Sunday, 28 August 2011

Fresh from the shop floor

[All images my own. Please ask before reproducing.]
New Look has my 'fashion bargain' alarm bells ringing with this youthful take on the feathered cocktail dress. It's probably going to be indecently short, it's one-shouldered and it's not made of silk, but it's a quirky alternative to saving your best clothes for certain outings. At £22.99, it's not going to break the bank, but the feather trim will turn heads at a bar or club.

New Look's shoe department (which I have blogged about in the past) is a firm favourite with me. Their footwear is sturdy but fashion-forward and this pair definitely caught my eye. The python print is very AW - it's set to replace other animal patterns - and the black suede adds a touch of glamour. If only I could walk in them.

Leather accessories are a staple trend for AW, but this year there's an even bigger emphasis on heritage pieces, as seen at Zara. With Chelsea boots in scarlet and black, and the possibility of matching your feet to your bag here (or should we call it a document wallet?), things are looking undeniably chic. This is the grown-up way to greet the passing of summer.

Tailoring at Zara is also strong, with the masculine/androynous edge proving popular. This royal blue jacket, with its clean lines and tuxedo-esque edges, is bound to be a sell-out. The colour works well with black, but I think it would be equally interesting over white or grey tailored trousers or some colourful silk palazzo pants.

They call me mellow yellow... or mustard, to be precise. If there was one item I could pick from Zara at the moment, it'd be this jacket. It's very 1980s, but minus the irritating shoulder pads or frizzy perm that might have accompanied it back then. You just know you could chuck this on over a shirt and skinny trousers or leggings and instantly feel powerful. It'd be best suited to strong eyebrows, a dark lip and a minimalistic bag. As for the python-print ankle boots? They'll be in all the magazines. Personally I'm looking for over-the-knee numbers this season, but these are a nice alternative.

Urban Outfitters' accessories really do go from classic pieces to modern pop culture references. The Casio watch, in my opinion, seemed like a fad, but now seems to be back with a vengeance, whilst the skull decoration is more timeless and could still be a feature piece in 20 years.

Topshop's leather detail mac is to die for. At just under £100, it's not exactly cheap, but it does make you stand out from the crowd where coats are concerned. I'm going to try and replicate this with some leather offcuts on the cuffs and base of a charity shop piece (just gotta keep my eyes peeled for the perfect one!).

Topshop's shoe department has workwear covered. From patent Chelsea boots to low-heeled pumps, there seems to be a decisive nod to formal dressing here. I'm also deeply in love with the gold chunky heel in the centre - it's a brilliant detail on a simple shoe.

River Island is a great place to find directional accessories. For the last few years they've been incredibly good at producing shawls, snoods and scarves that are ladylike but not too fussy, and 2011 is no exception. They've gone the extra mile with a fur trim on this pashmina (bottom left).

H&M's bags seem to be surpassing their footwear this season. They've chosen to give in to the satchel trend (it just won't die down, because women and men still seek practical arm candy that will last more than a few months), but their new colour-ways are fresh. That zingy orange is most likely referencing the recent neon versions of The Cambridge Satchel Company's popular pieces. I'm really drawn to the deep green bag on the far right, though - it's very roomy, has a great gold zip and two styles of strap. At £29.99 it's hard to walk away from.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Website to Watch: F-Troupe

A Pythonesque welcome to the website - if you want the full viewing experience from this shoe company, turn up the volume on your computer [image taken as a screenshot by me, from F-Troupe].

With a motley selection of figures from antiquated paintings and drawings, this site is clearly a labour of love. It's quirky and does a great job of involving the viewer.

You may have spotted F-Troupe shoes in the pages of a magazine or from a trip to the footwear department of Schuh, or been fortunate enough to track down one of their brilliant lookbooks; I own one which is circus-themed and full of beautiful illustrations. Paying a visit to their website was something I’ve been meaning to do, as I’m looking to invest in a new pair of boots, but I felt compelled to write about the amazing visual display that greeted me after I Googled.

F-Troupe’s website is particularly interesting as it ensures that the customer does not feel that they are being led into a sales-driven pitch. The design is image-heavy, relying on old paintings set to short animations which really draw you in, but tell you nothing about the products – it’s about having fun and establishing the brand as a little left of centre. As well as all these gimmicks, it’s easy to navigate and very cleanly set out, without reams of text to get through. I find it refreshing to see such a commitment to the experience of a company without feeling pressurised into buying a single pair of shoes. It’s because of this that I feel more keen to track down F-Troupe footwear in the shops (was it just a clever piece of reverse psychology by the marketing men? Who knows?!) and I will be keeping an eye on their future developments.

Here are three of my favourite pieces from their current collection:

The nubuck shoe in black with emerald and royal purple panels - £105.

The 'Bathing Shoe' (that sounds so glamorous and 1940s/50s) in a vivid green, which is also available in black, blue and pink, will only set you back £20. It's an upmarket take on the jelly shoe, but with a nod to the plimsolls that are so popular in the summer.

The men's grey Harris Tweed shoe - £95 - is sturdy but shaped a bit like a pair of Vans trainers. It's not as regimented as the popular biker boots, so it's great for blokes who prefer a more casual look and can rock a retro print. These would also look good for smart-casual occasions (which are increasingly difficult to dress for).

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Vintage Accessories

I bought this very retro ticket holder from Oxfam for £5. It's incredibly organised and has that edge of glamour that modern travel really doesn't conjour up (delays, airport lounges, bad coffee anyone?). So please let me indulge in my dream of travelling in style with this little gem.

Sometimes you just want to roll the dice and see where you end up.

This picnic hamper was another local Oxfam purchase - £4 but very sturdy. It's not one of those posh ones that has different sections, but it will certainly do the job as an alternative piece of luggage for day trips. The hat is from Urban Outfitters in New York (though it's a couple of years old, but you can pick up similar bowlers in a wide range of shops at the moment).

The beauty of wicker is that it's intricately made and it shows good old-fashioned craftsmanship. It's also remarkably resilient. In case you're wondering, my cameo print duvet in the background is from Primark (£10).

What are your favourite vintage accessories, either genuine or modern copies? And are you enjoying the huge vintage revival at the moment in fashion, or do you crave a bit of futurism for a change (a la Versus by Versace)? Personally I love the retro look as it's very British and a little bit eccentric at times, with clashing patterns, but I know it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

New Designer O'Clock - LCF College Shop

[Images taken from the LCF website and collaged by me].

If you like your designers new or previously undiscovered, and you're willing to invest a bit of cash, look no further than the London College of Fashion's 'College Shop' venture, which opens on the evening of 8th September in the city centre's Carnaby Street area (head to Kingly Court, which is well sign-posted). Combining up-and-coming alumni such as William Tempest and Hasan Hejazi with the more recent graduates who are just off the starting blocks of their careers, this is a crucial event for discovering what Britain's future stars are producing. Of course, most of it will be beyond the budget of fellow students, but prices start from £20 and you have three weeks to explore all it has to offer.

[Image taken from].

Illustrator Beatrice Boyle (LCF-trained, and with work featured prominently in the pages of Elle magazine and emblazoned on vests worn by fashion lovers) is also taking part. She has created an Oyster Card holder and postcards for the College Shop, which are available for a more pocket-money-friendly £5. I think it's great that cheaper items are available, so as not to alienate the customer who cannot stretch to buying a whole outfit but who wants a piece of the action.

[Image taken from]

Ada Zanditon is another of the talented designers being showcased here. Zanditon is well known in ethical fashion circles as one of the names to champion for her sustainability considerations, but she's also no stranger to the mainstream style press. Her use of draping, sculptural forms and exciting prints mean that there are many reasons to keep an eye on her progress.

The College Shop is evidently a good example of pop-up commercialism which is bringing the consumer and the creatives together under one roof, whilst taking advantage of the run-up to our period of precious madness that is Fashion Week.

And, lastly, a cheeky plug. LCF's own magazine, Pigeons and Peacocks, is also available to buy at the College Shop. The current issue includes two of my articles - one being experiential and the other being a longer feature piece on anti-ageing and our obsession with staying young. The rest of the magazine is equally diverse, focusing on style, society, culture and what the future holds for us.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Vintage Clothing Review: Edinburgh

The window displays at Armstrong's are blissfully eclectic, but not in the annoyingly twee way that many vintage shops present themselves (all sweetness and light with roses and polka dots, til you get stung for the bill of overpriced clothing). Here the windows are a blank canvas which the sales team have transformed into a sort of safari holiday on acid. I'm immediately intrigued. A key advantage of vintage shops is that the windows will be constantly changing, owing to the one-off nature of the contents, so it's worth popping past a few times in one week for ever-changing visual merchandising.

Setting themselves up as specialists (read the white writing and you'll see just how diverse the stock sections are), this is a place that would have Mary Portas dancing between the rails. The outside bears a short mannequin (just seen) with a floral tank top and high-waisted denim shorts, which nicely caters to modern trends: these people clearly know what they're doing. What's more, you're getting the newest fashion from the first time around, so it's a win-win situation.

Another couple of outfits at Armstrong's. As you can see, another short mannequin body has been placed on the other side of the entrance, also bearing a tank top and high-waisted white denim shorts, but this time with a tie-dye print and a chunky black belt. The near-symmetry of these outfits is incredibly inventive for a fashion subcategory (vintage) that normally prides itself on having no two garments the same. Below that sits a skirted look that wouldn't be out of place in a 1960s or 70s office: the ambitious Working Girl before Working Girl was a film in the 80s. Great styling here.

From Armstrong's to the vintage section of the PDSA charity shop, which is just along from John Knox's house in the heart of Edinburgh. The staff here obviously know how to spot what is a vintage gem and what is a mainstream charity purchase (something I spent years trying to explain to my co-volunteers at a local hospice shop). It's easy for non-vintage lovers to overlook a battered leather bag as being tatty and unpresentable, or to assume that a naff jumper with a dog's face on will not prove popular; however, both of those examples are now hugely in demand, owing to the cyclical nature of fashion and the backlash against throwaway synthetic garments. Even just this week, Grazia magazine was announcing on its front page that jumpers with animal silhouettes are big news.

With stacks of records and stacks of enthusiasm, this charity shop really is a popular destination. The quality of the vintage section is similar to that of Armstrong's, and it's great to see that the charity sector is benefitting from the demand for all things retro. It also makes far more sense to buy original pieces from 30-80 years ago (when you can) than to go and grab the brand new version that's only pretending to be from Granny's wardrobe, because you're helping to reduce clothing waste and giving that item a new lease of life.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Thorn Birds: a cult series with serious fashion credentials

[Images taken as stills by me, from Youtube footage of The Thorn Birds].

If you can excuse the worrying moral implications of a drama that involves a man falling in love with a woman he first met when she was a young child and he was the local priest, there’s a lot to enjoy in The Thorn Birds. This 1980s serialised adaptation contains dodgy fake Australian accents, rebellious teens and one of the most unlikely style icons I’ve ever seen: that of an evil but wealthy old crone, Mary Carson. Despite her machinations, she has an excellent sense of style and really brings the 1920s to life, making her instantly watchable. Here you can see her in an Art Deco-inspired piece with intricate beading and vertical lines to give the illusion of height and stature.

As you can see in this screenshot, Mary Carson can change from well-mannered lady to bitter old woman at the drop of a hat. She loves to wear lace, which seems fitting for her personality as it is a fabric that can be both delicate and suggestive, depending on how it is worn.

No-nonsense Mary works the newer fashion for sensible day clothes as she realises time has moved on since the innocent days of hosting balls and courting. This is an outfit more suited to the location of the story, an Australian farming community, but it also catches my eye as being similar to Ralph Lauren's recent SS/11 designs which heavily featured white, camel and brown.

Yet here goes Mary, swinging back into eveningwear again, but this time in her favourite midnight blue and with a distinct nod to the 1920s. She never needs to wear screamingly loud colours or ostentatious clothing, because her personality does all the talking (and shuts everyone else up). Mary Carson, you may be a dragon, but I want your wardrobe.

If there's an old tv series that's made you covet the costumes, share your thoughts below.

Complete Outfit Time. Apologies for not using mannequin.

The perils of using self-timer when you can't quite get your shoes on. I was tasked with preparing some outfit shots for an application to the Sunday Times Style Magazine's regular column on readers' personal fashion sense, so I grabbed a bunch of clothes and got self-styling. You can see the proper shot below.

If all else fails, look down. I went through a phase aged 10 where I readily enjoyed posing for the camera, but now I'm not so confident; however I needed to shoot the outfits in full and couldn't exactly use a stand-in. Luckily my house has plenty of natural light and lots of odds and ends that my parents have collected over the years, so it can prove to be quite interesting (if a little distractingly busy) as a backdrop.

Yes, I can play the piano, but that's beside the point. Tartan wedge heels (£14.99, H&M - I visited 4 branches to find them in my size), faux leather studded skirt (£4, Matalan), black and white draped top (£14.99, H&M). I like to disappear when I'm recording my outfits, because my expression tends to veer on the idiotic. This is much more preferable.

I love strong patterns such as the Union Jack and I kind of wanted a dress like Geri Halliwell's Spice Girls one (which, btw, she apparently made herself, and it's a darn sight better than her recent design efforts for Next). These tights are great but they are a little thin on the elastic, so I end up looking like a bag lady sometimes when they fall down in the street. Note to self: wear with shorts next time. Pamela Mann tights (Ebay, £6.99), black shoe boots (£15, Primark). The carpet's vintage, in case you were wondering, but I have a feeling it was a wedding present for my parents.

The patriotic look: Telephone box jumper (George @ Asda, £8), Pillarbox red skirt with brown belt (Zara, £6 in sale), Pamela Mann tights (Ebay, £6.99), patent black shot boots (£15, Primark). I like to mix my base colours - grey, black, brown, navy, etc. - because I feel you can get too restricted if you just stick to one. Nobody likes a conformist. And if you want to get all 'fashion' about it, Coco Chanel wore black with brown, so there.

I was experimenting with this dress as it's been sitting in my cupboard for ages, waiting for the perfect D&G tribute moment. However I feel too much like an air hostess in the eventual ensemble, but this shoot was meant to be escapist so I guess I achieved that! It's all about trial and error. Leopard dress (bought as nightwear, £10, TK Maxx), blue t-shirt (H&M, inherited from older sister), scarf (made from Oxfam skirt, £3), red patent kitten heels (£4, Primark sale).

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Conceptual Menswear: Top Three

[Image via H&M's website]. This t-shirt speaks for itself. It's a bit different, like a snapshot of a bloke's head, but it's not one of those slightly offensive/bad taste slogan tees that you can't wear in polite company. It is also the kind of item that will break the ice at a dull party (yes, they do make clothes for such occasions). What's more, it's just £7.99 from H&M.

[Image via Topman's website]. Is it a map? Is it a jumper? No, it's a map-jumper (surprisingly Topman didn't use that in the product title). This sweatshirt (£30) is nicely uniting the geek chic trend with a print that's a little more unusual and arty. The teal colour makes a change from typical black (and it's also very hot for AW/11-12, so expect to see similarly shaded products hitting the shops soon). I am now going to be looking out for map-clad men on a street near me.

[Image via the Mr. Porter website]. Brought to you by the label COTEetCIEL, here's a rucksack that doesn't look like it's been within ten feet of a hiker/school child. It looks like a sculpture, even. The folds of the fabric are adept at disguising the traditional form and making it look like something completely new. Although it'll set you back the princely sum of £135 (a wee bit more than a plain Eastpak number), you're guaranteed to look pretty damn suarve and sophisticated. In fact, this rucksack has been specifically designed to fit your laptop, so you can tuck it away and pretend that it contains important state documents, rather than yet another sales spreadsheet.

Iron Maiden Live: Fashion Rocks

Last week I saw one of my favourite bands playing live at the O2 arena in London. Iron Maiden's music may not be to everyone's taste, but the fashion trends of the metalheads in attendance were surprisingly reflective of the catwalk's grunge look for AW/11-12. Here you can see the three guitarists and bass player wearing leather jackets, cut-off band t-shirts, well-worn jeans and rock jewellery. It must be strange for the fans, who have dressed this way since as early as the 1970s, to suddenly find their style becoming copied by designers and the high street.

There's a great feeling of togetherness at an Iron Maiden gig - the fans are incredibly friendly and a very diverse range of people come to see the show, from kids to grandparents (in some cases, a few generations of the family will attend). If you're not already wearing a t-shirt from a previous tour, it's highly tempting to pick out one from the newer merchandise available. The band always has fantastically detailed artwork on each album and official product, as seen here.

This woman had most of the stadium watching her when the spotlight found her in the crowd. She was (rather bravely) dressed in PVC hotpants and matching thigh-high boots, with a very small top. I doubt she was referencing the catwalk, but she wasn't far off the look of Gareth Pugh. If she'd brought in some sharp tailoring and edgy shoulders, perhaps we'd find she was just a fashionista after all.

Guitarist Janick Gers shows that you don't have to be under 40 to rock skinny jeans. His were embellished at the sides and teamed with blindingly white hi-top trainers, a studded belt and a Maiden t-shirt.

One of the most flamboyant parts of an Iron Maiden gig is when a song called The Trooper is played (it's a bit of a classic). This tends to require a very large Union Jack flag and a military jacket for the lead singer, Bruce Dickinson. Bruce may not realise that these coats have been high up in the style stakes for a few years now, making a reappearance every Autumn/Winter season. If he was wearing the trend this time around, the best combination would be tailored trousers, biker boots and maybe some cheeky black braces over an untucked shirt.

Chunky boots are regularly spotted at gigs such as these. They're more of a niche purchase than biker boots or hobnailed numbers, though they might become more popular soon as we've recently seen Creepers (see the shop Underground for the best selection) and Buffalo Shoes both making a comeback. Statement footwear is most definitely in. Like the lady here, you can't go wrong with leopard print tights if you want to bring out your wilder side.

Heavy tattooing, such as this sleeve design, and multiple piercings were frequently on show in the crowd. Tattoos have become deeply watered down as a style statement (except for the full-on fierceness of Rick Genest's anatomical facial piece, which is in a class of its own), due to the vast amount of banal celebrities now sporting them - reality tv stars, Cheryl Cole, X Factor singers, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, etc. Luckily we have seen Chanel launching temporary versions, putting forth the idea of dipping into the look without needing the commitment of a permanent inking. I think that's the safest option, unless you're absolutely sure you will never tire of the design you want.

This young fan let his hair do all the talking, with a gel-based mohawk effect. The advantage of today's styling products is that they are so powerful that you can completely transform your look without having to shave anything off or do anything too drastic, which is great if you need to be more conservative on a daily basis for work.

I find it fascinating that the kind of fashion choices I spotted at this gig are being hurriedly made into the pieces we'll see in the shops tomorrow. In the 90s we didn't really pay much attention to metal music or Goths (it was all about Britpop, American grunge rock or garage music in the UK), yet suddenly we're looking to them for new ideas. You can now walk into Topshop and buy decorative skull rings and ear cuffs; you can head to any high street store and grab some leather leggings or trousers. Sometimes it's good just to step back and examine where this stuff started life, before it was readily available, and the Iron Maiden gig (as well as being amazing musically) was certainly full of unknowing trendsetters.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Illamasqua's Born Again Film: Watch It Again

[All images taken as stills by me from the Born Again short film, available here]. The make-up brand Illamasqua has struck gold with this piece of inventive marketing for the Born Again collection. Featuring the BAFTA-winning actress Vicky McClure (who was tear-jerkingly good as Lol in the film This Is England and its follow-up television series, This Is England '86) was a stroke of genius as she is not only a highly talented performer but she also suits the striking plum tones of this look. McClure stars as an unnamed woman, in an unnamed location, who must go on a life-changing journey - and one that requires serious eye make-up.

Stopping at a cafe, our heroine's androgynous and fierce style stands out against the dull decor around her and the anonymous landscape outside. We don't know the purpose for her trip, but we feel involved.

Close-ups not only offer intimacy with the viewer: they also help to showcase the collection in detail. The accent of pinky-red eyeshadow (Liquid Metal in Resolute, £17.50 and Powder Eyeshadow in Daemon, £15.50) really stands out as it frames her lashes, whilst her immaculate brows are sharp and carefully filled. This is a woman whose cosmetics truly enhance her personality, instead of masking it.

I won't give away the plot, but the closing moments feature a more stripped-back look for McClure, where her character has become vulnerable as she is 'Born Again'. This forms quite a contrast to the structured image she has presented to us before.

Illamasqua has produced a great short film here - it draws you in and makes you think. I really enjoyed the unedited version as it was powerful and interesting to see the development of this unnamed woman. I love the art direction involved and the lengths the brand has gone to achieve something so individual and so far removed from the basic selling tactics of most cosmetics companies - product, by-line, consumer survey stating that 98% of women found their wrinkles had disappeared, etc, etc.

Another genius move by Illamasqua is the Facebook competition in conjunction with the Born Again collection, which is called Social Sacrifice. The winner will surrender their Facebook photos to Illamasqua, who will delete them all (though they will be saved on a disc in case you desperately need them back) and slowly build up a new image for you with photoshoots and looks directed by the brand. You will also attend the launch of their first perfume, a show at London Fashion Week, and the set of Vicky McClure's latest film set. This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and something that is going to make one woman very happy indeed (no, I don't automatically mean me, though I have entered!). I love the idea of rehashing your social media presence via photography and make-up, and I think this is a great way to really get people examining how they present themselves.

For more information on the collection, please see the Illamasqua website.

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