Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Forever stuck in the background.

I don't think I've ever appreciated anything Miranda July has done as much as I appreciate this spread. While I admire her skill and versatility (actor, writer, artist) none of her other work has resonated with me as much as these images, created by herself and Roe Ethridge and published by Vice (I'm as surprised as you are, really) two years ago. I only saw them this morning, so pat on the back for me, for being so on it! 

Basically the premise is a letter between two girls in which the writer Sandy asks the recipient Julie if she ever feels like an extra in her own life. There follows a series of film stills from Kramer Vs. Kramer, Grease, Dog Day Afternoon and others, each coupled with an image of July recreating one of the peripheral figures in identical costume and posture. 

By removing the main characters and situation from the scene, we're left with people who look small by contrast but who, at the same time, are very much immersed in their own lives. The feeling that you don't matter, that the 'big stuff' happens to the people around you and never you is, I suspect, something that is universally felt from time to time. This series draws that feeling out, puts it in the centre of the frame, and by doing so seems to gently suggest that however much you feel you are "in the background" (literally, for these unnamed characters), you are still immersed in life (your own, of course), that there is dignity, playfulness, drama, and focus to be found there. I found it a tender, carefully realised and surprisingly powerful series.

Image by Miranda July and Roe Ethridge

Monday, November 28, 2011

Women appear.

I've been thinking about cupcakes a lot recently. Not because I enjoy eating them all that much, but because they're one of those things that modern young women are supposed to like. Other 'things' (for want of a better word) in this category are: 'Sex and the City', girls' nights out, champagne, shoes, things that sparkle, having straight and/or glossy hair whilst being otherwise hairless, and being 'naughty' by 'pampering yourself.' These seem to have become symbols of young womanhood, a litany of seemingly inoffensive activities and consumables that keep women in the realm of the decorative. I want to rail against them because I don't want to be sweet and pretty and dainty. I don't want to be smooth and groomed and perfect-looking. And most of all, I don't want anyone telling me that I must be a modern young woman by doing modern young woman the way that I am supposed to.

Why? Because I find that this litany of things are founded in how we appear. This impression was only reinforced by John Berger's canonical 'Ways of Seeing', which I recently reread. It seems like the subtext hasn't changed since the 1970s, when he first wrote that men act and women appear. If we have leisure time, we must want to use it to groom ourselves. Our relaxation is having a facial, a manicure, getting our hair done. Or else we'll experience satisfaction by appearing in places where we will be seen, perhaps admired, perhaps approached. If we eat, and that for pleasure, it is "girly" fare: cupcakes, macaroons, champagne, cocktails. Colourful, sweet, insubstantial.

It is not that it is 'bad' to get a manicure (I got one last week, in fact) or enjoy cupcakes or what have you. I am not criticising women who enjoy those things. Yet at the same time, I am so frustrated at how the ways in which we're urged to be women is so unceasingly based in our appearance. Why are cupcakes so popular? Are they really the best invention to ever spring from a cake pan? Or is it because Carrie Bradshaw and co. liked them on 'Sex and the City' and we want to align ourselves with their glossy lifestyle? Is it because eating cupcakes marks us as a particular kind of girl? The kind of girl who has taste, who knows what's current and cool, but who is also typified by what she is 'not'- that is, not-threatening and 'not one of those girls who watches everything she eats.' The kind of girl who has her cake and eats it too. Do we like cupcakes because that's just what women are supposed to like?

Women, ladies, girls, I'm throwing my gauntlet down. I'm far from the first to do so, and I highly recommend delving deeper at Rachel Hills' excellent Musings of an Inappropriate Woman. But as for me, I'm not shaving my legs or underarms for the foreseeable future. People who are grossed out, deal with it. I don't have a problem with body hair and I think your disgust is bizarre. I must admit that I always feel a little sick after eating cupcakes (and yet a treasured memory is sharing a red velvet one with Mum on my birthday in New York two years ago.) I like 'Sex and the City' (the television series, the movies far less so) but it's definitely not a foundational text for me, nor one I want to model my life upon. Not that any of this really matters, anyway, does it? What I'm advocating is thoughtfulness and questioning. I want my femininity to be more than an appearance, and I don't want to do things just because everyone else is doing it. Because that's what I'm supposed to do. I think being a young woman is a far more interesting, original and dynamic experience than that narrow purview allows for.

NB. A great question is 'where does this message come from?' My gut feeling is that it emanates from the stories that we tell ourselves about how we should be, and many of those are circulated by the popular media and entertainment industries- your women's mags, chick flicks, chick lit and so on. Moreover, I suspect that it wouldn't be perpetuated if we didn't buy into it so wholeheartedly. But we do- and there's escapism in glamour, sure. But when those cultural messages start to restrict the expression of who we are and how we should be, we move onto uncertain ground. That's what I want to resist.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The dice were loaded from the start.

It's cool and rainy today, as has been the case all week long, and so I'm realising afresh how deeply inculcated I am by lifestyle magazines and catalogues. Because what's my default setting when I see grey skies? It goes a little something like this:
1. I instantly reach for my definition of "comfort wear"- a trusty triad of worn-out jeans, a woolly jumper and a woollen accessory. Being a particular brand of fashion dork, the woollen accessory changes depending on, you know, my emotions and stuff. So what may one day be a boiled woof scarf the colour of jersey caramels might another day be a coalblack cashmere beanie- I'm spontaneous like that. The key ingredient here is WOOL. The softer and more figure obscuring the better. I ultimately want to feel like I'm being digested by a giant angora rabbit. That's the goal.
2. I regress to childhood, the duration of which I perpetually lingered around the kitchen in the hopes that Mum would churn out some of her amazing cooking, be it banana bread (hold me), simplicity chocolate cake (iced, with glacé cherries on top, obviously the only way to finish a chocolate cake) or a bottomless pot of soup, cold days were when my brother and I hit paydirt vis a vis freshly cooked deliciousness, courtesy of Mum. Unfortunately, such deliciousness now has to churn out of my kitchen by my own hand yet also unfortunately, cold days are lazy days, are they not? Days designed to make pots of tea and not drink them cause what you really want is a skim flat white but you're too lazy to go out in the rain and get one (when I say "you" I may, in fact, be talking about myself again.) Days measured by how many pages you've read in bed. And days where...
3. Throw rugs start to look like a good idea. I have a love/hate relationship with throw rugs. Sure, they look so casual-chic draped on your sofa but really, when you drag them up, they always disappoint. They do. They're too brief to cover you properly; in fact, the rule for all blankets should run along the same guidelines those for Victorian swimming costumes: nothing should be visible from from neck to ankle. Considering this, you might as well drag a normal blanket off your bed and mummify yourself in it. This, coupled with dot point 1. leaves you resembling a cross between the Michelin Man and a Mongolian on the Steppes in midwinter. This is a good thing.
4. Finally, I find myself becoming cheery, chirpy and homemakery. I want to nest in cold weather. I want to whitewash my grubby furniture and make stacks of books to rest my undrunk pots of tea on, organised by colour of spine, naturally. 

And so I pause like a deer in headlights, surrounded by scattered Penguin Classics, movement restricted by the fibres tripling the girth of my limbs, I realise what I am really trying to do...

...is make my day look a little something like this.

The big question weighing on my mind, though, is how can plant holders possibly get more exciting?

Friday, November 18, 2011

dance dance dance

Please send me your last pair of shoes, worn out with dancing as you mentioned in your letter, so that I might have something to press against my heart. 
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(shoes by Natacha Marro, donated by Karen Langley and being auctioned here by Dazed & Confused for their 20th anniversary. What Christmas dreams are made of.)

Is there anything Helvetica CAN'T do?

If I was a fashion magazine, I would label this post 'FASHION OBSESSION' because I fell into the colourful, cat-decorated world of Tsumori Chisato this afternoon and I don't want to ever leave. No, I want to enfold my mosquito-bitten, increasingly mole-spotted limbs in skirts that look like palm trees and tops with tassels hanging off at random. YES.

I don't think she has an Australian stockist (correct me, someone?) but it's probably a blessing in disguise because I wouldn't be able to stop at one piece of magnificence, o no. Could you? I mean, just look!

 Do you ever experience that sensation where your heart salivates? Almost like when you catch sight of sour gummi worms and your mouth liquefies, but in this case the part of the gummis is played by pink tassels and beading imitating the ocean? And it's your heart that's all melty with shock and anticipation not your mouth, even though your heart has no salivatory glands? You know what I mean, I know you do.

Susie Bubble even made a collage out of this collection, and I think it's just crying out to be made into desktop wallpaper, I do.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Liu Wen



The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself. One could put this another way: the publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.
-John Berger et al, Ways of Seeing 1972


The Sartorialist is killing it lately...

Is this the coolest girl ever or what? I hope that motorbike in the background is hers, and that her plait flies behind her like a Maypole ribbon as she weaves through traffic and mutters 'Merde!' at the cabs trying to cut her off.
 I don't know whether to look at her sweet bloomers or her killer thighs (look at that muscle tone!) so my eyes are ping-ponging back and forth, with the odd bounce down to the back line of her metallic loafers.
 This somehow doesn't look costume-y, even though it's so heavily inflected by Fifties pop culture. Soda pop culture, even (ho ho.)
 Well, this is just moodily beautiful, isn't it? As with some of the best outfits, the individual components don't shout 'necessary for a killer outfit!!' A floral multicoloured top that could moonlight as curtains in a motel in Albury-Wodonga and what looks like a purple lamé skirt sound "risky"... but when worn by a strikingly beautiful young woman on a shadowy afternoon, you have one of the best photographs to be uploaded to The Sart in recent weeks.
 "Are you in a fraternity? Are you Steve Jobs, the billionaire CEO of Apple? No? Then you have no reason to wear New Balance shoes. Ever!"

I didn't even know this was my credo until I heard it spark from the lips of Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love (try not to become too distracted by the mental picture of Ryan Gosling's lips.) But my credo it is, gentle reader, with the one single exception of this gent.  Here's what I've got, with the working title of 'Why New Balance Sneakers Are Not A Dealbreaker In This Image.' His sneakers are not those big, lumpen white ones that look like giant marshmallows are attacking your feet neither is he wearing them with otherwise unsporty attire. Moreover, in addition to being dark, his sneakers are streamlined, and thus work visually with his skins, his structured jacket and his pose. Very nice, Miss Pam.

Of course, I cannot reblog photos from that site without being in mind of the frank, somewhat controversial interview with Schuman recently published by website The Talks which sent waves around the internet recently: "one of the other problems of many blogs like Tavi’s is that they are people who write about fashion, but in order to have a visual element they steal pictures from other people." 

Would we call it "steal(ing) pictures"? My feelings are that reblogging images has always been an integral part of style blogging, and that it should generally be done with respect to the photographer (where possible), with links to the original source to indicate that the images are not the bloggers' intellectual property (and I am first to admit that I have not always been as diligent about this as I should have been.) Reblogging can also further the name, work and reputation of the photographer/illustrator/what have you by disseminating their images to a wider audience, which costs the photographer nothing but may result in more opportunities and recognition...

What do you think?

All images from The Sartorialist

Friday, November 11, 2011

Time for a change

Every time I get my hair dyed, it storms. This is a meteorological certainty. In fact. I am sure that all that would be necessary to turn the Simpson Desert into the Simpson Inland Ocean would be the timely construction of a salon and an appointment for myself therein.

So here I am, sitting in the chair. The amazing Sheree is standing behind me, holding up strands of my streaky hair, one part natural regrowth to two parts orangey-blonde. We're talking balayage, as I want something low maintenance for summer (do you know how fast the summer sun strips red hair? Coupled with the saltwater of the ocean? In a red hot minute, that's how fast) but I feel misgivings because... well... it feels like there's a congaline of blonde-brushed girls from California to Coogee and I didn't want to just blend in, another Erin Wasson wanna-look-alike. So Sheree opaquely tells me that she's been taking a lot of girls pink lately... looking down at my hair... not noticing the huge grin on my face. It took all of a minute to think it over- "let's do it!"

Which is how I ended up like this:

My hair is a combination of salmon sherbet and Goth-girl hot pink and I only love it! Of course, as soon as we were sudsing the colour out at the basin there was an ominous rumble above. The sky out the window had deepened almost imperceptibly so that the cobalt clouds seemed like an extension of the blazing blue afternoon that had preceded their arrival. Then down came the deluge: angled sheets of rain throwing themselves at the windows, growling thunder, and the odd fork of silverwhite lightning carving open the sky. My hair was as wet as if I was standing outside and, once dried to the colour of cotton candy, dangerously pink above my white dress. Luckily they kindly lent me a huge umbrella to shield the colour and I dashed up to catch the bus... to go greet my Granny for a cocktail party. I think the change was somewhat of a shock, so I comforted her by telling her that at least it was temporary... but I chose not to elaborate on how 'temporary'... because I might just keep this crazy for a while yet!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy days.

I have written 1200 usable words today and in a procrastinatory moment I subtracted the words I've already written from my final word limit and realised that if I write 1500 words a day for the next 42 days, my thesis will be written. YOW.

Suddenly 70 000 seems like no words at all. I think this calls for a celebratory dance courtesy of Daria and our friends at W magazine, whose editorial 'Movers and Shakers' from April 2010 was just crying out to become a .gif...

how to make a gif

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

That's dedication

"She is a fashion phenomenon. The most dedicated follower of fashion pales into insignificance beside a woman who has spent months travelling by train because the exaggerated crinolines she was affecting at the time would not fit through the door of an aeroplane."
- The Observer on Anna Piaggi, 1 May 1983

Image by Carla Coulson

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Addendum

Right after recording some of the intoxicating descriptions of dress quoted in Wilson's Adorned in Dreams (see previous post), I found myself short of breath in the next chapter as Wilson describes the style of the various factions of anti-bourgeois revolt in New York, London and Paris.

In New York, 'at a period when everyone, men and women, invariably wore hats in the street, these bohemians went hatless, bobbed their hair and wore a 'bluestocking uniform' of loose shift and brown socks. Djuna Barnes herself made a black cloak her signature. Her appearance was at times so bizarre that children laughed at her in the street. One of the most extreme women in the Village, who called herself the Baronin von Freytag-von Loringhoven, wore black lipstick, yellow face powder, and shaved her head.'

Then there was the 'arty', 'gipsy' fashions in London: 'at that time it was fashionable in artistic circles to wear one's hair in a bun on top of the head and a velvet ribbon round one's throat to match one's lipstick'; and up and down King's Road in the 20s and 30s, women resisted the flapper style by dressing in 'full peasant dirndl skirts, tight waists, kerchiefs.'

Wilson also writes that 'one early nineteenth century romantic fashion was cropped, unpowdered hair for both sexes. Neckties were worn loosely and casually knotted; an air of dishevelled beauty suggested, paradoxically, a mind above mere dress; and, ever since, untidiness has been used to suggest an artistic or intellectual calling' (!)

Earlier in the book, she cites Anne Hollander who argues that because of visual representations of historical periods on stage and in film, our view on what people used to wear are often inaccurate. Our vision of the past is conflated into symbols that signify an era, whether people wore them or not: "'powdered hair' equals the eighteenth century, 'a ruff' the Elizabethan period and a 'Juliet cap' Renaissance Italy (although the latter garment was invented for Theda Bara in 1916 and did not even exist in the sixteenth century.)"  


ps. I just pressed 'publish', kept reading and came across this gem on mourning dress during the First World War. In England during this period, the Victorian custom of wearing black crepe and jet whilst in mourning was abandoned because so many were dying 'it came to be felt as a kind of mockery.'
And in Paris, "young women went about all day with tall cylindrical turbans on their heads ... and from a sense of patriotic duty wore Egyptian tunics, straight and dark and very 'war', over very short skirts; they wore thonged footwear ... or else long gaiters recalling those of our dear boys at the front [...]  the fashion now was for rings or bracelets made out of fragments of exploded shells or copper bands from 75 millimetre ammunition ... and it was also because they never stopped thinking of the dear boys, so they said, that when one of their own kin fell they scarcely wore mourning for him, on the pretext that 'their grief was mingled with pride.'"

No wonder fashion designers are always trawling the past for inspiration, my mind is firing in the direction of where to find thonged leather Egyptian style sandals that I can wear with a tunic and a turban.


Sometimes, theoretical books include the most wonderful descriptions of clothing. I have been reading Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson, a book that traces fashion through modernity, and from time to time she tosses in a brilliant excerpt that is so evocative. Consider this comment on the style of Hollywood actress costumes in early days of cinema:

Colour drained out of elegance [because film was shot in black and white] ... draped lamé and sequinned satin offered rivulets of light to the eye as they flower and slithered over the shifting flanks and thighs of Garbo, Dietrich, Harlow and Lombard. These visions were built on the newly powerful sensuality of colourless texture in motion... sequins, marabou, white net and black lace developed a fresh intensity of sexual meaning in the world of colourless fantasy. (Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes)

Also wonderful is this description of women and men promenading along the new Regent Street in the early nineteenth century. The Illustrated London News reported that by day, 

the fireflies of fashion glance rapidly hither and thither ... the pavements being crowded with fashionable loungers. With what dignified ease the gorgeously bedizened footmen attend to their mistresses or lounge about in the attitudes of studied grace ;

whereas by evening, 

on the wide stone pavement the promenaders mingle, beautiful girls in shining dance frocks, pearls braided in their hair, promenaders of all nations ... laughing, whispering, disappearing through the brown mahogany doors of the cafés. ... The night air is impregnated with the scent of patchouli and 'Eau de mille fleurs'. The trains of satin dresses rustle on the stone, scarves float, rose-coloured ribbons flutter; sparkling eyes, caressing words; there a greeting, here a whisper and a laugh. (Ivan Bloch, Sexual Life in England)

And I wonder if Haider Ackermann's recent collection was influenced at all by the personal style of Alexander Plunket Green (Mary Quant's husband). I couldn't help but think of the louche tops, gleaming silks and contrasting jewel tones of Ackermann's SS12 collection as I read the following:

He seemed to have no clothes of his own. He wore his mother's pyjama tops as shirts, generally in that colour known as 'old gold' which usually comes in shantung. His trousers also came out of his mother's wardrobe. Beautifully cut and sleek fitting, the zip was at the side, and they were in weird and wonderful variations of purple, prune, crimson and putty... They came to a stop halfway down the calf. (Mary Quant, Quant by Quant)

And on that note, back to note-taking I go...