Monthly Archives: January 2012

Feminist flowers

Pretty much since I bought my first gaff, I’ve always had fresh flowers in the house. Buying them for myself has always been an act of  indulgence and independence. No matter how modest, I’ve always thought a vase full of fresh flowers literally and figuratively brings a little extra colour into everyday life. And contrary to what the old guys on the Roman Road flower stall used to say, a girl like me shouldn’t be waiting for a man to buy her flowers. Like many pleasures previously bestowed only by men (jewellery-buying for one, i’ll leave the others to your imagination), women can, and should, do this for themselves. (I’ve tried to convince friends that buying flowers for yourself is a feminist act, but i’m not sure how convincing that is…)

As glorious as peonies and orchids and hydrangeas and all the other fancy flowers undoubtedly are, I’ve always gone more for abundance than luxury (and with a weekly fresh flower habit i’ve had to). As such, daffodil season – which seems to come earlier every year – is a boon for me, as are the seasonal surfeits of tulips, stocks and sunflowers. But its the classic “filler flowers” (or garage flowers as they’re also known), those cheap and cheerful spiky chrysanthemums and garish frilled carnations, that are filling my higgledy selection of vases these days.

Now, filler flowers have been allowed a fashion comeback thanks to the annointment of designer Mary Katranzou, who used bright and bonny carnations on prints and on her spring/summer catwalk (above), and shoepresario Manolo Blahnik, who quite rightly says: “Most people thing that carnations are a common, vulgar, petrol-station flower. But I think they are fun, and they grow all over Sicily. They are also very handy as they make the perfect pom-pom.”

But filler flowers, or feminist flowers, are not brilliant because fashion says so. Rather, its because even when money is tight, a cheap bunch of flowers can lift a room, and lift your spirits, with very little effort. Less than a fiver for a week’s worth of chipper is a pretty good ROI, no?

(The ladies of The Women’s Room have written the definitive text on the appeal of filler flowers, as far as i’m concerned, so please keep an eye on these trend-leaders and their upcoming rehabilitation of dried flowers, too…)

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Haute Couture: dressing the 1%


Couture, that bastion of traditional workmanship, artistic endeavour and Borgia-level spending power, is hitting the big time.  Although always a niche business, couture seems to have tapped into the growing fortunes of the 1% – starlets and oligarch’s wives, if the front rows are anything to go by. And as the Occupy movement has shown, the 1% are doing very well for themselves right now. Chanel reported its highest-ever couture sales in 2011, while the couture businesses at Versace, Armani, Givenchy and Valentino are booming. As ever, tough times for the non-minted of the world tend to mean boom times for the luxury industry.

But like an indie band that hits the big time, Couture seems to have sold out to attract the 1% dollar. Yep, Couture is the new Coldplay. Gone are the flights of fancy and breathtaking ingenuity – in their place wearable* suiting and impeccable red-carpet gowns.

Never having been invited to the couture shows (inexplicably), I love chewing over the shows on Style.com while lunching al desko. Dior was nice, I suppose, but lacking any real flair – not surprising after the critical drubbing designer Bill Gaytten got for last season’s exuberant venture. Chanel’s symphony of blues – apparently 140 different shades were used – was a symphony of blah. Versace was Versace, but with more expensive sparkles. And Valentino? Bore me later. Only Givenchy (above) caused a sharp intake of breath – just like good couture should – simultaneously elegant, inventive, intricate and odd. Just beautiful.

The 1% who can afford these things are obviously very powerful people, and as Spiderman’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility. Like the great philanthropists of the past, the new couture patrons should be encouraging couture’s creativity and mindblowing technical prowess, instead of dragging it into safe political-wife-at-a-cocktail-party mode. The 1% should do the (fashion) world a favour – they clearly don’t care what anyone thinks of them, so why not dress like it too.

*As anyone in fashwan knows, “wearable” is a brutal cuss.

Barista, schmarista

Living as I do in London’s trendy East End, I am blessed/cursed with a plethora of artisan coffee shops nearby. In fact, there are more schmancy independent coffee places than there are Starbucks, which is quite something. After trying Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street (great coffee, odd service, delicious-looking snacks) and my more regular stop, Luxe in Spitalfields (coffee’s only OK, but the handsome Italian winks at me, and it’s on my way home), I discovered Taylor Street Baristas, a little coffee bar on a barely-troubled street off Bishopsgate. I was a little put off by the pretentious “Australian-trained baristas” notice, but the artfully diffident staff surely brewed me a skinny latte. It was only when I went to put in a little brown sugar that I got softly and sadfacedly upbraided…

…She looked at me with dismay, and I was told in future I should alert them to my saccharine requirements before the coffee was made. “Of course!” I answered brightly. “That sugar’s only for takeaway coffee, when people don’t know what they want” she said, sotto voce. “OK, I’ll know for next time!”, said I, now starting to get freaked out. “Next time, just tell us” she pleaded, inaudibly. I fear I’ve disappointed this paragon of caffeine. Not sure whether it was for not warning her that I was the kind of trashy arriviste that needs sugar (which I am), or because stirring it messed up the nice fern-leaf pattern all artisan baristas pour into the milk froth, so it looked like any old MOR latte. In spite of all this, the little cup was filled with pure delicion, dammit.

The experience was kind of like this excellent Coffee Snobs parody from Funny Or Die, but more sadface and less aggressive…

Obviously, in East London, there’s a fine line between parody and reality. Over towards Shoreditch, DunneFrankowski have set up shop in the premises of branding and insight agency Protein. They seem to take the whole thing veeerrreee seriously:

(Pr) DunneFrankowski from Protein® on Vimeo.

It’s no great art to make a good cup of coffee – a skill i would equate with pouring a good pint of Guinness – but, thanks to the obsessiveness of the coffeepreneurs round my manor, i am learning the difference between good coffee and meh coffee. Good coffee is delicious, yes, but do they need to be so earnest about it? Really, how much difference can a good cup of coffee make to your day – I reckon a 3% boost, tops. Whereas a well-made superdry vodka martini with a twist adds 10% extra brill to your day – drink-for drink, that makes it far more worthy of earnestness…

Where style meets stew

Most of the chicest* people I know are also the best cooks. And not in the tailoring-and-cordon-bleu way, but in the easy and creative way of a great jersey-wearer** or a delicious stew.  Anyways, thanks to my learned friends at Iconoculture, I came across new blog Sous Style, which seems to express this idea rather nicely, by showing the real homes and dinners of naturally stylish people.

Yes, the site may be run by the photo director of US Elle, but the kitchens aren’t intimidatingly Elle Deco-immaculate – in fact they’re a bit of a mish-mash – and the food is comforting and breezy. It’s aspiration without the massive credit card bill, make-do-and-mend without the fustiness, and domesticity without “trailing nutmeggy fumes in our languorous wake“…Check it out here

It also brought to mind the idea of conviviality  – the cheap and simple pleasure of sharing a home-cooked meal with your nearest and dearest seems an especially warming idea in the chill months, when money is tight.  Gojee.com has become my go-to source for these kinds of recipes – essentially its a search engine for food blogger recipes – and Liberty London Girl also does a surprisingly good line in this sort of thing. Any other recommendations?

* I suspect this is not a real word, but heigh-ho.

** I seriously believe this is an actual skill. Which I do not have.

Dolly + gospel = Joyful Noise

Dolly Parton is awesome. Gospel choirs are awesome. We hold these truths to be self-evident. So, therefore, a new film that involves Dolly Parton joining a struggling gospel choir can only be brilliant. Joyful Noise is the film, and if it’s anything like the quality of Sister Acts 1 and 2, it will be a charming and heartwarming romp. Dolly was trailing it during her UK summer tour with a smattering of rapping – due to the fact the Queen Latifah’s also in the film – which rather confused the audience.  You can see what that might have been like here

In spite of that, I, for one, cannot wait…

In other news, you can win the chance to get a gospel choir to sing a message of your choice, just by using the hashtag #sendsomejoyfulnoise, or via the Facebook app

Joyful Noise movie site

Pink for girls?

With a bunch of friends having babies over the last year, I’ve been thinking more about the way kids are dressed, and especially the pinkification of girlhood.

I recently went to see one of my oldest friends, who had given birth to her daughter 10 days early. Caught on the hoof, another friend offered to pick something up on my behalf, so I’d have something to give her when we turned up at the hospital. Now, i’m not knocking the kids selection in the Debenhams of provincial towns, nor my friend’s offer to help me out (I would have been totally screwed otherwise), but i ended up giving the baby a powder-pink babygro with cutesy birds on it.

On any normal day, I would never have given this as a gift. Not only because I think the kidswear industry is enormously lazy in the quality of design for children (why do COS kids clothes only start at toddler age? Surely, there’s a huge market for conceptual navy babygros with eye-searing orange neoprene accents? I’d buy them, anyway.) But more importantly, because of the limited vision of girlhood offered by the sea of pink in many childrenswear departments and toy stores. Not just pink, but princesses and cupcakes and fairies and butterflies and and “i’m to pretty to do homework” slogans – like a particularly offensive design recently peddled by JC Penney.

Although this spectacularly stupid T-shirt got removed from stores pretty sharpish – after 1,600 consumers signed a petition declaring the shirt inappropriate and sexist, forcing the retailer to remove the T-shirt from their website and issue an apology – it’s not necessarily the worst thing about the way retailers address little girls. Far more pernicious is the endless pinkness that limits how a little girl can dress and express herself. It assumes that all girls like baking and flowers and dressing up – a very old-fashioned view of femininity, and one that’s gets ingrained at a very young age. Who’s to say that space and speed and adventure are not as thrilling to young girls as they are to young boys? Can girls not aspire to these things too? This little girl perhaps expresses it best:

In spite of my general optimism that gender equality is closer than ever, it’s when I look at the pink and blue aisles of kids stores that my shoulders slump, I sigh, and I realise there’s still so much to be done…

Gardens and Zoos, or In Progress 2011

In December 2011, I was lucky enough to go to InProgress, a day of ideas  and  debate around creativity and the digital world, curated by the wonderful Its Nice That. Compared to most of the conferences that claim to cover trends or futures or innovation or creativity, the truly eclectic selection of speakers offered plenty of inspiration.

Channel 4’s Lindsay Hilsum offered fascinating and useful insights on the role social media had really played in the Arab Spring, and how it might change future political movements and war reporting.

Tom Uglow, until recently creative director of Google in Europe offered a whistlestop tour through the things Google and YouTube have been tinkering with, like the StreetView Art Project, which uses GoogleMaps’ technology to offer 360-degree views of some of the world’s most famour galleries – without you ever having to visit! (I believe this is especially welcome in the case of the Prado). He gave everyone a link to a version of his presentation, which I pass on to you: Tom Uglow’s presentation.

Alongside Lindsay Hilsum, the main draw for me was Matt Jones from my mindcrush, BERG. Their creations include the very clever Little Printer, which selects and prints a stream of stuff from your digital world, egalitarian Twitter reader Shuu.sh and the ultraviolet comic book SVK . Their unending ingenuity means I can even forgive them for briefly employing an idiot  ex-boyfriend.

Anyways, Jones’s talk gave everyone plenty to think about when it comes to the relationship between man and machine. He argued for creating robots and other gadgets with Artificial Empathy, rather than Artificial Intelligence, as well as BERG’s belief that new inventions shouldn’t try to replicate human behaviour and actions – creepy Uncanny Valley territory. Instead, they should BASAAP – Be As Smart As A Puppy, Jones’s theory on how UI should be designed. He can explain all of this much better than I can – click  on the link for the full presentation: Gardens and Zoos

The bells, the bells!

Although there’s been much scepticism about the Cultural Olympiad, some of the ideas offer great communal experiences, like this rather glorious concept from artist Martin Creed. “Work no.1197” invites people all over britain to ring bells – from church towers to clock radios – at 8 am on 27th July, to celebrate the first day of the games.