It's been a while between my random bits and pieces posts, so this one will be photo heavy and text light (well, as light as I can go on the text front!).

I've been to Melbourne twice in the past month, both for single nights only for Mr AV's work. We were staying in the city, and so I did my usual thing... popping in and out of the shops on Collins Street admiring the wares, like Miss Louise below (shoe heaven).

Valentino window in brights

This was the YSL/ Sergio Rossi window

I paid a visit to the Hill of Content Bookshop on Bourke Street (my second favourite bookshop in Melbourne- The Avenue in Albert Park is my favourite), and did a bit of stocking up for my bedside table.

I wore this 6 year old DVF heavy wool wrap dress to dinner at Becco. I always have a problem with top gape in wrap dresses, so I haven't worn this one in ages, which is a shame as it has a nice weight to it and the skirt swings really well. I accessorised it with new shoes (to replace my old patent leather ones - yes, the search is over, Hooray!). These are by Giovanni Rossi, and have a metal heel, so will hopefully not shred quite so easily when I inevitably get it stuck in a grate somewhere. They also matched my existing black patent clutch well. 

We also went to see "Grease" the Musical with the clients. My advice is to not bother unless you're a die hard fan. The acting was very wooden (it stars Rob Mill, who was a reality tv star some years ago. He was outshone by the other T- birds). It also made me realise for the first time that the message of the story was that a woman should change for her man, even if he is a total loser (smoking, drinking, dropping out of school - and she was the Grade A student with a promising future). Somehow I'd missed this when I watched the movie so many years ago. Perhaps John Travolta, who was so good in the original version managed to disguise this well... a lacklustre actor made it all too apparent. I left feeling very confused as to why she'd bought herself down for him.

The next week, upon returning to Melbourne, I did a bit of walking through the city and along the banks of the Yarra. Melbourne will hide a cafe or bar anywhere it can. Mostly they are in back lane ways, and you have to be in the know to find them... but here's one on the pylon in the middle of the river, at the bottom of a footbridge over the Yarra.

I walked through some of the beautiful Victorian era arcades in the city - this is the Block Arcade with its original mosaic floor.

And wore this out to dinner that night - a Navy Lela Rose dress with the same shoes and bag as the week before. I wore a Rockstud bracelet to give a bit of edge/ casualness, which I think worked well. 

On the home front, I've been enjoying the last flush of roses, and the glory that is the Salvia and Sedums at their peak

Autumn Joy and White Iceberg Sedums

Here's my Isis Ceramics flower brick (yet again), with mixed David Austin Roses - (left to right) Golden Celebration (slightly crispy edges from the heat), Sharifa Asma, Claire Austin, Lady of Shallot, and Heritage centre front.

One of my favourites is David Austin's Jude the Obscure - highly scented and so pretty with its soft buff colour. Here's a posy of it in the new guest loo/ powder room.

satisfyingly jungle like

I'm not the only one plotting garden changes. I went on a garden tour and lunch in McLaren Vale (an hour from Adelaide, and a well known wine region) a few weeks ago with a couple of friends. This was our view for lunch - where the garden ended the rolling vineyards and hills began.

I thought this very clever - a weeping cherry had died, so the garden owner painted it lilac. There were lots of sculpture and features in the garden.

My friend A was so inspired, that she's been gardening ever since. She managed to take a break (she's had her head down for nearly 3 weeks now in a frantic garden overhaul) to have lunch with me at Tin Cat Cafe in Kent Town, where we ate well (the food is always good there) and workshopped her garden plans. I used the new Sparetables app to make the booking, which was fantastic (it's new and only in Adelaide at the moment until it has a national roll out, but you can make restaurant bookings online, and many tables are discounted at off peak times. We got 20% off our total bill).

Pork Belly for me, and A had some sort of Vegetable Tagine thing

It's not been all lunches and trips away though...I've also been busy, along with the four other hardworking members of the Volunteer Committee planning the Royal Flying Doctor's "Wings for Life" Ball this year. Good news readers! If you thought last year's Snow Ball looked fun, the tickets are now on sale for this year's - The Bazaar Ball... but it will sell out quickly. There are only 20 tables left already. You can buy either a table for 10, or just individual tickets if you prefer. It's going to be so much fun, and for such a great, and iconic Australian cause, I hope to see you there!

Lastly, Books.... I've read "Sheila" which was a biography of an Australian who married into English Society in the early 20th Century... she married three times, and was friends with all sorts of interesting historical figures - the Kennedy's, Churchill, the Coopers, the Mitford sisters... she had an affair with Prince Albert, the Duke of York (the future King George VI). It dovetailed in with a lot of other biographies I have read about that era. I also read "The Book Thief" (I have not seen the movie, and realise that I am very slow to get to this book as it's not exactly a new release). At first the narration by Death was slightly confronting/ grating, but in the end I think it was extremely clever, and I really loved the book - a definite recommendation from me if you haven't read it.

I've got more book chat, but this is a long enough post now as it is! So I'll leave you with some gratuitous rose photos from my garden. I think the navy blue salvias and the orange and yellow roses are a winning combination.

Hope things are well in your world xx
A quick renovation update. A lot of the work over the past month has been bits and pieces that don't make for particularly satisfying photos.... lots of paint touch ups/ fitting of door hardware etc.

But last week the stairs down to Mr AV's study and the cellar were finally enclosed with the steel windows (ordered from a different manufacturer than our main windows, and blessedly easy to deal with, and a straightforward install). The glass went in a week later, and then the wallpaper guy came to finish the feature wall of the Andrew Martin "Library" wallpaper in Sepia tones at the back of the stairs.

Not only does the glass let a lot of light down to the cellar area, but it's now a real feature in the living room, and provides me with a nice view from the kitchen island, which is opposite.

From the living room, this is the view above. We've also taken delivery of the new side tables for the sofas. At last... I chose a pair of the Pottery Barn "Bourke" nesting side tables. They're made of black steel so work well with the steel windows, and when we have people over I can pull out the smaller ones and use them around the seating area. Pottery Barn had a 20% off deal on at the time, and just three days later they arrived - I was very pleased. No more spilling of cups of tea or wine over the new sofas.

I've styled them up with the (one) lamp we have - it's rustic wood, and I think contrasts well with the metal elements. It also ties in our side board and the dining table to this area. It's still woefully empty in here, and I'd dearly love a rug to cut down on the echo, but these things take time.... and money.

I realised I hadn't shown the changes to the old back door either. I quite like having a real emphasis on the threshold between old and new in a modern extension to a house, and this is achieved here with the single step down to the new extension, with the existing old slate step between the timber floorboards and the linoleum in the extension. We kept the old leadight highlight window and the pretty and original brass opening hardware on it, but the old door was in pretty bad shape, was not at all attractive, and opened over the new opening to the guest loo/ powder room adjacent to it. We have had glass french doors installed instead - they let light through when closed (although are almost always open), and we just shut them to dampen noise down when we have people over for dinner and the children are asleep.

Looking from the hall to the extension

Looking from the extension to the hall, with an attractive bank of modern life adjacent to it - intercom/ air conditioning controls/ thermostat for heating/ burglar alarm pad etc etc.... unavoidable. They had to go somewhere.

Here's the old door

The powder room/ guest loo has been finished. The beautiful Celerie Kemble for Schumacher "Hot House Flowers" wallpaper has been installed. It's an overprint on grasscloth and is truly beautiful in person. I've been shutting myself in there to admire it and enjoy the peace! This room has been difficult to photograph, so my apologies. It's small and the light is a bit odd in the photographs (maybe because of the skylight?). I still have to get a mirror for it, but for the moment, it is beautiful as it is.

 I have more photos to show, but might break it into a few posts - we're nearly finished! Hooray!

This post title is not about the heart attack you may have when you reach the end of your build and are presented with the final invoice from your builder....I'm talking about Asbestos. I was emailed recently by the Mesothelioma Cancer Centre to ask if I would include information about where Asbestos is found in a home for my readers. I'm only too happy to talk about this, as it is SO important, and something that can easily be overlooked when renovating a house.

In both houses we have renovated, we have found Asbestos. Australia has a high rate of awareness of Asbestos, due to the extensive media coverage of the Litigation in the 1990's/ 2000's with James Hardie (major manufacturer of Asbestos products). For those not aware of what exactly Asbestos is, and how it was used in houses, it was used in building material fairly extensively in the 1950's - 1980's in Australia, as well as the rest of the world, in building products for both domestic and commercial use. After the 1980's in Australia it was banned for use in houses (the dates differed state to state). If your house was built or renovated prior to 1990, it is likely there could be asbestos in your home somewhere - it is estimated that 1/3 of homes in Australia contain Asbestos.

Our first home in Melbourne. The facade looked like it had been clad in Asbestos, but it hadn't.

Mesothelioma is the type of Lung Cancer that people exposed to Asbestos can get many, many years after their exposure. It is always fatal, and is not a pleasant way to die. It takes only one fibre of Asbestos in the lungs to lie dormant for decades and then to develop into Mesothelioma, so it can be hard to pick when and where exposure occurred. But Asbestos is a fairly random thing - some people that worked daily with Asbestos have never developed Mesothelioma, and others who had minor exposure were unlucky enough to get it. Australia has the second largest rates of death in the world from Mesothelioma (trailing the UK) due to the Asbestos mines, and the huge take up of asbestos products in the building industry during the post WW2 boom in building.

The first large wave of Mesothelioma deaths in Australia generally related to people who had worked with Asbestos - plumbers who had sawn up asbestos pipes, people who worked in the Asbestos mines, Builders who worked with Asbestos sheeting and insulation products - 75-80% of the deaths were male.

But there is talk about a second wave of deaths, mostly relating to DIY work that unwitting homeowners do on their properties, as the places built from the 1950's onward are renovated by a new generation.

If you are going to do work of any kind on your house, it is wise to find out if there is Asbestos in there. You can look up the Yellow pages in your city, and you'll find details of companies or consultants that are able to come out to your home and do an Asbestos audit. They'll visually check the house out to see if anything looks suspicious (people experienced with Asbestos know what to look for). Any material that they are suspicious about will have a sample taken away for testing, and you'll be advised on how to deal with it if you wish to remove it.

Asbestos is safe if left undisturbed. By this, I mean that it is not deteriorating or cracked, and is not broken up by drilling/ hammering a nail in, or making any attempt to remove it. If you wish to remove Asbestos, you should have it done professionally. When doing new construction, this can end up seeming like an expensive exercise if you're on a shoestring budget to get an audit and have Asbestos removed. But my attitude has always been that I'd be a fool to save $850 (the cost of removing the Asbestos in our house in Melbourne for instance) to wind up with Mesothelioma 30 years down the track.

So, here are the places that you might find Asbestos in your house, courtesy of the Mesothelioma Cancer Centre.

In our house in Melbourne, we had Asbestos lining the wall and exhaust behind the stove in the kitchen, and on the exterior kitchen wall.

The 1960's era sun room we demolished for our new extension. 

In our current house, our renovations commenced a year ago with the removal of the vinyl tiles on the floor, which contained low levels of compressed asbestos in the lean-to playroom/ sunroom on the back of our house. This always surprised people that I spoke to, as most people are unaware that vinyl tiles could contain asbestos. I had always been suspicious of them, and this was confirmed by a test prior to their removal.

 The vinyl floor tiles that contained compressed low grade asbestos (1960's era)

To remove Asbestos, have it done by an experienced contractor - they should wear protective suits and masks, and your property should be sealed off from the street with warning signs so that people can't unwittingly enter the property while the removal is under way. They use water spray (to keep asbestos from becoming airborne), and special vacuums, and the asbestos product and any debris is wrapped and taped up in special plastic sheeting before being placed in bins and taken to a contaminated fill dump. It is illegal to dump asbestos in general household or construction rubbish, and as a homeowner, it is in your interest to ensure that your contractor is licensed and follows correct procedure.

While our Asbestos vinyl floor tiles were being removed

I wanted to write this post to be informative, rather than alarming. If you have Asbestos in your home, and you don't intend to do construction works, it is perfectly safe if left undisturbed. Our lean-to sun room was the children's play room for 2 years. I had thought from the time we purchased the house it was likely the tiles contained Asbestos, but as it was low grade, the tiles were solid and the chance of loose fibres escaping were virtually impossible, I was comfortable leaving it down. In my former professional career I worked on several commercial developments where Asbestos was found - often due to cost the Asbestos would be prominently tagged with warning signs, and left in place - occasionally covered over by new building works, but easily visible should renovations take place in the future.

If you'd like more information on Asbestos in the home, the Australian government has a site relating to Asbestos Safety and free information booklets have also been produced.

This post is not a sponsored post, rather I was asked if I'd write about Asbestos in the home to spread awareness.
Grace with her Hermes bag via

There has never been a time when we've seen so many signs that we are witnessing the slow death of what is perceived to be the luxury good. Luxury goods were, once upon a time, the provence of the truly Rich and the well travelled. The average person had no idea who Balenciaga, Worth, Chanel, and Dior were, except perhaps if they glimpsed them in the pages of Vogue, and gradually  (some many years down the track) saw the designs trickle through to the mass market. If you wanted actual Dior, you had to travel to Paris, make an appointment at the atelier (and you were not guaranteed being granted an appointment as they vetted who was allowed to wear their designs), you'd have your outfit made to measure and then hand over very large amounts of money to pay for your one of a kind threads. Similarly, if you wanted a Gucci handbag, you would visit Florence, Tiffany jewellery - you'd visit New York. These things had an aura attached to them due to sheer inaccessibility, their quality and craftsmanship, and the requirement that you were in the know to actually recognise these things in the first place.

the modern take - Naomi's favourite celeb Kim Kardashian with her super chic Kelly Bag via 

Not anymore. With today's mass consumption of the luxury good, and the celebritisation of the brands behind many iconic fashion items, inaccessibility is no longer a problem - click and you can buy it. Or just walk into a shopping mall in Melbourne or Texas or any other large-ish city in the world and get your Prada handbag (Adelaide is getting a Tiffany's for crying out loud - who needs to go to 5th Avenue now?).  We are now in an era where the average person on the street will recognise the Chanel logo, thanks to the relentless advertising and heavily logo'd goods Karl has pumped out for the past 30 years.

Karl's laughing all the way to the bank with this creation via 

A couple of weeks ago I read an interesting article buried deep in the Business section of The Australian newspaper (syndicated from the WSJ - article here). The cost of a Chanel handbag has risen 70% since 2009. This is, they claim, to offset the rising cost of producing the handbag. The article cites that Chinese wages have increased 67% in the corresponding period. The only problem with this, is that these handbags are supposedly manufactured in France, by French workers. The French have not seen big pay increases since 2009, as France is fairly depressed economically. Additionally, the Euro has fallen against most other currencies during this period. So, in fact, the price of Chanel handbags should have fallen, rather than risen. Unless they are indeed made, or largely made, in China (in which case the workers are probably being paid say $2.70 an hour now, instead of $1.50 in 2009, which would hardly justify a $2,700 price increase on the bag).

Largely, the large luxury good companies are trying to make their bags scarce, and attempting to make their bag exclusive by pricing out the middle classes, and this has been the real driver behind the big increases in the cost of the bags. The price we pay in no way actually reflects the quality or craftsmanship or the cost of producing the item, nor in fact reflects its exclusivity. 

And who exactly are these eager customers willing to pay hand over fist for the increased price? Walk into any luxury branded store in the world, and you will see a sea of Asian salespeople behind the store counters. This is because the biggest growth area, and the biggest and most loyal customers, come from the East, where there is an insatiable appetite for Western luxury goods. Many of the stores ration their goods out to the Asian tourists who clamour to bring home a souvenir from their holiday and threaten to clean out a store like a plague of locusts (because nothing says "I've been to Australia" like a Hermes bag) - there is a one bag only policy in many Chanel stores around the world.

This point was further hammered home when I was reading an article about the venerable English tailor Gieves & Hawkes, of Savile Row fame. They hold warrants to make suits for Prince Charles, amongst others, and have a 200 plus year history of outfitting English gentlemen with their military uniforms and city suits. Unfortunately, despite holding the royal warrants, and despite manufacturing their bespoke made to measure suits in exactly the same way as they had for past few centuries, they were losing money. In 2002, the Gieves family finally sold the business to a Chinese entrepreneur. It's been turned around, and in spectacular fashion.

Their first order of business was to run things essentially on dual levels. You can still get a bespoke, made to measure suit in the Savile Row store from the tailors that still work on the premises (they can make a maximum of 800 suits a year), but now there is an enormous Ready to Wear division, which has put the business back in the black. The suits are not, however, made in London... or even the UK (although they still have the Made in Britain sign on the website, confusingly). They are now made in China, and are being marketed at the Chinese and the Asian market - Gieves and Hawkes opened 113 stores across China alone, capturing a large swathe of the fast growing aspirational Chinese upper-middle classes. Slick marketing, such as their Como web video hone in on this - watch it and see if you don't want this life too.

There's just one problem with this. It's just not Gieves & Hawkes as it was any more. Theses are suits made in China, for the Chinese, and have no relation to Savile Row (they note in the article that they have even had to change the fit of the suits slightly, as the Chinese prefer a boxy suit cut). It's now just a brand name with luxury cachet given by the Royal Warrants (but for how long, given that this is not a British company any longer) and the 200 year history, and a very slick website. By running a two tiered system of sales, they may be making a commercial success of the business, but they've removed the actual genesis of what gives the brand the cachet that it once had - location and exclusivity. They run the risk of the actual bespoke suit part of the business losing customers due to the new mass production rendering the brand common, and in turn the Asian customers at some point realising they have been conned into paying through the nose for brands that are not actually luxury goods.

For surely this is what will one day happen. The irony that the West is producing luxury goods that are gobbled up by the eager East, who in turn produce the cheap mass produced goods for the West surely will become evident?

And what exactly is a luxury good these days? Surely a bag, or shoes or ready to wear clothes that are (in actual fact) manufactured in large quantities, and sold in boutiques located all over the world is not that luxurious? It's just expensive, and not exceptionally good value for money. The mood in the West over the past 10 years has started to shift to brand authenticity, heritage, and quality. Those things cannot be mass produced - for that reason they are, in fact, luxurious. Hype, excitement, the new and the latest - all things associated with the large luxury goods brands (most of which are now owned by large conglomerates, rather than the privately run family businesses they started out as) is used to shift large volumes of perfumes/ bags/ shoes/ trinkets. Mostly this is gobbled up by those who can't really afford it (I once read a blog where the girl writing it - a college student in the USA - was saving $100/ month toward a Chanel handbag. She had to work to put herself through college, and was accruing large amounts of student loans during her period of study, but wanted to buy herself the bag as an end of college gift to herself after saving for four years).

So is this the beginning of the end of the luxury good industry we are witnessing.... and what does luxury mean to you?
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