails – a completely different feel to van Noten’s boutique.

Ann Demeulemeester's creations
Ann Demeulemeester’s creations
Leather necklace
Leather necklace

Anwerp has several very interesting concept stores. I came across one of them – Seven Rooms – completely by accident. Bright and spacious, this is the space where I could easily spend an afternoon looking through carefully selected pieces by international fashion designers, beautiful furniture, and even food and wine.

Furniture pieces at
Furniture pieces at Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms

Another beautiful concept store worth a visit is 13 GraanMarkt. It also has a lovely restaurant inside.

If you are planning to visit Antwerp I highly recommend going to these shops, if only to look at design and fashion as creation of art. If your budget does not allow you to buy avant-garde creations of the famous Belgian designers, but you are keen to add a bit of Antwerp style to your wardrobe, try these shops.

Essentiel, Antwerp fashion brand that for me really reflects the city’s bold, colourful, sometimes edgy style.

Bright accessories at Essentiel
Bright accessories at Essentiel

Jutka and Riska, a boutique in trendy South part of Antwerp selling a mix of vintage, own design by the shop owners and creations by young designers along with accessories and occasional interior design pieces.

On Lombardenvest (one of the streets off Nationalestraat) you will find a good selection of European labels, such as A.P.C., Les petites…, Fillipa K, Acne, Maison Sctoch.

Taking a break from shopping (or visiting design spaces as I call it) is easy with a vast choice of cafes in nearly every street.

At night, head to Marnixplaats, a square in trendy Anwerp Zuid (South) area. It has a very lively restaurant and bar scene where stylish locals meet for a bite to eat and drinks.

Sunday, when most shops are closed, is a good day to visit Antwerp’s museum. Recently opened MAS museum in the port area with its own Michelin-starred restaurant is definitely a must-see. Not only is it the largest contemporary art space in the city, but also it has a unique and striking architectural style.

And if you are still in need of fashion and design inspiration, then MoMu, the fashion museum, is the place for you.

Last but not least, I recommend staying at South Side Suite. This tastefully decorated spacious apartment that sleeps up to three people is located in the trendy Zuid area. The location is ideal: it is central enough to explore the city by foot, but far enough from the main tourist attractions to experience a local vibe and enjoy a vibrant food and nightlife scene together with the locals. The hosts, a young Belgian-Brazilian/Angolan couple will pamper you and make you feel at home. I speak from experience, I have stayed with them many times! Book early as it usually gets booked quickly.

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Enjoying afternoon sun in the trendy Zuid area
Antwerp style - not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Antwerp style – not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Bright accessories...
… and bright accessories
Unusual design
Unusual design
Art deco building
Art deco building
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Street art