Sunday, 25 May 2014

Magnification










Global warming bloody terrifies me. The mention gives me that pit-of-the-stomach, slightly panicky sense of helplessness. It rises on reading articles about food production, changing weather patterns, water shortages, rising sea levels. The just controlled panic filling my head with something beyond control. Yet, what do I do? I click off the analysis, move to safer territory. A blog, perhaps. The archives of the Paris Review. Often the quick sugar-hit satisfaction of Twitter.

That’s a privilege I currently have, that when reflecting on those personal responses – the self-interested reactions of ‘me’ and ‘I’ - there’s an awareness that, just for the time being, they are anxieties that can be dismissed. I can feel nervous about the future, caught up for an instant in questions of ‘what if’ and ‘oh shit’ and ‘why at this point in history?’ (and the inevitably selfish – ‘but there’s too much I want to do!’) Occasionally these queries will expand into conversation with friends or family. We’ll discuss newspaper reports or scientific studies. But then we slide back into security of the everyday. Books, work, creative projects, administration, meals, walks, excited midnight talks. The world around us.

But is that the problem? We can see plenty of tangible consequences, be it endless floods or unpredictable and catastrophic weather, but by and large it can be ignored – for now. Safer to focus on the immediate. But, although the phrase ‘act before it’s too late’ seems a bit Hollywood blockbuster in tone, the sentiment is right. Maybe we’ll be looking back on this time in fifty years, collectively kicking ourselves at our sluggishness.

I admit that it’s a subject I’m not hugely well versed in. I probably know more and take further interest than many, but there are hoards of others with extensive knowledge and understanding. Sadly none of them seem to be in government. I want to educate myself further, but, again, that panicky feeling arises and it’s easier to turn to other topics – or look at it through a particular lens, such as the environmental impact of ethical fashion.

Like many issues, it’s also a question of the individual versus governing bodies. What can we do on a personal level? How to be proactive? Or is it mainly up to the state and big global companies to enact change? Will those companies ever take steps to value anything above their profits, or this that just naïve idealism?

So many queries, so few tangible answers. It’s unsettling to think about. Engaging with the problem of global warming seems to expose the very fine, vulnerable threads that stitch our civilization in place. 

Those threads have also provided the basis for some compelling, terrifying novels. The texts that have had the biggest impact on me weren’t newspaper articles or commentaries – but fiction. The first, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, is a stunning novel charting the fall out when a colony of orange monarch butterflies settle in an Appalachian forest owned by a poverty-stricken farming family. It’s a story concerned with marriage, social injustice, fragmented eco-systems, climate change and the corrosive role of the media. Both brutal and beautiful. The most powerful aspect is in that uncomfortable mix of imagination and reality. The premise itself may be fabricated, but the science isn’t.

The second is The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson – a startling, multilayered narrative imagining a repeating world (and a human race who mess up again and again and again). Winterson herself observed of the book, 'I have said many times that I believe our time to be unique in the history of the world…. Stone Gods isn’t a pamphlet or a docu-drama or even a call to arms, it is first and foremost a work of fiction, but I am sure that change of any kind starts in the self, not in the State, and I am sure that when we challenge ourselves imaginatively, we then use that challenge in our lives. I want the Stone Gods to be a prompt, but most of all, a place of possibility.'

Maybe we need more of those places of possibilities – ways of discussing and thinking about and opening up dialogues to address something growing ever more imminent. A place that we can access, but also switch off from when needed. A place where the terrifying can be tackled head on. And a place that isn't one's head at 4am when all thoughts are magnified. 

A green outfit in a green place - I know, not the most original. But it was partly the countryside around me that prompted this post, so these images felt apt. Photos were taken last holiday. My jeans and Paul Costelloe shirt are both second hand, the evening coat is vintage and the vertiginous heels were from eBay. All jewellery is vintage. 
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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Yellow Book











Recently I stumbled across a sentence - one of those wonderful sentences that clarifies or describes something you’ve already thought about, but haven’t quite put into words.

It was this: "femininity, fashion and feminism are not mutually exclusive and neither are politics, intellectual engagement and fashion." I found it in a comment piece by the ever-excellent Invisible Woman.

It was, in its own way, similar to the YES moment I felt on hearing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie say of Zadie Smith in their live-streamed discussion,  “I’ve… really admired that she’s this brilliant woman who’s also a hot babe.”

What both statements demonstrate – in entirely different ways – is that there is (or at least should be) no contradiction between intelligence/ achievement/ academic prowess/ success/ politics and the desire to dress well or look good. Yet I’m surprised how often the two are set at odds, or deemed to be irreconcilable.

Think of Tom Newton Dunn tweeting “Boldly, @stellacreasy has just asked the PM to justify Page 3 – while wearing a bright blue PVC skirt in the Commons chamber.” Because apparently wearing something stylish or interesting disqualifies you from talking about sexism. It’s symbolic of a strange double problem. Female politicians not only tend to have their outfit choices dissected, regardless of what they’re wearing – but those who seem to enjoy what they’ve got on are treated with particular vehemence. I’m not sure what makes me more angry: the focus on female politicians’ clothes above their policies, the judgments attached to those clothes, or the attacks on those daring to think about or actively like their outfit choices. Possibly all three, because they come from a similar place of belittling and diminishment – of focusing only on female appearance, with an almost solely negative slant.

To return to Adichie, I found a brilliant essay of hers for Elle, titled Why can’t a smart woman love fashion? She talks about the difficulty of reconciling a love of clothing with the judgments of the literary world: “Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance… the only circumstance under which caring about clothes was acceptable was when making a statement, creating an image of some sort to be edgy, eclectic, counterculture. It could not merely be about taking pleasure in clothes.”

There are some spheres in which my interest in all-things-style immediately  seems to mark me out as frivolous – or at least less likely to be taken seriously. “What a silly thing to profess any sort of engagement with when there are such serious issues out there.  Fashion? Bah - vanity, narcissism and capitalism – that’s all it is, right?”

Well, yes, those are three elements – but their existence doesn’t cancel out everything else. Saying they do is akin to dismissing all interest in conceptual art because of Damien Hirst’s and Jeff Koons’ money-driven attempts at provocation, or like deeming all current music to be a vapid, shallow industry of big egos and even bigger hair on the basis of One Direction.

Hadley Freeman has brilliantly summarized before how much of the dismissal of fashion can be seen as a subtle form of sexism; a kind of upturned nose towards a traditionally female interest. In regard to intellectual activity on the other hand, there has been a strong historical precedent of uneasy response to female education. In the Victorian era it was actually claimed that too much reading might affect reproductive abilities.

I wonder if the subsequent trend of female students and professionals adopting more masculine uniforms to (borrowing Adichie’s phrase) “substantiate their seriousness” – to prove themselves as non-feminine, non-superficial, non-frivolous – has contributed to a kind of dismissive sniffiness. It becomes a kind of either/ or. Either you’re concerned with the mind, and so are above worldly things, or you’re interested in the material and therefore have no brain space left for anything intellectual. Add in to this the fact that a woman who is confident in both her presentation and in her abilities is seen as a threat by some.

The whole subject needs more mulling over, I know. There are so many contradictions and there is also so much social history wrapped up in our modern day perceptions of fashion and what we wear.

To me, what matters is choice. My personal desire to actively enjoy what I wear doesn’t mean I think that that all other women, or men, should do the same. It’s the opposite – an understanding that each of us has different priorities and interests. For me this includes vintage dresses, stacks of books, red lipstick, literary criticism, well made brogues, feminist theory, flouncy skirts, cultural analysis of clothes, ball gowns and long, engaging conversations. They’re all part of a composite whole, and I feel fortunate to be able to exercise such choice. 

This colour themed mix of paperbacks and personal style was a delight to put together. All the books were pulled from our shelves, while the outfit is made up of shorts and a jacket from a charity shop (the latter bought for me by my mum) and a vintage shirt that belonged to a great-grandma. The heeled brogues are second hand Carvela. 
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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Violet



Photography: Nicole Nodland
Styling: Valentine Fillol-Cordier
Make-up: Kay Montano
Hair: Anna Cofone 

Something very exciting happened last month. The first issue of Violet magazine came out. Set up by Leith Clark (previous editor of Lula), it's a sumptuous mixture of aesthetics and intelligent commentary. Fashion shoots rub shoulders - or rather, pages - with interviews on feminism, femininity, education, art and life experience.

I should profess a little bias here. I'm Junior Editor on the magazine, with some of my writing included in the first issue. The image above is taken from a debutante inspired shoot put together by the marvellous make-up artist Kay Montano. As quoted in the magazine, "Violet presents portraits to celebrate girls coming of age as women by way of achievement. The rite need not be grandiose, just brave, kind or curious." You can see the entire feature on Kay's Tumblr. I wrote up the biographies of all involved, slightly in awe of the bold, smart, beautiful assortment of women. 

Also, on the back page of the magazine there's a short essay/ eulogy of mine on the Czech new wave film director Věra Chytilová, who died recently. If you have a spare hour and a quarter, her brilliantly surreal (and best known) work 'Daisies' is available on Vimeo

When I received my copy I sat down with a coffee, ready to pore over the contents. Then I realised that actually, I wanted to take it in at a slower pace - and so spent the next few days returning every now and then for features such as Molly Parkin's observations and pictures of Daphne Selfe. As demonstrated by my obligatory Instagram snap below, it was perfect dinner time reading. 


Kudos to all involved - particularly Leith Clark, Kay Montano, Luella Bartley, Amanda de Cadenet, Stephanie La Cava and Zoe Kazan. They've done a glorious job. It's not only a satisfaction, but a privilege to have had a very small part in this publication - and I can't wait to see what's next. 
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