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The Perfect Christmas Gift

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 12th of December 2021 12:46:41 AM

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients. Today however we are not at Cavendish Mews. Instead, we are just a short distance away in London’s busy shopping precinct on Regent Street, where Lettice has joined the throng of Londoners and visitors and is doing a little bit of Christmas shopping. Already she is noticing that the shops are busier than usual, and even though Christmas is still a good few weeks away, there are signs of Christmas cheer with bright and gaudy tinsel garlands and stars cut from metallic paper hanging in shop windows and gracing shop counters. She breathes a sigh of relief as she walks through the white painted double doors of Boots* opened for her by a liveried doorman. As the doors close behind her, Lettice expects the general cacophony of Regent Street shoppers to die away beyond the plate glass, however whilst the sound of noisy automobiles and chugging busses dissipates, the vociferous sound of women chattering seems only to increase. Looking around the shop floor of Boots with its floor to ceiling cabinets of goods, she can quickly see why. Every counter around the shop, from the perfumes to the Boots Book-Lovers' Library is besieged by clusters of mostly female shoppers in stylish three quarter length coats with fur collars or fur stoles and elegant autumn and winter hats, all clamouring for different things, and all being assisted by obliging Boots shop girls. Lettice sighs and considers which counter she needs. Spotting a gap at the perfume counter, Lettice walks across the room with the gait of a viscount’s daughter: elegant, unhurried – as a lady never runs, she was taught from a young age – yet purposeful and driven. She gently slips between two older women in felt hats and black coats, one with a fox fur collar and the other with a mink stole. Both ladies are being served by smartly uniformed women with Marcel waved** hair and the air about them fills with the cloying fragrance of different scents all mixed together in a thick fug that makes Lettice want to sneeze. She wonders silently as she stands patiently at the counter and hooks the black leather handle of her green umbrella over the raised wooden edge of the glass top to stake her place, how either woman can choose a scent when they are so intermixed as the assistants spray atomiser after atomiser onto small cards that the ladies then raise to their noses. She smiles to herself as the lady on her left screws up her nose in distaste at the scent card she has just been given. Lettice looks across the counter and scrutinises the wooden shelves where brightly coloured boxes and faceted glass bottles are arranged attractively, promoting rose, gardenia and lily of the valley perfumes. However, she doesn’t see what she wants amongst the stylised Art Deco patterns. “May I help you, madam?” asks a rather buxom assistant with mousy coloured hair framing her slightly pudgy face. Lettice considers her for a moment. Before the war this girl’s figure with its full bosom and ample hips would have been most desirable, yet in the new decade where a flatter chest and slimmer hips are more in vogue, she seems to be a throwback to a long forgotten time. Her face is flushed, probably from running hither and yon satisfying customers’ needs, and a sprinkle of freckles grace the bridge of her pert nose. The clean faces of Boots’ assistants seems to be at odds with the fact that one of the mainstays they sell is makeup. Ever since Harry Selfridge made makeup fashionable just before the war and brought it to the front of his department store, more and more women have taken to wearing at least a little powder and some lip rouge. “Is madam looking for something in particular?” the assistant asks again, breaking Lettice from her inner thoughts and scrutiny of her. “Yes,” Lettice announces clearly, drawing the momentary attention of the women either side of her. Placing her crocodile skin handbag upon the glass top of the counter she continues, “I’m looking for a dressing table set. Do you have any?” Admiring the tailored cut of Lettice’s forest green coat, thick arctic fox fur stole and smart hat cocked at a jaunty angle over her freshly coiffed hair, and hearing her clipped upper-class tones, the assistant thinks it is unlikely that anything she presents to her customer will be good enough for her. Nevertheless, she replies with a well practiced smile, “Certainly madam. We have some stylish silver plated sets.” “No, no!” Lettice waves her dark green leather glove clad hands dismissively. She looks down disdainfully. “Not silver.” “Is chrome more to madam’s taste?” the Boots shop girl asks. “Is there really a great deal of difference between the look of silver and chrome?” Lettice tuts as she gives her a slightly withering look. “We have a smart faux tortoiseshell set that is very popular.” “If I wanted tortoiseshell,” Lettice remarks offhandedly as she considers her gloved fingertips. “I’d not waste my time on faux and buy the genuine article.” “Of course, madam. I beg your pardon.” The young girl’s shoulders slump, the disappointed sigh she quietly emanates muffled by the animated chatter from the customers about her. “We have a rather pretty pink faceted glass set that comes on its own tray.” she suggests rather hopefully. “Oh no!” Lettice says again, shaking her head. “Not pink! That will never do! No! What I want, is something… something modern.” Her shoulders square and her back straightens as she speaks the words. “I need something that embodies the young working woman. Well,” She looks the girl on the opposite side of the counter squarely in the face. “Well, like you really.” The Boots shop girl falls silent, unsure what to suggest to her fussy upper-class customer as she looks awkwardly anywhere but into her face, and thereby avoiding direct eye contact. “If you could have your choice of any dressing table set in the shop,” Lettice continues, saving the girl from having to proffer another unsatisfactory choice. “Which would you choose?” “Me, madam?” the assistant balks in surprise at being asked her opinion, her hand rising to her chest. “Yes.” Lettice replies matter-of-factly. “Do you not have desires of your own?” The shop girl doesn’t quite know how to respond to such a question at first, taken aback by Lettice’s very direct words. Finally, she mutters, “Well, yes.” “Excellent!” Lettice clasps her hands together enthusiastically. “Wouldn’t you like a dressing table set for Christmas?” “Well, I would, but…” “Now! Now! No buts!” Lettice counters, laying her hands flatly on the counter, indicating her refusal to argue the point. “Tell me, which one would you choose?” “Well, we do have a rather nice eau-de-nil Bakelite*** dressing table set that I have taken quite fancy to.” the girl admits almost guiltily, her face flushing with embarrassment. “Now that sounds just the thing!” Lettice enthuses. “I would like to see that set, please.” “Yes madam!” the Boots shop girl replies in surprise as she reaches into a drawer beneath the counter and withdraws a brightly coloured carboard box covered in geometric patterns. She starts to set out the items from within it on the glass surface of the counter: a brush, mirror and comb, a shoe horn, a powder pot and a hair tidy, an emery board, button hook and clothes brush. “It comes with its own tray, madam.” the assistant says to Lettice hopefully. “I don’t suppose this set comes with a picture frame, does it?” “Why yes madam, it does.” She bends down to the drawer and withdraws a square frame with a scalloped edge which was not in the box. Lettice’s eyes light up in delight when she sees the frame. Picking it up in her hands she admires its simplicity. “This is perfect.” she sighs with pleasure. “It is, madam?” the young girl asks, unable to keep the incredulousness from her voice. “Yes, could you have this gift wrapped for me, and sent to my address, please?” Lettice asks. “Of course, madam,” the assistant replies enthusiastically. “But don’t you want to know the price of it, before you say yes?” “Not particularly,” Lettice replies. “However, if it makes you feel better, you’d best tell me.” “Well it’s six shillings and sixpence, madam, if that suits.” “Yes, yes!” Lettice waves her hand breezily, as if sweeping away the price and the connotation of money. “Please, just gift wrap it, and have it sent, if you would.” The Boots shop girl smiles as she fetches a notepad and pen. “If you’d care to write down your particulars, madam.” Placing the frame back down on the glass top of the counter, Lettice smiles satisfactorily to herself, pleased that she has found the perfect Christmas gift for her maid, Edith. After seeing the worn photograph of her fallen sweetheart on Remembrance Day, Lettice has been constantly troubled by how easily damaged it could become, being housed in Edith’s handbag. It is the only photograph Edith has of her lost love, and she is unlikely to ever get another one. Lettice is most keen to ensure its survival and pride of place on Edith’s chest of drawers in her little bedroom at the Cavendish Mews flat, even if Edith’s mother might not agree with her. *Boots the chemist was established in 1849, by John Boot. After his father's death in 1860, Jesse Boot, aged 10, helped his mother run the family's herbal medicine shop in Nottingham, which was incorporated as Boot and Co. Ltd in 1883, becoming Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd in 1888. In 1920, Jesse Boot sold the company to the American United Drug Company. However, because of deteriorating economic circumstances in North America Boots was sold back into British hands in 1933. The grandson of the founder, John Boot, who inherited the title Baron Trent from his father, headed the company. The Boots Pure Drug Company name was changed to The Boots Company Limited in 1971. Between 1898 and 1966, many branches of Boots incorporated a lending library department, known as Boots Book-Lovers' Library. **Marcelling is a hair styling technique in which hot curling tongs are used to induce a curl into the hair. Its appearance was similar to that of a finger wave but it is created using a different method. Marcelled hair was a popular style for women's hair in the 1920s, often in conjunction with a bob cut. For those women who had longer hair, it was common to tie the hair at the nape of the neck and pin it above the ear with a stylish hair pin or flower. One famous wearer was American entertainer, Josephine Baker. *** Bakelite, was the first plastic made from synthetic components. Patented on December 7, 1909, the creation of a synthetic plastic was revolutionary for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewellery, pipe stems, children's toys, and firearms. A plethora of items were manufactured using Bakelite in the 1920s and 1930s. This shop counter display and the shelves behind it may not appear to be what they really are, for however lifelike they are, they are in fact part of my 1:12 miniatures collection. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The eau-de-nil dressing table set, which has been made with incredible detail to make it as realistic as possible is a Chrysnbon Miniature set. The mirror even contains a real piece of reflective mirror. Judy Berman founded Chrysnbon Miniatures in the 1970’s. She created affordable miniature furniture kits patterned off of her own full-size antiques collection. She then added a complete line of accessories to compliment the furniture. The style of furniture and accessories reflect the turn-of-the-century furnishings of a typical early American home. At the time, collectible miniatures were expensive because they were mostly individually crafted. The faceted glass perfume bottles on the counter and the shelves behind it are all handmade by an English artisan for the Little Green Workshop. Made of cut coloured crystals set in a gilt metal frames or using vintage cut glass beads they look so elegant, exotic and terribly luxurious. The stylish Art Deco eau de cologne boxes are all 1:12 miniature versions of real 1920s perfume boxes. They are made by hand by Little Things Dollhouse Miniatures in Lancashire. Lettice’s snakeskin handbag with its gold clasp and chain comes from Doreen Jeffries’ Small Wonders Miniature Shop in the United Kingdom. Lettice’s umbrella also comes from Smallskale Miniatures in the United Kingdom.



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  • Published 07.03.22
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