Friday, 27 May 2011

To Die For

I turned sixteen last week - something of a milestone. However, where my future is full of choice and decisions, if I had been living in, say, Uzbekistan I might have been forced into mandatory cotton picking. This is just one of the jenga-like stacked pile of shocking facts found in Lucy Siegle's new book 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?'
This is an eye-opening read from an ethical journalist and commentator, that covers everything from the appalling conditions of the workers who sate the desire for 'fast fashion', to the environmental impact of newly purchased jeans; concluding with suggestions for wielding our collective consumer power thoughtfully. I must admit, my dad picked up the stylishly austere, monochrome copy I had been sent by publisher HarperCollins, with an exclamation of, "Is this subject as heavy as it looks?" Well yes, it is - this is not feel-good, happy, airy-fairy bedtime reading. However, it is gripping and persuasive. This is one of those few books that has the capacity to change awareness - which can change lives - thereby making it essential.

I don't want to write a post nearly as long as the original book, so in brief: the main thing to be taken from Siegle's writing is the need to provoke debate through acknowledging truths. One of these truths is that our clothes are made by living, breathing people who are paid a pittance. Look down at what you are wearing. I am making a broad suggestion here, so in advance, I don't mean to cause offence. Are any of the items mass produced, low price, high street garments? If so, have you ever thought about how many hands created that fabric, turned it into a piece of clothing and possibly embellished it? The number of fingers that ran over the surface of the cloth? How many air miles it has racked up? The amount of money the worker recieved for his/ her handiwork? (If I am working from the book, this would mean about 1.5p from a £4 t-shirt). Because the life-cycle of a single item of clothing is both fascinating and chilling in equal measure.

Now, I have never proclaimed to be an 'eco-warrior-who-will-smite-you-if-you-so-much-as-mention-synthetic-fibres' and therefore do not want to preach. In fact, my usual ethical style contribution is to buy mostly from vintage and charity shops, while treating the High Street like an elderly aunt. By that, I mean I rarely visit because it would involve a car drive of forty-five minutes, and I invariably end up disappointed. However, I can wholeheartedly state that Siegle's evaluation of the world's favourite 'fast fashion' chains has made sure I will think even more actively about what I purchase in the future.

Another of Siegle's observations I found fascinating is that all too often, a fashion brand can claim to be 'eco'. What she points out is that there is a world of difference between introducing re-usable bags or cutting down on packaging (admirable, but very much like changing the book cover without altering the content), and taking the ethical step of re-structuring the whole  process of clothes production. She defines 'ethical' as being a "holistic" approach, that incorporates everything from creation of the fabric through to the item being displayed instore. Siegle basically urges us to re-assess our consumption of current fashion.

Siegle's writing is urgent, highly compelling and absolutely timely. My reading tastes usually veer towards classics and contemporary fiction, but I couldn't put this down. I was also very glad to know that the writer was not approaching this from a vehemently anti-fashion viewpoint (as is all too often the case in mainstream media). Although the book can be a little overwhelming at times (the depth of detail, and the breadth of knowledge is incredible); I think sometimes we need to be shocked into action. By this I do not mean placard waving and riots on the high street. I merely want to suggest that we think about where our clothes come from. If we bought just a few less items a year, how much difference could that make? Our role as consumers should be active rather than passive. This book has the potential to do for the clothes industry what other publications have highlighted about fast food. If you are interested, you can read an extract here.

A final point that struck a chord was Siegle's acknowledgement that our consumer habits have undergone an evolution of sorts. Where in the past, a piece of (very durable and high quality) clothing might have been bought for a higher price, and gone on to become a mainstay in the wardrobe for many years - being mended and re-mended until it became unwearable; now we are all too happy to let our clothes have a shelf life of two-to-three months before ditching them. This is not always the case, but it has certainly become a more prevalent habit in recent years.

Along the same lines, here is today's outfit - which aptly involves my great-grandma's housecoat. As beautiful as it is, housecoats were used to keep the 'proper' clothes underneath clean and stain-free, making them the equivalent of a fabric dust jacket.
I put this housecoat over a charity shopped blouse, and added a vintage briefcase. The green velvet high heels are second hand Office - a birthday present - and the belt is second hand Jaeger.

As mentioned above, my purse strings, tastes and ethics have led me towards buying in charity shops/ markets. I'll always be a passionate advocate of second hand and vintage. However, as a girl who is also fascinated by contemporary fashion and designers, I was really pleased to find the links below...

Orsola De Castro creates amazing clothes from the remnants of fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away.
The IOU Project offer individually created clothes that are spun by expert weavers from India, and assembled by European tailors. I want one of the Vivienne Westwood-esque blazers!
Estethica (which recently celebrated its five year anniversary) showcases the work of up and coming eco concious designers
People Tree needs no introduction - as I'm sure everyone knows about this website that sells and advocates stylish and sustainable garments
Livia Firth's Green Carpet Challenge charts the process of wearing ethically sourced (and often bespoke) clothes on the red carpet

On a fluffier note, I joined Twitter yesterday, and you can follow me on @ClothesCamerasC or click here.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Leopard Optimist

What does every girl need? I'm sure there are a variety of practical/ ethical/ philosophical answers one could give, so no doubt a 'leopard print turban' is not the first thing to spring to mind. However, when I visited Bath with one of my friends a few months ago, I found the allure of this particular turban so strong that it ended up coming home with me. On picking it up from a vintage market stall, my head was clouded with images of Clara Bow, the Ballet Russes and Paul Poiret - rather than say a batty, old lady surrounded by cats and tapestry cushions. However, it does add a nice touch of eccentricity to any situation - along with providing a conversation starter.
This a rather Bath-centric outfit, as the sweet little jumper also came home with me after the outing. I bought it in a great shop called Black & White boutique, which I can highly recommend! It was, in the majority, made up of second hand and vintage high end labels. And what is the name on this particular label? Could it be yet another addition to the sprawling collection of vintage Jaeger? I liked how unprepossessing the biscuit and black colours looked on the hanger. To use a rather longwinded simile, this jumper was Jo (as played by Audrey Hepburn) in Funny Face - something that most people will pass by, until the potential is finally noticed. And although this sweater hasn't quite turned into a bird of paradise, it is a rather nice addition to my already bulging drawer of woollen clothes.
Back when we were enjoying the warmth of Spring, dad took some photos of me in this outfit in London. To the items already detailed, I added some customised silk shorts (roughly cut and hemmed from a pair of beaded pyjama trousers), and charity shopped shoes and belt. The sandals are second hand Zara - and yet they remind me of thirties or forties filmstar footwear.

I found a great post on the brief history of the turban as a fashion item on Knit on the Net here. From its original cultural use, through to being adopted as the fashion item du jour during the twenties, to its resurgence in the sixties, it seems to have been enjoying yet another surge in popularity this year. I love the idea that the etymology links back to variations on the word 'tulip' - as suggested by the folds and curves of fabric. And although leopard print is not usually something I'm drawn to, for me this hat was something of a tonic - working best in a small dose.

Before I drag myself off to bed (revision is not kind - especially when it involves covalent bonding: Chemistry!), I wanted to draw attention to two posts for anyone who might not have already seen them. Firstly, I was both moved and inspired by Pearl's second post on living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. And secondly, I was full of nostalgia-induced love for Lucy's Perfume Bottle design.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Dressed Down Saturday

In keeping with my new 'study mode' attire (meaning today a massive vintage Betty Barclay Mondrian inspired jumper and black jodhpurs), I thought it only appropriate to post a more 'dressed down' ensemble. Occasionally, certain sets of photos are styled, taken and chosen - only to languish for several months on my computer's hardrive, waiting to see the metaphorical light of the internet. This is one such outfit, which only makes the posting all the more satisfying.
This look was made up of ripped skinny jeans I have had for several years (they magically still fit - I have no idea how), second hand Topshop shoes, my mum's woollen top and a Charlotte Taylor jacket. The leather bag and belt are both charity shopped, and the vintage gloves were my great-grandma's - along with the silk scarf in my hair. The locket was given to me by my paternal grandma.
Now, let's go back to the mention of Charlotte Taylor. What's that? Is it a reference to one of my all time favourite up-and-coming designers? The same Charlotte Taylor whose autumn/ winter collection is her best yet?
I was given this jacket after modelling for Charlotte's s/s11 collection. Although you can't tell from Claire Pepper's skilful photography, I was in the last stages of scoliosis when I went down to London - meaning my body was more than a little twisted out of shape. However, the whole team was incredibly gracious, and it is the perfect memory to have of my last modelling stint before surgery. These were two of my favourite lookbook images:

However, what I would really like to talk about is Charlotte's latest a/w11 collection - described as being inspired by "snippets of African, English Heritage and Hungarian Gypsy". Anything that involves the phrase 'English Heritage' immediately grabs my attention. What I particularly love is the way she has built on the idea of her trademark prints - this time with the addition of ants, elephants and lobsters. Having one of her scarves myself (styled here and here), I can testify to the way it makes me feel happy every time I don the mad yellow penguins on a blue background. Below are a couple of headshots from the Autumn/ Winter lookbook - so pleased to see the re-emergence of the penguin. However, it is the red ant print that gets me itching to see and feel the collection up close.

 Photographer: Claire Pepper   Model:Jodie @ Models1

There is something quite special about prints - whether it is jolly robots marching over the Charlotte Taylor silk playsuit (pictured on me above), or the sixties geometric shapes on one of my own vintage dresses. Some people are interested in colours. Others appreciate shape and structure. And then there are those fascinated by print. Although I tend to mix all three, I was particularly struck by the idea of prints when I took a trip with my mum to one of my favourite vintage shops last weekend. My eye was drawn to an impeccably chosen line of forties and fifties garments - all with varying patterns. Whether it was a see through blue dress covered in delicate white leaves, or the linen fifties housecoat peppered with sprawling hot pink flowers, I wanted to buy them all and stuff them into my already overflowing wardrobe.
I have some very well loved patterned pieces already, including: a vintage silver dress with a pagoda and blossom trees print, a full length vintage sleeveless evening coat covered in metallic zig-zags and second hand blue skirt with ambling clouds and seagulls. But if we are playing the 'dare to dream' game, then I would jump at the chance to get my hands on one of the absolutely incredible Mary Katrantzou ss11 designs, that were printed with images of rooms and impeccable interiors. Maybe I should just get a big, lacy lampshade and use it as a skirt to emulate her ideas...

Do you have a particular favourite print - vintage or otherwise? I'd be interested in hearing some descriptions of well loved patterns.

Also, blogger seems to have deleted some comments on the previous post. I have no idea if they will reappear, but I would just like to say that I read and appreciated them all. Oh, the woes of technology...

Monday, 9 May 2011

The secret life of bees (Part 2)

I find it strange to be posting photos tinged with damp grey, while the light outside is cascading in through my bedroom windows. Nevertheless, the golden tone sprinked over today does match the spring-like feeling of these images, which make up the second part of my bee-inspired behind the camera shoot. I saw Shona again the other day, and enquired as to whether she might be interested in modelling again for me sometime. Her response? "Only if it's warmer". I can second that, especially when I remember how much my fingers resembled ice blocks by the time we had finished.
I pondered for a while about another bee related title, and after discarding the notion of calling it 'Flight of the seven million bumblebees' in homage to Black Books (a fantastic British comedy - if you love Dylan Moran, make it a priority to watch), I settled on something a little more literary inspired. I really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's book 'The Secret Life of Bees', and now own a wonderfully battered copy that was given to me by Jill. This, along with an iD Beekeeper inspired shoot that I have just remembered, makes this a post that is black and yellow and striped all over.
I guess it's one of those slightly cliched things, but I think there is something a little romantic about the idea of having a beehive or two in an orchard - alongside some meandering chickens and a vegetable plot. A typical rural idyll I guess - doesn't really relate to my life in the countryside much. We do have a small allotment, but the only thing it is growing at the moment is weeds. However, my mum and I were talking to a good friend yesterday, who said that although bee numbers are meant to be dwindling, he has had a ridiculously large surge in his swarms - to the point that he has had to donate a swarm to a neighbour. Very hopeful!

Now, to one lone (and rather elegantly dressed) bumblebee - Shona.

In the first few photos, she is wearing an underskirt from a charity shop, layered over her own black leotard and my yellow tights. The little gold shrug used to live in my dressing up box, and the gold shoes are from ebay. The necklace and belt are both from charity shops. One again, I enlisted Shona's very handy ballet skills for the photos.

The second ensemble was created from a customised dress (it used to be a floaty skirt, that I then cut 'arm holes' into), a woolly vintage scarf and a Laura Ashley charity shopped striped hat. The belt was given to me, the shoes were from ebay and the jewellery is vintage. Oh & the gloves are another remnant left over from my dressing up box - because everyone needs a pair of sparkly gold evening gloves.

The third is a yellow poloneck from a charity shop, along with a vintage necklace and the same gloves.

Now, I'm sure the ginger cat pictured is the closest I'll find to the 'Cheshire Cat' from Alice in Wonderland. Either he craves human attention, or is publicity hungry - as he methodically followed Shona and I all over the sprawling arboretum that I'd chosen as our location. Sometimes it was a case of running to one spot, quickly snapping some photos before the cat could catch up, and then moving on. Well Cheshire Cat, if you wanted some internet exposure, then here you go.

My first GCSE exam is tomorrow, so from now on the blog might be a little less active. Hopefully all the revision will pay off, and come the middle of June, I can start living again - although maybe with a few days for rest and recuperation first. I am looking forward to finishing highschool and heading off in the next phase of my education to a dynamic sixthform.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Rites of Spring

Lace - isn't there something about it that's simply delectable? It seems to chime perfectly with the feelings brought about by Spring. Maybe something to do with the frothy, romantic, fairy-like feel one achieves by wearing it in abundance? However today it is strictly woolly jumper weather, as we have had the first proper rain fall in weeks.
I bought this vintage pink dress a while ago, and it is one of those items that seems to languish rather forlornly on the edge of my wardrobe, waiting for the possibility of being taken out and worn - a little like a dancer who knows she is beautiful, but rarely gets chosen to accompany someone in a Waltz or Quickstep.
Finally, it was its turn for 'a trip out' last weekend, when I wrestled it out of the clutches of the other cramped coathangers to create a Ballet Russes inspired look. I'm using the term 'inspired' quite loosely here, as I'm not sure if there is any tangible reference to Diaghilev's company among the pink lace and green velvet, but I did feel very dancer-like. Visiting the Ballet Russes V&A exhibition (early last Autumn) on the day I was told I was going to be having surgery was a magical (and somewhat surreal) experience. I have since pored over the book that not only details the history of the memorable company, but also provides very good quality pictures of the spectacular costumes.
The vintage jacket in the first image was my mum's and the 'necklace' is a big curtain tassel I found hanging on the back of my door. The pink brogues are from Next (and still take the title of 'comfiest shoes I own'), and the vintage belt used to belong to my grandma. The bag is Russell & Bromley (found for £4!) and the necklace wound around my wrist is vintage. My hair was kept in place with a vintage silk scarf.

Now talking of lace, I don't want to go down the whole writing-about-the-royal-wedding route (I hadn't planned on watching the coverage - but I must admit I couldn't help being drawn in), but some reference must be made to that dress. I was so pleased to see that it was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and that it took inspiration from the eternally glamorous and graceful Grace Kelly. One elaborate detail that really stood out to me was the incredible amount of time taken to craft the lace that adorned the bodice and train. The fact that 'The needleworkers had to wash their hands every fifteen minutes' has been bandied around the blogosphere so many times it probably seems that I am now stating old news. Nevertheless, the time and effort that went into creating that garment is astonishing.
This, along with the nominees for the Turner prize being announced today, sparked an idea for another debate. Aside from Royal Weddings and the hysteria-inducingly pricey couture and high fashion (which I do love), do we still value quality in the twenty first century? Arts such as lace-making and embroidery could be considered specialist skills, where once nearly every household in Britain had some basic knowledge. Obviously many of us have other things to do than sit around sewing, but is the craft of exquisite needlework even appreciated any more?
I mention the Turner prize because I am frankly a little sick of the Damien Hirsts of this world. It seems that now anyone can have a conceptual idea about sticking some oranges to a canvas and calling it art, or in the Turner Prize case being nominated because your painting material of choice is make-up (I liked drawing in lipstick and eyeshadow when I was five - does that make me deserving of £25,000?) I know that this is just my opinion, and art is the biggest example of 'Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder', but apart from the BP portrait prize, are there any major awards out there that recognize craftmanship and training over concept?
All of the arts, be it fashion design, music, photography, sculpture or writing, need honing and training to achieve real skill. I appreciate reading books where the writer is capable of tight plotting or breath-taking images, and seeing photography exhibitions where the photographer has captured the soul or character of the subject in front of them, without needing to resort to Photoshop. However sometimes I worry I am among a dwindling number... How many artists today would undertake three or more years of training in Florence to master their technique?

So now for the usual - what do you think? Are my views hopelessly out of date? Or does anyone out there feel the same?

Edit: I realised the above might make it sound like I am only for 'Classical' paintings. This is not the case at all (although I am partial to a pre-Raphaelite) - instead what I am lamenting is the lack of skill and craft in various instances. But I do love the work of artists such as Rachel Whiteread - the first female winner of the Turner - who, among others, proves that modern art is an incredibly valid and innovative way of expression. Another artist who is creating extraordinary pieces is Ai Weiwei. But again, just my personal opinion. 

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