Friends, family and fashion in England

Old Apr 15th, 2004, 07:58 AM
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Friends, family and fashion in England

Spent a spectacular 10 days in England late March/early April. It was mostly visiting friends & family (attended a wedding in London!) so I don't have a lot of tourist/sightseeing advice to pass on. But here are my thoughts on Virgin Air, the Landmark Hotel in London (& the Marleybone area), a bit of sightseeing and some fashion observations.

We go to England annually since my husband's family is there. We've happily flown BA coach for the last several years because their prices were usually the best. This trip we decided to redeem AMEX points for free tickets on Virgin. We flew Upper Class there & premium Economy home. Yes, you can do this-mix and match 2 different classes of service- & I think it makes good sense splurging on the overnight flight. BTW, Virgin has recently changed terminals at JFK. Their new upper class lounge in the new terminal is quite nice, a good thing since we had lots of time to kill before departure. We arrived 2 1/2 hr. before flight time & there was hardly anyone there. The food in the lounge was excellent. You can order anything from hors d'oeuvres to a full meal to desserts etc. We only had some "nibbly bits" but in retrospect, we should have had our dinner there, on the ground. It probably would have been better food at a better hour (we took an 11pm flight which was what was available). They also have the usual amenities in the lounge like TV, phones, even video games I think. All in all, top marks for food and service on the ground. It was easy to do duty free shopping from the lounge although we didn't buy anything (FYI, the Metropolitan museum has a nice shop in the terminal).

The Upper Class seats on the plane allow you to lie virtually flat, although very low to the ground-once you figure out how the @#$%Y& they work. The flight attendants are not terribly helpful in this regard either. You are offered an opportunity for a massage (3 or 4 sorts-) but in the next breath they tell you since the flight is full, you're not guaranteed one. They supposedly do a lottery to determine order of service. They ask if they can awaken you for the massage. When I said no they were a bit stunned. I did get my back massage shortly before landing which was perfect timing & a nice way to refresh. The masseuse was terrific. Overall I thought the food on the plane was fine & service adequate--not a great review for Upper Class if you're paying. I was glad we had chosen to save points on the return flight & fly Premium Economy. The seats were fine. The food on this flight/section was, IMO, inedible! I know our family likes flying here with children on Virgin and Virgin does have newer planes, but overall I much prefer service & food on BA. I should mention both flights arrived a bit early. I also heard on the loudspeaker at Heathrow that AA cancelled one of their NY bound flights & felt really sorry for those people.

We spent most of our time staying with family & friends in Surrey & the Cotswolds, but spent 2 nights in London at the Landmark hotel where the wedding reception took place. We were able to get a special rate as a wedding guest. As there's not much info here on the Landmark, I'll wax eloquent. This hotel is fabulous. It was originally built as a coaching inn in the 1800s and also sits in front of Marylebone train station. It's had a recent renovation & is quite stylish (non frumpy traditional) with good sized rooms & marble baths. We had an executive room (whatever that means, I think standard) There is a glass covered atrium in the middle of the hotel (where the coaches used to pull in) that is now a restaurant/lounge area. Some of the rooms face into that area-I think the odd numbered rooms. While we had no particular view from our room, I was happy ours faced the street. That's how I found our breakfast place the first morning, by looking out the window. Regular rates at the Landmark are quite high, so I think at least at the current exchange rate, this hotel is probably more an expense account type place. For anyone driving, which we were, there's the added convenience of a garage (30GBP/night), but the hotel is conveniently out of the congestion zone so if you're coming from outside London & just driving to the hotel entering from the westway, you don't have to pay the congestion fee. The other side of the street is IN the congestion zone, but the hotel side is not. Before anyone asks, we considered all options regarding keeping the car in London, parking it outside London, turning it in, etc., & this scenario worked best for us.

Our room rate did not include breakfast. Continental was GBP 19.50 & full English was 24!!!! Needless to say, we did not eat at the hotel (apart from the wedding food which was outstanding)! One morning we found a great little family run coffee place across from the back of the hotel facing the train station for eggs etc.-cheap & very cheerful. Cafe Cappuccino or something like that. This is the place I spied out our window. The next morning (Sunday) our little place was closed so I went across to the Marylebone station where I had my choice of a Marks & Sparks food shop, Upper Crust, a Pasties place & more & brought a selection of continental breakfast stuff back to the room.

Before we left home, I had considered saving some money & staying at a less expensive hotel in the area. The Sherlock Holmes is not far away & it was available on one of the discount websites for 99GBP/night including VAT & breakfast. We checked it out as we passed it one morning. While I didn't see the rooms, the lobby area & restaurant/bar looked lovely. It's quite modern design but not minimalist cold. There's a tapas bar in the front area near the bar. I happened to do a text search here about it & people were reporting Baker St. as being an unattractive area. That's certainly not true now IMO. It is very close to the main Oxford St. shopping area. There were plenty of small restaurants & convenience shops. I was worried the area wouldn't be convenient for a day of sightseeing, but it was really great. I would not hesitate to consider this area. The Ramada Jarvis Marylebone is right across from the back of the Landmark (I hear it's often available at good discounts although just an acceptable place) & the Hilton Metropole, sometimes available on Priceline is not far.

We went to the Wallace Collection, a pleasant walk from the Landmark. In reading about it, it sounded much like the Frick in NY-private home with family collection. WRONG! It is a private home with family collection, but this family collected for 4 or more generations. The size of the collection is staggering. There are many Canalettos and the famous Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. In addition to paintings, there's every other conceivable collectible-furniture, miniatures, porcelain, armor! There are also comfortable round banquets in many of the upstairs rooms for sitting & pondering the work!

I'm not usually "into" armor, but somehow wandering into a huge gallery on the ground floor with lots of "stuff" (arms, armor etc.) in glass cases, I found myself drawn to the life size display of a horse & rider, both completely decked out, in the center of the room, not behind glass. The armor on the front of the rider's feet came to a narrow, curved down point. I was so tempted to touch it while wondering how the devil the poor guy could walk. I noticed a sign saying do not touch because it was alarmed, so I controlled myself but mused whether it actually was alarmed. Anyway, I got my DH to have a look and, you guessed it, his first instinct was to run his finger on that foot....ring, ring ring. Ahem, yes there is an alarm.

There is a beautiful looking restaurant in a glass enclosed atrium in the rear of the museum (just in front of the armor room!) The museum shop had some lovely things but EVERYTHING in England is so expensive now, I bought virtually nothing. One small item I'm sorry I didn't purchase-they had a package of refrigerator magnets that looked like fancy antique picture frames. You put your photo in one & can stick it up-clever I thought.

Next on my list was the Sir John Soames house in Lincoln's Inn Fields near the courts. Let me mention, since people often ask about hair salons, that walking south from the Wallace Collection toward Oxford St., we passed a number of nice looking smaller hair salons in the area around Wigmore St. There also seemed to be Toni & Guys (a franchise hair operation) everywhere.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention my biggest inconsequential, frivolous observation of the trip-English women are now really "into" manicures. While I don't think there are (yet) many stand alone nail salons, I saw many women with French manicures. People I know who never bothered with their nails now have long painted ones etc. The funniest was passing through a middle of the road suburban town & seeing a shop advertising "American professional style nail salon."

Back to Sir John Soames, we took a bus to Holborn from Oxford St. because I wanted to stay above ground When we got out, we passed the often mentioned Renaissance Chauncery Court hotel. While we didn't take the time to go in, this place, with it's grand drive-in entrance looks really lovely! When we finally arrived at the Soames house after getting a bit lost, there was a queue to get in.

Soames was an architect (the Bank of England was his design) who also taught architecture & collected all sorts of architectural "bits." This is his home which is chock a block with stuff. It's a small place with narrow corridors & they only allow so many in at a time. It was also evidently featured on a BBC program not long ago so has become very popular. Saturday (when we were there) is evidently the busiest day, especially in the afternoon. There's a 2:30 tour on Sat. which we missed. The house is currently under some renovation, so there are parts, like the basement, which are closed. It was a big contrast after the Wallace collection which is so grand & pristine. (This is PC for I liked the Wallace much better & this place felt musty, dusty and small.) The highlight for me at the Soames was the collection of Hogarth paintings that are currently displayed in plexiglass standing cases (I think they must have hung in one of the closed areas). They are political commentary & one of the guards was good enough to explain them to us. Just terrific.

I had also wanted to visit the Courtauld gallery at Somerset House (largely based, I think, on JoeG's recent rave & the fact I'd never been) but unfortunately we ran out of steam & time. We walked from Lincoln's Inn Fields through Covent Garden to Leicester Square & bought discount theater tickets to a show that was just awful (called Dinner). It was closing that night & now I know why.

We were there for 3 major sporting events-the England/France Rugby match (England lost), the Grand National Horse race (we bet at off track right across from our hotel in London-we lost although DH had picked the #2 horse but only bet him to win) and the Cambridge/Oxford boat race which was great fun to watch on telly-much controversy & I personally thought it was a dirty win for Cambridge.

I always use trips to England to get my fill of Indian, Thai and Chinese since it's so good. We also ate quite a few meals in friends & family's homes. I will sheepishly admit our ONE restaurant dinner in London after the show "I blew" by not preparing in advance. It was pouring rain when we got out of the theater & we just popped into an Italian & had passable grub.

We had mostly good weather (certainly better than at home) & spring had really sprung there. I didn't bring a coat, but had 2 blazers, some sweaters & a wool cape. I bought this cape maybe 15 years ago & it has been one of the best clothing investments I ever made. It's light weight but warm, can be easily folded & packed and I can wear it with anything, from jeans to an evening dress. My other handy item is my rain hat. It's nice enough to wear even if it's not raining (to conceal a bad hair day) & easier to carry than an umbrella. In a downpour it's not as good as a brolley, but who wants to tromp around in a downpour anyway.

As to the proverbial questions of what to wear, shoes, etc., I can truly say, when you're sightseeing, nobody cares, nobody looks. Wear what's comfortable but be appropriate. FYI I didn't actually see a lot of those dreaded white sneakers/trainers, but did see lots black, dark green, etc., etc. In the theater on a Saturday night I saw everything from sloppy jeans to nice dresses & suits.

My other observation was styles, haircuts, clothes seem to be more similar to the US than I ever remember. On previous trips I can rememeber seeing at least 1 style there that was not prevalent in the US. Not so this time. I had bought a pink wool Chanel type jacket in Fla. at one of my favorite discount shops for $55 (this was great for this trip). Imagine my shock on walking into a Jaeger shop to see a similar jacket in the exact same fabric (for over 200GBP)! And even music...the music at the wedding was by DJ. The closing song was.....New York, New York!




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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 08:07 AM
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However, if you stay at the Landmark and decide to drive, it will cost an additional five pounds a day for the congestion charge as it is outside the zone. If you can't get The Landmark for a good price then stay in Mayfair which is a far superior position. Locals never patronise the Landmark. Claridge's or the Dorchester are much better bets. The Landmark is very American hotel international and lacks character, it is bland, perhaps that's what appealed to you?
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 08:34 AM
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A really excelent report, mclaurie. Nice to hear the additional layer peeled away for the next trip, when all the front-line must-sees have been seen.

I think the new "2" must indicate "squared" as the nasty tone seems to be moving toward exponential proportions.
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 08:39 AM
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mclaurie, thanks for your report. We were in London at the same time as you and were staying at the Sherlock Holmes. This was our fifth stay at this hotel. In addition to the tapas bar, there's a proper restaurant in the back: the food is good, but the service can be rather choppy. Like you, we really enjoy this neighborhood and the amazing Wallace Collection. Here are some of our favourite inexpensive restaurants for your next visit:

Woodlands (vegetarian Indian)
77 Marylebone Lane

Golden Hind (fish-n-chips)
73 Marylebone Lane

La Galette (crepes/light meals)
56 Paddington Street

Eat & Two Veg (vegetarian)
50 Marylebone High Street

Best, Maureen
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 08:47 AM
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Mclaurie:

Beautifully written...interesting and your report will help those going to London.

Did you make it to Harrods?

My Best!
Oaktown Traveler
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 09:12 AM
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Great report, thanks. The European fashions use to take 2 years to get translated here, now it's overnight,and they are immediately put into production.
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 09:17 AM
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I must have been there the week before you - the Cheltenham Gold Cup week and the week after - and the weather was appalling. I had taken a quilted jacket, a blazer and cashmere t-necks, but had to buy a long Barbour coat because it was so cold and gale force windy. I've worn it almost every day since i've been back, since the weather's horrible here, too.

It was a huge eye-opener looking at the prices. I would think "oh, 28 gbp isn't too bad...." then i would mentally double the price and put the item back.

This is the first time in my 40+ years of travelling to the UK that I've had any nasty incidents because of being American - and I had two this trip.

First was a man who thought he hailed the taxi that i got, and even though the driver said he pulled over for me, the man continued to harangue me for being american, and pounded on the cab window shrieking "i hope you die!"

The second was in a coffee shop where someone came and sat right smack next to me (there were other spaces) and pulled out a ciggie and ashtray. Since I was still eating & drinking, I said, "oh, I hope you're not going to smoke yet" in a very friendly voice. He proceded to go on and on about how i should go to starbucks, since they don't allow smoking there, and that americans always think they can get their own way. it didn't help that he was carrying an arabic-language newspaper.

I don't consider myself to be an 'ugly american' and have been going abroad since i was a child, but these two incidents were a little scary.
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Old Apr 15th, 2004, 10:03 AM
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Fairfax:

I wouldn't take it personally, or nationalistically. Public manners in Britain are appalling, and getting worse. And there are a lot of people out and about who ought to be in care somewhere.

If it'd been me in your place, the rant would have been (and often is)about 'fat toff'. Non-white Brits get mouthfuls of racist abuse from these people - who often really are at the margins of sanity. European tourists would be called Frog or Kraut bastards. Women in your position routinely get called "slag" or "bitch".

Abusive nutters are bellwethers of nothing except the rising incidence of abusive nutters. The good news is that, although manners are infinitely worse here than in the US, violence isn't. There was zero chance of a gun or knife being pulled.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 09:02 AM
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Maureen, thanks for the restaurant tips. Sorry I didn't know you were so close. Plaese tell us about the rooms at the Sherlcok Holmes. Decor like the lobby area? Decent condition? Noisy?I remember you or someone else trying to arrange a GTG to do a London Walks. Did it happen?

Oaktown I did not go to Harrods. It's never been my cup of tea-too big. I used to love Harvey Nich's, but most of what's there can now be found in NYC. My fave shopping in the past has been the small shops on Walton St. & the Sloane Square area but with only one day I didn't go.

I should mention I did a lot of looking in antique shops in the Cotswolds & there are still some decent purchases to be made, even with the exchange rate. The problem is transporting it home either because of size or breakablity.

Fairfax, so sorry to hear you had bad weather & some unpleasantness. I think we were very lucky on both counts, although with my DH's accent, I think we're often taken as locals. Our UK friends ofcourse want to know what Americans think about the war & the President.

Now, at the risk of fanning flames where none should even smolder, I must respond, for posterity & accurancy, on the Landmark, it's location, style & (bizarre) comparison to the Dorchester which I know quite well having had my wedding reception there. IMO, the Landmark is a top notch hotel with comfortable rooms, excellent service and a well trained staff that would appeal to Americans as well as anyone else wanting comfort, courtesy, space, & decent plumbing. It's location, so convenient to the tube & Marylebone station makes it much more practical than the Dorchester, which is not near a tube stop. I do heartily agree, however, that if the 2 hotels were the same price, the Dorchester is far more special & exclusive feeling & their bathrooms with double sinks & separate tub and marble stall shower are much grander. The Dorchester did feel more typically English because of the chintz room decor (which I gather has been redone since I was last there), but it's owned by the Sultan of Brunei. There are orange arrows on the ceilings pointing to Mecca.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 10:53 AM
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mclaurie: I wasn't involved in the GTG since I was visiting a friend in York that day but hopefully someone will post and tell us how it went.

The Sherlock's rooms are decorated in the same style as the lobby (crisp tans/mauves w/leather and wood). Your description of modern but not cold is apt. I believe the rooms were newly decorated when we first visited two years ago and since then we've noticed some signs of wear which is to be expected.

The bathrooms are very nice w/ deep tubs, Motlon Brown products, and glass sliding doors to maximize space. Rooms have A/C, contain a safe, hair dryer, bathrobes/slippers, work desk w/data ports, two telephones, coffee/tea service and half of the rooms have wooden floors.

We prefer the rooms that face on to Baker St., although these can be loud if you keep the windows open. The interior rooms face each other or look out on to buildings on Chiltern Street. These are quieter unless you're on a lower floor where you'll hear the A/C.

Since my husband stays here frequently for business, they usually upgrade us to a suite. You'll find Sherlock Holmes novels to read in your bedside table and housekeeping leaves a new riddle on your pillow each day.

The hotel staff are very helpful but at times seem understaffed for the volume of guests (especially the bar and room service on the weekends). Here's a link to the hotel's web site incase you haven't seen it:

http://www.parkplaza.com/hoteldirect...04160404170410

Let me know if I've left anything out.

Maureen
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:31 AM
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great trip report. i also prefer ba to virgin. i know virgin is hip and cool and in a way that's what scare me about it. can someone who makes soda also fly a plane? (unfair perhaps). once my virgin flight was delayed 8 hours because they were fixing the wing! that didn't inspire confidence.

i think of u.k. fashion and trendy trainers and funky jeans. i used to like it but now it's so commonplace even in the u.s. that i think fashionwise we need to move on.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:37 AM
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Grilled sardine by name and nature?

Whilst I detest Richard Branson, your logic of "soda" and airlines is fatally flawed! Firstly it is obviously regulated, and secondly, he is no longer the major shareholder in Virgin airlines.

As for UK fashion, do you mean designers like Paul Smith, John Rocha, Jasper Conran, and lesser knowns such as Timothy Everest, Siv Stodal.... As for "funky jeans" these are more of an Italian thing along the lines of Dolce e Gabbana.

You know nothing about fashion nor aviation,next time just lie on your slice of toast, forget trying to talk.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:47 AM
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i was referring more to street fashion than designers. paul smith is one of my favorites. funky jeans are definitely a brit thing. i remember when twisted levi's were all the rage. i still like ba better, even if virgin airlines doesn't make virgin cola.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:52 AM
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I only like Paul Smith's mainline collections, but I feel it's become too mainstream and widely available. I prefer BA too, but then I always have. Levis now offer a diffusion collection "levis vintage" and also have produced a one off collection with oki-ni/Timothy Everest, but those pieces are from around 500GBP for trousers up to 1450GBP for a coat.

However, virtually every designer produces jeans, whether it is Helmut Lang's crisp plain jeans that are cut beautifully or Dior's glazed paint effect jeans.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:55 AM
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btw, mkingdom, you are wrong. Virgin Atlantic is controlled by Branson and it's part of the Virgin Group conglomerate which also offers wireless services, train services as well as soda.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 11:58 AM
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He recently sold a large number of share he held in it, however, either way around it is safe!
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 12:01 PM
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he's still the majority shareholder.
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Old Apr 16th, 2004, 02:08 PM
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Only one person in the world knows how much of the Grinning Pullover's "empire" is actually owned by the Grinning Pullover. And since Branson is the most incoherent human being east of the Oval Office, you're unlikely to get much sense out of him.

Yes, Virgin does own 51% of Virgin Atlantic shares (Singapore Airlines owns the rest: they can't buy more, or Virgin would lose its route rights).

It owns a lot less than 50% of the shambling mess laughingly described as a railway company, which is actually owned and controlled by Stagecoach (a real, professionally-managed business).

As I understand it, Canada's Cott Corporation has always been the overwhelming majority shareholder in the Virgin soft drinks company.

At present, Virgin have temporarily bought back Deutsche Telekom's 50% shareholding in the UK Virgin Phone business (the non-UK businesses of similar names are majority-owned by all sorts of people) - but only as a precursor to IPO'ing it.

Who owns the joke businesses like Virgin Vie, the catastrophic apparel business and the bridalwear operation is almost impossible to find out.

Branson does not control an empire, and has never tried to. He is unapologetic (at least that's what I think he means, though nothing he says in public is ever comprehensible) about his strategy never to control anything, but always to franchise out the goodwill of his brand.

There is no such thing as a Virgin conglomerate.
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Old Apr 20th, 2004, 11:22 AM
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mclaurie-great report. i've been to london and around europe many, many times and i STILL can't quite get the packing right. i either overpack or spend my days (& nights) thinking of the things at home hanging in my closet that i wished i'd brought. i am leaving this week for 1 week in London and Oxford. I come from a sunny and (now) warm, but not hot, climate. any other suggestions on what to wear - either weather-related, style-related or both? i'll be walking and seeing sites, eating out by day; dressing a bit more for evening. would knee-length walking coats (not heavy, just lightweight), plus a jean jacket or 2 (one blue, one white denim), lots of black pants, some other daytime pants and flats or low mules work for day??
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Old Apr 20th, 2004, 11:36 AM
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I haven't been to London in years but when I did, I was into the whole scene, I loved Ossie Clark, and the Annacat boutique, Jean Muir and the whole attitude was fun.
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