TLC Vacation: Global Day of Discovery, Paris


I was recently invited to Paris by Renaissance Hotels to celebrate their fifth annual Global Day of Discovery.  This hotel group is known for helping its travellers really experience their destination, something so frequently missed out on by those with a busy travel or work schedule, and for one day a year 170 of their hotels, across 24 countries, assist in helping you uncover the real soul of the location you’re visiting.  As Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea,” so how could I miss such an exciting opportunity - one that would really immerse myself within the city, and not just within it’s bottles of wine and baskets of baguettes, as previous trips have witnessed!  This time, I was set to truly experience some authentic local culture that makes Paris unique.  

After arriving in Paris on the Eurostar (still never gets old), we were collected and taken to the Renaissance Arc de Triumph Hotel.  After a quick change and turnaround (I obviously needed to don some stripes and apply some red lipstick… ‘Cos Paris, innit?!) I was taken for the most tasty, colourful and inventive lunch at Balagan, the latest offering from the team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club.

With famous Israeli Chef Assaf Granit at its helm, this new, stylish restaurant and cocktail bar officially opens in June, in the Renaissance Vendome, and it should not be missed.  Make sure to try the amazing polenta starter and the tuna tatar wth tomatoes and tobiko yoghurt before the staff, accompanied by loud music, all join together to create you the messiest and most fun deserts… Think, chunks of cake thrown with wild abandon onto a tin foil lined counter top, followed by handfuls of watermelon and blueberries, a scattering of nuts, and giant spurts fruity syrups and lashings of cream! How very apt that Balagan means ‘Joyful Bazaar’ in Hebrew!

After a walk in the beautiful sunshine around the surrounding area, I have to admit I maaaaaay have then spent most of the afternoon in Sezane#DésoléPasDésolé


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After another quick change (so little time, so much Paris), and another quick change after that (zip issues with my dress), we were entertained by some dancers in the lobby over champagne, followed by Parisian beatboxers over more champagne, in a coach headed towards the Eiffel Tower.  Oh, did I forget to mention?!  The six Renaissance Hotels in Paris came together and threw an exclusive party a the sought-after Salon Gustave Eiffel in the Eiffel Tower and THAT’s where I was headed.

Aside from getting ABSOLUTELY SOAKED by a freak thunder storm (if you watched my InstaStories that night, you might remember my hurricane of a hair doo and complaints over my soggy Jimmy Choo’s!) the evening was what dreams were made of; incredible and rare views across Paris, the City of Light, and a fun party involving a lot of glitter, a lot of bubbles, and many, many extraordinarily good looking stubbly men. I mean… They were EVERYWHERE. If you’re single Ladies, head to Paris, that’s all I’m gonna say!!  

The next day, a Renaissance Navigator, an expert in local neighbourhood activities and local gems, took us to the Fondation Louis Vuitton

Not only was it as fabulous as ever, but I was able to visit the Art Afrique exhibition, which was exhibiting one of my all time favourite photographs in all its glory, 'Nuit Noël’ (below).  Captured by Malian goat herder turned photographer Malick Sidibé, in 1963, three years after Mali's independence from France, and a time of hugely euphoric cultural and social change.  I just love the vibrant intimacy of the couple jiving under an African night's sky, still both in their Parisian best (she, sweetly barefoot), surrounded by beer bottles on the concrete dance floor.  

Before heading for to catch the Eurostar home, we headed for the Place du Trocadéro. You can’t come all the way to Paris and not get the money shot, after all!


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When in Paris... I love French beauty products (*and pastries) and I have a lot of love for cool cat (and daughter of Serge and Jane) Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new khaki packaged NARS collaboration - the make up brushes are firmly on my Wish List. Also, if I could eat the new Sisley Paris Black Rose Cream on toast, I would.

An unforgettable journey, Merci Renaissance Hotels!

TLC Vacation: The Peninsula Paris

When I was young, growing up in Africa, I dreamed of Paris.  Nothing much has changed, as my ever-increasing collection of Breton striped tee’s, daily use of red lipstick and a flat peppered with French objet d’art will attest to (I have an actual Eiffel Tower shaped lamp made from an old olive oil bottle I’m particularly proud of!)  In short, I regularly imagine that I actually am un petit French fille and subsequently have supremely high expectations of Paris and visit there with extreme caution to avoid any disappointment.  You can therefore only imagine how quickly I said OUI when I was asked to travel first class on the Eurostar and stay at the Peninsula Paris for two nights. 

Above:  Distracting myself from my overwhelmingly naked passport with a handful of magazines (does EVERY blogger apart from me have a monogrammed Louis Vuitton passport cover?!)

After a 4 year, £341 MILLION makeover, the five-star Peninsula Paris, the first Peninsula in Europe, swung its gloriously immaculate doors open at the end of last year.  The original building, which dates back to 1908, is steeped in artistic and political history, with George Gershwin penning ‘An American in Paris’ within its walls in 1928 to housing the Nazi military command whilst Paris was occupied during WW2.  Located across an entire block near to the Arc de Triomph and Champs Elysees, the hotel now boasts 200 suites (starting at £800 a night), 34 suites, a penthouse suite with its own lavish rooftop garden (a mere £20,000 a night), an underground spa and 20m swimming pool, 600 incredible staff and a fleet of BMWs, Mini Coopers and two Rolls-Royces.  Yes. I was also wondering how I managed to bluff my way past their uniformed bell boys and polished, marbled lobby (Shhhhhhsh... I won’t tell if you don't!) 

After a delicious lunch (above) at the aviation-themed L’Oiseau Bleu, one of the hotel’s six bars and restaurants, named after an early French biplane and with 360˚ views of Paris, I made my way to my room.  And by room, I mean basic apartment.  Just as immaculate and glossy as the rest of the hotel, my suite had everything I could possibly need, dream of and even more.  From a Nespresso machine, to a hidden printer, a nail-varnish dryer in my dressing room (I’m not even kidding), a television in the bath tub (I had four square-eyed baths during my short stay), Oscar de la Renta amenities, and a state-of-the-art, touchscreen tablet which controlled the lighting, heating, curtains, TV and room service (dangerous!) There were complimentary international calls, a complimentary mini-bar (helllooooo!) and after an immensely busy few weeks collapsing into my giant, sumptuous bed for an afternoon disco-nap was totally dreamy.  

That evening, after cocktails in Bar ‘s randomly brilliant outdoor cabin, I dined at their increasingly famous Cantonese restaurant, LiLi.  The rich interior was inspired by the drama of Chinese and French opera and the food, although not the place I would advise a strict vegetarian to go, is prepared by the fantastic, award-winning Hong Kong chefs in their own impressive Chinese kitchen within the hotel. 

Above:  By the striking ‘Dancing Leaves’ installation consisting of 800 hand-blown twinkling crystals leaves in the hotel’s main lobby.  It really is a truly beautiful sight, especially at night. 

After yet another bath and another (far longer) sleep, the next morning entailed breakfast in the stunning, Belle Epoque’esq Lobby Kléber, where we also later sampled a traditional and spoiling Japanese tea to coincide with Japanese Spring.  After one (ok, two) sugary ‘mini’ kouglofs by the hotel’s award winning pastry chef, I went to a chocolate workshop in the impressive kitchens.  My diet when left unsupervised… WOW.  There was a real moment I actually anticipated rolling back to London…     

So frequently on work trips you are so busy running around the city, you are almost unable to enjoy the amazing room you are staying in.  After a couple of super brief spells into town (I say 'super brief' as the weather was super chilly and super wet!) I luckily, after the most relaxing and revitalising hour long, hot–stone ESPA massage in the hotel’s enormous, 1800 sq m spa, and a short spell in the relaxation room, I was able to retire to my suite for an evening of room service, movies and sleeeeeeeep.  After an incredible lie-in, followed by EVEN MORE room-service the next morning (this couldn’t have been more heavenly!) I enjoyed one last delicious lunch with the team.  I felt truly refreshed by the time I headed back to London.  

Thank you to The Peninsula Paris Hotel and Eurostar.


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Artisan Chocolate Masterclass at Alain Ducasse, at The Dorchester

It’s not often I get invited into the kitchen (my friends and family feel safe in the knowledge that the best thing I make for dinner is reservations!) so to find myself in the famous kitchen at The Dorchester, in a stark white apron with a glass of champagne (is that not normal?!) was really amusing for everyone I know.  I am not a great cook, and if I’m honest, I eat to live, not live to eat.  I usually eat out at restaurants or, in direct contrast, forage amongst the kitchen cupboards and fridge, picking ferally at whatever I may have acquired at recent supermarket dashes that isn't a magazine or chewing gum…! 

So what convinced me to step into the kitchens of Alain Ducasse?  One simple, yet powerful word… Chocolate.

Five years ago Alain Ducasse, the king of French fine dining, alongside Nicholas Berger, Alain’s head pastry chef, decided to make chocolate - but not just any chocolate.  Positioning themselves as craftsmen, the men managed to preserve the tastes and characteristics of each bean, using traditional vintage machines and time-tested methods, eventually resulting in the 2013 opening of the first bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing facility in Paris.

I was invited by Nicolas Berger, Exécutif Chocolatier at La Manufacture de Chocolat, to an exclusive, hands-on master class where I was to uncover the secrets behind artisan chocolate-making.  Using the finest chocolate imported directly from La Manufacture in Paris, I accompanied Nicolas in creating a range of indulgent puddings (a tarte fine au chocolate and the restaurants signature, and incredible, soufflé) and several bars of chocolate.    

I am not going to lie, the creation of the chocolate puddings was agonizing. I am well known for my incorrigible sweet tooth and it took every ounce of maturity and restraint in my body to stop me from launching myself into the giant pans of melted chocolate.  I gave the rolling, stirring, piping and decorating a go (embarrassingly, yet unsurprisingly, my varying attempts stood out like sore thumbs amongst the others), and learnt the best methods to melt, mould and work with chocolate. It had indeed been an incredibly interesting afternoon, but lets not kid ourselves here… the best bit was undeniably sitting down in Alain’s beautiful restaurant afterwards, alongside Nicolas, and devouring the fruits of our labour with dark chocolate ice cream.  Heaven.

 “Everywhere in the world there are tensions—economic, political, religious. So we need chocolate.”    Alain Ducasse

Places for chocoholics on this workshop are now available to purchase and will be taking place on the 7th of February and 7th of March 2015.  £150.00 pp

Maison Lejaby's 130th Anniversary Show at The Lido, Paris


Last week I woke up at the crack of sparrows and jumped on the Eurostar headed for The Lido in Paris to celebrate French lingerie leader Maison Lejaby’s 130th anniversary.  

The decadence of The Lido at the heart of the Champs Elysees was the perfect setting for the dazzling one-off, hour-long show the lucky audience was spoiled with.  Over seventy of the Lido’s infamous resident dancers, alongside several prima ballerinas, burlesque dancers and opera singers, took their guests throught the decades of the brand’s history, performing various enchanting routines whilst showcasing some spectacular Maison Lejaby couture, ultra-feminine RTW lingerie sets and striking swimwear.  


The highlights for me were the stunning Swarovski encrusted, boned ballet tutu (above, which took over 150 hours to create!) worn to open the show and an ethereal and mesmeric white silk gown worn during a solo performance to close (below).  


I thought the extensive Art Deco and Art Nouveau (below) collections were particularly elegant, and the flowing silk gowns and full-length chiffon robes extremely glamorous.  


Below:  A little (albeit quite fuzzy!) sneak peak of the show I made on my phone...

Maison Lejaby’s CEO Alain Prost, appointed in 2012, spearheaded the event and was emotional about the brand’s return to the French couture spirit.  Whilst on stage, Alain explained, “this event marks a new chapter for Maison Lejaby and gives us more strength and even more energy for our project Esprit Couture à la Française. This day will remain an unforgettable moment for our company and for the whole team for years to come.” 

BELOW:  Afterwards I went for the most delicious lunch off the Champs Elysees (wearing a skirt from H&M, heels from Zara, a vintage shirt from Budapest and a Mulberry Bryn handbag) where I had the most incredible fresh cream macaroons… Ooh La La all round!

Maison Lejaby now has a salon on the Rue Royale in Paris and offers the most beautifulHaute Couture, which of course represents the very essence of French luxury.  Lucky Londoners can head over to Rigby and Peller for an underwear makeover and buy their pretty Maison Lejaby sets (which come in an impressively wide variety of sizes) HERE


Credit Buy: Alice by Temperley's Celia Dress

Oh Zut Alorrrrrs, I am suffering from THE worst case of Le FOMO... I am daydreaming of being in Paris for Paris Fashion Week.   Yesterday, attempting to make up for the intense lack of croissants and couture in my life, I headed to Megan’s café in Chelsea (above) for brunch and  pretended I was at Café de Flore... This helped un petit peu.  Today however, I am wishing I was floating nonchalantly down the Champ Elysees in this beautiful polka-dot tulle Alice by Temperley Celia Maxidress (belowRRP. £445.00 at  Cool, alluring, flirty and with just the right amount of je ne sais quoi.  
Je voudrais this beauty and a Eurostar ticket s'il vous plait.

The Black Cat Cabaret

Last week I was invited to the decadent Titanic Ballroom at the Café de Paris to watch The Black Cat Cabaret, the descendent of the infamous Parisien nightspot, ‘Le Chat Noir’, brought to London by the co-founders of the Boom Boom Club and La Rêve.  

Whilst enjoying a delicious three-course dinner, I was treated to an array of vintage-inspired performances from musicians, dancers and acrobats, transporting me back to the bygone era of Montmartre’s daring cabaret world.  It was easy, having been to London hotspot, ‘The Box,’ not to be as impressed with all the performances as I perhaps should have been (some of the acts were simply too underwhelming), but the show’s devilish host and co-creator, Dusty Limits, gave a fantastically mischievous and utterly commanding performance, ably abetted by wonderful can-can dancing, an ethereal burlesque performance, mesmerizing hula hooping from ‘drunken’ showgirl Kalki and, my favourite, Dickie Beau’s brilliantly mimed invocation of Kenneth Williams.  A totally charming and whimsical night out. 

The Black Cat Cabaret has one last performance with this cast on Good Friday.  For £10 off tickets enter the discount code '8livesleft'

General Show Admission:   £15.00
Early Bird Show Admission:  £12.00
2 Course Dinner & Show:  £47.50
3 Course Dinner & Show:  £52.50
VIP 3 Course Dinner & Show: £75.00

Brad Pitt's Chanel No 5 Advertisement Revealed

We have all eagerly waited upon the latest Chanel No.5 advert having being teased for over a month with the teeniest, tiniest of tit-bit-Pitts, and yesterday it was finally released.  Am I alone in thinking… Is that it?!   Yes, Brad Pitt looks hot. Yes, Brad Pitt sounds hot. But… Where is the romance, the sweeping vistas, the fantasy… the… the… the anything?! 

Marilyn Monroe’s coy giggles, Audrey Tautou’s wistful train glances and Nicole Kidman’s can-can under the Eiffel Tower, have all been replaced by a scruffy Brad Pitt and his goatee.  As the first man to ever advertise the scent (a job he was paid £4.32 million for!) and with the amazing Joe Wright as his director, is it wrong that I had just expected MORE?!  A pensive, sultry Brad looks as if he has rolled out of a bar and given a deeply intense monologue to an invisible flock of birds... Unintentionally funny. Ooh-La-Lazy. 

Alexa Chung - The New Face of Maje A'W'12

Alexa Chung, my favourite fashionista, has been announced as the face of chic French fashion label Maje’s A/W’12 campaign.  Maje is well known for it’s romantic, bohemian collections and since opening in 2004 their collections have been worn by all the coolest of French belles, including Vanessa Paradis and Marion Cotillard.  With Maje stores popping up all around London, this label has become a fashion favourite here also.

Above:  Photographer Gien Luchford took these beautiful, dreamy black and white images of Alexa Chung at Paris' Porte des Lilas metro station.  The campaign pictures show an incredible likeness to the 1960’s British-born beauty, Jane Birkin.

Left: A young Jane Birkin and a recent photograph of Alexa coincidentally (?) wearing a Bella Freud'Je t'aime Jane' jumper.

Maje released a statement last week saying, "between dream and reality, evoking a cinema-like aesthetic, Alexa embodies a modern heroine with style and charm. Elegant yet edgy, her attitude reflects a personality that is both glamorous and rock’n’roll."  

Alexa also revealed, "I am thrilled to be the face of Maje for their autumn/winter 2012-13 campaign, it's a brand I love and wear, so to be asked was a huge compliment."  

I wonder if there will be an Alexa/Maje collection revealed next?  Fingers X.

Above:  Beautiful cult-actress, singer, fashion muse and activist Jane Birkin in the 1960's
(also pictured, Jane with her great love, Serge Gainsbourg.)

Below:  Now 65 years old, Jane Birkin remains as stylish as ever – and still with her namesake Hermès Birkin bag faithfully by her side!