Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fashion Circuses and Thoughts

Have you read the Suzy Menkes article that is circulating at the moment? She has written for the New York Times about the Circus of Fashion - the bloggers and street style stars and how the representation of fashion has changed in the last twenty years. She is a highly respected critic and she  raises a lot of valid points but the piece as a whole struck a bum note with me.

She starts the article by reminiscing about the glory days of the 90s, back when fashion editors were real fashion editors and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. Back then (apparently) fashion was exclusive and secretive - only available to those in the know and incomprehensible to mere mortals. Now everyone is going to shows! Bloggers with no journalistic background or training or qualifications beyond their popularity. And the street style extravaganza in front of the shows is getting as much attention as the shows themselves! And where once fashion was totally mediated by editors, we, the public, could only see what they showed us, now it is a free for all! Everyone has access to everything, there are no controls, anyone can watch live streams or look at runway shots moments after editors. The world has gone mad.

Despite clearly being unimpressed by most of the above I do think that Menkes makes some good points. Real criticism is valuable and skilful and deserves respect. I think the internet *cue rather sweeping generalisation* is quite averse to considered criticism. Hila has written a lot about this in other contexts. There is a 'if you haven't got anything nice/totally super upbeat to say, don't say anything at all' bent to the blogosphere whereby you have to be 100% positive all the time or you are accused of trolling. True criticism adds value and starts a discussion and can be beautiful. There are some wonderful book reviews out there - JJS's response to DFW's The Pale King (apologies for the abbreviations, so many barrels!) is an enthralling read on its own merits. It is a real skill that requires talent and practice. Everyone is entitled to their response but that does not make everyone a critic. OMG I LOVES THOSE SHOES I CAN'T WAIT TO BUY THEM is not criticism, no matter how heartfelt the sentiment. [Obviously that is not all fashion bloggers, there are people on the internetz responding to shows and designers in considered, thoughtful ways, with paragraphs and not just streams of images, but - and I think this is fair to say - those bloggers probably aren't getting many show invites. N.b. blog recommendations always welcome.]

Tommy Ton for

However, there is no reason we can't have both - the critic and the individual. One does not invalidate the other. There is no reason to be antagonistic. Similarly, street style + shows. I don't think it is unreasonable that we should want to see the clothes from shows styled and worn by real people in real life. Obviously, when it comes to the furore of fashion week the term 'real life' is being used with some flexibility but compared to the runway or a studio these are relatively uncontrolled environments. These women are not models or when they are they are not being photographed in a professional capacity. Designers may lend the big hitters pieces or outfits but they will add their personal taste and twists and this is why they're popular. The pleasure of street style is also that, aside from ADR et al, it will also capture and engage with anyone who looks interesting. If you flaunt yourself at fashion week, or even if you just happen to be walking past, and you look great, whether you're rich and famous or not, whether you're wearing designer or high street or vintage or handmade, you'll be photographed and you can inspire people. You don't need a golden ticket to interact with fashion. I think you can argue that the popularity of street style represents a democratisation of fashion - we are literally taking to the streets.

Tommy Ton for - still one of the best

She is right about payment and patronage being an issue with bloggers. Most bloggers start as true independents, blogging for nothing but the love of it, sharing their passions and opinions as a hobby. They (we) are amateurs in the best sense of the word - lovers. But when you start taking money/gifts/sponsorship that complicates your content. If a brand is paying your bills you can't be objective even with the best intentions. I've accepted some testers, books and one discount (off the top of my head) for this blog and clearly signposted those but I've never taken payment for content and I doubt I ever will. I'll probably never be reliant on CM, it's not going to keep a roof over my head, and I'm glad about that; for me, blogging is about writing what I want, when I want and that is compromised when money is involved. [The question of what is going to happen to the big bloggers and their readership as they cede the objective content that made them popular is a slightly different, very interesting kettle of fish - I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out...] However, Menkes's implication that print media is a bastion of objectivity pissed me off. When was the last time you saw anything critical in a fashion magazine?? Never. Power bloggers might be answerable to the brands that employ them but magazines are clearly answerable to their advertisers. Any kind of commercial print media is making its money from advertising not readership and I've pretty much stopped reading the mainstream publications because their content so predictably mirrors their advertisers's budgets. Anything that is off brand message (including The Circus of Fashion) ends up online anway, alongside the scorned bloggers and street style stars. It is so hypocritical. The whole article is riddled with what seems to me like obvious false distinctions.

Also, ELITIST. And bitter. "If fashion is for everyone, is it fashion?" That sentence makes me want to punch something. What is that supposed to mean!? Who is it aimed at? Bloggers? Surely not her own readers? It feels personal - I am not worthy of fashion. Well, screw you. Whatever your pedigree, you don't own fashion, woman! Jeez... Menkes's views also seem outdated and conservative to me. Yes, the way the public interacts with fashion is changing but change is inevitable and isn't automatically bad. Every creative industry is struggling with the impact of the internet but sitting back and whining isn't going to change anything. This brave new world offers lots of amazing opportunities and a chance to rethink our relationship with fashion/writing/music. It is going to be difficult as we work things out and readjust to a new horizon but sneering and rehashing your personal glory days seems impressively counterproductive.

None of these are new thoughts or issues. They have been swirling around my head for weeks/months/years and Suzy just happened to trigger this outpouring. It's not even particularly topical because Menkes's opinions are pretty old hat but there you go. I don't have any conclusions. What do you think about anything/everything?

Chuck x

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Rough Beauty

I love the rough, organic loveliness of Polly Wales's sapphire bands. They are so hotch potch and no two rings are the same. They're all spontaneous and natural and childishly beautiful. Polly Wales's background is in sculpture and I think it shows - the stones are cast directly into the gold and they seem to emerge from the metal. They are pretty. I want one (maybe two).

That is all.

Chuck x

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Issue 14

The latest issue of Oh Comely is out and I've got a couple of pieces in it: on the kitsch delights of Mills & Boon and my ridiculous contribution to a piece on memorable meals. Obviously I went down the food poisoning route on that one because I am delicate and mature like that.

Chuck x

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Little Bit of Shopping

So I might not have had long in New York but I am nothing if not efficient. I may have made a couple of purchases. It would have been silly not to. The dollar is a bit disappointing at the mo but I can still just about argue that I'm saving money by shopping in the US. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.
  • Food based gifts from Dean & Deluca for R - multi coloured popcorn (I know!), dried chipotle chillis, za'atar spice mix and Mast Brothers Brooklyn blend chocolate. D&D is ridiculous and extravagant and delightful. The people who were there doing their weekly shopping baffled me but stocking the shop would probably be my dream job. They had a whole shelf dedicated to peanut butter! Fond British shout outs to the Hobnobs and Lyle's golden syrup. Sadly we didn't make it out to the beautiful looking Mast Bros. shop/factory in Brooklyn but if I flutter my eyelashes very prettily I might be able to try some of the product...
  • Elizabeth St is a pretty perfect shopping street - Erica Weiner, Le Labo, Aesop, the delightfully weird Love Adorned... I treated myself to a little reminder of our trip at Erica Weiner. Although I could have happily bought up most of the shop (funds permitting) I restrained myself to a lovely little pinkie ring. It is delicate and interesting and lovely and a perfect permanent addition to my fingers. More on that later.
  • Speaking of Le Labo, I've been wanting one of their fragrances for probably four years and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to indulge. The Rose 31 perfume oil was actually a very generous gift. I've found the oil lasts better on my skin than their EDTs which are lovely but not very long lasting.  They say: 'alternating feminine/masculine with the disturbing ambiguity of the Centifolia rose, quickly picked up by a chorus of warm, spicy and woodsy notes such as cumin, olbanum, cedar and a touch of amber.' I say: 'a very physical, peppery, non-flowery rose scent - delicious and not at all girly'.
As my maternal grandmother would say, I'm so spoiled! Obviously it's very luxurious but scent and jewellery are wonderful ways to preserve memories. I'll remember this trip whenever I glance down at my hand or catch a waft of my wrist - what more could you ask?

Chuck x

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Beautiful Town

It was very chilly and rather brief but also quite perfect. The art, oh my gosh, it is unreal. We had the Frick almost entirely to ourselves. Just us and Holbein and Vermeer and Titian and Van Dyck and Gainsborough and Lawrence and Rembrandt. It was almost a private communion. Thomas Cromwell just scowling at Thomas More - the tension! Wolf Hall lovers get thee there and ogle. 

Oh, and the food. The ramen and gyoza and phat thai and pastries and cookies. The ice cream! Honey lavender and dulce de leche and pomegranate... And admittedly there were a few shop. It was luxurious and exciting.


Chuck x