Popcorn Coalition @ St Barnabas Arts Festival

‘Buy for me the Rain’ cover

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Ah, womenswear! What a rebel you are!

I took this bank holiday as an opportunity to catch up on a project I started over two years ago. Yes – Two years ago I promised my friend I’d make her a suit. Fast forward to now, and she still remains suit-less. But I digress.

I went button hunting for a single-breasted dark grey suit, which couldn’t be that difficult or daunting, you might say to yourself. But after finding a less than promising selection at John Lewis, I decided to go to The Button Queen. It’s a brilliant little button shop tucked away on Marylebone Lane. They are the best place to go for shirting and tailoring buttons: http://www.thebuttonqueen.co.uk/

After I flipped through the horn button folder for suits, I made my selection and asked the gentleman for the buttons I wanted. He looked at me questioningly and asked, “This is for a coat?” I said it was and he fetched a box from the back. He pointed out that he was all out of the buttons I wanted, but he had lots of the others. I then remembered that I wasn’t actually doing a coat but a jacket (embarrassing but true, but I have trouble with this distinction) and said the smaller ones would be just fine. he asked, “This is for a woman’s jacket?” and again I said it was, to which he nodded as though it explained everything. Out of curiosity I asked if there were specific uses for the different sizes for jacket buttons. “Well, women’s jackets are much more flexible, but you would want to use the 34 Line button for a single-breasted men’s jacket.” Ah, yes. I forget how promiscuous womenswear can be…it doesn’t commit to any single gender, epoch or sewing standard. So he’ll let me off using the 36 Line button for my single-breasted jacket.

It is this attitude that simultaneously repels me from and draws me to tailoring. There are a series of long held methods and traditions which uphold standards and ensure a perfect product. It’s the exasperated roll of the eyes that I dread when I ask “is the front stand for a women’s jacket left over right or right over left?”, but I know I must ask the question if I’m going to embark on making a suit. Otherwise I envision scenarios whereby my poor friend would be walking around during work and an onlooker is secretly thinking to themselves “but WHY did she not get the 34 Line horn buttons! What a novice job. This woman’s attitude is downright sloppy.”

But deep down, I know that if it weren’t for the insistence of upholding these finer details, we wouldn’t have those gorgeous suits and beautifully crafted clothes. Proper tailoring is actually a dying art as a result of our inability to adhere to what has gone before. We are addicted to miniature rebellion which looks something like the classic brogue for men, but re-interpreted for women with white faux leather and sold at a margin at Matalan. Ah womenswear, what a rebel you are!

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Place your bets

Some recent headlines from Drapers and other papers have aroused my interest. I feel like I could make a really good recipe for major economic turmoil in the fashion industry:

Add together in a large mixing bowl:

  • Rising cotton and raw material prices
  • Monumental job cuts throughout the public sector
  • Unsure funding for the BFC
  • Elimination of caps on University fees
  • Possible enforcement of ‘country of origin’ labels
  • Late retirement for a large part of the population
  • Emergence of the fashion film sometimes replacing catwalk shows

Blend until unrecognizable and bake in a recession. . Is there a dominant ingredient that will overpower the mix? Place your bets now ladies and gents.

These are only a few of the many many factors going on world-wide which affect the shape of the relationship between fashion and its consumer. What kind of changes must occur to keep businesses afloat? What kind of innovation will take place to meet a new demand and cut the losses from a dying, over-saturated market? In terms of skills, what will be the new employment currency, will there be a rise in apprenticeship-style career paths?

If you thought fashion couldn’t get any bitchier or more competitive, maybe we’ll see a new precedent and health and safety laws will have to include measures against ‘accidental’ poisoning…

Personally, I’m putting my small blind on an introduction of more sustainable fabrics in lieu of cotton. For example, bamboo is terrific. It’s soft, has wicking properties and uses a lot less water to produce than cotton. But dear High Street, I know you don’t care about any of that. But you will care that it’s very very cheap. What’s not to love when everybody wins with bamboo?

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pearls to the swine


Barry Lategan:

Internationally renowned fashion photographer published in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar amongst others. He’s photographed a host of high profile subjects, most notably Twiggy who subsequently became famous. He’s also photographed the likes of Grace Coddington, Barbara Daly and pieces for the late Bill Gibb. A very distinguished and respected gentleman in the fashion world.

You can imagine my shock and horror upon discovering that I, a fashion student, had treated him like a mad man when he wandered into the chocolate shop where I was working.

All of my friends who live or work in London have their “you won’t believe who I saw” stories… Happily for them, they firstly recognized who they were looking at and secondly treated them like a human being. Such was not the case in my situation. As he stood snapping pictures in the Hotel Chocolat on King’s Road, I internally panicked, wondering if I should tell the gentleman that he’s not supposed to take pictures of the shop. Even when we entered into conversation and he explained to me who he was (he had Twiggy pictures with him to prove it), the expression on my face was one of feigned tolerance. He said some rubbish about how he liked to capture the womanliness of shop assistants and the way they multi-task and their gentleness. I protested that I couldn’t multi-task to save my life and he then pointed out the bright yellow dustcloth I was holding and insisted that by dusting and talking I was somehow living up to my womanly stereotype. At this stage my expression must have been pained at best. Surely, if he was the Big Deal he said he was, he wouldn’t waste his time by telling me I was a gentle womanly shop assistant. What kind of fashion hero would brazenly walk into my shop in broad daylight telling me that I could multi-task?

There have been studies in pricing which show that people won’t buy luxury goods if they’re sold below the value that we expect to pay. The whole point of a luxury good is that it’s inaccessible. Psychologically, we’ll value something less if we’re told that we can have it too easily. I would never buy a Chanel bag for £2000, so surely I’m immune to those kinds of consumer traps? Conversely, if someone gave me something really really valuable, I wouldn’t then go and lose it because I’d gotten it for free! I know genuine value when I see it. Right?

I started to get a clue when he later returned to the shop in the afternoon with a few very beautiful developed photographs of myself in the shop. He reminded me that his name was Barry Lategan and that I should look him up and here’s his card.

It was with shaking hands that I googled a Mr. Barry Lategan later that evening and looking at those pictures, I couldn’t help but feel like I was holding one of those proverbial pearls with a little cloven hoof. I’d post them on the site today, but somehow I managed to misplace them…

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Collective responsibility: You have spinach in your teeth

I recently read an article in the Metro newspaper accusing Londoners of having no sense of collective responsibility for fellow members of the public in emergency situations. The story involved some pranksters assaulting a couple on a busy street when said couple had ruined the prankster’s “fun” by removing dangerous obstacles from the road. No-one called the police and both man and woman were severely beaten with onlookers ignoring their cries for help.

I however, have experienced Londoners taking responsibility for me in very dangerous situations…

Case in point: Friday evening at Dalston Superstore. I’m in the downtairs unisex bathroom washing my hands, very much in my own little world, and a Dalstonite in a cute cardigan informs me that I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe! Imagine the looks I’d have gotten if she hadn’t pointed this out to me. Social Suicide.

And then today: I was sitting with only my thoughts for company in a little cafe around the corner from Somerset house. I’d left for lunch so quickly that I didn’t bother removing the headscarf belonging to the stand I was working, which still had the price attached (little did I know it even had a tag). A woman with her daughter were sat across the way, with a goodybag from London Fashion Weekend, clearly taking a break from sample sale purgatory. The mother gently informed me that my headscarf still had the price attached, and quickly followed up with “I wasn’t sure if I should tell you or not…” to which I happily reassured her how thankful I was that she had told me. Conversation about shopping, Las Vegas and deserts in America soon followed.

We may well be on our own when facing the physical dangers of the streets of London. But at least I can rest assured that if my price tag is showing, someone is sure to point it out!

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The Tits Issue

Call it a freudian slip, but when I left R D Franks with my issue of Love featuring a nude Kelly Brook on the front cover, I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that out of a choice of all those fashion magazines, I unknowingly pulled the issue featuring in the words of Katie Grand, ‘our favourite people who happen to be in possession of a fine pair of funbags’. Having no more than a tablespoon on either side myself I was further amused that out of the eight possible front cover choices, I had picked the one that had no underwires, fish fillets or gel pads to enhance what God gave her. Oh my.

Kelly Brook as photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott

T & A aside, Grand insists that the women chosen for these covers bring a personality to the table, and have been styled as ‘feminine archetypes’ as some kind of visual cue to their personality. I’m intrigued by this. Especially since so much of styling relies on cultural references. If I look at a shoot in Vogue, Love or AnOther Magazine what kind of conclusions am I drawing about the portrait that has been styled? Is a successful picture one that has a singular strong, perhaps fantasy personality type, or is it one that combines different references to create a complex character story?

One of my favorite covers is the Autumn/Winter 2007 AnOther Magazine featuring Julianne Moore.

Excuse the cropping...size does matter in the case of my scanner.

Julianne Moore as photographed by Inez Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

Okay, it’s not sexualized, the shoot may be considered boring in terms of visual stimulus, but to me it says a lot that her small frame and delicate features don’t need dressing up and her natural hair color and length become an accessory. Maybe it’s because of her role in The Hours that I’m so impressed. Maybe it’s because she is actually in her 40s and has children yet looks unencumbered and dewy-skinned. Or maybe I just wish I had her hair. But I’m never going to know what was deliberate, or what images the stylist and photographer had in their minds when creating the shoot. Certainly not without reading an essay about it…
Back to the Love Mag. Showing the Kelly Brook to different friends provoked different responses. Some felt it unecessary and were confronted by their own body issues (This was my first response at R D Franks. Why isn’t that my body? She shouldn’t be allowed to taunt us of lesser assets), while others had no trouble praising an (let’s face it) amazing derrier. I don’t want to see naked women on every cover of every fashion magazine, that would show no imagination. I think it was the presence of the other covers that helped me choose the most personally challenging one. Agyness Deyn was good enough to make one of the eight, so maybe I can look at Kelly Brook without feeling like I’ll never be good enough to make the tit-clique.

And when I inevitably think about the things I don’t have, I can sing to myself a little Shakira song: ‘…lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with the mountains… ‘

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Eva la Yerbabuena

Eva la Yerbabuena, flamenco dancer. This is my favourite clip of her that I have seen to date.

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