Thursday, 19 May 2011

Menswear to lust after

[Images taken from River Island online].

A male friend of mine was recently lamenting the lack of good quality menswear available that doesn't tick the 'lad in Ibiza' box, or the 'gangsta wannabe from a cosy suburb' box. It is pretty tough, because most fashion outlets tend to target one of these core types of male dresser and neglect the ones who just want something a little bit different. Here are three of my top picks from River Island's menswear range -

  • The printed t-shirt that doesn't make you cringe (Pause t-shirt, £14.99). I've lost count of the number of blokes I've seen wearing cheesy tees with slogans that imply they are God's gift to women. This option is much more laid back and happens to be quite versatile - nothing to offend your granny, but perfect for a day or night out. They also do a 'Rewind' one, should you feel the need to collect both.
  • The glam-rocker-meets-Goth boots (Black smart Western-style ankle boots, £49.99). Yes, I know a lot of men think that pointy shoes are for posers, but these are seriously cool. They'd be great for a job interview, or indeed something a lot less important, and they have the added bonus of being more water-resistant than your old trainers with holes in.
  • The patriotic bag that doesn't feature corgis or anything about Kate and William (Stone Union Jack holdall bag, £39.99). I do love a good Union Jack print, almost as much as leopard, though obviously a man in leopard print would not be a brilliant look. This bag is functional but also a bit quirky, so you won't lose it easily and it'll add a bit of colour if you're fond of wearing all black or neutrals. You can fit loads in a holdall, so expect this to serve you well for many a weekend or holiday trip.
Of course, menswear isn't just restricted to men. I would quite happily buy any of these items myself - as long as you're a size 6 or above then male footwear will fit you, too. A man's t-shirt can make a great slouchy top or even a dress, with barely any adjustments. As for bags - well, there don't tend to be gender labels on the key styles. I will definitely return to spotlighting menswear, but this is just a taste of what the high street has to offer.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

That Old 80-20 Balance

It's a well-quoted fact that most people wear only 20% of the clothes they own. But here are a couple more worrying facts on wardrobe waste (these facts are derived from the Daily Mail online, so they might not be 100% accurate and may contain conspiracy theories, but they're all I've got to go on at the moment...):

  • In 2007, there were three pairs of jeans being sold every second in the UK. I'm guessing they weren't all designer threads, either.
  • 80 billion new garments are produced every year.
  • Compared to women in the 1980s, the modern woman has 4 times as many items of clothing.
  • In 2005, supermarkets contributed 20% of the fashion market.
  • The average woman acquires 4 and a half stone of clothes per year. I would make a safe bet that I am way beyond that figure...

I am trying to beat my fast fashion addiction, I really am. I try and think of items that I already own which could work with the one I'm considering buying, or I justify 'price per wear' (which, when something costs £5, it's not hard to do). However, I still find it incredibly easy to tire of the things I buy and yearn for something new, yet be unable to physically abandon my cast-offs, lest I should need them again next season. Yes, there's probably some kind of emotional attachment issue going on there, but I love shopping and I don't like throwing away. That's just me. It's not going to be an easy task, but I really am going to try and be more brutal with my wardrobe choices and actually part with the items that never see the light of day.

New Look's Masters Collection with LCF: keep it coming

[Images via Catwalk Queen and Westfield Style Notes].

I am a complete sucker for new design talent, so when the team at New Look decided to run a competition for students at the London College of Fashion to design footwear, I was more than a little excited. As an LCF alumnus, though mine was a journalistic course, I can understand why the store turned to this university for the cream of the crop; you are surrounded by fashion-obsessed and highly driven people, and it's not the kind of institution that leaves you uninspired.

The New Look competition has highlighted four students, three of whom were runners-up, and the winner was Chang Seok Ko with a series of denim-based creations which hark back to the 80s/90s distressed denim revival. These are not pictured as (if I'm completely honest) they're not really my cup of tea, and I'm not convinced that denim shoes will make a long-lasting wardrobe contribution, though obviously I wish him well and he is undoubtedly going to make his mark in the industry. I have to say that I was much more drawn to the other three entrants' pieces, as seen above, and I particularly felt that the work of Ruth Jones (not the one who wrote Gavin and Stacey) was very strong. She is the woman behind the chunky wedges, pictured in both black and primary coloured hues above. Jones said she was influenced by the circus when creating her shoes, which are sturdy but decidedly fun and happen to feature this season's scalloped edging details. The other finalists opted for more sedate and classic styles in neutral tones of white and nude, which will surely prove popular with customers - that pearl trim is very Kate Middleton - but may not have the impact of Jones' show-stoppers. I look forward to seeing future collaborations such as this, which show just what Britain's design graduates have to offer.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Judy's Affordable Vintage Fashion Fair 2011 - get your glad rags on

[All images my own - please ask before reproducing].

The stalls were set up, the cupcakes were on display and the retro fashion was wall to wall; this could only be a vintage fashion fair (or a great trip in a time machine). Judy's Affordable Vintage Fashion Fair, which I will abbreviate to Judy's, is one of the most eagerly anticipated events for lovers of all things pre-modern. The fair travels and down the country, hitting major cities and delighting students and former hippies alike. The atmosphere was brilliant in Brighton today, with a dedicated throng of Early Bird entrants - including myself - clamouring to pass through the gates of the racecourse at 11am.

So what can you expect to find at such an event? Obviously clothing is a major draw, forming the bulk of the goods on show, and there was a heavy emphasis on the 1940s and 50s today in particular. You can expect to pick up a great tea dress from either era for about £30, and then take your pick of the beautiful costume jewellery nestled in between the clothing rails. Accessories abounded too, from battered but sturdy suitcases to dainty evening handbags or clutches. Menswear was catered for in many guises, from the denim of James Dean wannabes to the Fred Perry and Ben Sherman for the streetwise man, or the tweed jackets or bow ties of the aspiring dandy. My dad was pleased to find a great stash of cufflinks and ties, which he was drawn to with a magpie-like instinct.

The stallholders, too, are immersed in the vintage world and often have some of the best looks - see two examples above, including Eleanor, a milliner who makes excellent fascinators and headpieces. And another aspect of Judy's to mention was its sideline in furniture stalls, which arose from a collaboration with the Vintage Furniture Flea. Here you could find the perfect cushion, Ercol chair (which my dad remembered from the first time around...) or a piece of glassware. This was the perfect accompaniment to the clothing and accessories areas, although noticeably smaller in the number of stands. I hope that the furniture element will be retained in further Judy's events, because it definitely sat well aesthetically and it created a more holistic approach to vintage life.

So what did I come away with? Well, a 1950s hair slide, retro peony pink earrings, some miniature skeleton charms which will form part of a necklace I'm making, a black vanity case (a.k.a. my new handbag), and countless business cards that will probably result in many online purchases once I hit payday. Not to mention the two dresses, suitcases and a fascinator that I very nearly bought. It was a great day out and it has given me plenty of new ideas for outfit building and continuing to embrace vintage in my wardrobe. If Judy's is heading to a city near you, don't miss out.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

New Designer O'Clock: Esther Porter Bags

[Images courtesy of Esther Porter - the Grebe, Linnet and Lark bags in the studio; the Robin bag from the Women's lookbook; the Barrel bag from her other collection, Tent]

The quest for the perfect bag is something which, like many women, I find embarrassingly all-consuming. It's hard to find the right space for all of the detritus we carry, and for that space to be as nicely decorate as possible to ensure we don't commit social suicide in the process (n.b. steer well clear from those furry Chanel bags which resemble dry ice cubes, and will set you back £1,000 for the privilege of looking like the Ice Maiden). However, one woman has a few suggestions which marry practical, sturdy styles with classic cool, and that is the designer behind the new label Esther Porter. Created by Esther Ball (she chose the name Porter to mirror the crafting heritage of her maternal grandmother and also to emphasise the functionality of her bags), the products are made in East London and reflect the urban-rural clashes within Britain. The great outdoors and the not-so-famous indoors become united in her designs, which she says pay tribute to birds in the countryside. "Each bag from the Women's collection is named after a different bird, showing that they have unique personalities," she tells me. "I use hand-crafting techniques and traditional leather work to really bring them to life. It's simple but effective."

Not only is Esther's love of tradition very refreshing in an age of fast fashion, but it also reminded me of the great timeless bag shapes that I have yet to own (yes, my mother will hate me, but even she can't deny that you can't beat a good push-lock bag). What's more, after the Royal Wedding and with the 2012 Olympics only months away, it's about time that we celebrated the best of British, and this involves acknowledging new talent. Importantly, the bag-making process also considers environmental impact at every stage, with vegetable-tanned leather and British waxed cotton being used alongside reclaimed shirting material. The leather, which is chrome-free and has not been made using toxic chemicals, is much softer than anything on the high street, owing to its natural benefits. Esther tells me it requires little maintenance and will age beautifully over time. I get the feeling I should start saving now, and consider this the kind of bag that will last a lot longer than a fashion season. I'm hooked.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Daily Mail and Perez missed their artistic calling

[Image via Xposure Photos].

In 1924, Man Ray created Le Violon d'Ingres using a photograph of his lover Kiki de Montparnasse and some cleverly applied paint to suggest that her feminine curves were like those of a violin. This iconic image is cerebral but also very flirty and tongue-in-cheek, which explains why it may be vaguely familiar to you. When the singer Katy Perry donned a beautiful (if incredibly 80s) emerald green dress which featured an almost life-size reproduction of Man Ray's piece, both the Daily Mail's Showbiz section and the pages of celebrity gossip queen Perez Hilton were soon bursting with news of Katy's unusual outfit. They did not, however, have any idea where the original image came from, or even that it was anything other than a new concept dreamt up by the dress designer. I don't expect celebrity websites to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history (God knows, I don't log onto these sites expecting anything other than light relief and a bit of a laugh), but you'd think that someone out there would have told them this was the work of a pivotal 20th Century artist before it was left as being so anonymous. Man Ray should not be forgotten by the public so soon! I only wish we could see more of his work incorporated with modern fashion.
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