Review: Cupcakes and Cashmere

The thing I love best about this book is its name. Cupcakes and Cashmere brings to mind a frothy femininity, a combination of childlike delight and sophisticated luxury. I am always up for defining my style, reinventing my space and entertaining with ease, so this book shot to the top of my “must preorder” list. Emily Schuman’s blog is a charming combination of fashion, decorating, cooking, and all the usual blogging arts. This seemed like a sure thing!

Alas, it’s the kind of book you give an awkward preteen so she learns to put on eyeshadow correctly without looking like a raccoon. (Except it also talks about spiking Kool-aid with tequila, so don’t actually give this to a kid.) The advice is painfully basic. If we didn’t know that evening sandals are more formal than sneakers, Ms. Schuman lays this out in a chart for us. We also learn how to put on our lipstick, blow-dry our hair and paint our nails. (“I usually try to do one [coat] down the middle and one on either side,” she coaches.) Perhaps in a future volume she’ll share secrets on tying our shoelaces or brushing our teeth.

Well, perhaps I’m being unkind. I’m obviously not the intended audience for this book. The photography is lovely, if a touch blurry. I was pleased to see a section on handwritten thank-you notes, and I enjoyed the section on posing for photographs. The colors are soft and lovely throughout, as you’d expect from the pretty pictures on the blog. Ms. Schuman comes across as a sincere girl-next-door who genuinely wants to help bring out the best in others. I also liked that this book isn’t overly brand conscious; you won’t come away feeling like you have to rob a bank if you want to live the lifestyle presented here.

The real issue is that Ms. Schuman is not extraordinarily good at any of the things she writes about. She is pretty and dresses well, but she hasn’t got the experience to walk other people through a top-to-bottom makeover. Her makeup and hair look fine, but she hasn’t got any pro tips to share. The simple recipes are undoubtedly delicious, but she’s hardly a chef. (“Summer pasta with tomatoes, basil and brie” sounded so promising, but the instructions are basically: cook pasta. Add tomatoes, basil and brie.) The author simply is not an authority in any of these areas, nor does she have that special spark that can make a novice perspective fresh and enchanting. She gives instructions where she should be giving insight and advice; this book is all what and no why. There is a play-it-safe timidness throughout.

By the way, cupcakes do make an appearance towards the end; they’re made from a box mix. “I always keep one yellow and one chocolate on hand,” she confides. I think that pretty much sums it up!

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