Luxe or Less: Neutral Colour-Blocked Pumps

Colour-blocking shows no signs of slowing down this spring. And while we revel in our ability to wear lots of bright, happy colours together for another season, why not take the colour-blocking trend and apply it to neutrals? Two- or three-toned neutral pieces can be surprisingly sophisticated. For your approval, I submit the Chloe two-toned leather pump ($795 on Net a Porter). Check out how the dark tan hue hugs the bottom of the shoe in one perfect curve, swerving from the toe to the blocky heel. Gorgeous, no?

For those of us who can afford to splurge on $800 shoes, please feel free to go ahead and order. But for those of us who have mundane things like budgets and mortgages to worry about, I present to you the colour-blocked 'Laurel' pump ($120 at Banana Republic). These shoes look adorable in person, and their use of colour-blocking is different from but no less appealing than the Chloes. Also, since they're supposed to office-appropriate, they're designed to be quite comfortable--the work shoes that work for you.

I like the look of the 'Laurel' worn with bright colours and pencil skirts as seen in the Banana Republic ad below. Now the question is, can I track down a pair in a size 6? They're sold out on the Canadian website, and I can only hope that they're still available in-store. I really regret walking away from them the first time around. Talk about non-buyer's remorse.


A Peek Into Van Cleef & Arpels

The Van Cleef & Arpels hallmark. Each of their pieces bears this stamp. (source:

Getting a glimpse into the rarified history of Van Cleef & Arpels is a treat. After all, this is one of the finest jewelry maisons in the world with a history dating back to Paris 1896. It once counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Grace of Monaco among its faithful clients, as well as a slew of other actresses, royal figures, and style icons.

So you can understand how hard pressed I was to turn down the opportunity to meet Nicolas Luchsinger, vice president of retail and director of the Heritage Collection, at the Birks flagship store in downtown Vancouver for a trip through the annals of Van Cleef & Arpels. A self-professed jewelry enthusiast (he confessed to collecting auction catalogues as a teenager), Luchsinger was a knowledgeable guide as we journeyed through Van Cleef & Arpels's illustrious past, right up until the present day.

Esther Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef on their marriage day, 1896 (source:

The way Luchsinger tells it, the history of Van Cleef & Arpels "began as a love story" with the marriage between Esther Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef in 1896. The two newly joined families founded their namesake jewelry business in the same year, opening their first flagship store at 22 place Vendome. Stores in ritzy resort towns like Cannes and Monte Carlo followed in subsequent years.

Place Vendome, home of the first Van Cleef & Arpels store (source:

As trends came and went, the jewelry house changed also, their designs influenced by the great aesthetic movements and social happenings of the day. During the 1920s, Art Deco, the Orient's intricate handicrafts, the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb, and a visiting maharajah from India who attended the British coronation with an assortment of fine stones all inspired Van Cleef & Arpels's designers in one way or another. Haute couture, changing fashions, wars, and Hollywood also shaped the house's creations. For example, WWII inspired heavier jewelry pieces that alluded to the weight and heft of war arms. The war's metals demands also created a shortage of platinum for jewelry makers, so yellow gold came back into style.

The clouds in this fairy watch rotate bit by bit over the course of 365 days, slowly revealing the fairy tableau underneath over the course of a year.

The Féérie watch is simply spectacular.

Despite the house's ability to keep up with the times, some style signatures have emerged as distinctly Van Cleef & Arpels over the years. Recurring design motifs like fairies, nature, birds of paradise, and ballet dancers keep devoted fans coming back for more. Van Cleef & Arpels is also famous for their transformable jewelry, each design a dazzling masterpiece of mechanics, luxury, and workmanship. One of their most notable transformable designs is the Zip necklace, famously commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor. As Luchsinger demonstrated, the necklace works just like a zipper and can be worn as a zipped bracelet, partially zipped necklace, or unzipped belt. The between-the-fingers Lotus ring, which transforms from a single finger to a double finger ring, is another brilliant example of the house's knack for versatile design.

Me trying on the Zip necklace as a belt.

The zip necklace as seen on Eve Best playing Wallis Simpson in The King's Speech (source)

The Lotus between-the fingers ring. Different parts of the ring swivel to form a chunky ring that wraps around one finger multiple times, or a ring that spans two fingers.

The Alhambra and Perlée, though, are perhaps Van Cleef & Arpels's most ubiquitous design motifs these days. Claude Arpels was inspired by the famous Spanish landmark of the same name; he created the first Alhambra pieces crafted from plain yellow gold in 1968. Subsequent bracelets, necklaces, and rings have featured such eclectic materials as turquoise, black onyx, lapis, mother of pearl, wood, rock crystal, and coral. The Perlée's oversized pearl look was inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels's 1920s Art Deco designs, which had a fine pearl-dot detail between stones.

Present day Alhambra pieces


Our interview ended with a look at Van Cleef & Arpels's timepieces from their Poetic Complications collection. Like the Zip necklace and the between-the-finger rings, they're marvels of jewelry design and engineering.

The dial turns to conceal and reveal the yellow sapphire sun and white diamond moon in the Jour/Nuit watch over a 24-hour period.

This watch shows the constellations as they appear above the original place Vendome Van Cleef & Arpels location. Once purchased, it is set with the wearer's longitude and latitude so that the constellations rotate accordingly. At any time of the year, the wearer will know what the stars look like in the Parisian night sky.

Van Cleef & Arpels also does whimsical, fantastical pieces inspired by unlikely things, such as this marine-themed watch with rotating waves inspired by the Jules Verne classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

It's fitting that Van Cleef & Arpels was born of a romance, and through it, the romance of jewelry lives on: beautiful, luxurious, meticulously crafted--and, more often than not, a token of love.

Except where external sources are noted, all photos in this post are by Special thanks to Van Cleef & Arpels and Birks for this wonderful opportunity.


Today's Outfit: Ready, Set, Colour

Lovely reader Petite Adventures left a comment on yesterday's post asking for more details about the blouse I wore to the CB2 grand opening party. This made me unusually happy because 1) I was planning an outfit post anyway, and 2) it made forcing poor bystanders Alicia and Danica to take outfit photos somewhat justifiable. (Thanks ladies!)

The blouse is from my last trip to Portland. As much as I love the textured blue-and-gold silk, the ruffled sleeves and the colourful pattern, I don't wear it that often. The exaggerated sleeve ruffles make it hard to wear with any sort of cardigan or blazer, and I get cold so easily that I usually need an outer layer with long sleeves to keep me toasty. An extra nude camisole and a pair of wool trousers seemed pretty effective at preventing the shivers though.

This outfit was a nod to spring with my feet firmly planted in the final months of winter--bright spring-like colours, but also quite warm. Pretty good compromise for these final transitional months, I think.


CB2 Robson Grand Opening

When the boy and I aren't talking about where we'd like to live and how much closet space he'll cede to me in our future home, we like to muse about how we'd like to decorate. So we approached the grand opening party of the CB2 store on Robson as a litmus test of sorts: What would we agree and disagree on when we perused the store's selection of contemporary home furnishings? The sister store to the well-known Crate & Barrel was filled with furniture and accessories designed to appeal to urban-dwelling, style-conscious consumers. While catching up with familiar faces and enjoying canapés and drinks, I went around snapping photos of whatever caught my eye. As it turns out, I seem to be drawn to colourful pieces and quirky details (big surprise there). Here's a look at the evening in photos.

A giant wall clock with sans serif numbers

Cute cork and hockey player characters on special Canadian edition plates

The boy testing out chairs

An interesting bookcase

Bloggers from left to right: me, Mina, Alicia, Melissa, Cara

Tealight holders shaped like birds

An end table used as a mini bar

NARS Neutrals

Neutral eyeshadows aren't the most scintillating beauty product to purchase, but the right ones can be incredibly hard to find. Most of the ones I come across are too pink, too brown, too light, too shimmery--and, more importantly, too obvious and unnatural-looking when applied. Like Goldilocks, I wanted something that was just right, and that something was proving quite difficult to find.

So imagine my delight when a consultation with Aaron, one of the makeup artists at the NARS counter in the Bay downtown, turned up two palettes that were just right: the NARS duo eyeshadow palettes in 'Portobello' and 'All About Eve' ($39). The former features a pair of matte beige and taupe shades, while the latter contains champagne and pink shades with the slightest pearly sheen to them--very refined and not at all like the over-the-top satin finish or teenybopper shimmer of most other eyeshadows.

For a natural look, Aaron dabbed a brush in both shades of the 'Portobello' palette to blend the colours. He applied the blend to the outer corners of the eyes, sweeping upward slightly to define the crease and along the eyeline. He then dabbed a brush in both shades of the 'All About Eve' palette to blend the colours and applied the blend to the centre of the eyelid. All of this was done with a very light hand. The result: that subtly shaded, "like your own eyes but better-looking" effect I've always wanted from my eyeshadows and never known how to achieve. Bingo.


My Spring Shopping Wishlist

Ever mindful of my New Year's resolution to "buy less, but buy better," I'm limiting my spring shopping wishlist to six items that will mix well with what I already have and refresh staid basics with a welcome dose of colour. That's not to say I might not be tempted by an inexpensive statement necklace or a very good sale, but at this point I'll be more than happy with the pieces I've chosen above.

What's on your shopping list this spring?


The Perfect Capsule Work Wardrobe

I confess, I'm far from a minimalist (the boy foresees some logistical difficulties with my shoe collection and tiny condo closets). But perhaps this is why the idea of a tightly edited collection of mix-and-match basics seems so fascinating. Whenever I see a "Several Pieces, Umpteen Different Outfits" tutorial, I get excited about seeing all the different looks the stylists came up with while working within limited parameters.

This Shopbop lookbook caught my eye a couple of weeks ago and I haven't been able to put it out of mind since. Even if you can't afford Michael Kors watches, Vince trousers, Equipment silk blouses or Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses, you can derive great styling ideas for how to recombine a handful of basic pieces into enough looks for two weeks.

The list of lookbook items serves as a good checklist for fresh university graduates who've just landed their first real jobs and need to put together a professional wardrobe fast. How many of these pieces do you have in your wardrobe?

  • Black blazer
  • 2 pairs of trousers (1 pair black, 1 pair in another neutral)
  • Black pencil skirt
  • Black pumps
  • Commuter flats
  • 2 sweaters (1 crewneck, 1 cardigan)
  • Trench coat
  • Classic work tote
  • Patterned blouse
  • White button-down shirt
  • Oversize watch
  • Day dress

Looking for more workwear inspiration? Check out this post with outfit ideas for Monday to Friday that I did last year when I began my new job.


Kate Spade 'Bow Bridge Kennedy' Bag

Many girls will understand when I say that some types of items, when purchased, thrill you more than others. For me, the order goes as follows: 1) handbags, 2) shoes (especially of the designer variety), and 3) lipstick. Although the latter two engender a warm consumeristic glow post-purchase, it's the handbag purchases that really set my heart racing and feel special, particularly because I tend to buy bags to commemorate special occasions.

I bought my Chanel 2.55 during a whirlwind 3-week trip to London, Paris and New York, while the Chanel WOC was a 25th birthday present to myself. I view my new Kate Spade 'Bow Bridge Kennedy' bag in the same light. The timing coincided with some other happy events in my life, so this cheerful green satchel feels extra...celebratory, somehow.

That bright green hue, so eye-catching yet surprisingly versatile. The bow. The detachable cross-body strap. The fact that it's a medium-sized satchel--not too big, but still spacious enough to fit my micro 4/3 camera. The saying embossed on the dust bag. The fact that it was seriously discounted because of a gift card from Kate Spade's corporate headquarters (my refund from my busted rain boots--so nice of them!). All compelling reasons to love this bag. I foresee myself using it a lot, particularly for fashion events where I'm toting my camera with me.

What's your favourite item to shop for? (Or perhaps you're a handbag aficionado too?)


Brave Leather Belt Giveaway Winners

After one month and close to 60 eligible entries, the Brave Leather belt giveaway has come to a close. Without further ado, here are the lucky winners:

Amana - Areta

Makani - jessisthebest

Chim - shortwidenails

Delphine - jewels

Special thanks to Brave Leather for sponsoring this giveaway and to all the lovely readers who entered. I'll be contacting each winner separately with details on how they can claim their prizes.


Palladium Madness

"Mambo kings and big band orchestras. Guests dressed to the nines, waiting to dance to music by the likes of Tito Puente and Machito. While this might sound like a scene out of a period TV series à la Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire, it was a world that was very real to the patrons of the Palladium, the birthplace of mambo and one of the most famous Latin music venues ever. And luckily for us VIS attendees, it’s a world we’ll get to revisit and re-create at the Palladium Gala on Saturday March 3."

Today I'm taking a break from my regular posting schedule to dish advice on what attendees should wear to Vancouver International Salsa Festival's Palladium-themed gala! Think 50s fashion and big band Latin music--glamorous, right? If you're interested, check out the article here.

Today's Outfit: Winter Sunshine

  • Plenty jacket
  • Banana Republic cardigan and cigarette pants
  • Joe Fresh pearl earrings
  • Timex watch
  • H&M brooch (pinned on jacket pocket)
  • Kelsi Dagger flats
  • Chanel purse

I complain a lot about working during winter's best daylight hours and photo-taking opportunities. So when the sun finally showed itself the weekend before last, I couldn't resist asking the boy to go for a walk and take some outfit photos. He very graciously complied with my not-so-gracious impatience as a photo subject ("That looks terrible! Take it from this angle!").

We then ventured to Campagnolo Roma for dinner and downtown for a movie. We picked War Horse at the last minute, which despite its emotional storylines turned out to be absurdly hilarious because we couldn't stop thinking of this SNL sketch the entire time. One of us would smirk at the movie and whisper a line from the sketch in the other person's ear, and we would both fall into giggling fits. The evening wound down with cocktails at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and a romantic walk in the fog. Perfect Saturday date day to celebrate me no longer being sick.

Evidently the sunshine two weekends ago was a harbinger of a great week to come because so many wonderful things happened. My annual performance review went well, and I got some very welcome freelancing news in the email. I was well enough to resume salsa dancing and yoga classes. I finally ordered the Kate Spade handbag I'd been coveting for ages and it arrived within three days. I had one of my best interviews in recent memory with a representative from Van Cleef and Arpels. (Blog posts about the latter two to come later!) Even though last week was exhausting, all of these good things more than made up for it.

Here's hoping this week will hold great things for myself and for you, lovely readers. Happy Monday!

P.S. If you haven't entered my Brave belts giveaway yet, do it now! The giveaway ends tomorrow at 12pm PST.


Kiss My Lips

Kissing under the mistletoe, while ringing in the New Year, or over a romantic Valentine's Day dinner...winter sure gives us many occasions to use our lips while at the same leaving them dry and chapped. Here are my favourite products for ensuring that your lips are in perfect shape before your next special kiss.

For chapped lips in need of some exfoliation, the Jane Iredale Sugar and Butter Lip Scrub and Plumper ($28 at Spa Boutique) is a godsend. The grainy sugar-based exfoliator on one end scrubs away dead skin, while the super-hydrating lip plumper on the other end moisturizes and adds a lovely light pink tint. The all-natural formulas are packed with brown sugar, peptides, natural oils and shea butter, plus they smell scrumptious. I love the luxe gold packaging and how the entire product is about the size of a Chapstick tube, making exfoliation on the go a cinch. Apply the product at night before bed, or throughout the day in lieu of regular balm. By the time you need to put on lipstick, your lips will be smooth and soft.

I've raved about ILIA Pure Lip Care on this blog time and again, but I just can't get enough of their sweetly scented hybrid lipstick/gloss/balm formulas. They're not as pigmented as standard lipsticks, which makes them a bit more kiss-friendly. 'Arabian Knights' ($24.95 at BeautyMark) is a berry red hue that builds in intensity as you re-apply throughout the day, resulting in a pretty scarlet stain by the time date night rolls around.

Being a lipstick girl, most glosses are too sticky or not pigmented enough to be worth my time. But I do like Mary Kay's NouriShine Plus Lip Gloss in Rock n' Red ($14). The formula feels more like a thick balm than a sticky gloss, plus it has enough colour pigment to transform the look of your lips completely. The result: a perfect, glossy candy apple pout.

If your makeup case is filled with gorgeous lipsticks of every shade (ahem, guilty as charged), consider picking up an all-purpose clear liner like this one by Mary Kay ($12) to keep the edges of your lipstick looking sharp all evening. It's especially useful if your lipsticks tend to be creamy rather than matte.


Sancha Jewelry Media Preview

Jewelry designer Sancha Tatlock

Beautiful jewelry doesn't grow on gilded trees, nor does it wash up on sandy shores along with shells, polished pebbles and translucent sea glass. But it was easy to believe that that was the case at the media preview for Sancha Tatlock's eponymous line, Sancha. Using materials like raw aquamarine, geodes, pyrite, brass, gold fill and fair trade beads, her resort 2012 collection--which was inspired by the sea--effortlessly evokes the raw beauty of nature.

The collection of burnished copper pieces that Sancha produced as part of the Love Love project is just as lovely. The teardrop-shaped pendants all bear "Love Love" stamps and are finished with a special wax produced by the British Museum to maintain that warm coppery glow. Those who buy a Love Love piece for themselves (or for loved ones this Valentine's Day, as I suggested in this post) can feel good about their purchase for another reason: partial proceeds from each piece sold go to Oxfam Canada and their relief efforts for the East African drought.

Visit Sancha's website for more information about each collection and where to buy her designs.

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