Thursday, 29 August 2013

St Ives Invigorating All Over Body Scrub

Another not expensive but really effective product that I have been asked to put to the test is the St Ives Invigorating All Over Body Scrub, £5.49 for 300ml.

All skin needs to occasional bout of exfoliation, and not just on your face either, and I like to do this at least once a week as part of my all-over skincare regime. This St Ives body scrub has 100% natural exfoliators and is more gentle than some I have tried over the years. Taking a generous handful and massaging it onto my body I found that it worked well but also rinsed off easily too - pretty important bonus as I hate having to clean the shower after exfoliating if I don't have to!

It smells okay too - not overly scented but a bit 'fruity' and afterwards I didn't need to much body moisturiser as I found it did leave my skin soft and moisturised - a real bonus! It has also prepared my skin for suntanning on my holiday next week which I can't wait for!

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Monday, 26 August 2013

Clean & Clear for clearer young skin

Some teenagers go through puberty and beyond with the occasional blemish or skin problem but for many it's a bit more of a problem. If you have a teen with a problem then you might be interested in him or her trialling the new Clean & Clear Advantage Clear and Smooth range of foaming wash and daily scrub.

I found a willing teen to try out this affordable skincare routine and he reported back that it was really easy and quick to use, and his skin did look much better after a couple of weeks of using the products. The Foaming Wash is £4.99 and is a light product featuring salicylic acid and natural aloe vera to remove dirt, oil and impurities. The aloe vera leaf contains nutrients, vitamins, amino acids and active enzymes, all great for clearing up skin and leaves skin feeling soft and moisturised.

The Daily Scrub, also £4.99, has lots of tiny exfoliating micro-beads to effectively remove dead skin cells that can block pores too. It is gentle and also contains aloe vera to help sooth skin.

All in all an affordable package to help teenage skin recover and fight that horrible spotty stage.

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Last morning at the Edinburgh Fringe

Rather than dash off (and we did have a substantial drive from Edinburgh to London to contend with) we decided that we just couldn't tear ourselves away and another trip to the centre of town was in order. Edinburgh is like that, it gets under your skin and leaving gets harder every time.

Once again we threw ourselves on the mercy of the flyers out and about in late morning sun but it was actually a comic who overheard our conversation that solved the problem of what to do. Of course, a performance showcase! This is the perfect way of getting a taste of some great acts at the fringe but take my advice do this at the beginning of each day and not at the end of your trip to get the real benefits.
image of Lee Camp:

Back in the cave where we had seen Henning Wehn we were treated to an hour of about 8 different performers, from a group doing sketches from Bristol University to a fantastic music comedy and juggling routine from Lancashire. But the highlight, and I really feel we lucked out here, was a young stand up all the way from the US called Lee Camp and we were treated to a tiny taster of his show Destruction! Distraction! Evolution? Oh we wished we'd come across him sooner as his star is definitely on the rise and expect to see (and hear) much more from him.

The Guardian is quoted as saying 'for those still mourning for Bill Hicks, you'll find plenty to enjoy' and although the comedy is very much planted in US culture it translates easily and he references Edinburgh and the UK easily into his set.

He has already been banned from Fox News for being 'anti-American' but he simply puts iPhones, Fox News and all the pressures of modern day living under the comedy microscope. Brilliant delivery, slick, well-written comedy that actually says something - all too rare these days and highly reminiscent of the satirical and political comedy of the Eighties, Lee Camp is a breath of fresh air not to be missed if you get the chance! Alternatively visit Lee Camp and download his podcast for a great sample of his sharp wit and wisdom.

Or check him out here.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - third day out on the streets

Working it on the Royal Mile

A typical August day at the Edinburgh Fringe seems to be slightly warm and wet but that doesn't stop those who need to sell a show on the Royal Mile from coming out and doing what they do. Not so many punters though on day 3 of our trip so we had breathing space to think about what to do next without too much bustle.

The next on our 'to-do' list was Musical Theatre as Edinburgh together brings Musical Theatre Societies from all over the country.

Members of CUMTS when not in costume...

Most are very young (students still at uni) and they bring bags of enthusiasm and energy to Edinburgh and often showcase from one of the two stages set up for the purpose on the Royal Mile. We didn't see these guys here but who can resist a Stephen Sondheim musical we asked ourselves when we came across the Cambridge University Musical Theatre's Society (CUMTS for short) production of The Assassins on the app. 

This is a bit of an odd musical, telling the story of a nine of those who across the centuries have attempted (and sometimes succeeded) in assassinating a US President. Chronologically Assassins is a bit of a mess but you can't blame the cast who not only sang their hearts out (Sondheim is challenging) but often left the stage to pick up an instrument - what an annoyingly talented bunch. It was a bit raw in places and voices not always as strong as they should be but the two girls in the cast were worthy of extra praise as they were very good indeed. Nice to hear some great music sung with gusto in the afternoon!

Following a musical theme we checked out 'looping artist' Adam Page all the way from Australia. Adam uses looping pedals to record and playback, effortlessly recording the sounds he makes or plays and layering others on top of them to create a wall of musical sound and beat. He also has an extraordinary beard which, with the use of a small microphone, he 'plays', recording the scratchy sounds and layering them into the music.
If you want to catch a bit of Adam yourself then check out the following video...

A brief stop to fill up on pizza and we were off to our third show of the day. The Peculiar Tale of Pablo Picasso and the Mona Lisa is a new piece of absurdist comedy performed by the talented Fourth Monkey Theatre Company. They have been working very hard to establish themselves on the Fringe over the past few years and I have to say this was genuinely one of the best things we saw this year.
Fourth Monkey from Colin Hattersley Photography

Taking Picasso's early life, this tells the story of an outrageous theft of the Mona Lisa and the muses who inspired the young Pablo. Using a simple white set, beautiful costume, this play brought to life the spirit of Paris in the early twentieth century. It's visually arresting and great fun with tons of artistic license and an appearance from the Desmoiselles d'Avignon to help and hinder Picasso throughout the story. It's all a bit mad, farcical and shows Picasso as the egocentric bastard that we can all imagine he was. Gertrude Stein and Georges Braque also make an appearance. We loved it for it's energy, sense of fun and absurd storyline and came out of the theatre smiling and uplifted - what more can you ask?

Final stop of the day was to This is a Damage Manual, a piece of dance with physical theatre thrown in for good measure from BONEdanse. It sounded really interesting, using vintage instruction self-help recordings from the 1950s (all on scratchy vinyl record) to explore how universally damaged we all are and how many of us simply stay that way. All with a lot of satire and wit thrown in.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - second day and things get serious

Supermen and women on The Royal Mile

It's when you wake up in the morning in Edinburgh and realise that there are far too many shows to even begin to get your head around, that you realise that just getting up and out there is the best course of action. Experience tells me that 4-5 shows in a day is hard-core but do-able. I am sure there are those who get to do more, but I find that after 4 my brain gets a bit too full.

So second day on the streets of Edinburgh and what did we see?

Well we saw lots and lots of flyer-ing on the Royal Mile - start from there to get a feel for the atmosphere and what you'd like to see.
Selling a show on the Royal Mile
We had already pre-booked theatre in the form of the world premier of An Actor's Lament by and starring Steven Berkoff after lunch, and Adam Hills in the early evening, so had plenty of hours to fill - but what to choose?

So the first thing to get us in the mood was a comedy showcase Just the Tonic off the Royal Mile. We got to see 4 stand-up comedians plus compare for £5 - a pound a pop which was much cheaper than the laughs which were really rather good. Checking out new comics is best done via a showcase - then you can decide to see a fuller set by a particular comic at a later date should you choose. These showcases are often free but if you want quality then it is best to pay something, even if it's just a fiver!

Photo: Berwickshire News

Steven Berkoff's An Actor's Lament was our biggest ticket in terms of price and it was definitely an event that had to be booked way in advance. Joined on stage by actors Jay Benedict and Andree Bernard, this new play gives us an insight into the world of theatre from the point of view of an actor, director and writer.

Never one to miss the opportunity to have a pop at critics (Berkoff is well-known for his intolerance of critics) which he does vociferously in the opening speech, he also puts actors themselves under his own particular spotlight showing up their ego-centricities, vanities and of course their enormous frailty. He takes on the world of theatre but also can't resist pulling apart TV soaps and films that are churned out for the money rather than the artistic value. We see the frustrations of being a performer laid bare for all the world to see, but in my opinion the star of the show is the language itself which is both melodic and has acerbic wit but above all is really quite funny. If you get a chance to see it at a future date then grab it - a real theatrical treat is in store.
The Dance Dome
The wonderful thing about Edinburgh is that you can go and see things you wouldn't normally and it won't be a costly mistake. Our little group all like dance and physical theatre so DanceDome in particular caught our eye. This 'event' took place in a large inflatable dome at the bottom of Cowgate in Dance Base and is a 360 degree film created by an international crew based in Cardiff. Using digital technology, cinema and some great choreography the dancers leapt and wove in film above our heads while the rain absolutely bucketed down outside. There were three films in total featuring everything from contemporary dance to parkour and breakdance - and all with original music. Explore more at The Dance Dome.
The very funny Adam Hills

Adam Hills was our other hot ticket this trip with Adam Hills: Happyism at The Assembly Hall. He opens his show with an audience member joining him on stage for improvised banter which he clearly loves as much as his set. Off-the-cuff and wonderfully spontaneous, Adam Hills is obviously joyful to be alive and although he has a spring in his step his show is one of many layers covering topics from what's not acceptable in society, drawing on his own experiences on US TV, to the differences between Aussie and British culture. It is far more sophisticated than you first imagine seamlessly switching from one topic to another, but he does make an audience laugh - really laugh. He will soon be up with the greats in terms of stand-up and I'm not surprised he has packed out such a large venue for two weeks here in Edinburgh. He overran by 15 minutes - apparently this happens a lot - which isn't great if you've got another show to catch, but it was obvious that he could have gone on all night if time had allowed, we were all having so much fun.

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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Edinburgh Fringe - first day entertainment, Gretchen Frage and Henning Wehn

The real trick to booking a short break to the Edinburgh Fringe is to have one or two things planned and booked before you go up and leave the rest to chance. That way you're not too overwhelmed when you get there as you will have some structure already in place, but will still have lots of time to take in the shows that take your fancy on the Royal Mile or via the fantastic official Edinburgh Fringe app. The app gives you everything on at every time for the whole month - so if you've got a slot to fill from 3pm - 6pm that day, you simply put in the times and order your tickets directly. Of course you will still need to make sure you can collect tickets from the various Fringe box offices when needs be.

I do realise I am writing this right at the end of this year's Fringe (well there are a few days left but not many) but having made my third trip to Edinburgh I do feel that any snippets of advise I have will be just as relevant next year so get that trip planned!

We arrived (after a 7 hour drive up from London) at around 4pm and our first show, Henning Wehn's Authentic German Christmas Do wasn't until 7ish. So using our app (there's a first time for everything) we went on the hunt for something good to see. Coming across Student Medics performing A Midwife Crisis at Space at The Surgeon's Hall we went down there in the hope of buying tickets on the door. Of course it was sold out but the bright and smiley girl on the ticket office managed to sell us into Love: Gretchen Frage and we decided to take a punt on it. By the way Gretchen Frage is a play on the German 'Gretchenfrage' which means 'crucial question'.

Seeing that we were one of about a dozen audience members, and understanding that this was the opening show, we were a bit apprehensive as to what we would find. Well, let's just say any visit to the Edinburgh fringe when you take a blind punt is always a bit risky, and it wasn't awful. But it wasn't great either. Billed as 'Gretchen Frage is on a quest: to unravel the conundrum that is love in the time of capitalism. A confessional, eclectic and whimsical journey interlacing performance art and folk music by sibling duo Lex and Lian' we were quite excited to see what this was going to turn out like. What it turned out to be was a girl with a very sweet voice and songs she had penned herself, accompanying herself on the lute and being accompanied by her brother on box/guitar/harmonica - or did I dream that. There were a couple of actors supporting the thin narrative who needed a hell of a lot more rehearsal than was evident. We did get to make paper airplanes and play sweet whistles, but I wasn't sure why her clothes were cut off at one point leaving her centre stage in a body stocking that left nothing to the imagination. Hey ho the joys of the fringe - it was only about £6 so can't really complain and it did fill an hour nicely.

The Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh

This did, however, whet our appetites for something really good, and something really good was what we got. Henning Wehn is 'that German comic' off the telly and radio. And he is very, very funny. We caught his show in London and seeing he had something new to offer decided to book for his Christmas spectacular while up at the Fringe. We weren't let down. He's comical, sharp, has an incredible understanding of the British vernacular and even though we were in the Caves (a large cellar underneath the street) and it was rather hot, the hour absolutely flew. I am sure he will be touring with this show nearer Christmas so I highly recommend booking tickets should it come to a town near you. His whole premise is how our Christmas drags on from January through to the following January whereas the Germans are far more ordered in their Christmas festivities which last a whole two days. The Germans obviously know how to do Christmas properly (well Christmas and a whole lot of other things as well). This show has been reprised from one he did a few years ago which I didn't see, but I can only agree that singing German Christmas carols in August somehow didn't feel wrong in a basement in Edinburgh because of the charm of our host, and the fact that you never know what stereotype he's going to tear to shreds next. I hope we see more of him on our mainstream media as he should be encouraged!

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Monday, 19 August 2013

Where to stay in Edinburgh when the fringe is on

The Edinburgh Fringe is one of the largest festivals of it's type and actually sits alongside a further 9 festivals held in Edinburgh during the month of August. So to say that Edinburgh gets a bit busy is something of an understatement!

This is our third trip in the last decade so are fairly experienced in terms of the best ways of approaching it all. First off is to pre-book your travel and accommodation and in the case of Edinburgh during August, you really mustn't leave everything to the last minute. If you do, all that will be left will be hotels with exorbitant prices - you may be lucky and get into Edinburgh University accommodation but if you're looking for something a bit more comfortable and less crowded, then we've found hiring a holiday apartment well in advance, is the way to go.

The spacious living room

We booked our gorgeous West End Condo around 6-8 weeks before we planned our trip and really fell on our feet. This was still a bit late to book bargain train tickets (think well in excess of £100 return from London this far in advance per person) so we decided to drive which takes around 7 and a half hours from North London to the centre of Edinburgh.

We stayed not too far from Murrayfield Stadium and just in from Edinburgh Zoo - in fact around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art' which was a fair walk in (I reckon about half a hour to the Royal Mile at a good pace) but is on bus routes and costs around £7-8 by taxi. I cannot write enough superlatives about this particular holiday rental. It's been beautifully decorated and fantastically well equipped with everything you would need. Even a torch in the DVD storage cupboard so you can really see what's there!

The kitchen was better than my one at home (always galling when that happens) and there are two bathrooms in this two double bedroom-ed flat, one with an enormous bath and one with a walk-in shower. There is even a spare single bed up in the loft room so it does sleep five adults easily.

There's a large and comfortable sitting room complete with a huge flat-screen TV with Sky. The folder supplied by the owners really does cover everything from the best places to visit in Edinburgh to when to put out the various bits and pieces of recycling and rubbish. Beds were large, very comfortable and with gorgeous cotton bedlinen - even the furniture was fine quality and solid.

We booked this short break in the UK through and our three night stay for 4 adults cost from £92 per night (outside of festival) which for a flat in Edinburgh of this high standard during festival season was an absolute bargain - we will definitely be back!

Other places to stay if a hotel is more your thing (I haven't tested these but they come up time and again)

Perfect for foodies this multi award winning restaurant has 4 beautiful bedrooms with lounge areas to relax over the two upper levels of the house. You can even have restaurant quality breakfast in bed. 3 Royal Terrace, EH7 5AB 0131 523 1030

The Glasshouse
This is truly amazing - architecturally brilliant and based in the centre there are 65 guestrooms and a two acre roof garden with spectacular views. The Glasshouse, EH1 3AA 0131 535 8200

The Sheraton
This is a Sheraton with a rooftop pool and spa and all rooms have mood lighting, media hubs and amazing beds (the Sheraton is known for it's Sweet Sleeper Bed). Ask for a room overlooking Edinburgh Castle. 1 Festival Square, EH3 9SR. 0131 229 9131

The Caledonian (Waldorf Astoria)
A luxury £24 million renovation and investment programme means that this is one of THE places to stay. Formerly a Victorian railway hotel in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle this is a beautiful place to stay and has the largest bathrooms of any in Edinburgh (apparently). Princes Street, EH1 2AB. 0131 222 8888.

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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Want - Mui Mui cracked leather loafers - just a little in love...

Mui Mui cracked leather loafers, £420

I'm getting my wish list together for the new season and am in love. It won't last - I'm fickle like that, but for the moment my fashion lust-after was found on The Telegraph site's fashion pages. Mui Mui cracked leather loafers are made from calf leather and have a silver toecap. Beautiful!

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Friday, 16 August 2013

Lush - an ethical environmentally focussed beauty company

I rather like the ethos of Lush and I was made to revisit them when they sent me a catalogue in the post this week. They only buy ingredients from companies that don't ever test products on animals and they tend to test on humans instead. They invent all their own products and fragrances and avoid excessive packaging and preservatives and they obviously really enjoy coming up with new and innovative products that are really good value. All products are fresh and organic so if you haven't visited this brand in a while why not familiarise yourself afresh!

Here are some of the more unusual ingredients

BB seaweed fresh face mask

The key ingredient to the BB seaweed fresh face mask is Toothed Wrack Seaweed, found at all British coastal areas. This seaweed grows densely on the seashore and is added to this ultra soothing mask made specifically for men with sensitive skin (though can be used by women too). £5.95 for 75g, this mask is fresh so needs to be kept in the fridge.

'Great for anyone with sensitive skin – and fantastic on faces that go through the rigors of shaving every day and need a cooling treat sometimes.'

Buffy Body Butter

Buffy Body Butter is great for buffing up your bum getting rid of dead skin cells and making sure you have all-over soft skin. The unusual ingredients in this bar are ground rice, ground almonds and ground aduki beans which aren't too harsh but are still tough enough to really clear things us. I have tried this and it is a wonder as your skin feels beautifully moisturised too because of the addition of cocoa and shea butter alongside the lavender oils which give it a heavenly smell. £10.75 for 200g. 

H'Suen Wen Hua hair mask
This amazing hair mask (and yes I've tried this too) has a whole raft of ingredients to bring back shine to totally wasted hair. Bay leaf infusion really is the key ingredient alongside watercress infusions, balsamic vinegar, rosemary oil and fresh free range eggs. There's lanoline which moisturises naturally and olive oil to give strength plus cinammon leaf oil with all it's antiseptic qualities. H'Suan Wen Hua hair treatment is a bargain for £8.95 for 225g.

'This product is intended to be piled on generously and left for 20 minutes, preferably whilst sitting in the bath or somewhere steamy, to go about its work of putting back into your hair all that modern day life and habits take out.'

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Pride theatre review - London West End

Last night, to get me in the mood for a trip to the Edinburgh Festival (in all it's guises) next week, I went along to the Trafalgar Studios off Trafalgar Square to attend the opening night of The Pride, a play written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and set in both 1958 and the present day.

This often hilarious but also very touching piece of theatre explores themes of honesty and openness in relationships and centres around 3 main characters who are involved in a love triangle. Themes of homosexual behaviour and society's take on what is and isn't permissible are explored through the time shift which is cleverly portrayed both in the performances and the staging.

Given the recent law in Russia forbidding the promotion of homosexuality to anyone under the age of 18, this play is very contemporary and absolutely right for now. The cast even came on stage after the first curtain call with placards stating 'To Russia With Love', a reminder that in some parts of the world the movement for equality and recognition is still as it was here in the UK in 1958.

Image from The Evening Standard

Philip, Oliver and Sylvia are played by Al Weaver as Oliver, Hayley Atwell as Sylvia and Harry Hadden-Paton as Philip. Comic relief was brought by Mathew Horne who made the audience laugh out loud with his characterful portrayal of a role-playing rent boy - this particular role requiring a Nazi military costume, and the effusive editor of a men's magazine (thinks Nuts not Esquire).

All four actors were highly believable and the play itself well-written and thought provoking. Catch it while you can as it is on a limited run until November 9.

The Pride is at The Trafalgar Studios, London.

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Monday, 12 August 2013

Recipe for Stuffed Peppers Persian style

My stuffed peppers just before they went into the oven for a long slow cook.

Stuffed peppers are particularly good if you make the stuffing according to Iranian (Persian) recipes. Here is mine that I have developed from a few recipes according to available ingredients. I adore Persian food for it's textures and flavours which are subtle and truly delicious. They are perfect for a family meal or for a dinner party - they will impress guests but are simple to make.

This makes 8 stuffed peppers

400g minced beef
100g short grained rice
Beef stock cube
teaspoon sweet paprika
pinch cinnamon
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
2 crushed cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons dried taragon
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 can finely chopped tomatoes
lemon juice
olive oil

Fry the onions, garlic and beef in some olive oil. add in the various herbs, half the tomato puree, lemon juice. Boil the rice in water until it is not completely cooked and drain then mix into the meat mixture. Add half the tin of tomatoes and a small amount of beef stock. Cut the top off the pepper and take out the seeds. Keep the top to pop back on while cooking. Put olive oil and the rest of the tin of tomatoes and tomato puree into the bottom of an oven proof dish. Stuff the peppers and place on top of the tomato sauce. Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven for 1 and a half hours or until the peppers are nicely cooked and soft. Serve with salad, courgettes with hazelnuts and french bread to mop up the juices!

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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Myddelton House, Enfield

Hidden away just behind the Spurs training ground Myddelton House isn't the easiest place to get to, but if you do have a car and fancy walking around a beautiful garden (the house itself is not open to the public) then it's worth a trip on a Sunday afternoon if you live in North London.

Owned by famous garden designer Edward Augustus Bowles from 1865 until his death in 1954, Myddelton House is part of the Lee Valley area and is set in 8 acres of grounds. All year round there is something to see from spring crocuses to summer iris. There is an impressive kitchen garden the produce from which is on sale in the house shop, a small cafe, green houses, a carp lake and even an alpine meadow and giant Redwood. Simply stunning, if you're into gardens it's a hidden gem and perfect for a day trip to explore the Lee Valley area.

Myddelton House,
Bulls Cross  Enfield, Middlesex EN2 9HG
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Friday, 9 August 2013

Stop Press - SALE of Ash shoes and sandals

Get them before they go - I did and I simply LOVE my new metallic Ash sandals which I bought in the sale for an amazing saving of £77!

These were originally £129 and are now £51.60 but there are lots on sale at the Ash site now so get those last minute holiday bargains! Here is what they look like not on my foot...

Also check out the site for Autumn/Winter - they may be full price but you can dream!

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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Stop Press - Vivienne Westwood Anglomania Sale at Cocosa

Don't know if it's because I'm mentally preparing for the Edinburgh Fringe in a couple of weeks but the tartan dress by Vivienne Westwood  reduced at Cocosa really caught my eye. And I quite like the drama of the stripy number too - both perfect for your Autumn/Winter wardrobe.

You can go punk this Autumn and save a few bob so resistance is useless really...

Vivienne Westwood Anglomania at – Rectangle Dress – was £440, now £219

Vivienne Westwood Anglomania at – Toga Drape Dress – was £325, now £159

Check out Cocosa for up to 70% off main name designer collections. Vivienne Westwood item sale goes live in the Autumn. 

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