Friday, 16 September 2016

Absolutely Fashion: My Verdict

"Sometimes I wonder if a woman would have been a better choice to make this series." So begins the second episode of Richard Macer's Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, and thus the patronising tone is set.

Macer assumes that a woman - any woman at all - would shy away from confronting Anna Wintour about the sales competition between American and British Vogues. Whether he assumes that all women are too reverential of fashion to ask any important questions, or whether he just sees himself as the pinnacle of journalistic rigour is difficult to say. What is clear from watching this two-part documentary series on BBC 2 is that this comment is part of a pattern in which Macer's narrative viewpoint depicts women, especially those working in fashion, as confusing, aloof, near-mythical creatures. In the first episode, he describes the Vogue offices as a "guarded world" in which "men are the underlings". The rest of his commentary is similarly oversimplified or misleading for the purpose of a weak dramatic arc.

After all the fuss over interviewing Wintour at the end of the first episode, I was at least looking forward to hearing what she had to say in this second installment. Yet when the much-anticipated moment arrives, the questions are under-researched, the interview brief, and the coverstar rivalry not even mentioned. It is such a wasted opportunity, and underscores for me why this documentary should have been made by somebody else: not necessarily a woman, but someone who knows the basics of the fashion industry and is willing to research it rather than just trail around behind editors with a camera and sulk behind them when someone requests not to be filmed.

The actual content of the series is interesting, both for those who would never dream of missing a Vogue issue and those who have never bought it in their life. Judging by the Twitter reaction, Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers was a particular favourite, and some of the best parts of the documentary are when Macer steps back and allows the staff of Vogue to explain for themselves how their process works. Alexandra Shulman is at the centre of the programme, and in fairness to Macer he does capture some interesting insights into the life of the Editor-in-Chief; hurrying across some grass to a runway show is a rare moment when Macer properly gets behind the perceived image of Vogue and shows his viewer the less glamorous and sometimes haphazard world of fashion.

This could have been such a good documentary. I haven't yet mentioned the elephant in the room: The September Issue. The difference between this documentary and The September Issue all lies in the presence of the filmmaker. Whereas RJ Cutler's classic is absent of narration, and the filmmakers never interfere with the process they are recording, Macer takes the opposite approach. In the first episode, he even intervenes in a meeting in an attempt to resolve a dispute over the cover. I realise that this is probably a deliberate departure from Cutler, but the presence of the filmmaker, both in voiceover and in participation in the action, is distracting.

Ultimately, Macer centralises himself and his own experience rather than that of his subjects. This is why he is so upset when he realises Shulman has been keeping the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge will appear on the magazine's centenary edition cover from him - even though this was a secret kept from a huge number of other people, many of them with more of a right to know than a documentary-maker. This is then unfairly trailed in the BBC's episode description as the discovery of "a world of deception".

For those who want an insight into the process behind Vogue's centenary year, it is still worth watching, but there are far better fashion documentaries to be watched. Other than The September Issue, there's a favourite series of mine Le Jour D'Avant, following fashion designers the day before one of their shows. There's also British Vogue's own video going inside their offices, hosted by Alexa Chung, which gives rather a different, less annoying view on everything we see in Absolutely Fashion. If you haven't already, I really recommend watching it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

How to make yourself at home in your dorm room

After three years at university, two of which I spent living in the same room, I finally packed up all my things and left my accommodation empty for the final time last week. It was not as emotional as one might expect, owing to the fact that I've been moving out at the end of every term and then moving back in again, so I had by this point cleared the room five times. Nevertheless, before I packed up (and by 'packed up' I mean unceremoniously shovelled my belongings into crates) I had time to reflect on how I had slowly adapted the small space to my own needs, and by my sixth term I had it all pretty much figured out.

So I wanted to write this post for my student readers, especially those of you heading to university for the first time this year. While your accommodation/dorm/digs/halls will not be the same size or shape as mine, there are some general rules which I learned by trial and error. These I pass on to you now, and hope they can be of some use to you in an exciting and stressful time.

Box everything up

The boxes and cases in which you cart all your stuff to your new home need not cease to be useful once you arrive. Chances are, your furniture will be sparse, and the storage units not ideally placed or shaped. Your own boxes, both large and small, can double as a shoe holder (above), a make-up organiser, or a spare table. Plus they will make packing everything away much easier at the end of your residence. Ikea is always good for this type of thing, but if you're after a pretty suitcase, Sass and Belle have some reasonably priced items; I like this world map one.

Display favourite objects

Posters are the obvious choice for injecting your room with a little personality. But if you want to break the mould or, like me, you are not actually allowed to use Blu-Tak on your walls, the alternative is to display your possessions. I adorned my walls with strings of bunting, a rotating display of favourite clothes (conveniently hung from an exposed piece of piping) and all the postcards I received during my time there. You could also try taking an ornament for your desk, a plant for the windowsill, or a much-loved teddy bear to be propped up against your pillows.

Keep bedside reading handy

During my three years, I have hardly ever had time to read for pleasure. That time which I did spend leafing through magazines or, in my first year, devouring The Goldfinch, ought really to have been spent more intently reading for my subject - a literature student's work is never done. Nonetheless, I would have been miserable if I had never allowed myself these indulgences. Whatsmore I would have got even less sleep: the best cure for my anxious mind was always a few pages of Oh Comely magazine or an excerpt from the Lunch With the FT collection. Get yourself something you can enjoy without analysing, and keep it nearby - just in case.

Be selective about clothes and shoes

I know, I know - easier said than done. When you are preparing to leave home for the first time, you have no idea how everyone else will dress, and how many different occasions you ought to pack for. My advice is to seek as much information as you can about the social and daily life of students at your university - the best place to start will be on the website of the student newspaper. Plan a couple of outfits for specific activities - a formal drinks event, going out clubbing, coffee with classmates, attending a lecture - then build a core wardrobe around that. This will make it easier to keep your room tidy, and if you stick with a few key colours, it will also look better when hung up in your wardrobe. 

Put work away when you're done

You should be able to relax in your room, and the best way to do that is to assign a place where your work materials can be put away for the night. Some people even restrict working to the library, keeping their room as a sanctuary of leisure time. This is not always possible if you live far from the library, and even with a library on my doorstep, I often don't fancy getting out of my pyjamas on days with heavy workloads. So I made a big effort in the run-up to exams to clear away what I was doing by putting it in a drawer, placing my laptop on a shelf, and collecting the folders you see above in a little basket. This is actually the front basket from my bike, but you can get similar products. It allows you to chill out a lot more when your notes are no longer glaring at you from the desk.

Bring cushions

As you can see, I was very lucky to have this huge windowseat, which doubled as a guest bed. I would still urge anyone to bring cushions with them, no matter what your room contains. They are useful both for making things more comfortable and for adding your own taste to the surroundings. If you have space, any extra bedding, like a cosy blanket, can really make a difference in helping you to settle in and will be useful any time you want to put a friend up for the night. If you're not sure what kind to get, try something in a classic Laura Ashley or Emma Bridgwater design. Any clothing chain with a home section will also have pretty ranges available - I like this lovely gold-dotted cushion from Primark.

Good luck with moving into your new homes! And enjoy your first few days - it's a cliché, but it really is over before you know it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins Review

New York in the 1930s and 40s is fruitful ground for films about the arts scene. Like beachgoers expecting rain later in the day, the city represents a centre of enjoyment and frenzied innovation as war looms on the horizon. Bookending the period, we’ve lately had Me and Orson Welles (2008) and Kill Your Darlings (2008), both concerned with the emergence of new kinds of art, be it minimalist Shakespeare or Beat poetry. But in Florence Foster Jenkins we get a glimpse into the world of old art, and how it was maintained by the loyal music fans of New York, even in the face of disaster.

The eponymous Florence (Meryl Streep) was a real woman, whose love of music and inherited wealth combined in her support for the arts scene and founding of the Verdi Club. It is at this club that Stephen Frears’s new film opens, taking us backstage as Florence is nervously arrayed as various operatic figures, while her failed actor partner St. Clair (Hugh Grant) compeers.  From this point, it takes the film a little while to warm up. Having heard the premise of a famous singer with a lack of singing talent before attending the cinema, the audience is made to wait rather a long time to hear her sing at all. Fortunately, when this moment arrives it is hot on the heels of the entry of Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, Florence’s somewhat overwhelmed but ultimately faithful pianist. Helberg completes a triumvirate of accomplished central actors, and we feel in safe hands from this point on.

Much like some of Frears’ other work – The Queen comes to mind – it is not immediately clear what the overarching plot will be. Instead we are presented with a series of vignettes which go deep into Florence and St Clair’s marriage, and her desire to sing. These, however, lend richness to the arc when it does come to fruition in Florence’s concert at Carnegie Hall. No doubt I will not be the first or last to compare Streep’s performance to another of her roles as a 20th Century American woman with a happy relationship but no children: Julia Child in Julie & Julia. However if we are making this comparison, it must be said that Julie & Julia delves, I feel, a little deeper into the central character. That is not to Florence Foster Jenkins’s disadvantage though, for the slight distance from Florence herself enhances our impression of the bubble she lives in. We are privy to all the secret activities and conversations of Cosmé and St. Clair as they contrive not to let Florence realise how ridiculous her singing voice really is.

Now for a word on the costumes. What struck me most was that the range of characters, some fictional and some real, allows for a full range of 1940s fashions. Florence’s own wardrobe seems more like a call back to the late Edwardian age and 1920s, all loose shapes and beading, with a good helping of feathers. Her friends and members of the Verdi club follow suit, in similar frocks and strict black tie. Yet in a totally contrasting scene, possibly my favourite in the film, St. Clair’s lover Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) throws a party in their apartment. Thus a whole different sector of New York society emerges. Kathleen herself, a teacher, sports the kind of simple tea dresses and tailored trousers which we associate most often with this period, while Agnes (Nina Arianda), lowbrow girlfriend of a Verdi club member, flies the flag for vampy dresses and big hair. The scene is a heady mix of Hugh Grant throwing shapes to Benny Goodman, mismatching fashions, and Cosmé’s endearing obliviousness to the fact that some of the male guests are flirting with him.

If you want a film that is equal parts uplifting, funny, and heart-rending, it’s all piled in here. The world of 1944 is brought beautifully to life, and at its core, Florence Foster Jenkins boasts three very strong performances. Simon Helberg, who you may only know from The Big Bang Theory (a personal favourite of mine, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea) deserves a special mention. Though understated, his portrayal of Cosmé shows his ability for delicate emotion as well as the impeccable comic timing he is already known for.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What's In My Bag? Job interview

I went for an interview on Monday. After a lot of preparation and agonising over what to wear, the whole thing took less than half an hour, was very friendly and helpful, and I left with an offer of work experience in the summer. It got me thinking how much we over-prepare for things which we really can't anticipate fully. I'm very glad I prepared thoroughly, but in the event I barely needed any of it. Nevertheless, I found blog posts about what people wore and took with them to interviews extremely helpful in making me feel like I was ready, so I wanted to share the basics of what I had with me, even if not all of them were necessary.

Vintage handbag - An old purchase from Oxford's Ballroom Emporium. If you're after something with a similar look, I can recommend Oxbridge satchels who have a pretty little cream satchel, or this John Rocha clutch which is quite small but has a handy shoulder strap.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - One must always have something sensational to read on the train, though this Japanese novel is less sensational, and more conversational. It is a quiet but deeply engaging book, which gives you a little flavour of modern Japanese life alongside a slow-burning love story. It was a good short read to have with me whenever I needed to calm my nerves, as I could lose myself in a chapter for a while.

Pink exercise book - Part of a set from Tesco. I used this to write down all my preparatory notes, anticipating potential questions and making notes on the company. It was doubly useful, as by the time I got the train back I had finished reading the novel, so I turned to the notebook to jot down a few of my impressions of the day; London is always full of moments worth recording.

Orla Kiely document file - I bought this from Waterstones but it is available here and if you like the pattern there are other items on the Orla Kiely website, (just search "pear"). This obviously didn't fit in my hadbag so I carried it separately. Inside I had a couple of examples of my work and an updated CV, all of which were kept nice and flat. There's enough room in this one to slip a notebook and pen too, so it's useful for carrying around any stationery.

Gold accessories - I wore a blue suit with a chiffon white and gold shirt and these gold accessories. The purse is from Accessorize, though I'm fairly certain I got it second hand. They no longer stock this style, but do have a couple of gold purses like this one in at the moment, and here's a similar one from another brand. The shoes are from H&M, and are still available now if you like the look of them. A word of warning though - try out new shoes several days before an interview! I made the mistake of testing these the day before, and they rubbed my feet to pieces. I managed, but it was painful!

Eat Natural bar - Never a good idea to be too hungry. As well as supplementing my appetite with this, I stopped at a Benugo half an hour before the interview to have a peppermint tea (soothing, but also less likely to make my breath smell bad!) and check over my notes.

Cosmetics - I kept these to a minimum, and also put on minimal makeup when heading out. It was a hot and muggy day, so I just did the basics, then used these to freshen up: And Other Stories Moroccan Tea body spray, Miss Sporty So Clear powder and Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic. I'm no beauty expert but these are all products I can heartily recommend if you, like me, have sensitive skin and don't like to wear anything too heavy.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Links a la Mode

To polish off a lovely week, I've been selected for Links a la Mode again! If you missed it, my post was about 5 floral shirts for Valentine's day (link below). Of course, beautiful shirts are for life, not just for Valentine's Day - I'm wearing one right now!

As ever, do have a look through the other blogs. My personal favourites are Mox and Socks's introduction to her dog, with some beautiful photos, and Everyday Starlet's wedding dress shopping tips - whether you're a bride-to-be or, like me, just obsessed with watching Don't Tell the Bride, it's a great and useful post.

Links à la Mode, February 18
SPONSOR: Shopbop Twelfth St. by Cynthia Vincent, BCBG Dresses, Private Party Tops, MISA, Moon River, Ace of Something, Fringe Jackets, Wildfox Tees, Micro Satchels, Men's Ted Baker

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Four things to do when you have nothing to wear

Many people are dismissive when they hear the phrase "nothing to wear". Of course, it can be a little melodramatic: all of us must have some clothes. But the people who point this out have clearly never experienced the embarrassment of feeling uncomfortable, overdressed, underdressed, or boring at an event where you'd been hoping to have a lovely time. Maybe your body's changed shape, or an old faithful is starting to look a bit dowdy, or you simply wanted something new.

This past week, I've been looking for a new outfit for various formal occasions, and having a horrible time. I'm not very tall, yet most petite lines are sparse and tend to assume that being short is the same thing as being uber-thin. I'm also finding that I want to move away from the shape I used to favour (cap sleeves, skater skirt) in favour of some sleeker cuts.

In the end, I ordered the above dress from ASOS, and paid for next-day delivery. Desperate times call for desperate postage. This was one of the few times in my life I've been really stumped, and I wanted to share some of the options I considered or took in order to get through it.

Set a budget

If you shop while stressed - which I don't advise, but which may be necessary - you'll start to think about just blowing loads of money in order to get it over with. Work out how much you'd normally spend on a new dress, and maybe add £5-10 to reflect that this is an emergency. I very nearly bought a dress which I knew wasn't quite what I wanted and which was at least £15 more than I wanted to spend, but budget considerations stopped me.

Get some cheap accessories

We all have our treasured favourites, but sometimes they just aren't working with the outfit we want to wear. Stock up on some cheap, fun stuff which can add a bit of sparkle to your outfit. Once I had ordered my one-shoulder dress, I went to Claire's Accessories, that tween haven of bargains, and got a £5 pair of clip-on earrings (I haven't got pierced ears). They were the easiest thing to match with a difficult neckline, and really give the outfit a pop that it wouldn't have otherwise. If you have time to order online, you can get some super cheap things from Amazon like this box of 20 stud earrings or a cute hair piece. No, none of it will be great quality, but it will be on-hand when you need to breathe life into an old or plain outfit.

Make basic alterations

If you have time, it can be very cheap to get a hem taken up by a professional. But failing that, you might have to get stuck in yourself. The dress I ordered is slightly too long on one of the straps, so I've brandished my incredibly basic sewing kit (I think it came out of a Christmas cracker) and made a decent job for now. I'll get it professionally done when I next have the chance, but it goes to show that even someone as inept at sewing as me can do a quick fix!

Keep it simple

If you're feeling stressed about what to wear to a party, now is not the time to try and create a show-stopping outfit. When you have more time, you can plan how you're going to style that embellished pair of shorts or the gold-fringed kimono; this time around, stick to a little black dress. Try to think of some outfits which have made you feel great in the past, and restrict your search to the sweetheart neckline or Oxford shirts that you know you can wear. I was basing my search on a dress I already have, with a tight main body and lace sleeves - I just wanted something similar, but with bare arms. The ASOS one does the trick!

Friday, 12 February 2016

5 Floral Shirts for Valentine's Day

Florals, as Miranda Priestley has taught us all, may be highly unoriginal for Spring, but they're delightful to wear nonetheless. With Valentine's weekend now upon us, what better excuse do you need to freshen up your wardrobe with some daffodils or carnations?

This is my first Valentine's day in a relationship, but I've always felt the need for something floaty, romantic, and classic around this time of year. A perfect floral shirt fits all of these criteria. They're versatile enough to be worn on a date, to work, out for drinks with friends, or even just to spend a peaceful Sunday afternoon reading a good book.

A lot of High Street and online stores have caught onto this lately: I've been noticing a chic floral shirt in pretty much every shop I walk into. Inspired by this resurgence in popularity and my own partiality to a good shirt, I now offer you my pick of the best on offer right now.

H&M Floral Chiffon Blouse

As you may have guessed from the fact that it's pictured above, I recently purchased this gorgeous piece. It's polyester, but has the feel of a slightly heavier chiffon. What drew me to it was the way the little bouquets look like they've been freshly inked on by hand. I've been wearing it with jeans so far, but am on the lookout for a smart pair of blue or pink trousers to create a smarter look.

Popbop Elegant V-neck Shirt

This casual v-neck shirt is a more relaxed choice: no collar, no buttons, just slip on and wear for an appropriate activity. Possible ventures which spring to mind include a trip to the cinema, trying a new coffee shop, or tending to the dahlias while solving a murder à la Rosemary and Thyme.

Vintage Art Deco Floral Shirt

If you're looking for something a little more unique, vintage is of course the obvious route. While it can be fun to root through bargain boxes in second-hand stores, shirts are some of the most difficult items to find in good condition. Etsy sellers are a good way to find good quality vintage pieces, and if you read one of my recent posts, you'll know I have a special reader discount for one seller in particular. This very cute shirt and several others are from Cold Hard Stitches, where you can get 20% off by entering the code MORIARTY20

Black Scatter Floral Shirt

Warehouse has some lovely stuff in right now. If florals aren't your thing (and congrats for making it this far through this post if that's the case) there are some other gorgeous prints, my favourite being this crane shirt. There's also a white version of the shirt pictured above, but I thought that was a bit similar to my H&M one. The black one is a bit more dramatic: like a picture taken with flash at night. Great for a day out at a museum, rivaling the paintings in any art gallery.

Ivory and Blue Sleeveless Blouse

It may still be a little cold for this one, but that fine china print is hard to resist, and very on-trend. The one above is from a plus-size brand, and will look good with a pair of good jeans or a bold skirt. If you want something with a similar feel, but in a more traditional shape, there's this more abstract one.