Saturday, December 28, 2013

On writing and Edward St. Aubyn

I’m not trying to uncover the facts of my life, but to discover the dramatic truth of the situations I was in. Something being hidden is a necessity before I can start writing. If I have something to say, it’s much easier for me to just meet up with a friend and say it. If there’s something that I really don’t want to say, as in Never Mind, or something that I don’t know how to say, as in Bad News, or something that I don’t even know what it is, that’s what makes me submit to the horrible process of writing a novel. It is very unpleasant. After I’ve written a novel, I feel a little bit clearer and freer than I did before, but while I’m writing it, it’s horrible, it’s intensely upsetting. But for some reason I feel obliged to go on doing it. It’s the only thing I can do. 



And also, when asked if I like writing I used to enthusiastically reply yes. Now I hesitate. Sometimes I like it- when it's like hypnosis and you're discovering the story as it flows from your fingertips in a heavy fevered sonambulance. When you know what you want to say and you have the words to say it- rarer than you might expect- then, it is smugly satisfying. Words hitting the page like arrows hitting a target, as if by reflex.

Sometimes it is like wrestling a foe you can't quite grasp, always twisting out of your grasp, barging into you where you least expected, dragging you somewhere you're unwilling to go. You can discern the dim shape of it but how to pin it down? Exhausting. It throws you back on yourself, on your abilities, on your ideas. 

At other times, I sit gaping at the silent screen, handwritten notes lapping around the keyboard. Stunted sentences that I quickly delete. I gesture emptily with my hands, prompting nothing from my shy and teeming mind.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Almost done or 'Gemma Ward, wimples and thesis writing'

Because nothing says Christmas like Gemma wearing a nun's coif ignoring her robot toy collection. 

Actually, interesting aside: I was talking the other day with some colleagues, including my supervisor, and somehow we got onto the topic of nuns. 'When are nuns going to influence fashion?' he joked and I, ever the font of arcane knowledge, piped up- well, nuns were very much in fashion in the 1930s! I found a beautiful picture the other day of Baba Beaton, Cecil's sister, on her wedding day wearing none other than a headpiece inspired by nuns' wimples:

Et voila.

Anyway I did not start this post to wax lyrical about my favourite model nor about nuns' clothes but to reflect on the startling fact that it is now mere days until Christmas and also I am writing my last thesis chapter. The very last one. Right now.

So basically you've noticed that I post less and less frequently on dear old Fashademic but I am no less fond of it nor less grateful for you for sticking with me (us?) all these years of PhDing. And... I don't know... the nearer I get to having the entire thing written and to actually submitting it, the more I find myself reflecting on the entire process and feeling so thankful for the opportunity to do it. Thankful for everyone who has helped and read and encouraged me along the way, thankful to you guys for sharing the process with me and also in a state of some disbelief that I might actually finish the project.

I mean, it's not like I doubted my ability to get it done (except for a few pale-faced moments when yes, I wondered what on earth I had signed myself up for) but more that it's such an enormous undertaking that I just took each small step as it came- read widely, write this chapter, plan and research the next one, give a paper, write another chapter and so on, until somehow I have five chapters fully drafted and another in a promising early state, seeing it all bristle and hang and build around itself.

It's sort of flourished and grown, grown with me, grown around and through me, expanded as the blogosphere changed and turned into this whole other thing than I could have anticipated when I first proposed it. Surely that happens to every PhD student- isn't there a saying that no-one would sign up for a PhD if they knew in advance how difficult it would be? I don't know if that's true but it's certainly what I expected (but better) and also not what I expected (and harder.)

But let me quit the diarising (heck, you can read all that in my Acknowledgements if you want- which, already written! high five) and give you a feel for the overall thing- because I've not told you much about what I'm actually writing about, except in snippets and the odd ramble about what I've been reading.

So... okay. I do all the position-y groundwork (why this study is necessary/important, why I did it in my discipline, what has already been said about style blogs and how my work complements or takes it further or challenges it) and then write a history of style blogs, positioning them within the context of the expansion of the blogosphere, and relation to the emergence of fashion-based blogs. I trace their shape-shifting through two main 'waves' of style blogging (did I just invent some terminology? What PhD would be complete without it, I ask you.)

Then I address the main criticism that style blogging has attracted as 'risky' and 'narcissistic' and argue that while I see how people (who don't understand the genre or who have a vested interest, but I keep this snark quietly to myself) could make that (mis)reading, they're making it on the grounds of ignorance and within a  history of criticism of women's writing. I explore the ways style blogs can be seen as sites of feminine self-representation, storytelling, sociality and agency. I get v. passionate in this chapter. I'm pretty proud of it.

Okay so then we get to chapter four which is the chapter-that-wasn't-supposed-to-be-a-chapter. But then my 5000 word plan sprawled into a 17 000 word behemoth (how am I going to cut it down? wail) on readership- what it feels like to write to an imagined but 'real' readership (hi), what it feels like to read style blogs and then how we can conceptualise the dynamics of style blog readership. It's not a conversation and it's not a community, I argue- it's something else (sorry guys, you'll have to read it to find out the conclusion. Is the suspense killing you? No? Ok.)

Then chapter five which was my biggest wrestle of a chapter- I tied together a million strands of ideas and parallel ideas and fashion stuff and photography stuff and blog theory stuff to write about the performance of style and self on the blogosphere. I still can't believe it's fully drafted. I'm a little afraid to look at it again in case it disappears in a puff of smoke and I have to do it all over again.

And then, finally, chapter six, the chapter I'm currently writing: all about style bloggers and the fashion media. I'm taking up those chestnut ideas that keep rolling back around- is style blogging a kind of fashion criticism? (well... no) What is the basis of the criticism it has attracted from the professional fashion media? (O HAI BOURDIEU) And stuff like that. It sort of rolls together the PR and media angles without going too deep on the implications of the consumptive side of it- there is just too much to say on the latter and I don't have any more room (or time).

So that's it, guys. Almost four years of thinking about personal style blogs almost all written up. The next two months will be a flurry of finishing writing, editing, rewriting, and doing prosaic formatty stuff like writing a glossary and bibliography and stuff. But I have already chosen a font (Cambria, cause it reads nicely and (more importantly?) sounds like the name of a fabric- cambric, duh), so that's the main thing. Right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two memories of past outfits, both influenced by books.

 I am going through file after file looking for notes or articles that I've compiled over the past four years in anticipation of writing this next (last!) chapter. As I've done so, I've discovered a couple of bits and pieces that I wrote for friends' projects and forgot to give them (sorry Kate!) or wrote with the vague intention of crafting them into a personal essay before probably deciding that I should really get back to work (like I should be doing now?)

So it is that I present to you two fragments in which I catalogue two outfits that are bright in my memory for various reasons. They are not the high point of my life in clothes (vomit. My life in clothes? Aka the name of my B-grade autobiography) but they are languishing on my hard drive so here! I hope you enjoy 'em.

i.                     Not quite Claudia Kishi
 A cliché of certain girls of my generation, I too was sucked into the Stoney Brook world of the Babysitter’s Club (the BSC for those playing at home) and who should catch the eye of my fledgling sense of style than the maven herself, Claudia Kishi. The artistic, dreamy Japanese-American Vice President, whose horrifically bad spelling is only redeemed by her snazzy personal style. This is a character who would team one wooden parrot earring with one dangling plastic earring in the shape of a lightning bolt, worn with a painter’s smock, ripped jeans, mismatched knee-high socks and platform sandals. In other words, just the type of bohemian visual supernova that a girl like me yearned to emulate, stranded as I was in suburbia and awash in peers who lived their lives in the almost-but-not-quite surfbrand labels Hot Tuna, Bad Girl and Cheetah.

I remember staring nervously into the depths of my built-in cupboard, pushing the flimsy chipboard sliding door as far over as it would go to try and make my scant collection of clothes seem more full of prospect. It seemed best to build my homage to Claudia with the clothes I wore least, in the surety that combining them would, through some alchemical process, render them as cool as her vintage blouses and acidwash jeans sounded. I built a winning ensemble around a sleeveless onesie, made of that hypercolour fabric that that turns a different colour in flushing splotches at the application of heat, be it from the iron or (embarrassingly as I got older) the clammy heat of armpits and the small of my back. My onesie was a pale coral colour and I dressed it without a shirt underneath, with socks under rubber thongs and one earring. The effect was, if somewhat unusual, dashing. I stepped out of my room in a slightly anxious flush of suspense, waiting for my mother’s gaze (and judgement) to fall upon me. “You are not going out in that!” Instantly, I felt deeply misunderstood, indignant. It was as if a phantasm of Claudia rose behind me, stood at my right shoulder and egged me on. “But it’s like in the Babysitter’s Club, Mum! I’m like Claudia Kishi” Her steely gaze ended the discussion and I dragged my resentful self back into my room.

ii.                   Not quite a Sweet Valley twin
Years later, I experienced a similar scorn at the behest of my peers at youth group. Again indoctrinated by the style of American girl culture, I was inspired by the jaunty layering of the girls with Whitsundays smiles of Jessica Wakefield and the Unicorn Club. Luckily for me, I was the proud owner of a shrunken knitted vest that Mum had let me choose from the Recycled Rags stall she co-ordinated at our church fête every year. It was just the thing, and to hold it and know it was mine was a fierce pleasure the likes of which I had rarely felt before. It was the hungry pleasure of having something I had longed for without knowing I longed for it, visceral in the teeth-sinking satisfaction of it. It was not only a matter of replicating what those girls looked like but somehow, by imitating them, to be made in their likeness so that I too would be effortlessly social, smiling, beautiful. Such were the inarticulate longings of my fourteen-year-old self.

Unfortunately, the other girls at youth group had missed the memo. I could not have anticipated their response as I dressed, but I only thought of them in an abstract way, anyway. They were shadows flickering at the corner of my mind which, like a mirror, was reflecting the dream self I desired to be with the real fleshly self hastily buttoning my blue sateen Miss Shop blouse, this corporeal teenager hurrying to the chimerical self lingering in the play of possibility, of shadow and light. I wore a short skirt- it must have been black- and blushed pre-emptively at my daring. The blue shirt smoothed over my flat chest and over that, the precious white wool vest, with its two pearlescent plastic buttons at the nape of the neck. It was slightly cropped, allowing the dovetails of the blue blouse to skim free and visible at the bottom.

I brushed my hair up, shimmering with nervous excitement. The collision of my desire with the gentle weight of these garments had heightened my senses, so walking out of my front door to the church next door, I was keenly aware of the setting sun, its rays too distant to carry warmth in their dying glow. I smelt the early back-burning on the evening air, the hale smoky tang at one with the residual heat of the day, like a wave absorbing my clammy palms, my heart which was primed with the anticipation of being the height of fashion.  Proud and a little uncertain, I walked into the loose cluster of girls congregated around the frangipani tree bordering my garden and the church property.

So they stood in knee-length boardies, singlet tops with spaghetti straps or Chesty Bonds singlets, the thinness of their cotton fabric countered by the juicy colours they were manufactured in that year, the hot magentas, tangerines and limes at odds with the black and blues of the favoured boardies of all discerning Year Eight girls at the time. “What are you wearing?” squawked Deirdre. She was tall, broad-shouldered and new to the group. She came with the vague threat of being from the same school as all the rest, with a reputation of being a bit of a bully, the kind of girl you needed to befriend before she could decide she didn’t like you.

“You look dumb! Why are you wearing two tops? It’s too hot.” But worse than her scornful scattershot sentences was her laughter, bitchy and genuine. And dumb I was in the face of her smirk. How could I explain what that outfit had meant to me? The sophisticated edge I had inhabited a moment before disintegrated and left me exposed. The shame that had lain latent on the other side of the knife’s edge of my risk enveloped me. I was suddenly convinced that I did indeed look silly, that my layering was redundant, my skirt too short.

I fled back home, deaf to the calls of the youth group leaders bringing up the rear, rounding everyone into the church hall for games. I don’t remember what clothes I grabbed to replace the scorned outfit but I do remember being deeply relieved that I only lived next door and that, most important of all at fourteen, that none of the boys had been there to witness my gaffe. 

(And I guess it’s lucky for me that I never got it into my head to emulate Anne Shirley’s puffed sleeves or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pinafores or things could have got a whole lot more interesting.)

(One day a psychologist is going to explain the significance of how my identity was shaped by the books I read. Things happen to me and in reflection I decide something like 'it's okay, it was also like this for Emily' (of New Moon, duh).)

Fake fashion gossip column and lobsters, because why not?

And also, another scrap I just found that I wrote I don't know when. Surrealism and the influence of Schiaparelli, lobsters on leashes and the liquid sleaze of old gossip columns come together in something entirely without purpose but also a little bit amusing (... at least to myself.)

Wallis Simpson by Cecil Beaton in the infamous 'Lobster Dress' by Schiaparelli.

In and on fashion – with C.C. Greene
There is a curious fad at work among the fashionable set in this jewel city. The well-heeled and those that aspire to be like them have taken to walking out with sea creatures affixed to their wrists by long leashes. 

The muse behind this no other than Madame Hortense Poncy, whose recent arrival from Paris caused quite the stir. Alighting from her private jet in a black silk opera coat with a pair of cat’s-eye pince-nez, she cut quite a dash from the outset not least because of the lobster, “Bobby”, which trailed from her elegant wrist at the length of a diamond-encrusted collier and leash. We have it on good authority that the collier is comprised of no less than thirty-six emerald cut baguettes claw-set in platinum. Created by Cartier especially for this coddled crustacean, it was designed especially to withstand the pressure of Bobby’s claws and the general wear and tear of rubbing against his flaming carapace.

No sooner had photographs of Madame Poncy and Bobby appeared in the society pages than raffish young men and society dames alike were sighted out and about with leashes of their own. We noted rising artist Derwent Kirkpatrick walking down the centre of Darlinghurst’s Stanley Street with a ribbon extending from each gloved fist, two glimmering goldfish keeping pace in the gutter as he strode by in creepers and a velvet-trimmed cordovan.  

On a slightly different note, Lady Alice Stevenson, formerly Miss Wagga and now the pride of Woollahra, appeared at last week’s Rojane Pearls 'Gems of the Sea' launch with live seahorses plaited among the South Sea shiners in her auburn curls. She intermittently sprayed them with Perrier to keep them alive, and the curling and uncurling of their tails made a charming accompaniment to her Madame Grés frock and lambskin sandals.  

Watch this space, Sydneysiders. Surely it can only be a matter of time before octopi leap off our plates and onto our hats and we hang live crabs from our earlobes!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recent publications: Address and The Conversation

I am absolutely thrilled to share the news of some of my recent publications with you. I wrote an essay for the second issue of Address, the delicious independent journal for fashion criticism, all about the embodied relationship we have with the clothing we wear. I take on the old chestnut that we 'express ourselves' through clothing, arguing instead that the conversation that occurs between us and our clothes, between self and fabric is more nuanced, more felt and ultimately, more interesting that the flat reduction that it's an 'expression'. You can find out more about the issue here and order it online if there are no stockists nearby (I don't think we have any stockists in Australia, more's the shame.)

I have also recently joined the intimidatingly clever coterie of columnists (o hai alliteration) at Australian 'news and views' site The Conversation. My column is called 'Material Visions'- it's part of the newly launched Arts & Culture section, and in it I'll be writing about all things fashion-related. My last column was about wedding dresses and bikini bodies, and if there's ever anything you'd like me to explore, I'd love to hear from you! Alternatively, general feedback/ lavish praise are also always welcome. (Seriously, tho.)

Many things are true at the same time.

I love doing this work/ this work is incredibly difficult and I'm weary of it.

I can't wait to see my finished thesis, to hold it in my hands/ I can't imagine it ever being done to my own satisfaction.

There are brilliant moments glinting here and there/ it's not rigorous or poetic enough.

I should put more auto-ethnography in/ there's already too much of me in there.

I think the work is actually kind of okay. I think it's getting there.

It's weird that all of this thinking and writing is condensing down into finite pages. Strange that I am still inspired by this project, even while I feel like the process of doing this degree has cost me a pound of flesh. It's like a secret between me and the thesis, because to others this degree is a drawn-out process that never seems to progress, always with surprise 'are you still doing it? How many years has it been now?'

But, my thesis and I, we know that it's a slow dance, a feast, a labour of discipline and commitment and doubt and elation. It's coming back to it, and back to it, and back to it with patience and interest. The work simultaneously exhausts and energises me. And it casts me back on myself again and again, testing my commitment, my skill and, most of all, my grit. But I'm still here and it's still shaping up under my careful hands and soon to be done.

I've just got to keep writing. I've just got to keep trusting my instincts and keep writing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A stream of work avoidance.

A stream of images to balance the stream of words trickling or pouring, being deleted, exasperating, relieving, boring or energising me of late. O,r 'the post I posted to avoid working on my Lit Review'. Or, the post with the colours and the hammerhead sharks dancing and the boy with his pig-pony.

All images from Another Loves.

Monday, September 30, 2013

thesis outtake: on getting dressed

I'm working up Chapter Five at the moment and am reviewing all of the bits and pieces I have written on patchy Word docs throughout these years, wondering if I'll find a few sentences that will prove useful to weave this new material together. I've found some great stuff I forgot I wrote, as well as lots and lots of paragraphs all sort of saying the same thing five times in five different places- delete! I also found the below, which I like but not for the thesis, so thought I'd share it here with you. It's a forgotten something, and an unintended foreword of sorts to a piece I wrote for Address, which will be coming out soon (but more on that later!)

I often pause in between deciding to get dressed and actually doing so. I consider the clothes that I own and are available for wear- clean, in good repair, and more importantly, clothes that are ‘speaking to me’. These may or may not be seasonally appropriate, but if not, I will try to find a way to render those that are too flimsy or too heavy suitable for wear. 

What drives me here is an impulse, an inchoate but sensible impulse that is unambiguous but inarticulable. I need to dress in a certain way, I feel myself drawn towards particular garments or a mood or a colour and it is often in the process of trying clothes on (and discarding them all over my bed) that I discover what it is that I want to wear. This impulse is a mystery to me, which in some sense justifies the mysterious language I have here employed to describe it. And yet it is propelled by my aesthetic sensibility- informed by images I have seen or people I have encountered whose look– or at least my sense of their look– I wish to literally embody through my clothing. 

Part of myself then- this impulse, this taste- is made material through the interplay of clothing over my embodied self, this intangible sense finding its fullest expression through my clothing. For someone who is drawn to clothing in this way- with a ‘feelingfulness for clothes’- clothing becomes enfolded in your everyday experience- my mood is directly affected, however momentarily, by the meetness of my clothing for that day. If I have misdressed, or if I cannot quite work my clothes together in a way that coheres with my feeling and expresses it, I feel dissatisfied, slightly at odds with myself. A kind of pale shame. Similarly, if I wake and feel flat or uninspired to get dressed, the process of dressing takes far longer, as I grasp towards some outfit that will engender feelings of comfort, confidence and attractiveness- I might dress in an outfit that has elicited such feelings before, or reach for black, comforting black that is simultaneously quiet and strong. Such days are not the days for trying outlandish new ensembles- those are the days I dress in chaotic brights, clashing prints, days where I feel triumphant and my irradiant mood will vibrate through my skin through my clothes and shimmer in the atmosphere around myself (or so it feels to me.)

This is an everyday practice illuminated, the synchronicity of dressing drawn on and the feelings drawn out by clothing- as wool's prickle draws an itch, so too can the right mix of garments draw certain feelings to my surface. I stop short from the word ‘emotion’ which is too emphatic; this is an impulsive affectivity, feelings that ripple at the surface of skin, touching both cloth and flesh. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Outfit Tastes Part One

Luckily for time-poor style bloggers like myself there is Instagram. Not only can you take a quick shot of your ensemb on the go (no tripod and self-timer required!), if you are already out and about you can score a cool background for your picture without necessarily having to plan an excursion ('I saw this blue wall near Woollahra the other week, it was kind of near the row of art galleries? But if we drive around for a while we'll probably find it again...?') and these are all GOOD THINGS.

And so lately I have been "micro-blogging" all over my Instagram and loving it, loving it readers! But the thing about Instagram is it prioritises* the image- no room for proper explanations of context or the ever-fascinating motivations behind dressing which is part of what I love about style blogging. So here is the rejoinder to my outfit Instagrams of late, if you will (and I am!)

So you'll remember these pants from here. Nick bought them for me in Michigan- in Holland, to be precise. They are actual football pants in the team colours of Hope College's football team, the Dutchman (fyi Holland was 'settled' by Dutch immigrants which explains the town name and also the patriotic orange and blue team colours). Luckily for me, these pants were left on the rail, the lonely unsold remnant left at the end of the season- I guess there wasn't a footy player weedy enough to fit into them?- and they cost the princely sum of $5. I still remember the incredulous look of the guy working in the Sports Goods store when I came out of the change-room flushed with success (sort of like 'why does she want those? Is she crazy?' Maybe a little bit, Sporting Goods guy. Maybe just a little bit.)

The thing is the pants are fitted. And I mean fitted. Which is fine and everything but were also a bit of a styling challenge- if I wore something too fitted on top, I felt too neat; but too loose on top and I was cut in half. If I layered an oversize shirt over, I lost the amazing laces detail in front. But you know what? Paired with this Dries Van Noten white shirt the texture of a fancy dinner napkin and all of a sudden I feel amazing. The kind of fresh orange and white combo I love colour-wise (burnt orange suits everyone! Black, white, rocking a tan (fake please) or computer-screen wan, it is universally foxy. Try it, you'll see) and enough fabric on top to balance the skin-tight party going on all over my thighs.

So there am I in perhaps the most beautifully lit photograph ever taken of me, standing on a street near work for a streetstyle photograph. Unfortunately I was not smiling in the photo so inevitably look sullen, so I cropped my head out of it- this way is much better, trust me. And also, it brings the pants up into the centre of the frame where they truly belong. 

And then last week I went to the Art Gallery of NSW's 'Art After Hours' thing. It's a regular thing, it happens every Wednesday night and there is live music and a wine bar and the gallery is open for wandering up until 9pm. And talks and movies. And lots of interesting arty types to discreetly admire the wardrobe choices of. So anyway I wanted to dress to do justice to the occasion (I always hanker to dress more carefully when I'm going to an art gallery- like an homage to the works, I guess. Is that weird?) and also I was meeting this goddess:

This is Bekah. I could write a whole blogpost about what an amazing, beautiful and talented woman she is but for now you need to know that she lives and breathes art (and was so gracious when I, puzzled by some of the contemporary pieces, asked her what classed them as art and not just a photo someone took. More than that, she gave thoughtful, intelligent and non-judgey answers which tells you so much about her) and also, as you see, she has incredible style. This is the kind of outfit Bekah wears every day- it's not what she wore that night which you can sort of see here:

She told em that earlier that day she was trying on the black top with the cut-away back you see here, and had just pulled the dress she was already wearing already down in the change-room. Catching sight of how it looked with the shirt, she just bought the top and walked out of the shop to wear her dress as a skirt for the rest of the day! Ah I love her. (Here she is looking at one of my favourite contemporary Indigenous Australian artworks on display at the moment, 'Minyi Putu' by Jakayu Biljabu.)

(proper colours here)

So there we were, wandering the cool passages of the gallery when. I. Saw. This:

Tracey Emin. In the flesh. 
I have loved her work ever since 2004 when I discovered her work through a collaboration she did with Longchamp (the 'International Woman' series? It's still not over. Although, this article talks a little on how Emin later felt exploited by the brand, that the collaboration was just part of a 'PR drive' rather than her original sentiment that it was making her work more readily accessible). She also did a series of neon writing pieces, one of which was hanging nearby this quilt so she is right up there in my favourite contemporary artists category. 

I just stood and looked and looked and stood. And then started to wonder about the construction, like any good fashion nerd worth her salt. I peered around the back to see how it had been sewn and then this happened:

Unintentional outfit/artwork matching. Just took my homage dressing to a whole 'nother level.

So here I am wearing my beloved second-hand Bernhard Willhelm check dress, plaid tights from Myer (their tights selection is fantastic, I highly recommend), the Jil Sander neon strip shoes** and this beautiful quilted coat my Granny sewed entirely out of Liberty florals in the 1980s. It is also fully lined with Liberty florals, sigh

It is another piece it took me a while to figure out how to wear, mostly because the quilting adds quite a lot of padding to my arms and torso- that's the whole point of the shape of the coat but for a self-conscious, body-conscious teen/early 20s-er the last thing I wanted was more bulk on my body. Luckily I hung onto it, recognising the beauty and craftsmanship and love stitched into it, and now I wear it whenever the weather cools enough to slip it on. Or whenever I have artworks to blend into.

images 2, 3 and 7 belong to Bekah

*I wanted to use a version of 'primacy'- primacises? That's not a word. But maybe it should be! Thoughts?

** Funny story about the Jil Sander neon strip shoes: maybe I've mentioned before how much attention these shoes garner from male passers-by? Not sexual attention, but entirely shoe-admiring attention. I see their eyes following my feet and often get a 'cool shoes!' as I walk past. My favourite instance of this was when I was recently flying back to Sydney from London. I was at Heathrow Security and I'd just hesitantly walked through the magnetic barrier thing. It didn't beep (always a relief even when I know I'm not wearing any metal, what is that?!) but the eyes of the male guard were fixed on my shoes. Uh-oh... do I need to take them off and walk through again? NAH! 'I like your shoes!' he says with a smile as I stand there uncertainly. Best!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

springtime checks/stripes/colour

It is Spring with a vengeance in Sydney right now and the riot of sunny days followed by torrential rain and confused, hazy flowers bursting into colour has me a little stir crazy. My hands are reaching for all the colours and prints my wardrobe can afford; and this in direct contrast with last week's UK navy-jumper-fest. Which was all I felt like slouching around Oxford in, truth be told, with a cuff of white popping at my wrist. But now- give me checks, glitter nails, earrings, clashing jumpers, more checks and some stripes please.
Which explains this combo:

And this hectic grin:

Also, am quite loving this skirt I bought in Zara last week. Possibly the best ever find I've found in Zara yet: stiff thick woven cotton in the most pleasing dark blue/black/earthy red check, high and waspy-waisted, fitted and super-flattering and in it, I feel quite the elegant woman-about-town. 

Outfit details: bassike shirt, Zara skirt, Kenzo jumper, Jil Sander slippers, Dinosaur Designs earrings, Coach handbag and Dries Van Noten sunglasses.

ps. thank you Kate for taking these photos- 
you're the best!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Recap on Fashion International 5, Oxford UK

'The woman of fashion has chosen to make herself a thing'- Simone de Beauvoir

I was recently fortunate enough to attend Fashion International 5, the fifth international conference on fashion research. It was held in Harris Manchester College, one of the newer of the 38 colleges in Oxford; of course, "newer" in Oxford-ese simply means less old than some of the others, the first of which were built in the 13th Century (!) To these Australian eyes, it was old with its stately stone walls, its flourishing English garden, and its beautiful chapel, the stained glass windows of which were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by none other than William Morris. They were absolutely magnificent.

In addition to, you know, living in Oxford for a week, and all the cobblestoney wanderings, building staring and knowing nodding at passers-by it entailed, I was there to talk and hear about my favourite of all topics (well, almost): fashion. And boy, did we- three and a half days full of glorious talks that ranged in specificity from a consideration of the significance of a shade of red (Phantom Red) developed in the 1920s as a cosmetic tie-in to the silent film Phantom of the Opera to a discussion of two black dressmaker-designers who made dresses for Mary Lincoln and Jackie Kennedy, respectively. There were talks on bikinis and fashion criticism, on dress in Impressionist painting and Italian feminist magazines from the Seventies, on the values and stigmas that circulate around handmade clothing and the future of luxury goods. It was, in a word, fascinating.

I took copious notes and decided to share some snippets with you, mixed in with some photographs I took during the week to give you a taste of what it was like. My own paper, for those who are interested, was drawn from my fifth chapter, the one on fashion imagery, dress and identity. The section I presented on explored the alternative ways style bloggers perform their identity through dress on their blogs. I argued that this is not necessarily a "self-expression", but rather an instance in which bloggers dress particular selves into view as a negotiation of how they feel about themselves and how they wish to be seen, shaped by their clothing. It was obviously v. brilliant and v. relevant and if I publish it at some point, I'll be sure to include the details here if you'd like to look it up.

Above the entrance to St. John's College.

In a talk on the Chanel, the interior space and the public self-image of the couturier, Jess Berry quoted Paul Poiret who apparently told the clients coming to him for couture that 'you will not feel that you are in a shop, but in a studio of an artist, who intends to make of your dresses a portrait and a likeness of yourself.'

'material goods have a relationship with us'- Alfred Gell, anthropologist.

I remembered last week how much I admire the photography of Martin Munkacsi, who was employed by Harper's Bazaar from the mid-1930s after honing his craft by taking documentary-style photographs of everyday life and sports in Germany. My favourite photograph of his, below, was shown during Virginia Postrel's talk on glamour- I love it as an image and also because the model (Lucile Brokaw) bears a strong resemblance to my paternal grandmother Claudia and her sister Elizabeth. 

I chaired a fascinating session on fashion and age, and the panelists and audience had an engaged discussion about it for about an hour after both papers. We were led to consider how women perceive a gap between their 'ideal self' and their 'ought self', seeing themselves ('actual self') in the gap between. As a result, we dress to disguise parts of ourselves we dislike or are ashamed of, or as we grow older we talk about 'not being able' to wear certain clothes anymore: a self-imposed control that is closely tied with our feelings about ourselves and how we feel we 'should' appear. One of the panelists, Anne, observed that often when we try garments on that don't fit us properly we think that it is we and our bodies that are 'wrong' rather than seeing a lack in the garment itself (it's not sized properly, or cut for our figure etc.)- why is that, do you think?

Rosamond Lehmann, 1933 (image)

Some members of the Bloomsbury Group (Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell) with friends (image)

Giulia Negrello traced Virginia Woolf's love of fashion through her writing and spoke a little about the Bloomsbury group. Am now longing to pin my hair in a low soft bun and to sit on a lawn with gentlemen friends with beards and waistcoats talking about our writing and philosophy and ideas and stuff. Imagine a Bloomsbury Group member wouldn't say 'stuff'... or have a style blog? but one can dream, can't one? (I do imagine that a Bloomsbury Group member would refer to themself in the third person so maybe I can make up for my contemporary lack that way?)

Did you know that actors in Greek tragedy used to pray to the god masks they were about to don for their plays, believing that to play a god on stage was an act of spiritual transformation? 

Guys, I had never heard of Sara Thorn and Bruce Slorach before- have you? Merryn Gates, a PhD student from ANU is doing a great research project on post-punk culture in Australia- she presented on the work of Thorn and Slorach, two Australian designers who were incredibly successful both here and overseas in the Eighties. They were even written up in i-D, and after running their label and a store here they went their separate ways to design for Christian Lacroix, Mambo and Stussy among others.
Just check this menswear outfit out:
Isn't it amazing?! It reminds me a lot of Bernhard Willhelm's mens. I love it.
  I love it. If a man ever walked past me whilst wearing it I would not be responsible for my reaction.

Part of what stood out as a theme of the conference for me was the capacity of fashion research to add to the collective memory, to preserve and mark significant cultural moments. Merryn's work is a great example of this: to trace and record the development of a distinct and influential movement in Australian subcultural history. So too was Elizabeth Way's work on Elizabeth Keckly and Ann Lowe, the two African-American designers mentioned above, and Steeve Buckridge's work on lace-bark, a natural fabric extracted by African slaves from trees native to the Caribbean. Look out for his book (to be released next year)- I think it's going to be amazing.

This is the kind of scene I would spy on my walk to Harris Manchester every day.

I really enjoyed Leonard R. Koos's talk on Algerian womens' dress as a form of resistance against French colonisation in the late Nineteenth century. Look at this gorgeous picture of a Mauresque woman:
 Mauresque women wore jewellery underneath their outer garments that could not be seen by passers-by but which tinkled as they walked: the sound but not the sight was apparent. We know this because then-contemporary authors described it. You can see the bangles on her forearm in the image on the right. I am very taken with the whole ensemble: the ballooning white trousers, the flat dark slippers, the cocoon shape her outer cloak makes as it curves over her, and her eyes, the brief focal point between the jewels on her forehead and her mouth covering. 

A row of fairy-floss houses I walked past each day.

We also learned about Barbara Hoff, a Polish fashion designer who educated Polish women about fashion by issuing fashion 'diktats' and giving DIY ideas about how to recreate European fashions within the severe limitations afforded to them, living as they did in the then-People's Republic of Poland, a communist country. I quote Dominika Lokoszek's abstract here, my favourite example of Hoff's work that she gave: 'one of her most famous inventions was how to make fashionable ballerina flats out of sports shoes available then in shops: one had to cut out the part with laces and dye the "new" shoes black at home." 

It's an aspect of DIY that today's culture doesn't even touch on, does it? Nowadays you usually have to buy something new and transform it into the likeness of another item you can't afford, don't you find? Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is radically different to not actually being able to buy different clothes in shops, but relying on swapping with friends, radically reworking what was available or literally cutting up what you had to resew it into a more fashionable look. 

 Some best-I-could-do photographs of the Burne-Jones and Morris stained glass windows in the chapel at Harris Manchester. They were seriously beautiful. 

I came away hungry to hear more about the work that we'd had twenty-minute tastes of all week, and also super-charged to get back into my PhD. I was so encouraged to hear about the diversity of fashion research being conducted around the world, and am excited by what I have to say about style blogging. I can see my work cohering together more and more, see it shaping up and falling together and I simply cannot wait to share it with you. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Going to Great New Lengths- Vogue Australia July 13

I haven't reblogged an editorial for quite some time, but my favourite in recent months was 'Going to Great New Lengths', shot by Nicole Bentley and styled by Meg Gray for Vogue Australia July 2013. I have admired the work of both of these women for a long time, but when coupled with the rangy NZ model Ashleigh Good and her cool stare and the swing skirts and cropped jumpers that are my favourite topic dress-wise right now... well. You have the recipe for something marvellous.

The boater, the neutral tones, the proportions! Although I'm not crazy about the shoes: if I was wearing this look I'd do a chunky loafer with it, or maybe glossy dark brogues like those Dries Van Noten had on the AW13 runway. While the height and chunk of these look marvellous, as a piece they remind me more of Nineties grunge platforms than Oxbridgey Cool Girl...and yet somehow it works here? 

What I love about this Prada suit is its unexpected colour and texture combination, and the way that the fur trim on the sleeves resemble a muff. I've always been mad keen on muffs but can never bring myself to buy one when I find them (idiot!) because what will I do with it? Same story with boaters, until I finally caved and bought a gorgeous vintage one last year. How many times have I worn it? Exactly once.

If the jumper wasn't with this outfit I wouldn't be nuts for it, but the dark camel with the burnt orange of the skirt= so good! And the pop of crisp white at collar and cuff is what it needs to stay light. Gosh, she looks cool.

Slayed by the volume.

Monday, July 29, 2013

plaid applique party (and everyone's invited!)

There are two style blogging truths I have come to terms with– nay, embraced– of late and this is what they are: first, just because your research has meant you know every single trick of the trade for making a 'successful' style blog, doesn't mean you (me) are able to successfully implement them (see: setting up tripod for well-framed, in-focus photos); and second, if my history on style blogging has brought anything to my attention (jk it has brought lots of things to my attention b/c obviously it is very thorough and clever) it reminded me that in the beginning style blogging was a lot more lo-fi and that was what I actually loved about it.

Of course it's a pleasure skimming the gorgeous, profesh 'glossy' blogs but I'm still kind of crazy about the bloggers who posed against the same corner of their living room for every shot (with the same plant on the side) and those whose photos were a bit blurry but were also the best because you saw how happy they felt in the clothes so they just had to jump around in them to show us. 
You know what I mean?

So in celebration of these two truths, I bring you my latest, maybe greatest (ok probably not, why raise your hopes) outfit post to date. It features the most incredible DVN skirt I had on layby for about seven years, a Rittenhouse mens shirt I always liked myself but selflessly gave Nick and then he didn't love the fit on him so score! mine now! and the Jil Sander loafers I got on crazy sale that time that I live in. I'm also wearing a necklace I made yesterday featuring a vintage African trade bead- I love these beads, they're the most weathered and beautiful. 

I wore this to uni and work today because life is too short to save up the silk appliqué stunners for the odd wedding or doctoral graduation ceremony, don't you think?

Ok so I'm hanging in my dining area and trying to channel "chic". Except if I have a photo taken and I don't smile/pull a cheesy pose, I invariably end up channelling "sociopath".
 Exhibit A. 
Stone. Cold. Eyes.
This more accurately reflects my state of being today which was an internal loop of "WOW I AM WEARING THE WORLD'S MOST FREAKING AMAZING SKIRT WHICH MAKES MY LEGS LOOK LIKE THEY'RE GROWING BLACK CORAL" interrupted momentarily by weighing up my hunger against the likelihood that I would spill the foodstuffs in question on aforementioned skirt. Happy to report that no spillages were accrued PHEW cause I might actually die of mortification.
It's not appliquéd all the way around cause come on guys, that would be excessive, it's only all down the front (with sequins). What you see on the shelf there are some treasured stuff including but not limited to my statue of a flamingo drinking water and a blue folder where I write all the good recipes I like and also the ones that sound amazing but I deeply truly know I'll never actually make (blue cheese gougeres? I don't even really know what a gougere is, let's be real.)

But then my camera got all moody on me and this happened:
 I mean WHUT?! My face is the same colour as the WALL behind my HEAD! And that only happens very occasionally when I have been pulling long hours in the ARC which did not happen today. But I kind of like how it makes me look like an apparition? 

And then I made love to the camera.
(top to toe photo only achieved thanks to the intervention of Sal who saved the Jil Sanders from a lifetime of obscurity. Thanks Sal!)
Ok bye I have to go and write my PhD now!