Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"Classic" pieces should make you the most badass you there is

I’ve recently had something very special come into my life.  Something I never thought I would be mine.  Sure, I needed some parental help with it, and I’ve had to learn a lot about how to look after it.  Everything feels different now I have it, and I know I'll never let it go.  

Most importantly, heaven forbid a hot (or cold) beverage comes anywhere near it.


It’s not every jumper that you immediately forge a lifelong bond with but Bella Freud has me head over tiny heels.  I’ve never paid much attention when fashion journalists talk about “investment pieces”.  My hyperactive thirst for new and shiny things means I’ve been pretty content on the high street and too flighty to get excited by “classic” fashion.

But I’ve realised that classic doesn’t have to mean dull and nondescript. Classic is subjective.  It’s a piece of clothing or jewellery that exists outside of trends or seasons, but more importantly you are innately drawn to it.  This is a personal connection, not some cheap pang of lust.  You can’t stop thinking about it.  However secure your sense of self, it’s enhanced when you wear this.  Practically, it will go with almost everything you own.  Spiritually, it will make you feel more complete.

This jumper was a birthday present a while ago from my ludicrously generous parents and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that life will never be the same again.  I’m not saying that before I owned it I couldn’t bring down the patriarchy, I’m just saying it’s a lot more likely now.


A Bella Freud jumper is kind of a fashion lover’s classic.  It’s not a Burberry check or a Louis Vuitton logo which might be recognisable to people who don’t have any interest in fashion.  It’s more of a Missoni zig-zag knit or a Mary Katrantzou digital print.  When I get an appreciative glance or a knowing nod, I know it’s for real.   It’s secret code for “I know what you know and that is that your jumper has magical powers.  Nice one.  High Five.  Right on.”

But most people couldn’t give a toss what I’m wearing and I’m not expecting plaudits from all corners, or people hurriedly curtseying in the street as they see me coming.  The point is, in this jumper, I kind of feel like they are.  BOW DOWN PEASANTS, BELLA ‘S GOT MY BACK.*

*Possible empowerment overload

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Berlin City Guide: Kreuzberg and Neukölln

I don't tend to write travel posts because a distinct lack of funds rather limits my travelling opportunities and I have only so much imagination to turn Shadwell into Sienna.  But a happy coincidence of a press trip coinciding with the Easter break means I've spent a few days in the totally excellent city of Berlin.  After I finished being really convincingly professional and staying in a hotel which cost far beyond my means, I took myself off to explore the East side of the city and my nerdy research paid off.  Here are some of the bars, restaurants and cafes that I can genuinely recommend because I have physically been inside them and parted with cash.  Pretty much all of them are on a nondescript residential street but trust me, they do exist.

Kreuzberg

Five Elephantfind on map
This crops up on a lot of lists of top Berlin coffee shops and is well worth stopping by for a flat white and a slice of cheesecake - although don't leave it too late in the day because there were several disappointed faces once it had sold out.  I read my book and listening to them playing The Smiths while the sun shone through the window, and generally felt pretty content with the world.

Bohnengold, find on map
A smoky, candle-lit, bohemian joint with uber-cheap beers which feels very much like a bunch of rakeish poets should be hanging out there...and they quite possibly are.  Get lost in a warren of rooms, curl up by the fireplace and forget what time of day it is.  Bar snacks are highly recommended.

Voofind on map
It's a slight lie that I parted with any cash in Voo because, truthfully I would have had to return to London shorter one kidney to have afforded anything.  But it's a very cool shop with what I would call "directional" stock, lustworthy jewellery and general trendy knick-knacks.


Voo store Berlin
Voo: Aspirational luxury and Future Sailor shapes

Coffee Companion in Voofind on map
To console myself walking away from Voo empty-handed, I didn't actually walk too far.  
Conveniently inside the shop, they have a lovely mini-cafe where you can nurse a caffeine hit whilst making other shoppers feel uncomfortable by staring them down.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the conversation going on next to me about "this amazing band, The Cure, have you heard of them?"


coffee shops Berlin
If you can't afford to join them, creep them out by watching them.

Museum der Dingefind on map
The "Museum of Things" could equally be called the "Museum of Random Crap We Displayed While We Were Stoned" and still be an accurate representation of the contents.  Alongside seriously beautiful/interesting German design through the 20th century, you'll find mannequin heads, Nazi kitsch, Nokia 3210s and Polly Pockets.  Can't recommend highly enough for a trip through the weird and wonderful.


Museum of Things
On the basis of this, my bedroom is a museum.


Bar Ravalfind on map
This place is slightly more upmarket for an evening meal but the tapas is properly delicious, and the portions are decent.  Lovely location next to Görlitzer parkplenty of veggie options and a baked goat's cheese I'm still thinking about.

Neukölln

Fuchs und Elsterfind on map
It's quite hard to escape candlelight in Berlin so if you intend on wearing a vast amount of hairspray or particularly flammable clothing, perhaps avoid this spot.  On the other hand, if you want dinner or cocktails in a cosy atmosphere with incredibly generous glasses of wine and hip staff, you should be ok.

Roamersfind on map
This cafe is tiny, and I mean tiny. I squeezed onto the end of the bar before finding a table seat which was crucial because my short legs meant the bar stool was not working out so well for me.  I loved it though, not least, because they made me fresh lemon and ginger tea when I was feeling very under the weather.  It's hard to decide what to eat because everything coming out of the kitchen looks spectacular but my marinated beef and sauerkraut sandwich hit the spot. 
Roamers cafe Berlin
Miracle tea from the gods.

California Breakfast Slam, find on map
Mostly-Australian staffed and with a truly bizarrely phrased menu which appears to have been penned by an unemployed stand-up, this is where to head on a hangover for vast and delicious portions.  They also get their coffee from Five Elephant so you know it's good.  It'll look like you're in the middle of nowhere right up until you reach the door - reserve a table if you're more than two.

Other

The Birdfind on map
Not strictly anywhere near Kreuzberg or Neukolln but still the best burger I've ever eaten in my life.  Well worth the migration up to the north of the city and best to make a reservation on a Sunday to tie-in with the Maurpark flea market being in full swing.


Jacky Terrasson
And here's a picture of me playing jazz piano on a stage in front of a lot of people.  
I don't think that needs any further explanation.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Women. Fashion. Power. Not a multiple choice.

There is a black and gold striped Biba jumpsuit on display in the Women Fashion Power exhibition at the Design Museum.  It prompted a discussion between two women next to me on how they could potentially make it out of the museum without anyone noticing they’d nicked it.  Being the philanthropic eavesdropper I am, I offered to distract the staff while they made a run for it.


After we opted out of resorting to a smash and grab, they started telling me about the first time they’d visited the Biba store on Kensington High Street in the 70s. They pointed at a photo of Twiggy lounging on a leopard print bed and said: “We’d never seen anything like it; we couldn’t believe our eyes.  The colours, and the people.  It was something else.”  They lit up telling me about this experience, this moment when the transformative possibilities of fashion were revealed to them.

This exhibition is about the many hundreds of moments when women through history have seen those possibilities and exploited them, to project, protect, inspire, disguise, manipulate, trademark, eschew, adopt, interpret, prosper and transform.  

Naomi Campbell's first Vogue cover in December 1987

It’s pretty safe to say that at least half of our group were not feeling at our most fashionable, or indeed powerful after a housewarming the night before had rendered us slightly lacklustre.  But listening to those two women talk about their worlds being turned upside down in Biba, I shook off my wine fuzz and walked around the rest of the exhibition with a huge smile on my face.

Every time I get dressed I’m thinking about having one of those moments for myself that day.  Drawing breath and facing down the boys' clubs, the glass ceilings, the catcalls, the depressing statistics and all manner of other daily crap, women are still climbing the hill we've been climbing for centuries.  I don't know when we'll reach anything like the top, but until then I want to employ every tool in my eclectic arsenal to enhance whatever it is I want to say, think, make or do.  Fashion is one of the most powerful tools we have, unwieldy though it may be, and I intend to use it. 


Go along and get your empowerment on before Women Fashion Power ends on 26 April.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Vive la Megababe: Inspired by Ashley Williams AW15 Show

I was starting to get a bit worried I had fallen out of love with fashion.  By which I mainly mean I haven't bought anything since Christmas (only exception: black opaques, black opaques and more black opaques).  

January and February are a pretty lacklustre time in the shops.  Christmas sales are never-ending as more and more reduction stickers get plastered onto price tags for woolly accessories that didn't make it as stocking fillers.  Spring trends seem weirdly misplaced because non-fashion industry insiders prefer to shop for the weather they're experiencing rather than sunshine in four months time.  And against bitter winds and grey skies, colour blocked pastels are downright offensive.   

This week I went to my first catwalk show at London Fashion Week thanks to the lovely people at Fiji Water and I feel rejuvenated.  I can absolutely see how you could become jaded if you attended hundreds of them but as an imposter a newcomer, I enjoyed the spectacle. I especially enjoyed the man in snakeskin shorts and a crown taking photos of everyone.

It probably helped that the show was for bright young thing Ashley Williams and filled with so much spunky attitude it left you feeling like you'd been headbutted by your cool little sister.  
The show notes said "Vive la Megababe" and the sound system was pumping out The Primitives' "Crash".  I'm pretty sure I walked out having subconsciously taken up smoking.


Pictures via Style.com

There were goth vibes with black lipstick and PVC mixed with candy pink over-sized shearling and sheer mesh.  The open holes in the knees of black opaque tights made me think of Regina George shrugging off the holes in the front of her tank top in Mean Girls and sashaying out into the school hallways to set a trend because who gives a damn.


Pictures via Style.com

It reminded me that what I love about fashion is feeling transformed when I put on an outfit.  
That clothes can be a costume or a mask for when you most need them.  That you can dictate or subvert the judgements the world makes on you.  That sometimes it's fun to give a fuck, but you don't actually need to.  Vive la Megababe indeed.

Pictures via Style.com

Friday, 16 January 2015

Women and Opening Weekends: Why you should see Wild ASAP.

Today Wild is released in the UK.  It’s got a legitimate A-list star in Reese Witherspoon, who has a proven track record with the box office (Legally Blonde) and the critics (Walk the Line).  It’s got a Best Actress Oscar nomination, reviews are positive and it's adapted from a New York Times bestselling memoir.  Things are looking pretty good.

Despite the fact that Witherspoon is, in fact, a woman.  

Which according to Hollywood heavyweights like Russell Crowe and Aaron Sorkin, is extremely detrimental to both the quality and success of a film.  According to them, the real problem with women in Hollywood is…well…the women, obviously.

why we should see films with female leads on their opening weekend
"Wild" starring a "woman"

Personally, I haven’t seen hoards of potential cinema-goers scratching their heads in front of the poster for Wild as they desperately search for the name of the male co-star (although Reese isn’t a gender-specific name, so perhaps they’re easily fooled, the poor blind sheep).  And I also don’t believe people have flocked to see Taken 3 because they were just relieved that Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t in it.  But overall, the industry has basically no faith in its women to helm potential blockbusters.

In 2014, only 23% of films had female leads, less than a third of speaking roles went to women and only 17% of actors making up general crowd scenes were women.*  The Hollywood Foreign Press might fall over themselves to take credit for the casting of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as presenters for the Golden Globes but none of the best picture nominees featured a female lead performance.  I'm not getting started on the Oscars because my PMS might cause me to get hysterical, make false rape allegations and trick men into thinking I'm pregnant.

But the truth is that audiences actually quite like films that are not solely testosterone-charged.  Last year they quite liked Lucy.  And they were pretty into Maleficent.   And they thought The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was ok too.  The women can bring in the big bucks; they just aren’t given enough of a chance.

When it opened in the US in December, Wild was shown in just 21 cinemas but has taken over $30m since then.  Audiences like the film, they’re telling their friends, and their friends like it too.  But where money has always talked in the movie business, nowadays it needs to talk faster and faster.  Box office clout is the bargaining chip the studio execs are looking for before they abandon projects to languish in the Hollywood hinterland, and the opening weekend has never been more important.  In a climate of piracy, streaming and web leaks, the first indication of a film’s figures have become the measuring stick that hits the headlines.  It's scarily easy for a project to be deemed a failure.

So while a savvy (and thrifty) cinema-goer might wait for reviews, recommendations from friends and generally rely on word-of-mouth to dictate which films they choose to see, the slow-burning success isn’t convincing the bigwigs.

Witherspoon had to set up her own production company in order to make projects like Gone Girl and Wild reach us, and if we want to see more of the same, we need to make our time and money count by seeing them on that all-important opening weekend.  

It's not about snubbing films that don't have female leads - it's about prioritising.  The men will still be there next week but the women might not be.  We need to queue up and book out the screens that have been risked on a paltry lady-film for Friday and Saturday nights.  We need to be the audience the studios don't think exists.  Lady-money can talk too. 

*Figures from the Geena Davis Institute report "Gender Bias Without Borders"