It’s divisive, deplored and derided. It’s the stuff of brassy TV barmaids and long haired old letches. Bet Lynch wears it, Peter Stringfellow lounges on it and I just love it. Hardly a day goes by when I’m not leopard printed in some way or another. It could be a bag, it might be my nails or I could be all out in a maxi dress, probably with a pair of leopardy sandals. Does this mean I’m vulgar? Tasteless? Trashy? Tacky? Have I seen spots for so long I’m now blind, no longer able to tell the difference between a pinch of purrfect from a moggy monstrosity? Well, from my experience there’s an army of print police out there and I’m not sure I’ve got them on pawed (sorry).
Exhibit A. I got an email from a colleague. We’d been talking about superheroes. I work with boys, this is the norm. Said email read, “You would be leopard woman by the way ‘cause you are always wearing lots of leopard print.” True. But we were talking about Batman. Exhibit B. I got a card from a friend. On the front, a quote from Jackie Collins, “My weakness is wearing too much leopard print.” Inside, “Amanda look it’s you!” Hmmm. Exhibit C. The countless comments, remarks and observations about my top, t-shirt, cardigan, tights, scarf, socks, dress, leggings, nails, bag, hat, ear muffs, purse, pyjamas… Whilst nothing is particularly negative, my animal themed wardrobe choices are mentioned, a lot. I’ve seen a mirror (honestly) I know I’ve been doused with a dose of GRRRRR , I chose it, I bought it and I’m feline fine. Apparently I’m brave; by channelling Dorian Green it seems I am marking myself out as a beacon of fashion fearlessness. I don’t feel brave, leopard is everywhere. From Mulberry to the Marks and Spencer, everyone is embracing cat couture yet still it’s mocked by many. This could possibly be part of the reason I love it so darn much.
I don’t like to stand out but I don’t want to blend in. I don’t want to be a carbon copy nor a sore thumb. I don’t want to wear the same as everyone else and perhaps part of my love for it is because not everyone does. I feel comfortable in leopard print. Granted it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I see past its dodgy history and it’s a pattern I enjoy. I can’t really do stripes; they are not the friend of the generous hipped. Spots are ok but they’re one distortion away from my beloved leopard, so that’s what I adopt. I like it, designers like it and it is overcoming its image problem. Yes it will always be the furry fashion fodder of the Kat Slater, Liz McDonald and Bet Lynch soap barmaid crew. The posing pouches and satin robes of the Hugh Hefner’s and Peter Stringfellow’s will always be cut from catlike cloth. But does that monopolise the market meaning I can’t join in the fun? Or when I do, am I tarred with the same brash brush? Other than an apparel animal instinct I don’t have a lot in common with soap landladies or elderly nightclub owners. I grew up in a village, I went to a girl’s grammar school, I’ve never even touched a cigarette, yet my loyalty to leopard is as strong as any cockney cad. I love it, it makes me feel good and I wouldn’t let preconceptions, stereotypes or wide eyed wonder stop me. If a print, pattern or design makes you stand taller, head higher and smile broader, then wear it and wear it proud. You should never judge a book by its cover or, more importantly, a leopard by its spots.
The first 25 years of my life were completely wedding free, I was never a bridesmaid, never a flower girl, and I was never a guest. My family was too small and my friends were too young. But 25 hit and with it came wedding fever, hand in hand with the obligatory hen do. Now my allergy to L plates is severe, I’d like to think I’m more Carrie Bradshaw and cocktails in couture (a girl can dream) hardly ever not a Carlsberg car crash in a cowboy hat. So when a weekend break to London was suggested, my ears pricked. A champagne afternoon tea at a 5 star luxury hotel? I’m listening… Cocktails at what Observer Food Monthly awarded Best Bar in Britain? Go on… French fine dining at the chef’s table at a ‘wildly eclectic’ restaurant in Shoreditch? I’m there. No feather boas, no drinking games, no pecker garter (alright, just the one, but you could hardly see it), it sounded right up my boutique-lined street. I rejoiced, sticking two Impress manicured fingers up at the pink plastic penis overlords.
Rule number one; don’t mention the ‘H’ word. 5 star hotels don’t like hen dos. The best bar in Britain doesn’t like hen dos. Nor do French waiters called Sebastian. So once we had established we were just a group of girls who happened to have a guest of honour who happened to be getting married soon and who just happened to have a small phallic relief protruding through her dress, we were ready for the weekend.
The first stop was the stunningly beautiful Sanderson hotel, which FYI, is crazy cool and decorated head to toe in design classics. Trying to be nonchalant and not scream “YES PLEASE!” when the charming porter offers you a swing in the Eero Aarnio Bubble Chair – nigh on impossible. The other girls arrived (as I was having a swing) and we were lead into a stylish courtyard where we overlooked lush green plants and oh-so-elegant water features. Now my breakfast had been the classic train fodder of a shared bag of Haribo Starmix so I was more than ready for some sustenance. And my, what sustenance the Sanderson London’s Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea is. The complimentary glass of champagne was the perfect taste bud teaser before the array of delicate multi-coloured finger sandwiches was served. The smoked salmon and cream cheese on pretty green spinach bread was as pleasing on the plate as on the palate and was just a hint of the wonder(land) to come. The following sweet delights exploded, altered temperature and changed flavour. Lollipops crackled, ice cream burst and candy popped. Breaking the beautifully iced ‘Eat me’ chocolate shell of The Queen of Hearts Strawberry and Cream mousse was quite literally heart breaking, but somehow it tasted even more beautiful than it looked. What remained was a small brown glass bottle that belied the wonderment inside as textures, flavours and consistencies changed as I obediently followed the ‘drink me’ instruction. Generous scoops of clotted cream were served in individual porcelain spoons which accompanied warm (WARM) scones and jam. Somehow I managed to eat every last bite (curiouser and curiouser!) of the afternoon feast and loved every lolly, cake and calorie. The décor was stunning, the presentation incredible, the food UN-believable and the experience amazing. Ten very happy ladies left the hotel, agreeing that the £35 each was money very well spent indeed.
After checking into the very well-appointed Hoxton Hotel (free wi-fi, real milk in the fridge, complimentary chilled water, a good hairdryer near a mirror, free Pret breakfast and, most importantly, really nice cushions) it was time to recharge. A couple of bottles of white later, recharged we were and off to the sublimely scented Lounge Lover we went. Incense burned, neon shone and anatomy models peered over our shoulders at the cocktail list. Oh, the cocktail list. Where to start and what to choose, somehow I managed to whittle down the TWENTY ONE PAGE drinks menu to a choice of 6 possibles and settled on a Black Diamond Sour. Amaretto, blackberries, lime and violet liqueur. Nuff said. It was gorgeous, yet just as I’d set my heart on a Basil Blade, it was time for us to mosey along next door, to the extraordinary Les Trois Garcons.
Coming face to face with a taxidermy bulldog in angel wings who immediately upstaged me in terms of bling was just a hint of what was to come. We were led through a surreal world of fancy animals, vintage handbags and sparkling jewels, down a flight of stairs to the wine cellar and chef’s table. A private dining room just for our party which overlooked the kitchen with a handsome French waiter taking care of our every whim, not too shabby! As the wine flowed we were treated to some of the best food I have ever tasted (and this followed a chocolate exploding lollipop with popping candy and melting ice cream centre). The very reasonable £47 a head menu speaks for itself but all I will say is O. M. G.
And that the tart tatin was bigger than my face.
Tea smoked breast of duck served with endive, watercress and sweet and sour apple.
Chateaubriand served with Jersey Royals, truffled purple sprouting broccoli, Szechuan pepper jus and Béarnaise.
Peach tart tatin with lemongrass ice cream.
The duck was spectacular. The chateaubriand was undoubtedly the best steak I have ever tasted and the peach tart tatin got ten ladies out of their seats; spoon in hand and to one end of the table. In one fantastic day I experienced the most exquisite venues whose food, drink, ambience and service exceeding my wildest hen do dreams. Of course, after a most refined day we sophisticated ladies brought the evening to a close in the proper way, with a healthy portion of cheese. The bride’s skirt was hitched, the tiara donned and we hen’s took up our rightful place on the sticky Club de Fromage dance floor. B*witched, Journey and Steps inspired some of our very best moves, as did a shot or two of tequila. Well, it is tradition.