Monday, April 30, 2012

Life publicly lived.

"To live at home, to think at home, eat and drink at home, to love at home, suffer at home, die at home seems boring and inconvenient to us. We need publicity, broad daylight, the street, the cabaret, the café, the restaurant, to testify favourably or unfavourably about ourselves, to chat, to be happy or unhappy, to satisfy the needs of our vanity or our mind, to laugh or to cry: we like to pose, to show off, to have a public, or audience, witnesses of our life."

You would be forgiven for thinking that this was said recently and about our times. Surely this is the motto of my generation and the one that is coming up behind us- to live publicly, our entire lives enjoyed in full view and for the consumption of others. A somewhat partial or edited version presented for consumption, perhaps, but 'if you didn't photograph it, it didn't happen' or 'this will make a great profile photo' or 'I'm just checking us in to Places' or #everything. But it is actually a quote from Les Plaisirs de Paris, written by Alfred Delvau in 1867. #prescient

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Balenciaga Exhibit, Les Docks de Paris

It took an effort and a half to get to the 'Cristobal Balenciaga: Fashion Collector' exhibition yesterday. Not only is the Musée Galliera (la Musée de la Mode et du Costume) closed for renovations and its exhibits distributed around town, I couldn't find an address for this mysterious "Les Docks" anywhere. On top of that, I got out of Gare d'Austerlitz and walked about a kilometre in the wrong direction before realising my mistake and by then it was raining. When I did get to the very sleek, converted storage depot/exhibition space, I couldn't find the gallery actually showing the Balenciaga. So I wandered around aimlessly for a while, trying to look cool and collected while rain dripped off my hair into my eyes, under the scrutiny of the security guards who observed as I walked halfway down the stairs, scoped out the carpark there (note to self: not the gallery) and then walked nonchalantly back up, as if my behaviour was totally inconspicuous. Une vraie Parisienne, moi.

Fortunately, my traipsing was not in vain. Quite the opposite: what I found was an exhibition curated with restraint, carefully displayed to let the clothes speak for themselves. And speak amongst themselves, as it seemed at times, as items from Cristobal Balenciaga's own collection (mostly taken from Spain, where he was born) were displayed alongside the couture they inspired.

If you can, do make your way to this exhibition (learn from my mistakes- turn RIGHT out of Gare d'Austerlitz and keep walking until you see the lime green wall across the street, cross and walk to the back right. Then die a million deaths of wonder at the handworked lace.) If this is an impossibility, please live vicariously through my million photographs. Let me walk you through...
Vintage collet from 1895. All of the items from Balenciaga's own collection were in exemplary condition, as you'd imagine they would be. All of these opulent examples, as well as Haute Couture from the Balenciaga archives were displayed in metal and glass boxes in a long gallery, the sleek Modernist minimalism of them reminiscent of Balenciaga's aesthetic under the hand of Nicholas Ghesquiere. That said, the sleek simplicity framed the clothes beautifully, contrasting with the carefully constructed silk taffeta dresses and the incredible handiwork of lace garments such as the one above. The clothes were rendered specimens, pinned and spread to their best advantage under the lights.

Balenciaga Cape du Soir Haute Couture 1960 (one of the items I most wanted to steal home with me.)

A sketch from the house displayed alongside the garments (left) and images when modelled (right).
This Balenciaga evening ensemble (bustier and skirt) was displayed flat, like a woman lying on her back on a bed. The broad bust sat up as if its wearer was unable to relax, taking only a momentary repose. The bustier fanned out into a peplum that lay flat, suggestive of the waist and hips it was designed to conceal. And the skirt! Pleats standing at attention, the fabric like the curves of roofs, or ice-stilled waves, or hills viewed from a great height. As unyielding and eternally formed, elliptical, made as it was from tulle, cabochons, black sequins, black silk. 

L: Balenciaga robe du soir Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1951: satin, brocade, tulle and sequins; R: Balenciaga robe du soir Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1951 (prototype)

Balenciaga Cape du Soir Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1949 side-by-side with Balenciaga Bolero Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1959.

Three diaphanous Balenciaga Haute Couture dresses from 1961, 1962 and 1956.

O HAI Spring/Summer 2012 RTW! (Originally a chapeau de mariée from S/S 67)

A folkloric hat from Caceres, Spain from the 20th Century.

I look at this photograph and think, 'In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michaelangelo'. The white garment on the left is a mantle from 1840-45 and the buff garment on the right is a Polonaise from 1869-70.

Two evening dresses go head to head. Only one can triumph. 
I jest, I jest. (But just quietly, my money's on the aqua number from the Balenciaga Haute Couture collection of A/W 1957. Who could overcome all those bows?)

The most beautiful handbeaded lace collar from 1900. Way ahead of the neon tred, FYI.

'Cristobal Balenciaga: Fashion Collector' at Les Docks April 13- October 7. 6€ Admission , 3 if you're 26 or under.

Monday, April 23, 2012

London Visual Diary: The Past Week.

The most hipster cafe I've ever been to, arguably the most hipster in existence. They had lego stirrer holders, posters torn from the pages of TV Hits featuring all my Nineties favourites like S Club Seven, Westlife and Robbie, bleached and bad and post-boy band. They have the 'Dirty Chai' on the menu which is coffee and chai mixed and served in a used cup. I thought it was a joke but the deadpan waitress raised an eyebrow when I asked and said it's one of their most popular orders. Of course it is.

Mesmerisingly white swans in Hyde Park. Spotted as day melted into night.

Talking of coffee, I take it very seriously. Well, you know this, right? And I've now compiled a comprehensive list of the best coffee shops in London. Mostly located in Soho and West London because they're my digs, yo. You're welcome:
-Fernandez and Wells, I prefer the 73 Beak Street (Soho) location because the baristas are extra-lovely and the cakes are off the chart. All plum this and malted caramel that. Uh-huh.
-Sensory Lab, 75 Wigmore St Marylebone . Best macchiato of my life. 
-Granger and Co., 175 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill. My local. Creamy, smooth coffee and it was founded by Sydney darling Bill Granger. Represent. Also: the scrambled eggs? Don't even get me started. Like a cloud of breakfast in your mouth.
-Leila's Shop, 17 Calvert Ave Shoreditch. Lovely. And the croissants are perfection and the fried eggs with sage are pretty damn good too and they don't even judge you if you order both at the same time all for yourself (um.)
-Monmouth Coffee, worth lining up in the frigid air at Borough Markets for. Because they brew the coffee like this:
I couldn't love this M.A.C. Neon Orange lipstick more if I tried. MFEO. I actually got stopped by a stranger the other day who asked after it, and then we shared a moment in appreciating M.A.C. and their lipsticks. True story. 
The one that got away. A vintage Givenchy gown sighted in Lucy In Disguise in Soho, all precious floral beading and green and white striped silk chiffon. Floorlength, heavy and sheer-light at the same time, it's a real 'lady' dress. It also costs 1200 pounds. And luckily for me and my beaten-down credit card, it was a bit on the small side. But I had to take a close up because just look at the detail! Beautiful tones and contrast of the beading and chiffon, and if I was a springtime bride, this would be on my back. I mean, if it fit and everything. And if by some miracle I had 1200 pounds to splash around. And if I was getting married. Ok, so obviously this is a hypothetical that's going nowhere fast, let's move on.
Just some of the loveliness on offer at Maison Bertaux (28 Greek St). It's London's oldest patisserie, and was revealed to me by my good friend Liv who knows all the best places to go eat cake and stalk designers (The George and Dragon in Shoreditch, sorry, what?) The chocolate eclair was sublime. (Side note: I warned you that Fashademic was teetering on the brink of becoming a food blog, didn't I? I can resist no longer. Look at that choux!)
 oo-er. The hipster cafe strikes again. Funny, but.
What I want to do to my bedroom walls when I get home. Thanks for the stylespiration, Stella McCartney boutique. Love your work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Outfit Post: Print Party in the Garden

Why wear one clashing-colour number when you can wear three? I always say. So here you see me in the little gated garden that annexes the back of the converted Victorian terrace house that has been home for the past two weeks. The garden is in full Spring bloom- tulips, daffodils, daisies. It's beautiful!  And cold. Thus the coat dashed over my shoulder to keep body and soul together. And yet- there were photos to be took so...

Demonstrating how I am at one with nature by posing with a daisy. Feel so Karlie Kloss circa Marc Jacobs' Daisy campaign right now. But more colourful. Yes, these trousers ARE English tweedy wool from the 1950s, thanks for asking! In cobalt blue and lemon yellow with checks from ankle to waist. I got them at a lovely vintage shop just off Brick Lane called The Shop and it's well worth a visit, especially if you like silk scarves and bolts of vintage cloth. Luckily I can't sew or some of those deep jonquil yellow brocades would now be my sweaty-palmed luggage allowance nightmare. 
I styled myself up with the Kenzo jumper you'll be sick of seeing soon, and a pair of Kenzo heels. I'm not a big high heel wearer. More inclined towards comfortable shoes you can stride around town in but how could I say no to an orange heel, black patent hands holding the front of my foot and velvety blue suede ankle straps? I mean, really! And they are SO comfortable. Love your work, Kenzo.

Close-up of the shoes featuring bluebells (delphiniums? Like I actually know, let's be real), white jonquils and tulips. 

Sontag on writing

As a writer, I tolerate error, poor performance, failure. So what if I fail some of the time, if a story or an essay is no good? Sometimes things do go well, the word is good. And that's enough.
       -Susan Sontag, 'As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh' p. 37

London Lately.

The ceiling of the Borough markets. Apparently a market of some kind has existed in this part of the city since 1014, which predates even the Battle of Hastings. Crazy. But if the organic, ethically raised pork sausage sandwiches were as good then as they are now, I can see why (eh, eh Northfield Farm?)

Actually, I am trying very hard not to turn Fashademic into a food diary- and I'd be lying if I didn't say I have a backlog of images in my iPhoto of English muffins as big and pillowy as Chanel 2.55s, iced cakes and mountains of squash and gourds (the colours!). Yet I am exercising restraint. Well, at least in regards to pictures of food. I have been hitting the shops like there's no tomorrow (which there very may well not be if I continue at this rapid clip. You may find me blogging from a park bench, surrounded by plastic bags full of gorgeous vintage and Kenzo if I'm not careful... but would that be so bad, really?) so I will focus on the matter at hand instead.

This is me doing my darndest to show you what I thought was quite a cool outfit. Really, any time I put on Ann D I feel like the coolest girl in the room- there's something about her skinny cuts, her luxe black fabrics and her general waywardness that gives you an edge you may or may not actually possess. So here's I am in some hand-me-down Tsubi jeans so greyed they're hardly black any more, my trusty Dries boots (the only shoes I brought to London. I stand by my decision), an Ann D wrap skirt which also buttons up to a cheeky peplum, and my new favourite jumper by Rittenhouse. It is the softest mohair and has elbow patches which I am convinced are the secret to true greatness (in a jumper.) 
Also note the largest shopping bag I have ever had the pleasure of lugging embarrassedly around town. Concealed therein are a pair of shoes that are comfortable and cool (aka 'the grail') and a jumper (coming up later in this post) as well as the Times which I am enjoying reading every weekend. Puts Sydney newspapers in the shade (sorry SMH but it's true.) Side note: on the lips is M.A.C. lipstick in 'Neon Orange' which makes you look like you're really very polished and chic indeed when you're really not at all. You can have unwashed hair and chipped nail polish but wear a swipe of that and feel quite the girl about town. True story. 

Interval! Somerset House at the witching hour. I was en route to Tom's Kitchen (there are no photos of the mac n' cheese (spell check, Americans of our number?) or the ethically raised cod enjoyed therein but know that both were scrumptious) but I couldn't continue until I'd taken photos of this lovely installation by London based Chilean artist Fernando Casasempere. The entire grass forecourt is planted with 10 000 ceramic flowers. Well worth a visit if you're around that part of town (near the Thames? Look for the big, white, square building.)

But on to more artistic scenes such as... this:
Nothing says 'serious PhD student on a research trip' like a selfie taken in the mirror at Topshop, am I right? Especially when winking.

Look nerds I do my best. Here you see me in the Bernhard Willhelm dress, the new Kenzo jumper (which is a. clashingly bright, b. reminds me of this Proenza Schouler top and c. is just the right combination of cropped and snug) and an 'Arvust wool beanie which, I might add, was bought months ago on a whim and well before the beanie extravaganza that was last Fashion Month. See also: repeat offending on the M.A.C. neon orange front. 

You know how sometimes you try something on and know that if it was just a little different, it would be the perfect thing? Such was the case with this Topshop shirt. It reminded me of a Dries shirt that my friend Juliet has (Ju looks quite the babe in everything she puts on, so if I see something even remotely like what she has, yep, I'm going to try it on) but it was just a little wrong on me. It married batwing sleeves with collar and cuffs which is unusual enough to be fantastic PLUS came in this great tangerine check- and you know how I feel about checks. But it just wasn't quite right, you know? Until I started to take it off and realised its untapped potential as a trans-seasonal poncho! Check it. And if the sleeves were really draped fabric with an emphatic hem? And with the lips? Are you seeing it or am I crazy? No, you're totally seeing it right? COOL. Designers of the world, can you make this happen? I'd drape it on me in a red hot minute. 

Finally, I leave you with this beauty, discovered in a park outside Gordon's wine bar at Embankment which is apparently the oldest wine bar in London. It's all subterranean caverns and crowded tables, so perfect for a cheeky carafe of red wine if you're so inclined. Which I always am, obvz. But again I find myself digressing onto food. Stay tuned for Foodademic, my follow-up PhD. Gonna be huge (much like myself if I keep eating chocolate eclairs at Maison Bertaux. Worth it, but.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'A Secret Bully'

I've been reading a lot lately and as is probably only fitting, my thoughts have been rambling over into what reading is. What makes someone a reader? And when we are drifting or skimming through words and thinking about something else, is that still 'reading'? And how to describe that electrifying moment when what you are reading coheres so totally with your own experience it is as if the author felt the exact same thing as you but found a way to write it, making their words both a mirror and an avowal of what you know to be true? 

Well, whatever you make of such moments, I experienced many of them this afternoon as I read and drank increasingly cold tea in Waterstone's. This bookstore has almost every book I would ever want to read. It has shelves (plural) of literary essays and a whole room full of fashion and photography books. I would have to book a container to get all of the titles I want to buy back to Australia so maybe I'll stick with Plan B for now, which involves ordering exactly one pot of tea and setting myself up all afternoon with Zadie Smith's collection of assorted essays 'Changing My Mind' for company.

Here's Vladimir Nabokov on the process of writing, explored in Smith's essay 'Rereading Barthes and Nabokov' (how could you not want to read an essay that makes these two  literary giants play nice?) Nabokov broke the idea of writerly inspiration down into two halves, using two Russian words to articulate it. Firstly, there's vorstag (initial rapture) and according to Smith, it describes that moment in which the book as a whole is conceived. In Nabokov's words, it is "a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you. It is the prison wall of the ego suddenly crumbling away and the non-ego rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner- who is already dancing in the open. [It] has no conscious purpose in view [ ... in vorstag] the entire circle of time is conceived, which is another way of saying time ceases to exist.'

Don't you find? That elastic, intoxicating liminal phase when ideas rush into your mind and you become all-seeing and unseeing, surrounded entirely by what you must say and utterly on the cusp of saying it. It is the moment of knowing, the moment of anticipation before (and you're sure of this) you will possess- or pour out- all of the thoughts that teem and demand expression. But then comes vdokhnovenie (such Russian words!) or the 'cool, sustained period in which the actual writing gets done.' This second period is the period that writers inhabit after the first, the sitting in a chair and agonising, the drawing out, the polishing, abandoning, the restless and ongoing process of getting to the kernel of the thing itself and finding ways to unskein it from your mind. It pours out but it also trickles, it blocks, it streams in short bursts. 

And then this wonderful reflection from Joan Didion, also from the same essay :
"In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It's an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions- with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating- but there's no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space."

Of course. Because the ultimate compliment for a writer is to have convinced their reader- to have evoked emotion, to have cajoled into believing an argument or changing an opinion. A subtle power, this, and one Smith considers in detail in her essay. It's a funny relationship though, this one between a reader and a writer because isn't there also a generosity in the sharedness between the two parties? That one shares thoughts- however egotistical the impulse- and the other enjoys them, takes them up in their own mind. A momentary unity of thought facilitated by the page- however fragmented or different those mutual interpretations of meaning. And if, through language and skill, you take a reader someplace, or as a reader are taken someplace, then isn't that the pleasure of reading, of writing? The making sense, or the successful moment at which communication is efficacious. Well.

And finally for now, Smith's own lovely conclusion to her essay which must be included in my thesis somewhere, if only for the light-handed way she negotiates the tension between reader and writer: 'nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own. To this end, I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer, that discrete struggle to reveal an individual's experience of the world through the unstable medium of language. Not a refusal of meaning then, but a quest for it.' 

Couldn't have said it better myself if I tried.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Self portrait in Liberty with Alexander Wangs.

You know, this always happens to me. I don't need a new pair of sunglasses, and I didn't try them on to really try them on, you know? I just wanted to see what they looked like, thought they were kind of funny with their hard retro-futuristic pastiche of influences all over my face. But now in the cold light of a few days later my eyes are snagging on the triangle tips and I'm thinking 'hmm, black, yes' and I'm wondering when the next bus to Liberty leaves and how fast I can get on it. But I really don't need sunglasses! Who will win, the Wangs or my will? Huh.

Monday, April 9, 2012

That Stella Dress.

I just saw these beautiful images shot by Craig McDean and styled by Karl Templer for Interview magazine. Featuring the Stella McCartney collection that went viral like this Céline look and this Miu Miu dress. 

It's funny how sometimes a particular garment will seize the collective fashion imagination. Such a moment doesn't necessarily translate into hundreds of high street imitations, but it certainly translates into consecutive glossy covers, and the repeated publication of images of famous models and celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalia Vodianova etc.) wearing it all over town. This Stella collection was one such example. There's something sort of 'scuba' about her lines, something aquatic about the look: the stylised bubbles of the print, like the slipstream that runs off underwater limbs; the attention the cut focuses on the shoulders, the immediate giveaway of a swimmer's physique; the sleekness of the cuts, as trim and meet as Lycra on the body. It was a cool collection. Any more cool or driven than the collections it was shown against in the SS12 season remains to be seen but for now it's at least the most memorable.

Past in present and inspiration and place.

So yes, I think we can all agree that this is the most ridiculously sweet deal. To come to London for "research" and to take every experience that occurs here as inspirational... I must be joking, right? But here's the thing: having come here specifically to write my third chapter, to meet with people and to use the LCF Library has drawn my days into sharp focus. Here, I feel a renewed sense of purpose to flesh out my ideas, and a new energy because my usual routine has been temporarily paused. Thus far I have read a book on the aesthetic economy (it's going to be very interesting to unpack that one in light of Bourdieu and his ideas of cultural capital) and a Master's thesis on cartes de visite (modernism, photography, the individual, mass culture- the synchronicities between the Modern era and this Digital era are astounding), I've rewritten my thesis chapter outline (and it's sinewy, it sings!) and I've blocked all the ideas and key examples for chapter three. All in a week's work.

So I look over my last few posts and think, 'man! I'm living the life!' And it looks like I'm not doing work at all- but that's the thing. Being here is inspiring in itself. After I've read until my brain is a brick, I can step out the door and walk down streets where this city's history is indistinguishable from its contemporality. I walk past plaques telling me this is where penicillin was discovered, this is where Sir Isaac Newtown lived. I go to Bloomsbury, am reminded of Virginia Woolf and jolt- this was her city too. I went to a bookshop the other day that has been in business since 1797- that's only 27 years after Cook reached the east coast of Australia for the first time. London teems with the characters I've read about that have lived here, and people who really did live across these streets and parks. Each time I go for a walk, I remember and am reminded and exclaim.

And it's so beautiful- the old houses, the high buildings, the trees laced with delicate Spring flowers. I just walk and look and soak in everything. So I get home, healthily weary from having employed all of my senses, having them charged, sparked, drawn out by this place. And I wake again the next day fresh, keen to see more, to read more, to write more. The effect place can have on you. Yeah, I'm loving it here.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Outfit Post: A Good Friday

Nothing says 'Good Friday' like your favourite dress, a church service with friends in a church that was built in 1820 and a wander around Piccadilly. And it was the perfect day for a wander- blue, sunny and crisp- and we wended our way down Regent Street, pausing to allow me my minor heart attack in front of Liberty, down Carnaby Street and beyond, into the thick of old stores (a bookshop started in 1797? Fortnum and Mason?)... but not before I thrust my camera at Luke and asked him to take photos of me in front of the fountain at Piccadilly Circus. 
Luke and I, taken by Shans. Luke's wearing his bishop's purple jumper and I look like a Dries fangirl. Who am I kidding, I am a Dries fangirl. Shoes, dress, sunglasses? Check, check, check.

Highlights from yesterday included a Good Friday feast of avocado and Scottish smoked salmon salad a la Shans, strawberries smashed with raspberry and blackberry meringues, and a white wine from Bourgogne courtesy of Luke. O, and the walk, which was lovely. I don't know if it's possible to tire of seeing London- the buildings, the shops, the museums, the parks, the people. Shans quoted Samuel Johnson the other day, that 'the man who has tired of London has tired of life.' I reckon. 

It's a bit ridiculous how wonderful this past week has been. Am waiting for the other shoe to drop- like someone is going to steal my passport or I'm going to find that someone has already written the equivalent of my thesis or something. I mean, how can it be possible to have time like this to enjoy, to try and taste and explore? I feel like a big wide-eyed cliché but I don't know what the alternative is... I'd have to sit in a corner with my eyes shut to not be simply pleased at the size, the historied grandeur and quiet beauty of this place.
All of which is only heightened when you're swimming streets in a washed cotton ocean and butter-firm leather boots with a perfectly almond toe. Too much.

Dress, shoes, sunglasses: Dries Van Noten // Coat: Chloé // Tahitian Pearl ring: graduation gift// Tights: H&M // Bag: Coach.