From our friend in Barcelona: perfume and shoes

In her final report from Barcelona Kavel Rafferty visits two little museums.

You could walk past the Museu del Perfum hundreds of times without noticing it, which since 1961 has been situated in the back room of the Perfumery Regina on the busy Passeig de Gracia in central Barcelona.
Entrance is through the shop, via a short corridor leads to the exhibition room which is large and understated, a large room filled with hessian backed glass cabinets. Cabinets are packed with every type of perfume and scent bottle imaginable. There are fine examples of both antiquarian perfume vessels and hundreds of bottles charting the development of brand identities of major designers and perfume producers.
The collection consists of over 5,000 individual bottles, from large scale advertising props, 'on tap' perfume dispensers used in old perfume boutiques and tiny sample bottles. 
And then there’s the decoration: gilded fonts, candy colours, pattern, jewels, ribbon, bows, packaging and printed papers. All delightful in their own way.
A few of my favourites were the more kitsch novelty bottles: a vintage green telephone; fancy frocked ladies in all their finery; silver birds and strangely gruesome glass heads. 
There is a five euro entry fee, which is well worth it for the sheer volume of examples. The staff leave you alone to wander around without pressure in a gallery or museum. You can easily lose an hour or more examining all the different bottles.
Museu del Perfum, Passeig de Gràcia, 39
Monday to Friday: 10.30am-8pm; Saturday: 11am-2pm

The gentleman on the door of 

Museu del Calçat, a

 one-room shoe museum, must be well into his eighties, but he’s very sprightly and friendly. He offers a selection of small scribbled notes with various dates for each cabinet, which don’t always make things much clearer. I sneaked a few photos although photography is not strictly allowed – he gently told me off, but I don't mind as he called me señorita, that hasn't happened in a long while.

The collection contains many originals dating as far back as the 17th century as well as reproductions of earlier footwear. The collection includes tools, patterns, leather samples, illustrations, all kinds of shoes large and small from around the world. It's no V&A, but has some lovely exhibits and while slightly shabby is utterly charming. The tiniest 'shoes' in the collection are a pair carved from two olive stones, the biggest (with the accompanying last) made especially to fit the Columbus statue in Barcelona Harbour. Other unusual footwear includes black bridal shoes, peculiar to Cataluña, jewel-encrusted heels for dance shoes and intricately embroidered white leather children's shoes.

Museu del Calçat, Plaça Sant Felip Neri 5
Tuesday-Sunday: 11am-2pm

You can see Kavel's illustration work on her website.
And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map.

Posted in Barcelona, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty, Museums

From our friend in Barcelona: Els Encants Vells

A trip to Barcelona's grimy, exciting and intermittently rewarding Els Encants Vells flea market with Kavel Rafferty.

Els Encants Vells, I mistakenly thought this to mean 'market of old charms', which sounds delightful, but even if it were true might be stretching it a bit these days. 

The name actually relates to the time of the plague in Barcelona when the poor would sell the property of the dead, shouting 'en cantes' the prices outside the city walls. The original market dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest markets in Europe; it was moved to the site near Glories in the 1920s to clean up the Saint Antoni area for the Universal Exhibition of 1929.

As with many markets, Encants has a mixture of new and old, from mountains of second-hand books spread out on blankets to phone unlocking services. The more permanent stalls around the edges tend to be new; household goods, electrical supplies, flamenco dresses, big pants and fabrics. In the centre are the grottier junk stalls; old paint, records, magazine, 'antiques' and collectibles, but really you could pretty much come across anything. You’ll need to dig around a fair bit, and you need good balance too as sometimes you have to climb over stuff to get to the back of the stalls. Amid all this bustle you'll find women selling platted garlic for a couple of Euros.

Every 10 to 15 minutes recorded messages are played over the Tannoy, in Catalan, Spanish and a strange American/English accent, mostly reminding you to take care of your bags. Along with this reminder to watch your belongings, are the shouts from stall holders todo barato (everything cheap), which is ironic as I find it a little over-priced, you really do have to barter hard. Ladies should beware of the onion rubbers 'a frotar la cebolleta' as my friend Arantxa describes the older gentlemen who rub up far too close to women, when they think they can get away with it.

Don't let any of this put you off, in general there’s a lively, exciting atmosphere. Most markets have s seamy aspect and this one is little different in that aspect to my past local of Brick Lane.

Work started recently to move the market to a modern, covered 25-metre marquee, just across the street but somehow I think this will ruin the feel. I'm not sure a flea market should be too clean – organised chaos should rule.

Els Encants Vells, Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday. I usually give Saturday a miss as it can be pretty heavy going with the heat and crowds. It opens at 7am with auctions, the market proper starts around 9am fizzles out by 2pm.  
Metro: L2 Encants / L1 Glories 

You can see Kavel's illustration work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty, Markets, Shops

From our friend in Barcelona: a quest for mushrooms

In which Kavel Rafferty ventures beyond Barcelona city limits into the woods, in search of fungi.

They love the mushroom season here, there’s even a prime time television programme about it. Ever since I moved to Barcelona four years ago I’ve pestered my friend Ricard to take me wild mushroom picking. At last the day came, and a few weeks ago I received a text message inviting me to the woods.

It was a bright autumn day and after a strengthening cup of coffee four of us set off on a two-hour drive into the mountains and a small town called Vic. We drove along small twisting country roads until we located the exact spot for good collecting. Ricard began young, picking mushrooms as a child with his dad and uncle, so I had total confidence in his knowledge of bolets (that’s Catalan for wild mushrooms), something which is essential when dealing with fungi a proportion of which can make you very ill, and some may even prove fatal – stories of which Ricard told us along the way.

My three companions made a curious sight, grown men with wicker baskets picking their way through the woods, avoiding a tremendous number of cow pats and peering into the undergrowth. And peer you must, mushrooms are hard to spot and edible ones thin on the ground. I found some pretty ones, some huge ones, some ugly ones and a fairy ring of evil ones, but very few that were edible.

We finished the foraging with a decent haul of almost three kilos of edible bolets, mainly Pinetells and Rovellons the most common of the wild mushrooms found in Cataluña, and a plan to meet later in the week for a mushroom feast.

We drove back though small villages and stopped for lunch in the village of Perafita, where 10 euros bought us three courses, accompanied by a rough red wine sweetened with casera and beers, which seemed ample reward for our labours.

I'm not suggesting anyone goes picking wild mushrooms alone or without guidance, but it's so lovely to see the Catalan woods and mountains, so different to what you expect of Spain, that if you get a chance to see venture outside Barcelona, then take it. And if you don’t, find a good restaurant that has bolets on the menu for a delicious taste of the Catalan forest.

You can see more of Kavel's work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Food, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty

A few questions for Peder Bernhardt

We continue our sporadic series of Q&As with some of the designers we've worked with. Peder Bernhardt is the force behind Wish You Were There and The Look Of London. He also designed our lovely gift and gift subscription cards, as well as our stationery. We're delighted he was able to take the time to tell us more about himself.

What's your favourite journey?
I wish I'd been around the world a lot more, it's always inspiring to travel. However, I doubt that few things would be able to push from the tip of my list a trip to Hamburg I took a few years ago, with a little beat group I'm in. Not that we're big in Germany or anything, we went there merely for the sake of it. We just wanted to be able to say that we've played in St. Pauli, the dodgy district of Hamburg, just like so many of our heroes. Not even in our wildest dreams had we expected the old boss of the legendary and sadly long lost Star Club, Horst Fascher, not only to show up on the gig, but also to introduce us on stage. After the show we found ourselves outside the venue among old beat-fans and Star Club-regulars, discussing who had the better live act in 1963; Lee Curtis or Kingsize Taylor. Rarely has the smell of urine and numerous approaches from prostitutes been more appropriate and suitable for the atmosphere!

From top: The Star Club in Hamburg. Who was better; Lee Curtis or Kingsize Taylor?;
Horst Fascher among aspiring musicians.

Tell us about your three favourite places
To avoid a dreadfully long answer here, I think I'll narrow it down to one particular location. It used to be one of my favourite spots in Oslo, but sadly it will never be the same again. On July 22nd 2011 a disturbed extremist placed a bomb near the main entrance of one of the government buildings in Oslo. The building he intended to blow up was finished in 1958, and together with an addition from 1969 it created an urban space in the centre of Oslo which I used to include in my city walks as often as possible. The architect Erling Viksjø had a new approach to using concrete, combining its "poetic" qualities with strict grids and other characteristic features of 50s / 60s  architecture. The buildings have decorations (both exterior and interior) integrated in the concrete, by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar (in collaboration with Pablo Picasso!) and others. I like to believe that the accessibility of these buildings – the fact that everybody was welcome to use the space around and between them – reflected some of the (perhaps naive) openness of the Norwegian society. Suddenly things became quite different, and now there's an ongoing discussion about wether the whole building complex should be demolished because of the damages caused by the bomb, and the demands for a higher level of security and closure. That would be no less than a scandal.

Top left: The government building in Oslo, as it was when competed in 1958; some of the original interiors showing decorative use of concrete; the 1969 addition, with the big Carl Nesjar / Pablo Picasso relief; the passage between the two buildings.

Where would you like to live?
At the moment I'm quite happy where I am, in Oslo with my little family. I could always wish for a bigger flat or a house, but with my low income and the ridiculous prices here, I'm actually very lucky to have a decent place to live!

Who are your design heroes?
Massimo Vignelli –  I especially like his editorial designs; books and magazines, but he has done loads of other great stuff as well, over a long period of time.
Bruno Oldani – a Swiss designer who moved to Oslo in 1958 and basically established the term "graphic design" in Norway. I was very lucky to work with him for a couple of years. He's a great friend, a mentor and a source for inspiration.
Les Mason. His legendary art directon of the Australian food magazine Epicurean was progressive and playful, full of wit and weirdness, and clearly a product of a a time where editors gave the art directors a lot of freedom.
Marcus Keef's strange, atmospheric and sometimes quite scary record covers.
...just to name a few.

Clockwise from top left: Oldani poster for jazz concert, 1965; cover for a book about abortion, Pax Publishing, 1966; poster for Kieler Woche boat festival, 1979; poster for own exhibition in Japan, 2006

Above: Epicurean magazine covers, 1970s

Marcus Keef record covers, 1970s. He's a photographer more than a designer really. Sometimes clumsy type actually disturbs his great sceneries and "infra-red moods" a bit, but still great atmosphere and nice subtle details. 

What's the worst advice you’ve ever received?
A very "David Brent-ish" guest lecturer in art school tried to teach us presentation teqhniques: "The contents of what you say isn't really that important, it's how you present it that counts!" It goes strongly against what I believe in, and also what message you should give to students. He should rather have encouraged us to be dedicated to our profession and what we do, not just tricks on how to disguise bad ideas as good ones... 

And the worst advice you’ve ever given?
My brother once asked me for advice on how to address (and impress) a girl he liked. He is still on his own.

Do you have a favourite motto or phrase
At work I try to remind myself that I'm a craftsman rather than an artist. David Hockney's saying "Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus" could therefore be worth remembering when one is stuck on a project, and experiencing that every solution turns out boring. Boring may sometimes be just right.

You can see more of Peder's fantastic work on his site, and we hope on many more Herb Lester products.

Posted in Design, Hamburg, Illustration, Meet the designers, Oslo, Peder Bernhardt

From our friend in Barcelona: B for vermut

Illustrator Kavel Rafferty returns with another report from her adopted city of Barcelona, where the vermut flows like wine.

Some of my best Saturdays in Barcelona have started with a vermut at noon, leading to a long lunch in a local restaurant. This vermut is a dark herbal fortified wine much loved over here, known to most of the world as vermouth. There’s a light version and more commonly, a darker, sweet one, both are usually served with small tapas, olives or pickles, the rich sweetness of the wine contrasting nicely with salty accompaniments.

Some take their vermut with ice, lemon and a couple of olives, others prefer to make it into a longer drink 'con syfon', and an old fashioned soda syphon is normally left on the bar for you to help yourself. As delicious as it is, we advise you to go easy: just enjoy the rosy glow of one or two glasses. But if things do go too far, I have yet to find a better hangover cure, the botanicals used to make vermut seem to posses some kind of magical restorative effect.

Although there’s plenty of industrially-produced vermut for sale here, if you ask for a vermut 'del grifo' or vermut 'de la casa' these will more than likely be made locally in one of the small villages outside Barcelona. And remember, in Spain, the v is pronounced with a soft b.

Below are three recommendations for places to enjoy a glass or two of vermut and some food. It’s worth remembering that if you ask anyone in Barcelona, they’ll have their own favourite place. Good food and drink is an obsession here, perhaps that’s why so many traditional bars survive with their Formica tables, chipped tiles, trad bar ware and grumpy waiters.

At the top end of Park Güell, the tables on the pavement get busy but they’re the prime spot, even in the colder months – on one occasion I sat comfortably outside in the January sun. The food is basic but good and generously served.
Carrer Ctra. del Carmelo / Muhlberg 1, 08024

Quimet y Quimet
Family-run and an institution in Poble Sec, with standing room only. It’s in quite a few guide books but locals still go there and mix happily enough with tourists. The food is amazing: we had a plate of cheeses (combinat de fromatges) and then a variety of smoked fish (combinat de fumats) with homemade crackers and bread last time we went. It can get very hectic, and it's not a bargain, but it's worth it.
Carrer de la Poeta Cabanyes, 25 , 08004

Cal Papi
This bustling bar is often busy and can get very hot, but the tapas are great, staff are friendly staff and it always has a nice atmosphere. It’s worth staying on for a lunch if you can get a table, and then walking it off on the beach at the end of the street.
Carrer de l'Atlàntida, 65, 08003

You can see more of Kavel's work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Bars, Food, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty, Restaurants

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