Sunday, 25 May 2014

Fashion Hang-Ups

Roksanda Ilincic, Autumn/Winter 2014

 
‘Is there anything about fashion you don’t like?’ It wasn’t the question I was expecting, but nevertheless, my mouth started working on its own. ‘Well, yes. Of course.’ I say with absolute assurance as Lisa Armstrong looks at me from across the far side of a vast desk at perhaps the most important interview of my life. My nerves diffuse like a blown dandelion and my answers come tumbling out like breeze seeds. ‘There are so many facets of fashion that I find extremely hard to reconcile. It is an industry run by women for women, but at the same time makes so many women feel uncomfortable and alienated.’ I say something about feminism, something about relatability, something about ‘selling dreams’. When I’ve finished tearing the industry to pieces, I almost question why on earth I’m sat in an interview for a job at the fashion desk of a national newspaper. But then Lisa replies, telling me she agrees that fashion can be extraordinarily alienating for women, that she doesn’t want her readers to ever feel that way. And I realise that I’m exactly in the place I want to be.

It was a natural answer for me. As an educated person who adores and abhors a lot of ‘the industry’ as I know it, I feel extremely conflicted about everything from fur to feminism when it comes to fashion. It’s a sentiment that has written about by a ton of my favourite writers, and I’ll put links for ‘further reading’ at the bottom of this post. Most deal with ‘gender issues’, but that’s really only scratching the surface of fashion’s problems. I only have to say ‘anorexia’, ‘Rana Plaza’, ‘nepotism’, and ‘unpaid intern’ to quite neatly encapsulate the dark side of fashion that the industry itself hardly talks about.

For example, when I read that Christopher Kane is using a lot of fur in his latest season, I wasn’t sure how to feel. The designs are as on-point as ever, and my eyes are pleased with what they’re seeing. But there’s an uneasiness that sits alongside my admiration. Is Mr Kane a heartless beast that mercilessly skins mink in order to make some moolah? Who is he trying to appeal to? Won’t that rule out the 95% of British women who would refuse to wear real fur? Or is he appealing to another market, one that doesn’t spend so long fawning on Facebook over the latest cute and furry craze? What does it all mean?

I need to start curbing myself now, because I could quite easily discuss this at length for many more paragraphs/theses/whole books. ‘A Fur Coat Lasts Longer Than a Steak’, and ‘How to Wear Guilt’ are just a couple of possible chapter titles. In the end, I’m not militant enough to start hating/boycotting/decrying designers who use fur. I want Céline to start using more models that aren’t white, but it doesn’t mean I’d judge someone for buying into the brand. I want there to be a larger size/age-range of girls on the catwalk, but I also understand that this isn’t possible for designers who need to run a business. So many things come into play, and there are countless debates to be had about everything from the patriarchal pain harbinger of the high-heel, to the cultural appropriation of tribal prints. Fashion and morals aren’t happy bedfellows and never have been, and even writing this down is tying my brain/conscience into a hideously untrendy knot.

The fashion industry is, quite simply, a nightmare. A minefield. A particularly glamourous circle of hell. But why wouldn’t I care what I and other people wear? It’s something that infiltrates every aspect of life; it’s an industry worth billions, it’s the reason for countless jobs. On a more personal level, it is an extension of personality, of taste, of culture. It is identity in its most obvious form. From the speech that Miranda Priestly gives in The Devil Wears Prada (Sorry! Best version I could find) to Hadley Freeman’s article on Prada and football, fashion clearly, undoubtedly matters. What matters even more is that we consider its implications, and try to minimise the damage that the industry can cause.

Regardless that my conscience might be all over the place, I’m about to embark on a real career in one of the most controversial industries in the world (in case you were wondering, I got the job!). So it’s something that's constantly on my mind, and there are plenty of fashion issues I need to reconcile with myself, or at least try to. In the end, for all its flaws, fashion is something I find utterly irresistible. And I’ll end this with perhaps the best quote I’ve ever read, courtesy of Vanessa Friedman’s departing article for The Financial Times: ‘Why does fashion matter? The world is not run by naked people.’

Further reading:

http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG10417226/Is-Fashion-a-feminist-issue-after-all.html

http://www.elle.com/life-love/personal-style/is-it-ethical-to-wear-fur

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5f9643e6-c639-11e3-ba0e-00144feabdc0.html

http://www.elle.com/life-love/personal-style/personal-essay-on-style-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie

http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2014/apr/23/fashion-really-does-matter

http://clothescamerasandcoffee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-yellow-book.html

http://vagendamagazine.com/2014/05/weekend-treat-an-extract-from-the-vagenda-book/

Monday, 28 April 2014

Is Fashion Criticism Dead?

All publicity is good publicity, or so the old maxim goes. But in the fashion press, the idea of publishing a negative review of a fashion show isn't something that gets realised very often. It seems that designers' delicate egos - and more importantly their advertising budgets - are put first, ignorant of the fact that no one wants to read insincere drivel about how revolutionary Karl Lagerfeld was when he put Cara in holey pink leggings at Chanel this season. Okay I'm kidding; they've grown on me. But everyone loves reading a bad review, right? So it's a shame, because the most established, controversial fashion critics are either leaving their positions or are approaching retirement, leaving many of us asking what on earth we will read when they're all gone.
The controversial Cathy Horyn - the New York Times' most revered fashion writer - a couple of months ago left her post at the paper, prompting her readers to proclaim the departure "a tragedy for fashion journalism". Indeed, one of the only voices left in the fashion industry that dared to piss people off has disappeared. Her impressive list of show bans over the years has included Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Helmut Lang and Oscar de la Renta. Scandalous. But far from construing her as a fashion outcast, the 57-year-old's significant catalogue of designer enemies has only served to create a badge of honour for her unflinchingly honest critique. In an industry overflowing with fluffy fashion writing, Horyn stuck two fingers up and spoke her mind, and we can only be grateful that she had the platform of the New York Times to do so, and lament the fact that she's no longer there. It was Horyn's write-up of Saint Laurent's SS13 collection that prompted Hedi Slimane to write her a barbed letter calling her a "schoolyard bully," and saying she would "never get a seat at Saint Laurent, but might get a 2 for 1 at Dior."
Acting out against criticism can backfire, however. The end of this fashion season saw the influential website Style.com dish out a punishment of its own after a similarly grievous letter was fired at Tim Blanks, the website's articulate Editor-at-Large. Displeased with Blanks' reviews of his shows of the past two seasons, designer Jean Paul Gaultier penned Blanks a furious and melodramatic open letter before posting it to twitter. Blanks has said that "fashion is full of people with very thin skins and fragile egos." His sentiment was proven by Gaultier's outburst, and the fashion industry waited with hot anticipation for Blanks' review this season.
Funnily enough, it never came. Style.com has dropped the paddy-throwing Parisian from its list of significant designers. And as a result - because the website is such a strong point of industry reference - the Paris Fashion Week coverage barely touched Gaultier's AW14 show. A designer as famous as JPG being discarded from the elite list on Style.com isn't as trivial as it sounds. In fact, it means being thrust dangerously close to the thing all designers fear most: irrelevance.
So in a world where honesty gets lost in the clash between the egos of the designers and writers, where can anyone publish anything honest - especially now that the old guard of fashion criticism seems to be leaving? In another power move, Suzy Menkes, often dubbed "fashion's authority", has just left a 25-year-stint at the International Herald Tribune and tottered her pompadour off to Vogue to become its International Editor. Which leaves us asking if the 70-year-old's writing will be diluted by the transition from newspaper to magazine. After all, newspapers don't have the pressure to kowtow to brands in the same way that fashion mags do, for the simple reason that they don't rely on advertising as much.
Something that lies safely outside the domain of magazines and newspapers is Nick Knight's SHOWstudio, which has carved an impressive solution for stimulating fashion debate: from the safety of their Knightsbridge studio, their wonderful Editor, Lou Stoppard, gathers a panel of fashion's best brains to view the live-stream of a fashion show, or to discuss a fashion topic. What follows is a diplomatic and thoughtful discourse free of censorship and full of vital first impressions. It's clever, and it's filled a gap in the industry that most people perhaps didn't realise was missing. Stoppard backs this up, saying that "People do feel like [SHOWstudio] is a free, open space. They leave their publications or their studio to come here and they can say something honest."
And sparking honest debate is so important in an industry that comes under fire as much as fashion does, because if we don't respect ourselves enough to speak openly about what we do, then what are we writing but sad regurgitations of press releases, reinforcing the belief that fashion is depthless? Treasured British fashion journalist Colin McDowell puts it best when he says that "a commentator must be allowed to make a commentary. That commentary must have substance. And writers of calibre must be nurtured, not neutered, by the fashion industry." We need to cultivate honest critique of fashion, not diminish it. Otherwise, what are we all here for but to watch some pretty clothes come down a runway? And believe me, frightening existential questions like that are the last thing that the frail egos of the fashion industry want to ask themselves.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

If I had a longer word count, I would have dedicated paragraphs to Vanessa Friedman, former fashion editor of the Financial Times who takes over from Cathy Horyn at the NYT, and Alexander Fury, who is a fabulous fashion editor over at the Independent. I'll write a thingy about my favourite fashion journalists at some point. At the moment it's Tim Blanks because he bit back.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Reading-over

Do bloggers ever go back and read back what they'd written in previous years? I did that just now, and my feelings were intensely mixed. Half of me cringes with the absolute awfulness of the writing, the uncontrolled words, sentences, ideas just flying around chaotically like those uncaged blue Cornish pixies in the Chamber of Secrets.

The other half thinks it's quite sweet that I'd managed to capture such an 'uninhibited' tone on some of my older blog posts. I think (I hope) I've improved since I started this blog. Really, it's been an outlet of ideas, and it means that I've learnt a lot about myself and my writing, and it's also helped me realise what I actually want to do with my life, which is to write.

This reads a little bit like a farewell, as if I'm packing up the blog. But I'm not, I'm just realising that I am maturing as a writer, and will probably take it in a slightly different direction from now on. That doesn't mean the content won't be similar, but it means I shall be making a conscious effort to control what I write in terms of readability and credibility. It was nice to do the whole diary-post word-vomit thing, and not have to think too much about what my fingers were tapping out, but a writer has to grow, and I feel like that's happening right now.

Thanks to all of you that read my silly little ramblings, and for your kind words over the past two years.

X

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

London Town





















 
I was barely eighteen when I moved to London. Like a siren, the beating, polluted heart of the city sang me away from my backwater hometown and I had no intention of returning, although I had little idea of what the capital would actually be like. The car that took me on my one-way journey pulled up at my student-halls-to-be, and drove away, leaving me there with my little life in bags, looking up at the dirty windows of my new home.

My place of residence for the first year in the city was a particularly grimy room on a stretch of the A2 which threaded noisily through the heart of New Cross, a bubbling concoction of chicken shops, gastro pubs, unhinged locals and arts students. My room – visited by cockroaches of varying sizes during my stay – was thinly veiled to the perpetual hum of traffic immediately below it by a wisp of brown curtain, and although each time an ambulance blared past (which was ridiculously often) I was treated to a personal disco of sapphire emergency lights pulsing across my walls, I never felt irritated by it. On the contrary, the fact that it disturbed my sleep inspired an occasional smile to flicker across my face; I was happily content to be there, safe in the heart of this beastly city.

And I settled nicely enough. I've always thought that, at least while I'm young, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the UK except London. After this it'll be Tokyo, New York, and finally Paris. No one should live in Paris for their twenties. It's too refined and rude and it'll rob you of any bright-eyed naivety.

But any city is bound to rob you of some naivety. It's inevitable: there's too much of everything going on. Michael Gove might have been a bit out of touch and creepy when he said that people move to London for 'loads of hot sex', but there's definitely something about the city that feels somehow more adult. I could be referencing the xxx shops in Soho or the drug deals that you sometimes overhear on the bus, but really, I'm thinking more towards the 'Londoner Mindset'. The Londoner Mindset commands a sharper knowledge of everything that deems one to be 'in-the-know'. It's the reason for Londoners' aloof reputation. It means the Londoner knows the best places to eat sliders before you even knew what a slider was, because it wasn't something that had entered even the periphery of your small-town consciousness. It means the Londoner can deconstruct your outfit with a sharp glance and know what kind of job you do and how much you get paid, because they've spent hours secretly studying these career getups on their daily commutes. In short, it means the Londoner is one step ahead, and knows it.

But most Londoners probably don't give a shit about that, because they're too busy being crushed by rising rents, sinking benefits, and the weight of a million indifferent faces that pass them in the street every day. When I'm walking down Rye Lane in Peckham and I see those tired, sunken eyes set into dusty faces, same expression in the morning light as in the dusk, their Asda bags weighing them down, and the thick scent of raw meat wafting its way out of the butchers, mixing with the exhaust fumes of an ill-repaired bus, my naivety starts to wane. For all the perceived regality of the big smoke, I've never seen such dejectedness as on the night bus home from a night out at 4am, my blissful drunkenness not a strong enough intoxicant to blind me to those ghostly faces staring blankly ahead, coming home from (or on the way to) some mind-numbing cleaning job simply to afford existence.

When I went to Leeds last weekend, the people seemed slower, happier, friendlier. They said sorry when I bashed into them in my rushing London manner. It shocked me. Sometimes you only notice something when it's not there anymore. Londoners aren't so much rude as busy, self-absorbed, and purposeful. Everywhere else seems trivial in comparison, but somehow more jubilant and appealing for being so, in that old ignorance is bliss kind of way. London tires you out and makes you harder. That old saying always springs to mind: 'tired of London, tired of life'. But it's obvious that it was written a long time ago. London's exhausting and dirty, and plenty of us are tired of it, especially young people. But, like anywhere else, if you've been there for long enough, it becomes home. We've got the worst of everything here, but we've also got the best of everything. Is a cramped and expensive space a price worth paying for living in London? It's a hard one, and after being here for a few years I don't really see the answer manifesting itself to me soon. I'll be here for as long as I can survive for regardless, because I'm stupid maybe, but also because I'm naively in love with the place.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

huffpost

I drank too much wine last night so I'm just dying in bed wishing for peanut butter ice cream, but also feeling quite pleased that I got a blog post up on the huffington. So a nice end to a bit of a shit week. You can read it here anyway http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ashley-clarke/rupals-drag-race_b_4957651.html?utm_hp_ref=uk It's about feminism and rupaul's drag race. What else?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

What We Can Learn From Issie

“Fashion is a vampiric thing; it’s the hoover on your brain. That’s why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me. They say, ‘Oh, can I kiss you?’ I say, ‘No, thank you very much. That’s why I’ve worn the hat. Goodbye.’ I don't want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love.” – Isabella Blow

One of the most notable ‘fashion personalities’ that anyone in the industry can name, Isabella Blow was the bawdy aristocrat whose head was perpetually adorned in one of Philip Treacy’s millinery masterpieces. A true embodiment of English eccentricity, the British fashion industry owes much to Isabella – she is, after all, the benefactor who bought the entirety of Lee Alexander McQueen’s graduate collection and discovered the models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant, as well as the aforementioned Treacy, of whom she became a muse.

The exhibition of Isabella’s clothing, her letters, and her work at Somerset House entitled Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! ended today. I saw it yesterday, just in time, and wasn’t disappointed. Thank god for Daphne Guinness, (Isabella’s friend and someone else who gets put in the blue-blooded fashion eccentric box) who bought Isabella’s wardrobe in its entirety so that she could showcase it to the world. It was a huge exhibition comprising of Blow’s astonishing wardrobe, her photographs, personal letters, and articles about her from when she was alive, in magazines from Vogue to The Face.

The clothes were absolutely stunning, with something special about each item, be it a black glittery pompommed Viktor & Rolf dress or some white Jeremy Scott heels with the toes split like hoofs. Nothing was plain. I suppose people might look at pictures of her in her finery and think she looks garish or overdone, an original fashion peacock. Although you wouldn’t really be able to say she ever looked ‘nice’, she certainly had glamour and she certainly had balls (always a good mix), and really I think the most important thing that most people will take from a character like her is that she made fashion fun, and at the very least, stimulating. In a way I suppose she embodied that whole ‘fashion is a fantasy land’ thing – the kind of thing you think of when you look at anything Tim Walker has done – but as well as being the creative force behind the creation of that fantasy, Isabella also was that fantasy.

What we can learn from Isabella Blow is to be colourful and weird and to wear a fucking lobster on your head if you like it. It’s sad that it’s only the aristocrats that get away with being wacky. Imagine if anyone on James Turner street wore a lobster hat. Eek. But really, we do need people like that, to inspire that way of dressing. I think that’s what makes the club scene so interesting, and sorry to bring it all back to that, but with the risk of sounding like a massive nob, that’s the place you can go to let your inner Issie out. It’s the place you can wear whatever the feck you want on your head and people will tell you that you look fab and mean it. Maybe because they’re drunk, but whatever. The most important point to make here is: wear what makes you happy. Cringe and simple, but very very very true and important.
Isabella Blow is, in many ways, one of the greatest examples of liberation through fashion. It’s a good way to get things out.

As well as expression, it’s also one of the greatest forms of defense. I would bet – and I say this lightly, with nothing other than naive intuition – that Isabella would have killed herself much earlier if she had not had the solace of fashion, the fantasy world to escape into, the satorial sacramentals with which she used to exorcise her demons.
Freedom of creative expression might not always be the thing that makes the world turn, but it’s certainly the thing that keeps some of us back from the edge: Without it, a good many of us may well have jumped ship a long time ago.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

MEADHAM KIRCHHOFF AW14














Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff are wonderful at tapping into the feminine. This season, the girlishness of the clothes shone through, although perhaps in a more grownup way than their SS14 schoolgirl collection, and certainly with the most colour we’ve seen for a couple of seasons. Rainbow-striped metallic knee-high boots, veils, and the usual lace and ribbons adorned a very eclectic collection full of whimsical floaty shapes and silhouettes. The design duo would be hard-pushed, I think, to create a show or a collection that comes anywhere close to 'plain', and I think that’s probably why I love them so much. They have so much feeling in what they do, be it happy-clappy fairyland or a broken hearts hotel, there’s bundles of emotion in their collections, and also a lot of strangeness. Which obviously goes down so well in London.

Shown in the turbine hall in the Tate Modern, the red carpet runway was rolled out with heart-shaped obstacles all over the shop. Each model passed through a gold tinsel canopy which was a nice touch, and the lucky beasts on the front row got to take home a hefty bottle of MK's new perfume, Tralala, worth £150.

On the press release about the perfume collaboration with antiquated British perfumier Penhaligon's, they talk how they wanted an outspoken fragrance, nothing shy, because they ‘don’t believe in subtlety in any sense’. But I see a lot of subtlety in what they do. It is certainly garish and loud, but it has something running underneath it too. Maybe I’m reading into them too much, because I do want there to be something subtly sinister flowing around. When you think about the darkness that a designer like McQueen presented, there’s something about that shadowy side that we love and embrace in the fashion industry. It’s so dramatic and tortured and although it is such a delicate subject, it is also something so very interesting to talk about, and I think there's a bit of that darkness that we see in Meadham Kirchhoff’s clothes too.

I love that undertone of darkness that runs through their collections, especially their womenswear. Perhaps really, it isn’t subtle at all and I was wrong to say that earlier. It’s all out there. Especially last season with all those straw boaters and ringlets, it evoked a girls’ boarding school in the highlands where everyone’s having an absolutely awful time in the most beautiful way. Because for all its glitz and ribbons, it feels rather sad. There’s a definitely solemn, poignant touch to what they do, and it is incredibly moving – that might sound pretentious and cliché, but it is moving. Although I’m barely a fashion fledgling peeking out from the third row, I can really feel something when I’ve seen their shows. They capture something quite special, it’s that dark Englishness that McQueen did very well too. And that’s perhaps the most important thing to me in fashion – something that hits on your feelings. Perhaps I’m doing one of those post-show overreaction write-ups and getting high on the buzz of it all, but it does feel – like Tim Blanks says – that after certain shows, you feel like your life has been somehow enriched. You might not always understand why, and you might not even particularly like the clothes on a personal level, but you get a pang of something or other, and you know you’ve just witnessed something special.