Verdict on the Alexander Wang Collection for H&M

The hallmark of a truly great, modern designer is the ability to transpose high-maintenance couture on to the high street. In other words, if he (or she, of course) can make the average Jane and her stubborn spoils of war feel like she’s a part of edgy luxury, especially sans boob tape, spanx or butt lifters, well then he is almost there.Wang dress

Alexander Wang launched his much-anticipated collection for H&M to the masses today. (Really, The Hague was nothing like the scene in the Oxford Street flagship store where shoppers started queuing the night before and trampled all over each other this morning!) Here, shoppers were excited, but apart from one sharp elbow of an over-zealous, over-tanned she-leopard, I made it to the dressing room with 5 pieces and my dignity intact. The logo-manic AW leggings made famous by Rihanna were nowhere in sight, but no great loss I reckon, for the other pieces in the same fabric were underwhelming.

Of note:
1) Patterned black jeans (see below) were rather flattering. However, the lack of spandex made it an uncomfortable fit and it’s the sort of jeans that will probably stretch a lot after a couple of wears. But it did look good in the mirror.
2) Mesh and panel short sleeve dress  – looked great on the hanger. Didn’t contour as well as I’d hope but it would probably rock on someone else.
3) Boxing shorts – Very very cute. Extremely well fabricated. Best for the slim-hipped.
4) The winner (see below, right) – mesh and see-through panel tunic top. Oh this was just divine. Flattering at any angle, slashes of sexiness weaved into a surprisingly climate-friendly piece. You’ll see tantalizing glimpses of skin underneath, so I’d add a nude or black camisole for more sedate occasions.

wang top

You get to come home with me …

Wang Jean

I watched other intrepid ladies try on the rest of the pieces in this rock-chick-meets-scuba-aficionado makeshift boutique. I saw a 70 year old murmur appreciatively if uncertainly at her styrofoam-looking hooded cocoon coat. A sports junkie was trying on bra after bra and didn’t seem fazed by the multiple straps and holes. The leather track pants hung forlornly on the racks, probably because people still have to function in this rainy city of cyclists. No point getting your AWs ground up in your bicycle chain.

The ultimate factor in determining whether a designer is a blast or the past, is his ability to make you lust and yearn for the strangest things. Such as the well-vented scuba body-con dress (see above) complete with head-perching ski goggles. We’ll just suck in our bellies for the next five hours.

Judging from the reactions of happy devotees worldwide, Alexander Wang is dynamite.

http://www.hm.com/us/wangxhm#women

Are European Cars Cheaper in Europe?

Intuitively, I’d have thought the answer would be yes. If they are made in Europe, wouldn’t just the transport costs etc. render them more expensive elsewhere, such as in Canada? Obviously, that’s far too simplistic a rationale!

I had a couple of minutes to kill the other day at the Volkswagen dealer after bringing in our vehicle for yet another Adblue adventure (a phantom non-problem that cost €1,500 to “fix”), so I did a little window shopping and checked out the latest model Touareg.

Source: Left Lane 2014 VW Touareg

 Source: Left Lane
                        2014 VW Touareg

The 2014 Touareg Highline with the luxury pack all in, costs €98,351 (including taxes). They don’t sell many Touaregs in this dealership in The Hague – sometimes you don’t even see it in the showroom. With diesel costing around €1.45 per litre and petrol €1.65 per litre (the highest on the continent), it makes more sense to zip around in practical hatchbacks with better fuel economy. I have yet to conduct an empirical study, but hatchbacks/station wagons form about 80% of cars on the road in The Hague. (SUVs are much less common, except at my fitness centre where Range Rovers gobble up all the parking spaces). In general, Holland is a province where tall, tall, tall people like to cram themselves into small, small, small cars.

Anyway, I decided to build my own Touareg from the Canadian website. Turns out, pretty much the same model with similar specs costs CAD$79,108 (taxes included). At today’s exchange rate, this would mean the Canadian model costs €54,977. That’s 44% cheaper than in the Netherlands! Even given some margin of error in comparison, it’s still a hefty gap.

Some general thoughts: VAT is 21% here (not to mention a new vehicle purchase tax called “BPM”) while it hovers around 13% in Canada (it ranges); Cars keep their resale value a lot longer here than in Canada; and, I haven’t really done much analysis with other cars that may have juicier rebates in Europe.

Saying I Do …

Receipt

A waste of paper

… Want My Receipt.

One strange thing that happens on a regular basis in many grocery stores across NL is that checkout cashiers will ask you “Do you want your receipt?” Or something like “Wilt u het bonnetje”? In the early days, I was confused and a little flummoxed by the question, so my answers tended to range from a hesitant “no” (trying to fit into my new community) to a more aggressive “of course” while raising an eyebrow to telepathically communicate the unsaid “why on earth would you even ask”?

When I hear this question, I hear:

(1) Do you want to effectively waive your statutory rights in this purchase and sale agreement?

(2) Do you want to be unable to return any dodgy nectarines you may have bought today?

(3) Do you want to be unable to check the accuracy of your transactions today?

Pamphlet

Not a waste of paper

The rationale behind this question is apparently to reduce paper consumption. A noble cause, one that I too would champion, but for the inherent discrepancy in overall behaviour of the firms claiming to promote it. (See reams of promo pamphlets and cardboard farm animals filling up bins across the city.)

To me, it’s a clever cost-saving strategy on the part of the stores. No receipt, no claim. Unless you are the really intrepid sort who does not fear causing a scene at your local supermarket, swearing that the beetroot salad you bought yesterday (but disposed of the packaging as garbage collectors were coming in the morning), did in fact cause you food poisoning.

So, guys and gals, its time to say “I Do!” (“Ja, graag” will suffice.)

My Favourite Online Shopping Sites: For Practical Stuff

Since moving to NL, I’ve started doing most of my “useful” shopping online. It all stemmed from necessity. We didn’t know any better when we moved here, so our first two weeks in The Hague were spent buying: €100 kettle, €100 toaster, furniture in the five digits from merchants who did not accept credit cards, cheapy hair dryer/tongs (this I wouldn’t mind paying top dollar for but couldn’t find anyone who took me seriously – au naturel is the preferred look here), etc.; but the wake-up call was the €22 ice cube tray, which we did not buy. In the early days, we’d pound the streets of Noordeinde and Prinsesstraat, hoping to stock up our house that way. Sorta like blundering into a pinkie-sized Knightsbridge perhaps, looking to score a deal. Or Gangnam. Or Bloor-Yorkville.

Point being, there are lots of other options once you get over the settling-in frenzy. Hema and Blokker are good for basic necessities, but I digress from the focus of this post. Many Dutch and internationals shop online because the selection and prices are just a lot better. It’s a lot easier to do price comparison and you don’t have to wait an eternity to be served/endure the loyalty card chat.

Package

Salvation lies within …

In general, clothes and shoes are not a perfect fit for online shopping, unless returns are free and painless. I have been very pleased with Amazon UK and Amazon DE for getting stuff to me fast – not always free, but cheap. Amazon US fails me time and time again in NL. It’s something about customs. Watch out for this – really holds up the shipping process and racks up the cost (unknown at point of ordering). I have relatives in the UK, so my orders from John Lewis, JojoMamanBebe, Boots, make it to me free as well. Apart from that, Joules ships for OK charges; Asos ships everywhere (free) – great clothes for all price ranges – and Beauty Bay (free) is my perennial lifesaver. Seriously, you can’t get Mario Badescu anywhere here.

Some Dutch sites I’ve used but may or may not love: Albert Heijn – love for sure. Delivery charges are around €7 but I get my money’s worth of sweat and tears from the delivery guy. They only have one person per truck doing both driving and running up and down steep stairs with huge crates of food! AH is also linked up with Etos and Gall&Gall so you can get your drugs/alcohol delivered with your raw steak. Justeat.nl is handy for food orders and is reliable, except the day my dinner arrived at 1:30p.m. Wehkamp.nl did a dodgy on me when it processed my order for an electric fan, only to come back 3 days later to say they had run out. Guess who was melting into a puddle meanwhile. Beslist is a little confusing because they seem to sell a hodgepodge of things – only that they don’t really sell it but rather give you a bunch of links to pictures and prices on other people’s sites. Fonq.nl was fast and free with my blood pressure monitor. While searching for stuff on Dutch sites, it helps to translate your keyword first, then plug it in. (Same goes for the German sites). Paying for all this is handiest with a Dutch debit card (“iDEAL” system) because they charge for credit cards (MC/Visa), and have ganged-up against AMEX.

Now, I still can’t find anyone to deliver me a 20 kilo bag of rice. Ideas?

Sales – The Dutch Way

Stay in the Netherlands for any length of time and you will surely absorb two crucial terms ‘korting’ (discount) and ‘aanbieding’ (offer) by osmosis. The tricky part is scaling back your expectations as to what these terms actually mean. Bargains excite everyone, but Asians live and breathe the cheap-sale tango, which is why disappointment often whacks us harder.

Sampling of Jamon de Iberico at 3 Crazy Days

Today marks the first day of De Bijenkorf’s (a Selfridges parody down to the yellow plastic bags) ‘Drie Dwaze Dagen’ (Three Crazy Days). Much feted, it turns everyone breathless with anticipation. In the women’s department*, the crowds are thronging but somehow, the tills are not really ringing. Probably because this big to-do is mostly over a puny 20% off regular merchandise, and any discount beyond that is typically on items more appropriate for Halloween. Come to think of it – it is October.  Note also that many products in NL (such as some Nuxe and Shiseido cosmetics) start off more expensive than many countries in the EU. Last June, the MiL snapped up a couple of dresses at LK Bennett in Lille, France: 50% off. Come late August, the very same outfits at De Bijenkorf, NL, were still clamoring for full price. No special foreign passport discounts for you at department stores here either (unlike in Spain, France, Germany etc).

Such dismal ‘sales’ are commonplace. North Americans here think we can wait for things to ‘go down’ (a different type of tango that North Americans surpass Asians in), but that leather hobo you’ve been eyeing on 30% reduction? Wait past Christmas and instead of slashing and burning, retailers will just remove the sticker tag and put it back up as full price, leather scuffs and all (true story). At Albert Heijn, food products conking off the same day go on sale for 35% off. Contrast with the same situation in the UK where last-chance pot pies and still-quite-tasty bread are sliced down to pennies.

Morals: (1) Buy less, buy well; when bored do like the Dutch and sell it on to Secondhand Rose (your vintage Chanel that is, not leftover pizza). (2) Make amazon.de your best friend. (3) Mooch suitcase space off visiting British relatives.

*I pass no judgment on the other departments as I understand those in the market for Smeg fridges, mobile saunas, or car vacuum cleaners can have a jolly good time.