Beauty Tips

A Woman’s Right To Shoes

legs in the air with colourful high heeled shoes

Get any bunch of women in a room and it is not long before talk turns to shoes. Honestly, any bunch of women you could name. But among my circle, the conversation’s shifted, somewhat. These days, we’re not debating the gorgeous mauve suede of a pair of kitten heels vs the lustworthiness of a pair of red-soled Louboutins, but which makes of shoes are the comfiest on the planet. Because when you’re aiming for 10,000 steps a day for optimum health, you want to stride, not teeter. (This is even more important if, like me, you’ve managed to fall over twice and break a wrist. Even though once that happened slipping on a greengage on my own lawn wearing flats, I still want to minimise the chance of falling from any kind of height onto a hard surface.)

Now, I often think that if an alien landed from out of space, one of the things they’d marvel at would be the spectre of millions (probably billions) of women on Planet Earth having a minimum of two pairs of shoes with them at all times. One pair to look pretty, the other actually to get from A to B in. I have in past years sometimes had the privilege of being invited to the annual Women of the Year lunch. This boasts an informal ‘re-shoeing area’ at the foot of the stairs leading to the ballroom, where everyone from cabinet ministers to TV presenters to Olympic athletes (oh, and me) would change out of their practical flats into their heels before lunch, then reverse the process after coffee had been served and the last Award handed out.

Almost the only woman who didn’t have to do this was my neighbor at the lunch a couple of years ago, Cressida Dick CBE, whose role as (the first female) Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police meant that nobody batted an eyelid that she was wearing sensible police-style lace-ups rather than ‘party’ shoes to the lunch.

None of this means, however, that I want to go around wearing shoes that look like they were made for a hobbit, or an extra from Game of Thrones, or which basically resemble a Cornish pastie in shape and colour. So I have become a bit of a world expert on stylish COMFORTABLE shoe brands. Here’s what I recommend to my best friends – and of course, to you.

Allbirds. After an ad for these – promising they were ‘the most comfortable shoes in the world’ – had popped into my Instagram feed for around the 734th time, I finally rolled over in submission and took myself off to their UK flagship store in Covent Garden to try them out for myself. And guess what? They are the most comfortable shoes in the world, made from felt-like wool (and lots of sustainable/reused materials), with soles so springy I’m now doing a fine impression of Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout. I so loved my first pair that I went back three days later and bought another. First day I wore them, I notched up 17,000 blister-free steps – which is unheard-of, in a new pair of shoes. What I would say is: made from wool, they don’t have the support of a sturdier material, thus I wouldn’t wear them for long country rambles.

Veja. This Brazilian brand also has a super-comfy line-up, and will be my summer go-to when wool shoes are going to feel wrong, just so, so wrong. Veja offer lots of examples of white tennis-style trainers (these are still going to be on-trend for summer 2019), all with a ‘V’ emblazoned on the side so everyone knows how cool you are. Actually, I’ve never been cool – but the Duchess of Sussex is. I admit I was a teensy bit put out that Meghan put Veja on the global radar when she wore a pair of their trainers on the Royal tour to New Zealand and Australia – I got there first, Meghan, been wearing them for a year! – but very happy for the shoe brand, which uses lots of sustainable, organic and even recycled materials. You can basically pretty much wear white sneakers with a ballgown these days, which is great news for our tootsies – and I won’t be looking any further for my next pair.

Ecco. These Scandi guys have really moved on from the time when they just made shoes that only your great-aunt would actually swoon over. I find them particularly good for comfy summer sandals and even funky hiking sandals. (Yes, I now hike – although I do not own a compass or a waterproof kagoule, which definitely makes me the fairweather kind.) Many styles are smart enough to wear to meetings. And I’m talking city meetings, not gatherings of the Women’s Institute.

Ferragamo. I also have one pair of sturdy, shiny, rubber-soled, shiny, black Ferragamo lace-ups that basically look exactly like something out of Cressida Dick’s shoe wardrobe, and I bloody love them. The famous Florentine shoe line does not always have sensible flats in their collection, but I’m always keeping my eyes open for another pair – even though mine show not a sign of wearing out for many years to come. I have to admit: the pair I bought cost an arm and a leg (and both feet), but they are so beautifully constructed that I can (and do) walk miles and miles in them, so the cost per mile is now a fraction of a fraction of a penny.

Chie Mihara. OK, I’ve saved the best for last, here. Every year, I invest in one new pair of Chie Mihara heels (because they really aren’t cheap either). But I still have and wear almost every pair I’ve ever bought and I have lost count of the number of times I have been stopped in the street or at parties or after giving a speech and asked: ‘WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE AH-MAZING SHOES?’ I’ve got gold lace-up heels, and a similar pair in black embossed leather. Chunky platform sandals in snakeskin and also a deep velvety rose colour, with a suede rose adorning the front.

The platforms make me taller, while showing off a pretty pedicure – but the bottom line is that all these shoes so, so, so comfortable because (so I’m told) the somewhat unpronounceable Chie Mihara herself, founder of this Spanish shoe brand, used to be a podiatrist. So she (or rather, Chie) perfectly understands foot architecture, and that we need padding under the balls of our feet, and that we most of all want stability and not to fall off our platforms or our heels. Ever. And that once we reach a certain age, we want styles that are – yes – stylish, but basically timeless.

I’ve been known to walk fairly long distances in her heels, if needs must – and I really haven’t done that since I was about 19. You do have to pick your style – I like the ones that look more like tap shoes, but they just don’t suit me – but I have a little piggy bank with ‘Chie Mihara’ on the side, for my next pair.

Happy walking…

How To Follow A Social Media Diet

Book leafs in a heart shape

I’ve always been fairly convinced that nobody would go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter. But I don’t mind admitting that over the past year, my addiction to Instagram reached a level where I knew that action was required. When the first thing you do is roll over in bed in the morning, reach for your phone and scroll through photos of friends’ kids/pets/gardens, or swoon over inspirational houses or holiday destinations – well, by any measure, you’ve got a problem.

My Instagram ‘rock bottom’ happened one day just before Christmas, when my alarm went off at the usual time – and when I looked up, I realised I’d just spent an hour and a half on Instagram. I’d been suckered by their clever algorithm into frittering away 90 minutes of my life – and for what…? I wasn’t chatting to my husband, tucked up in bed beside me. I wasn’t reading a newspaper. (Not that I think there’s anything WRONG with not reading newspapers, BTW.) I wasn’t looking up from my screen to take in the beautiful view that I’m blessed with of our ACTUAL garden, out of the ACTUAL bedroom window. I was looking at pretty pictures.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d implemented ScreenTime on my iPhone – which tells me when I’ve hit a self-imposed limit of a certain number of minutes – I was habitually over-riding the warning by hitting the button that says ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ – or (more likely) the one that says ‘Ignore Limit For Today’. (Initially, I’d gone for a 15-minute limit overall until I realised that was over in the blink of an eye. But I’d been hitting the ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ button four, five times in a day…)

The thing is, I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But this was bad – and I remembered a bumper sticker that my late father-in-law had on his car (he was American; bumper stickers are allowed). It read: ‘Turn off TV, turn on life.’ So I decided to adopt a similar philosophy, with Instagram. Living my life, not reading about other people’s – while also dealing with the challenge that I can’t go completely cold turkey on Instagram, because I actually have to use it professionally (@theperfumesociety and @beautybibleofficial). So: here’s how you can do the same, whether your problem is Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or all of them).

Move your social media apps off your main screen

When you have to search for them, or even swipe for them, it gives you pause for thought. (It’s the social media diet equivalent of putting the biscuit tin in the cupboard.)

Set a timer

By all means use ScreenTime, if you use an iPhone. (It was in the most recent system update.) But pledge to obey it, OR – alternatively – set a timer on your phone that rings when your (personally allotted) time is up. I find that much, much more effective, actually; when you’ve got to leave an app to turn off an annoying alarm, you can’t ignore it – and you then have to make a conscious effort to reopen the app.

Don’t sleep with your phone by your bed

It’s probably emitting all sorts of hideous electro-magnetic radiation, anyway, which we shouldn’t have anywhere near our heads. In the early stage of my ‘diet’ I put my phone in a box on the other side of the bedroom. I’d have to get out of bed to get it (and frankly our bedroom’s so cold – I am married to someone half-Viking – I was reluctant to abandon my hot water bottle to do so). After a while I found this had helped get me out of the habit of rolling over and hitting the Instagram icon first thing, and I could safely return it to the bedside table. And beyond that, once I’d broken the habit of feeding my early morning Instagram addiction even before I’d fed my early morning caffeine addiction (which is of course an entirely different story!), it was much easier to put off my first foray into its photographic joys till later in the day because I wasn’t craving the next serotonin hit.

Make a list of your favourite accounts and restrict your ‘diet’ to these

That way you don’t have to miss out on a daughter’s smile, or your best friend’s latest baking triumph, or news from websites you really, really find valuable (like VH of course!) I’ve actually PRINTED the list of sites to check in with daily (or at least regularly) in order to ensure I’m not missing anything ‘important’, and I keep it handy. (In fact, actively visiting friends’ pages has kept me more in the loop with their lives than I was before – because the algorithm wasn’t showing them to me in my feed).

Give yourself a specific time when you’re allowed to binge

If someone keeps me waiting for an appointment or a meeting, I ‘allow’ myself to go to Instagram and gorge. Ditto: if I’m in the back of a taxi. Otherwise it’s like being told you can’t eat sugar: all you do is fantasise about cakes, sweets and ice cream. It’s easier to resist temptation if you know you’ll be allowed an occasional indulgence.

By all means post pictures – but don’t check on your ‘likes’

I still love taking photos for Instagram – it’s a real creative outlet (I’m a bit of an Annie Liebowitz manquée). And every day, pretty much, I still post something (@jofairley, if you’re interested!) But what I have weaned myself off is habitually checking who’s liked my posts or commented. I check in with that once a day (during that ‘timed’ session) – not every hour or so, as I had been. (To continue the diet analogy, this equates to a few squares of Green & Black’s at teatime, rather than a biscuit on the hour.)

It’s been quite a few weeks since I started this ‘social media diet’ – and it’s worked unbelievably well. I’m confident I’ve conquered that addiction and am not only up to speed on my magazine subscriptions – the media pile was a high avalanche risk, when I started this – but I’ve got through another pile that I’d hidden in a cupboard to stop me staring at them and feeling guilty about NOT reading them. I’ve finished several books (yes, BOOKS!) that I’d never have found time for. My Christmas ‘thank-yous’ were done and dusted in record time (I decided to write those first thing, in bed – and trust me, the feel-good factor exceeded that of Insta-scrolling, which never gave anyone a rosy glow of achievement). And I’ve had some remarkably sparkling conversations with my husband (although we can talk about his iPad Scrabble habit another time). You know what else (surprise, surprise!)? My overall concentration is vastly improved, because I am not constantly answering the tug on my attention from social media.

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going anywhere soon. But as I’ve found out, encouragingly, it is possible to control IT rather than have it control YOU – thereby avoiding a flood of regret on the day of reckoning that you’d frittered away so much time watching other people’s lives on a small screen, rather than enjoying real sunsets, real flowers and real conversations…

Why We All Need A Telescope And A Microscope

pink pencils

We all need heroes in this world, and one of mine – notwithstanding the fact that she went to jail for insider trading – is Martha Stewart, creator of a homewares and mega-media empire in the States. It’s not because of her gorgeous floral arrangements, or her gardening tips, or the drool-worthy recipes in Martha Stewart Living, her glossy lifestyle magazine. (Sad but true: being a great believer in the power of home-making – as a solace not just for self, but for the family and much-loved friends who gravitate to ours – I still have every issue ever published, which means over 20 years’ worth!)

I like the way Martha’s made a business out of style, and taste, and reassured me that just because I may want to decompress from a week of 18 hour days by organising my linen closet or my gift-wrapping supplies, that’s OK; it doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent, and it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. It means I just like things to be nice, too.

But what I really admire Martha for is an excellent book that she wrote called The Martha Rules. It’s a brilliant how-to book for women, in particular, setting out on an entrepreneurial journey – so good, in fact, that I’ve gifted it to lots of young women embarking on start-ups. But the lesson I really took away from it is the importance of having two tools: a microscope and a telescope. Martha was referring to business – and how important it is to step back from working on the detail, to look at the bigger picture and how your business sits in the wider landscape. But what I took away from that book – and what I try to apply to my life, not just my ventures – is the telescope lesson.

Today, all of us spend our lives fixated on tiny screens, on problem-solving, on figuring out a way to deal with one crisis after another, whether it’s a sick kid who unexpectedly throws a spanner in the works (or rather the working week), a broken dishwasher (my current domestic status update), a lost bank card (er, actually also my current status update), whatever. Entire days – no weeks! – can disappear, simply dealing with everyday life, without us ever taking a moment to stand back and look at that bigger picture.

And it’s just so, so vital to do that – because it’s only by looking at things from afar that we realise a) what’s really important in life, and b) what needs changing. Fact: life is short. Way too short to spend it mindlessly dealing with trivia (trust me, nobody’s going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter), or lurching from one crisis to another, or generally watching the days slip between our fingers. And this isn’t just about stopping to smell the roses (or right now, the lily of the valley which are flourishing near my back gate and I’m spending too little time up-close-and-personal with). How often have you read about someone with a life-threatening illness talk about how it was such a wake-up call, and it made them realise what really mattered (whether that was spending time with family or a partner, or quitting a job they didn’t enjoy, or maybe even ticking that climb up Kilimanjaro off the bucket list)? Answer: all too often, because for many of us it’s only when something dramatic happens that we get to look down that telescope.

So: how to do that more often? Well, one way is meditating. I’ve written about that before – and personally, I now swear by an app called Calm (check it out at calm.com). For ‘big picture’ stuff, perhaps think about taking an actual course in meditation – not just because it’s a great way to learn to focus, but because there’s something about signing up to learn anything that can make us think: ‘Shouldn’t I be finding time to do more of this, in my life…?’ Which can perhaps nudge us to do more new things, rather than just more of the same.

Holidays are great for ‘big picture’ stuff, too. (As in, perhaps: ‘Do I really want to be doing this stressful/unenjoyable/dull job that I am going back to next week/in a fortnight – or should I be thinking about looking for other challenges and new opportunities?’) For me, though, it’s daily walking that helps me with the big picture stuff. Almost as if I’ve got an invisible telescope packed in my pocket, alongside my phone and house keys.

Recently, I had a big challenge with one of my ventures. A tricky conundrum that nobody could seem to solve – not business-threatening, but something that needed a new approach so we could move forward when we’d been going round in circles. One morning, partly because it was just gloriously sunny, I absented myself from the office and my team and took myself off for a long, blustery, blue-skied seaside walk. A few miles. Instead of whiling away my morning answering what always feels like a deluge of e-mails, I chewed on my metaphoric pencil, as I put one foot in front of the other – and hey, presto: after a mile or so, I had the required brainwave. Ta-dah! I took the solution back to the team, we actioned it – and could move forward again. But I absolutely, 100% know that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been at my desk, sweating the small stuff and dealing with detail.

So I invite you: make this the month you invest in yourself – and your life – by trying to spend time looking at things from afar. After all, if Galileo could discover the moons of Jupiter (and more) by staring down his telescope, what heavenly future can you make for yourself, just by spending a little time standing back from the world…?

PS. In her intro to The Martha Rules, my hero Martha does acknowledge the jail term and the lessons it taught her – so it’s not like she’s brushing that under the carpet with some posh broom! She’s clearly not proud of what happened. But I also admire that she didn’t let a huge, image-damaging incident hold her back. Which might just be fodder for a future editorial, I suspect…

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Perfume

toppled empty perfume bottle

A couple of weeks ago, following in the footsteps of Shabir, I did a fun-tastic Facebook Live with Trinny Woodall. Formerly one-half of ‘& Susannah’, she is now a Grade A beauty expert, bringing that same famous critical eye to all the beauty products she reviews – often HILARIOUSLY, by the way, but always informatively. What is less well-known is that she adores perfume, so we’d been workshopping the idea of me sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years – which have led me down the path of founding The Perfume Society – with Trinny’s audience.

 

Boy, did we have a blast. (You can watch it on her YouTube channel – IN MY BATHROOM… with Jo Fairley.) I spent a lot of the hour-long chatathon answering the sort of questions that I hear time and again, about fragrance. So I thought for this month’s editorial, I’d address some of the things that people consistently seem to find most baffling, about scent. Read More…

Ayurveda: What Your Dosha Can Say About You

Ayuvedic tea

Health fads may come and go. But you can’t really argue with a mind-body health system that’s been around, so it’s said, for up to 5,000 years, when Indian monks were seeking new ways to be healthy. (For translation purposes, ‘ayur’ means life force, or vital energy, while ‘veda’ means science.)

Now, I’d always been interested in Ayurveda – in a magazine-reader-fun-questionnaire sort of way. You’ve probably done one yourself: answered a list of questions asking about body shape, energy levels, preferred foods, whether or not you tend to feel hot and cold, etc. I’d figured out that I was classified as ‘pitta’ – but never taken it much further than that. (Pitta is a ‘dosha’ – basically, doshas are your constitution. The other two are vata and kapha, more of which anon.) Read More…

A Shed Of One’s Own

beach huts

If Virginia Woolf was writing today, she could well have titled her famous essay A Shed of One’s Own, rather than A Room of One’s Own. With property prices the way they are, the chance of having the luxury of an entire room to yourself are pretty slender – at least until those human fledglings fly the nest and you can cartwheel naked round the kitchen to The Rolling Stones to your heart’s content. But for most women, it’s still hugely important to have a place to go at home – and increasingly, that’ll mean at the end of the garden – where we can get away from it all for some ‘alone time’.

This is hard when you’ve children careering around, a husband who can’t so much as scramble an egg or work a washing machine, elderly and befuddled parents – or, in my case, when you have people who come to work in your house every day. So, going beyond ‘me-time’, I am a great believer in carving out some ‘me-space’. It might be a nook off the kitchen. A corner of a bedroom. A desk or a chair on a landing. Or – the dream – a shed. Read More…