Retail Gems: Austins Department Store of Newton Abbot, Devon, UK

I love a good mooch around the shops. Then again, it would be pretty difficult to keep up with a blog, predominately concerned with fashion retail, if I didn’t, wouldn’t it? This Christmas shopping period and my break in Devon, away from the big bad city, has allowed for some time to sit back and remember why I became interested in fashion in the first place. The answer: I liked shopping.

As part of a new series of features on this here blog, I will bring you posts on some of the fabulous retail gems I come across in my day-to-day life. First up, Austins Department Store of Newton Abbot in Devon.

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Newton Abbot is a medium sized market town in south Devon, where the boyf was born and raised and around a 40 minute drive from where I was raised. Newton Abbot may seem a little plain and is often no more than the point at which most have to change from their southward bound train if they’re to continue onto Cornwall, but this is this the little market town that could. Whilst Torquay buckles under the pressure of the economy down the road, Newton Abbot’s town centre is seemingly bustling away quite happily. 

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At the centre of this retail oasis is Austins Department Store. Spread over four separate premises at the far end of the pedestrianised high-street, Austins is the anchor for the entire town, selling everything from BRITA filters in their Home Store and East womenswear in their Fashion Store and carpets in their Furniture Store to James Aubrey coats and Lego in their Menswear and Toy Store. What Austins lacks in the sheer opulence and grandeur of the likes of Liberty in London and Macy’s in New York, it makes up for by being the go-to destination for all things practical and quality. 

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Austins has it all. If you need buttons and fastenings for that dress you’re making, head to first floor Haberdashery. Perhaps you want a new Wok, see ground floor Homewear, do you need a model aircraft for the nephew and a scarf for Grandad? Menswear and Toy Store is your place. What I also love about the store is because practicality is their niche, live demonstrations are their theatre. Demos of the latest BRITA filtration systems or the latest ceiling air plane can be seen throughout the stores, with knowledgeable and friendly staff behind every counter. 

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Next time you’re passing through either Newton Abbot Train Station or at a jam at the Penn Inn Roundabout, take a moment to stop and take in this retail gem.


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Let’s Skate: Hitting the Ice in Manchester this Christmas

Ice skating. Has there ever been a leisure activity so frivolous? Perhaps not. Perhaps so, either way, I’m on board. Now… where to hit the ice?

Manchester is a bit of a Christmas paradise at this time of year, with the Manchester Christmas Markets throughout the city centre, the Santa’s Grotto at Manchester Arndale and the general fabulous merriment that is ever-present throughout the post-code. Now, ice rinks are also plentiful with two fabulous places you can get your ice fix.

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Selfridges Manchester Trafford Ice Rink.

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Even McFly love it!

Oft has it been said that there is no place like a Department store at Christmas and Selfridges Manchester Trafford knows this better than most. So, whilst festivities carry on in abundance inside, outside the merriment spills onto the B5211! At the rear of the store (opposite ASDA) Selfridges have erected their version of the Rockefeller centre ice rink, complete with faux Scandinavian lodge and Michael Bublé speakers.  

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Adam and I took to the rink. He was Torvill AND Dean, I was Bambi on Ice.

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The Ice Rink is open 12pm – 9pm Monday to Friday, 9am – 9pm Saturday and 10am – 6pm Sunday from Thursday 1 November until Sunday 6 January.

Book online here

Hardman Square, Spinningfields Ice Rink.

The other place to channel your inner penguin this Christmas is Spinningfields in Manchester, where a glitzy Christmassy village has been set up on Harman Square. The ice rink sits alongside an under-cover Christmas market and Helter Skelter (obviously) and is just a hop skip and a tumble from the exclusive pop-up bar, The Ski Club.

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The Ice Rink is open 10am – 7:30pm Monday to Wednesday, 10am – 8:30pm Thursday to Saturday and is closed Sundays from 22nd November until 6th January.  

Book online here 

Now, what to wear? Happy Skating!
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iPad: An invasion

The iPad sat on an obnoxious little fold-out easel, taunting me with it’s flashy swishy fabulousness. “Jordan, come touch me,” it said, “swipe your fingers across my face and discover that I can be whatever you want me to be.” It wasn’t lying either. If I fancied reading a book, it was wide open, perhaps I needed to send an email, it was signed sealed and delivered with love. It was, truly, everything I wanted from plastic and aluminum. But, sadly, it wasn’t mine. 

This is the story of a boy and a tablet computer.
 
For those that don’t know what a tablet is, and there aren’t many of you, a tablet is a computing device with a touch screen that enables users to perform most of the tasks more commonly performed on a laptop or desktop PC computer, but with greater mobility and some of the added benefits commonly associated with a mobile phone, like SMS text messaging. So, you can read online recipes in the kitchen whilst texting your Mum or even watch YouTube on the loo whilst learning Piano chords.

 
Now, I’m no techno wizard, I’m not big on Hi-Fis or WiFi and I’m not easily turned-on by electronics, but I do like the technology I choose to invest in to work for me in ways previously thought unimaginable. A tall order? Nope, that’s what technology is for! 

Par example, when I stepped into the smart phone world, I did so with the BlackBerry Bold. A sturdy, easy and efficient tool that could handle my five email accounts and my tendency to frequently drop it in the street. I subsequently trailed the first Nokia Lumia, a less responsive but nevertheless pretty device that was my first dabble with touch-screen. Then, my latest and current phone is the iPhone 4S, a phone worthy of deity. It just does what I want when I want it. It reminds me of meetings, TV programmes I like, allows me to email quickly and without fuss, when I’m out of the office, dictate text messages when driving (oh, as if you don’t) and I can still tweet from four accounts, manage five Facebook pages and still have a personal social(media) life too. *sigh* it’s amazing.

Functionality. That’s what I look for in a technological device. That’s what gets my techno juices flowing.

So, back to the aforementioned tablet. I first came across said tablet at work as the company I work for has both an ecommerce operation and a bricks and mortar shopfloor presence, with the shopfloor benefiting from an iPad to allow shoppers to browse the extensive catalogue of products, online. It was this iPad that was to be my first foray into the world of tablet computing.

For a long time, I tried to ignore it. I said things like, “it provides excellent opportunities for multi-channel cross-pollination,” whilst staring at it as if it might bite me. It was such a ridiculous item, something Steven Jobs pitched to a load of techno-nutters as a joke because no one in their right mind needs a phone that doesn’t phone or a laptop that doesn’t have a bloody keyboard. Right?

Wrong. I needed it. Why? Because, like all good technology, it appears from the beginning to be superfluous and irrelevant because it is light-years ahead of us silly human people. It knows that I will need something to get my Amazon order on whilst watching Downton Abbey because I can’t be arsed to switch on the laptop. It knows I’ll need to use it as an interactive clipboard-come-guest-list at my next work event because I will look SO COOL! It knows more about me than I know about myself (mainly because it is connected to the internet and I’m not…)

 
Oh, and guess what, whilst you’ve been reading my ramble over 125 tablets have been sold. Yep, according to the Guardian, one tablet will be sold every single second this Christmas shopping period. So, if you haven’t already swanned off to get yours, I’ll make it easier. Click here to go straight to the Carphone Warehouse and get your fix.

END.

This is a sponsored post

Making Christmas Swishmass with TM Lewin’s Tuxedo range

Oosh, a do love a man in a Tuxedo. Well, to be honest, I love me in a Tux. If 2012’s obsession with James Bond has taught us anything, it’s that a man can take on the world when he’s suitably suited. Cue, TM Lewin…

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TM Lewin know a thing or two about tailoring and set the challenge of reinventing the traditional Tuxedo for a the fashion forward gent about town (I know, who do I think I am, ‘eh?)

So, first thing’s first, a good suit is all about the cut. A coat (how tailors refer to suit jackets) needs to suit the frame, without being restrictive to movement and without drowning a man’s shape. I find it difficult to buy off-the-peg suiting because I’m quite and unusual shape for a 22 year old bloke. I’m rather on the slender side (think Kevin Bacon in Footloose) but have shoulders a rugby player would envy (lol).

However, the Guinness Tuxedo jacket from TM Lewin was just a perfect fit, the 36 Short nicely framed my shoulders and nipped in just enough at the waist to stop the look overpowering my shape.

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I opted for the trousers, also Guinness from TM Lewin, as they have the ability to tighten at the waist which turns a 30 waist into a 29 waist, perfect! The stripe down the leg is one of my favourite features about trousers because it’s just such a smart look and finishes off the suit with that added bit of texture that isn’t garish in anyway.

Similarly the lapel of a Tux gets my sartorial juices flowing because its, well, shiney!

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Now, I know what you’re thinking, what are you doing wearing a black dress shirt with a Tuxedo? Well my dear readers, it’s called being creative! Why go Penguin when you can go… Jaguar? I opted for this black dress pleat wing collar shirt because it was something unexpected and I think the look really benefits from that curve ball.

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What’s more is that you can re-style the look with ease by just altering the colour of the bow-tie for each function!

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Obviously, cuff-links are the only jewellery a gentleman will always have to wear to posh-dos, here I opted for these premium black and silver cuff-links because they are just the right amount of swish, without being too in your face.

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I hope y’all have fun dressing up for Christmas this year!

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Brown paper packages, tied up with string: Christmas wrapping inspiration

As those who follow me on Twitter (@jordanjmcdowell) or on Instagram (@jordanjmcdowell) or who have read previous posts on this very bloggy woggy, will know that I’ve gone a little cray cray for Crimbo this year.

My obsession extends to Christmas gift wrapping. Obviously.

I’ve always been one for good gift wrap, one of the many attributes my mother passed on to me. We both would adore a Gift Wrapping Room like Niles in Fraiser, imagine the possibilities, the ribbons, the bows? Anywho, each year I adopt a theme for our gift wrapping, much to the boyf’s amusement. Last year it was glitzy high-shine black and gold, inspired by a window display I saw at House of Fraser. The year before was a bit of a Paperchase orgasm and the year before that was white paper featuring green and red typography with green and red curling ribbon along with bright red foil and gold curling ribbon. *sigh*.

This year the boyf got involved and the outcome as been quite beautiful. We are doing Christmas on a budget (again) and so making a lot of our gifts. However, the wrapping has gone a little premium and cost a bloody arm ‘n a leg, but we’re happy anyway!

This year’s theme is, “brown paper packages, tied up with string”, inspired by the well known musical. Adam and I found a gorgeous website in a Christmas magazine he picked up, as obsessed with gift wrapping as us, called pipii.co.uk

Our concept was curated using the following delicious bits ‘n bobs:

Brown Paper, obviously, also available at your local Post Office for cheaper.

£4.50 at pipii.co.uk

Brown Wrapping Paper - 8 Meter Roll 
String, again, obviously. However, we shook things up with not one but two types of string. Pushing the boat this Christmas! We firstly got red twine for the large parcels…
Jute Twine in assorted colours 
…and then a fine string for the delicate boxes.

Divine Bakers Twine 

We then went a little over board and opted for a really nice tape, which I at first thought was a ribbon, that says: “do not open til 25th December”. Isn’t that cute? Note: the tape is not very sticky so don’t expect it to work as a sealant. It’s more, aesthetic than adhesive.


Then we needed tags….

Recycled Paper Gift Tags - 20 Red and Green 

And some gorgeous stickers to stick on the tags…

30 Christmas Carol Stickers  

‘n there you have it. A Christmas wrapping theme curated and fulfilled for a splendid Christmas of wrapping magic.

What do your parcels look like this year?

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Fall in Love with Manchester this Christmas: A day at the Markets

I just adore Christmas. I’ve been celebrating since late September and my enthusiasm isn’t dwindling one bit. Why? Because I live in Manchester.


Mamma and her Bratwurst


Mother dearest and Brother Joe came up this weekend to drop off my new car. I know. I’ll get to that in a moment. Mother doesn’t normally travel to Manchester this close to Christmas (she lives in Devon) because Adam and I will be going southward for the holidays very soon. But, as I said, the car needed delivering and so we made a weekend of it. (The car is a Peugeot 206 light blue convertible and I’m a little but obsessed.)

We got up early on Monday and, after booking the day off work, set out into the sprawling metropolis that is Manchester city centre. We tackled Market Street before the crowds and then proceeded onto the markets at St. Ann’s Square and Albert Square. We bought sausages, we played with decorations, smelt cheeses, we just inhaled Christmas and when the drizzle started we sat in a wooden hut called the Windmill and we ate Bratwurst and we drank German lager and hot chocolate under heat lamps.

For those that are unaware of the splendour that is the Manchester Christmas Markets, they are singularly the best place to be at Christmas, except for the Rockefeller Centre ice-rink in New York City and sat on actual Father Christmas’ lap in Lapland on Christmas Eve eating chocolate and stroking Rudolph. They are that good. The attention to detail, the fact that the food is actually that fabulous, everything about them is superb and I just love them.

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Mother, the chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce in her local town, spent our entire day walking around saying: “Oh my god, that is beautiful… Oh my god, look at that.. Oh my god, you wouldn’t get this in Devon… Oh my god, No one does it like Manchester… Oh my god, is that moose head singing?” etc. etc.


After the drizzle we proceeded down the King Street Markets and into House of Fraser, which for those non-Mancs is lovingly referred to as Kendals by Mancs because it was called that before HoF took over. Kendals is also a fabulous place to be at Christmas and I shall indeed blog about it soon. 

After a browse and a wee, we popped to the Teepee that has been set up at The Oast House in Spinningfields (I know) and sat by the fire with wine before a gander at the Ice-Rink in Hardman Square.

Wine in the Teepee at The Oast House

By then it was time for home to get dressed for Cocktails at the newly refurbished Cloud23 Bar on the 23rd floor of Manchester’s Hilton Hotel and then dinner at the amazing Don Marco’s family owned Italian on Liverpool Street.

Mamma in her new Planet dress eating an Olive on Cloud23

Adam and his cocktail on top of the world in Cloud23

It was the most gorgeous and scrummy Christmassy day ever. Merry Christmas Manchester.

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