Friday, 26 April 2013

Recurring Images: Stars

Last week I saw FUN. live at the Hammersmith Apollo. I'm a big fan, so I love all the songs, but was particularly moved by their choice to end the show not with We Are Young, but with Stars, a song from their album Some Nights. The whole set turned dark with little dots of white light while Nate sang in what seemed like a very personal way to the audience, almost as though we were being sung to sleep after the fiery energy of the preceding songs. The lyrics seem to be about putting your hope in unseen forces ("you're always holding on to stars") and how things can often be disappointing when you look at them too closely ("I think they're better from afar"), which got me thinking about how stars sometimes represent the way we set ourselves unattainable goals. When we can't achieve them, we might blame destiny or fate. But, as Cassius says in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves". So stars are both a symbol of aspiration and forces beyond our control, but that's not the only thing they can stand for. Looks like it's time for another of my recurring images posts.

Stars isn't the only song in which FUN. sing about stars. The whole of Some Nights is littered with references to them. In fact, the more you listen out for them, the more stars you notice being mentioned in all music, and poetry, books, films, even the news. We use the word 'star' to refer to celebrities and associate the classic 5-point star with dressing room door and the Walk of Fame. Stars are a motif of glamour and success, so it's no surprise that A-listers snapped up Christopher Kane's Resort 2011 collection, featuring the infamous galaxy print.

Christopher Kane Resort 2011
On pure impact alone, the collection was outstanding, and therefore a perfect choice for any red carpet event. But I think there's another reason for its success. When you look at the print, especially if the wearer is standing in front of a blank background, it looks almost as though their body has become a window to another universe. There's something very appealing about being clothed in the night sky don't you think?

When I'm old I shall wear midnight, she'd decided. But for now she'd had enough of darkness.
-A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

When I look into the sky at night and see stars, I get the sense of something infinite, and perhaps that's why people want to wear the image of stars: to feel permanent. In reality though, stars are not as endless as we might think they are. I'm no physics student, so I think I'll let the lovely Brian Cox explain.

How comforting to know that one day "the cosmos will be plunged into eternal night". Anyway, the point is that our impression of stars is something of a paradox. On one hand we have brightness, beauty, hope, while on the other is impermanence and the fact that, no matter how bright a star shines, it will always be surrounded by darkness. Is it possible to capture all of this in a single work of art?

Van Gogh's Starry Night has to be the closest I can think of. The rolling, turbulent sky is both endless and somewhat threatening. In his letters, Van Gogh indicated that the image of the sky was calming to him, but there's also this sense which many take from the painting of something approaching. The church spire, so prominently at the centre of the town, appears insignificant when faced with the might of what almost looks like an oncoming storm. This might even indicate the way stars can make even the most important parts of our lives seem small in comparison.

To go in the complete opposite direction, what happens when, rather than representing lofty ideas, the stars themselves come to earth? That's the subject of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, which became a film (my favourite film ever, I must point out) in 2007. Yvaine is a star, but she is also a conscious, moving, speaking individual. The thought of all the aforementioned concepts which we attach to stars being personified is fascinating. Only she can't possibly embody all of those things, plus when Tristan tries to take a lock of her hair into the mortal world, it becomes a handful of stardust. Perhaps this shows us that things aren't always as we expect them to be, but that doesn't mean they aren't beautiful anyway. In the end, maybe that's what stars really mean to us: beauty in the face of all darkness.

Nicholas Oakwell AW11
I saw this gown at the V&A Ballgowns exhibition at the end of last year. It's by Nicholas Oakwell and I think it's a good summary of what I've been trying to convey throughout this post. At first glance, it's a dramatic dress in a dark colour, but once you begin to look, especially close up, there are so many interesting things about it. Its asymmetric design should give the gown a chaotic appearance, but instead a balance is achieved by careful drapery. The star print is just gorgeous, but also subtle, as though stardust is just now settling onto the fabric, and it will swirl around in a cloud if the wearer moves. Despite the potential for this gown to appear heavy in its darkness, its beauty makes it seem almost magical.

And on that note, I shall leave you with this.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Links a la Mode


World Click

Does it matter where you blog from? I say this as I've lived in four cities during my blogging career, and to tell the truth, it kind of does, but it also kind of doesn't. This week Style Bizarre asks that question to a few bloggers about their experiences with blogging and location. We also travel around to Australia to check out their MBFW, how Man Repeller got us thinking about Japan (again), about how female politicians across the globe relate to fashion (should they?) and where you can get globally conscious accessories. As always it's a mixed bag, so enjoy!

Links à la Mode: April 18th

  1. Anna Lou Elliott: 3 ways to wear white: for day, night and work
  2. Attire Club: What We Can Learn From Superheroes
  3. Cosmolawitan: Dove: Empowering Women With Its Ad Campaigns
  4. Dressed Up on a Cloudy Day: How to Combine Colors : Analogous Colors
  5. Fashion is Evolution: 4 Tips for Pushing Yourself to Achieve Your Creative Goals
  6. Fashion Moriarty: Are female politicians reduced to what they wear?
  7. Hey Mishka: 5 Globally Conscious Festive Accessories For Summer
  8. HH Designs: Glamping: My Overall Lack of Roughing It...
  9. Lara Lizard: Test : Are you the cutest creature of the social media?
  10. Incognito: On how Man Repeller got me thinking about fashion in Japan
  11. Modestelle: Mercedes Benz Australia Review 2013-2014
  12. Mis Papelicos: My 6 Easy Steps to Happiness
  13. Nothing to wear: The Rookie Department: Hair Styling For Beginners
  14. Runway to Style: 7 Style Guidelines To Look Your Best at Prom and More
  15. Style Bizarre: Blogging: How important is your location?
  16. The Curatorial: Vale Jewelry: Algorithms and Delicate Jewelry
  17. Undercover Dress Up: Interview with lolita icon Emilka P.
  18. We Are Ready Made: Irreverent Youth
  19. Wild Beauty World: War Paint
  20. Youth Savage: Fashion Blogging vs. the World
  SPONSOR: Sale @ Shopbop: Timo Weiland, Rebel, Star Mela, Beth Richards, Hunter, Voltaire Zadig, Mugler, Ulla Johnson, Jill Stuart, Superga, & L'Wren Scott

Thanks for all your great comments on my post about female politicians. I think the depth of what was said and the various points raised show that this is an ongoing issue in the way the media covers politics and fashion. If you haven't added your opinion, please feel free to leave your thoughts and check out some of the wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking messages already there.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Are female politicians reduced to what they wear?

Margaret Thatcher's outfits sold on auction last year

The death of Margaret Thatcher on Monday has prompted a schism in the UK between lauding tribute and sceptical criticism. While Baroness Thatcher is a particularly extreme example, one can normally expect the death of a former Prime Minister to result in this kind of media coverage. However, mixed in with all this has been a surprising number of articles, slideshows, blogposts and features examining the Iron Lady's taste in clothing.

I am in two minds on this. On one hand, I can't help but think of Hillary Clinton's response in 2010 to being asked which fashion designers she preferred: "Would you ever ask a man that question?" It strikes me that, had any of our other previous PMs died (all of them of course being male), nobody would be paying nearly so much attention to his style.

Of course, there is a practical reason for this: men don't wear anything as varied as women. On hearing of Margaret Thatcher's death, Boris Johnson said "Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics." As well as a political statement, his comment also reflects the fact that male political figures wear what is pretty much a uniform, with the only difference being the colour of their ties. I also think it's an unavoidable aspect of our society that more attention will be paid to women's clothes than men's.

But could we be in danger of overlooking a woman's political achievements in favour of her wardrobe? I think our obsession with what women in power wear is similar to what Hilary Mantel recently tried to point out about Kate Middleton, though she was immediately met with a torrent of defensive articles (most of them written by people who hadn't actually read her piece). If you perform a quick Google News search on the Duchess of Cambridge, it will yield a round of articles concerning one of the following topics: a) what she is wearing b) what she is going to name her baby c) where she is currently appearing or where she is visiting next. Do you notice how only one of these really attempts to view her as a thinking being rather than an object for viewing? And even that focusses on her ability to reproduce. She is viewed in terms of her appearance and her function as a mother, not in terms of her thoughts, opinions or emotions.

To a lesser extent, this is also the case for female politicians. Try the same thing with Yvette Cooper or Theresa May and most of the results will be about their activities in politics, but there is still a preoccupation with their fashion choices, which will never come up if you search David Cameron or Ed Miliband. The truth is that women seem to be inevitably under more pressure to ensure that their public appearance is just right than their male counterparts.

Or are they? I find myself thinking of this clip from The Adjustment Bureau in which a Congressman talks about needing focus groups to establish the correct amount of scuffing on a shoe and the right colour for a tie. Men need to pay just as much attention to what they wear, it's just that the media never notices unless they get it badly wrong. Women's clothing, however, are analysed by the press whether they get it right or wrong.

I'm not saying we should stop looking at what politicians wear. In fact, I think it's a highly interesting topic, as it is one of the biggest ways in which fashion can make a difference in our culture. But perhaps it's time to stop analysing what women wear just because they're women. And hey, maybe we could have a look at what the men are wearing. For once, let's establish what brand of shirt Boris Johnson has on today and what that says about him.

Oh, and if any male politicians are reading - jazz things up and wear a bowtie or something. Seriously. Stop being so boring.

Friday, 5 April 2013

10 alternative things to do in London

1. Go for coffee somewhere that isn't Starbucks, or Nero or Costa. You're in one of the most exciting and varied cities in the world; sample its delights! So what if you pick a bad place once in a while? You'll have experienced something new, and 9 times out of 10 you won't be disappointed. Below, clockwise from the top left is: me having coffee in the V&A's Garden Cafe, a Turkish restaurant called Haz near St Paul's, Amoul in Little Venice, a latte from a travelling coffee stand, and a red velvet cupcake at the Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill.

2. Visit the gallery at the National Geographic Store Who needs the Tate when you can see contemporary photography exhibitions right in the middle of your Knightsbridge shopping trip? Plus you can combine it all with a meal at the cafe, some outdoor-clothing shopping, and a go in that weird wind-simulator thing they have downstairs.

3. Hang out at Somerset House. I only really started visiting Somerset House because of its association with London Fashion Week and excellent fashion exhibitions. Since then I've discovered the two cafes, the free exhibitions (I've seen ones on city-planning, jewellery, chairs, Matthew Williamson and more), and also the interest of its architecture and history. Not to mention whatever's currently in the courtyard, which could be anything from a catwalk to an ice rink to 10,000 clay flowers.

4. Go on a walking tour of somewhere you don't know much about. I've been on one of Little Venice, notable as much for its poetic residents (Robert Browning) as its rockstar ones, who live there to be near Abbey Road.

5. Get lost and find a pretty side-street which looks like the kind of place they'd use as a filming location in a historical drama. Kynance Mews (below) is one of my favourites.

6. Find the dressing-up in a museum, because every good museum really ought to have some costumes, and not just children's sizes. My friend Oscar and I found the Theatre section of the V&A and were unable to resist a collection of theatrical costumes, including a fab red military jacket. Cue Oscar's Les Mis moment...

7. Go climbing at The CastleThe Arch, or Mile End. I like The Castle best because it has all these different levels, plus comfy sofas to the side of bouldering mats and a great cafe too. I love how all of these venues have re-purposed old spaces into climbing walls. It makes them feel like hidden gems.

8. Take moody black & white photos of the rain from a vantage point inside a warm cafe (I recommend the Costa in the Trafalgar Square Waterstones).

9. Sit in the park and read Mrs Dalloway, Bleak House, Absolute Beginners, or one of the other great books set in London. Then quote said novel liberally to your friends as you walk around. Personally I quite enjoy shouting "There!  Out it boomed.  First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable." whenever Big Ben strikes. Much to the embarrassment on whoever is with me.

10. Dress up in your fanciest clothes and take the underground. Go all out. It's best in a group of friends, all of whom are dressed to the nines. Then why not finish up your trip by sitting on a bench and sharing some fish & chips. Britain is, after all, one big contradiction of tradition and rebellion. I think there's something of this antithesis in devouring fast food while wearing a ball gown.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Links a la Mode


The Beautiful Abyss

Beauty is only skin deep, beauty comes from within. From actually taking care of your skin to being comfortable in your own skin, this is where style starts. We've had a lot of thoughtful entries this week, and I loved reading the posts. Breaking style rules, mixing punk and modesty, and a full on deconstruction of cats on the internet and fashion (my two favorite things). Anyway, before I digress, you'll get lost in a world commentary so perhaps you'll digress into the abyss as well.

Links à la Mode: The IFB Weekly Roundup March 28th

SPONSOR: Shopbop New: Superga, VPL Shoes, MSGM , 360 Sweaters , Monika Chiang, Paul Andrew, Thierry Lasry, Vionnet, Minuit Douze, Lacey Ryan, Rue Du Mail

I'm really happy that all three posts in my Recurring Images series so far have been selected for Links a la Mode, because it's a concept which I love and I put a lot of research into the pieces. I hope you enjoy my offering this week, and don't forget to check out the other post in the round-up.