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Becoming a gift card convert… Well, almost!

Gift cards… We all buy them often enough to justify their existence, but I have to admit, it rarely feels like you’ve done a good job: a baby shower in the office, a birthday party of a distant cousin, or when the closest shopping centre closes in ten minutes and you just “have to get something”. Convenient – absolutely,  satisfying – not quite.

I doubt I could put it any better than my favourite “freakonomists” Dubner and Levitt:

“For the giver, a gift card could hardly be easier. But most economists would argue that if a gift card is so transparently good for the giver, it is necessarily bad for the recipient: the fact that it can be bought so easily signals to the recipient that the giver didn’t put much effort into the gift.”

In short: something that screams “lazy” will always be perceived as having less value.

However, thinking about it again, I’ve pinpointed where this dissatisfaction lies and, in the process, discovered how gift cards can regain their value again. It’s simple, really – we only “dislike” gift cards where a material replacement can be obtained with minimal effort. Think a Gap gift card, instead of a nice denim jacket.

It’s only logical then that a gift card could actually be beneficial for anything that’s hard to touch. Yes, experiences! Extravagant restaurant meals, weekend spa getaways and once-in-a-lifetime events are very hard to “give”. These types of experiential gifts tend to be booked in the future, so you need to either keep them secret until then, or figure out a way to describe them to the lucky recipient. Therefore, having something tangible to represent an upcoming event becomes extremely valuable.

I’ve seen a fair share of experiential vouchers in recent years, and most companies do a terrible job, which is why I was so blown away by Bulgari. Their London hotel offers a variety of experiences, starting from just £40 (so you don’t have to be a millionaire to benefit). And it doesn’t matter whether you go for an afternoon tea or a full romantic weekend, they make sure your gift looks and feels special, and that’s all you could really ask for (after all, you’ve done all the hard work, researching and choosing that one special experience!).

bulgari gift box

gift card inside

The experience I’m gifting to my boyfriend for his birthday wouldn’t change with or without a gift card (it’s a one-to-one masterclass with UK’s leading Habano Sommelier Mike Choi). But the difference to me is huge. I won’t need to tell him something like “I’m taking you to one of London’s most spectacular hotels, but I can’t tell you what we are doing until Saturday when we get there”,  I’ll simply give him this box and let his imagination run wild 🙂

And while I’m on this topic… Truly Experiences is another company that does experiential gifts really well and makes sure you get a fabulous gift card with every purchase. Check them out!

Happy gifting,

Ilona x

P.S. As always, opinions are entirely my own and not sponsored.

“Synchronised gifting”, Cuban-style

This weekend was a birthday party of a good friend of mine. He was turning 30 and his girlfriend organised a surprise Cuban-themed party in his honour, inviting close friends from all over the world to come and celebrate together. Months of planning and a ridiculous amount of secrecy (try “flying” his brother all the way from his home country without giving anything away) culminated in a great celebration…with quite a bit of mojitos and some late-night salsa dancing.

But let me not bore you with all the details but focus on an interesting gifting concept that’s gaining popularity at the moment. I call it “synchronised gifting”. It’s a bit like synchronised swimming in essence, where all participants create one beautiful experience with everyone working in tandem to enhance the overall effect. The idea is pretty simple – it’s obviously great to get one amazing gift, but if there are other gifts that complement each other, the overall “amazingness” is far greater.

But back to our Cuban party. His main gift was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Cuba (now it all makes sense, right!). Two weeks of blissful living in a country that’s been admired for its spirit by many remarkable people, from Hemingway to Mandela. We naturally thought it would make more sense to theme our gifts around his Cuban adventure and prepare him for the trip ahead – it’s also far easier to come up with ideas once you have a direction (one more bonus). Having a theme made us all very organised and determined to find special little things that would make him remember us while sipping cocktails on the beach.

While others went down the tongue-and-cheek route, I decided to be more practical (my regular readers will know I like to combine practicality with playfulness when gifts are involved). These fabulous swim shorts in bright pink feature a map of Cuba – highly practical for an island with pristine beaches, but also much more fun than your regular Speedos.


I bet it will be the most Instagrammed item in his wardrobe during the trip (I wonder what hashtag he’ll use…).

And in case he does decide to explore the island beyond the beachfront, I’ve found a useful guide with Top 10 suggestions for historical attractions and places to eat, all helpfully signposted on a high quality map.

cuba map

Now for the packaging. I chose an azure-coloured gift bag with tropically-themed stickers on the tag (parrots and pineapples, in case you wondered),to offer a small hint on what’s inside.

finished bag 1

finished tag

What do you think about themed gifts? Something to try or a bit of a gimmick?

As always, happy gifting!

Ilona x

P.S. In case you really liked the shorts, find them here 🙂

Valentine’s Gift Ideas: When passion becomes a dance…

Hello, my dear readers! I always encourage to celebrate all kinds of love as often as we can possibly fit into our busy schedules, but there is one day a year when romance fully takes over. Yes, you guessed it – Valentine’s!

Over the years, I’ve gone through the Valentine’s classics and how to elevate them (see my post on flowers and chocolates here),  suggested unexpected romantic dinner solutions (here) and even offered some fashion advice for men’s underwear gifts (yep, I really have).

This year, I’ve gone for something quite unusual. I’m gifting a skill that can only be mastered as a couple – tango. Anyone who has ever experienced tango, either as a dancer or as a lucky observer, will tell you that it’s not about skill, complexity of steps or experience. It’s about the connection between two people sharing a powerful, almost primal emotion.

The teacher I know has given me further interesting insight into tango that makes it even more relevant to modern day relationships: the 80/20 rule. 80% of your focus in a tango dance should be on your partner, and only 20% on yourself. In a world where we are constantly reminded about how important our feelings are and how we need to communicate them to our loved ones at every opportunity, there is something refreshingly humble about this simple rule of empathy and attention.

I have a feeling that connecting to your partner through music and movement during a tango is a way of going deeper in a relationship and discovering something new about each other. Conversations over wine can do so much, but it’s these physical interactions that sometimes let you break barriers.

So, for our 5th Valentine’s together, I’m giving us private tango lessons. In London, I’ve entrusted us to Tango Space, who have been sending us tips before our first lesson (always a nice touch). I’m sure you can find tango studios in your cities, too, so I’m challenging you to surprise your partner with a passionate Argentinian dance!

As always, lots of love,

Ilona xx


Why costume jewellery is a better gift

We’ve been told over and over again that precious jewellery is timeless – it doesn’t lose value (or sometimes even goes up!), it never really goes out of fashion, and it can be worn for years and even be passed on to the next generation. The debate is somewhat flawed, in my opinion, as it misses one very important point – to qualify for all of the above, the jewellery has to be VERY expensive, from high-end brands and made with rare flawless stones.

Does it sound like something you can afford? For those of you not in the top 1% (if you are, send me an email, I’d like to know how you’ve even found me!), read on.

I am a big advocate of getting the most out of your gifting budget, even if it means redefining what you are after. So, if you’d like to get someone a piece of jewellery and you have a £400 upper limit, in the precious jewellery category you will likely get something very mediocre. Just look at the monstrosity sold at £399 at high-street jewellers in the UK (it’s not a shaming article, so any branding has been taken out):

horrible jewellery examples

What do you do then? Easy – you go for costume jewellery instead! It’s having a bit of the Renaissance moment, with many luxury fashion houses hiring serious design talent to compete in this lucrative market. Which means that even if you are not “investing” in any solid gold or diamonds, you get wearable items that in most cases look much better than “real” things. And the best news for you… Most pieces are priced between £200 and £500, and that’s for brands like Dior, Chanel and Miu Miu.

Not sold yet? Well, then look at these stunning ‘Dior Flower’ earrings made with coral pink crystals and plated in rose gold.

dior earring title

At £340, these just might be the most gorgeous Instagram-friendly party saviours, that can elevate almost any outfit from “rushed casual” to “sophisticated night out”. And these are CHEAPER than any of the horrible jewellery examples above!

I wrapped these earrings in jewellery-inspired paper with rich hues of purple, green and red. For the bow, I tried using ribbon but it was just too much with everything going on, so I just used clear crystals to form a little bow at the top. Cute, isn’t it? 🙂

finished gift dior earrings


bow close up

Need a bit more inspiration? Keep scrolling down! Here are my top three picks.

Maison Margiela faux pearl choker (£280)

This necklace combines not one but two big trends: choker shape and faux pearls. For those who like to jazz up office outfits.

maison margiela choker

Aamaya cat ears ring (£215)

Adorable and charming, this ring is made with real topaz.

cat ring

Balenciaga leather bracelet (£135)

Almost a bargain at under £150, it’s made from textured pink leather for an edgy yet feminine look.

balenciaga bracelet

All links are from Net-A-Porter. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I just think they have the best jewellery selection for online fashion store.

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

Easy summer gifts: Holiday beauty

Holidays!!! If you don’t get excited by the prospect of spending some quality time on the beach (or whatever it is that you love doing during breaks!), you must be either a workaholic, or already living on an idyllic island somewhere in the Caribbean 🙂

I like giving holiday-inspired gifts. It’s a great theme to follow for all sorts of occasions, from birthdays to ‘thank you’ presents and even weddings (I once made a beauty hamper for a bride before the honeymoon…let’s just say she was very grateful, as with all of the wedding prep, she didn’t have time to pack properly).

This one was a “Hi, haven’t seen you for ages!” type of gift, as one of my dearest friends has been working abroad for a while. She is shortly going for a well-deserved week off somewhere in Spain, so I’ve given her a few things to make holiday grooming a bit more fun.

tangle teezer and tweezers

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of Tangle Teezer, and I’ve been supplying everyone with them (voluntary and not so…) for a while now. It’s an absolute treat to use, it’s light (very important with luggage and gym bags), and it’s very durable, as I’ve personally dropped mine on every possible surface (I think they should hire me to do stress testing for products, I’m very good at it, hah).

According to the packaging, this one is a limited edition colour, Lemon Sherbet, but it seems to be available everywhere if my Google search is right, so I’m sharing a link to the Tangle Teezer website (I got mine at Selfridges in London).

The next gift is the one thing that every girl should have without her partner knowing – a miniature pocket tweezer. I’ve just come back from a holiday myself, and the most annoying thing that could happen to you on the beach is discovering that one odd hair you missed during your pre-holiday wax.  For all possible little touch ups, this thing is priceless. The mini version is about half the size of the original Tweezerman, so you can take it even if you only have hand luggage.

To fully follow the theme, I got a lovely tropical gift bag from Paperchase (it’s even called Safari!), and some cute tissue paper with colourful hearts.

wrapped summer gift

Stay tuned and happy holidays!

Ilona x


Beautiful baby gifts: Chloe dress

You’ll see more and more of these posts from now on – my close friends have started having babies 🙂 It’s a very strange feeling: you still remember sharing your first alcohol together and talking about boys, and all of a sudden (or fast-forward 10 years…where does the time go?) they are mums!

But hey, some of you will find these articles useful, so I’ll carry on sharing my baby gift tips until you start leaving comments like “Please, stop” (don’t do it, please!).

I think this little dress from Chloe is simply stunning – not too girly, very tasteful and a little bit British thanks to the collaboration with Liberty of London.

liberty chloe baby dress blue pink

For those not familiar with Liberty, it’s a department store that’s synonymous with beautiful patterns and fabrics. Each season they collaborate with a designer to produce a special collection, this summer it’s Uniqlo. Check it out.

The Chloe dress is from Yoox (unfortunately it’s now sold out, sorry),  an online shop that specialises in designer clothing and accessories from past collections. This means you get a decent discount (sometimes up to 70% off) without compromising on quality. And frankly, unless you are a celebrity with a huge Instagram following, who cares if your dress is from 2014 🙂

I included a little ‘With love’ note before covering it with tissue paper  – it’s always a nice touch to include something extra people don’t expect to see, like a note or a small sweet (you can’t go wrong with chocolate).

folded baby dress with a note pink

Tissue paper is classic white, so it’s not too overwhelming – going neutral with tissue paper is one of the good tricks if you are in doubt. The generic rule of thumb is to try and match the paper to either the gift itself or the wrapping paper/gift bag, but white tends to work in most cases.

dress in tissue paper

The paper is pearlescent silver – again, neutral but luxurious.

dress in wrapping paper

For the bow I used pink ribbon with white lace to bring a bit of a vintage feel.

pink white bow closeup

Stay tuned and don’t forget to follow me on Instagram.

Ilona x

Moleskine: nobody will ever say “no” to good stationery

Luxury stationery is definitely in revival. We spend so much time on our smartphones and desktop computers at work, that sometimes we simply want to handwrite. Just look at the evolution of Paperchase – they used to have sections for gadget accessories, which have now been replaced by old-school notebooks and fountain pens. And don’t even get me started on Smythson and Aspinal – I can spend hours browsing their leather-bound planners.

So it’s no wonder that I’ve been spending more and more time figuring out the best stationery gifts. I think one of the universal crowdpleasers that is somewhere in between high-street and luxury is Moleskine. It’s an Italian brand at forefront of reviving the craftsmanship behind French paper notebooks of the 19th and 20th centuries that were used by such famous writers as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway. In a way, Moleskine have created a successful business by showing us what experiences we’ve been missing in our always-connected lives.

My boyfriend is the perfect illustration. He is a huge geek (in the best sense) who despite being a software engineer has recently “reconnected” with his passion for writing things down on paper (somewhat ironic, isn’t it!). He says it’s a different way of processing information, from solving difficult computer coding problems to sketching creative ideas and then revisiting them later on.

So this was one of my gifts to him recently – a new notebook and a pen to go with it.

moleskine pad and pen

Crafted from premium materials, both feel luxurious without overwhelming you. You know when something is overwhelming, when you debate whether to use it or not – I remember as a kid I had this Disney princess notepad my mum brought back from her trip to the US, which was so precious to me, I was to afraid to use it, unless I planned in advance what to write down. I would even cry if I made an accidental spelling mistake – that’s what I mean when I say “overwhelming stationery” 🙂

Of course, we are adults now, but there’s still this feeling about something being “too precious” to scribble in.  That’s why Moleskine is great for day-to-day (albeit still luxurious and special), and Smythson probably isn’t.

For wrapping, I used paper from Scribbler and ribbon from Hobbycraft (Celebrate range – I’ll need to write about it separately, it’s so brilliant). The sticker is from a free children’s book we got through post randomly – it’s a door, which I thought was a brilliant way to figuratively say “open me”.

moleskine wrapped gift closeup

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

Oh, don’t go just yet – I’m on Instagram now, so let’s connect there!

Madrid: Where to go and what to bring back

It’s been a while since I had a destination review here. The last one was about Amsterdam (find it here) which many of you found useful (there are also gift guides about ParisMarrakesh and Bali, if you have a bit of time). Today, I’m going to introduce Madrid with all its stunning architecture, culture and, of course, gifts to bring home.

Places to visit

Mercado de San Miguel (website)

It’s featured in every recommendation/city guide I’ve read about Madrid, and it really is worth it. Head there for an early dinner – the typical dinner is after 9pm, but things do sell out fast there, especially sea food, so 7pm is better. The choice is limitless, so simply indulge. The portions are small enough to try quite a few things (well, we still ended up going there twice). My personal top recommendation would be oysters and champagne.

oysters champagne

Just opposite the oyster bar is a tiny stall where they serve vodka and caviar (insider tip: if you are Russian, they give you an extra shot).

vodka caviar

Real Jardín Botánico and El Retiro Park (website)

These botanical gardens are right next to the Prado museum and you’d expect it to be packed. Instead, it’s a relaxing sanctuary that smells heavenly and has unique plants from all over the world. When we were visiting in April, it was full of tulips. After a day at the museum, it’s simply perfect.

giant tulips

trees at botanical gardens

After some rest at the gardens, head to the nearby Retiro park for a bit on panting (prepare to queue, it’s popular).

panting in madrid

Opera brunch at the Westin (website)

Now this one was a true find. I would recommend this experience to everyone who loves opera and good food. Held every Sunday at La Rotonda restaurant at the 5* Westin Hotel, it combines opera classics (the standing couple below are professional singers from Teatro Real) with amazing service and fantastic food (think unlimited lobster and free-flowing vintage cava).

opera singers

And the desserts!!!

desserts at the opera

It’s not cheap at €78 per person, but we were completely blown away. Book a few weeks in advance.

Things to Buy

Customise a t-shirt at the official Real Madrid store (website)

This is a must for any football fan – two floors of everything Real Madrid, from their full kit to things like watches and toys.

real madrid shop

The best part is the customisation area of the store, where they create t-shirts with any player’s name on right in front of you. Just pick a name from the catalogue (we went for Ronaldo) and let the magic happen. The stickers are heat-pressed, and it takes a few minutes only.

collection of football tshirt stickers

printing ronaldo tshirt

Get a book at Desperate Literature (website)

On the way back to our hotel (it was approaching 11pm) we stumbled upon a small shop which was still open and where everyone spoke English to each other. It got us curious enough to walk in and discover Desperate Literature – the cosiest, most intelligent book shop I’ve ever visited.

desperate literature storefront

It’s much more than a shop – it’s a place to meet, have a conversation and play a bit of chess, all whilst being surrounded by hand-picked books. Go there to immerse yourself in the world of paper books you thought disappeared when Kindle took over.

desperate literature bag

rum diary description

This shop just celebrated its 1st anniversary, so come say hi and buy a book to support their enterprise. Every book you buy gets a stamp, so it reminds you where you got it from – a nice touch.

desperate literature stamp

Buy unique tea at Tekoe (website)

Yep, that’s right. Not ham, not a flamenco dress, TEA. Forget English Breakfast and Green Tips, here you’ll find such things as yellow tea and Wasabi-flavoured tea. There’s even Japanese tea that is infused with gold, which is sold for over  €100 for 50g (that would make one very luxurious gift to a tea lover).

tekoe gift

tekoe teas

The shop is a café too, so stay a bit longer to try their red velvet cake – it’s sublime.

A few extra tips

The best meal we had was at Casa Perico. Apart from top notch food, don’t forget to ask the owner why they have a giant Playboy chandelier – it’s quite a story (no spoilers) 🙂

playboy casa perico

We spent 4 night at Dear Hotel, which was central enough to walk almost everyone. During summer months they have a rooftop pool (one more reason to get back).

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

Origami bow: Having fun with gift wrapping

Most people dread gift wrapping. I get it – it’s much more fun selecting a gift than figuring out how to wrap it.  Took me a while to make my first decently-looking bow out of a silky ribbon that’s just not meant to stay in place (use two knots, not one), or to cut wrapping paper straight (there’s still no magic solution there!).

But, it can be fun! If you have a bit of time (and if you like YouTube tutorials) – read on. This was my first attempt to create an origami paper bow. For that, I found some double sided wrapping paper (from Waterstones on Piccadilly, sadly they don’t sell it online) in funky summery colours, bright green and raspberry pink. You can happily use standard one-sided paper too, but having both sides gives you a bit more wiggle room to be creative.

paper bow close up

I didn’t take pictures of my progress (I was concentrating too hard on the task itself), but here’s the video that shows it perfectly step by step.

For the extra pop of colour, I cut a bit more paper than needed for wrapping and used it to make a few extra folds at the front, similarly to how Jane Means does her gifts.

Wondering what’s inside? A double-sided belt by Paul Smith (see a theme?), which is perfect for most outfits. Navy goes with most colour combinations and burgundy can spice up an outfit that needs a bit of colour (like grey). Their boxes are already luxurious and you can get away with no wrapping at all (it’s not a crime).

paul smith double sided belt

You can find it on Paul Smith’s website in black and purple, which I think is another fantastic choice.

Stay tuned and check out my Instagram for more gifting inspiration.

Ilona x


Meet Mike, the cutest night light

“This is Mike, and he’s going to be your new friend, especially in the dark”, – this is how I introduced this uber-cute night lamp to a 2-year old son of my good friends. Not only entertaining, it’s also useful – it’s designed to teach kids to be comfortable in the dark.

As a small child myself, I remember being afraid to walk around my room in the dark when I couldn’t sleep. And the worst thing ever was to have a nightmare, wake up and then be afraid to open my eyes, in case “the monsters” were still nearby!

I wish I had something like this back then –  it would have saved my mum a lot of sleepless nights, like when I would force her to come in to my room (after shouting pretty loudly “M-o-o-o-o-m”) and wait patiently till I fall asleep again.

This lamp is portable and made from soft plastic, which is durable enough to withstand years of “abuse” (dragging it around, bashing against the hard floors…you get the idea), but it’s also nice to hold, hug and sleep with. All you need to do is remember to put it on the charging dock from time to time.

To switch the LED light (LED is important, as it’s cool, so you don’t need to worry it might overheat), you simply tilt it from side to side. If you’re not as polite to follow the tilting instructions, just shake it – that’s what we did!

If you’re not into monsters, there are many other choices from favourite Disney cartoons (think Frozen, Mickey Mouse and Winnie-the-Pooh). Check out Philips’ website to see the full range.

I got mine from Amazon – it’s also on sale at the moment, from £24.99 to £13.68. You can buy direct from Philips too, but you’ll have to pay the full price, so up to you!

Both the paper and the bow are from Paperchase. I decided to follow the cartoon theme and picked the colour of the bow to match the toy – I always try to match the gift wrap to the present, I think adds a nice touch to the overall experience.

wrapped toy gift

What toys do you miss from your childhood? And what toys that are available now you wish you had back then?

Stay tuned,

Ilona x