Bubbles and flying balls at the fabulous Boodles Tennis event with PlayBrave

Champagne, strawberries, a plethora of white… it can only mean one thing. Tennis season! Today is the official rest day and halfway point of The Wimbledon Championships and the nation has been gripped by tennis fever. Despite being a keen spectator for many years, it was only last month that I picked up a racket again. Memories of short tennis lessons and summers spent playing doubles with my family came flooding back and I can safely say I am now well and truly hooked. Which is why, when an email popped into my inbox last week inviting me to an exclusive PlayBrave media day at the Boodles Tennis event at Stoke Park, I was quick off the mark with my enthusiastic reply.

The intimate 2,000 seater stadium at The Boodles Tennis

For those like me who have not heard of the event before, let me divulge a little about tennis’ best kept secret. Set at the stunning Stoke Park Country Club, The Boodles is an intimate, luxury grass court tournament, occurring one week prior to Wimbledon. No seat at the 2,000 seater stadium is further than 12 metres from the court, which means guests have unparalleled views of the A-list players, who over the years have included Murray, Djokovic, Agassi and Nadal. The atmosphere is relaxed and light-hearted, the players joke with the crowd and the sound of corks popping around the court is as common as the sound of tennis balls flying through the air.

The stunning Stoke Park Country Club – the setting for numerous films including James Bond’s Goldfinger, Layer Cake and Bridget Jones’ Diary

So on to the day itself. First stop was the PlayBrave tent, where I was kitted out in a fab blue Ursula wrap dress, white Shadow cap and matching white wristband – I do love a sweatband! I never thought I would play sport in a skirt, but the lightweight fabric and body-skimming fit meant I felt more comfortable than I would in my usual sports leggings and t-shirt. To protect my modesty I also chose a pair of white Kara ball shorts, with special inverted pockets. It is amazing how a superior quality sports kit can make you feel so special. I genuinely felt like a pro.

Ursula wrap dress, £75, Kara ball shorts, £29, Shadow cap, £20, Relentless wristband, £7, all by PlayBrave

Nicole V-Neck Tee, £55 and Monique skort, £49, both PLayBrave

All four girls in our group opted for a skirt (or skort), with colours ranging from the gorgeous white and pale blue two-piece chosen by Natalie, the cute white Tour skort and matching fuchsia trimmed tank chosen by Jenny and the sleek black Monique skirt and Nicole V-neck Tee worn by Beth. We all unanimously agreed we felt like professionals in our fab tennis outfits. Do you think we look the part?

Posing on court with PlayBrave MD Simon Dowell

(Left to right: Wayne Gordon, Kevin Palmer, Me, Elsbeth Carr, Natalie Robinson, MD Simon Dowell, coach Matt Bell, Jenny Pacey)

Next stop was the courts, where head coach Matt Bell put us through our paces with a tennis lesson that included shuttle runs, volley rallies and a game of piggie in the middle. At one point I looked up to admire the players on the courts next door, only to find it was 6ft4 Australian favourite Nick Kyrgios and 6ft6 20-year old German Alexander Zverev. Being 5ft7 I am rarely dwarfed, however I truly felt like I was in the land of the giants and was incredibly excited to be sharing the grass with these phenomenal players. Thankfully I was not on the receiving end of one of those killer shots.

Nick Kyrgios warming up on the court next to us

Taking team courtside selfies

This was only the start of the day as the fabulously hospitable PlayBrave MD Simon Dowell had a treat of an afternoon lined up for us – a champagne reception, a delicious 3 course meal and an afternoon of sporting entertainment from tennis superstars Zverev, Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkanikasis.

Starter: Crab, prawn and avocado terrine

Dessert: Deliciously decadant cherry and chocolate ganache

A stunning tennis themed centrepiece concluded our lunch

On to the tennis where I was lucky enough to watch Nick Kyrgios beat his opponent Philipp Kohlshreiber in straight sets. Despite his ongoing hip injury it was amazing to witness his phenomenal serve from such close quarters.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) d. Philipp Kohlshreiber (GER) 6-4 6-4

Then it was on to a jovial yet nonetheless competitive match between current World number 10 seed Alexander Zverev (highly tipped for future championship titles) and Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis (or Koko as he is affectionately nicknamed by his fans). The players seem to be firm friends and despite a close match there was also plenty of on-court banter.

Alexander Zverev (GER) d. Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 7-6(4) 6-7(4) 10-2.

Image: © PlayBrave Ltd

After a fantastic afternoon of tennis, bubbles and fabulous company it was time to interview the lovely Simon Dowell, who had invited me to Stoke Park for this wonderful day. As official sponsor of the tournament for the last 6 years, Simon explained how PlayBrave had come to be associated with tennis’ best kept secret and all about his ‘eureka moment’ in the Lake District in 2009.

A selfie with Simon outside the PlayBrave tent

Simon: I was on a walking holiday in 2009 in the Lake District, kitted out in a merino wool t-shirt, gilet and packline jacket. It was minus 15 but I couldn’t believe how warm and comfortable I felt. I went back to my tennis club and the head coach was wearing 3-4 jackets and could hardly swing a racket. It looked ridiculous. I thought to myself why don’t we bring some of those outdoor layering ideas into tennis. I went to Wigmore Sports and they loved the idea. I then had to come up with a brand and for me PlayBrave epitomises what we all love about sport. It’s all about ‘playing brave’ in the big moments, performing under pressure, whatever your sport. I then had to find a designer…

Me: Do you have one in-house designer?

Simon: We actually have a team of designers now but I worked very closely with the original designer to capture a special aesthetic. It was a fantastic collaboration, working closely to make sure the designs looked beautiful, but were also very functional to enable completely free movement and to liberate your swing. One compliment we receive from our customers is that when they are playing in our garments they don’t feel like they are wearing anything.

Me: I can testament to that. I have worn the dress and I felt very comfortable.

Simon: One of things that really excites me is when you see someone in our garments, bringing them to life and you can see the free-flowing design we have created.

Jenny and Natalie put the PlayBrave garments to the test on court. Image: ©PlayBraveLtd

Me: The short skirt seemed to be a popular choice today (with the girls obviously, not with the gents).

Simon: Yes! The interesting thing about tennis in this day and age, is lots of people like the more classic tennis look, which is very smart and elegant. We cater to that audience, but also lots of people are wearing gym wear on the tennis court. We have a new fitness collection coming out later in the year and I am excited about people being able to wear our clothes in the gym, when they’re playing tennis and also mixing and matching. All our garments are made in Portugal, I think you felt the fabrics?

Me: Yes they are amazing. So lightweight!

Simon: That comes from the Portugese fabrics and their workmanship. I have visited all the factories we work with, I know the factory owners. For me it feels very personal. And all our garments are being crafted by family owned factories, which is another special element.

Tour Tank, £35, and Tee, £39, both by PlayBrave

Me: Tell me about your involvement with Boodles and how you came to sponsor this lovely event?

Simon: The opportunity arose when a friend of mine was looking for tickets. He contacted the owner of the event, one conversation led to another and three weeks before the event 6 years ago we were offered the opportunity to sponsor. For me The Boodles is very intimate, it’s personal, it’s a niche event for people that really love tennis and for us as a niche sportswear brand it was a perfect opportunity. I think it’s a great partnership.

Me: Final question… who would be your dream tennis player to dress?

Simon: My favourite tennis player is Roger Federer. He embodies elegance and grace and is a truly exceptional player. Obviously he’s signed up to Nike, I’m sure for life, but if I were to see Roger Federer kitted out in PlayBrave that would be a unique moment for me. That would be it!

For now I guess we’ll just have to do 🙂

Massive thanks to Simon Dowell, MD of PlayBrave for the amazing hospitality and the gorgeous tennis outfit, and to Richard from Henman Communications for the invite. One of my favourite days ever and a must for all tennis fans!

The PlayBrave clothing collection is available to purchase at: https://www.playbravesports.com

View my full interview with Simon Dowell here:

The Boodles Tennis is held at Stoke Park Country Club, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Bucks SL2 4PG.  http://theboodles.com/

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Exploring Nail Art with MoYou London

Last week I went to a press day and a fab nail product caught my eye. This was a nail art stamping kit from a brand called MoYou London, and to cut a long story short it creates fabulous statement nails without the need for an artistic hand. This week they sent me a starter kit to experiment with and so experiment I did.

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First of all get everything ready – the polishes you have chosen, your metal nail art plate (mine is from the Explorer collection), the scraper and stamping tool and also a bottle of nail varnish remover, cotton wool pads and plenty of cotton buds.

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Next prep your nails with a clear base coat. Then apply your colour of choice (1 or 2 layers) along with a top coat as per your usual manicure. I used the MoYou London varnish in Silver Dust £8.99 on my accent nail and a pale pink on my other nails – OPI’s Miso Happy with This Colour £11.50.

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Once dry you need to get ready to add the artwork. Make sure you soak a cotton bud in nail varnish remover before you begin. Choose the colour that you wish to use as your detail. I opted for Chanel Le Vernis in 219 Black Satin £18.00 and the MoYou in Silver Dust for the nude nails. Next add the varnish to the design of your choice. Make sure you use a generous amount so that it covers it entirely.

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Next, and you need to work rather quickly, use your scraper tool to scrape across the surface of the metal plate removing the excess varnish. This needs to be done in one move, with the scraper held at a 45 degree angle. Be decisive and apply some pressure.

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Now you need to lift the design from the plate and add it your nail. Again try to do this as quickly as possible so that the varnish does not dry. Firstly use your stamp tool to lift the design from the plate, then to apply it to your nail. You need to use a rolling motion to lift and apply and only go across once. If you go back and forth the design will not transfer cleanly. Use some pressure, but the key is nerves of steel and a steady hand. As you can see this one of mine isn’t entirely perfect but keep practising and you will get the hang of it.

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Next (& sorry I forgot to take pictures of this stage as I was so busy stamping) you use your varnish remover soaked cotton bud to clean the excess varnish from your fingers. My design went all across the top of my fingers around my nailbed but it was easy to clean up with cotton wool buds. After each use you also need to clean the plate, stamp tool and the scraper with nail varnish remover. Finally when it is dry, add a top coat. This is not crucial but it means the manicure will last longer. Another note… if you are using a dark colour for your design (like my black varnish) then leave it a good 20 mins before you apply the top coat to ensure it doesn’t smudge all your hard work.

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I did one hand at a time and let the left hand dry completely before I worked on my right hand. Being rather clumsy and also right-handed this one is always more of a challenge. I’m not going to lie, this does take some patience, practise and a somewhat steady hand, but I am not a manicurist and I think the results aren’t bad. This took some time, but if you are less of a perfectionist than me and aren’t taking pictures along the way it will be quicker. The below were my first attempts when I was deciding on colours. I only used one layer of varnish and stamped quite quickly and the results in some instances are even better! For the other nails I used MoYou London Orchid Chic £4.99 (lilac) and an old varnish called Fiesta from New Look £2.99 (neon orange). Both had the MoYou London Silver Dust for the design.

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If you have plans to stay in with friends this bank holiday weekend or just fancy something a bit different why not try it out for yourself? Head to http://www.moyou.co.uk and pick up a starter kit for £29.99 (mine was from the Explorer range). This includes 3 polishes, 2 stamp plates, a stamp transfer tool, a scraper and the all important manual. Then all you need is some nail varnish remover and some cotton buds and you’re away.

For starter kits, nail art plates and polishes head to http://www.moyou.co.uk

While away an hour at Liberty London

This week I found myself with an hour to kill between appointments in central London and rather than opting for the classic time filler (a whip around Topshop’s flagship store) I popped into Liberty’s. Eschewing the usual choice of the second floor fashion department, I decided to ride those gorgeous wooden lifts up one extra floor. And I am so pleased I did. The third floor houses all manor of fabulous things from adorable childrenswear to stylish gifts, trendy tomes to colourful fabrics. I loved it so much I spent most my hour taking pictures so that I could share it all with you. Here’s a little guided tour of what caught my eye…

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It’s a Taschen fashion haven in the book department. The hilarious illustrated ‘Man Meets Woman’ by Yang Lin (£10) makes a great little gift.

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Frames and crockery – from the colourful to the kitsch.

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Fabulous retro phones and kooky clocks (Milk Bottle clock, £40)

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Add colour and print to a games room with these classic sets.

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Rory Dobner’s macabre letter tiles would bring gothic drama to a bathroom or kitchen (tiles, £39.50 each). I love the use of neon lighting in the store too.

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Ditsy florals – the famous Liberty print adorns plates, aprons and kitchenware. Also check out the paper floral installation by Zoe Bradley (zoebradley.com)

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Everybody loves rhubard and custard (Sweets, £6.95 a jar, Flowers of Liberty)

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Get inspiration for this season’s 70s trend in the fabric department – a printed paradise. I love how colour co-ordinated these bold textiles are.

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And finally (if you’re feeling generous) a little designer childrenswear to treat a mini one

So next time you have an hour to spare in central London or need to buy a unique gift for that difficult to please friend (we all have one) then you really should pop to Liberty London. What’s most amazing is the grand setting and stunning wooden interior. As a fellow shopper merrily remarked in the lift, ‘Ah Liberty’s! Couldn’t you just live here’. Yes, indeed I could!

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Liberty, Regent Street, London, W1B 5AH. http://www.liberty.co.uk

Get back to nature this weekend

We’re nearing the end of January and whilst another month of winter is still ahead I feel that spring is almost within reach. Also in London we have been very lucky of late and have been treated to some beautiful bright crisp days. I have been making the most of these and getting out whenever possible and I encourage you to do the same. Take the opportunity today or this weekend to wrap up in a warm coat and woolly scarf and venture out in the open air. And I know it may seem obvious, but whilst you’re out take a look around. Last week I took these photos of my local London park, Tooting Common. As you can see by the shadows these were taken in the late afternoon. I find the low, warm winter light at this time of year stunning. It makes everything incredibly photogenic!

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Above pictures all taken on Tooting Common

On another day of observational exploring I started noticing the features on the surrounding Tooting houses. Having studied fashion design at University I am often inspired by details, be it textures, patterns or colour combinations. This is something that has stayed with me in my work as a stylist and I regularly note clever pairings or interesting decorations along with the more traditional fashion-focused outfit spotting. As you can see you never know what you may find on your doorstep or how it will inspire your work or an outfit in the future. Happy exploring!

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Here the contrast of the stripy pattern of the brickwork and the interlinking circles of the balcony caught my eye.

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A surprise find by the side of a Londis store – mustard, olive and burgundy hued floral tiling

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I love this textural colour combination of matt red bricks, shiny green tiles and black wooden door

Cocktail couture

So it’s Friday (yay!) work is done for another week and you’re probably deciding what to do this evening. Well, if you like cocktails and fashion and are partial to a drop of gin then let me recommend the fantastic Couture Cocktails at One Aldwych Hotel. To coincide with Fashion Week and inspired by the style capitals of New York, London, Milan and Paris, this luxury London hotel has created four special drinks, each with its own unique style and flavour.

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Last night I was lucky enough to try all four and my favourite was the delicious Alice Temperley inspired English Rose which combines Tanqueray London gin with rose liqueur and bergamot foam. It was delightful. Top marks also go to the minx of a drink, the Moschino inspired La Dolce Vita, served in a kitsch cat-shaped glass. The cocktails are available for a limited time only (this is the last weekend you can sample these four) so you best get your fashion skates on and head down to the Strand before it’s too late. Mine’s an English Rose thanks.

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Alice Temperley inspired English Rose

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The Calvin Klein inspired New York New York

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Paris v Milan: the chic Chanel Blanc et Noir and the kitsch Moschino La Dolce Vita

Cocktail Couture is available until 2nd October at One Aldwych Hotel, One Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BZ. T: 020 7300 1000. http://www.onealdwych.com/home