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?

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.