Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Heroes






I’ve done many things when modeling – walked slowly across busy streets heaving with traffic, attempting to look breezy whilst avoiding being run over; spent hours tottering around studios in heels, feet slowly cramping into agony while I’m encouraged to “just look natural”; posed in parks, on pavements and once in a Parisian apartment. Yet pulling on shiny silver leggings with underwear on top to wander around Camden was a first. Back in the heat of July I played at being a superhero for a day, putting my best (heeled boot clad) foot forward for Who Made Your Pants.

WMYP are an ethical co-operative that provide jobs and training to refugee women in Southampton. For a full explanation of their ethos, see this feature I wrote on them last year. In fact, it was that post – me styling a blue lacy number with thick black tights and jazz-style shoes – that prompted Becky (the founder) to get in touch to ask if I’d be interested in working with them.

The brief for the briefs (hah, hah, hah, never heard that one before) was to investigate new ways of advertising knickers – chiefly through doing something other than implying that underwear is solely worn for sexy purposes. They are – and can be - immensely sexy if you want them to be, but a lot of the time pants are also just useful bits of fabric arranged to make going about the day a bit more comfortable/ less draughty.

So this was an exercise in exploring other possible representations – looking at qualities like strength, power, activity, pragmatism (well, maybe not the last unless ‘pragmatism’ for you includes shiny fabric and capes). So I gamely jumped up and down a lot, strode around, hid in a phone-box and pretended I could stop trucks by the mere power of thought - all the while aware of the stares and iPhones whipped out by passersby. Who knows what platforms my image turned up on that day. Rather wonderfully though, two small girls posed for a picture with me after they had urged their mum to approach, to ask if I was a superhero. 

All in all, it was a full-on combination of fun, teamwork and collaboration – my darling friend Florence Fox taking the photos, the two of us working together on our first professional brief. There's nothing quite so satisfying as that mix of playful ideas and producing images you're truly proud of, for a company with such an admirable ethos. It was a whirlwind day of posing and cameras and suitcases crammed full of exciting fabrics and spangly things. And of course, really great knickers.

You can see other images from the day on WMYP's pinterest board

Now, Becky has been nominated for this pretty prestigious Social Entrepreneur of the Year award. The winner gets a £10,000 boost to their social enterprise. This would be immensely valuable to WMYP, especially as brilliant Becky (and all the others) work so tirelessly on keeping the initiative going. Voting closes at midday on October 31st, so if anyone wants to cast a vote before that point, then that'd be more than wonderful. Go, go, go! 
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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Assembling Yourself








My usual approach to getting ready to go out is slap-dash at best. No matter whether it’s for a quick scoot around the local charity shops or an evening drinking cocktails. I usually have a maximum of about ten minutes in which I’ll drag a comb through my hair, scrabble around frantically for make-up (often muttering, “Where’s my bloody eyeliner? Which of these five handbags is it rattling around in?!”), pause for a minute in front of the mirror with my lipstick and then manage a spritz of perfume before I run around trying to find shoes. That is, of course, if I even have time to do any of this in the house. I’m also adept at the art of completing the whole rigmarole once I’m on a train, or alternatively, I don't bother at all. 

I’ve pretty much always followed this pattern. At my school prom in year 11 (aged 16), where most girls had given over the entire day to extensive preparations, I had the barest of minimums time-wise. My mum curled my hair with tongs (back at the point before my then-straighter-hair turned naturally corkscrewed), drove me to a drama class which I'd refused to miss and returned me home with all of about 15 minutes to spare before we had to leave again. Nearly half of this was spent attempting to wriggle into a very tiny, fitted black sequined dress. In fact, so tiny that I had to tear and cut the lining to ease it on. It had long sleeves and, were I not the height I am, would have been floor-length. It was also backless, requiring quite a lot of double-sided tape to keep the shape in place (hi there scoliosis-affected wonky shoulder blades!) I managed some red lipstick, a flick of black liquid eyeliner and a wave of the mascara wand before we had to go.

All of this said, I do still enjoy the ritual of preparing myself for an event. These instances may be very few and far between, but there’s something special in having half an hour or, about once a year it seems, an hour free to play around and move at a sedate pace. It’s a chance for good music (James Brown and Ella Fitzgerald being two favourite choices right now); a fair bit of dancing around in underwear; the chance to appraise the contents of a wardrobe in a leisurely manner whilst seeking the right dress (if not already chosen); the motions of smoothing and outlining and smudging and blotting and brushing. There’s a contented, excited feel to it all. It’s an allotted space of time to assemble yourself for whatever is ahead – to luxuriate in a moment or two of calm before the whirl. 

Here I'm wearing a second hand, silk Monsoon dress, ridiculously vertiginous heels (also second hand) from eBay and vintage necklaces. I loved the softness of all those greens. 
I'll be posting about it separately soon, but issue 2 of Violet magazine has just been released, complete with an interview I did with my Czech grandma! 
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Impromptu







A little spontaneity never goes amiss. In fact, nothing like a day seemingly stale – productive in a lacklustre way, with too many interludes on twitter – then lightened by an on-the-spot decision to go out and do something.

On this particular evening, about a month ago (when I was still back at home before returning to university), the ‘something’ was relatively simple: a drive and stroll in the early evening light. I’d spent the afternoon moping around feeling a bit under the weather and generally sorry for myself. So after umming and aahing over dinner, I agreed to go out – only stopping to grab a pair of socks and the nearest cardigan. As dad drove, the slant of the sun grew ever more spectacular – the car winding its way higher into the hills, the golden wash of grass and valley beneath.

I had on what I’d been wearing for a day of work – no make-up, and (I have a feeling) with my hair still un-brushed. There’d been no suggestion of anything other than a walk, and, possibly for dad, some wildlife photography. But I couldn’t help myself: “daaaad, look at the flowers, they match my dress – just one shot!” Well, one shot – and then another, and another, and another…

At first, I’d been hesitant. Here I had nothing to hand – not even a belt to shape up the saggy dress, or a stray eyeliner hidden in a pocket. Nothing. Just the surroundings and the sunshine and some very messy curls. But it felt liberating – all the more freeing for the lack of care or perfectionism. Yes, I had spots on my chin. Yes, this was an outfit more practical than planned. Yes, my throat was killing and my chest hurting for some unknown reason (I’d woken up with it that morning) – but here I was, swept afresh by the breeze, standing and smiling on a road that felt almost abandoned.

There’s a difference, as there always is, between the experience at the time and the photos that then appear on my blog. The latter captures something of the former, but only a condensed moment or two – something shaped and framed for a specific purpose, and a specific platform.

So here I am, as it is with every post, showcasing an outfit and appearance, a visual identity. I’m a little less groomed this time – but no more or less real. It’s how I spend roughly half my days, depending on what I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll dress to the nines for a morning spent writing in my room – or spend a day without even dragging a comb over my head (they are rare though...)
Yet it feels like all of this gains another context on a blog ostensibly devoted to style and culture. 

Does appearing without make-up and other accoutrements become a more political choice, contradicting the usual ‘perfection’ often expected of style bloggers?

To me, it’s just another way of looking. It lacks the accentuation or playfulness of red lipstick, mascara and the like – the potential to flatter or highlight certain aspects with colour, kohl and powder. Instead it’s another angle, another mode of presentation – albeit one with less effort involved.

But I don’t feel any real ‘liberation’ in it. It’s no sacrifice. It doesn’t feel brave, or that I’m saying anything particularly beyond the fact that I’m comfortable enough in my own skin (most of the time) to put this up.

But maybe it’s easy for me to say that? I sit (and fit) relatively close to various societally constructed ideals when it comes to appearance. My skin is mostly pretty clear, my features – apparently – noticeable. I’m happy to play dress up when I want, but also to go out and about with a face unadorned. Perhaps that’s a privilege afforded to me. But it certainly shouldn’t be one based on how near or far you rest from the bizarre cultural tally of what constitutes ‘beautiful’ or ‘acceptable’ – but just how you view yourself.

All items worn here are second hand, amassed from various charity shops. The cardigan is vintage Jaeger. 
In other news, it was Day of the Girl on Saturday October 11th and I wrote something for All Walks Beyond the Catwalk on young women, violence and damaging fashion imagery - you can read it here


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Sunday, 5 October 2014

On Paris







Ah, Paris. The city of a thousand clichés. The city where actually mentioning all the clichés is, in itself, kind of clichéd. All I need do now is throw in some vaguely self-conscious, somewhat deprecating references to Amelie and the Eiffel Tower and we can all be done with this and go home. Well, except, that wouldn’t be terribly interesting – either for me writing, or anyone reading. So, let's begin again.

Over the summer, I went to Paris for three nights. I’m not a huge traveller (at the moment – although I’ve promised myself this will be rectified), particularly as work in a variety of forms often keeps me more UK-bound than I’d like during holidays. I flit in a triangle between London, Oxford and the hills all the time, but rarely make it further afield. So this was exciting. It was something I’d been saying I would do for a while, but wasn’t sure I’d actually manage to organise. Thankfully I did.

I stayed with my beautiful (and extremely well-dressed) friend Mina, whose mother lives there. My one and only previous trip to Paris had been at 14 for a modelling job (see here), carefully chaperoned by my mum. This time, with a hell of a lot more independence, Mina and I indulged in a mix of the touristy and the offbeat, alternating between sitting outside the Notre Dame at midnight and sifting through some excellent thrift stores in East Paris.

Part of my reluctance to write about the trip was due to that very touristy nature of our various exploits. Who wants to hear about visiting Shakespeare & Company, or wandering along the Seine at midnight? These are stories that have been told over and over. Old news. And yet, as recognisable (and predictable) as some of these activities may be, it in no way diminishes the intensity of those first glimpses, those marvelous experiences.

Yes, every individual with a sniff of a love for literature ends up at Shakespeare & Co – but it doesn’t stop the gasp of “wow” on first seeing that tiny space crammed high with books, each corner packed full with more volumes than you’d think possible. It doesn’t stop the vague wistfulness of wishing that you could work there too. 

And yes, going to the Pere Lachaise cemetery is not a revolutionary idea – but it doesn’t lessen the incredible curiosity it provokes; the compulsion to want to see as much as possible. After two hours spent climbing stairs, tramping along walkways and skirting graves and chapels so elaborate they resembled twisting streets and villages dedicated to the dead, we found Oscar Wilde’s grave. Another typical sight? Tick. In fact, we were almost a little disappointed – perhaps hoping for something more - until an elderly man with long, flyaway hair clutching a folder and a handful of Gertrude Stein leaflets approached us purposefully. He grabbed my arm, pointed at my lipstick and proceeded to tell me, my friend and a small assembled group all about the women who came here to kiss the grave (he also indulged in some less salubrious details about why Jacob Epstein’s statue was missing its penis, but we’ll leave that for another time…) It was unexpected, but it felt oddly appropriate to encounter such an eccentric character at that point, in that location – fitting, in many ways.

What else did my trip include? Wonderful food, wine sipped outside in the dwindling light, a hidden cocktail bar, a museum we managed to get quite lost in, plenty of coffee (including in The Used Book café), catching up with another friend over piscines of champagne, more wonderful food, returning to the Notre Dame to sketch in the midday heat… An assembly of instances I will remember fondly. But beneath them all was the pleasure of being somewhere new with a good friend, our conversations threaded through all that we did – several days of adventure and intellectual discussion. And for me, that’s as good as it gets.

This second-hand navy shift dress with lace inserts was one of the best souvenirs of the holiday, found in a particularly delectable thrift store for 15 euros. Here I wore it with my mum's black translucent slip underneath (purposefully longer) and a favourite suede jacket picked up at a jumble sale - I think it was 50p? The chelsea boots are now established old favourites - they're second hand men's Russell & Bromley. The bag was from a charity shop. Evening summer light while driving high up through the hills of home to see friends: serendipitous.
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