Sunday, 29 January 2012

In praise of Vivienne Westwood

I wish I could say that this jacket is a Vivienne Westwood – it’s not, but I connect red tartan indelibly with her designs. The history of Vivienne Westwood’s career and life is as well known and worn as one of her coveted blazers or dresses. It invariably starts with her relationship with Malcolm McLaren, and the shop they opened on King’s Road as the punk movement took tentative Doc Marten-clad steps forward. The look they popularised, which was ripped, zipped and held together with safety pins, is now both recognisable and iconic. The equally well-known Pirates collection followed, and she is still a flame-haired force both within and outside the industry today. There are other supposedly infamous facts shot through so many articles like arrows – collecting an OBE while knicker-less; her famously outspoken nature; a husband twenty-five years her junior. However, to distill Westwood to these specific moments is to make a rough line drawing of a richly vibrant and colourful character. It doesn’t take into account how literate and smart she is, or how she is the best advocate for not giving a damn for what others think. There’s also that inexhaustable talent when it comes to designing clothes – a talent that has won her accolades, awards and a large number of fans in well-draped dresses.

Her stridently expressed views often appear contradictory – who else would suggest "don't buy clothes" whilst simultaneously sating a demand for tailoring and t-shirts? However, her views on the overblown scale of consumerism do bear thinking about. I often find myself questioning the conundrum of a deep interest in the world of fashion when examined in the context of certain moral and ethical issues. There is no clear answer, but perhaps like Westwood, it is a question of balance. Alongside presenting shows in both London and Paris, she has also collaborated with the Ethical Fashion Program to produce a set of bags that are “holistic” in their approach to sustainable style – providing jobs for women in extreme poverty. 
For of course, this is a woman willing to champion the cause of Occupy London, with their just criticism of the malpractice of the bankers - with their bonuses and boats and lack of awareness of the damage wreaked on a fragile economy. She has also donated to Rainforest charity Cool Earth, advocated the Refugee Council, pushed for a plastic-bag free London and supported both Liberty and CND. This is a woman with passionate beliefs. It soaks through her blog, demonstrating the power of an active and engaged mind. For someone like me, who is interested in the cerebral and aesthetic, there is something immensely heartening in seeing the phrase “art lovers unite”. One can imagine her shouting it with a smile.

I hate to suggest that she is defined by her “British”-ness – a term that now conjures up little more than tea cups, union jacks and red phone boxes. But when one places Westwood alongside some of the other designers produced by this country – Christopher Bailey, the late Alexander Mcqueen, Stella McCartney and Hannah Macgibbon to name just a few of the great and good – they are all are marked out not by any degree of similarity, but by their difference in approach, however unorthodox. However, they are perhaps united in once sense – their clothes will always stay memorable.

Westwood holds significance for me in that she was the first ‘proper’ designer I encountered. I have no idea where or how I found out about her work and general antics, but there is photographic proof that aged ten or eleven, I was really embracing the ripped and ruined look. I used to keep a large basket of fabric scraps under my bed, ready to cut, wrap or tie into Barbie clothes (my feminist mum was only going to allow Barbies into the house if there was a certain level of creativity involved). The contents of the basket slowly altered to include a number of old shirts and unwanted items of clothing that I could ‘customise’ with glee for myself. Inspired by what I thought a 'punk' might wear, I snipped away at a horrible sports t-shirt until there was little left beyond the seams, and then wore it with tights cut off at the knee and a section of fabric tied around my waist as a skirt. It wasn’t particularly precocious though – I am still faintly embarrassed to look at the resulting photos of that outfit. But one needs those flickers of creativity. Not only do they form the basis for cheerful memories – but also without some over-excitement with the scissors and glitter glue, who knows whether I would ever have thought of the possibilities of the sewing machine. Admittedly my pattern cutting skills are limited to the point of non-existence, but perhaps Vivienne Westwood, in some convoluted way, contributed to my ability to make a great gathered skirt out of my grandma’s curtains.

My mum bought the jacket in a charity shop (thinking “Ooh, that reminds me of VW!”) as a Christmas present for me. The long grey dress is also second hand, from a Bristol charity shop in Clifton. The gold torque was another Christmas present from a flea market, and the often-featured belt was my paternal grandmother’s. The shoes are vintage (and now very muddy) Pierre Cardin from eBay. On a final note, one can’t mention Vivienne Westwood without providing a link to Pearl’s blog – who, as well as being something of an authority on all things Westwood-design related, also has an extensive and enviably beautiful collection of her designs.  

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Stripes and strife

I’m sure there are plenty of action movies where the Sergeant shouts at his troops to “GO, go, go, go, go!”? That’s increasingly what the process behind shoots for this blog resemble - entirely thanks to the weather. The first time my mum and I attempted to take photos of this vintage dress, we emerged from and scurried back to the car three or four times as squalls passed overhead. The foul conditions resulted in the first ever scrapping of a set of photos (the only one deemed useable can be found at the bottom of the text). The ones pictured above were the result of trying again today, after suddenly remembering the perfect spot with a made-for-photos Morris Minor backdrop that we could dash off to. Of course the recently arrived vintage grey boots found on eBay only served to re-inspire the outfit, and luckily we were spared any puddles that might have ruined the heels. It was a distinctly more successful experience than the previous attempt.

Rain and drizzle have permeated the last few months. This year our New Year’s Day walk involved stubbornly tramping up the bracken-dusted side of a local beauty spot, with wellies and two anoraks apiece. It was amusing to observe how many other families were as hardy as we – the car park was packed, and the hill dotted with the bright circles of umbrellas. And yet, there was a sense of achievement in standing at the top of the slope, balancing on slippery rocks as the wind gusted. Even the heavy clouds didn’t detract from the rippling view of fields.  As we shared out rather meagre rations of chocolate, I was reminded of one of my favourite memories of recent years…

 A few summers ago, tired of complaints about the endless damp, my friend Ellen and I decided to pursue an alternative approach. We embraced the previously moaned-at rain by bundling ourselves up in cardigans and raincoats (a full-length holly green one in my case), slipping on boots and heading out for a rainy picnic. We had a backpack between us, stuffed with flasks of hastily made tea, crisps and half a packet of biscuits. We had no specific plan of action other than to wander, coats pulled tight, until we found a suitable spot to sit and enjoy our treats. After skirting the edge of a field and debating the suitability of a bridge, we instead settled under the shelter of a large oak tree. There we sat, letting the tea burn our lips while we talked. It must have been rather chilly, but I can’t remember much beyond the sound of the rain drumming like fingers on our umbrella roof – although I can distinctly recall the nasty feeling of pulling off damp jeans after we jumped in every single puddle we passed on the way back.

But, nice as the rain was then, I don’t have much patience the rest of the time (yes, I'm really fulfilling the British stereotype here!) Especially not when I’ve got all dressed up – from hair to heels – and driven to the top of the hill behind my house for some quick photos. It's invariably likely that, even if it has been mild all day, the drops will begin to descend the moment my mum pops off the lens cap. Either that, or the carefully thought out hair will suddenly acquire a halo of frizz thanks to the wind. Another element to add to this unpleasant scenario is the cold. I typically like to romanticize winter during the summer – thinking of the swans that huddle together on the sequinned ice of the nearby lake; of the temporary suspension of normal life when snow falls; of the glow one feels in the warm living room while reading. Do you know what none of those pleasant images takes account of? The seeping cold - not the crisp type associated with snow, but the lurking chill that means you're never quite wearing enough layers. And at the other end of the spectrum there's the heat of the fire, which although comforting to begin with, can lead to sluggishness that leaves motivation lacking. I think we often like to pine for other seasons - with very selective memories – picking the choicest moments to recall. For me, winter is encapsulated in a walk my dad and I took two years ago where the frost was as thick as fabric, transforming each tree into a scribble of white lines.   

However, at least winter allows for unashamed imagination and dressing up (vintage accessories galore!) – with my ‘look’ here being a kind of Venn diagram between Twiggy, sixties girl-about-town and Jean Shrimpton. I’m looking forward to seeing ‘We’ll Take Manhattan’ (a dramatization of the relationship between Shrimpton and the photographer David Bailey) on the BBC later this week. 

(Only useable photo from the first attempt a couple of weeks ago, in which I decided that I should never wear my hair in a ponytail ever again)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

All I need is a Train Ticket - and a Time Machine

Many my age might see a gap year as release from the extensive time spent controlled by term dates and exams. Thus I have friends who want to travel to America, Australia and India. The basic requirement is to be somewhere - anywhere - other. I wonder how many pupils, during an interminable Geography lesson on rainfall levels in Brazil, have found themselves studying those laminated World maps that curl on a wall or display board. The pastel coloured countries, adorned with names and black circles showing faraway cities where millions of people work and sleep and eat and laugh and argue, appear hugely more exciting than the basics of learning about hill-sheep farming. In Britain at least, years seven to nine (roughly from the age of eleven to fourteen) are a ripe time for cultivating such imagination – because not much really happens in the curriculum.

Modern travel makes adventure-based wishes easy and relatively straightforward (if one discounts airline-associated stress and working to save up for the ticket). Desire is in part stimulated by some kind of nagging feeling that there are bigger, better things if a border is crossed or a new continent plunged into. It’s no surprise that the idea of travel or working abroad is popular with teenagers. We’ve spent, on average, fourteen years following strict rules that often have little resemblance to the way the rest of life works… My educational trajectory was one in which I adored my village primary school (where we had the grand total of forty pupils – all of us tearing around the playground playing ‘tag’ or ‘stuck in the mud’); was fairly dissatisfied in all but a few inspirationally taught subjects at my state secondary (that was judged ‘unsatisfactory’ by Ofsted in my penultimate year); then landed finally at my state sixth form college. Here the considerable pressures and commitments are tempered by passionate teachers and subjects of genuine interest. Right now, with exams in the next two days, coupled with a nationwide education system geared towards tightly timed essays that tick all the right boxes (as opposed to promoting an actual interest in knowledge and learning) I have been left wanting to escape. Just a flight of fancy as the chill of January and relentless study becomes undeniable.

I’ve read classic travel books (specifically Laurie Lee and Patrick Leigh Fermor), watched films set against dizzying vistas and, like many before me, fantasized about the goings-on beyond the cold seas of this small country. However, my notion of travel was – and still is - largely romantic; primarily informed by literature and tales from previous decades. I tend to imagine Orient Express style sleeper trains that will deliver me to the Onion domes of a Moscow inhabited by the characters of Anna Karenina or members of the Ballet Russes – rather than RyanAir and fractious hours bickering with family members when the plane is delayed. I want to travel with monogrammed trunks rather than an ugly (but ultimately practical) suitcase, or alternately rely on the kindness of strangers while wandering through Europe. Such ideas are now just wisps of smoke – pretty to look at, but quite impossible to grab hold of and physically experience.

Travel has been globalised. At first glance, this appears completely positive. And to some extent it is – I doubt that without technological advances my family would have managed to visit my grandma in the glacial expanses of Alaska, or enjoyed the kind of European week-long holidays that are possible. I am of course grateful for these advantages, but there is still a tinge of another feeling – not exactly sadness, but a kind of longing for something never experienced, something that existed seventy or eighty years previously. Wherever travel takes us now, there are invariably the drooping arches of a McDonalds – with Ibiza going as far as to provide a giant facsimile of the British high street on a Saturday night.
My notion of a journey imagines total immersion in another culture. Does that still exist? When I was complaining to a friend about my desire to go around the world in 80 days (but with the aid of a time machine), she suggested that one just had to search further afield. Is this the case? Is it still possible to emulate the kind of voyages that great writers and adventurers embarked on? Or has technology not only removed some of the challenge, but some of the spirit of such a trip? Maybe it's the curse of the human race to assume that anything other than our immediate experience is going to be better – whether this means another county, or in my case, another time.

In a homage to a Russia that has probably never actually existed (apart from in folk stories), here is an outfit with embroidery and large skirts aplenty. The stunning blazer is Moschino, formerly owned by and then given to me by my fabulous Fairy Godmother (along with the hair clip), and I added a vintage taffeta skirt that once belonged to my mum – she bought it from a jumble sale. The tights are actually two separate pairs, with the adjoining legs tied together and tucked out of sight, while the shoes were from a charity shop. 

Also, I was immensely pleased to be told that I have been long-listed for the Company Style Bloggers awards (and so happy to see so many of my blogging friends in the different categories listed too!) If you enjoy my blog then you can vote for me - or for whoever your favourites are - here

Monday, 9 January 2012

Snow White and Rose Red

(Click on the landscape ones to make them bigger)

I often advocate extensive re-using and re-styling when it comes to clothing – and now I’m extending this to outfit inspiration too. For those who have been reading this blog for an immensely long time, there might be a vague recollection of an original ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ themed post . In fact, it often displays on my blog stats that people have virtually wandered onto this site while searching for that very fairytale.

I like using fairytales as a starting point for outfits or photography (I talked about literary stimulus here), but where the original post quoted excerpts from the Brothers Grimm, the theme here was distinctly more shadowy. One of my current favourite writers is Angela Carter, whose prose is like searching through a display cabinet of treasures and tidbits – full of rich images and crackling humour. I was first introduced to her novels by way of ‘Nights at the Circus’, but recently read ‘The Bloody Chamber’ after recommendation by my English teacher. It is not for the faint-hearted. Many popular fairytales are re-imagined and re-woven into much darker tales – not the sort that one wants to read late at night. This is perhaps apt, as fairytales are often thought to be a means to express the more confusing and murky elements of life. Wolves prowl through forests and wicked stepmothers don’t love their stepdaughters. They take the incomprehensible and safely explore it through the medium of story.
The idea of twisted fairytales permeated this two-way shoot with my friend Flo. We dressed up at her house, and jumped in the car – she in a red cape and me in a seventies wedding dress – to drive to a nearby wood. We then tramped over three fields to reach the trees. I'd like to think that if anyone caught a glimpse of us then they might have thought of the folklore associated with the area (which, as with much of England comes laden with local stories of ghosts and mythic characters). Either that or they realised we were just two friends who happen to enjoy outrageous dresses and camera lenses.
Unfortunately, the light was decidedly uncooperative – slowly draining away until only the dregs of day were left. Even my Canon 5D couldn’t cope with the dark trunks, showing its discomfort through a refusal to focus. We both took turns using the flash, but I don’t like the way it often washes out skin tones and makes everything look a bit Juergen Teller for my liking. So my non-image editing promise has been lifted for this post – just to lighten the shots - so that at least our faces can be seen! Despite the light difficulties (I blame the short days – I want sunshine lasting until ten at night, please), I was still satisfied with the atmosphere of the resulting shots.
Besides, for me the process of photography – both behind and in front of the lens – is not just about the results. I love the excuse it offers to get outside and really experience the landscape; the beauty of which still astounds after all these years in the countryside. And with friends such as Flo, it is the event itself that makes it worth doing. All of those moments not captured on a memory card – us carrying bags across hills, leaving boot marks in sticky mud, giggling and jumping like grasshoppers from thought to thought – are completely magical. That’s the real fairytale. 

Also, I'm taking part in the 'FruGal' challenge for brilliant ethical website Eco-Age (creation of Livia Firth). What an honour, and a lot of fun, to be featured for five days wearing entirely second hand/ sustainable clothes! See the first look here

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Autumn Almanac

I know it may be a rather obvious statement, but the majority of clothes featured on this blog were designed for women. Unsurprising since most of my most posts feature myself or friends, and besides I’m not much of a tomboy – not being particularly inclined towards the ‘boyfriend’ look (or maybe that’s just down to never having had a boyfriend to steal clothes from!)
However, when it came to styling my friend Krishan for my first male fashion shoot, I was surprised by the amount of masculine clothes my drawers and wardrobe yielded. I came across countless men’s jumpers and shirts, alongside a rather fetching set of vintage scarves that belonged to my granddad. My mum did even better than me; thrusting a dashing tailcoat at me that she’d unearthed from some dark corner of the house.  

I had always seen male style as somehow lesser – restricted in terms of creativity and self-expression. Why focus on trousers when one can have pick of the tea-dresses? And yet, what about suave Harris Tweed jackets? (Yes, I tend to employ the kind of terminology used to describe Don Draper when writing about masculine style.) And how about the silk pyjamas and red and yellow silk paisley dressing gown I wear with relish when I want to emulate Boris Lermontov from the Red Shoes? Perhaps I have finally discovered the appeal of clothes belonging to the opposite sex. Menswear gives the chance for deep focus on cut, colours and shape. Attention is drawn in to details. It can be classic, and often refreshingly simple. Savile Row has a reputation for a reason – what could be more satisfying and full of longevity than a bespoke suit? And at the other end of the spectrum, in day-to-day wear I’m positive that men’s jumpers are more comfortable than women’s.

And so, it was both a challenge and a delight to style my friend Krishan for my first attempt at male fashion photography back in autumn. I took my cue from the colours outside, and was pleased when my willing model turned up in a perfect pair of mustard trousers. These were used for every outfit – demonstrating the potential that one item of clothing holds for re-styling. I made a moodboard ahead of his arrival, filling it with studious looking boys reading books in awe-inspiring libraries, and other figures tramping across the grounds of Oxford. I think Jack Kerouac was in there somewhere too. It was hard to find the kind of images I wanted though. Perhaps part of my initial relegating of male style to the ‘slightly boring’ category was a consequence of many of the male editorials I’ve seen. Naturally, this isn’t true of everywhere (the Burberry adverts are of course exempt), and maybe I just need to research the field more.

My theme was “Well-dressed intellectual” – using clothes taken from my usual sources. The jumpers, jackets, scarves and even the fireman’s coat were a mixture of second hand and vintage (or sometimes both). The trousers and converses belonged to Krishan, although I provided the riding boots. My mum kindly drove the chair to a nearby lake, and it looked almost comical as it sat on the jetty. The light was a miracle – the kind of tones that characterise autumn, and that we don’t see enough of. And my favourite condition (intensely bright in the foreground with storm clouds in the background) even made a cursory appearance. Autumn, with its feeling of change, was an appropriate time to explore a new type of style – and who knows, I might even try a blazer and jeans at some point...


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sounds of the Woods - Nadinoo & Wish Wish Wish

Getting up at 5.30am to be in make-up at 6am is never the most pleasant way of waking up – even if on this occasion it was the lovely Emily choosing my lip shade and expertly applying eyeliner. But shooting a video with Carrie directing, Nadia styling and Miguel shooting definitely ranks among the best things I experienced this autumn past.
What I enjoy most about my blog is the unusual opportunities it occasionally throws up, that would have been inconceivable had I, in some ‘Sliding Doors’ style parallel life, not decided to create ‘Clothes, Cameras and Coffee’ on a day off from school several summers ago. This alternate Rosalind wouldn’t have visited London Fashion Week twice, been honoured to be featured in a number of magazines and websites from around the world (including Grazia most recently – thank you so much to Hannah Almassi!), and she definitely wouldn’t be as interested in writing. She would also never have met the wonderful Carrie from Wish Wish Wish, and so the chance of modeling in a video in collaboration with delectable designer Nadinoo would have been entirely improbable. Luckily, here I am, two and half years after starting my blog – and here is the film I appeared in.

Sounds of the Woods - Nadinoo AW11 Film from WishWishWish on Vimeo.

I will state now that having a blog is a little like having a double life. I get up (often blearily) in the morning to catch the train to college – and with that comes the endless responsibilities of homework and extracurricular activities, alongside socialising with good friends. Another side of me writes potential blog posts in the back of my lined notebook during free lessons, replies to the wonderful emails I receive and puts together text and photos for features. This side attends Fashion Week and the occasional shoot in London – often involving a hastily organized train journey. The two aspects to my life are not entirely separate though. I cajole friends into letting me take photos of them for my blog, and although I don’t wear fifties' ball gowns and gold pleated skirts to college, I don’t particularly water down my style either.

However, this video divided me not into two halves but into three characters. Pixie, Lula and Fleur to be precise. The trio serve as the muses behind each Nadinoo collection – a brand that mixes whimsy and classic design to create clothes that can be labeled simply as ‘beautiful’ and ‘highly desirable’.
Pixie is book-ish, with a fondness for wildlife and the outdoors (possibly bearing the most resemblance to me). Lula is the mischievous one, whose red cape and lips give her away as she spies on her fellow characters. The constant advice given to embody her was to “scamper” and “look cheeky”. The third, Fleur, was perhaps my favorite to act out. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and so really got into character as I pretended to read tarot cards – fulfilling her more ‘mystical’ aesthetic. We shot all three in a day in the outskirts of London, not that you’d know that from the locations. The only reminder that the city was not so far away was from the occasional clatter of trains as we crossed and re-crossed a railway bridge. In the course of the day – a real dawn to dusk affair – our small team walked from the trees where the Boy Scout-esque tent was pitched to the lake where I ‘fished’ (country girl? Pah – I know more about Balenciaga than bait) three times. It was roughly a mile each way, meaning that I probably did more exercise than I usually manage in a fortnight! And might I add that portions of those treks were completed in heels? I wore those black Mary-Janes, (which you may also recognize from this post), to do everything from clambering up a muddy bank to Kate Bush-style swirling while the smoke canisters did their work. I was told afterwards that the designer and make-up artist had been singing ‘Wuthering Heights’ as I spun.
I was immensely impressed by the props that Carrie had painstakingly collected and organized, and I took great delight in several ‘Observer’ leather-bound books she’d found – reading the miniature guides on birds, fungi and butterflies while filming. Her boyfriend Miguel, who is also working on this fascinating-sounding short film, did all the cinematography and is obviously intensely talented. The assembled crew of four (five including me) made the day both memorable and interesting. The yellow leaves and autumn light led to repeated praise of the perfect locations, and I'm still smiling when recalling the bemused expressions of dog-walkers who stumbled across us. It was an exhilarating time – and my first chance to perform on film (I’m more used to doing formal LAMDA speech & drama exams).
The stills were taken by Nadia, and for anyone not already familiar with her work, please do take a look at her incredible designs. Her personal style is top-notch too, making her a brilliant advert for her own brand. I hope you enjoy the video – I certainly enjoyed making it and am extremely honoured to have been asked by Carrie to be involved. The amount of work she put in to the making of the film was simply extraordinary.   

And of course, it being the first day of 2012 I wish everyone a very, very happy new year. May it be filled with adventures, opportunities and friendship. Thank you SO much for reading and commenting on my blog in the past year. I have so many ideas fizzing around my head at the moment, so I hope that I may continue to improve in all creative endeavours this year. 
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