London Low-down – 30th Birthday Celebrations Part 1

London Low-down – 30th Birthday Celebrations Part 1

If you follow me on Instagram (or know me in person!) you’ll be fully aware that my fiancé, Euan, turned 30 last week and we had a whole week (just over!) of celebrations… Starting with London. So here’s a little London low-down post about the places we visited & some recommendations etc.

london low-down lila bailey blog

London Low-Down – Where to stay?

Usually when we visit London, we stay in the Hub by Premier Inn hotel on Goodge Street (near Tottenham Court Road). Which I would highly recommend if you want somewhere relatively central, fairly cheap, and compact & clean. However, this time we stayed in the Thistle Hyde Park Hotel, situated opposite the Lancaster Gate entrance to Kensington Gardens.

Although slightly further out, it was actually a fantastic location. You could either get the tube from Lancaster Gate to Bond Street (or wherever!), or take a stroll through Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park (takes about 35-40 mins to get to Oxford Street on foot).

london low-down lila bailey blog

It is a gorgeous old building and they’ve kept the old-school feel inside, whilst still modernising. It wasn’t 5* luxury, but the room was spacious & had a lovely marble bathroom. Plus the entrance & lounge area was impactful but comfortable. All in all, we had a brilliant stay here and would definitely go back!

Breakfast for Kings & Queens

Next up on the London low-down is a quirky little breakfast place… We actually didn’t do any fancy evening meals this time around as we were mostly drinking (and I had fancy meal plans lined up for the rest of the week…). But I did want to do a nice breakfast one day. I’m not actually sure how I came across it, but somehow I discovered the Pavilion Restaurant at Kensington Palace.

pavilion at kensington palace lila bailey blog

I’m a shameless Royalist, so I jumped at the chance of having breakfast at Kensington Palace. And as it happened we were not disappointed! The Pavilion building itself is nothing special, but they have made such an effort with the interior. Classical music was playing, there was fancy china on the tables, and the decor was modern but could equally have been from the late 1800s (the Indian influence of Queen Victoria’s taste).

pavilion at kensington palace lila bailey blog
pavilion at kensington palace lila bailey blog

The food was actually brilliant, and the staff & service was attentive and polite. We had views looking out to the Palace itself, and Euan says he’s going to tell our grandchildren that Kate & William were eating breakfast at the next table… (they weren’t, but they do live at the Palace so it’s only a slight fabrication….!).

pavilion at kensington palace lila bailey blog

Bring on the Cocktails

Now for the best bit of the London low-down… The cocktail bars! I really did my cocktail bar research for this weekend, and I absolutely pulled it off (if I do say so myself…). On Saturday night we met friends for drinks in Cahoots, a favourite of ours and an absolutely must if you’re into cocktail experiences.

cahoots london low-down lila bailey blog
cahoots london low-down lila bailey blog

Not only are the cocktails brilliant, the bar itself is actually a war-time remake of the London Underground. All the staff are in character as if it was the early 1900s, and there is even cockney rhyming slang playing in the loos. You’re definitely paying a little more than other places (£12-£15 a cocktail) but it’s honestly worth it, and you needn’t stay for more than an hour or two! (Booking is essential, especially on weekends).

cahoots london low-down lila bailey blog

Next up was a hidden gem (also on Saturday night), where we met my cousin & her boyfriend. Supposedly one of the top 10 cocktail bars in London (according to google), and it did not disappoint. Barely noticeable from outside, and semi-ordinary upstairs, you head downstairs to the coolest basement bar. Live piano music & booths to sit in, plus a menu including over 350 whiskies! (Euan was a happy chappy). Again, attentive table service, mood lighting, and delicious drinks. Swift Bar – highly recommend!

Swift bar london low-down lila bailey blog

Bring on the Cocktails (night 2)

For Sunday evening, I changed things up a bit (literally…). It was just Euan & I for the evening this time, and I wanted to surprise him with a couple of places he’d never think of going (mission accomplished, just sayin’).

Firstly, we headed to level 32 of the Shard where you can have drinks at the Oblix bar. There are two restaurants here – Oblix East & Oblix West. We had some cocktails in Oblix East, with night-time views down the Thames and towards East London. It was an amazing experience, and definitely worth the higher prices (get it…). The Shard is always somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for drinks (despite being afraid of heights) and I’m really glad we did it! The vibe in the Oblix East bar was really cool as well, which added to the atmosphere.

oblix bar east the shard london low-down lila bailey blog
oblix bar east the shard london low-down lila bailey blog

I then took Euan to the Sky Pod Bar in the Sky Garden, which is on the top floor of the walkie-talkie (also known as 20 Fenchurch Street). If you know London well, you’ll know that these two buildings are directly opposite each other (on either side of the Thames). So it was quite cool to quickly hop from one to the other!

sky pod bar sky garden london low-down lila bailey blog
sky pod bar sky garden london low-down lila bailey blog
sky pod bar sky garden london low-down lila bailey blog

The Sky Garden was even cooler than the Shard, and we enjoyed a quick stroll around the building before sitting in a roped off area at the edge of the bar space. We sat with more rooftop views of London and had a brilliant waiter who was happy to recommend cocktails. They even left blankets for you on the chairs which I was more than buzzed about!

sky pod bar sky garden london low-down lila bailey blog
sky pod bar sky garden london low-down lila bailey blog

London Low-down – Conclusion

Having grown up near London, I know the city pretty well. And Euan & I love to go for the odd weekend every so often to visit some of our fave places. Now we have a few more to add into the mix!! Do you know London well? Perhaps you have some top-spots to share too? Let me know in the comments!

For more city recommendations, take a look at two slightly older posts below!

Geneva

Venice

Wedding Dress Shopping Experience Part 2…

Wedding Dress Shopping Experience Part 2…

So you’ve heard about the wonderful experience, now for the not-so-wonderful… (if you missed my last post then catch up here before reading this one).

 

The Experience…

The bridal stylist sat us down, and at first was quite pleasant and talked us through what I would be doing during our appointment. However, quite quickly our ‘welcome chat’ became a little patronising and almost felt like a dictation of what I will and won’t feel when I put a wedding dress on. I was asked about my wedding and my vision for the day, and I explained in quite substantial detail about what I pictured for the wedding and the dress. I mentioned fabrics and necklines, as well as the overall ‘feel’ of the dress. An error of mine was failing to mention that I was in the wedding industry and had worked with wedding dresses before, plus I had visited the Harrogate Bridal Show every year of my childhood and teens, so my understanding of the wedding industry – in particular wedding dresses – was quite vast. I wonder if this would have made a difference to the way I was treated (not that of course it should have done). Very bluntly, I was asked what my budget for the dress was. I don’t like to discuss money, and despite my bridesmaids being family or as good as, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable talking about my wedding budget in that environment. I gave the stylist a starting figure but said I was aware I will probably be spending more and was okay with that. I explained there was flexibility in my overall wedding budget to spend a little more on a wedding dress if I decided to. She retorted with an incredibly blunt ‘well our dresses start at X which is almost double your budget’ and gave me a look as if to say ‘so what on earth are you still doing sat there’. I replied explaining I’m open to expanding my budget for the right dress, but unfortunately she had already made her (uninformed and incorrect) assumptions about me and frankly wasn’t interested.

Nevertheless, we powered on and went through the collection of lovely dresses, picking out ones in styles I knew I liked from the previous appointment. I selected one dress which was made of a very interesting fabric, and I was curious to try it on as I’d never seen anything like it. Instead of taking that one to the dressing room, the stylist picked another one and ushered me behind the curtain. Once we were in the dressing room, the stylist said ‘the dress you picked out is not in your price range so I’d advise you to not try it on’ I was slightly shocked by her audacity and replied ‘oh that’s okay, I’m really open to trying anything on’ and she looked at me coldly and said ‘we’re talking £12,000plus for this particular dress so I don’t think you should try it’. Her boldness was honestly outstanding.

wedding dress shopping experience part 2

(A Suzanne Neville dress)

The appointment only continued to get worse. I was told to put on these enormous platform heels, which I was fine with. What I was not fine with, however, was stepping into these (rather large) dresses without even a hand to hold onto for support. Keeping in mind (as many of you will know from dress shopping yourselves) you’re not wearing an awful lot when in the dressing room, and for someone to watch you struggle into a dress whilst wearing giant heels (and not a lot else) is nothing short of terribly embarrassing. I cannot tell you how anxious I started to feel as the appointment went on. The stylist made it perfectly clear that she was completely disinterested in the appointment, and if the yawning wasn’t enough, she kept disappearing to have whispered conversations with her colleague behind the front desk.

I tried on a dress which was absolutely gorgeous and one I really liked, as did my mum and my bridesmaids. The stylist, however, had other ideas. She hauled me back into the dressing room where she put me in a dress which was wonderful, but just not me. It was very much ‘of the times’, and definitely stylish in a designer sense, but not the timeless wedding dress I was looking for.

wedding dress shopping experience part 2

(Disclaimer – this is not the dress she put me in, but you get the idea…)

As I came out of the changing room she exclaimed ‘this is the dress!’ to my posse of wedding-dress-groupies and started to ramble on about how the last dress was ‘too old’ for me (despite it being strapless with a modern skirt) and how I should be looking for something ‘young & fun’. Without giving anything away, I have certainly not been looking at dresses that are ‘too old’ for me. In fact, quite the opposite. Despite what the stylist (with a blinding complex) thought.

wedding dress shopping experience part 2

(Another Suzanne Neville dress)

It was at this point where 3 other people entered the shop, one of which being a man. At first, I didn’t mind because I assumed they would be taken downstairs. The women were, the man however was invited to sit on a chair right outside my dressing room. If I wasn’t feeling uncomfortable enough by now, this certainly sealed the deal. I might add too that my dressing room was opposite a floor-to-ceiling mirror and the stylist was not discreet with the curtain. Need I say more?

Despite me taking the time at the beginning of the appointment to explain exactly what my wedding vision was, the stylist had paid no attention whatsoever. She kept describing my wedding as ‘rustic’ when I’d said nothing of the sort. Again, forming her own opinions based on the smallest amount of information. At one point she put me in a dress which I instantly hated and said ‘I’m not feeling this at all’ and instead of getting me out of the dress and into something I liked, she left me standing in it and went to chat to her colleague (again). I was stood awkwardly in a dress which didn’t make me feel good for over 5 minutes, trying to make positive comments about it until she got back and put me in something else. It all started to become very frustrating, and I quickly wished we had never come. What started off as the perfect day was turning into a nightmare. By this point I was feeling so completely rubbish that I didn’t even want to smile when in a dress I liked because I thought if I showed any emotion at all I might burst into tears.

wedding dress shopping experience part 2

Whilst all of this was happening, none of us knew how we were all feeling about the appointment. I wanted nothing more than to turn round to my mum and girls and say ‘I’m hating this. I feel so uncomfortable and I’m not having a good time’ but I never had the chance. Even when the stylist left us, she was always in earshot. And because I thought maybe it was just me who was picking up on this awful vibe and atmosphere, I didn’t want to start being rude in case the others thought I was being completely overdramatic (no bridezilla moment I can assure you!). As it turned out, we had all felt exactly the same during the appointment, and we were also all unsure of how each other was feeling at the time. I must have a pretty good pokerface because none of them had any idea I was feeling so miserable! If I could turn back time, I would definitely be far less polite and actually tell her she was making me feel awful. Or failing that, maybe just have given up altogether and left. But, I can’t go back in time so I just have to live with the experience and learn from it. After all, a wedding isn’t just about the day itself, it’s all the moments during the buildup and the things we experience during that time.

wedding dress shopping experience part 2

It was also incredibly interesting to be on the other side of an appointment like that, and it made me realise where the business I used to work in was going so wrong. Whilst we were told to act professional and give the opening spiel to each bride who walked through the door, actually this comes across very negatively and isn’t at all what brides want. Not brides like me, anyway! I much preferred my genuine, down to earth, and relaxing experience at Suzanne Neville where I was made to feel like a princess and my tastes, opinions, and visions were listened to and respected. That’s what a wedding dress appointment should be like.

Suzanne Neville – Dress Shopping Experience Part 1

Suzanne Neville – Dress Shopping Experience Part 1

Possibly the most exciting part of being a bride-to-be is the dress shopping experience. This is especially true for me as I have such an enormous love and passion for wedding dresses, which is why I knew I wanted to visit the London flagship stores of a select few designers. I grew up near London so had often walked past these flagship stores and dreamed about the day it would be me inside. Plus any 90s babies out there will remember the film ‘The Parent Trap’ and how Annie & Hallie’s mother was a London wedding dress designer (mum goals), and the scene in her flagship store was possibly the greatest scene of the 90s… (well, for me anyway).

suzanne neville wedding dress blog post

So, back in May, I told my bridesmaids about the two designers I wanted to visit in London and we got the weekend organised. To say I was excited was an understatement; I was practically bouncing off the walls when we arrived on Sunday and couldn’t sleep that night. Having already worked in bridal fashion, I’m quite clued up on what I want and also know the process is possibly going to be harder for me because of that exact reason.

Before working at Ever After, I worked at a bridal shop in Plymouth, and before that one in Exeter. Partner that with growing up in the wedding industry, I’ve started my wedding dress shopping journey in quite a unique position. I worked in bridal fashion for 2 years and in that time also studied both beginner and advanced pattern cutting, so my love for wedding dress goes a lot deeper than just ‘loving them’. From working in bridal shops I also know what it takes to create an enjoyable appointment, and that it’s the stylist’s job to make the bride feel comfortable, welcome, and special. Dictating to someone what they should be wearing will never work. You have to watch them in the dresses they select and go from there. As a stylist, it’s your job to listen to the bride’s wedding dress vision, and use your knowledge of the dresses in your store to find the perfect one for her. Any good stylist will be able to look at a woman’s figure and know what will look best on her, but at the same time not be discouraging if she’s choosing shapes that aren’t right for her. Instead it’s important to gently suggest silhouettes and bodices etc and work with her from there. At the end of the day, what the bride chooses is up to her. And even if you think she’d look better in something else, your main priority is making her feel as happy as possible, whatever she is wearing.

Anyway, less about that and more about Suzanne Neville…

Suzanne Neville

suzanne neville wedding dress blog post

The first designer we visited was Suzanne Neville. Because my parents also work in the wedding industry, they remember Suzanne at her very first time exhibiting at Harrogate and have watched her grow into the designer she is now. So my mum was especially excited to visit her store and see what wonderful dresses she has crafted. I was slightly nervous when we arrived at the store, but as soon as we were introduced to our stylist for the appointment, Harriet, I immediately felt better.

Suzanne Neville creates some absolutely stunning gowns, and is known for her corseted bodices and elegant silhouettes. What draws me most to her designs are their timeless elegance, and how she isn’t too ‘OTT’ or bold with her designs, yet still manages to be modern and creative. She combines traditional pattern cutting with contemporary touches; even as small as just a lower cut beneath the arms. Personally, I love the traditional structure of a wedding dress (e.g. the corseted bodices) because it feels like nothing you’ve worn before or probably will ever again. And if a dress is made properly and fits you correctly then it will always be comfortable. If it’s not then it either doesn’t fit right or has been poorly made.

suzanne neville wedding dress blog postsuzanne neville wedding dress blog post

suzanne neville wedding dress blog post

 

The Experience

The shop itself is in Knightsbridge (which is one of the wealthiest areas in London) and only just down the road from Harrods, so I was expecting to feel quite intimidated. However, the store is located on a modest street which itself is very charming and not too intimidating at all. The building is quaint and has character, including a spiral staircase down to the loos and additional dress storage. The room we were in was carpeted and felt so comfortable and inviting. The shelves were stocked with beautiful headpieces and footwear, and the dresses were all accessible and kept in wonderful condition. The changing room was the perfect size; not so small that you felt cramped whilst getting changed, but not so big that you felt exposed and uncomfortable.

suzanne neville wedding dress blog post

Harriet was a dream. She listened to my hopes for the ‘perfect’ wedding dress and did everything she could to help make the vision in my head a reality in the store. I was quite fussy about a few elements of the fit, and Harriet kept finding me dresses until I said ‘this is exactly the fit I mean’. We worked through different necklines by adding jackets or taking away straps, and she even dug out a dress from a collection years ago just so I could sample that particular fabric. I felt like she not only listened to what I had to say, but she cared and genuinely wanted to help me find my perfect wedding dress. She also understood how important the dress is to me (partly because her job is working with wedding dresses as mine used to be, so she totally got where I was coming from). I went into that appointment worried I might never find the perfect wedding dress, and came out genuinely believing that I could find it in there.

Unfortunately, the second appointment could not have been more opposite. For the sake of professionalism, I won’t mention where we went next. It was honestly a heartbreaking experience, not just for me but also for my mum and bridesmaids who came with me. We walked into the shop and I was naturally intimidated by it’s grandeur. It was elaborate and beautiful, and probably exactly how you would picture the ‘perfect’ wedding dress shop. But looks aren’t everything. We were offered champagne, again, a lovey touch which in theory should enhance the experience. But sometimes a bad experience just cannot be enhanced… But more on that in my next post! Stay tuned.