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.

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.)

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