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Here at #TeamCoco, we are always on the hunt for the best art exhibitions in the UK’s capital. This spring, there are almost too many to choose from but we’ve rounded up the five that you can’t miss. Check them out!

Tate Britain presents a comprehensive retrospective of the legendary British photographer Don McCullin

This poignant exhibition showcases some of the most impactful photographs captured over the last 60 years. It includes many of his iconic war photographs – including images from Vietnam, Northern Ireland and more recently Syria. It also however focuses on the work he did at home in England, recording scenes of poverty and working class life in London’s East End and the industrial north, as well as meditative landscapes of his beloved Somerset, where he lives.​ Sir Don McCullin was born in 1935 and grew up in a deprived area of north London. He got his first break when a newspaper published his photograph of friends who were in a local gang. From the 1960s he forged a career as probably the UK’s foremost war photographer, primarily working for the Sunday Times Magazine. His unforgettable and sometimes harrowing images are accompanied in the show with his brutally honest commentaries.

With over 250 photographs, all printed by McCullin himself in his own darkroom, this exhibition will be a unique opportunity to appreciate the scope and achievements of his entire career.

5 February – 6 May 2019

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtgMqPjlYs_/

White Cube Bermondsey presents ‘A Fortnight of Tears’ by Tracey Emin.

Installed throughout the gallery’s spaces, this major exhibition includes sculpture, neon, painting, film, photography and drawing, all focusing on the artist’s own memories and emotions arising from loss, pathos, anger and love. On entering South Gallery I, the viewer is confronted by fifty double-hung self-portraits from an on-going series taken at different moments and states during the artist’s periods of insomnia. These unsettling and intimate close-ups, blown up in size and overwhelming in number, capture the habitual torment and desperation of these lonely wakeful hours.

6 February 2019 – 7 April 2019

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt0bOn3gxAv/

Tate Modern presents The CC Land exhibition – Pierre Bonnard and the Colour of Memory

This is the first major exhibition of Pierre Bonnard’s work in the UK since the much-loved show at Tate 20 years ago. It will allow new generations to discover Bonnard’s unconventional use of colour, while surprising those who think they already know him.

Born 1867, Bonnard was, with Henri Matisse, one of the greatest colourists of the early 20th century. He preferred to work from memory, imaginatively capturing the spirit of a moment and expressing it through his unique handling of colour and innovative sense of composition.

The exhibition concentrates on Bonnard’s work from 1912, when colour became a dominant concern, until his death in 1947. It presents landscapes and intimate domestic scenes which capture moments in time – where someone has just left the room, a meal has just finished, a moment lost in the view from the window, or a stolen look at a partner.

Now until 6 May 2019

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtmN9FbFUsW/

The Serpentine presents Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams

The exhibition features an assemblage of site-specific installations and shrines. Interested in the improvisations and uses of shrines throughout black histories, Wales Bonner views these spiritual structures as material portals into multiple frames of experience. Drawing upon the images and rhythms of rituals and ceremonies from all over the world, she moves across time and space by bringing these references into dialogue with one another.

This exhibition focuses on Wales Bonner’s rigorous research into multiple geographies and temporalities, culminating in the presentation of her forthcoming Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, Mumbo Jumbo. Conjuring and exploring various characters, their dress, and the worlds and spaces they inhabit, the collection features certain protagonists, such as the artist-shaman, a West African spiritual healer, and a gathering of Howard University intellectuals. At its close, the exhibition becomes an environment for the characters to inhabit.

A live programme includes composer, playwright and artist Klein, who performed a reading in the Gallery, Poet and DJ James Massiah who will present an evening of readings inside the exhibition, and performance artist Michael-John Harper, whose ritual of movements will activate the Gallery at intervals during the final days of the exhibition. New texts and invocations by Ben Okri are woven through the Gallery spaces.

Now until 17 March 2019

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt1JcjAAzKb/

The Barbican presents Daria Martin – Tonight the World

Artist and Jarman Award 2018 winner Daria Martin revisits dreams and memories from her personal family history to create a complex portrait of migration, loss and resilience.

Drawing upon dream diaries kept by her grandmother over a 35 year period, London-based artist Daria Martin creates a new installation for The Curve. Through atmospheric film and gaming technology Martin stages a series of intimate encounters, enveloping viewers in an exploration of the curious and traumatic history of her grandmother, who fled the imminent Nazi occupation of her country, Czechoslovakia.

Now until 7 April 2019 (free entry)

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtdtiBFBYBA/

Cover picture © Pierre Bonard – Tate Modern

Ancient Egypt is one of the most advanced civilizations in the history. The magnificent Egyptian era lasted for an outstanding 3000 years. With a rich culture and dazzling facts, the Egyptian civilisation has managed to capture the attention of historians repeatedly. Even after the extensive studies and researches, quite a lot is not known to the commoners.

Ancient Egypt has been one of the most sought-after themes for online slots at casino sites like Monster casino. Let us look at some of the unknown facts of this riveting civilisation.

And you thought Cleopatra was Egyptian?
Sorry to break the shell, but Cleopatra wasn’t an Egyptian, but she ruled Egypt. She is the most talked about personalities when it comes to the Egyptian civilisation. However, she belonged to the Greek Macedonians and was born in Alexandria. In fact, she was widely famous to be the very firsts of the Ptolemaic dynasty to speak Egyptian.

They forged one of the earliest peace treaties.
Egyptians and the Hittite empire were involved in a fight for over two centuries. Battle of Kadesh was the result of this sorry conflict. However, none of the sides emerged victoriously. It was then that the pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite King Hattusili III signed a peace treaty in 1259 B.C.

It is one of the earliest surviving peace treaties.

They loved board games.
Board games were the perfect source of relaxation for the Egyptians. Several games like Mehen and Dogs and jackals were played. The most loved game, however, was “senet” which was a game of chance. The pharaohs were even buried with the board games.

Egyptian women had the right to freedom.
Unlike other civilisations, Egyptian women had a great deal of freedom and financial independence. The women who worked outside the homes were given pay equal to the men. They even had the right to remarry and divorce. They could also make wills, trade and participate in legal matters.

They used to organise labour strikes
Egyptian workers were well known to carry protest for better and sustainable working conditions. The most famous example is the protest carried out in 12th century B.C. They refused to work till their demands were heard.

Pharaohs were generally overweight
Though the art generally depicts pharaohs as being slim, the case was quite the opposite. The Egyptian diet that consisted of bread, honey, wine and beer which had a great toll on the physical health of the pharaohs. The examination of mummies has also led the historians to believe that they suffered from diabetes.

The pyramids were not built by slaves
The magnificent tombs were not made by slaves. They were made by paid labourers. The clan consisted of skilled artists along with temporary hands. The Egyptian slaves were generally used for domestic purposes and in fieldwork.

King Tut may have been killed by a hippo.
King Tut was buried without his heart, which points to a horrendous injury before death as per the Egyptian burial practice. King Tut is believed to be a lover of beast hunting and his death was probably because of a hunting sport went miserably wrong.

Egyptian doctors had a specialised field of study.
Where most of the ancient doctors used to be a jack-of-all-trades, Egyptian physicians had a specialised field of study. Every doctor was known for treating an organ. They even had names for them. Dentists were called “doctor of tooth” whereas proctologists were “shepherd of anus”.

Both, male and female, wore makeup
Both the genders used to wear makeup, which they thought to provide security from God Ra and Horus. They considered cosmetics to contain healing powers.

With the handful of new knowledge about ancient Egypt, rush to Monster casino to play your favourite Egypt-based online slot.

Whether you committed yourself to Veganuary, or just said you’d make a healthy start to 2019, our resident vegan Rachael Lindsay is here to bring us her top replacement buys to get you through the month.

Replace Dairy Milk With Oat Milk

I have spoken to lots of people about what they would miss most if they were to become vegan or try Veganuary. One of the most common responses is MILK. Especially with the Brits, we all seem to love our whole, semi-skimmed or skinny milk in a big ole cup of joe. As well as on cereal, in a glass with a plate of cookies, the list goes on…

To the rescue is one of my personal favourite brands out there right now: Oatly. They have just released the very first whole, semi and skinny oat milks so you can make an easy replacement from whatever your preferred dairy milk was. Having put all three to the taste taste, I think their whole milk is luxuriously delicious and creamy, so that’s my recommendation if you want something indulgent. Skinny is for the health-conscious with no added fat (a little too healthy for me but perfect for those with healthy 2019 resolutions) whilst semi is probably what I would go for every day as it goes well in a hearty winter porridge and makes a nice addition to coffee.

Replace Snack Bars with Rhythm108 Bars and Biscuits

Yet another concern for would-be vegans is the lack of sweet treats. I completely get this one – I have a sweet tooth and did not want to avoid my chocolate chip biscuits and Cadbury bars. Especially on the go, a sugary snack is exactly what is needed to get through a long winter month…

To the rescue is Rhythm108 serving up choc bars and tea biscuits that you will never believe are vegan. Plus all their products are gluten-free and organic with a heart-warming philosophy behind their production. I have tried pretty much every flavour of biscuit and bar they have on offer and would highly recommend the odd-sounding but fab-tasting lemon ginger and chia biscuits with Sicilian lemon zest as well as their super coconut chocolate bar – you need this in your life if you are a Bounty fan. Other flavours include sweet and salty almond bars, double chocolate hazelnut biscuits, almond biscotti, hazelnut praline bars…*goes off to eat one as writing about this is getting too much*

Replace Nuts & Seeds with Boundless Nuts & Seeds

One of the best things I have learnt in my first year as a vegan is that vegan does not have to mean boring. It is a horrible misconception that all vegans spend their time eating lettuce and seeds – I am actually still searching for a vegan who does this so please reach out if that is you. That being said, we have all heard the health benefits of having more healthy nuts and seeds in our life and, as a vegan, they are full of much-needed protein, vitamins and other good stuff. So how to get round the fact that seeds and nuts can get very boring unless they are smothered in salt…

To the rescue is Boundless, a quirky little brand that makes activated nuts and seeds including almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Instead of dry roasting or salting these little ‘uns, Boundless soaks them in water then bakes them and spices them to bring out some seriously big flavours. The flavours are so punchy that I was reminded of pork scratchings or Bombay mix. You can choose from turmeric and smoked paprika (my favourite!), cayenne and rosemary, tamari and Aleppo or orange, ginger and maple. And for those on a health kick, they are packed with fibre and all the nutritional goodness of nuts (walnuts, for example, are vital for vegans as a source of essential fatty acid omega-3). Another perfect afternoon snack which is both kinder and healthier than a bag of crisps.

To find out more about any of these products, visit oatly.com, rhythm108.com and weareboundless.co.uk.

It seems as though most people have been supporting the hospitality industry since things opened up on 12th April, seeing as it’s been almost impossible to get a reservation anywhere. However, I was lucky enough to secure a spot or two to dine out this past month. Whether you’re looking to dine al fresco for the next week or make indoor reservations for the date everyone has marked in their diaries (17th May), these reviews may help you decide on where you’ll be eating.

From courtyards to terraces and even indoor restaurants’ takeaway hatches, here’s a variety of spots to dine out at, as the world continues to open up. Here’s seven restaurants to book now for al fresco dining or for when we can eat indoors.

Zuaya

Zuaya has such a sultry vibe that it is such a shame it’s currently restricted to it’s outdoor terrace dining – but only one week to go. The London to Lima is the cocktail to go for here – the restaurant’s take on the Pisco Sour – and let me tell you, it goes down a treat with some guacamole and sweet potato chips. Always a fan of the starters section of a menu, Zuaya’s particularly impressed me, with both the tuna avocado taco and the lamb taco being thoroughly good. The lamb, especially, was cooked so well; it was pulled and juicy and what dreams are made of. Other appetisers that delivered were the daily croqueta – squid – and the beef empanada with red pepper sauce.

The seafood beat the meats, in my opinion. The marinated lemon chicken was tasty but, unfortunately was no comparison to the garlic prawns with lime and chilli and the octopus with sweet potato. The seabass ceviche was also delicious, arriving in a creamy, fruity sauce and garnished with red berries. The mix of flavours in this dish worked really well together, making it unique in flavour. Although it was a struggle to fit it in, I’m never one to leave a job unfinished and so the classic chocolate tart was the last thing we ordered. A luxurious and indulgent chocolate dessert, it was the perfect ‘something sweet’ with which to end the meal.

Barrafina

There are many streets in London are blessed by a Barrafina. Probably with good reason, given the recent travel news too – if Spain is on the green list, you can at least indulge in the cuisine. Barrafina is one of those spots that’s amazing to revisit, particularly with the Dean Street location being known for its chalkboard specials, in addition to the firm favourites on the regular menu.

A glass of Albariño firmly in our hand, I got to work on the menu. Selecting ‘a few small eats’, I started off with the iconic crab croquetas, chiperones (which are like candy to us) and the prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla – oozing in all its beauty. Moving onto that chalkboard of specials, we opted for the scallops wrapped in pancetta, which are succulent and so tasty, while the tuna tartare thoroughly surprised us. Not that I thought it would be bad, but it is just not one of my go-to orders at the restaurant.

I spied turbot on the menu, along with clams and brandada (a mixture of salt cod and potatoes) and it was the fastest and most successful order to date. A perfect combination of premium fish and our favourite cockles, this was the standout dish of the dinner. Moving on to select a meat course, I rounded off the main meal with the Iberico pig cheeks in brandy with girolles, which fell apart instantly – a credit to the produce itself, as well as how it was cooked. To finish things off, a lemon and fig Basque-style cheesecake – a personal win, with cheesecake being a favourite dessert and this one certainly not disappointing.

Juma Kitchen

Iraqi restuarant Juma Kitchen has been holding the fort down via its street food stall KUBBA, in Borough Market. Usually serving a fine dining menu, – and it will again, come 17th May – KUBBA is where you can find a variety of Iraqi treats. I ordered a selection: the potato chap with Juma’s homemade date and tamarind sauce was something special. The only criticism I have about these tasty treats is that my smile soon turned to a frown, due to their bite-sized nature. The haleb was also delicious: a crunchy rice shell filled with spiced beef, lamb and onion. Dipped into Juma’s signature amba sauce, it sparked all sorts of satisfaction among my tastebuds.

The mushroom chap was also great but the first two fried bites stole the show. In addition to the chaps and halebs, I also tried Juma’s chargrilled chicken kebab with salad, sauces and freshly baked tanoor bread. There’s something about the way this part of the world cooks its meat that’s so flavoursome, succulent and tender – and it doesn’t need to add spice to get it this way.

Como Garden

I truly felt for Como Garden, having opened days before London’s third lockdown was announced before Christmas. However this Italian gem in High Street Kensington is a secret which needs to be spread. With gorgeous interiors – come 17th May – and a cute little corner for outdoor seating, Como Garden should be high on your booking list. Starting off with delicious cocktails, the Como Fizz immediately caught my attention with its refreshing taste of basil and cucumber paired with gin. The Lago Amaranto is another Como Signature, this time going a bit more rich and fruity, mixing blackberries with limoncello, gin and egg white.

As I’m usually not a fan of having our menu selected for me, it was a huge trust exercise to let my waiter take the reins on this. However, I soon realised I had nothing to fear, feasting upon delicious plates of arancini with parmesan & fontina cheese; confit artichokes and melanzane alla parmigiana. The star of the starters show had to be the gorgonzola & pear raviolo, with the mix of blue cheese and fruit being a beautiful marriage; so simultaneously sweet and tangy.

Don’t miss out on the Trofie Al Pesto – Como Garden serves up no ordinary version of the pasta dish.Using fresh short pasta from Liguria, this recipe is actually one handed down from one of the chef’s grandmothers. Hands down, best pesto pasta I’ve ever tried. Having been let down by a few octopus dishes in the city, I felt justified in having a few slight trust issues upon this part of the order. However, what a waste of a worry: the octopus was grilled to perfection – moist and tender and not at all chewy. Served with gremolata and beautifully roasted potatoes, it was a definite highlight.

I feel no Italian restaurant should be visited without trying the tiramisu so this was an immediate order – and with good reason. The Como Ferrero Rocher is one of the eatery’s famed desserts and it certainly is impressive in presentation and taste. Just maybe get a few spoons as you might – regrettably – want to share this one.

Koya

Although we are meant to be headed toward the summer months, the weather in the UK isn’t completely on board. It seems as though there’s no better time to dive into a delicious bowl of udon. Koya London offers both atsu-atsu (hot udon in hot broth); hiya-atsu (cold udon in hot broth); hiya-hiya (cold udon with cold sauce to dip or pour). There’s also a selection of donburi and small plates from which to choose. Koya City offers shelter under the cover of the Bloomberg Arcade so there’s no concern whether you’re dining inside (post-17th May) or outdoors.

A huge fan of tempura, the prawn tempura hot udon had to be my choice and nothing was more welcoming on a windy day that a steaming bowl of udon noodles and broth. Adding wakame seaweed and a poached egg gave the broth more texture and a little bit of dinner theatre is always fun. I’m still a bit sore that the karrage chicken was removed from the small plates menu in the City location but the fried and grilled tofu and vegetable tempura made for nice sides/starters to the meal. The katsudon (breaded pork) with an egg was also delicious, so I definitely wouldn’t write off the non-udon dishes from your order upon your next visit to Koya.

Passo

Another Italian restaurant to make note of, Passo is a place of solace off the Old Street roundabout. The arancini to start with was paired nicely with a lemon mascarpone, making it slightly different to the regular rice balls you get at other Italian spots. A couple of pizzettas graced our table as I chose a classic mozzarella with garlic butter – simple but so satisfactory – and a salami, n’duja and pickled chilli pizza. The latter was great for adding some heat and flavour, complimented by the sweetness of the honey drizzled over the spicy meats. Pasta-wise, I’ve already said how I’m a sucker for clams (read: I would marry a clam), so is it any surprise that the linguine with clams, garlic, chilli and parsley was a cemented part of my order from the moment I sat down? Again, such a simple dish but providing so much satisfaction and genuine happiness.

Jolie London

The Jolie Jardin is now open at the end of King’s Road and the restaurant’s outdoor terrace has some small plates and nibbles to accomapny your champagne cocktails. In partnership with Piper Heidsieck, the bar will make you other drinks but the champagne is the obvious star of the show.

In terms of the food, I did feel that this spot is definitely more a drinks and nibbles spot, rather than somewhere to go for dinner. The pulled chicken and truffle sliders were a delight, as was the King scallops en croute – the latter releasing a pool of fondue leeks as the pastry breaks apart. The wild mushroom croquettes were tasty – if a little small for my liking – but I could not recommend the mussels from the visit I made to the jardin. The fries were stellar though – and I know what you’re thinking, but fries are so commonplace that few places now actually do them justice.

Almost every traveler knows about the benefits of coffee. This drink allows you to cheer up, get a boost of energy and a positive mood. That is why many travelers drink coffee to learn about the recipe differences and experience new flavoring intonations. But there are countries where you better not drink coffee. This is due to many nuances. Here is a list of countries where you should drink coffee exclusively in a hotel or expensive coffee houses.

Zimbabwe

At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive since this country is one of the largest African coffee exporters. But the problem is that all high-quality grains are exported. Local coffee shops are notorious for brewing low-quality coffee with husks. As a result, your drink will taste very bitter. Even a lot of milk, sugar, or syrups will not save this coffee.

This is not a country where you can enjoy a hot drink made with the best Colambian coffee beans. Of course, you can find good coffee at inexpensive hotels or coffee shops, but there are not very many places like this in Zimbabwe. Besides, this country has problems with drinking water, and local coffee shops do not always buy purified water for making drinks.

Mongolia

Not so long ago, Mongolia began to produce coffee, but this does not mean that travelers can choose any coffee house and not worry about quality. The fact is that tea is still considered the main drink in this country. Traditional recipes include adding butter, lamb fat, or horse milk. If you are visiting small towns, villages, or wilderness, you should avoid the local hot drinks.

For example, local reindeer herders add fat to coffee. This is not the best combination for a tourist. Your untrained stomach is unlikely to thank you. You should avoid coffee in Mongolia or only drink it in cafeterias. Then you will not be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Syria

Even though there are coffee factories and even plantations in Syria, you should not drink this drink in this country. The trip itself will be unsafe. But let’s abstract from military operations and concentrate on hot drinks. Most coffee factories are now temporarily suspended. Coffee imports are too small to cover the needs of the population. Even the best budget coffee makers are very rare for this country at the moment.

Those cafes and coffee houses that still work use barley, coffee husks, or those beans that have remained from the pre-war period. This greatly affects the quality of the hot drink. Even milk or sweets cannot drown out the bitter or too sour taste of the coffee. That is why you should buy beans in advance for your favorite drink and prepare it yourself using a coffee pot.

Somalia

If you decide to visit this country as a tourist, then you are already at great risk. But even if you are not afraid of local pirates and criminal gangs, you should still be careful with what you eat and drink. The fact is that Zimbabwe is experiencing serious problems with clean water. Even purified and bottled liquid may not meet international standards.

As a result, your coffee can be harmful to your body. Another problem is that tourists are cheated in cafes and coffee shops. You won’t get natural coffee here. Baristas use chicory and coffee peels.

The alcohol trick is also common here. Baristas offer you alcoholic coffee, arguing that it is something like a national drink. If you agree, then you will make a big mistake. Instead of high-quality alcohol, local cafeterias use alcohol. This helps to mask the bitter and burnt taste of the coffee beans.

Sri Lanka

This country is famous for its tea, which is grown on local plantations. Also, coffee production is established here. But local coffee shops are not the best place for tourists. The fact is that local coffee does not differ in its exquisite taste or aroma. Many baristas in the country use flavor enhancers to mask the poor quality of the beans.

Sri Lanka is also known for its original spice coffee recipe. But this is a very specific drink. You can burn your taste buds. Plus, spices are another way to disguise low-quality coffee beans. The fact is that there are no specialized storage facilities in this country, and coffee beans are quickly damp.

Conclusion

You should remember that many factors are affecting the quality of coffee in every country. That is why you should be wary of this drink and trust only a few branded coffee shops. This is especially true for the countries listed above. Sometimes it will be wiser to skip this drink for a while or bring some delicious coffee with you. Then you can prepare a cup of an aromatic drink at the hotel.

Minnie Sprinkles is a boutique wedding and event styling/design service founded by London-based Creative Director – Clare D’Andrea.

Born out of a love of visual storytelling, Clare’s 20 years of experience styling and art directing shoots help her to bring each client’s unique story to life with an attention to detail that is second to none. Clare’s creative flair is something to be admired and we have loved following her journey. Her backstory alone is enough to inspire you to reach for your goals and step in to your own zone of genius.

We spent some time with Clare to find out more about her life behind the scenes and so much more…

Tell us about the journey that led you to launching Minnie Sprinkles…

When I was in my twenties my best friend and I used to organise fundraising events/parties for MacMillan Cancer Relief. I would get obsessed with the aesthetics, styling and details, creating visual worlds to bring the events to life.

I would try and ‘sprinkle’ some magic onto the nights, and I didn’t realise at the time, but that was the beginning of Minnie Sprinkles.

After university I kept my creativity alive by joining the advertising world as an Art Director. Once while on a sabbatical I went travelling to South America. While I was ticking off the Inca Trail I found I was completely isolated (I actually thought I was lost) when I had this lightbulb moment. I knew I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss. The world was too big to be tied down and I definitely felt my work/life balance was the wrong way around. I decided to work as a freelancer instead of being bound to an agency. I love variety and being creative in lots of different ways so the ability to be flexible and have free reign is important to me. My passion for travel and my tendency to just jump on a plane also played into this decision.

I still work as a Creative Director in advertising, but freelancing allows me the time to build up my other projects. Minnie Sprinkles had previously been my side hustle, but it was only when I found that new freedom that I could really invest the time and nurture the business.

You’re a self-titled Creativepreneur, which basically means you have your fingers in a few pies. Including the launch of your own restaurant, tell us more about this?

My sister is a chef, and we always talked about starting a business together. We have boundless ideas and the same taste in everything. Her dream was to have her own restaurant. So, we partnered up and opened The Breakfast Club. We renovated an old Italian restaurant that hadn’t changed since the 50’s. I took care of the branding, marketing and interior design, she designed a delicious menu and with a lot of hard work the magic happened, it was a success. The food was incredible, all homemade, organic and fresh. It stood out from what you were getting everywhere else for brunch, we made fresh smoothies before most people even knew what a smoothie was! We were sustainable and ethical and always used Fair Trade. They were great times and the restaurant was always packed. We’ve also collaborated on other ventures like Polar Pops, healthy fruit & veg ice lollies for kids, and next year we have another business we are launching… watch this space.

As well as these pies and Minnie Sprinkles, I work in a Creative Team with my talented writer Johnny Cooke. We’ve crafted ad campaigns for some of the world’s most famous brands in every type of media, from TV and online, to outdoor to experiential. We find the culturally relevant and ethical work especially rewarding and have been lucky enough to work for some clients that really make a difference – like Greenpeace, British Heart Foundation, Teenage Cancer Trust, and a recent campaign to Shop Small and save the highstreets.

Of all of your creative endeavours, which one gives you the most satisfaction?

Minnie Sprinkles. During lockdown I have had the luxury of being able to focus my energy on the business, picking up several new clients for next year. We featured in the September issue of Vogue and have just collaborated on two incredible shoots and I’ve met some inspiring, talented and hugely creative women on the way, and have three more collaborations to look forward to over the next couple of months.

Talk us through an average day in your life?

I would say that no day is really the same. It depends where I am. But generally, before I can function, I have to have my double espresso. I check some emails and then get stuck into work. I usually meet friends for lunch or dinner and then back to work, concepting, crafting, hustling, banging my head against the wall. That sort of thing. Then bed.

When lacking motivation, what quote do you like to read?

Put it in the f*ck it bucket and crack on.

Tell us one thing about you that people don’t usually know?

I think I’m an open book on the whole.

Looking back over your successful and ever-changing career, what has been your highlight?

I’m lucky enough that there hasn’t just been just one highlight. A few that spring to mind are doing a photoshoot in Tobago as a junior Art Director, styling a wedding in Cape Town, winning my first award for my advertising work, opening the doors of our new restaurant, and most recently being featured in Vogue. Oh, and I am about to start renovating an 1870’s coastal hotel to turn into a beach haven with my sister, whether that’s to be a highlight or not is yet to be seen, fingers crossed.

For any aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer?

Surround yourself with inspiring, positive people. Keep learning, do courses, go to talks, listen to podcasts, visit inspiring places. Build a great support network, be proactive and collaborate.

Also do not let your potential go to waste if you still don’t feel confident or ready to take a leap. You must just jump in. Now is the time. You can guarantee that people with half as much talent are making things happen while you wait to feel ready.

Also, there is a strong community of entrepreneurial females who offer support to other females wishing to grow their businesses. The great thing about the digital age is that there is so much content and resources available online. So, make the most of it.

Outside work, what do you do for fun?

I love to socialise and spend time with friends. I love visiting galleries and seeing exhibitions and keeping my creative juices flowing. I’m not much of a social planner and that’s what I love about living in London. It can be a Tuesday night and you could find 100 interesting things to do spontaneously that evening. I’m lucky enough to have a wide and diverse group of friends with different interests so I’m always busy doing something different. And if I have any spare time I like to travel. New York City is definitely my happy place.

Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?

I have been fortunate to have travelled quite extensively and met so many interesting people from so many different backgrounds and cultures. But some of my fondest memories and best adventures are from travelling around Central and South America. Not just for the scenery but for the people I met who are now some of my dearest friends. Even now, a backpack, no make-up and no itinerary is my ideal scenario (although I am a sucker for a nice hotel). I spent some time volunteering on the Jordanian/Syrian border with the charity RefugEase and Acting for Change International a couple of years ago, helping build a school for local refugee kids in Z’aatari Village. That was one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences I’ve had, and if given the time and opportunity I would love to explore more of the Middle East.

Find out more about Clare and follow her journey…

www.minniesprinkles.co.uk

www.clareandjohnny.com

Mandy Mottram is the founder of Seraglio Designs, she has a background in Middle Eastern Archaeology, as well as long-standing interests in traditional crafts and craftsmanship, ethnic jewellery and furniture design. So its no surprise that her jewellery is inspired equally by ancient cultures, the souks and bazaars of the Middle East, and by mid-Twentieth century design.

Her designs will make you feel precious and her story will inspire you. We spent some time with her to find out more…

Tell us about the journey that led you to launching Seraglio Designs…

Well, it’s quite a long journey in that I’m really an archaeologist by training, with more than 30 years’ experience working on excavations in the Middle East, Australia and Pacific in between being a diplomat’s wife and various stints working as an archaeological illustrator and for organisations such as the Australian Heritage Commission and the National Museum of Australia.

I began creating beaded gemstone jewellery after completing my Ph.D. in Archaeology at The Australian National University. My research focus was northern Syria and at that stage (2011–2012) things in Syria were becoming increasingly unsettled so archaeological fieldwork there became impossible. I could have moved my research emphasis to another region but at that stage felt just too tired to make the effort. I needed something to do that combined a range of interests along with my capacity for research and which, hopefully, would make me some money. It also needed to satisfy the creative urges that I’d largely set aside whilst studying, which were limited to restoring furniture and knitting and needlework in front of the TV when I was too exhausted to do anything else.

I’ve always been an artistic and creative person. As a teenager, I was into painting, printing and dyeing fabrics, as well as making copper jewellery embellished with torch-fired enamels and tumbled gemstones. At the same time, I was also extremely interested in ‘rocks’ thanks to a family pastime of gemstone fossicking which led me to study geology in high school and gave me an interest in rare and unusual gemstones and how they were formed. My main interest, however, was in ancient societies, but geology intersects neatly with archaeology in that, for thousands of years, rocks, stones and minerals formed many of the human race’s principal tools, building materials and personal adornment. In the end, the decision to make jewellery came about in response to a rekindled interest in gemstones and in jewellery design inspired by a jeweller I met whilst studying who introduced me to many gemstones I’d never encountered before. As a result of this rather circuitous, multi-disciplinary journey, the jewellery I create is guided very much by my emotional responses to the colour, shape, texture and cut of the materials, and to their geology, as well as to the history and cultural origins of the components, with the result that virtually all my pieces are one-offs.

What sets you apart from other jewellery brands?

I would say it’s probably my intellectual approach to things. I know that’s not fashionable at all in a world saturated with tales of the healing powers of crystals, but such beliefs in the ‘energy’ of crystals are not based in sound science or in any deep-seated understanding of the planet we inhabit. They may satisfy the needs of the individual or ‘self’, but not of communities or society as a whole. What many people may not realise is that there is no fair-trade certification for the ‘crystal’ or semi-precious gemstone industry, unlike for gold and for diamonds, and that in some areas, especially in places like India, Madagascar and parts of Africa, the mining of gemstones can be highly exploitative of both adult and child labour as well sickeningly dangerous. Furthermore, increasing demand in the West for ‘crystals’ has led to some quite shocking environmental damage in many of these places as well as in parts of China and Brazil.

For my brand I like to know where the stones I use come from and that they are products of Fair Trade. Along with providing a beautiful product myself, I aim to enlighten people as to the origins of their piece and, hopefully, in this way increase interest in and respect for the planet and its peoples. I suppose it’s my way of giving something back. I like to give the customer the background to their purchase if I can – where the materials came from, how the stone was formed, or, if made from vintage, antique or ethnographic components, something about their history and the belief systems or purpose behind them. What I really hate is people selling jewellery with stones or components that they have no idea about. Often, they don’t even know whether or not what they are using is a real gemstone. They simply follow the name applied by the (usually) Chinese or Indian seller and then pass on that bit of misinformation to their buyers. To me the Earth is a wonderful and miraculous thing all by itself. It is constantly changing, creating and recreating itself beneath our feet and it is that which I try to draw attention to, together with creating a beautiful piece of jewellery that is a pleasure to both own and wear. I don’t feel a need to imbue the things I make with mystical or supernatural powers, just simple earth and humanity.

From the product range, what has been the best seller?

Almost all my products are one-offs. Business-wise that mightn’t be considered a good thing if you want to shift mass quantities, but I know from many of my return clients, especially from the USA, that it’s just this fact that they really appreciate – having something that is truly and uniquely theirs. I also tell myself that jewellery designers whom I admire, such as Lisa Black and Gerda and Nikolai Monies, are known for highly desirable one-off pieces defined by the age or rarity of the materials. Because my business consists of me alone it’s more difficult to produce extensive seasonal lines as well as unique pieces, so for now I’ve elected to stick primarily with the latter. Other designers I admire, like Elizabeth Gage or Alex Šepkus, trade not so much on the seasonal but on a few indescribably beautiful lines and on custom pieces. Tony Duquette, the wizard interior, costume, set and jewellery designer, created many unique pieces from an astounding array of materials. They are real art works. In the same way, I can’t always replicate the effect created by the conjunction of certain materials so I don’t even try unless I receive a specific commission. While I’m not working at the same price point as these designers, I prefer their approach in contrast to mass production.

Earrings are the only category where it is currently possible for me to make more-or-less consistent repeats, partly because they don’t require as many components. My ranges usually start off with a number of unique pieces consisting of the same style but made from different gemstones. For example, I may use a particular post, ear wire or component but combine it with different stones and/or metal finishes. The most popular range so far has been the ‘Hasna’ earring style, which consists of a small chunky hoop, a little bigger than a huggie, with pendant, acorn-shaped stones. The stones in this range are all smooth but the finish can be sterling silver or yellow or rose gold plated. For the Samira line, the same fittings are used but the stones are all facetted. Both of these ranges are extremely popular and I’m often asked if I can replicate them because they’re neat and easy to wear and thus ideal for the office environment.

How often do you release new products and what’s the process behind this?

Because I’m the sole maker and Jill-of-all-trades, the process at times is a sort-of ‘as it happens’ procedure depending on available time and demands. I usually do two big craft markets a year, one in autumn and the second in November in preparation for Christmas. My major bouts of making and release of products come at these times. Custom orders may arrive at any time and I have smaller making bouts as needed in order to top up both my Etsy store and a local retail outlet.

Usually, I’ll have a lot of designs in progress sitting around waiting to be completed. I just get a sudden urge to work on a specific design or experiment with particular materials and sometimes can’t concentrate until I’ve done so. Some things come to completion immediately; others need more thought. Honestly, I have little space to make things so they are all over my floor and desk. They are all over my sewing tables too! I contemplate them when I’m doing other work, then, when inspiration strikes or needs determine, I complete a whole lot of them in a rush.

Sometimes additional or special materials are required to complete a piece. I often work with craftspeople in Thailand, Bali, India and China to supply me with components such as matching clasps or unusual-sized and -shaped beads. I send them the design concept electronically and we work together from there.

Talk us through an average day at the business?

Again, because it’s mainly just me doing everything, the average day varies a bit depending on what I need to work on. Dealing with emails and early social media is the first thing then I move on to whatever requires my immediate attention. I tend to work in batches rather than in a regular schedule, week after week. Sometimes I need to focus on photographing new pieces. I’ll spend the afternoons doing that to the exclusion of all else and later post on social media. When I’m making I get into “the zone” so that is all I do apart from making some quick photos to share on social media. Buying is also a batch effort. I will spend several days searching for materials if necessary and placing orders. Costing the materials down to the bead or finding is also a lengthy task and it’s easier to do it all at one time. When I’m making I often call in the assistance of my partner to modify stone beads to my liking and to undertake some of the silver polishing. Keeping clean items that are on retail display is another regular task.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m working to the point where I can hand over more tasks to other people, especially the photography. My photographer brother handles the model shots but the flat-lay photography is more difficult as I don’t have a single jewellery style. Some of it is very minimalist, some verges on ethnographic or tribal, and some of it is very sumptuous, but they all reflect my style and interests. For necklaces, especially, it’s been difficult to find a single background that suits them all, to provide my on-line store with a consistent look. I think I’ve just about worked that out but I’m no photographer! I need to find someone who can take photos that really sell my jewellery. That’s something I hope to sort out later this year.

Since launching the brand, what has been your highlight?

There’ve been a number of highlights such as having my products accepted at Splatter, here in Canberra – a maker’s and producer’s gallery and studio. This occurred after the previous outlet where my collections were held went bankrupt. I was in Tunisia at the time and my mother had died a few days previously so I was feeling very low. It was a blessed relief to deal with real professionalism in the local retail market. Splatter’s owners have been extremely helpful. They understand how to display products to best effect and provide good feedback. An aim is to be able to extend that success to outlets interstate.

Another major coup was meeting and getting to know a well-known Australian comedienne and having her subsequently purchase several of my pieces, one of which she has worn a number of times on TV. Celebrity endorsement, as we know, is tremendously useful when pitching the appeal of one’s work.

Having my jewellery seen in magazines such as House of Coco, Avenue 15 and Condé Nast Traveller is also a highlight as it was a long-held dream. I’m pleased to see my pieces – and photos – stand up well against other offerings. Now I’d like to see some of it appear in a major fashion spread.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

Oh, there are masses of things I’d do differently. Like many creative people I wanted to create first and foremost and worry about the other stuff later. How I was going to afford everything was a concern but not a real issue until I realised I didn’t want to work with cheap materials. It can work for fast fashion but that has never been me. Sorting the accounts out earlier would have been of major benefit. It also took me ages to come up with something resembling a brand mark. These are all things that I should have handed to other people much earlier on. The fear of not earning sufficient to cover those costs immobilised me for a long time. Instead, the marketing aspect of the business should really have come first or run alongside the development of a ‘style’. I’m still working on those things and believe they should constantly be upgraded and improved.

Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?

Luckily for me I’m quite widely travelled. My parents took my brother and me to Europe and the UK for three months not long after I finished high school, which gave us both a real taste for travel. I was married to a diplomat for 12 years during which time we took full advantage of our overseas postings to travel farther afield. We often went to places very different from where we were living; for example, we went to Shetland and Orkney from Cairo and Iceland and the Faroes from Damascus. Being an archaeologist has helped me to get around a lot also, not just on excavations but doing research and to conferences also.

Thanks to these experiences, it’s not always easy to pinpoint what’s at the top of my list. In recent years we’ve been to many places that I’ve long wanted to visit, such as Iran (three times), Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia in the Caucasus – all places along the Silk Road. One day I’d like to visit eastern Turkey, beyond the Euphrates, and see what my archaeological research world looks like from the other side of the border. Trabzon, on the Black Sea, is somewhere I’d like to visit and have done ever since reading The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay at age 12 or 13. Now I’m thinking about it, I’d like to see the aurora borealis and am very interested in traditional Sámi culture, so Norway is probably high on the list and I’d like to visit where my father grew up in Sri Lanka. There are many places I’d like to revisit – Sicily and Malta are up there – but my partner has never been to Europe at all so there are lots of places I’d like to take him. He likes travel but it’s not in his blood the way it is in mine so he doesn’t mind if I simply must go somewhere. He’s the best Fairy Godfather a girl could have.

What quote do you like to read when you are lacking motivation?

I’m not really one for motivational quotes, as I know that, ultimately, the impetus to do anything has to come from me and nowhere else. I also find that many quotes that proliferate today are intended to create a warm and fuzzy view of the world that is misleading at best and downright dangerous at worst. Situations such as the current Covid-19 pandemic ought to make it apparent that we can’t always control everything as much as we might wish to and that all the uplifting quotes in the world won’t change things. That doesn’t make me a pessimist, more a realist. I’m actually very upbeat; it just means that I don’t often look outside myself for affirmation. Does that sound like a typical introvert to you? Probably.

I’m much more into old-style aphorisms because many of them have stood the test of time. The saying I probably apply to myself most of all is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” It’s attributed to all sorts of people but really comes from a legend about Robert the Bruce of Scotland and a feisty spider. I don’t give up on things easily and will work at them until I’m satisfied I’ve done a good job. Another saying I rather like because it’s sometimes possible to become confused by other people’s opinions comes from the Danish scientist, author and poet, Piet Hein: “Shun advice at any price, that’s what I call good advice.”

For anyone wanting to start their own business, what advice would you offer?

Well, given what I just said about advice, offering some is probably moot; however, I’d definitely say, if you’re making craft products, try to get a lot your branding and packaging sorted early on because presentation is important, and give serious thought to how you’re going to support your business. Working out a business plan is not a bad idea even if you’re like me and start out at the hobby level. If you have one you can always develop it to seek Small Business loans. It is possible and even necessary to keep developing things as you go along so don’t feel bad if you don’t have everything set up at the get-go. The import thing is to start. You’ll learn as you go along and probably want to develop in different directions to what you initially envisaged. Consider whether you want to diversify or, indeed, narrow down your output in order to specialise in just a few key products. There are many on-line courses to help you through these things. If you can, invest in them early on because it will help clarify your choices and you’ll feel a lot better for it. And take note of that saying above. Many people will offer advice and you may see other people apparently doing better than you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice but don’t be intimidated either. Maintain a strong vision of what you want to achieve.

What are your plans for the business in 2020?

This year, despite the disruptions caused by Covid-19, I’m at last ready to get a new website off the ground. This has been in the pipeline for several years, but I’ve now got a clearer idea of what I want and am in a financial position to pay someone else to do it. I want a professional feel that embodies my design ethos, combining both clean lines and the highly decorative.

As mentioned earlier, the photography is something I’d like to get a better handle on, and maybe also call in a graphic designer to rework my brand ‘look’. I know I could probably do it myself, but time is just too short and I believe it would be better employed in focussing on core creative work.

Where can people find out more?

Seraglio Designs’ on-line presence is currently confined to my shop on Etsy: www.etsy.com/au/shop/SeraglioDesigns

and to Instagram and Facebook:

www.instagram.com/seragliodesigns/

www.facebook.com/seragliodesigns/

Amidst the chaos in the world right now, many things are being forgotten about (its Mothers Day this Sunday, you’re welcome for the reminder) but beauty lovers may be aware that today (March 21st) is National Fragrance Day.
Which in the grand scheme of things may not seem important, as most of our worlds have been turned upside down, yet fragrance can actually help you feel better whether you’re WFH, self isolating or quarantined.
We are seeing an increasing amount of #SelfCare posts on social media to support both mental and physical health during this strange and challenging time. From home-workouts, skincare routines, healthy recipes and ‘how to’s on how to keep motivated; all of these things help give us a little dose of normality and positivity.
It’s all about ‘Making the most’ of a global pandemic which is a good idea but in retrospect it also has us applying unnecessary pressure to ourselves in already tenuous times.
Going back to the basics is good for both our mental and physical health, as we won’t feel the need to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
All of our senses play a huge part in our lives and its important we don’t go into a sensory overload, meaning we need to treat each sense with care. With that said our sense of smell is often overlooked and its during times of anxiety and stress that this primitive sense is actually heightened. We all know that fragrance doesn’t only make us smell good but it has the ability to make us feel good too. So without wasting time, invest in your favourite perfume at Rosa Salas Perfumes. You will get a huge range of perfumes made with the best raw materials and fragrance oils available.
Fragrance whether in perfume, candles, diffusers essential oils or cooking products can affect the memories in our brain and have the ability to elicit a range of emotions. Fragrance is how brands entice us into stores, is why aromatherapy is a holistic treatment, is why we are drawn to certain people and can generally affect our judgement and decisions; this is why we should consider how the scent of our homes and ourselves can affect us during this global crisis.
Orange, jasmine, geranium, sandalwood, lavander, lemon, mandarin, grapefruit, mint, vanilla, cinnamon and yang yang are all ingredients that can help boost your mood.
Below we have complied a list of ten mood-boosting fragrance products to help have a positive impact on your emotions and mindset during a time when life may seem overwhelming.

First up is Tiziana Terenzi the brands scented candles are handmade in Italy using innovative design and high quality materials. The candles are toxin-free, have a 120 hour burn time and have a wooden wick which replicates the sound of a log fire. The ‘Ischia Orchid’ candle has notes of rose, violet, sandalwood and of course the rare ischia orchid.

Next is Mizensir, a brand created by Master Perfumer Alberto Morillas, who is the nose behind some of the worlds most iconic fragrances; CK One, Acqua di Gio and Gucci Bloom, to name a few. The brands White Neroli fragrance has notes of calabrian bergamot, Tunisian neorli and orange blossom which are perfectly balanced with incense and musk.

Carolina Herrera’s new venture into make-up is beyond exciting and if the brands cosmetics are is delightful as their fragrances, we’re all in for a treat. ‘Virgin Mint’ is aromatic and fresh, so much so that it smells like freedom; compiled of mint from Morocco, Italian bergamot, mandarin, vetiver, Egyptian geranium oil, spearmint and musk.

Up next is Maison Francis Kurkdjian and no we’re not going to recommend Baccarat Rouge (as beautiful as it is) this time. A la Rose is a captivating yet soft scent that boasts two types of rose; rose Damascus and Turkish rose absolute, this powdery blend of roses is mixed with the citrus notes of bergamot, orange and lemon along with woody notes of cedar.

Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino Acqua fragrance is part of the brands Private Blends collection and has you dreaming of the azure waters. Bergamot, neroli, lemon, orange blossoms, amber wood and white musk compose a fresh and bright citrus fragrance that isn’t overwhelming so is perfect for enclosed spaces.

YSL Caban is one of the 5 fragrances in the Le Vesitiaire des Perfumes collection, the fragrances are all interpretations of a statement piece of the couturiers wardrobe. Caban is sensual, sweat, and creamy fragrance with a coconut note to it that will have you reminiscent of sunshine holidays. With pink pepper, rose, tonka bean, caramel, vanilla and incense it evokes comfort and fond memories. You can also opt for the Caban candle which will have your home smelling like summer.

Roja Dove Parfums has scents for every occasion that play on emotions and memories so its no wonder the fragrance houses ‘Beguiled’ has fallen into our list. A blend of bergamot, lemon, tangerine, jasmine, raspberry, pink pepper and ylang ylang create a sweet, elegant and feminine yet contemporary fragrance that turns heads and has great silliage.

Shalini Parfum Paradis Provence, is an aromatic creation of lavendar, thyme, sunflower, orange blossom and jasmine. Described by Shalini herself as ‘the fragrance of the eternal summer, of our youth, our imagination and our passion’.

Atelier Cologne’s 2010 launch, Orange Sanguine has an orienal base of amber, tonka bean and sandalwood yet thanks to notes of orange, jasmine and geranium this fragrance is refreshing and energetic.

Dipytque’s best seller Baies is also available as an hourglass diffuser. Simply turn it over to begin an hours diffusion cycle and enjoy the sensory experience. Baies is a fresh bouquet of roses and blackcurrent; a sweet yet aromatic creation.

Biting into a sweet, gooey date as I sipped my Turkish tea was the perfect welcome to the Ajwa Sultanahmet Hotel Istanbul Turkey. It even overtook (just slightly, because of my stomach’s rumbling) the fancy car service that transported me from the airport to the hotel.

Experience Luxury and Elegance

The gorgeous Ajwa Sultanahmet Istanbul is exactly that – gorgeous. The stunning architecture is what catches your eye as soon as it is in sight – regardless of the time of the day as either the sun is hitting the walls, making the gold shine strong and the white stone appear to have flecks of pink and blue; or the entire hotel is a glowing building, standing out completely on the corner of the street. The hotel is what I’d imagine a Turkish princess’s first ‘home away from home’ to be. A beautiful grand entrance, stunning and ornate decor – featuring only the best artists’ handiwork – and a private hammam to indulge in a cleansing scrub.

The interiors of the hotel are even more decorative, with the furniture being a mixture of locally-made designs, as well as some from Damascus. The chairs and cabinets feature beautiful Mother of Pearl details and each floor showcases Azerbaijani (or Azeri) artwork on the walls. If you take a liking to this kind of design, be sure to visit the nearby shops which double as art galleries – they sell different pieces of furniture, as well as Persian rugs.

Biting into a sweet, gooey date as I sipped my Turkish tea was the perfect welcome to the Ajwa Sultanahmet Hotel Istanbul Turkey. It even overtook (just slightly, because of my stomach’s rumbling) the fancy car service that transported me from the airport to the hotel.

Experience Luxury and Elegance

The gorgeous Ajwa Sultanahmet Istanbul is exactly that – gorgeous. The stunning architecture is what catches your eye as soon as it is in sight – regardless of the time of the day as either the sun is hitting the walls, making the gold shine strong and the white stone appear to have flecks of pink and blue; or the entire hotel is a glowing building, standing out completely on the corner of the street. The hotel is what I’d imagine a Turkish princess’s first ‘home away from home’ to be. A beautiful grand entrance, stunning and ornate decor – featuring only the best artists’ handiwork – and a private hammam to indulge in a cleansing scrub.

The interiors of the hotel are even more decorative, with the furniture being a mixture of locally-made designs, as well as some from Damascus. The chairs and cabinets feature beautiful Mother of Pearl details and each floor showcases Azerbaijani (or Azeri) artwork on the walls. If you take a liking to this kind of design, be sure to visit the nearby shops which double as art galleries – they sell different pieces of furniture, as well as Persian rugs.

Indulge in Opulence

This stunning artwork continues within the Ajwa hotel rooms; my bathroom door is open as I walk in so I am immediately greeted by beautiful blue patterned tiles and rose gold finishing. Mother of Pearl is present in the furniture and that’s probably all I focus on as, afterwards, my attention was very much so diverted to the large bed that was calling my name. There are 48 Deluxe Rooms (of which I was lucky to secure one) but if you’re looking for something slightly more swish, the hotel offers a Presidential Suite and even separate guesthouses if you’re travelling in a group.

Breakfast at Ajwa is an impressive display. You can opt for the buffet which offers an array of treats: eggs, courgette and spinach fritters, Turkish sausages; pides; labneh – the works. Alternatively, you can order a la carte, including the traditional Turkish breakfast spread…which pretty much includes every item on the buffet and more. I’d definitely recommend a sunrise breakfast as the panoramic view from the restaurant is so pretty – you can see a mixture of the Old City and the Marmara Sea.

Ajwa Sultanahmet Hotel Istanbul Turkey

Discover the Rich History and Culinary Delights of Istanbul

Lunch and dinner are served on the same top floor, in the Zeferan restaurant and the Azerbaijani chef cooks up a feast every mealtime. Whether plates full of grilled meats, salads and ‘shakh plov’ (a local rice dish) or Sultan’s stew (lamb with aubergine purée) and yoghurt soup; one thing is for certain – I did not go hungry here.

With the Old City right on your doorstep, you’re minutes away from impressive and historical sights such as the Blue Mosque, the Haiga Sophia and Topkapi Palace. The hotel concierge was only too happy to fix me up with a tour guide – I have been to Istanbul before but you learn so much more about the cultural spots with someone who knows all about them. For example, my guide told me that there are over 21,647 tiles making up the Blue Mosque (so named because of the dark blue titles on the interior design and, over time, the name changed from Dark Blue Tiled Mosque to Blue Mosque). Another interesting fact I was told, was that it took 10,000 people to build the Haiga Sophia over five years – and it took 13,000 kg of gold in expenses. My jaw definitely dropped at this point.

Immerse Yourself in Luxury and Tradition

A trip to the famous Grand Bazaar was a hectic but fascinating experience, as I loaded up with spices, ceramics and jewellery. It’s easy to get lost inside – and it’s no wonder as the Grand Bazaar is home to five mosques, two fountains, 67 roads, 40 doors and even a school.

After a busy day of walking the streets of Istanbul, nothing is more appealing than a trip to the hammam I mentioned earlier. The Afiya Spa at the hotel is something everyone should definitely experience. I had received the traditional Turkish treatment before but the hammam room at Ajwa was by far one of the most beautiful I’d seen and well worth a visit. The Turkish Bath treatment takes place in the spa and after a menthol steam room session, I enjoyed a thorough scrubbing. It wasn’t as harsh as I’ve had this treatment before which is fantastic, as you can really relax as you’re getting exfoliated and becoming the cleanest you’ve ever been. Seriously – the cleanest I’ve been in my life.

A magical stay that I would definitely recommend for anyone wanting a boutique hotel experience while being footsteps from the majority of Istanbul’s best gems.

Indulge in Opulence

This stunning artwork continues within the Ajwa hotel rooms; my bathroom door is open as I walk in so I am immediately greeted by beautiful blue patterned tiles and rose gold finishing. Mother of Pearl is present in the furniture and that’s probably all I focus on as, afterwards, my attention was very much so diverted to the large bed that was calling my name. There are 48 Deluxe Rooms (of which I was lucky to secure one) but if you’re looking for something slightly more swish, the hotel offers a Presidential Suite and even separate guesthouses if you’re travelling in a group.

Breakfast at Ajwa is an impressive display. You can opt for the buffet which offers an array of treats: eggs, courgette and spinach fritters, Turkish sausages; pides; labneh – the works. Alternatively, you can order a la carte, including the traditional Turkish breakfast spread. Which pretty much includes every item on the buffet and more. I’d recommend a sunrise breakfast as the panoramic view from the restaurant is so pretty – you can see a mixture of the Old City and the Marmara Sea.

Ajwa Sultanahmet Hotel Istanbul Turkey

Discover the Rich History and Culinary Delights

Lunch and dinner are served on the same top floor, in the Zeferan restaurant and the Azerbaijani chef cooks up a feast every mealtime. Whether plates full of grilled meats, salads and ‘shakh plov’ (a local rice dish) or Sultan’s stew (lamb with aubergine purée) and yoghurt soup; one thing is for certain – I did not go hungry here.

With the Old City right on your doorstep, you’re minutes away from impressive and historical sights such as the Blue Mosque, the Haiga Sophia and Topkapi Palace. The hotel concierge was only too happy to fix me up with a tour guide – I have been to Istanbul before but you learn so much more about the cultural spots with someone who knows all about them. For example, my guide told me that there are over 21,647 tiles making up the Blue Mosque (so named because of the dark blue titles on the interior design and, over time, the name changed from Dark Blue Tiled Mosque to Blue Mosque). Another interesting fact I was told, was that it took 10,000 people to build the Haiga Sophia over five years – and it took 13,000 kg of gold in expenses. My jaw definitely dropped at this point.

Immerse Yourself in Luxury and Tradition

A trip to the famous Grand Bazaar was a hectic but fascinating experience, as I loaded up with spices, ceramics and jewellery. It’s easy to get lost inside – and it’s no wonder as the Grand Bazaar is home to five mosques, two fountains, 67 roads, 40 doors and even a school.

After a busy day of walking the streets of Istanbul, nothing is more appealing than a trip to the hammam I mentioned earlier. The Afiya Spa at the hotel is something everyone should experience. I had received the traditional Turkish treatment before but the hammam room at Ajwa was by far one of the most beautiful I’d seen and well worth a visit. The Turkish Bath treatment takes place in the spa and after a menthol steam room session, I enjoyed a thorough scrubbing. It wasn’t as harsh as I’ve had this treatment before which is fantastic, as you can relax as you’re getting exfoliated and becoming the cleanest you’ve ever been. Seriously – the cleanest I’ve been in my life.

A magical stay that I would recommend for anyone wanting a boutique hotel experience while being footsteps from the majority of Istanbul’s best gems.

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Sometimes, there comes a time in you life when you want to do something wholly more meaningful and this is certainly true of Cemeli’s Christina Mahjouri. Her brand not only showcases a great selection of hand-picked fashon accessories sourced from around the globe, but her business also helps empower women and funds vital educational initiatives for young people and children. #TeamCoco were so inspired, they spoke to Christina to find out more about her business and what inspired her to quit the corporate world to run her own business and educational programme.

Please tell our readers a bit more about yourself and how your brand Cemeli came about?

I have a corporate background in governance for global corporations. I performed project-based work and used to travel to different parts of the world to do supply chain and finance reviews. I love connecting with different people from different countries and understanding the different perspectives for a same business subject. On a personal level I came to understand that we all have the same desire to live happy lives surrounded by our loved ones.

At some point after my second child I think I went through a strong desire for change. I realized I wanted to do something more meaningful and not necessarily work for the stockholders bottom line. I quit my job and started a new journey. I wanted to detox from the corporate world and started taking courses at FIT for image consulting, I became a certified scrum master for agile project management, with my dear friend Maria we travelled to Montreal to meet an app developer to develop an app. I tried many things and was nervous because it was the first time I didn’t have a clear path. I wanted something new but I did not know what exactly to do. All I knew is that it would have to be something inspiring and fun and meaningful. I think experimentation with new ideas led me to Cemeli.

What does Cemeli mean? Is there a meaning behind the name?

Yes, there is! It is an acronym for my name and my daughters’ names Melina and Lily.

What was the inspiration and vision behind Cemeli?

It started during a period I was trying to motivate myself. One night in early 2017 I couldn’t sleep because I was worried because I felt I had lost my self-motivation. I used to be so self-motivated. What happened? I started writing down quotes that I could pull from my memory from my past. There were over fifty. Before I knew it, I created a notebook with my quotes and published it on Blurb. I wanted to inspire others. I decided that I would try to sell the notebooks and the proceeds would go towards the refugees in Greece who needed help. Later that year I travelled to Greece and loved the creativity of the local artisans and designers and decided I wanted to help them be exposed to a larger market like the US. It has evolved into an initiative to inspire.

Cemeli empowers women by supporting emerging talent drives education initiatives through the support of displaced youth.

Your business gives back and supports young people through educational initiatives – can you tell us a bit more about the Education Unites: From Camp to Campus program – are there any success stories pertaining to this that stand out to you?

I became very sensitive to the refugee youth education crisis in the fall of 2016. That was the year of a great influx of refugees crossing the Greek borders. I was upset when reading articles about local Greek parents booing elementary Syrian students attending first day at school. Education is a human right and I became very upset. I am on the alumni advisory board at the American College of Greece. I started speaking up about the issue to push for education initiatives that the institution can offer through its resources.

Furthermore, the college is a non-profit which is impartial to religious and political affiliations and therefore neutral to things goings on. There were many support efforts and the Camp to Campus program is a collaboration of several American education entities in Greece banding together to provide education for these displaced youth. The College itself is a refugee. It fled from the Ottoman occupation in Smyrna early last century. The US government funded the first year of the program. The next year it no longer had a budget for this great initiative. I decided to create the bracelets with some of the quotes for success from my first campaign for refugees and donate towards these scholarships. I collaborated with an alumnae of the college to create the bracelets. We are pushing to finalize the campaign of selling approximately 1,000 bracelets. Spread the word!

I love the messaging on the #OneCauseOneBracelet designs – how did you come up with the wording for this?

The quotes on the bracelet were from the first Cemeli campaign. I created a notebook, with inspirational mantras for success. The goal of the initiative was to donate school notebooks to a refugee shelter for the 2017-2018 school year with the proceeds. It was a great experience to meet with the kids at the shelter and give them the school supplies. I tried to source also the notebooks responsibly by sourcing from in country and not from overseas mass-produced factories. The quotes from the notebook were used to create the bracelets of motivational quotes. The design of the bracelet is a collaboration of a company called IMISI. We chose some colours and quotes and put it all together.

Sustainability and responsible sourcing are also a strong priority to you (which is wonderful) what steps do you think that the world of fashion need to take to become more sustainable?

Fashion and all industries need to be thoughtful of upstream and downstream processes. For many decades the bottom line is measured in currency. Sourcing decisions can have a great impact on the environment, it can provide opportunities of scale for designers and artisans that never had the opportunity before. I believe there is a great opening to provide tools to artisans and emerging designers that may help them scale up and learn to maintain a consistent quality. For example, an artisan on the island of Crete may not have the perspective of a US consumer. However, if they had the tools to photograph, write print and utilize social media in an effective way they could blossom into something quite profitable. There is definitely an opportunity to expand local artisans into larger markets in a responsible way.

Was Cemeli a ‘lightbulb’ moment or was it more of a slow burning process?

Good question. It was a slow burning process of creating my own personal dream job. Connecting people and initiatives I believe in into something inspiring and meaningful.

Can you tell us how the brand has evolved and elaborate more on your journey so far?

The brand’s evolution is something we are extremely proud of every single day. Cemeli has been active for two years. Today, I would say our identity has crystallized, our brand values have been well- established. Within the past year alone, we have expanded, favouring numerous synergies with other brands, sponsoring events, supporting emerging women’s entrepreneurship initiatives. Along the way, our social media presence has strengthened (IG: @inspireatcemeli), and we also revamped our website, so it is user-friendly, minimal and emphasizing our mission. Finally, our team has also expanded, welcoming Elisabeth, who works as Cemeli’s Brand Manager. To put it simply, we are impatient to see what the future holds.

How do you decide what designers and brands to work with? I assume that you have very specific criteria when selecting whom to collaborate with that adheres to Cemeli’s own brand values?

The first criteria is that the product is designed or produced by a woman-owned business. Next, I try to assess whether the product is marketable in the US market and whether there is scalability of the vendor business.

Did you have any fears or worries when launching your business and how did you overcome them?

Absolutely! I had always worked in bigger global corporations that were diverse in nature (produce imports, consumer packaged goods and industrial gas industries). With Cemeli I had to get into the details of everything. I did not have hands on experience in marketing, creating websites and social media or fashion! Many things were new. However, I knew that I am a good problem solver and had international experience reviewing business operations in 20 countries. I decided that I need to believe in myself and overcome my fears of failure. It was hard! Every person comes to a tipping point of taking charge of her own destiny. Cemeli is was my tipping point. ( I used my inspirational quotes for success to help me though…haha)

How would you describe your brand personality?

Dynamic, conscious and with a modern and sustainable vision that sees fashion being in a harmonial symbiosis with “idea of giving back”.

Looking back to when you were first coming up with the initial business concept, what advice would you give to yourself (knowing what you know now) and would you change anything?

Number one – do not be afraid. Number two – invest in packaging earlier in the process.

Do you have any people that you personally look up to in business and have you been able to use this within your own business?

My friend Maria – she started her own company in her mid-twenties and now has a very successful brand and business. When I was starting up I would think what would she do? I also think back to my uncle who is a CEO of a fruit import business and my cousin who also went into business by himself at a young age. I think before I started Cemeli I took for granted the effort it takes to build something from scratch with only a concept. I try to keep it fun and motivating.

What has been the most surprising thing that you have learnt about running your own business?

Running my own business gives you a 360-degree review from your customers, your vendors and your followers. You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, I knew early on that branding and social media is a necessity however I could not offer it the focus and expertise I wished to due to my own weaknesses. This is why I engaged with Elisabeth. We complement each other in many ways and make a great team. She is so creative and resourceful and has really helped pull together not only the consistency but also exposure across different markets. I have learned so much about myself.

What do you feel has been the defining moment so far?

I think there have been many moments of experimenting and acting on ideas that have defined the Cemeli of today. I believe there will be many more defining moments in the future as well!

If you could describe your brand in five words – what would they be?

Authentic, compassionate, conscious, strong and above all CHIC!

How would you describe the Cemeli customer and who would be your dream celebrity customer?

Cemeli is for the modern woman who pursues her own passions and loves unique sophisticated fashion items. She loves quality but avoids big brick and mortar. Cemeli gives access to the modern busy woman high quality items at an affordable price. Our leather sandals are soft leather produced with great care and design and priced under $100. Similar brands sell for about $300. Cemeli believe high quality fashion does not have to be out of reach. My dream customer would be someone like Emma Watson who uses her popularity to endorse good causes that support sustainable development goals. I love that. The future customer will put their money into good causes.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs, particularly to those wanting to launch a fashion-focussed business?

There is never a right time to start something. Just start the brainstorming process and write things down. Make your dream a reality. Start small and nurture it.

What are your plans for Cemeli in the months/years ahead?

My first priority is to fulfil the Camp-to-Campus Campaign. I hope your readers can be inspired and buy some bracelets. They do not profit Cemeli at all. All sales will go to scholarships. Next steps will include to expand sourcing to other countries. We are finally coming up with some cool packaging that will offer a good experience