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!