Merry Christmas

Christmas selfie replete with tatty indoor knit

I don’t mean to sound like a Christmas agoraphobic – some slipper-clad curmudgeon hovering near the larder cupboard clutching a box of Celebrations (even though this is a pretty apt self-description) – but once I finish work on Christmas Eve, the snooze button goes on and I’m catapulted into my own-made groove on the couch, slippers and sweets in tow.

Last year was the first time in several years I got Stephen’s Day off, and this year I’m taking a whole week to traipse around in my dressing gown and refuse to wash my hair – with relish – like some scrubby kid.

But what gets everyone who comes into contact with me around this time is that I don’t celebrate Christmas. No really, I don’t celebrate Christmas.

I wouldn’t say my family, or even my upbringing was unusual, but people are incapable of wrapping their heads around this fact.

I receive litanies of questions about trees (no), turkeys (no), Brussels sprouts (NO!!!!). In fact while I have this platform I’d like to espouse my view that sprout-enthusiasts are clearly victims of a parent-sponsored brainwashing campaign.

But over the years my family and I have fallen into a slight pattern, albeit missing the gaudy, shimmery ornaments and eagle-sized birds that would take me a lifetime to eat.

The food:

I don’t eat meat but if I did I’d be inclined to bypass the turkey-and-stuffing routine and tackle Christmas head-on with a stuffed swan filled with piping meat pie (I saw this on The Tudors once and thought it was outrageously swag). I take luxury very seriously and a plucked, decapitated farm bird doesn’t spell it for me.

I do however eat fish (and would eat it by the bucket load were I not in my parents’ autocratic jurisdiction, or of course if I was a seal). But for the last two years, maybe three, I’ve managed to coerce my mother into making a quiche.

Now I literally never eat quiche (mainly because I’m one of those people who walks through supermarkets turning over products to inspect the fat count).Those so inclined will know that quiche is a real bad guy in the dietary books, but of course being Christmas and only happening once a year, the quiche goes all out with cream, cheese and crab. And the result is so rich that you can’t actually eat a lot of it anyway, so I feel like this is a win-win for decadence and my waistline.

Until the quiche comes out of the oven however, my day is made up of cheese eaten directly off a knife and endless trays of chocolates cos again, swaaaag.

Television:

I feel as a family that this is where we excel at Christmas. I’d go as far as to say we win. All traditionalists know it wouldn’t be Christmas without a torrent of misery thundering through the rails of Albert Square and belting down the streets of Weatherfield. Eventually there’s some respite through the wiles of Downton Abbey while the rest of the day is lost to a deluge of Harry Potter films only punctuated by whatever box set made the cut this year – Breaking Bad, Homeland, whatever.

When it comes to the telly, we take it pretty seriously.

Decorations: 

I wouldn’t consider myself especially messy, just a little sloppy. I spill a lot of tea and even more wine but I wouldn’t be one to throw my clothes in a heap or leave a pile of dishes in the sink. Like everyone else though, I try to avoid cleaning and constantly catch myself dropping unworn socks into the washing basket in a lazy bid to avoid finding their pair or simply putting them away. This cycle is endless, and my socks do endless spin cycles in the washing machine as a result.

Consequently the thought of creating all that work for myself – heaving a dusty box from a forgotten cupboard, placing ornaments around the house to gather more dust, then having to pack everything away four weeks later – sounds like a cruel and futile exercise devised in a Dickensian Work House.

Clothes:

No niceties for me. I’m staying in my pyjamas all day, all week even. ‘Nuff said.

Bernadette

One of my friends returned from Brussels recently and I met her along with some other pals in town. Before I arrived though I had called into a bookstore and enquired whether they might have a biography on Bernadette Devlin. In fact I’d gauged the answer the night before when I put her name into Amazon; I discovered that yes, there was a biography, but no I couldn’t buy it on kindle or even firsthand.

The shop I called into tends to carry a sound selection of books and I figured that being Irish and in close proximity to Trinity it would likely carry works on Northern Ireland along with bios on key figures. But like Amazon, they didn’t have what I wanted and when I arrived to meet my friends (doing my round of meagre waves before sitting down), I launched into a bit of a tirade. My visiting friend is interested in women’s history but she hadn’t heard of Devlin. I wasn’t surprised – neither had I until a few weeks ago.

I live quite close to IMMA, The Museum of Modern Art, and frequently ramble around the grounds and through the gardens. I love seeing the same artworks again and again, sometimes discovering a new detail or re-experiencing a sensation through meticulously applied paint.

A cluster of new exhibitions had just launched and after taking in the permanent collection I slinked into a dark room playing black and white clips of a young woman with bushy eyebrows. I’d arrived late (the film’s around 40 minutes long and I’d walked in at the 25 minute mark) but I was so intrigued that I vowed to visit again and watch the film from start to finish. I did just that, arriving the following week three minutes before the next showing (all coincidentally, I’m not that organised on Saturdays).

The film, Bernadette, by Dublin-born artist Duncan Campbell, is an open-ended narrative about the Northern Irish dissident, Bernadette Devlin. It explores the subject matter along with the mode of communication (documentary film form) blending fact and fiction to examine Devlin’s fiery media persona versus the softly spoken, self-reflecting one. Told in three distinct phases, it begins with grainy footage and morphs into first person narrative, then third. It’s a conscious admission of the limitation of the documentary film form and instead of building up to a conclusion it consciously dissipates into something muddled, nothing.

Yesterday it was announced that Duncan Campbell had won this year’s Turner Prize for his series of films called It For Others. And as for me, well, I finally got hold of Devlin’s biography, The Price of My Soul, through the library. Now I can discover the real space and lived tension that rests between one newsreel and the next.

Alexander Wang x H&M

alexander-wang-x-hm

I’ve dipped my toe in-and-out of most exercise fads and wondered whether my absent athletic skills were the result of some less-than-quality footwear or a disdain towards ankle socks.

Being a picky shopper I tend to avoid the unsustainable trends pedalled by most big brands. I follow trends certainly, but I abhor the buy-wear-bin mentality that pervades so many people’s attitude towards clothes.

A few years ago, I remember standing in a department store with my mum, who upon inspecting some sports gear told me she was making the move from gym rags and cast-offs to the new, stretchy fabrics which had started to populate store shelves.

I’d seen these products too, mostly in sportswear chains, but incrementally they began to appear in high-street stores, and now sportswear has percolated its way through most levels of the market with practical styles as well as high-end diffusion lines.

But despite trailing off as a leading story on last season’s runways, the “sports luxe” momentum has carried through to the high-street for yet another season, with Alexander Wang’s forthcoming H&M line highlighting the trend’s refusal to to be sidelined.

But while I love of high-end, Wang’s dystopian fashion-meets-sportswear line does nothing to assuage my sportswear apathy. The designer once remarked that while he only wears activewear, he doesn’t lead an especially active life, but that his clothing endeavours to straddle the sports-meets-sedentary gap with poise and a touch of panache.

And indeed, the range is interesting: scuba-like neoprenes embellished with skin-effect details make up the body of the collection. While oversized, cocoon-like silhouettes are punctuated by Wang’s inescapable three-dimensional foam logo. But the range, for all its active-meets-inactive talk, is impractical and, worst of all, ugly.

alexwangmenh&m

Nothing straddles the active-meets-sedentary divide like an explosion detonation pack worn with branded long-johns.

H&M are truly my favourite retailer: their marketing strategy, sustainable clothing and subsidiary labels leave me in awe.

The recent Wang x H&M video – an example of H&M’s consistently excellent TV campaigns – drummed up a pang of excitement with its warrior-like women clad in futuristic garb. But this year, for the first time in several years, I won’t be making the pilgrimage to inspect H&M’s once-off range.

My inner-athlete might well be impeded by my dislike towards ankle socks and a wandering eye for high-end fabrics, but something tells me this range won’t give my exercise routine the kick in the butt it needs.

(I love this video: soundtracked by Diplo with a distinct video game-feel, it’s simply phenomenal. Alas, they lost me with the clothing.)

Nashty Girls

IMG_0300.JPG Rather unusually I was on Instagram today, which has become a sort of once-a-week treat now that my phone isn’t working. Mid-scroll I noticed a photograph of Sophia Amoruso with Lena Dunham, both recently published authors and two of my favourite women. For me, Amoruso embodies that stylish, hard-working young woman while Dunham by contrast resonates that relatable, totally adrift persona which occasionally touches too close to the nerve.

Last Tuesday, Dunham’s memoir “Not That Kind of Girl” arrived in stores, (greeted by large numbers of glasses-wearing white women apparently). And today, Nasty Gal posted a shoppable lookbook featuring Lena Dunham, who will wear Amoruso’s Nasty Gal clothing line exclusively on her US book tour.

While I’m not especially smitten with the clothes or branded bag (if only Nasty Gal would ditch the trends and take its lead from its own CEO’s wardrobe; all black, diaphanous, minimalist wares) the photos are a lot of fun, albeit missing some of the pants-free moments most people (myself included) love Dunham for.

Camel Scarf, WEEKDAY

Under Cover

Camel Scarf, WEEKDAY  

Somewhere in early puberty my body became a battleground for sore throats and gritty coughs. I visited the doctor, took time off school and chatted to pharmacists and chemists, but the cure as I learned was endlessly simple: a swathe of fabric wrapped twice around my neck proved itself an effective armour against tonsillitis, and I’ve worn a scarf almost everyday since.

Once I discovered the cure to my ails, my scarf collection grew exponentially and eventually my mum began to complain I had too many. Slowly and overtime I was forced to cull my collection, mostly donating these to charity, and now I treat myself to a new scarf every autumn.

~

Last week I took a ten-day tour through Scandinavia, beginning in Copenhagen and finishing in Oslo, but en route through Gothenburg I stopped in Weekday, a Swedish jean store, which stocks a variety of denims and shirts as well as prominent Swedish brands Whyred and Cheap Monday (to name a few). The store I visited had a Beyond Retro upstairs (what a combination), and like most things Swedish I was smitten by its unshakeable commitment to low-key style.

But I had made a conscious decision that there would be no shopping till Stockholm (No. Shopping. Till. Stockholm.), but I knew without hesitation that my first purchase would be a camel-coloured wool scarf, which I had spotted in a window in Malmö and yearned for on that hot, busy day in Gothenburg.

Seeing that I’ve lived the last ten years of my life in a scarf however, I’m often surprised by how many people dislike them, regarding them as bulky or superfluous (this includes my mum). My views are quite the opposite – a long piece of wool or cashmere carefully draped around a neck, or streaming down one’s back seems endlessly graceful to me, a simple, effective way to create a seamless silhouette.

& Other Stories / Weekday

Scarf, Weekday; Coat, Dress, Shoes, & Other Stories

My choice of colour was no doubt inspired subconsciously by Burberry Prorsum’s cashmere-blend blanket ponchos, whose easily knocked-off graphic intarsia will go down well with M&S’s customer base the UK-over. But while I love Burberry’s classic camel tones and bought into them this winter, the Arts and Crafts feels of Burberry’s shawls – designed to be loosely slung over one’s shoulders and belted for a relaxed Jessa-from-Girls kind of aesthetic – makes me grimace. Magazines, especially ones aimed at older women, will get behind it and tout it as ‘hiding a multitude of sins’ but the understated elegance of a scarf will long endure when blanket-coats become fodder for ‘Worst Looks of The Last Decade’ lists on Buzzfeed.

Of course I took a trip to my Swedish mecca & Other Stories, too (the damage can be seen above and felt at present as a type in a state of near starvation). But ultimately I’m chuffed with my new winter scarf: pure wool, soft to touch and extremely warm. C’est parfait.

Hitting The Right Note?

lykke li other stories

I somehow side-stepped the rest of the Internet and posted Lykke Li’s & Other Stories video a day ahead of the crowd (hurrah).

The web caught up with me of course (naturally), the range launched, and now reviews are dotted across every magazine and blog.

Other Stories   Online store[2]Personally I was excited at the prospect of a pared back capsule collection carefully devised to suit a ‘nomadic’ life. But while the range is considered, an emphasis on superior fabrics evident, it failed somewhat to wow.

I found the retro flares, oatmeal polo, black polyester shorts, and a boxy blazer that stubbornly refuses to resonate any femininity, well, a bit dull.

Other items like a chic cigarette pant, an oversized shirt and patent slip-on shoe, while wonderful, could probably be picked up in a local Zara or COS.

But while the range hits a flat note (for me anyway) my brand love is in no way diminished. Instead I’ll stick to the items I was lusting after all along: this purple dress, that leather skirt and a midnight trench that would surely lend an air of mystery to any outfit. Or get tangled in my bicycle spokes. Either / or.

Lykke Li & Other Stories make-up shot

A New Story From My Favourite Brand

I saw Lykke Li perform in Chicago two or three summers ago, but while I was au fait with her pop songs I had never really engaged with her music until then.

That year a passing interest had turned into active dislike as DJ-after-DJ renditions of “I Follow Rivers” snaked through shops and bars.

So when I finally saw her in a wooded inlet at Jackson Park I discovered her presence (small and witchy) and voice (synthy-soprano) were surprisingly magnetising.

I’d be lying if I said a lifelong interest was forged that day, but I became more forgiving of those trancey remixes which extended Li’s choruses beyond the thirty second mark.

Lykke Li & Other Stories atelier March 2014

As Sweden’s best exported musician (Sorry Jenny Wilson), with an ingress to mainstream and alternative music fans , it seems fitting that & Other Stories would partner with Lykke Li in the run-up to their New York launch.

Last March when Stories announced the collaboration, Li hinted at the utilitarian nature of the collection:

“I’m a nomad and travelled my whole life,” her press release read, “so my style choices have grown out of pure necessity. I need to travel light but still feel empowered, there’s no space for frills or colours.”

The collection, unveiled today in a promotional video and accompanied by grainy black and white images, suggests cool, masculine styles that lend themselves to migrant life.

Launching this Thursday – one week before my two week trip through Scandinavia – tailored pieces for a rucksack-toting nomad sound just divine.

Other Stories   Online store[1]

 

A New Crew

I wrote this more than a month ago but then my perfectionist side got in the way and I stalled publishing for almost two months. Anyhow it’s far from perfect but it’s not appalling. Here we go…

I visit a handful of fashion sites daily – Refinery29, Fashionista, GQ, The Cut – but The Business of Fashion tends to be my first port of call each morning. Earlier this month the site published a special print edition with a two-page feature on J. Crew’s Mickey Drexler and while it was a great read (no seriously, read it), it got me thinking about the steadfast role American tailoring plays in the US retail business.

The fashion preppy playbook is populated with stalwart brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, while Abercrombie and Hollister could feature as a keynote on the look and feel of the last decade.

But within a shifting landscape where Urban Outfitters and FreePeople have taken hold, J. Crew has continued to tiptoe on high-end and high-street profit margins, influencing shoppers with its unshakeable commitment to classic tailoring, low-key colour palettes and expertly mussed-back hair.

The interview with Drexler honed in on his ability to spot a trend and back it up through data, but failed to consider how compelling J. Crew’s success has been in the wake of unsustainable micro-trends fuelled by fast-fashion brands and an army of voracious shoppers.

Certainly J. Crew’s offering is pricey even if their product is broad, and season after season the same choice fabrics, clean silhouettes and ‘borrowed-from-the-boys’ aesthetic flood the web, offering shoppers simple upgrades on last-season pieces. But while J. Crew’s strategy sounds more regurgitation than master plan, it plays to a more selective shopper seeking coherency rather than insipid trends.

Rooted in lifestyle and functionality, J. Crew’s premium pieces appeal to a sense of aspiration while their core range relies heavily on styling – suits teamed with runners and runners lending an airy vibe to cotton dresses.

But while Americans refuse to max out on Americana, they can easily migrate to cheaper brands or premium names they feel deserving of high price tags. When shoppers grow tired of clean, directional tailoring where will J. Crew (and its global expansion) stand?

Magic In The Moonlight

The Cote d’Azur, dappled and golden, cheerful yet melancholy, infused with the thrum of jazz; Woody Allen has always been able to articulate nostalgia.

While Magic in the Moonlight looks endearingly romantic, the clothing triggers a long-drawn sigh. Drop-waist dresses, calf-length skirts and cloche hats resonate that easy 1920s style. Here are some of my favourite looks from the newly released trailer: