Downton Fashion

by Maisah Thompson

The soaring success of ‘Downton Abbey’ has created a storm in both high street and catwalk fashion. With an amazing sixteen Emmy Award nominations earlier this year, including one for Outstanding Costumes for Series, the wardrobe of this particular period drama has captured the imaginations of millions. Written by Julian Fellowes and starring big names such as Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, ‘Downton Abbey’ has mesmerised and inspired many to inject the fashions of 1912 and beyond into their style.

The allure of the Downton characters has placed a major focus on the actors who embody them. Pop Magazine’s latest release delivered a twenty-page feature inspired by the fashions of the drama. Following suit, Love Magazine has taken its own cue from the show by metamorphosing its actors in gothic-style scenes with pieces by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. The Downton Effect on fashion focuses on celebrating and showing off the best of British luxury fashion design and heritage.  

In assimilating the Downton Effect into our own wardrobes, subtlety is key. Accessorising in an understated manner may work for most as a subtle hat-tip to the fashion and could include for instance, the incorporation of cloche hats, silk-panelled clutches and elegant evening gloves. For those more daring, and in keeping with Downton’s accession into the Roaring Twenties, look towards the Art Deco period’s fashionable offerings: flapper dresses and Poirot-inspired styling that includes heavily embellished and burnt-out pieces. 

Generally speaking, finding pieces similar to those in the show should involve a lot of dedicated vintage shop perusal. But with the beloved high street succumbing to the Downton Effect and stores such as Zara taking note, we needn’t worry! Zara, being one of the more high-end high street stores has managed to encompass a sense of luxury into their latest A/W collection with the inclusion of printed silks and lace, intricately-beaded accessories and embroidered necklines. 

And if you want to embrace that little bit of Downton under wraps, look to lingerie. Designer female underwear has flourished in popularity in response to the luxe of the series. Women are seeking that traditional glamour which proves less demanding on their everyday wardrobe – luxurious and silhouette-enhancing underwear is becoming a staple female investment. Luxury British Heritage brand Lucile Lingerie has boasted a fifty percent soar in sales after its own mention in a conversation between Dame Maggie Smith’s character and her daughter-in-law discussing her granddaughter’s honeymoon attire. The focus on British heritage and sumptuous elegance has proved an irresistible draw for many fashion consumers.

The Downton Effect may well be a passing phase - that emulates one from the past - but it is reigniting our cultural fascination with British heritage and culture and has successfully made its mark on today’s fashion scene. Ralph Lauren’s 2012 A/W collection had the Downton theme song played as the fashion house’s romanticised imagining of the English countryside was given centre stage. Downton Abbey, quite unwittingly, has become an emblem of our generation’s aching anglomania.

Indelible Ink

by Georgina Colquhoun

Ask anyone what they think of tattoos and they will give you a different opinion ranging from sheer hatred to unbridled obsession and somewhere in between. Rewind fifteen years and tattoos were something of a taboo in the fashion world with models being airbrushed to rid them of their ink. Nowadays though, it’s a very different story. Catwalks are covered with tattoo -inspired prints, temporary tatts and models inked up to their eyeballs.

Of late, fashion has had an odd fascination with body art, but why? There are those that cover their bodies in ink, and those that get a few dainty inscriptions. Some would say that the latter is more ‘fashion’ but let’s not forget ‘zombie boy’ Rick Genest, the model favoured by Gaga and Thierry Mugler.

That said, tattoos of the dainty variety are more common among models and fashion types alike. These vary from meaningful words and phrases to frivolous depictions of stars to which the bearer has attributed some (tenuous) meaning. Not forgetting of course the cliché : ‘YOLO.’  Inscribing such a permanent motto on your body is neither cool nor meaningful and yet it seems to be en mode. Anchors, and the word ‘shhh’ etched enigmatically along the side of an index finger are a few other examples of our pet hates. This would suggest that tattoos are more of a fashion statement in themselves, an idea which many a sleeved man would viciously reject. 

Most would argue that tattoos are an art form, which in many ways is true regardless of your personal opinion. This is, I’m sure, the reason why they are so adored by designers. This year alone has seen designers use tattoo-like images in their collections. Jean-Paul Gaultier used elaborate designs on footwear and tights in his Spring/Summer 2012 show, whilst Narciso Rodriguez mused over tattoos in a slightly subtler manner.
And let's not forget those Chanel temporary tattoos circa 2010 which every stylista drooled over. 

The conundrum is distinctly ‘what came first, chicken-or-egg’ when it comes to whether tattoos are fashionable or driving fashion, but the most potent question is ‘why the change?’ Tatts have become more acceptable in this generation regardless of the fashion element, the question ‘but what will it look like when you’re old?!’ is no longer relevant because by that point, the aged tattooed will be out in force (and at this moment I’d like to add that Helen Mirren’s tattoo still looks remarkably chic regardless of her age). 

The young are embracing indelible ink in every form, from full body coverage to drunken mistakes, the tattoo taboo has been lifted and they may well have gone from cool to, well, normal. 

The young are embracing indelible ink in every form, from full body coverage to drunken mistakes, the tattoo taboo has been lifted and they may well have gone from cool to, well, normal. 
The new challenge for the hipsters of the world is deciding where to put their <insert-meaningless-image-here> because, let’s face it, the wrist is just so last year. 

Hence the emergence of the lip tattoo and even the eye…yes, the eye. And for those who don’t want a visible tattoo aged 80, then there is always the white tattoo, which seems, to me, entirely pointless. If you’re determined to hide your permanent design, it seems more logical to go down this route…

So, whether tattoos conform to or set fashion is certainly still up for debate but when it comes down to it, as with all style, the only thing that matters  is personal opinion, be that revulsion, indifference or, -like Mr Lagerfeld, - sheer fascination.

The New ‘Guru’

By Finola Austin

There’s been a shift in the beauty world. This used to be the realm of the goddess – perfect skin, silky hair, bottomless budget – and the science boffin, working hard in some lab run by L’Oréal to solve the problems you didn’t know existed (think free radicals, lower collagen production). They knew best (whoever they were). We read magazine reviews, always glowing, were seduced by the blurbs on bottles, were attracted by an endorsement from a favourite celebrity.

But now we seem more likely to turn to some fifteen-year-old girl with a digital camera reviewing an Elf or Mac haul on YouTube for advice on how to spend our cash. The new ‘guru’ is human, flawed, maybe even uniformed – so, not really a guru at all. That’s the appeal. Seeing products used by those who actually need them and reviewed by those who might not pick up the ‘keynotes of jojoba’ and might query the ridiculous and suggestive naming strategies of the big beauty brands (Are you wearing Nars ‘Orgasm’? Do you use Urban Decay’s ‘Naked’ palette? What about Soap & Glory’s ‘Glow-Job’?). 

Of course, bloggers and vloggers aren’t immune to endorsement and self-promotion. Brands are starting to cotton on that it’s the homespun accessibility which is appealing and the dodgy production values which scream authenticity. Marketing for beauty products should be like a lunch break chat with female colleagues, a personal recommendation, an invitation to be ‘in the know’. Lecture us about science and we probably won’t believe you.

So here’s a disclaimer: I am no make-up artist and have no pretensions to guru-dom. I won’t be recommending branded products and maybe you’ll like it that way. 

So here are my top 5 beauty tips of the day:

When curling your lashes, clamp, rotate 45° without pulling, and hold, just once on each eye. I used to squeeze ten times on each eye, but this works better.

Don’t grin like a chipmunk to apply blush or bronzer; when your smile fades, the highlight will sit too low. Apply to the upper apple with a neutral expression.

If your hair is in need of serious hydration, grab the extra-virgin olive oil from the kitchen, but use with caution. Apply sparingly, giving yourself plenty of time to wash it out and never ever apply to the roots (trust me!).

Products designed for babies are higher quality and go through more vigorous safety testing, plus you’ll smell adorable….

DIY pedicure? Apply lashings and lashings of moisturiser to your feet before bedtime, pop on some old socks, and avoid your boyfriend’s incredulous looks. Result: perfectly primed feet by morning.

Follow Finola on twitter @alonif01

The Berry Trend

by Sarah Billingsley

For thousands of years, the colour of an individual’s clothes has been used as an indicator of their wealth, status and their place in the world. The robe of the Virgin Mary in medieval art, for example, is typically azure blue. The dye used by painters to create the luminous hue had to be imported across long distances at crippling expense and as a result clothes in this colour were saved only for those of the highest social order. Similarly white has long been associated with purity and virginity; a wedding dress is white for a reason. A green dress, however, implied that the young ‘maiden’ had been rolling around in the grass with a lover, so green was firmly out of fashion, while the pharaohs of Egypt wore cloaks of gold to identify themselves with their Sun God. The list goes on.

Only one colour is associated with A/W12 chic, however, and it’s much easier to get a hold of than a cloak of gold. That colour is berry. From claret T-shirt dresses at Chloe to chunky knits in grape at Christopher Kane, the berry shade was splashed all over the catwalks of the A/W 12 collections.  Kenzo experimented with texture, creating beautiful oriental style suits in velvet and tough leather jackets and skirts while maintaining the burgundy tone throughout as Carven showcased elegant cap-sleeved dresses in merlot. Luckily for us without a designer budget, the high street is bursting with different shades of berry. Zara offers a tantalizing range of pieces including leather trousers, perfect to dress up and down, knee-length skirts of lace and chucky-heeled ankle boots. Oasis, too, stocks some stunning red-wine dresses in multiple styles and length while H&M, Topshop and River Island are also worth a visit; it totally depends what suits you and your budget. 

The berry shade is very versatile; it works for most people and is incredibly wearable. Since you can get pretty much any item in this colour it can be quite difficult to create style advice but one thing to remember is the trend is deliberately subtle so no loud, printed accessories please. Experiment with texture rather than colour; velvet black shoes or a quilted handbag complement perfectly. Gold jewellery works best with berry shades, and this doesn’t have to be understated; roll up your sleeves and pile on the bangles if you like but a simple gold necklace would also do the trick. This trend allows you to go heavy with the lipstick; dark and moody shades work well, as long as the shade suits your skin tone. 
The berry trend is one for all. I might even go so far as to say it’s delicious.         

Autumn Style 

by Georgina Colquhoun

It’s that time of year again, the time when fresh-faced school leavers- ripe from their exploits in Magaluf, have descended on Oxford. By now your Mothers have fretted over cutlery and name tapes (‘my darling is so grown up…’), while their bright young spark worries about their student loan and how to navigate the complexities of being fresher
But fear not, Oxford Fashion Society is here to lighten your load by covering the must have items to sail through oxford in style. Undergrads take note- you wouldn’t want to be outshone by the class of 2015!

The Satchel Bag

Easily the most useful and stylish necessity for your time under the dreaming spires- make sure its big enough to hold your lab book, but small enough to slot into your bicycle basket.Here are some prime examples:

Cambridge Satchel Company- from £74

Yes, admittedly it may be from the other place, but this beauty will last much longer than your Oxford career, and will make you the envy of the Radcam…

Zara- £39.99

A slightly different take on the trend, its minimalism mirrors classic Calvin Klein.

The Coat

Oxford gets cold. Fact. So what better way to cement your style prowess then to buy an amazing, on trend, coat to warm you up on the way to lectures. This season once again sees fashion giant Burberry dominate the world of outerwear, but if you can’t afford to fork out your hard earned student loan on a designer specimen, then have a look at these:

Zara- £89.99

Parkas are all over Oxford and this one, with its fur lining, will be sure to keep you toasty!

Mango- £99.99

This two-tone military coat nails the manly trend and looks like it walked straight off the McQ catwalk.

The Chelsea Boot

The Chelsea boot refuses to go out of style, with good reason, as these beauties will take you from the quad to the boathouse with ease come rain, wind or snow. Everyone should have a great pair of boots (this coming from a self-confessed black boot addict) so here is the cream of the crop:

Asos - £40

Beautiful, definitely. Wearable, maybe. Suede by Asos, only for the brave...

Topshop- £85

These leather boots add a bit of height to the classic style.

Urban Outfitters- £65
 A loose interpretation of the Chelsea boot, but a Chelsea boot all the same, with the added bonus that these traverse across to the next ‘must have for Michaelmas’ category…studs. 


This season is all about gothic and studs, you can’t walk into a shop without being in danger of poking your eye out. Health warnings aside, studs are a great way to toughen up any outfit and if you don’t want to spend any more money (stop reading this article) and grab your glue gun.

Asos- originally £145, now reduced to £101.50

These jeans are definitely worth their slightly eye-watering price tag!

PPB at - £8.50

If you’re not sure about the trend, this bracelet is a great way to ease you in.

Issa's Trans-Siberian Journey

By Finola Austin

London Fashion Weekend is the designer shopping event at the end of London Fashion Week and here I have my first experience of watching a catwalk show live. My sister and I have been moved into the front row (!) by staff who clearly haven’t heard her hissing about finding similar clothes in Primark, and sitting down provides a welcome break from contemplating purchasing soft leather jackets from Muubaa or wondering if I’ll ever really have the occasion to wear a floor length sequined gown from Project D.

It doesn’t start well. Presenter Zoe Hardman, recognisable from such classic shows as Take Me Out: The Gossip on ITV2, teeters on – hot pants, neon stiletto boots and bad fake tan – and tries to encourage some audience anticipation. Thankfully she’s soon gone and we’re down to business – the ready-to-wear Autumn/Winter 2012 collection from Issa London, a designer brand favoured by customers such as the Middleton sisters and Bond girl Gemma Arterton.

Although originally from Brazil, designer Daniella Helayel calls the collection a ‘Trans-Siberian Journey’, citing Muscovite and Chinese style as particular influences. There are fur-trimmings on sleeves, delicate oriental prints for metallic cocktail dresses and a rich palette of colours – paisley prints in red and blue, as well as block coloured dresses in jade, navy and gold.

The most wearable pieces are the brand’s signature wrap dresses, worn over leggings in a nod to the season. Dresses are also teamed with jackets in matching prints – showing how high end wearing the same print all over can look (an idea easily replicable this season on the High Street). The cocktail dresses in jersey material are my particular favourite, designed to take you from the office to the bar and eminently more practical than backless floor-length evening dresses or entirely transparent knee-length dress, which my sister loudly advises me to wear to formal hall.

The models were styled with ‘60s beehives or bouffants, all dark smoky eyes and towering heels giving lady-like glamour an edgier side. Other key ideas included embellishment on cuffs and necklines – easily achievable with some designing DIY even if you’re not as handy as Gok Wan.

I might not have been able to take a piece of Issa home with me but the brand’s emphasis on cut, shape and print and twists on classic Winter season pieces certainly inspired me with innovative ways to take on this season in style. 

Follow Finola on twitter @alonif01

How the Recession is Transforming the Catwalk

By Lucy Freeland

Tuesday 25th September saw the triumphant return of Veronique Branquinho to Paris Fashion Week after a three-year hiatus. Like a host of Breton-styled phoenixes arising from the ashes of recession, Branquinho’s models trod the boards bedecked in grown-up glamour: floor-length gowns, relaxed tailoring and lashings of stripe. But does such a renaissance – of Branquinho and others like her – signal the conclusion of the fashion recession? Is it all champagne and caviar and ‘as you were’? Or rather, does it reflect the upping of the style stakes? Having rested too far back on their taffeta laurels, designers have had to sit up and take notice of the society they style, especially if they too do not want to become metaphorically, and literally, redundant.

We often try to convince ourselves that opposites attract, and so it seems to be with high-end fashion and recession; aside from a few individual exceptions, it is generally assumed that the market is far from fizzling out as purse strings tighten. Women are still investing in top-class fashion, focusing now on ‘unique’ pieces, ‘staple’ pieces and pieces with timeless wear, as the Milan catwalk demonstrated. Look at the latest resurgence of the 70s ‘Capsule Wardrobe’ phenomenon, notably given the recession-friendly nod by Gok Wan in 2008, now considered a practical way of incorporating designer garb into the wardrobe of the fashionista on a budget. It seems there is some method to the madness of splurging on expensive style in tricky economic times. On the one hand, we need power-outfits for confidence in the work place, and on the other we need outfits to impress off-duty. With US sales in birth control rising 10% in the last year and charting a 50% sales increase in their stock, it seems the recession is reinvigorating dating and the ‘quiet night-in’. And yes, that does mean that those Chanel shoes are totally worth the investment. 

So if business is booming, why do people like Branquinho fall short at the last hurdle? Is it money alone? A fear of falling over the precipice of relevancy has seeped its way into the stitching of every major fashion house over the last four years – note, this is not caution, but fear. Caution has, if anything, been chased out of fashion as quickly as it has arrived in Joe Public’s annual budget. Of course, there does seem to be a limit, as the sinking of all sixty-three of Betsy Johnson’s wacky boutiques confirms. As Karl Lagerfeld gushed romantically on Radio 4’s Today programme, ‘in a bad moment, change is the best thing that can happen’. Change, certainly, but in an organic sense. The move that has proved most successful for fashion houses since trouble began has been the kooky re-shaping of old ideas. Take the latest Burberry show [September 2012]. Awash with corsets and capes, it was a reflection - albeit with a twist - of Burberry one hundred years ago. What matters now is fashion pedigree; if we are going to spend our hard-earned dollar on style, we want to feel we’re making an investment, not a loss, and nothing says ‘timeless’ like an impressive back-catalogue of both items and buyers. 

This is visible in the styling not only of Burberry but also Chanel. In celebration of the 80th anniversary of Coco Chanel’s first jewellery collection the brand, rather than uncovering a radical new take on the art of accessorising, returned to 1932 and to the spirit of Coco, a woman who best embodies timeless elegance. Knowing the background to your wardrobe and how pieces are produced also has renewed significance for the recession buyer. Again, Chanel understands this notion of heritage perfectly, acquiring French glove-makers Causse, previously owned by Lagerfeld, to preserve history and artisan. And take Italy’s concerns over Bangladeshi, Turkish and Indian textile workers eclipsing its own native fashion manufacture: such real concerns were resolved by a revaluation of the basic selling point, the power of the ‘Made in Italy’ export label. Domestic consumption may have declined, but there is still a demand for the authentic leathers, silks and laces that historically made labels such as Fendi and Bottega Veneta so popular. 

Fashion, like everything, has suffered recession blues, but there is life in the old dog yet – if you can take the pace. As a member of Vogue/YouGov’s recession fashion survey said: ‘it is OK to be redundant; it is not OK to look redundant’.

Dorothy Bond

by Finola Austin

I meet former model Dorothy Bond on a Thursday night at her Chiswick home. She’s been kind enough to slot me in during the week of her husband’s retirement – between dinners and the arrival of various friends. When I come to the door she is trying to maintain phone signal long enough to say goodbye to a friend in South Africa, and manages simultaneously to welcome a man calling to replace the gas metre and me, providing me with a glass of wine and apologising for supplying only cheese and olives.

When we settle down to discuss her impressive modelling career in the 1960s and 70s, it is immediately obvious that she looks back at the era with perhaps some sense of embarrassment. She thinks I might have been better off interviewing one of her model friends: ‘I was more the girl next door. I did a lot of covers, I did a bit of catalogue, I did a bit of fashion. I did have a year where I did very high fashion but these girls used to do Vogue all the time. But, of course, they actually earned far less money because people like Vogue didn’t pay that much’.

Dorothy’s very commercial attitude to the job is, however, pretty refreshing and understandable given the genesis of her modelling career. Born in Seven Kings in Ilford, she was teaching ballet to a group of children at a small ballet school (‘a very ramshackle, extremely eccentric ballet school at the bottom of someone’s garden in a glorified shed’) in order to fund her own dancing lessons when the photographs were taken which would change her life. ‘A photographer from Ilford Films came along to take photographs of these little moppets doing dance and asked if he could take photographs of me’. These photographs were displayed in Ilford Films’ gallery on Bond Street where they were seen by agency Lucy Clayton – ‘THE agency’ she explains, home to models such as Jean Shrimpton, Celia Hammond and Tania Mallet. Even then she couldn’t join them immediately. She completed her O Levels, and then had to save for a year, working in an opticians to be able to afford the 28 guinea fee for the agency’s modelling course. ‘I wanted to do dancing so I thought well if I do a bit of modelling maybe I could go to ballet school’. A soon-familiar note of self-deprecation comes in: ‘Actually I was the most useless dancer. Why I ever thought I could do ballet I don’t know….and of course I was much too tall’.

She’s damning about the quality of the course the agency eventually provided: ‘So I finally saved the money and I went to their bloody modelling school which was a load of old rubbish. It was basically for very rich debutantes - learning how to get out of a car without showing your knickers and other useless things, like walking around with books on your head’. When she was then told she’d need elocution lessons to lose her East End accent, she was having none of it. ‘I basically said, well, you know, ‘fuck off’’ she tells me in now perfectly RP tones, with a slightly surprised laugh at her own audacity. She went round photographers herself, landing a huge campaign for Cadbury’s – a break she yet again describes as ‘a stroke of luck’, rather than as due to Audrey Hepburn-esque appearance or modelling skills. ‘Then of course the agency decided perhaps they would like to sign me after all’ she says with steely satisfaction.

The world she was thrown into was a far cry from the lives of today’s top models. Models would do either photographic or catwalk work. Dorothy did photographic – ‘it was much more prestigious than doing catwalk. I mean I suppose because you earned a lot more money’.  She featured in Vogue but explains she wasn’t ideal for high fashion – ‘Basically I was never super super skinny. And I always had terrible legs’. I don’t quite manage to disguise my scepticism. ‘Most of the girls [models] now have got really nice legs but in those days it was relatively unusual’ she adds. She often featured in magazines Queen and the Tatler, as well as in catalogues and advertising campaigns. What she emphasises repeatedly as we talk is just how hard the work was, dropping big names, while highlighting the practical and mundane (bad hair days, coping with cold sores): ‘We used to work Monday to Friday and quite often at the weekends, year to year. I went 5 years without a holiday. Whereas I think the girls now, they maybe work one day a week, two days every three weeks – and of course they get massive amounts of money’.

Models did their own hair and make-up, unless the job was a TV commercial. Then ‘you’d have these dreadful old dragons who would do your make-up’ - dark foundation, red lipstick and copious amounts of powder. ‘You used to have to lock yourself in the loo to put on mascara’ she laughs with a slight shudder. ‘Then, in the late 60s, everything started to change. You had people like Barbara Daly, an explosion of make-up artists; you had Vidal Sassoon, you had Andre Bernard – hairdressers that understood hair’. She remembers going to lots of jobs with curlers in her hair: ‘You used to have rollers with a big scarf tied round your head. I can remember Jean Shrimpton arriving in the dressing room with these huge rollers, three inches across, because she actually had curly hair so she had to straighten it’. Models arrived at studios with ‘what were called model bags – of course, they didn’t have wheels in those days, so they were so heavy.’ These contained all manner of accessories which the girls were expected to provide: ‘black shoes, white shoes, brown shoes, grey shoes, flat shoes, high-heeled shoes’ (they would be told to bring coloured shoes in advance if required), ‘gloves (would you believe!), leather gloves in every colour, scarves in every colour, jewellery and tights (obviously) in probably two or three colours’. They even brought wigs: ‘I had a friend who had this dreadful wig – a dreadful pale grey. And she would throw this pale grey wig on to do knitwear for catalogues. Now they make rude birthday cards out of a lot of those photographs which is quite funny really’.

The modelling agency comes across in her description as, at best, incompetent, at worst, exploitative. Paid by the hour or for day bookings, with the agency taking a commission and often paying models very late, there was little effort to draw up beneficial contracts for the models. One of Dorothy’s pictures, for Chelsea Girl (which was taken over and rebranded by River Island in 1988, before being resurrected as a fashion line by the chain in 2011), was ‘used for every shop window, every paper bag, every carrier bag, and River Island recently did a whole chain of T-shirts, bags, dresses, loads of stuff with that same photograph’. She was only paid a single hour’s wages – ‘nowadays if a girl did a photograph to be used in that way they would write a contract and get her a fortune’ she explains.

There was constant pressure to stay slim. Dorothy describes her younger self as a Size 10. When I say that her stats in the agency books I have seen online indicate a small Size 8, she laughs and says ‘sizes have got bigger now’. Clients would ‘measure you at fittings and they would fit to those measurements when the job could be anything up to a year later. And if you got there and you were a quarter of inch bigger anywhere, well a. you wouldn’t do the job, and b. if they missed a day’s shoot they would make you pay for the other models’ fees so it was very strict’. As children of post-war Britain she thinks people were generally thinner, but since ‘by then most people had discovered lovely things like wine and gin and tonic’, some in the industry were happy to hand out amphetamines as appetite suppressants to girls in their late teens. ‘There were these slimming doctors they [the agency] would send girls to – well, I say slimming doctors but there was one, on Harley Street, he was notorious. He would give you injections of God knows what’.

The picture she paints is, at times, a lonely and bleak one: ‘I wasn’t a terribly girly girl I don’t think. I was quite introverted and quite unhappy in a way as lots of young people are and I never particularly liked the way I looked. [Later in her career] I became an interior designer so I always had a very good eye for stuff. And I wouldn’t have used me as a model, which sounds weird, but I was successful and I can never really understand why to be totally honest’. Yet, as with everything else, she holds herself responsible for her own loneliness: ‘it was my own fault when I look back, entirely my fault. I chose to live alone. I liked being alone anyway I think’.

What strikes me throughout our conversation on the other hand is just how well Dorothy coped with embarking on a life so entirely removed from that of her upbringing, and the bravery involved in such a great departure. Aged 20, in 1965, on the agency’s instructions she flew out to New York for the year – the air fare alone cost a then staggering £500. She missed home, could only write to her family and flew to a friend in Montreal at the weekends ‘so didn’t come back with very much money’. She hated the city – ‘a nightmarish place’ – and remembers the ‘rusty iron girders’ which greeted her on the taxi drive from the airport to the centre. New York was also culturally backward –while ‘swinging London was huge and all the other people in Europe and America wanted to get that feel’ in their advertising and campaigns, in New York everyone was ‘still in cocktail dresses and little suits and hats’, a far cry from hippyish denim-wearing Londoners.

This was not Dorothy’s only opportunity for travel. One of the things she looks back on with genuine nostalgia are the on-location shoots she did for the ‘wonderful Fashion Editor’ at Woman’s Realm. The magazine ‘only cost fourpence or something’ but the models got to travel to ‘Kenya, Mexico, Grenada, Antigua –all those places that cost a fortune to get to and no one ever went to in those days. It was almost like a paid holiday – it was great. I mean we were young – we used to giggle away. And also there were far fewer girls – they were probably only 50 girls doing 75% of the work – so you all knew each other’.

Fashion, exotic travel, conversations with Twiggy in a London hair salon, sharing a flat with heroin addicts in 60s New York – my chat with Dorothy gives me more journalistic material than I could have hoped for, but her ambiguous feelings about the time are much more revealing, both about her and the industry. She concludes (always so anxious to excuse her criticisms and clarify her observations):

‘Some of the people I met and some of the times I had were wonderful - I was incredibly lucky. It gave me independence; an escape from the suburbs I was born into, it gave me a different life. But did I actually like standing in front of a camera and being in a dressing room all day? No. It worried me. Some girls really enjoyed it. Some girls were naturally extremely slim – they had wonderful legs, wonderful complexions, beautiful hair, it was easy for them. It was easy for them to look good all the time. They looked amazing in the clothes. I mean I never really thought I did. I suppose in a way I must have done from some people’s point of view but I probably would have been a lot happier the other side of the camera. Yet I’m not in any way knocking what it gave to me. I mean - it changed my life’.

Galaxy Prints

by Helen Walker

After falling in love with BlackMilk clothing’s galaxy print leggings ( and then subsequently having my heart broken by the price, I decided to get creative and make my own- why should a student budget mean that I can’t add interest and style to my wardrobe?
Below is a step by step guide to creating your own one-of- a-kind galaxy print.
What you need:
Black t-shirt / leggings / whatever you fancy in galaxy print (leggings especially have to be quite thick material so that bleaching them doesn’t cause them to become see-through)
Cheap thin bleach and a spray bottle
Sponges and a toothbrush
Fabric paints in white  and pinks / greens / blues / purples

1.To create the effect of galaxies, you must first bleach your t-shirt. Fill the spray bottle with bleach and spray it onto your material to create the mottled effect. Leave the bleach to develop into this rusty colour for a half an hour before soaking it in cold water. Then leave to dry. It should look like this: 

2.Once dry, the next stage is painting your t-shirt. Starting with white, use a sponge to dab on paint sparingly in the pattern you desire. 

3.Once this has dried, add colour to the nebulas, I have chosen  turquoise, purple and lilac, but reds, greens and yellows also create a pleasing effect.

4.When you are satisfied with the nebula effect, move on to the messiest stage in the process (I would highly recommend laying down newspaper in a 2 metre radius to where you are working). To create constellations of stars, dip an old tooth brush in the white fabric paint and flick the bristles to create a spray of stars on the t-shirt.

5.Finally, using the end of a paint brush or pencil dot the white paint on the pattern to create clusters of larger stars. Shooting stars and northern stars (like the one seen left) enhance the galaxy effect.

Styling galaxy leggings

I love wearing mine with denim and over sized knitwear.

Until next time...

A Front Row Date with Burberry

by Emily Fermor

1 minute and 42 seconds to go until the launch of the Burberry Prorsum Womenswear S/S13 Show; styled in my Magdalen trackies and grey Tommy crew-neck, I’m poised and ready before my Mac. I have a front row ticket, and I’m excited. I count down the seconds and wait for Christopher Bailey to wow me. 

Well, I’m not quite knee-grazing Harry Styles on the front row in Hyde Park, and no, I can’t smell the leather or reach out and touch Bailey’s dégradé duchess satin Blaze bags, yet Burberry’s live streaming is so faultless that I almost feel like I could. Laura Craik coos: “this season will be remembered less for skirt lengths than for being the season when fashion went digital”. And however bad the rest of The Times’ coverage of ‘#LFW’ is, she could be right there. Skirt shape is more of a hot topic than length, for a start – the slim pencil makes a reappearance - and (unlike Craik) we are well aware that fashion has been digital for years now. But 2012 has indeed been a stellar year for Britain: glass ceilings have been smashed and bars have been elevated and in the space of just one summer, it is London that has gone digital. It feels as though anything and everything can happen in the capital.

And what’s more, Burberry has been swept up in the wave of London2012’s can-do spirit; how can we not fall in love with it?

For Christopher Bailey, Fei Fei Sun and Jourdan Dunn sport gorgeous rouge on their lips, and a catwalk isn’t a catwalk unless Cara Delevingne has graced it. The glass ceiling of this venue isn’t smashed just yet, and though it’s not hot outside, it’s gloriously bright. If you loved Chanel’s Peridot nail vernis last winter, Burberry’s petrol blue metallic trench and metallic green corset dress shine so brightly that they almost reflect the taut “ooh”s and “aah”s from the blemish free faces lining the aisles. 

Sorry Mulberry, I shan’t be coveting your floral prints this season. Those delicate florals may have been draped on the likes of Lana del Rey but they overshadowed those beautiful brown, leather (perhaps military-inspired?) coats. Granted, you’ve given us a cooler take on Cath Kidston but frankly, there’s only so cool Kidston can get. So maybe just leave the flowers to Prada next season? All in all, I suspect you’ve lost a little youth support with your S/S13 offering – where are the metallic leathers and the clean sorbet shades? Beloved Burberry, on the other hand, has ticked all the boxes – sharp, bright, clean, white. Ah yes, Bailey’s white ‘Double Duchess Bell Cape’, a mere £1,395 and available to buy as soon as the show ended, is all of the above, but most importantly youthful - there’s just something oh-so-reckless about a coat without arms. It couldn’t be more perfect.

Mulberry was talked about and naturally nobody had a bad word to say about it (well, apart from yours truly…), but Burberry has been talked about. All week, my Twitter feed has been screaming out praise for Bailey. Supermodel Polly Bean marked the event with another of her cartoons: “I <3 you Christopher Bailey – You’ve taken Burberry, To an exciting new height, I’d never dreamed, Of a Trench so bright!”. And while my heart fluttered at Alberta Farretti’s beautiful collection (nudes before a dark and seductive ‘under the sea’ backdrop) Burberry’s finale was magnificent. A celebration of light, colour and London. 

So for now, my daydreams shall be filled with bright satin heels, corsets and capes to ward off April-shower blues. Burberry achieved a delicious display of colour and technology in Hyde Park this September, unrivalled elsewhere in London Fashion Week. Through its innovation with technology Burberry is making steps to democratise fashion, and what better way to be a part of that than by draping that spectacular Double Duchess Bell Cape over my ordinary shoulders? I hope you’ve got your overdrafts and petrol green purses at the ready girls...

Image tweeted by Burberry  

POSTED:27 September 2012


Miuccia Prada: The Anti-Queen of Fashion 

by Anna DeWolf

Miuccia Prada is known as much for her air of mystery and unpredictability as she is for her status as one of fashion’s legends. Hailed as a visionary in the fashion world, Prada is accredited with a unique power to mould distinctly innovative trends and forge new territory for fashion. In a world where vintage-inspired pieces and the reworking of retro aesthetics reigns, it is this double ability to find ‘newness’ and perfectly balance it with marketable commercial luxury which makes Prada the giant that it is: the show anticipated with the most curiosity, and the hardest at which to get a seat. The originality celebrated in her collections lies heavily in their reliance on paradox and contradiction; the elegant from the garish or the ugly, the glamorous from the provincial and rustic. It is no coincidence then, that her unusual entrance into fashion and subsequent career are riddled with contradictions. Doctor of political sciences, communist party member and feminist activist throughout the 60s and early 70s, Prada’s reluctance to inherit the family business of a luxury brand selling luggage to Italian nobles is no secret. She refuses, however, to be pigeon-holed as a typical example of anything (Prada is known for turning up to party meetings in Yves Saint Laurent). ‘I was a feminist in the Sixties, and can you imagine? The worst thing I could have done was to be in fashion.’ But into fashion she went, and immediately her interest in subverting the idea of beauty and luxury became evident in the famous black nylon handbags launched in the early 1980s. Incidentally, Prada’s interest in matching elegance with modern utility was shared by an entire class of Italians and business boomed, with the brand launching its ready-to-wear line in 1988 and following on to have over 200 stores worldwide.

Beyond being a feature of Prada’s work, the marriage of contradictory influences is the driving force behind her whole aesthetic; ‘You have to always work against what you did before, and even against your taste’ says Prada of her designs. Her clothes have been labelled ‘ugly-chic’, and one can see the intellectual backing behind pieces deemed thus: aiming to work against the easy task of making something beautiful, to break down these perceptions and forge new ones: to use the ordinary to create luxury. The seeming ‘quirkiness’, or even ugliness, of her collections is thoroughly grounded in intellectual consideration. In an interview with Vogue in 2009, Prada spoke of her designs being ‘about what I like, but also analyzing what isn’t trendy and why people like something, trying to find a way to look at it from outside, researching new ideas on beauty and femininity and the way it is perceived in contemporary culture’. It sometimes seems as if her clothes have been born into reality by mistake, intended as some cerebral experiment. Take the fishermen’s waders in luxurious jewel colours alongside fur and velvet coats featured in the AW09/10 collection – mixing a working rustic influence with glamour, wealth and sophistication. On paper it sounds crazy, like some brainstorm of ways to juxtapose these two worlds; but the magic is that on the model it’s wearable, desirable. A certain grandeur lies in Prada’s magpie-like eye: collecting threads of influence and weaving together a new aesthetic crafted from the ordinary, the tatty, the strange, and (of course) the ugly. 

Naturally, humour also plays a big role in her collections. The inspiration for the AW12/13 show is a blend of graphic circus-tent optical illusions and Edwardian gilt brocades and dress coats, packaged spectacularly as a suit. The girls on the runway could only be described as goth-clowns sporting Ozzy Osbourne-esque long hair and circular glasses. They looked arresting, but there was also something light-hearted, funny, about those heels with the little leather flowers in bright paintbox colours. Similarly, the latest ready-to-wear collection mixes origami-inspired box jackets and skirts in black, white and red - which on their own would project a kind of strict, measured austerity - with stencilled flower motifs on each piece. There’s such a playful air to this motif that each flower would not look out of place on a child’s lunchbox. Again, the result works. The result is so appealing because it achieves an originality rooted conceptually in all four corners whilst not seeming to take itself too seriously. 

This is what gives Prada her edge: evading being weighed down by saying something – although, of course, it does say something, whether it is obvious to an audience or not – but also being genuine, and this is key. In one of the short films created by Baz Luhrmann for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition earlier this year, ‘Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations’, Miuccia Prada speaks to a 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli explaining that ‘the moment of shocking is finished’, going on to explain that in an open world where ‘everything is everywhere’ it is difficult for art to create new ideas or find new directions to explore. Everything is already done. Prada’s designs, with their drive to subvert and to change, carry such weight because they present a genuine attempt to do just that – to say something unsaid, to find a fresh way to express the beautiful, the elegant, the interesting. Today’s culture is obsessed with the concept of counterculture but, by paradox and irony, falls flat with its lack of any real comment or substance. Think of the emptiness of all those masonic symbols peppered around Topshop, and the arbitrariness of those crosses and madonnas parading up and down the high street. And yet, at base, these are fuelled by the same crisis of originality – of having nothing new left. The quest to create something new and original, something that has not yet been done, grips the art world of today, but in what we can only refer to as a post-modern era, there exists no such thing. When Miuccia Prada tackles this problem the result is, year in, year out, a powerful assurance of the new-ness fashion has to offer, and the promise of its continuance to do so. ‘I think fashion is that last triumph of what’s new, of what was not done before. That’s interesting’.

POSTED:26 September 2012

Kleider machen Leute

by Liam Tasker

It is said that clothes make the man, but what is to be said of man making the clothes?

There exists a symbiosis between us and what we wear. Rarely is a dress so adored as when draped and cascading along the female form, rarely is a woman so adored as when she is draped in it. We observe, in the act of dressing, a metamorphosis. We witness the exchange between what you were and what you wear, creating what you become. This is the phenomenon of fashion; we experience it, we know it to be true. 'True', however, is a word of complex significance in fashion, as fashion - like all art - is built upon a foundation of deception. This is the case with all art; Parrhasius’s curtains were a deception so real(istic) that the lie augmented its artistry. Fashion’s deception, too, manifests itself in a trompe-l’œil to various degrees, from the much-photographed Stella McCartney illusion dresses to the underlying philosophy of artistic deception, a suspension of disbelief that underpins all artistic convention. It is a deception not without authenticity, perhaps of an existentialist nature. A garment represents something of a mix between être-en-soi and être-pour-soi: bereft of cognitive self-awareness but with a palpable propensity to become more than what is, offering a system of mutual aesthetic consummation to the wearer. It is this artifice afforded by fashion that integrates the soi and the look of the autrui. The act of wearing a garment enables one to reconcile one’s subjectivity and objectivity into a comfortable medium, to align what one is and how one appears to be, through adopting the persona offered by the garment, should it be in line with the inherent narcissistic self-awareness of the wearer. In order to truly empower oneself through fashion, one must choose a garment that does not mislead but rather seduces the gaze and expresses the essence of the wearer. L’homme se choisit (ou il choisit ce qu’il porte.) Tastes in fashion are dictated therefore by individual impetus and self-recognition, a narcissistic object choice that recognizes something reflective of or compatible with the self in the beauty of a garment; ‘it’s just not me’ is better rendered as ‘it’s just not who I want to be’ in fashion.

Indeed, it is arguable that no garment really is intended to express its wearer in any particular a priori way. The essence of a garment is defined by a gaze and yet this renders it in no way passive; a garment lies at the heart of a complex system of reflection and causation. A garment must first attract its wearer with some narcissistic appeal. On being worn, it must encourage the development of a being greater than its constituent parts; it must empower its wearer, lest it be nothing more than a rag. It must then express this new hybrid being in an elegant and effortless manner. In keeping with this idea, the Stella McCartney dress, perhaps, is so lauded not simply for its flattering silhouette but rather because it is so candid a visual representation of this process. It disproves the so-called ‘falseness’ of fashion. The dress proves that fashion’s deception is productive, it creates an effect, an illusion, whereas falseness is stasis and inauthenticity. It must be asked: from where comes this productive energy? It comes from he who is complicit in the deception; from he who wears it. Oscar Wilde said that ‘one should either be a piece of art or wear a piece of art’ and his words convey a grand truth. ‘One’ is a being, a single entity, ‘one’ is an amalgamation. ‘One’ is flesh and silk; one is art, should one wear art. ‘One’ steps into the lie hidden in the garment and makes it true. ‘One’ wears, ‘one’ is worn, and that which is created between the self and garment is truth, and beauty, and fashion. 

Photograph: Helmut Newton, 'rue aubriot', for French Vogue, 1975. Depicting the differentiation between body and personage; a juxtaposition of the candid and the veiled self. 

POSTED:25 September 2012

They tried to make me go to rehab...

by Sarah Billingsley 

I have a confession. I’m not proud, but as they say, the first step to recovery is admitting you’ve got a problem. If Jeremy Kyle had a ‘fashion offenders’ episode, I would be sitting on the chair in front of the audience, staring shamefacedly at the floor. The camera would pan around the studio, the opening music would die down and the shock-horror title would flash across the screen.

Please, don’t judge. They don’t have rehab for an addiction like this. It’s not even just jeggings, but comfort clothes in general. I’m not talking stylish comfort either - oh no - I’m talking full-on, fleece-lined, heavy-duty comfort clothing. Jeggings are just the tip of the iceberg, too. I have more hoodies than I care to admit, my jeans to tracksuit bottom ratio is pretty appalling, and I own multiple onesies. I could probably pass some of these clothes off as ‘lounge-wear’ if I were trying to be debonair about it but I think honesty is the best policy here. I am, day-to-day, a bit of a clothes slob.

There, I’ve said it. But let’s get one thing straight: I still love fashion, and I admire style. Women who can roll out of bed and look well put-together, I applaud you. Bravo. Girls who cycle past me in some stylish slip of a dress, tousled hair blowing in the wind, I am often a little envious of you as I trudge home with two armfuls of ripping Tesco bags. And for every textbook on my shelf, there is a Grazia, Harper’s or Vogue on my bedside table.

But sometimes, when it’s raining outside, I’m tired to the bone and the third essay of the week refuses to write itself, jeggings, a hoodie and a mug of tea are exactly what the doctor ordered.



Victor and Rolf's 2005-06 Collection 'Bedtime Story'

POSTED:20 September 2012

A Date With Mr Holland

by Emily Fermor

She’s standing at the bar. Well-dressed, smiling, she flicks her hair as a giggle escapes those coral red lips. He braves the approach; he’s got great shoes and even greater hair. Queen of Hearts’ Neon plays fashionably in the background and a flash of scallop-trimmed lace later, we’ve got a perfect match. He’s young, toned and sporting pink ‘tiny trunks’, while her chemise is star-print purple.

Is this the “cheeky mood” Selfridges had in mind when they launched House of Holland’s lingerie line Neon Range: To Be Worn to Be Seen? The range features polka-dot lace in neon lime, pink and coral, “cutesy” bows and scalloped hems for the girls and matching neon briefs for the guys. With these bright but risqué garments as the main feature, a Holland date-night would surely go something like the scene above. And the emphasis in a date with Mr Holland is most definitely on the end. Because for Holland, glow in the dark underwear isn’t the result of a good night, it’s the beginning of one.

Holland has created a line that throws underwear to the start of the seduction game. Forget subtle and teasing, this is playful and fun. House of Holland tells you what you’re getting yourself in for with a flash of neon purple brassière peeping from beneath a black lace camisole. A Holland date sounds exciting. It sounds like dimples and grins will be aplenty, and awkward fumbling forgotten.

Now, Rosie for Autograph (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s lingerie collection for Marks & Spencer) is stunning, but it doesn’t give me that foolish confidence that only sets in chez Holland. Instead, it makes me want to seduce a man over Bordeaux and Brie. I’d happily do either - both in one day even - but there’s a time and a place and I’m feeling 19 at the moment, not 29. Holland reminds us what fashion is really about: fun. The lure of showing onlookers what you’ve got, what you’re really made of, is why we buy into the brand

 Because the brand gives us dreams of moments only neon underwear could create for us.

So Henry Holland has done it again. He’s fab. I can’t resist him. But can I see myself in a glow-in-the-dark, unsupported, neon green bra? Well, no.

Holland has dangled a svelte Cara Delevingne in front of us, all long bronze limbs draped in neon coral lace. Cara in coral is exciting, tempting and more importantly fun - and isn’t that what all of us want to feel on a first date? That first-date feeling is the reason I have fallen for him and his bright blue underwear. The truth is that I’d much rather see Cara in neon knickers anyway. I like to think I can pull off a bold colour, but neon underwear? And yet, by parading Cara in front of me, Holland has led my mind astray with thoughts of warm summer evenings on lawns... and hitching that coral bra strap up and back onto my shoulder on the 5am walk home. Blissfully happy and playfully sexy: thank you, Henry, for getting our pulses racing and our knickers in a twist.

Well if this is what neon underwear can do to a girl, I’ll happily buy into the whole House. So, Mr Holland, how about a date?

POSTED:19 September 2012

Street Style

It’s a sad truth that while some bona fide inventors - Thomas Adams who first made chewing gum or Nikola Tesla who invented the radio - get brushed under the rug in the hall of fame, others are remembered for things they did not create. This credited group is fashion designers. Mary Quant never claimed to have invented the mini skirt. This is because she did not, any more than Disney invented fairy tales or The Spice Girls invented girl power.

Designers like Quant have good hands, gifted at drawing out and stitching together, but they have better eyes; they have always been the one watching the girl wearing the tutu in the club, noticing the young lads’ worker boots on the street, seeing that a man’s jacket makes his cold girlfriend look sexier than her dress underneath does. We are used to the designer label telling us that the garment is ‘real’, but the label really marks the clothes as a copy. Label clothes are imitations, creating through the sweat of designers what is won by the youth through blood and tears of the ‘you can’t go out in that’ battle, the ‘that’s not the uniform’ detention, the stares on the bus for wearing a dress held together
with safety pins.

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were the mother and father of little Joe, born in Clapham in 1967, but they were not the parents of punk. Punk was gobbing its way down the streets of London before their Kings Road shop opened, less like their child and more like a stray dog they took in and fed. Westwood’s more colourful Pirate collection was inspired by the glittery ‘New Romantics’ posing in Soho clubs on mid-week Bowie nights, competing to be noticed in their face paint and frilly blouses, like kids tottering around in their mothers’ make up and heels.
Alexander McQueen’s bumster jeans were versions of the hand-me-downs slung low for years on LA kids. It is their translation into high fashion that led to the loss of the original purpose of the style - working as a short-hand for how many were ready to defend you, the bigger the trousers the bigger the brothers – as middle class boys from the suburbs wander round with their trousers round their knees, only a hindrance as they walk to their piano lessons. The moral of these stories is that the youth make fashion; high fashion may have an adult number of zeros on the price tags but their models are teenagers and the catwalk is an imitation street.

It seems that grassroots level has the first say in fashion all over the world, from the early Casuals in England who requested West Ham colours on the classic Fred Perry shirt to those walking the main street of Harajuku, Japan, the pedestrianised kaleidoscope of the Nineties, immortalised by Gwen Stefani. This explosion of childish Gothic and cartoon Decora preceded the opening in Tokyo of the biggest Chanel store in the world, high fashion’s seal of approval on the country. Lagerfeld once said ‘I have Japanese women pinch my ass’, and maybe in retaliation, a bruised Karl pinched inspiration from the Harajuku youth in the lines of candyfloss haired Lolitas in metallic shoes in his S/S 2010 collection.

Punk was first and foremost a Do-It-Yourself subculture, all about jamming metal through your extremities yourself, not about spending hundreds of pounds on designer leather boots. However, high fashion couldn’t resist the Frankenstein-esque thrill of such monstrous creation and in 1977 Zandra Rhodes did designer safety pins, taking away the core idea of a safety pin being something throwaway and temporary, holding your clothes together with
something found in the kitchen drawer. In 1994 Versace put Liz Hurley in That Dress and Goth - the offshoot subculture of Punk - crept into the catwalk, with yards of gloomy lace in the collections of John Galliano and Oscar de la Renta. Alexander McQueen fashioned Haute Goth garments, making his Supercalifragilistic collection more Morticia Addams than Mary Poppins.

Is high fashion missing the point? Being cool is about not trying to be cool; the effortless slash of red lipstick, throwing on an unwashed t-shirt, being bored with it all. Fashion designers can’t create that themselves, they are ‘doers’, ‘earners’, the very term ‘designer’ connotes effort and action. It is only through taking the best of what is done by the Flappers, Mods, Rockers, Hippies, New Romantics, Casuals, Goths, Emos and Indie Kids that the eternal indifference of adolescence that makes the cool come through, foregrounded in the stony-faced teenage models chosen to stalk their way down the catwalk.

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but kids will be kids. Marc Jacobs sent his 1992 Grunge collection to the young Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, as homage to the influence they had exercised on his fashion line. They burned it.

Elizabeth Culliford 

Petal to the Metal

Like Mark Ronson and the Business Intl always say:

I run around town, around round the round with the pedal to the metal/The pedal to whatever

Enacting this verbatim in City Centre on this lovely 15° day I found myself confronted by a classic female (or fashion daring male or kilt wearer) conundrum: how to ride my bike WHILE wearing a short skirt WHILE maintaining a semblance of dignity.

I quickly realised that this problem is not unique so in an act of immense generosity to the student body, I will share my insights on how to conceal certain parts of one’s body while in this precarious position.

They are aptly named “The Ten Commandants for Biking in Skirts.” Or you can call them “The Ten Commandants” for short. People will immediately know exactly what you are referring to.

The Ten Commandants for Biking in Skirts

  1. Thou shall give up any sense of dignity: You are on a bike. And hopefully wearing a helmet. Therefore you already do not look cool 
  2. Thou shall wear undies. Pulling a Britney/Lohan/Hilton is so 2006 
  3. Thou shall consider wearing tights. I am massively impressed how many of you seem to be able to dress without regard to the weather but it’s still chilly (that gem is from my mother) 
  4. Thou shall not wear knee-high boots with short skirts. On or off a bike. It’s a terrible look 
  5. Thou shall take into account how tight the skirt is. As I learned the hard way, those tight ones ride up (and biking with one hand while using the other to adjust said skirt on High Street with speeding sideways buildings also known as buses zooming past is scary) 
  6. Thou shall beware of the wind. Flowy skirts are beautiful because of how they move while you walk. Not when you bike 
  7. Thou shall beware of long skirts. Seriously. It might get caught in the gears 
  8. Thou shall consider wearing shorts instead. The whole oversized jumper + shorts + tights look is cool 
  9. Thou shall recognise the applicability of these commandments when considering biking in a dress (also known as the transitive property) 
  10. Thou shall not take this seriously. Nor should anyone else. If you want to wear a skirt while biking then make sure you rock it whether it is staying put, flying up, riding up or distracting tourists.
Now that’s a part of Oxford they hadn’t anticipated seeing.


Soleful Ponderings

So the last time that I wrote a column consisting of my musings was Thursday, November 3rd 2011 (sounds freakishly specific but if you scroll down far enough it’s right here on the blog).  I’ve now been at Oxford for 7 months and it is finally beginning to feel like home.  Although to consider an extremely thin mattress in which each and every metal spring has become well acquainted with my back as an aspect of “home” is perhaps more disturbing/alarming than endearing.  Even the browning banana peel by my bike stand has become a familiar part of the landscape.

Right, I should probably throw that out.

But perhaps the strangest symptom of my time at Oxford is how some of my American-ness seems to be fading.  I became aware of this condition while traveling around Japan, China, Thailand and Laos over the break.  More specifically, it hit me when I was in Beijing, which coincidently, is literally on the opposite side of the world from my hometown, Chicago. Having met up with some American friends, I was surprised how different they seemed to me, how American. With their gym shoes, backpacks, shorts, accents, and talk of taking pictures I felt a bit like I was back in the Midwest rather than on the other side of the globe. In turn, I was teased for some strange British-isms that I must have contracted at Oxford. Complaining that a taxi ride “took ages” caught me a lot of flack . . . in American English we tend to understate things a bit more, using phrases like, “it took forever!”

Granted, I too was wearing gym shoes (I swear it was for medical reasons, I have tendonitis). Which, I am embarrassed yet compelled to confess, matched those of not one, but two 60+ old American women I encountered at the Great Wall and at the Pearl Market, respectively. For a writer of a fashion column, I hope that my unfashionable confession gains me some respect.  I mean, my brother has been trying to start the skinny jean + gym shoe trend for ages (stay tuned for next week’s street style for the official online unveiling).  Here’s to making the earnest ironic.

Enough said...
That being said, you won’t catch me wearing them around here unless I’m at the gym (sorry Adam!).  Like any other social tool or behavior, clothing (or shoe choice) is dependent on context.  Motorcycle boots definitely look much cooler with my bike helmet and library books on the anthropology of Europe (read a subversive element of irony in that statement, is this being too explicit?)

But sometimes life isn’t about wearing the right thing. Sometimes what is important/meaningful/earnest happens completely outside of you. Instead of focusing on projecting out, it’s a time to observe, absorb, and let experiences sink in. In three weeks I saw worlds and people and ideas that I had only read about. I ate sushi for breakfast in the Tsukiji fish market. I met a monk who traveled to town to buy a Windows operating system for his computer. I played with baby tigers. I stood in a cave that housed 3,000 Buddhas, accumulated over the course of 2,000 years. I spoke with a man who told me how he became ill after his soul flew away from him.

Plus my feet felt great the whole time and I walked . . . for like . . . forever.


Americana: Freedom to Share

Each week, I will be taking a peek behind doors to give you the scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion. I will be profiling people in the early stages of their careers in different areas of the business. I’m like the ghost tour guide, cherry picking the spookiest spots at Oxford to share with the rest of you. Except my stories aren’t scary.  And article isn’t about Oxford. This week, I spoke with Sari A and Sari B, founders of Bib + Tuck, an exclusive online trading community for the fashion literati:

Photos from their Vogue feature all credit to Tatiana Camacho
In the words of Sari A and Sari B, Bib + Tuck was born from a simple idea: They say necessity is the mother of invention, and we’ll admit it was our insatiable appetites for fashion that drove us to create Bib + Tuck.  As five recent grads living in the same building in NYC with no closet space to spare, having access to each other’s fantastic wardrobes meant we suddenly had endless options! Sari A and Sari B joined forces to bring this small scale sharing to the masses. Bib + Tuck is our way of expanding our style options without having to increase the size of our closets.  We style the pieces we once loved so that they can be someone else’s inspiration, and browse each other’s profiles for something that inspires us! Not to mention our love for planet earth and definitely, the need to raise awareness for excessive consumerism. Our endless goal is to do more with less.
Which is a super cool idea.  Although I have yet to meet Sari A, I have known Sari B since I moved to New York.  Gorgeous and petite, Sari B sparkles with exuberance and warmth.  Our paths have criss crossed over the years from nights at Southside (so 2009) to wedding parties in Miami lasting til 6am to summer afternoons in the Hamptons.   Naturally, I was delighted to have an excuse to cross paths with her (technically electronically given the Atlantic divide)
JP: First of all, I love the concept!  In a world driven by economic principles of production and consumption, it's refreshing to see a concept that centers around a system in which novelty stems from exchange not exploitation.  Do you envision these exchanges as one-off or becoming similar to a giant centralized virtual closet? 
S&S: First of all, thank you! Our aim is to transform the way fashion is consumed by doing more with less. We want to replicate what it feels like to shop on or without spending, which is why we are targeting the style-obsessed. Being selective about who we let into our community means that everything on the site is worth browsing.  Giant is a scary word (!) and we like to think of Bib + Tuck as a little community of fashionable people. That said, we are excited to see how this concept evolves as we grow.   

JP: As so do I! I also thought it was interesting in your press release that you said that this isn't just about the clothes but the people wearing the clothes.  As an anthropologist I definitely agree that there is a social life to objects.  Is this something that is (or will be) explicitly built into the site? (that is, in addition to the styling etc, any sort of story or blurb about the significance of the object--sort of something you see in second-hand warehouses in Japan).  
S&S: Definitely! We want our users to be as transparent as possible about the pieces they are “bibbing” (selling). For every item listed, we ask our members to describe the item (i.e. material, fit, etc.) and tell us why they are giving it up. All pieces have a story behind them and knowing it’s history is not only fun but also creates a trusted community. Bib + Tuck is like buying vintage, except you know the story of your piece, who wore it, and how it's been worn.
JP: I think there is something really interesting in being able to trace the history of an item like that. What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own
company whether it's internet based, fashion, etc.?
S&S: Never give up. We all have our moments of doubt and ups & downs, but if you keep pushing through and keep your head up high, you will surprise yourself by the things you've accomplished that you never thought you were capable of. 
JP: Amen! As this is a fashion column, I must ask: how would you describe your personal styles?  
Sari B describes Sari A: An eclectic mix of Patti Smith and Alexa Chung, Sari A could have been born on a strawberry field in the 1970's. For her, it always feels like 1977, wide leg pants are always in and anything with flowers is a go.  Obsessed with pairing black and navy, Sari A thinks overalls will be the "I called it" trend of 2012. Her style is boyish yet feminine, and if she could offer just one piece of advice it would be to always build around accessories. 

Sari A describes Sari B: Sari B is the perfect combination of urban chic and bohemian with an edgy twist. She refuses to bend with fashion trends and, as if her engagement ring were not enough, her fingers are always full of surprises --from snake rings to oval rings to her signature YSL. Her go-to look is jean shorts, combat boots, and a loose t-shirt with a leather jacket. Whether she's going casual at a cafe for lunch or totally glammed up for a fancy occasion her look is always effortless and classic. Sari finds a way to make red lipstick work for every occasion.  
JP: And . . . if you could each take one thing from each other's closets, what would it be and why? 
S&S: We love bibbing and tucking from each other's closets, this is how it all begun! 
Sari A: Hard to choose, but it's a toss-up between her vintage Versace multicolored jacket, her brown and black velvet leggings, her Hermes ankle wrap gold sandals, and her studded black backless blazer.  
Sari B: I would take Sari’s entire accessories collection. It may be because her mother is a jewelry designer, but she somehow owns all those necklaces you dream of but never know where to find. 
JP: Wow I wish I had access to your closets now!  Perhaps once Bib + Tuck is launched I will!

If you want to read more about Bib + Tuck, check out Vogue’s feature on Sari A and Sari B. You can also find links to their twitter and facebook pages on their website,
Questions? Comments? Know someone who you would like for me to interview? Post below and I will get back to you

Americana: Kentucky-Born Shooting

Each week, I will be taking a peek behind doors to give you the scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion. I will be profiling people in the early stages of their careers in different areas of the business. Think of it as one of those experimental mouse mazes. I’m the one that already found the cheese. This week, I spoke with Van Sarki, Brooklyn-based photographer:
Van Sarki by M. Sarki
So perhaps by now, with the optimism that you [the reader] have read a couple of my columns have the gist of what this is all about.  I am interested in showcasing possible avenues into the field of fashion.  But it’s not always that people intentionally fall into the world of fashion. So this week is a bit different.  Although my initial interest in speaking with Van was to explore his commercial work, it quickly shifted towards his art.  The beauty of cultures of creativity is how they tend to intertwine but also retain their uniquely beautiful aspects.  Today, it is about production of images.

Van and I met a couple summers ago when my friend Ross was djing Sunday afternoons at the Randolph.  Between sips of one-dollar beer, vast consumption of cornichons baguettes crumbs other delicacies from the local LES Whole Foods set to Ross’ soundtrack our friendship began.  Van began taking photos at an early age, which developed into a full-blown fervor while at NYU.  Things have been interesting ever since:

 VS:  Hey. 

 JP:  Hey! I’m sososo sorry for the delay it’s been a trying week!

 VS:  Lectures!  I miss LECTURES

 JP:  How are you?!

 VS:  Good good! I am glad you responded...I thought you had fallen off the face of the earth.

 JP:  Funny you say that because in college I used to write my high school friends around the end of the semester telling them that I was falling off the face of the earth due to work and so in the spirit of that I wrote them one Monday informing them that it was happening again. Anyway, glad we have a chance to catch up, even if it’s over the computer!

VS:  Between working on my own stuff and looking at other people's work I spend a ridiculous amount of time each day on this box.

JP:  It’s amazing right?

VS: I found 3 awesome new sites today; one of them is

JP:  Thanks!! Okay well first of all, thanks for letting me interview you! I am such a fan of your interview column on your website theripeapples.  It was part of my inspiration for this column.

VS:  Oh thanks.  My girlfriend and I really got into it last year.  We thought we had a lot of cool friends that were doing interesting and innovative things, so we wanted to feature that and showcase them.  

JP:  What I've really enjoyed about it is how you have been talking to all different types of artists and exploring their thoughts on what they do. Similarly, with my column, Americana, I've been interested in exploring different aspects of the fashion industry through the lenses of people who are early in their careers.  So what I'd love to start our conversation out with is understanding your work as a photographer and how it relates to fashion.

VS:  Well...I guess you could say I started as an art photographer.  I studied art at New York University and focused on photography, mainly because when you apply to art schools they make you choose what medium you want to study.  In school they sort of scare the bejesus out of you.  The real art world outside of school is scary man.  So I decided to shoot fashion because I found portraiture lacking in what I wanted to do
and I figured it would pay the bills. And turns out fashion photography is super scary too.  So now I do a bit of both.  I work on my own projects, which are art forward, and take on commercial work to try and make a living.

Model Test Shoot
JP:  So for you fashion is a way to financially support yourself while pursuing your art.

VS:  No I wouldn't say that.  For a photographer just entering the market it is certainly easier to find paying work that is fashion, still life, opposed to making your own work.  Most artists, especially in photography, don't get solo shows until they are in their late 30's, excluding Ryan McGinley. But even getting commercial work is extremely competitive.

JP:  I can see that. How much of the personal work you do influences your fashion photography as well as other commercial work?

VS:  Interestingly...I think my commercial work is extremely influenced by my personal work and I think anyone that hires me realizes that when they allow me to take on a project.  I just shot a campaign for a jewelry company and the entire project organically came out of the Polaroid work I have been shooting lately for personal projects. So it is really great that this happens.  Conversely, my personal work has also been influenced by my commercial work. I mean you must understand is all out of love and passion.  I am too young to demand a large commission for commercial work.  I take on the commercial work I take on because it interests me.  And I do my personal projects because I love doing them and I have this urge to get it out of my body.  I can assure you none of this is about money cause I don't have any. 

JP:  Speaking of passion, what was it that drew you initially to photography (and to art)?

VS:  I think my parents were a big influence on me.  My father is an amazing poet (a dying commodity) and my mother has always urged me to do what I love.  I think they both had dreams and instead they had a family and that sort of becomes a priority over your dreams, but...I got into photography cause I took some shots on my mom's camera on a vacation once and when she got the roll back she realized the only good pictures were mine...haha...or so she says.

JP:  Awww that's so sweet! But then what made you decide that this is something that you wanted to pursue full-time?

VS:  I think because I really love taking pictures—I love capturing time. I also love sitting with my suitcase of Polaroids and looking back on everything. Its just really cool...I was watching Charlie Rose yesterday and he was talking to Alexander Payne about making movies and Payne was saying how cool it is that people like Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino can see their entire personal human development on film.  I like that.

 JP:  Did you hear about that girl whose parents took a picture of her every day?

VS:  No, but I have seen a few of those projects and I think they are really great.

JP:  What's interesting to me is how it can be used to chart progression but at the same time, each photo on its own represents a sort of timeless-ness because in that photo, the image does not change. It’s a sort of interplay between trajectory and stasis.

VS:  Yeah...wait so you think the images cancel each other out or something?  I just like watching something age.  Could be anything.  Could be a cucumber.  I love to watch things deteriorate.

JP:  No not that they cancel each other out but when you take a series of photos you can track the deterioration but if you were to just pick one without seeing the others it is simply an unchanging image. That change comes only with seeing what comes before and after.

VS:  It is so very important to have a before and

JP:  Yeah I think we as humans rely a lot on context.

VS:  Oh for sure...I myself am very guilty of that.

JP:  I think it’s fair, how else are we supposed to make informed decisions? Which brings me to another question; for people who might be interested in pursuing a career in photography, what sort of advice do you have for them?

VS:  Well, I certainly don't have anything figured out, but...the most important thing is to photograph what you feel and love.  Then I would say skip school and go straight to assisting a photographer that really inspires you.  Get your hands dirty!

JP: I like that—getting your hands dirty. Let’s chat about your current series, Beast. I especially like the one of the grave of Mary A. Pay—those boots make it look almost life-like.  What was your inspiration?

VS:  Yeah it is going to get way creepy; I just took those 2 weeks ago in Kentucky. My inspiration was real estate—what a waste of real estate cemeteries are! Haha but no, it is about death and life and the things we as humans pass and oversee everyday.  When you walk up to a cemetery you might see a beautiful landscape with gravestones and tress.  I see that too, but I also imagine a bunch of skulls and bones laying there in their finest clothes.

JP:  Funny thing about the real estate bit. My friend lives in this nice complex in Oxford—and the backyard is a graveyard.

VS:  My parents’ bedroom window overlooks a cemetery and I love it.  I personally believe when you die that is it and when you are buried you basically are leaving life with the clothes on your back. I love cemeteries; they are like my favorite place to be. They are so peaceful but it is so silly that we are buried in our best outfit. I like the olden days...simple wooden box.

JP:  Are those your imagined best outfits of the people buried or something?

VS: Kentucky I had my Mom and her friends pick an outfit they would want to be buried in. The last image is of a suit of yes...that would be my death outfit I guess.

JP:  Really interesting it seems like it was a ritualizing experience: picking your burial clothes and ideal grave. It's like when my friends and I get together and discuss things like the ideal wedding dress and venue—except that this is death. Do you think that sort of conversation is more taboo? It’s not like people generally discuss that as commonly as they do things like weddings or school dances.

VS:  I don't know if it is taboo.  I am sure quite a few people have expressed their ideal funeral arrangements well before they die...but I would say that most would find the dialogue inappropriate. Which I find to be just great.

JP:  As an anthropologist I also find this really interesting. How we handle these rites of passage.

VS:  I mean...I think life, at least the end of one’s life, is pretty much summed up in this series.  You live, and then you pick out your last outfit and you die.  It's funny actually, you come into life with nothing...bare...yet you leave with a full set of clothes on your back. Kind of silly! I propose naked burials.

JP: So on that note (bad pun as this is the end of the interview) before we wrap up, as this is a fashion column, I have to ask how do you define your personal style?

VS:  My personal style.  Oye.  I love uniforms. I basically have a uniform for every season and I mix and match within that uniform.  As far as my uniform...I like clean cuts and simple.  I hate labels. Well, I shouldn't say I hate labels…I just hate when the brand is written all over everything. If you see me often enough you will catch on.

JP:  Maybe you should start photographing yourself everyday, that way I can catch on while I’m living over on this side of the pond.

VS:  How unpleasant.  I decided to have a career behind the camera...I would like it to stay that way.

If you want to see more of what Van does, check out his website and his interview blog, theripeapples. You can also email him at:

Questions? Comments? Know someone who you would like for me to interview? Post below and I will get back to you

Americana: Buying Power

Each week, I will be taking a peek behind doors to give you the scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion. I will be profiling people in the early stages of their careers in different areas of the business. Think of it as walking into Olives on High Street. I’ll be the one handpicking each ingredient to assemble the best tasting sandwich (whole wheat baguette, pesto, chicken, buffalo mozzarella, rocket, tomatoes, red onions and a single thin slice of prosciutto if you were curious). This week, I had the chance to interview Alison Fisherman, Associate Planner for a large North American department store chain (will be referred to as NADS for short):
New Jersey native Alison Fisherman had her first taste of working in retail in high school, which ignited her passion in the fashion industry. Although you could also say that retail runs in her genes (genes/jeans!): her mother and grandmother owned boutiques.
I’ve known Alison now for almost eight years—although I cannot pinpoint exactly when we met during our freshman year at Penn, I can clearly remember how we first bonded.  At 7pm on New Years Eve sky high heels seem like a good idea; seven hours later, even the most diehard fashionista would beg to differ.  And so the new chapter of our friendship began on the long walk from the poolside party at the Fontainebleau in Miami, past the over-tanned skintight neon-adorned girls and slicked back gold chained Ed Hardy armored guys, down the steep driveway peppered with remnants of confetti fist pumping and into the seated relief of a questionably clean cab.  Plus, we both enjoy reading similar fiction novels and the appetizers at Periyali, the best neighborhood Greek spot in New York City.  But enough about the basics, this is about fashion:
JP: Hi!  So glad we figured out a time to chat—how are you?
AF: I’m good!  How’s everything going with you?

JP:  Great thanks! So let's kick this off. My first question for you is when did you become interested in the business side of fashion?
AF:  When I was in high school. I was always interested in retail as a child because growing up my mom and grandma owned three women's clothing boutiques in New Jersey. Then in high school I worked at a contemporary clothing boutique in NJ a few days a week after school. The store manager used to be a buyer and she told me about her experiences. That’s when I realized that I could combine two things I was passionate about –retail and business.
JP:  That's really cool! I had no idea that your mom and grandma owned boutiques!  I also worked at a clothing store in high school but that had the reverse effect and scared me away from the clothing business for a while. So how then did you find yourself at the buying program at NADS?
AF:  Hahaha that’s funny that it scared you away.
JP:  It was at Abercombie and Fitch. Too much loud music and cologne—so how did you end of where you are today?
AF: Well, I was always interested at going to Penn and found out that there was a new Retail Center and concentration at Wharton, which I ended up doing. Then during my sophomore year I went through on-campus recruiting and found out that NADS recruited on campus.  I also reached out to other Penn students who had interned at NADS and found out more about the program.
JP:  So that's when you decided to apply? Did you end up interning there summer after sophomore year?

AF:  Yes, I interned after sophomore and junior years.

JP:  So you were pretty targeted in choosing to go to Wharton and then interning there both summers.  What sorts of things did you do as an intern? And what made you decide to join full-time?
AF:  It was a structured eight-week program and basically was a mix between training classes and shadowing a buying team.  In the training classes we learned the systems and how to perform the tasks of an assistant buyer and how to analyze the business. Then during the shadowing time we actually put into practice the things we learned and applied them to the actual business.  We also had roundtables with executives across all areas of the company and learned about their career paths and what they did.
JP:  So sounds like you got a lot of exposure to different aspects of the company. So what made you decide that you wanted to pursue a career there? Was there something particular about it, such as the culture that drew you?
AF:  Yes, definitely the culture and the people. The NADS culture is all about its people. The company focuses on the development of its people both professionally and personally and emphasizes strong relationships with colleagues within the company and with our vendor community.
JP:  That's really important. And speaking of, that actually brings me to my next question which is how has your career developed since you've started working there full-time?
AF:  I have developed my soft skills—relationships with vendors, negotiating, how to problem solve and trouble shoot to come up with win-win solutions—many of the things that you can't learn in a classroom
JP:  That's so true, I found the same to be the case for me when I was working as a consultant.  There are certain things that just come with on-the-job training. I know you've also been promoted a couple of times. Can you please briefly summarize each of those positions and where you are currently?
AF: NADS has a structured career path to becoming a buyer. After you complete the Executive Training Program, you are placed as an Assistant Buyer. I was an Assistant Buyer in contemporary women's clothing. There I learned the foundation of the business and how to perform the day-to-day tasks and functions. I assisted the buyer with analyzing the markdown, receipts and sales. I was in charge of shipping and projecting receipts each week. I helped determine which styles to markdown and keyed them into the system. I also went to market to help pick out the assortment and key the orders into the system. As an assistant buyer, you are building your toolkit. Next, you become a Senior Assistant Buyer where you use those tools to further analyze the business and make recommendation to drive the business. I became a Senior Assistant in the women's contemporary private label. As a Senior Assistant, you have more responsibility in running and analyzing the business. You are given certain vendors to actually write the orders and forecast markdown and receipt projections. You are more involved in identifying and maximizing opportunities. The next step is Associate Planner, which is the role I am currently in working with Men's Contemporary and Designer Sportswear. As an Associate Planner, you build the financial plans for upcoming seasons by vendor by store. You are also in charge of allocating orders by store based on current trends to ensure stores have the appropriate stock levels based on their business. In addition, you work closely with the buyer to identify trends and opportunities in season to drive the current business. After being an associate planner, you can either stay on the planning side and be a Planner or go back to the buying side and be a Buyer. For me, my next step will be a Buyer.
JP: So what would you say are your favorite parts of the job/perks?
AF: Going to market and working with the vendors and the product. Being on the forefront of fashion.
JP: What advice would you give to someone interested in going into a career in buying?
AF: First try working in the store! Even if it is just for a few weeks before you start in the buying office, it is a great experience. It is helpful to work directly with the customer to better understand their wants and needs. Customer service is one of the most important things. It is also important to understand what it is like for the selling associates and to have "walked in their shoes". It is a valuable experience that will definitely make you a better buyer to know where the associates and customers are coming from.
JP: I feel like you are always so put together and classy in your look. How would you describe your personal style?
AF: Classic with a touch of the trends. I like to buy staples that I can mix and match and wear day to night. Then I like to interject some of-the-moment trendy pieces. Working in fashion, you know all the trends that are out there but that doesn't mean that you need to wear every single one. I only pick the ones that work for me and pass on the others.
JP: Yeah I definitely think that it’s very important to know what you can and cannot wear.  Ali, thank you so much for your time and thoughts, this has been most enlightening!
AF: Happy to do so!
Questions? Comments? Know someone who you would like for me to interview? Post below and I will get back to you 

Americana: East Coast Style 

Each week, I will be taking a peek behind doors to give you the scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion. I will be profiling people in the early stages of their careers in different areas of the business. Think of it as walking into the beauty section of a department store. I’ll be that overly aggressive saleswoman pushing perfumed slips of paper on anything that moves. This week, I had the chance to interview Haley Loewenthal, New York based stylist: 

Haley Loewenthal exudes a sort of effortless cool.  Her hair tips might change colors faster than a mood ring but her sense of style is as timeless as Chronos. We met this past spring: I was looking for a sublet and she was looking for a roommate for the summer. My friend (and her boyfriend) assured me that she was one of the most genuine, kind, solid people I would meet.  We agreed to live together on the spot sight unseen. Frankly, I found her Facebook photos intimidating with her impeccable style and glossy long blonde hair.  Over glasses of wine this summer we would joke about our first impressions of each other (we conveniently lived above a wine shop).  She thought I was going to be sassy, which is pretty funny as I grew up in the Midwest and I assumed she was going to be an aloof fashionista like the ones that seem to swarm anything featured tomorrow in Urban Daddy like it’s a non fat zero calorie frozen yogurt.  Fortunately, we were both pleasantly surprised. 
JP: Hiiiii!!! Happy belated birthday!!! 
HL: Thanks!!! 
JP:  First off, I want to thank you for letting me interview you; you’re my first! 
HL: Of course! What do you want to talk about? 
JP: Okay, well let me start off with this: how long have you been a stylist? 
HL: So I’ve been doing free-lance since June, so I guess I’ve officially been working as a stylist since then. The term is little bit funny—I wouldn’t have called myself this years ago, but it really started when I graduated and got job working on costume design for a film in September 2009. That was my first real job. After that, I moved on to Gilt Group, where I did some work in styling. I left in 2010 to do another film, before coming back part time in January 2011. On days off I started working as style assistant. Which brings me back to June when I quit Gilt again to pursue my career full-time. Since then I have been on my own working as an assistant and as a stylist. So you could say that my history is a bit complicated. 
JP: Sounds like it! What drew you into styling and made you decide to pursue this? Was it your work in costume design?
HL: No I think it was before that, when I was in college. I wanted to be a stylist way earlier in my life but I didn’t actually know what a stylist was. I was sosososo in love with magazines. As far back as I can remember I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. I loved looking at photo spreads and I wanted to be that person to put those photo shoots together. But at the time, I didn’t know who that was. I didn’t really figure who did that job until—I don’t know—maybe mid-way through college which maybe sounds juvenile now but that’s when I figured out what a stylist does. And since I discovered the term I knew that is was what I wanted to do. 
JP: You bring up something interesting; most people equate styling with Rachel Zoe and people who put dresses on celebrities.  But there are other areas of styling too. 
HL: Exactly, there is so much involving what a stylist does. You can do just one thing or you can do all of it. You can work in print styling, which consists of advertizing, catalogue, editorial—anything in that range. And then you can do video styling, which includes things like films and commercials. Or you can do personal styling, celebrity styling, red carpet styling, runway styling. There are so many different avenues you can pick from or you can do them all. Most people chose to concentrate more in either video or print but people definitely crossover too. 
JP: So what about you? Which area or areas are you most focused in? 
A: I love film. I think it is really interesting because it is so different. When you do an editorial you are trying to tell a story without words on paper. You tell a story visually with clothes and accessories. But when you’re doing a film, you are focused on the individual: you are creating a character, a personality through the clothes. They [editorials and film] are two very different things and I enjoy them both. Of course, realistically, I also want to land the commercial and advertising accounts because that’s where the money is. Most stylists don’t make any money doing the cover of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar; it’s really about putting their name out there. But you know, it’s important to have a balance. I want to be the person who can do everything. 
JP: I think that’s great! So what are you doing to position yourself in that way? 
HL:  I will take on any job that comes my way. I will not turn anything down it’s all experience. I’ve worked at least once in every aspect that I think I could work in. I’ve done the mannequins for the Louis Vuitton displays on Fifth Avenue to Chobani yogurt ads. I would take on any job that comes my way for the experiences and to figure out what it is that I love doing. 
JP: Sounds like you’re sticking your hands in a lot of pots. So when you’re doing your work, where do you draw your ideas from? 
HL: Styling or dressing? Or both? 
JP: Good question, let’s start with your work. 
HL: If I’m doing a test shoot, it’s a hundred percent me, which is the fun of it. It’s the only time you have full creative freedom. There is no client involved so you’re doing it for yourself. When I’m doing it on my own, I want to develop a story and a vision to work off of. The development of a story can come from a lot of things: from what I see on the street, definitely from a lot of the blogs I read, and editorials from magazines. You might not mark down every page but I think it sticks with you. You don’t even realize it but it comes out innately. Like I mentioned before, I definitely get inspiration from a lot of blogs, I love a lot of Australian blogs. And Tumblr is great; it’s just a huge archive of pictures. Some of my favorites are Bleed GoldBird with Broken BonesLittle Plastic Horses and Anniieemal.  
JP: Speaking of, let’s talk about your blog: itsuglycute. Would you consider it more of an inspirational blog? 
HL: I actually haven’t been working on it as much recently. I started my blog to digitally organize all the pictures that I have been saving over the years, not really for other people. You know when you’re a kid you cut magazines up and make collages. But it’s different now and things are online instead. So it’s another way for me to organize thoughts and inspirations. 
JP: I know you said you haven’t been working on your blog as much lately but that’s also because you have been working on your new website which is incredible! 
HL: Thank you! For any future stylist, getting your website up is a big step because it’s a tool to promote yourself. You still keep a leather portfolio but these days everything is online so it’s your biggest and best tool. I’m really excited that mine has launched and I lucked out with who helped me make it. 
JP: I love you website, you know I checked out the photos from your latest shoot and it put me in such a fall mood it made me wish I had red pants. 
HL: Yeah there’s a lot of red pants. 
JP: Well one of the things I’m really curious about and you were describing to me this summer are your test shoots. I’m really hoping that when I’m back in New York in December I can come if you have one scheduled. Can you describe what a test shoot is for the readers? 
HL:  Sure, so doing a test shoot is really hard. You first need to find a photographer, and then the stylist and photographer come together each with some ideas about what they want to do for the shoot. So you sit down and make the ideas cohesive and figure it out. But you don’t have a producer on the shoot so it’s up to both of you to do all the scheduling, the hiring, location, etc. The next step is together, with the photographer, to email agencies that you are looking for new faces to test.  Once we find our model then I go out and find my clothes. It’s a lot of hard work; you have to put your own money and a lot of your time into it. Everyone’s working really hard for free: the stylist, photographer, model, makeup artist and hair stylist. You do it for the photos—because they are that important. 
JP: It’s a really interesting to see the economics of a test shoot. And it’s amazing how everyone comes together to create something that is really beautiful.  And I’ve seen you select photos after the shoot and know how important the selection is too.  Like how you need photos of the whole body whereas for the photographer maybe the angle or lighting is more important. 
HL: Yeah the editing process is a really important part of the shoot, it’s actually just as important as the shoot.  What pictures you decide on—it’s like you said and you want to make sure the story is cohesive. For me, I want the best looking clothes where you can really see the details and what my thoughts were in the pictures. That’s the key to your photos: it’s showing who you are so when people are hiring, they know. 
JP: So what advice do you have for someone who aspires to be a stylist? 
HL: I would suggest interning first.  I would figure out which stylists you like and then figure who other stylists are because you probably won’t get to intern for the stylist you like (although hopefully you will).  But compiling the list of all the stylists in your city and emailing them all—most will want you to work for free, which, if you have the drive—that’s the best thing to start with. And after you’ve been interning with someone long enough—not that this is the path I took—but you then can get hired as a stylist’s assistant and climb up the ladder. Or even if you don’t get hired, by going on the shoots you are meeting people and building up contacts. And maybe one of those people will hire you. 
JP: Guess that’s not too different than other industries.  The one last thing that I’d love to ask you is what is your personal style? One of the things that I admire about your style is how you always look so effortlessly cool. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing—it always seems to work. 
HL: Awww thanks Jess, that’s nice. 
JP: Well it’s very true! 
HL: You know what, I always say that being comfortable is the most important thing.  I think it’s pretty obvious when people are uncomfortable.  I mean if you can do the crazy shoes and skintight dress more power to you. But I’m going to wear what I’m physically comfortable in. And sometimes it is the crazy shoes because I love them so much. It can either be that “these shoes are amazing so I feel good about myself” or it’s “these shoes are heaven to walk in” so I just think in general you need to wear things that are actually you and not who you want to be, or who you are aspiring to be. 
JP: I like that, I think that’s fair.  Well Haley thank you so much for all of this!  Was really great to chat with you about what you do and I look forward to seeing you when I come back to New York! 
HL: Same here!  

If you want to see more of what Haley does, check out her blog, itsuglycute and her website  
Questions? Comments? Know someone who you would like for me to interview? Post below and I will get back to you 

Americana: making it outside of America

Each week, I will be taking a peek behind doors to give you the scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion. I will be profiling people in the early stages of their careers in different areas of the business. Think of it as walking into an ice cream shop taking a sample of each flavor. I’ll be the one handing out the spoons. But first, a little bit about me:
I have been at Oxford now for over a month and am starting to recover from a late wave of culture shock. As an American, I did not expect to feel much difference (we speak almost the same language), especially after living in a much more foreign, distant and exotic country: France.  But here, as an international student, I feel slightly out of place.  And it’s not just from my American flag credit card (which I swear I did not pick out). I think, act and dress differently. My recovery from this sense of displacement, however, does not stem from feeling like I now belong. Rather, its that I’m becoming more comfortable with my Americaness which appears much more blatant now that I’m not completely surrounded by my fellow citizens.
One sign that I was no longer in New York was when I was out during Fresher’s Week and one of my new friends commented on my all black outfit.  Pulling at my thin cotton t-shirt I insisted, “but this is navy!”  As soon as I said it I heard it.  To be fair, black and navy are clearly differentiated colors in a New York wardrobe. On the other hand, everyone else thought I was Goth (it did not help that I was wearing brick red lipstick that probably looked even darker in the dim bar).
Toto, we’re not in New York anymore.
And am talking to a hypothetical dog as a literary device.
As an anthropologist I was quite bemused by the whole situation. It was fascinating how differently my friend interpreted my outfit.  As social creatures, we are cued as much by what people say as how they present themselves in terms of posture, gait, expressions, clothing and other forms of adornment. However, signals can be read differently depending on the background of the viewer. So when I wore what a New Yorker would view as understated chic: oversized navy tee, black skinny jeans and vintage black oxfords (Oxfords in Oxford!!), others just saw as sad.
Oxfords in Oxford!
For a week after, I thought about buying a couple more colorful items of clothing as to not alarm my fellow students.  But I didn’t like anything I saw.  I like wearing black. I am (dare I say) happy wearing it.

All Press is Good Press...

…or at least that’s what the latest figures for sales at Dior would suggest.  Third quarter sales are up to €260 million whilst the January – September period of 2011 has shown an increase of 18.7% in retail revenue by comparison with the same period in 2010 (from €594 million to €705 million). 
Dior has received unprecedented levels of media coverage over the past year due to the scandal that erupted over its former creative director, John Galliano, in February this year.  Galliano was arrested for allegedly assaulting a couple and making anti-Semitic remarks while drunk in a restaurant during Paris Fashion Week.
However, the Galliano incident and his very public sacking as creative director for the Fashion House in March seems to have been far from detrimental to the brand.  Fears were rife after Natalie Portman, the face of Dior’s fragrance Miss Dior Cheriecondemned Galliano, saying she was "deeply shocked and disgusted” by Galliano’s behavior and refusing to be associated with Galliano “in any way”.
But in contrast to Miss Portman’s firm stance, consumers seem to be indifferent to the politics at Dior.  One forum user at remarked that he wasn’t at all bothered by what Galliano did.  Rather, he was more concerned with “creativity and excellence”, both of which he considered Galliano’s collections for Dior to encompass.  Could it be then that consumers are rushing to purchase Galliano’s final pieces for Dior as a piece of history?  Indeed, as another user pointed out, “it is so early to speak about sales up without Galliano” since the pieces in stores now were actually designed by Galliano last year.
Surely the true impact of Galliano’s departure from the brand will be revealed next year, when what is on sale bares no relation to the former creative director.  Dior has yet to name Galliano’s successor, although Marc Jacobs is rumoured to be the forerunner.  No doubt figures for sales of Dior’s most recent collection, shown in Paris in September, for which Bill Gaytten and Susanna Venegas took the bow, are hotly anticipated. 
Tessa McGuire

French Fashion treads on Italy’s Toes Yet Again

After French luxury goods group LVMH acquired the controlling stake (98.09%) of Italian jeweller Bulgari in March this year, the recent announcement of rival PPR’s decision to purchase 100% of Italian’s menswear brand Brioni marks the second acquisition of an Italian luxury goods group by a French company in 2011.
Brioni, a family-owned company famous for dressing Vladimir Putin and the character of James Bond in the films, is being purchased for an undisclosed sum, although it is estimated to be worth around £350 million.  Founded in 1945, Brioni’s sales began to falter in recent years, which resulted in disagreements among the family shareholders about the direction in which they should take the brand.  External investors were sought after it was decided to close down the womenswear line earlier this year. 
According to PPR, Brioni has shown that it is profitable, having made €170 million in sales last year, which equates to approximately 4% of the total sales of PPR’s luxury goods division. The acquisition will be funded from the €2.4 billion PPR raised through floating 51% of CFAO in December last year.  The acquisition comes as the latest part of PPR’s plans to expand in two directions: luxury (already including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta) and lifestyle (principally a majority stake in Puma).  It is expected that Brioni will be taken to China following the success of Zegna, a larger Italian menswear brand that is now one of the most successful luxury goods companies there.
This latest acquisition is considerably smaller to that of Bulgari by LVMH, a deal worth €3.7 billion that caused a diplomatic spat between the two nations over reciprocity, as fears in Italy grew over the increasingly commanding position French corporations held in strategic sectors of the Italian economy.
Tessa McGuire

The deeper meaning behind social media marketing

What is the real relationship between clever digital marketing strategies and superior performance of the company? I do get the impression these days, that crafting a sophisticated and clever social media marketing strategy has become a goal in itself. Leaders in these areas, such as Burberry and Gucci, have reached the status of digital superstars, while Dior or Prada are essentially ridiculed for not having the same social media presence (the recent L2 study makes this clear, The argument goes along the lines that such innovative marketing strategies are the ultimate way to increase brand value and strengthen brand loyalty – without doubt crucial parameters for international fashion businesses.

But hasn't social media marketing become some sort of truism? Fortunately, now there's the time for some realism and critical review of such practices. Does digital marketing actually build and establish a brand? In fact, the ideas and visions that make brands stand out have to be built in other ways. During a session as part of Advertising Week in NY earlier this month there have been quite some refreshing comments ( In essence, it is crucial to get the message right, and not just how you communicate it. Fashion brands have to combine their digital marketing with their efforts to build a unique brand identity. The latter could involve both digital elements, such as crowd-sourcing techniques, or more classical marketing activities like print media advertising or actual. What is technology and social media marketing worth without developing an exciting brand image?

Yes, Burberry has done great efforts to become the leading digital marketer within the fashion industry. And it very likely drives their image as a cutting-edge designer brand. But this has been made possible by their successful brand-building before! Similarly, companies with strong brand images can still get away with poor social media performances (think Hermes and Dior). That might not work much longer. But once they step up their efforts and hire talented social media marketers thinking out of the box, just make sure the overarching goal remains building and strengthening your brand!

Felix Rossknecht

The Social Market

Social networking: the term has become synonymous with wall-posting, tweeting, poking, liking and stalking, specifically of the Facebook sort. With over 750 million users worldwide, and millions more joining up each month, it is hardly surprising that
Facebook has become one of the most powerful marketing tools we have ever seen: one out of every eight minutes online is spent on Facebook, more than on any other global site, including Google. Consequently, a marketing revolution has snowballed since Facebook’s founding in February 2004: no doubt you will have noticed the adverts lining the right hand side of your screen when you have logged on.

Surprisingly, however, a recent study carried out by a New York based Think-Tank called Luxury Lab (also known as L2) has revealed that fashion houses in general have been rather slow on the uptake. The L2 Digital IQ Index was released earlier last week, assessing the digital IQ of top fashion brands through their use of a website (35%), digital marketing (25%), social media (25%) and mobile devices (15%). The relative percentages show the significance of each aspect in brand building. Under the social media heading, the report considered each brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube videos and Tumblr activity. According to the overall results of the analysis of each company, they were then placed into one of five categories: genius, gifted, average, challenged or feeble.

The Digital IQ dispersion of the 49 companies L2 reviewed followed a normal distribution, with 4 classed as genius, 12 gifted, 17 average, 11 challenged and 5 feeble. Topping the chart and leading the social media surge was Burberry, whilst Manolo Blahnik was left floundering at the very bottom. Improvers of the year were
Donna Karan and Alexander McQueen with a 43% increase on their performance on 2010’s Digital IQ test. In contrast, Hermes suffered a 35% decrease by comparison with last year’s results, making it the biggest loser of the study.

Statistics are all very well, but what do they actually mean for these fashion houses? According the Scott Galloway, the founder of L2 and Clinical Professor of Marketing at NYU, “digital competence is inextricably linked to shareholder value”. There is no doubt that social media sites do significantly reduce costs, which is one of two main ways of increasing shareholder value (the other being to increase revenue). Bearing this in mind, we would therefore expect the share value of Hermes to have fallen. So what are we to make of the fact that Hermes shares have actually risen in value by 31.97%? The truth is that share prices of the French brand jumped in December 2010 after reports that LVMH was looking to invest further in the business. L2 might accuse Hermes of relying too much on their “iconic status” rather than innovation
and digital marketing developments but the reality is, the number of “likes” on their Facebook page or followers on twitter hardly impacts the consumer choices of their high profile clientele.

I think its safe to say that Facebook and other social networking sites are an increasingly important tool for enterprises but from my own experience at OFS, it seems it is more crucial for smaller, emerging brands to use them rather than longstanding fashion houses. Galloway’s dire threat that Hermes; poor digital marketing will come back to haunt them and their shareholders is, I believe, rather empty.

Tessa McGuire

Facebook Join us on Facebook

Twitter Join us on Twitter