Recent Writing Bits

Made my first foray into sponsored content last week with 8 cycle routes around Dublin (via Lovin Dublin).

And here’s a second sponsored article (ignore the fact that the editor’s name is listed, it’s all my doing).

Also seeing this topic’s so close to my heart, I’ve written a list of places to shutter out the world beyond and give in to an excellent book.

Perplexed where to bring that stranger you met on Tinder? Take my advice and bring them to this north side cemetery.

Good Friday’s a day to imbibe, so with that in mind I chronicled some of the easiest home cocktails around to ensure your Friday’s hella good.

Thoughts on Valentine’s

A few words from the perennially single:

So there I was, this time last year, finishing work and idling away the last forty minutes of my day when conversation suddenly turned to Valentine’s Day.

Now before last year I had never really worked in an office, and the people I worked with tended to be miles away from the post-college delirium that (let’s be frank) still engulfs me today.

Anyway, out of nowhere February 14th was the topic of discussion and being the only single in the office I started to feel that slow, rising panic.

Whatever it is about being unattached (or ‘unconsciously uncoupled’ as one smug acquaintance recently put it), people, whether intentionally or not, often see it as license to spew the kind of oblique compliments Neill Strauss would dole out at a negging seminar.

And while I imagine last year’s excitement was built around Valentine’s falling on a Friday, it also meant two whole weeks of my life were spent staring impassively at my keyboard as talk of romance fluttered around my 9-5 cell.

Anyhow, after going through the inventory of backhanded compliments – mulling them over as I slug back wine in a onesie like the unequivocal stereotype I obv am – I came to a few conclusions. First and foremost:

Being single is good for you.

And secondly – perhaps more pertinently – I need to switch to white wine ‘cos this red is giving me some serious Hannibal teeth.

Now before anyone jumps to conclusions I’m not ragging on the people who’ve found their life partners, or even those whose stomachs feels like a whizzing kaleidoscope after a sweet, stray kiss outside Ray’s Pizza on a Saturday night. The fact is that I just like being on my own. And unfortunately, many others see it as priority to put me in my place.

I don’t have a relationship. I have several:

It’s never intentional and not everyone’s a victim but so many of my friends have found their human hot water bottle, then promptly given up on all their other relationships.

Sure, our friendship is cultivated through years spent languishing in the same secondary school and learning to type through MSN Messenger (RIP) but all that’s been usurped by a special someone whose lips appear to be infused with a magnetic substance.

I’m pretty forgiving of this particular transgression seeing that I’ve done it a million times before. But it’s those friends who become invested in their partners at the expense of all their other friends that irk me. Perhaps I’m a bit of a sad case for not having found ‘The One’ but in their absence I’ve found a small army of fun and amazing people to do my bidding (most likely with a taxi driver who insists my head is lolling dangerously to one side just as my wallet decides to stage a disappearing act inside my handbag.)

There’s a spark:

There are so many things I’m passionate about: museums, Irish art, magazines, women writers, attempting daring lip colours while drinking pints of wine, travelling, seafood, day-dreaming…

Some of these interests have turned into hobbies and a few of those hobbies have become real passions that miraculously pay my bills. But I’m sceptical whether I would have committed myself so fervently had I not grown tired of The Carrie Diaries and learned that downtime gets dull when there isn’t another person to monopolise your every minute.

People can be passionate about plenty, and they can feel passionately about someone, but I really don’t believe a person’s passion can be another person. Work out what you’re good at and be great at it, I say. That sense of achievement will come soon after and a fan club will quickly materialise (disclaimer: the horn-tooting Mariachi band actually takes a while to materialise, I’m sorry).

I get to sleep:

I understand that those in a relationship will see sleeping separately as fostering distance while lying side-by-side creates intimacy, but what if your bed companion snores?

I sleep like an orang-utan and find it almost impossible to lie next to someone who falls asleep before me without getting absurdly angry with them (the TEMERITY!!!!!!!) so resorting to a night alone, with eight hours of sublime, uninterrupted shut-eye seems, eh, great.

I’m spontaneous:

I’m not really. But I have the option to be and there’s a lot to be said for that, am I right?

Oh, Ja! Fun Times in Stockholm

I went to Sweden this time last year and wrote a whole 1000-word thing about it for the Irish Examiner. Anyway, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never bothered to publish it, so here we go… 

If my work colleagues are anything to go, the city we aspire to live in is Paris. Imbued with a characteristic insouciance, it calls to mind rainy street scenes, peeling shop fronts and pastry chefs in tall hats.

But these tableaus have never grabbed me and by-and-large I’ve always felt as though France was too cool for me, or perhaps I was too earnest for France.

Over the years though, where others have dreamt of Monet-like scenes of the Seine, I’ve been infatuated with misty images of Scandinavia, cobbled together through Danish television series.

In particular, I’ve developed a fascination with Sweden, which for me embodies something incredibly exotic yet remarkably familiar.

My curiosity was initially roused by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but developed through an interest in online fashion and particularly Swedish brands Acne and Cos.

Eventually, after eighteen months obsessing over Stockholm street style blogs and Cheap Monday jeans on Asos, I decided I was going to move to Sweden and immerse myself in its glacially cool culture. The only issue was I’d never actually been there. What if I didn’t like it?

Getting to Stockholm proved pricey and my flight, which originally went on a Sunday, was moved to Monday after Aer Lingus suspended all weekend service to Stockholm for the month of January.

In the build up to my trip I spent several weeks studying up on Stockholm’s history and marking off what I’d do when I got there. I wanted to enmesh myself in the culture and if that meant learning how to take a photo with my mittens on, then so be it.

The city itself is made up of 14 islands, with one-third consisting of water, another of green space and a final third entrusted to urbanity. Nothing feels concentrated or clustered and fresh air is in abundance.

Visiting in late January however, the temperature was a brisk subzero and moody, atmospheric light punctured the grey skies as well as intermittent snowfalls.

Sights:

Stockholm’s medieval architecture unfurls like a fairy-tale town in a children’s pop-up book and the compact layout allows travellers to navigate it by foot.

The Old Town (or Gamla Stan as the locals call it) is cobbled around the Royal Palace which is located near Stockholm’s oldest building, Storykyran. This ‘Great Cathedral’ dates to the mid-thirteenth century and features a rich, robust interior with redbrick columns and a whitewashed ceiling. Home to royal weddings and coronations, it also boasts a dramatic sculpture of St George and The Dragon adorned with genuine elk antlers. Best of all, it’s free.

Nearby on the neighbouring island of Skeppsholmen, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet (admission 120 sek) presents Irish tourists with a somewhat familiar sight: four painted, contorted sculptures by Alexander Calder – the same artist behind Trinity College’s Cactus Provisoire – welcome pilgrims who’ve toiled uphill and prepares them for the preeminent collection of modern art shielded behind the gallery’s glass shell.

Inside, the Museum’s permanent collection is presented chronologically and draws parallels between Swedish art and the European avant-garde. It moves seamlessly from the turn of the century to the inter-war years and displays works by a range of artists including Munch, Picasso, Pollock, Bacon, Rauschenberg and Richter.

At a 1968 retrospective in the museum, Andy Warhol coined his prescient platitude ‘In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes’. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll use that as leverage to take a quick selfie on the terrace of the museum’s restaurant which offers a beautiful view towards Östermalm.

Shopping:

Coming from a retail background – as well as a general addiction to shopping – I was hyped to visit the brands that had piqued my interest in this North European city. I might not speak Swedish I thought, but I could parlay about fashion like a native.

For many, myself included, Swedish fashion is synonymous with structured, minimalist tailoring. Brands like Whyred, Filippa K and Tiger of Sweden (all high end labels) are imbued with that signature Scandinavian silhouette. Gina Tricot and Monki meanwhile are aimed at younger, more eclectic audience similar to H&M.

Acne is one of Sweden’s best-known exports, originating as an advertising agency and jeans manufacturer but now renowned for its relaxed yet pricey clothing. There are several Acne branches based in Stockholm but the Östermalm store (Hamnagatan 10-14, Östermalm) is located, rather significantly, in the same building that introduced the world to the concept of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

For those with high-end taste and low-end budgets however, it’s worth noting that the Whyred Outlet (No.94 Drottningattan) and Acne Archives (No.53, Torstagatan) sell past collections for men and women at significantly discounted prices. Be warned though, sizes run on the small side.

Fika:

Once you’ve wriggled your way in and out of some close-fitting skinny jeans, it’s time for a coffee break – or Fika – as the Swedes call it. Coffee and cake are an institution in Sweden and post-lunch slumps are tackled with a strong java that’s washed down with a semla in spring or cinnamon bun (kanelbullar).

Home birds on the hunt for Starbucks might be a little putout by the lack of franchised coffee chains but Wayne’s – Sweden’s equivalent to Insomnia or Butlers – is located on most main streets and sells rich, quality coffee.

Travellers seeking something more traditional however should visit Kaffekopen (Stortorget) in the Old Town, which sells magnificent semla buns (edible, geometric pastries made with almond paste and whipped cream and which more-or-less beg to be slathered over your face) before taking a stroll across the way to Chokladkoppen, a dimly lit chocolate café that sells bucket-size mugs of cocoa.

‘Tak’:

Tak (meaning thank you) was my buzzword throughout the trip, and I used at every occasion in a non-stop bid to pass myself off as a Swede.

Sure I was an imposter, dressed head-to-toe in Swedish garb, no better than an Irish woman in a beret, muttering d’accord at every street stall merchant she passed, but I left feeling somewhat satisfied I could live in Stockholm and get by in my earnest ways.

Sweden, like its Scandinavian cousins, has been described as one of the happiest nations on earth. There’s nothing cool about being cheerful but then who put such a high precedence on being cool?

New Year, Cold Me

I spent December in a fiercely committed relationship to mince pies and woke up in January wearing slightly tighter clothes, under a blanket, in a drizzly scene reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes.

Last month, paid my January wages two weeks in advance, I was a thriving credit card-toting consumer with repetitive stress incurred from over-flaunting my card. Now I’m in a hostile relationship with my banking app, a lying, cheating scoundrel-of-a-thing who left me with nothing but bad debts and empty promises.

January is the bleakest month we’re told, with newspaper columnists piping up on the third Monday – “Blue Monday” – to remind readers that their relationships are over, their diets have staled, and that the ESB bill isn’t going to pay itself.

The red, green and gold of yester-month have vanished beneath a small pile of wine bottles collected around the bin (note: I can’t get rid of these until the weather picks up and a trip to the recycling unit doesn’t include frostbite).

Meanwhile my fleece dressing gown has come into its own of late, and beans (sans toast) are a delicacy to be consumed in front of interminable diet shows on television with their “new year, new you” spin.

Well I say bring on February. It’s a new year, but this isn’t a new me, just a really cold, miserable and unmotivated version of myself.

Merry Christmas

Christmas selfie replete with tatty indoor knit. Baaaahh.

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 work finishes 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, refusing 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 finish.

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 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.

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 one new scarf each 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

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aVmnIc7_3c]

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:

Food For Thought

Deciding to lose weight is like stepping headfirst into a tornado: one friend swears by the caveman diet while another plans to starve themself two days a week for the rest of their life. Meanwhile threads and forums populate the web with the same vacuous drivel, encouraging us to fear our food and try made-up detoxes which regard daily eating as some kind of dicey past time.

Of course when your dress size is tipping – nay keeling – into the next size, and every dressing room magically transforms into a brightly-lit crime scene littered with balls of clothing, desperation kicks in.

I’ve never been fat in a way that compromised my health but for a long time I slid down that tunnel of self-despair reducing myself to strings of adjectives  – hideous, embarrassing, fat –  criticisms I wouldn’t think to call anyone else.

When people ask how I eventually lost weight they seem sceptical that it was as obvious as walking each day, cutting out bread and trying my hand at mindfulness. And there were other important factors too of course,  like learning to cook and substituting ‘diet products’ (low cal, high sugar soups and things) for vegetables, grains and pulses.  But mindfulness has been the unsung hero in my new outlook towards food and life.

I’m a fussy eater. Like a reaaaally fussy eater. I won’t eat meat and I hate anything with an unusual texture (I’m looking at you courgettes) so when I find something I love – and I mean really love – the urge to plough through it becomes too much. I inhale everything in sight, trying to fit in as much in as I can without considering whether I’m really hungry or what I’m even eating. I can devour entire loaves of bread or several portions of pasta in one sitting failing to recognise that I’m full until it’s too late and my stomach’s sore and protruding.

My mum was the first person I heard mention mindfulness. She used it to reduce stress and become more aware of the world around her. When she told me about the exercises – focussing on breathing, contemplating movement – it sounded facile and slightly new-age. But over time I started adapting it to what I was eating, and in turn learned to appreciate food in a way I never had before.

For me, mindful eating isn’t about diets or giving up food, it’s about experiencing food more intensely. When I eat now (especially if it’s something I like) I try to eat it slowly, putting my fork down while I chew and tuning into the flavours, the aroma, appreciating the colours and presentation of the food.

Over time my appetite has reduced (or maybe stabilised) and I can finally recognise when I’m full (content to be precise), reducing all that preventable stuff like indigestion and bloating. It’s still testing of course and I’m not an expert by any stretch but in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, Smile, breathe and go slowly.

COS It’s So Nice

A newer, cooler ampersand in the H&M portfolio, & Other Stories has become my go-to spot on the net, but it’s still the crisp white shirts in COS which get me – and my bank account – every time.

When H&M launched its decidedly more fashion-forward concept brand & Other Stories, I was enthralled by the bright colours and unusual shapes. A follow-up to its subsidiary label ‘Collection of Style’ or COS as it’s monikered, & Other Stories wasn’t as directional or easy-wearing as its sibling, instead producing modern silhouettes in vibrant, high-end fabrics.

These last twelve months my wardrobe has become robust, mostly made up of items from these two brands. But while I lean towards the tailored, quirky lines of Other Stories, I still hanker after COS’s simple, structured shape.

Last year, a change in circumstance prompted a wardrobe overhaul and along with several bad habits (like biting my nails, which I started age four and only gave up last June) I disposed of all my old, ill-fitting clothes, choosing simply to start over. The nub of my wardrobe consisted mainly of fast-fashion brands which were repetitive, cheap, and which I harboured no love for (bar one or two exceptional items which were spared the nebulous fate of the black sack), but the process of starting over was entwined with new priorities. I didn’t want to saturate my wardrobe with more clutter, and following the collapse of the Bangladeshi factory last spring I became increasingly concerned about where my clothes were coming from, but also how retailers generate pollution. I needed to dress all the same, and was determined to achieve that elusive ‘capsule wardrobe’ fabled by Gok Wan.

As a kid I remember seeing Vanilla Sky, and aside from coveting Penelope Cruz’s chocolate-y brown hair, I became fixated on this loose shirt she wore in one of the earlier scenes. I went hunting for something similar in A-Wear but only found those close-fitting dobby shirts in shades of pastel and blue (the kind reserved for cheap polyester work trousers with an unexplained sheen).

My dreams of relaxed poplin shirts were scuppered, and aside from secondary school I didn’t own a shirt till last year. But eventually, after battling my wardrobe’s tangled graveyard of knitwear my mind turned to simple, directional separates and once again I embarked on a mission to find the ideal crisp white shirt.

In this age of fast-fashion, the white shirt is the very definition of a wardrobe staple. Buttoned-up or worn relaxed, it has a touch of masculinity to it with tailored trousers, while looking remarkably feminine with close-fitting jeans. COS’s ability to reinvent the iconic shape, playing with proportion, reversing the traditional dipped hem or eliminating the collar sets it apart while small details – a contrast pocket, concealed buttons – give it that touch of luxury which normally goes amiss on the high street.

& Other Stories will always enthrall, but COS just wins me every time.

A Day In The Life

Every so often I read The Mail Online and wonder what my life would look like splashed across the website for a pack of click-ready hyenas to troll. Anyhow, in a moment of boredom I decided to write my own Daily Mail-inspired column of shame. Here we go.

Is this Art Historian a benefits CHEAT? We ask whether Michelle has ROBBED the tax payer by studying a USELESS degree.

‘Scarlet fever: Michelle’s pink skirt gets caught in her knickers AGAIN!’

‘Are you lonesome tonight? Recent photos show Michelle exiting a night club alone. But our expert asks ‘Do alcohol and late nights CAUSE INFERTILITY in women UNDER 25?”

‘I just can’t afford it’: Meet the woman living RENT FREE in a THREE BEDROOM HOUSE who claims €3 coffees are TOO EXPENSIVE!’

‘Counting Crow’s feet: Has Michelle lost her youthful good looks? Recent poll suggests women in their mid-twenties are 83% LESS DESIRABLE than they are in their late teens.’

‘I look like I’ve been punched!’ Michelle considers turning to drastic measures as make-up fails to cover up dark under-eye circles.’

‘CelluLIGHT? She may be lithe but those hips don’t lie as pockets of cellulite ripple on the beach.’

‘The ups and downs of not taking the elevator: returning to the office, the beleaguered Michelle fell UP the stairs before sliding BACK DOWN and cutting her leg. But is this the ONLY TIME it’s acceptable to cry in the workplace?’

‘Are you INSANE? Described as keeping a low profile by friends, Michelle was spotted at an event last week following a recent bust up with a mystery man. But a new study published by Ontario State University suggests MEN are the LEADING CAUSE OF MADNESS in women UNDER 25. Jan Moir wonders whether Michelle has got a dose of the MAD COW disease.’

For whatever reason I’ve always imagined The Hall of The Mountain King is played two minute before every deadline @ Daily Mail HQ.

The New Norm

I read an article on The Business of Fashion the other week in which Uniqlo’s newly appointed CMO, Jorgen Andersson, described consumer culture as generic. The interview ran around the same time I discovered “normcore,” a new, non trend-driven movement featuring self-aware twenty-somethings dressing like Steve Jobs.

Too bad Friends (and more specifically Chandler) got there 20 years earlier with this spectacular ‘divorced dad’ ensemble.

How Pinteresting

I set up a Pinterest account several months ago but never really used it until I suggested the company I work for adopt the platform. The statistics I found in favour of the social networking site were glowing with Pinterest generating significant traffic to retail sites, and many referrals translating into purchases. Damage control is at a minimum too, with most users pinning inspiring content instead of the mouthy, opinionated blather that stews on Twitter.

But Pinterest is quite a lot of fun I’ve discovered (quelle surprise), and an easy way to siphon off 30-odd minutes before bed or on the bus. And because it’s an image-based platform it doesn’t feel intrusive or prying like Facebook, but rather like a fun, whimsy aside you can call upon at a later date.

Anyhow, seeing that I spend my days combing retail sites, it’s becoming clear that e-tailers are trying to tap into a social experience and build communities or hubs that orbit their brand, with users increasingly looking to brands for original content as much as quality products.

I’ve already mentioned my favourite store here, & Other Stories, whose e-commerce site is modelled on Pinterest with stylised images that can readily be explored online. But Sephora, the American make-up mecca, have taken the social experience further with their forum-style Beauty Board.

The idea’s simple but effective: users (ie real-life people) upload their beauty and hair images with a run-through of which products they used and how they created their look. Readers can instantly shop the products which appear in an automatic tab to the right, and have the opportunity to leave product reviews or comments under each image, creating a dialogue and giving would-be buyers insight into the product’s potential.

By harnessing the chatter created on Instagram and recognising the influence of forums, blogs and above all Pinterest, Sephora has positioned itself neatly amongst the dialogue, filling the cracks that naturally appear online. Where I’ve scanned Pinterest in the past and racked my brains as to the exact shade of coral, the site steps up and gives its users the tools to recreate a look, ensuring each look is readily shoppable, integrating the idea as a whole.

Of course, there’ll always be someone who takes the piss.
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