Fashion is...

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." - Coco Chanel.

This blog looks at fashion in its many incarnations, from the haute designers to the high street and from the trend-setters to the avid fashion followers. For this blogger, fashion is far more than the shirt on your back; it is communication, art, culture, anti-fashion, gender, revolution and resistance. It can instantly define or defy your identity. It is one of the most personal and unique things about you...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Velour Magazine

The difference between velvet and velour is that velvet is stiff and conformable, whereas velour is stretchy and versatile. Unlike most fashion publications, Velour magazine doesn’t follow the archetypal sequence of news section, beauty feature, fashion guide, etc. The content is not particularly current (in the conventional sense) and it’s not entrenched in trends, but it’s one of the most interesting magazines I’ve read in a long time.

“I just want this magazine to be itself,” says editor-cum-art director, Robert De Niet, “I don’t want it to be the new Dazed or the new whatever else, I just want it to be something completely different.” Based on first glances alone, this magazine is very different. The traditional front cover clutter has been swept away, and in its place is a stark, yet beautifully constructed, black and white image. A 1970s goddess leans back from a large, wrought-iron gate. Her silhouette is elegant but sexually alluring. Towering platforms further elongate her perfect legs, and the curve of her upper thigh strains against a well-fitting pencil skirt. Her waist is nipped tight and her shoulders bloom into an extravagant feathered shawl. Her face hides behind dark glasses, deep lipstick and a curtain of thick hair that’s topped off with an ornate pillbox. Running alongside this elusive beauty, in large silver type, VELOUR magazine takes its place on the fully stocked shelves of fashion glossies.

The incredible imagery doesn’t cease once you turn the first page and unsurprisingly all of the publishers come from an image-driven background. In fact, Velour’s original conception was to be a picture book “but who only wants to look at pretty pictures?” De Niet’s question is spoken rhetorically. As a man with an insatiable appetite for fashion literature, De Niet has an impressive archive of publications which span over four decades. He knows what’s been missing from modern magazines. “I think there are lots of wonderful things which are being completely overlooked or forgotten about by magazines...Anyone who knows me knows what I’m like when I find something I love. I run around showing everyone and screaming ‘Look, look, have you seen this? It’s dead good!’ and I think it’s that kind of puppy-like eagerness, that passion, that’s been missing. At Velour we write about things we really want to share with everybody. Its Velour loves.” Though the content is very personal, it is completely unpretentious and genuinely interesting and informative. “Velour is very much about thinking. Y’know, nice things to read and learn about.” With topics ranging from menswear to modern ballet and formidable PR agents to pencils that contain a yard of lead (permitting a continuous line to be drawn from London to Liverpool should you so wish), the content is without a doubt enlightening. In fact, coupled with the beauty of the imagery and the high quality of the paper, you almost feel you should use a bookmark with it; I vow no Velour will ever be left face-down, pages splayed and dog-eared on the floor beside my bed. De Niet believes that by having an eclectic array of topics to read “a) you might be exposed to something you thought you didn’t like and you love, and b) at least it’s going to be interesting.” He’s realistic and knows you can’t please ‘em all, preferring Velour to be a “marmite magazine that contains things you love and hate that someone else will hate and love.”

So, where do you find a team who’ll write these diverse articles with such authentic ardour?

“It’s been quite organic.” Lecturing three times a week at UCA in Epsom and once a week in LCF, has introduced De Niet to some exceptional journalists: “There’s some really big names in it, like James Anderson, Paul Tierney and Kelly Bowerback.” His premise is that if you allow journalists to write about the topics they choose, the article will be better written and the personal voice of the author will shine through. Other recruitments have been a little more fated: “I really love DV8, I’ve loved them for years and years and they’ve been completely forgotten about. Last November I went to see Michael Clarke at the Barbican. He does contemporary ballet and he did a ballet based on Iggy Pop, Lou Reid and David Bowie and I just thought he’s incredibly cool and wonderful. So, I really wanted this written about and I went and bought a load of DVDs on DV8, I bought everything that I could about them. Bizarrely enough, Georgina Langford is one of my Facebook friends and this is that great thing about Facebook, she’d written as her status ‘I feel like a child I’ve just started doing ballet.’ She’s a really good writer and I knew that I wanted her to write for me so I kind of went ‘Do you wanna write this?’ I sent her the DVDs in the post and the next thing I got this call going ‘I really, really want to write this, I love these DVDs, I’ve been showing all my friends.’ I spend a lot of time trying to pair up articles with people who really want to write them, because I want that kind of enthusiasm behind each piece.” De Niet’s second editorial policy is that nothing is written from a press release, the reasoning being that you then get completely unique content with the added bonus that “If you’re not writing from press releases, you’re writing from memory and you’ll think ‘isn’t it about time this person re-appeared?’ and you end up hitting a few scoops.” As he discovered was the case with the DV8 piece; the dance troop are doing their first piece in 18 years in January 2011 and Velour got the story.

His excitement is infectious and I can already feel my anticipation for the second edition bubbling. So, what can we expect?

“At the end of the day this magazine is always going to be about beautifully constructed images and the stories behind those images. It’s about beautiful covers and just a far better quality of picture. Bookmarked in between each image are these articles about things you’re not going to read about anywhere else. That’s the thing about Velour, the articles aren’t time related. You could read the thing about pencils in two years from now and it’ll still be just as interesting and that’s why I think Velour should be in print. These are really interesting times. I already have an iPad and they’re really great fun and I think lots of magazines should be on it, y’know all those kind of quick read things. I think the future of magazines is quite tactile. Velour is about being substantial and being something you want to keep and collect, like something you want to put on your wall- hopefully.” If the prospect of cutting out some of the images to put on my wall didn’t seem like such a murderous act, I definitely would.

Any final words to sum up Velour magazine for its prospective readers?

“When it comes to Velour there is no house style; the house style is its damned interesting.” I couldn’t agree more.

Cover page & image 5: Photographed by Eddie Bovington, styled by Thea Lewis.
Image 1 & 2: Photographed by Nick Kelly, styled by Alexia Somerville.
Image 3: Photographed by Mitsuaki Murata, styled by Felix Elizabetta Forma.
Image 4: Photographed by Thierry Van Biesen, fashion edited by Giannie Couji

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Bon Chic, Bon Genre

There is something so enviable about the French’s easy elegance when it comes to fashion. Parisians’ in particular exude an inherent aloofness, as though they decided what to wear as they lit their morning cigarette and managed to dress with it hanging carelessly from their lips. Au contraire, this expert sense of ‘undoneness’ is deliberate in its nonchalance and though it appears uncontrived there are some guidelines to looking guideless. The French are meticulous about their fit and proportions and have an inherent sense of shape; the word ‘silhouette’ is after all descendent from French history. Their clothes have a uniquely tailored appearance and it is unlikely that you would ever see a mademoiselle stuffed à la saucisson into too small jeans; love handles do not exist in the city of love.

Two wardrobe essentials that are commonly overlooked elsewhere yet are paramount to the French are footwear and outerwear. An overcoat is never an afterthought to keep warm; it is the pièce de résistance of an ensemble. An unfussy outfit of jeans and a t-shirt are injected with instant chic when teamed with a well-fitting jacket and the right accessories. In fact, the French are renowned for their beautiful scarves and luxurious handbags, which can add a colour pop and an air of distinction to an otherwise plain palette. In regard to footwear, the motto is to never sacrifice elegance over comfort. Perhaps in respect to their refined surroundings, sports shoes are considered inappropriate anywhere but the gym. Finally, jewellery is essential but not ostentatious.

Though Paris is considered a style capital, it would never be termed ‘trendy’. There always appears to be a ubiquitous vogue in the air—as though it was delicately whispered to each other in the streets—yet unlike other trend-centric capitals, there is never a homogenous uniform. Classic French basics are simply given a modern twist. Here lies the essence of French style: it is not based on a slavish devotion to achieving the latest ‘look’, it is grounded in the reasoning that to look your best you must dress for yourself. It is this aesthetic that garners seemingly-careless, Parisian panache easy to achieve. The art of nuance lies in the ability to not obsess over it. What’s important is to have the poise to feel stylish yet slightly off-beat, polished but not glitzy, and self-confident enough to understand that the true meaning of chic is being individual.

One French designer who wholly conveys this certain “je ne sais quoi” is Isabel Marant. Though she has been designing for the past twenty-one years, Marant took to fashion at her own pace and has maintained a relatively low profile. It was an organic process; she launched an oversized jewelry line in 1889, then by 1994 she had branched into clothing and her eponymous label was born. Now, at forty years old, the designer’s mini-empire comprises three boutiques in Paris, nine in Asia and on April 9th she opened her first New York boutique in the stylish Soho district. Unlike some of her megabrand neighbors such as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, whose styles have been strongly influenced by the geographical diversity of their creative directors (German, British, American and Spanish respectively), her style embodies the very essence of Parisian couture. The Marant Mademoiselle is tall and willowy, wearing loose little dresses or slouchy pants with boyish jackets and bohemian knits, accessorized with a scarf, tousled hair and minimal make-up. Her laissez-faire attitude is also reflected in her refusal to use show-stopping theatrics on the catwalk and splashy editorial spreads, favored by high fashion. Yet, Marant is far from mundane. She makes real clothes which are accessible but infused with just the right amount of edginess. Her S/S 2010 collection saw very tailored jackets paired with dainty ruffled dresses and boho fringed boots. She doesn’t design according to trends and is not inspired by fictious or artificial muses; her collections draw on her childhood travels to Africa, Asia, India and the Caribbean.

Despite the fashion industry’s insistent pressure to expand, Marant is happy to stay small. She fears that she would lose her soul if the business got too big for her. Though designing is clearly an intrinsic part of her everyday life, fashion is not her sole raison d'être. Keeping her business small and manageable grants her the freedom to spend many tranquil weekends in her ultra-rustic log cabin (no electricity or running water), 30 miles outside of Paris with her husband (French handbag designer Jerome Dreyfuss) and four-year-old son, Tal. Marant’s carefree attitude brings to life the wonderful French phrase “Je voudrais flâner avec toi,” which roughly translated means “I want to stroll aimlessly without a plan.” This in turn sums up the French approach to style: it should be cool, classic and not too contrived.

Remember, life is a journey not a race, and in that journey there will no doubt be countless fashion faux pas, but remain calm- c’est la vie!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Festival Fasion: The Good, The Bald & The Über-Stylish

Festival season kicked off this weekend with Californian Music Festival Coachella. Armed with an eclectic line-up that included Jay-Z, La Roux, LCD Soundsystem, MGMT, Miike Snow and the curiously titled, Infected Mushroom, Coachella was guaranteed to draw an equally as diverse crowd. So, with more celebrities in the audience than on the stage, the start of the summer style statements were made. Agyness Deyn sported her new buzz-cut and all in attendance seemed to be channeling their inner haute hippies. Here's a round up of some of the trends spotted over the weekend...

Devon Aoki looks adorable in denim hotpants and an on-trend bumbag.

Camilla Belle upholds her 'belle of the ball' title in a crochet knit, floral dress and biker boots.

Agyness Deyn and Henry Holland rocking distressed denim and slogan tees.

Agyness Deyn's new statement hairstyle does the talking in a pale pink dress and vintage DMs.

Alexa Chung looks effortlessly chic in her lemon playsuit, khaki shirt and comfy espadrilles.

Katy Perry adds some pop-sparkle to the occasion in a risque black dress.

Jesse Metcalfe looks laid-back in his all-American charcoal cut-offs, navy tank and classic trilby.

Dita Von Teese stays true to her pin-up persona in a statement hat and demure dress.

Matt Smith and Daisy Lowe. Lowe's red sequins bralet and thigh-high tights add a vampish glamour to her floral sundress. Smith is spot-on trend with his grey trilby.

Kristin Cavallari the queen of Californian cool wears a simple, black, fringed t-shirt-dress.

Kelly Osbourne channels her inner sixties siren in a floral frock and John Lennon-style sunglasses.

Kellan Lutz also rocks a trilby, teaming it with in a cheeky tee, aviators and classic black slacks.

Whitney Port, the starlet looks typically soignée.

Solange Knowles makes black and white look anything but boring.

Paris and Nicky Hilton, Paris looking like a golden goddess as always while sister Nicky goes for a psychedelic, printed dress.

Alessandra Ambrosio makes an enviable bohemian babe in her Wildfox t-shirt and headscarf.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Devil Drives a Toyota

How do you imagine the editor of Vogue magazine to look? Skin so hard and shiny it looks impenetrable, long lacquered talons all the better for drumming impatiently on the boardroom table, a sleek mane of hair in a colour that is unachievable by any conventional means, permanently swathed in fur and towering above other mere mortals in ten-inch Manolo Blahnik’s? Is she just as Meryl Streep portrayed; formidable, callus, cold and overbearing? With this common preconception in mind I decided to take a proper look at the editor of the UK’s most prominent style bible. Namely, Vogue's Alexandra Shulman.

Shulman is quite a shock. Once rather unceremoniously described as a “chain-smoking 50-year-old Toyota-driving divorcee” she is indeed not quite how you would expect the editor of the glossiest of all the monthlies to look. In reality, yes, she is in her early fifties, has a personal style that could best be described as ‘dishevelled boho chic’, she regularly cycles to work and attends most Queens Park Rangers football matches—but the woman is far from frumpy or ordinary. Although she is decidedly curvier than her American and European counterparts, Shulman concedes that she is confident in herself and relatively unfazed by body woes: “there are more interesting things that one can offer than a flat stomach.” It is surprising that a woman so immersed in a world that equates a diminutive waist with success, is so unashamedly at ease with her voluptuous proportions. Her resistance to figure fascism is perhaps down to her parents, not for their unsuperficial outlook on life but for their regular attempts at coercing her to lose wight. Her father frequently berated her regarding her size and told her she would never find a husband unless she slimmed down and her headmistress once unceremoniously announced in front of her schoolmates: "Alexandra Shulman's mother has said she is not to have potatoes". Shulman has turned these negative experiences into something positive and is now an avid campaigner against the use of underweight models in fashion shows and photshoots. In fact, last year she wrote a letter to leading designers, asking them to increase their sample sizes. She received zero replies.

Shulman aged 10 with her father

Other issues that Shulman has spoken out on are the contradictory opinions’ on wearing fur in the fashion industry and maternity leave. She is a woman who’s thoughts extend much further than what shoes will match her new Birkin. She studied social anthropology at Sussex University and has a varied journalistic background, having worked for a record company, the Sunday Telegraph and as editor of GQ. Remarkably, she manages to separate her working life from her personal life and unlike most Vogue editors is not personally acquainted with any fashion designers. She is completely focused when she's at work, and immediately switches off when she leaves. She's chic, but refuses to dress as though she's providing any kind of fashion leadership: “I think, particularly in this industry, where image is so important – if you try and be something that isn't what you really are, it can be terribly damaging.” It is these qualities that have made her the perfect editor for a magazine of such Godlike revere. She is dedicated to her work but she doesn’t let it overwhelm or consume her. Having taken the helm at Vogue way back in 1992, Alexandra Shulman continues to make it the UK’s most aspirational magazine, despite her candid aversion to many of fashion’s frivolous tendencies.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Úna Burke Facebook Fanpage

I have recently found myself in the very privileged position of being a personal assistant to up-and-coming designer Úna Burke (see post below for more information on her "wearable art"), and so I have just set up a Facebook Fanpage to help blog the amazing designer's fashion journey. Here's the link to have a nosey at what she's up to and if you have a Facebook account (which at this stage even most cyber-savvy mums do) be sure to become a fan to get instant Úna updates!!/pages/Una-Burke/113497628676536?ref=ts

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gaga for it: Irish designer’s ‘wearable art’ catches the eye of the first lady of avant-garde fashion

Whilst interning at the recent London Fashion Week for Vauxhall Fashion Scout, something decidedly unsettling caught my eye in the foyer. Encased in a glass box, was a flesh-coloured, leather head piece, reminiscent of medieval armour. Slices of leather curved around the contours of the head and were bolted together with bronze nails. The longer I stared, the more fascinated I became by the complex accessory and my initial interpretation of it changed significantly; leather covered in brass studs shouldn’t emulate delicacy but surprisingly it did. What I had just discovered was the first collection from budding London College of Fashion graduate, Úna Burke.

The fine line between art and fashion has often proved uncertain, and the Irish-born designer is continuing to blur the boundaries with her eight-piece, conceptual collection entitled ‘Re.Treat’. Úna herself describes the creations as “wearable art or sculptural fashion.” Indeed, their production was an art form: each item—made in ethical vegetable-tanned leather—consists of 300 pattern pieces with 700 brass fittings held together with screws. Each piece is indefinable as a particular garment and so cannot be pigeon-holed into the conventional categories of the fashion industry. They are left free to exist as unique fashion artefacts which can be interpreted autonomously by the viewer. Their interpretations are commonly emotionally charged, which is unsurprising considering the muse behind the collection is the subject of human trauma. Carcass-like in form, they personify the feelings and emotions associated with this theme through the powerful positioning of their physical gestures. Like dissected limbs, there are separate pieces for the arms, legs, neck, head and shoulders. The theme manifests from Úna’s own experience of a childhood trauma which she repressed for years. Through her experience, she believes that victims of such ordeals often create subconscious emotional barriers as a means of protection against the re-occurrence of that pain. After years of counselling, Úna became interested in psychology and the idea of taking a negative event and making something positive out of it. She cites artists Tracey Emin, Anthony Gormley, Hans Bellmer and the late fashion designer Alexander Mc Queen as all having suffered disturbing childhood experiences which later inspired their work. The pieces therefore remain subjective and have the capacity to arouse several emotions within the viewer, depending on their outlook as a result of past experiences. To many, they can conjure up images of bandages, prosthetics and braces and ignite feelings of fear. Others may take solace in their protective and healing capabilities and consider them to be an organic suit of armour.

Since her otherworldly creations went on display in London, Úna has been inundated with requests for her work from stylists, fashion agents, photographers and even book publishers. To date, her pieces have been featured in Dazed and Confused, Italian Vogue as well as photographed for Numéro magazine and by Stephen Klein. One of the exceptional designer’s biggest fans is Lady Gaga; the propagator of avant-garde fashion. The modest designer was in utter disbelief when the quirky US singer’s renowned stylist, Nicola Formichetti, called her to request eight pieces for Gaga’s global Monster Ball tour. Costume has always played a key role for performance and timeless pop queens, such as Madonna, have long advocated the power of outrageous theatricality and arresting visual spectacles both on stage and in music videos. However, what sets Lady Gaga apart from the typical come hither routines favoured by most female performers, are the physical distortions of her apparel and the unusual use of blood and bandaging in her shows to evoke darker connotations. It is for these reasons that Úna returns the sentiment and is a huge fan of Gaga’s unique persona. Formichetti commissioned her to make the pieces from scratch so that they would be tailored to Lady Gaga’s exact measurements. After receiving the measurements only days before the show, the dedicated designer stitched and glued through the night and barely had time to eat or sleep. “I lost half a stone that week,” she later revealed. Her hard work paid off and Lady Gaga was so enamoured with the designer that she has since requested for her to design footwear for her.

In fashion today, there is a new mood of experimentation and the aim is individuality. People want to set themselves apart with little quirks or accessories which are somewhat meaningful to them. It is this concept that has made Úna Burke’s designs so contemporaneous and so influential. Even in her early work at degree level her premise was to deconstruct the boundaries between fashion and art and to create something completely unique. For her final degree project she looked at wedding dresses and their sense of preserved innocence. She manipulated the fabrics of the dresses she created so that they could be used in a way that differed completely from their typical use or appearance. She coated lace in plastic resin to give it a hard texture and took soft leather and gathered it to make it soft and girly. Fashion is regularly accused of being shallow, but Úna’s designs are so deeply immersed in thought that she could never be accused of superficiality. Hers is not merely an occupation, she lives and breathes her work: “In life, you really need to do something that you love or you just won’t settle.” Her designs are not based upon disposable trends, they are timeless fashion artefacts and she is set to become the fashion world’s answer to Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keeffe. Úna Burke’s work is extreme, controversial, beautiful, ugly and absolutely essential...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Clever Clogs

In appearance, clogs are a close relative of the Birkenstock and as such, have long been considered as a shoe reserved for argumentative vegans or perky Dutch women. However, according to sartorial veterans Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs, the clog is the must-have shoe of the season. A staccatoed stampede of models clip-clopped down Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2010 runway wearing an assortment of clogs, charmingly adorned in ruby-red poppies and ebony corsage clusters. Jacob’s clogs for Louis Vuitton were a little more daring. His models—who all wore seventies-style, sky-high afros made from five smaller wigs sewn together—showcased tasselled, brown, clog-loafer hybrids which had furry ponytails and precariously placed kitten heels. Prada, Gucci and Alexander Wang have also recently embraced the clog.

Although this trend might be considered a little impractical for everyday wear and would be more suitable for frolicking through a field of tulips than striding purposefully down Oxford Street, it has already been adopted by some of the style elite. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were spotted trotting around LA in wedge-style clogs even before Kaiser Karl tapped into the trend. Style maven Alexa Chung is currently on the front cover of the March edition of Vogue wearing a pair of chestnut Chanel clogs and Sarah Jessica Parker’s on-screen alias and international style queen, Carrie Bradshaw was spotted wearing clog’s while filming a scene for the Sex & the City sequel. The film is due for release on the 28th of May in the US so now’s the time to get acquainted with the shoe of the summer and be one step ahead of the rest.

In terms of styling, clogs perfectly compliment the folkloric theme that has emerged as one of the key trends for the coming months. Both haute couture collections and the high-street have been awash with naturalistic shades of olive greens and rose-petal pinks and humble, hippie-inspired materials such as cheesecloth, linen, hessian, muslin and crochet have been resurrected from the 1970’s. The mantra for S/S ’10 is to be care-free and many designers’ have loosened up and let rip on their spring wardrobes: Fendi’s blouses are wispy with frayed edges and Bottega Veneta’s sack-sheath dresses are slashed at the neck and sleeves leaving an ‘undone’ effect. When teamed with such apparel, clogs can be instantly transformed from dowdy to dainty.

More demure than the flip-flop and you can wear them with socks (or tights) without looking like your granddad; the clog is sure to become your staple summer shoe. The practicalities of walking in clogs mean that in the fast-paced world we live in, you will finally be forced to slow down, stop and smell the roses. So it’s time to pull your feet free from your winter uniform of army-style or UGG boots, give your heels a good buff and get ready to clip-clop your way gallantly into summertime...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Long Live Mc Queen

On the 9th of February 2010, I set up this blog. I christened it 'Topshop, Mc Queen & Everything in Between' to pay homage to the man and the fashion emporium that have most influenced my interest in fashion and my own personal style. Alexander McQueen (real name Lee Alexander Mc Queen) is a highly creative and innovative designer, whose visions are commonly misinterpreted. Denounced frequently a misogynist, Mc Queen in fact seeks to empower women with his attention-grabbing garments. Growing up, he frequently witnessed acts of domestic violence, and so never saw women in a particularly powerful light. Thus, by creating apparel with strong structures and bold patterns, he hoped to inspire women with a sense of power and strength. He was also extremely close to the women in his family; his three sisters and his mother, Joyce. When Joyce died on the 2nd of February 2010 he was crushed. On the morning of the 11th of February 2010, it was announced that Alexander Mc Queen had been found dead in his London home. The cause of death was suicide. The enfant terrible of the fashion world and the self-confessed ‘pink sheep of the family’ was undeniably the most influential designer of his generation. Although his death leaves a profound rip in the tapestry of British design, his legacy will live on...