Thursday, 29 July 2010

Guest starring Belgian Waffle and David Mitchell

Tonight I went to see something called Tall Tales at The Good Ship in Kilburn. The Good Ship harbours all sorts of memories for me, some awesome and some a little more uncomfortable, but it's a decent enough venue for an hour of hilarious story telling.
The readers were all brilliant - I haven't laughed so much for such a sustained period for a long time - and I heartily recommend you attend the next one which is apparently some time in September.
I went, I saw, I didn't exactly conquer, but I did summon up the courage to talk to four real life people who I had never met before. One of them was the very lovely Belgian Waffle, sort of my blog idol, who was incredibly gracious and friendly - despite my irritating social awkwardness which was made even worse by lack of alcohol which I'm not supposed to be drinking much at the moment. Honestly, sometimes I am so awkward it's amazing I have any friends let alone a moderately good career as a journalist. We're supposed to talk to people, put them at ease and get them to tell us their stories, but I'm much better at this on the phone I think. Or in emails.
I am trying to get better.
I also spoke to David Mitchell. In fact I sat next to him for the entire evening and spoke about seven words to him, but still. Is there anything as intimidating as sitting next to someone who is funnier and more successful than you and not knowing if you should talk to them? I tend to end up feeling that I'm sort of in the film about myself and I'm an awful female version of Woody Allen. I'm fine if there's someone else with me, but my bravado evaporates when I'm on my own unless I'm already feeling pretty bullish about life.
The walk home was also slightly strange and oddly entertaining. Walking up Kilburn High Road I was aggressively chirpsed. I'm not sure many people know what a "chirps" is, but my little cousin once patiently explained that it is fairly common slang for when a man tries to chat you up and get your phone number in the street. Quite often in Kilburn said man will either be standing outside a chicken cottage or a kebab shop looking like he's used the cold left-over by-products of fast food manufacture as both hair pomade and moisturiser. Or like he'd like to carry a gun and use his gangsta name to impress the ladeez, but lacks the sense of commitment this would take and probably raps about living the 'street life' in the NW6 ghetto while working on the tills at Pound Land and attempting to flog homemade CDs to pretty girls outside Marks & Spencers or WHSmith instead - still a little misguided but a much better approach to life in my opinion.
I'm not a huge fan of being chirpsed at the best of times, but having someone who is both faintly swarthy and exceedingly greasy follow you, even if it's only for a minute, making increasingly foul mouthed attempts to chat you up is both absurdly funny and also quite uncomfortable. I it's essentially harmless and I am used to it, but sometimes you really just wish they'd keep their thoughts to themselves.
Then, walking down from Kilburn towards Queen's Park,  the transition from scummy to posh was perfectly marked by the dulcet tones of a jazz-lite cover of Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale being played by one man and a piano in the expensive organic restaurant. I giggled the whole of the rest of the way home.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose) - fashion interns and exploitation

I have just finished reading an article from Saturday's Guardian on the exploitation of fashion interns. Singled out for particular criticism is Alexander McQueen, but there are also quotes from former interns at a number of unnamed houses of all sizes, from boutique labels to large multi-nationals, as well as fashion magazines.
Quite why the Guardian has chosen to talk about this now I'm not sure. It's hardly news, is it? And it seems unfair to single out McQueen when this kind of thing is fairly rampant in fashion.

My first job, over 10 years ago during the blissfully long summer between GCSE's and A levels, was working at a small but achingly hip fashion company that was essentially run by interns and students on compulsory work experience placements getting paid £2.50 an hour.
£2.50 an hour was fine for me - it was just a bit of pocket money. I loved the whole experience of working there. Taking the tube and the bus to the label's warehouse in Wapping every morning felt terribly grown up as did hanging out with the much older fashion students. I loved that I was given responsibility for cutting cashmere and painting the British Isles onto white t shirts using dye made out of old tea bags.

But those poor students, living in London on £2.50 an hour for six months in order to pass their degree, did not have a good time of it. They were shouted at, asked to work insane hours and never given any credit for their work even though they were what held the company together. The atmosphere was usually tense.
And it was hardly the worst place for them to be. At least this company paid them something (it went bust, not for the first time, shortly after - make of that what you will). And they did find a small sort of revenge by stealing pattern scissors and sewing supplies.
Most of the students had horror stories. One talked about an internship at Vivienne Westwood that had her working 12 hours days boning corsets until her fingers bled, but she stuck it out because her tutors kept telling her how lucky she was to be there. I don't know how much of that was exaggerated, but it was enough to scare me off.
They were also all hugely in debt from buying the materials they needed for their course and to put their collection together.

Years later, after deciding to pursue a career in journalism, I worked for free at a number of glossy fashion magazines. Rare is the intern at a fashion magazine who gets paid. Some will work for free for six months in the hope of getting a job. At magazines many end up doing nothing more than sending returns back to fashion PRs or handing out the mail - I've also had first hand experience of this.

Fashion is now an even more popular career choice than it was then.  But there simply isn't enough space in either fashion or fashion journalism for all the people who want to be there. That's the reality that a lot of students, and indeed the colleges and universities that make money out of training them, don't want to face up to. Treating people like unpaid lackeys isn't ethical, but they do it because they can. Because if you quit there will also be someone to take your place. Everyone is desperate for experience because they can't get a job without it and there aren't enough entry level jobs to go around. Aside from asking students to abandon their dreams, there is no obvious solution.

And actually, unpaid interns are in some ways crucial to the success of British fashion. Smaller fashion houses need unpaid interns as much as those interns need the experience. For some of them, making a profit, or indeed just assembling a collection and sending it down the catwalk, without unpaid interns would be impossible. That doesn't make it right, but of course if they received more support it wouldn't be necessary to ask people to work for free. Sadly, fashion apprenticeships, which would be the best solution for this whole thing, aren't common. Will this government do anything to help? Given that it is in the middle of slashing funding for almost all of our cultural institutions and education providers, what do you think?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The £10 challenge

Despite waking up relatively bright and early on Sunday, I spent most of the morning in bed. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I read a bit of my book and watched Julie and Julia for the umpteenth time. For those not familiar with the film, it is about food and blogging and being lost and finding yourself again. It may not be a heavy psychological thriller, but I like it a lot. I also liked the book. And this time around it inspired me to get out of bed, make a beef bourguinon and think about blogging.
I feel I lack a bit of commitment. So to make things a bit perkier around here I have decided to launch the £10 challenge - one outfit every week for less than a tenner.
Predominantly sourced from the car boot sale, with a bit of high street and charity shop mixed in, each outfit will feature at least two items (not including shoes - I'm a large size 8/41 and it's incredibly hard to find second hand shoes in not icky condition in my size). 
Even just buying from the car boot sale, ten pounds or under for an entire outfit might be a bit of a stretch, but that's why it's a challenge, silly. 
Hopefully, I won't just be dressing myself. If anyone would like to volunteer to be my model for a week (and keep the clothes we buy obviously) do let me know. I hate having my photograph taken.
I have a slight backlog of outfits currently sitting here awaiting their debut, so the first challenge outfit will be posted later this week when I've worked out how to use the self portrait setting on my camera properly...  

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Quote of the week - Karl Lagerfeld

This evening I am at home in bed with a temperature that came out of nowhere and feeling a little sorry for myself. I'm not ill enough to just fall asleep, but can't focus enough to read my book - the rather brilliant "London: City of Disappearances" edited by the always brilliant Iain Sinclair.
I love books about the history of this city. It reminds me that my city is also the city of millions of people who have gone before, who are living here now and who will live here in the future. And that each of those people will have a completely different experience. Obvious really, but somehow it's easy to forget when you're in your own routine, battling through crowds on the tube and looking down your nose at new arrivals who think east London is the best thing since sliced bread and the only place to be. London, this huge sprawling place that appears to always be on the verge of something, with its hidden stories of lives lived and lost, battles fought and finished and love affairs of every kind imaginable, is endlessly fascinating and Sinclair is one of its great chroniclers in my humble opinion.
Anyway, instead of reading that I am trawling Youtube looking at short clips and nosying about the blogosphere hunting for new things to read. My current favourites are the always soothing Dreamcats (possibly not soothing for anyone who isn't into cats though) and the hilarious Hyperbole and a Half.
I also love this video of Karl, apparently shot by a Chanel staffer after his superb couture show earlier this month. Although the collection was a triumph, introducing a new pared back and refreshing silhouette which Karl calls the new flapper and which must have taken a huge amount of energy, thought and time to produce on everyone's part, the designer was not about to rest on his laurels.

Karl: Fashion is about going ahead, not about memory.
Interviewer: And no credit on the past. Never?
Karl: This credit card does not work. When people want to be liked for what they did, they should stop.

Friday, 23 July 2010

A slight change of direction

So, things have been a little quiet here. There are a number of reasons for this - 1/ I am lazy 2/ I am poor and avoiding looking at things I can't really afford as it has started to make me a little bit sad and 3/ Life has got all serious and I don't really have the energy to think about the fickle world of fashion every day.
Last week I had a biopsy in a very uncomfortable place. Not that I think having an extra hole cut into you with an extremely large hollow needle is ever anything less than uncomfortable, but this was an especially difficult area of the body to have said procedure performed on.
I'm a tad wary of sharing very personal and gruesome information of this nature with total strangers, but I'm finding it quite hard to concentrate on much else to be honest, except feeling bad for not blogging or making any atempt to do more work outside of my actual work (if that makes any sense).
Although it has stopped hurting now, waiting for the results is almost as bad. I don't know how you're supposed to behave during these things, but when the doctor casually mentioned what he thought the problem might be (not cancer, so I feel like a drama queen for being so upset by something that is 99.9999% unlikely to be life threatening which isn't helping) I think I should probably have asked some more questions. Instead I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, go home and hide under the duvet with some cake.
Which I did.
I even managed to avoid looking up the thing he had said he thought it was on the internet for a few days. I was too distracted by the ouch, but also very aware that looking medical things up on the internet is a very, very bad idea. There are too many worst case scenarios, horrible photographs and distressing stories, plus a whole lot of misinformation. It doesn't help when your tentative diagnosis is for something fairly rare either. Especially when the doctor failed to mention that you may have to live with it for the rest of your life, that it can only be managed instead of cured and that it can seriously effect one of the key areas of your life that makes you feel like a functioning woman.
You may have worked out that I did eventually cave in to curiosity and do a cursory web search. I'm not going to tell you what they think it is yet - it's too personal a thing to share with the world especially before there's a proper diagnosis. Once I have that I need to know what it means and start to work out how I feel about it other than confused and a bit scared.
But, with all my closest friends far away right now, it is good to write about it. Although JFK is being completely amazing, beyond what I could have hoped for, writing makes me feel more in control - that I'm doing something productive instead of wallowing.
In the real world I am mostly trying to have fun, despite the money problems. On Wednesday my dad took me to see two of the greatest Roma gypsy bands in the world at the Hackney Empire, organised by the Barbican, which was rather wonderful. Tonight I am going to see the ballet-comedy Coppelia perfomed by the Bolshoi at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden with JFK, which will hopefully be a little bit magical.
I am still heading to the car boot sale every weekend too, and finding bargains continues to fill me with joy. I think I might start trying to share that a little bit more here.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading my blog. Please do get in touch if there's anything you'd like me to write about. 

Friday, 16 July 2010

Fendi Fall 2010 campaign - Anja Rubik by Karl Lagerfeld

Kaiser Karl has apparently worked magic over at Fendi, because it has somehow become a brand I covet. A lot. A lot a lot. Mainly thanks to this campaign actually.
Seriously, this man can do no wrong in my eyes. I worship at his despotic fashion feet. Or I would if he would let someone as declasse as me anywhere near them.
Why despotic, you ask? To which I say, where have you been? Have you not seen how obsessive Mr Lagerfeld is about controlling his empire? I wouldn't want to be on his bad side.
He even does the photography on his own campaign photo shoots these days. Like these for Fendi with Anja. His style may owe rather a lot to a few other photographers that I can think of and possibly rather a lot of exceedingly talented 'assistants'. But now is not the time to be casting aspersions on my favourite fashion dictator. Let us just gaze lovingly and longingly on these images and hope that one day, one lovely, lovely, luxurious day, someone somewhere will gift me everything in this campaign. Especially the fur collars and the luggage. And the shoes.

Actually, I prefer the campaign to the runway looks, but there were some great ones in the show too. These clothes, like a lot of the new simple but luxurious classic shapes that are coming for autumn, really do need models with a bit more flesh on their bones than Karl usually goes for and it still feels much too early to be thinking about wearing heavy black velvet. But I'm already lusting after these visions of winteriness...

I think it's the unusual undertone of Tzarist Russian oppulence, crossed with classic English country house parties that is really doing it for me. Nancy Mitford meets Princess Anastasia. Or wearing an inappropriate fur coat and wellies to walk the dogs and drinking and smoking too much. 

(pics via and Fucking Young)

Monday, 12 July 2010

If you build it they will come...

Opening this week: The new Acne shop on Dover Street.

I am beyond excited. So excited I went to have a look before it opened and spent about ten minutes peering through the window with my camera like some weirdo stalker. I will probably be disappointed, but I really, really hope not. Just this once, please, please, please...
Acne, 13 Dover Street, opens July 15th

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The squirrel stalkers - a story in pictures

An adventure in Queen's Park on a hot sunny day starring other people's children and a crafty squirrel;

Suffice to say the squirrel got away scot free, while the boy in red got a rather nasty graze on his leg after falling off the tree...

Friday, 9 July 2010

A day in Deal

Yesterday we went for our annual office summer outing. Any excuse to not be stuck inside at your desk on a sunny day is always good, but this was particularly nice. We got on the new super-fast train from St.Pancras, changed at Ashfird and then got on the much slower local line through Kent which took us through Dover - half pretty seaside town, half repulsive industrial docks, and along the sea front to Deal.
I wouldn't want to live there, but Deal is just about everything you could ask for from a British seaside town. Picturesque houses, a pier with a fancy cafe, a relatively cheap but well curated vintage shop (the imaginatively named Vintage by the Sea), shops with amusing names and old fashioned signage, a decent restaurant for lunch, a kitsch ice cream parlour by the sea and a pebble beach. The rather glorious weather brought out the local school kids who were splashing about in the water in their school uniforms and rolling down the pebble slope to the sea. And some exceedingly large seagulls. I am not scared of seagulls, but these ones were twice as big as our cat and had a manic glint in their beady eyes. If they were in London they'd probably be carrying knives and hanging around in groups around the corner from a local shop in Plaistow. 
It's not a short trip to get there, but it's short enough for a nice day trip as long as there isn't a fire in the Thames Tunnel that means that the fast trains get suspended and you have to take the painfully slow route back into London... 

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Nice surfwear - not an oxymoron after all

Those who have made my acquaintance will agree that it doesn't take long to work out that I'm not really into most forms of exercise. I lack the requisite self-discipline for running regularly, and I can't bear to part with £60 every month for the privilege of exercising in the tiny sweaty box that is our local Fitness First. Last time I tried Yoga I had to sit out for half the class because I almost fainted. Some forms of exercise are fun and satisfying when only partaken in on an occasional basis. Like horse riding, ice skating, long walks on Hampstead Heath with nice people, swimming in the sea in India when it gets too hot to even consider being anywhere but in the water. All of these are acceptable because they are rare treats.
I was even persuaded by one of my oldest friends to try surfing once on a girly holiday in Cornwall. I will grudgingly admit it was quite fun, but I was never going to be an instant convert. After all, surfing may have it's own unique style, but I'm not exactly a fan of Hawaiian prints unless they're on 1950's bombshell dresses. And let's not even talk about wet suits.
Plus I don't hugely enjoy being in a bikini in front of, well, anyone really. Although years of serious training have made me able to pretend otherwise. The lack of mirrors in places like Goa really helps too, as does the fact that most of the skinny girls are on drugs or intensely annoying yoga heads. Or both. Which allows me to feel superior about my various wobbly bits.
But just when I though we had established firm sartorial reasons for my resistance to a repeat of being dragged into another humiliating surf experience, some buggers have come along and created a range of truly lust-worthy surf wear...
Despite having a rather twee Simone de Beauvoir quote on their website and a slightly silly label name, Jillian Demling and Karen Mulligan know what they're doing with Pret-a-surf.
They should do really. Demling is a Vogue editor and Mulligan manages Annie Leibovitz's studio. According to an interview with them in Vanity Fair this month, they set out to design a range of bikinis, swimsuits and rash guards inspired by 50's and 60's style because they wanted to "look good while playing with the boys."
I still think rash guards are deeply unsexy, but a mondrianesque print is a definite improvement. The only downer here really is they've chosen some ridiculously skinny models for the pret-a-surf lookbook, when really what's needed is a grown-up woman with breasts and some toned thigh.

The always swoon-worthy Marion Cotillard does a much better job of the same bikini in her Mario Testino shoot for Vogue, but I could only find these tiny picture to show you.

Pret-a-surf appears to currently only be stocked in the US. Although they do appear to have an online shop that ships to pretty much everywhere, I don't buy swimwear without trying it on first. Especially when it costs more than £100 and I still can't afford to be buying anything really nice at the moment if it's not from the car boot sale. But I really do want that bikini an awful lot. Sigh.

Talking of car boot sales, last weekend was a particularly successful one on that front. he sun brought out some good sellers. I found a cute Luella black shirt for £4, with white polka dots, black rhinestone buttons and tiny bows and ruffles on the cuffs. It's a bit big for me but will look good tucked into something high waisted I hope, or just left open as a light alternative to a jacket this summer. Other treasures from my weekend haul include a black Moschino Couture pencil skirt and a rabbit fur and silk cardigan for £3 each at my local primary school's summer fete. Not bad.