Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pink vs Blue: the remix

Further to my post on Pink For Girls a while ago, and Riley’s impassioned plea about how brands market to boys and girls, I’ve come across this: The HTML5 Gendered Advertising Remixer. You can pick the audio from a girls’ toy ad and mix it with the audio from a boys ad (or vice versa) to see how ridiculously gendered kids advertising is, and how it can shape gender identities from a very young age (the Lego mashup, showcasing the charms of its recent hyper-girly Friends launch, is particularly good). It’s not only an important point, but a very entertaining game. Guys, it’s possible to learn and have fun!

(If you can’t get it to work, there’s two videos here)

Good cover version

Cover versions are a tricky thing. Most covers reveal either the weakness in the original or the weakness in the coverer. But sometimes, like Gourds’ Gin And Juice, or Lorez Alexandria’s Send In The Clowns  they rework it in a new and unexpected way that far exceeds the original. As LIPS choir (of which I am a proud member) has discovered, bringing a newly sensitive edge to oft-forgotten 80s pop is a sure-fire way to bring the house down. But Dark Captain’s cover of Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out is next-level: a real beauty of an 80s pop makeover.

As you may have noticed, I usually like to post things in threes (a hangover of the old “thrice a trend” rule, I guess. Also, three is famously the magic number).  However, I am so in love with this, I just had to share…

Ladycomics

Some of the best ladycomics seem to elucidate the darker parts of the female psyche, as well as the fantasies that spring from everyday mundanity, and the sometimes-brilliant contradictions of ladydom.

The three below are just a snapshot of the world of ladycomics, but while they have some similarities (basic black-and-white drawings, honesty and humour), they also showcase unique parts of women’s experience, breezily outclassing the “all women love chocolate and shopping” tropes of mainstream female-protagonist comics like Cathy.

Vashti Hallissey draws urban fantasies of the travel aspirations of Tube mice, and the aftermath of princesses kissing frogs, or the inner life of post boxes, as well as revealing her secretly angry thoughts or complete panic at work meetings or remembering what she did at Christmas. She’s currently working on a comic featuring The Future Laboratory‘s beloved black labrador, Jasper (the future “lab”).  Given the sorrowful depth of Jasper’s sighs around the office, the look into his secret life should be equally fascinating and endearing…

The League of Ordinary Ladies by Esther C Werdiger showcases the inner thoughts and misadventures of what I think is now called girl-slacking? Rather like Seinfeld’s “show about nothing” manifesto, these comics aren’t really about anything, but they offer tasty vignettes of daily life – the unusual experiences, people and feelings we encounter everyday, but fail to assign any deeper meaning to. I’m probably not explaining it very well, but I defy you not to love Esther C Werdiger’s world, published weekly on the excellent Hairpin blog.

 

Unlike Esther, the extraordinary I Do Not Have An Eating Disorder by Australian illustrator Khale, is certainly not lacking purpose.  Every week, Khale posts a new comic showing the struggles and triumphs of her battle with anorexia. It starts here. The slowly unfolding pages offer a frank insight into the experiences of an eating disorder sufferer, and its self-perpetuating (not media-perpetuating) nature. Whether you’ve experienced ED yourself, or it’s happened to those close to you, or you know nothing about it at all, it’s compelling reading.

Fashion Filmapalooza

Fashion films are a strange beast. The ones which really try to be about the fashion industry – like the disappointing Funny Face (below) or the pointless Pret-a-Porter – wind up confirming all the clichés about fashion being a business for silly/fascistic women (and men). Even The Devil Wears Prada’s “cerulean” speech about the greater meaning of fashion doesn’t quite convince.

But in those films where fashion is not the star, but the supporting act –  the equivalent of the “quirky best friend”, or the “scene-stealing matriarch” – is when the fashion is truly great. It’s only where fashion is an expression of the wearer and her experience that fashion in films tends to succeed,  like in my all-time favourites Clueless, Working Girl, and the endlessly elegant My Fair Lady (which also has brill songs, of course).

There are a bunch of films coming out which show the lives of fashionable women in all their glory, all of which I  am super-excited about. First! Bill Cunningham New York, out now. Cunningham pretty much invented streetstyle shots, and has been showcasing the importance of individual style for the New York Times forevs. A far cry from the pro-am streetstyle efforts of PR assistants and fashion students featured in the booming number of streetstyle blogs, Cunningham prides himself on finding great personal style in all corners of the city: his work really shows the arriviste style chroniclers how it’s done:

And speaking of showing the young’uns how to do individual style, is the forthcoming film Advanced Style, based on Ari Seth Cohen’s excellent blog of the same name. The documentary shows stylish women of all persuasions who take a daring and confident approach to their signature look.  I’ve always said that when I grow up, I want to swan around in conceptual Japanese designers, possibly with headdresses.  I guess it seems to appealing because when you reach a grand old age, you not only know who you are, but you don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks, which sounds brill.

And in the blockbuster section of the fashion multiplex is The Hunger Games. It’s a post-apocalyptic race-to-the-death flick, based on the hugely successful YA series of the same name – the Americans bloody love it. I’ve not read it myself, but i’m very into the look of one of the characters, Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks), which seems to be a cross between Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served? and Bad Romance-era Lady Gaga. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Not-so-secret desires


If you’ve read the quality press over the last few weeks, you would think that women have only just learnt that it’s OK to have desires. In the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian et al, there are surprised articles charting the rise of “mommy porn” (what a horrible phrase) like 50 Shades Of Grey, or growing e-book sales for romantic and erotic fiction. The successes of both are said to be because their formats and branding mean women no longer have to feel ashamed about enjoying saucy stories, but this seems rather reductive to me.

Being able to hide the lurid cover of a bodice-ripping book in the shell of a Kindle is not necessarily about women hiding their shame – it also suggests that the freedom of formats means they feel more able to enjoy whatever kind of reading they like whenever the hell they like. Which sounds more liberating than shameful, no?

And that sense of open minds and liberated sexuality is even more important with the wind of slut-shaming blowing in from America. Major radio personalities have called women who seek birth control ” sluts“, while a slew of ultra-conservative lawmakers (and even more worryingly, a presidential candidate) are trying to make sex solely about procreation, which is no fun. Especially if, like growing numbers of western women, you have no desire to procreate. So, you have to procreate or be celibate? No thanks, Mr Senator.

But perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to women’s increasingly visible sexual confidence, and the power of recognising that change – a mainstreaming of desire, if you will. It’s a new debate about sex-positivity that I hope will continue with the long-awaited release of films like Turn Me On, Dammit (below, and probably NSFW) and Hysteria; or the huge popularity of “female-friendly” porn stars like James Deen, soon to be featured in Bret Easton Ellis’s The Canyons; or even the Desire Project, which features different women openly talking about their desires.

So, the reason that I’m thinking about all this is that the issue seems to be coming to a head (it could also be because an interesting recent date has given me Red Car Syndrome). Anyway! I’m brewing ideas right now for a forthcoming piece for Viewpoint, so I’d love to hear some other ideas if you’d care to share anything you’ve seen or heard or thought…?

A banner year

I love banners. And bunting. And those festive Mexican papercuts. Oh, and paperchains. Basically anything you can string up for an event that makes the place look joyful and exuberant and vibrant and just super-fun.  I suppose it’s a kind of old-school way to decorate for parties, but I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Unless you’re taking the basic word banner (like “Good Luck” or “Congratulations”) and giving it a bit more edge. I found Banter Banners through former housemate/fellow forecaster/denim expert Amy Leverton’s Pinterest feed, and now I’m trying to work out where I can hang them all! The banners feature uplifting or unusual messages, along with a touch of Leonard Cohen lyricism, which this miserablist can’t resist. You can check out the full range on the Banter Banners webshop, or if you want to buy in the UK, you can get them from Papermash, which also has lots of other lovely festive hangings and paper-based goods.

Modern Romance

Herewith, an extract from a piece I did for the current issue of my beloved Viewpoint magazine, for those not willing or able to pony up £45 for the glorious printed version. The brief was “the death of romance”, but i think there’s hope for romance still…

The rise of mobile communication, greater gender equality and growing financial insecurity are having a greater impact on 21st-century relationships than hundreds of years of love songs and romance novels. Independence – or is it selfishness? – is giving the pursuit of love a new sense of practicality and control.
Online dating has undoubtedly introduced new behaviour patterns, but even though it has made meeting people easier, more people are staying single longer. In fact, singledom seems to be the new normal in relationship status. In the US, the married and single populations are nearly equal, while in Europe 46m people now live alone. The number of singleperson households in Britain has risen 31% in the last 10 years. In Italy, the number of singletons has risen a massive 10% since 2007. Single status is being seen as a lifestyle choice instead of being simply left on the shelf. In Germany, a third of women and nearly 40% of men will stay single for life.
For those who do want to find a partner, online dating is the go-to source for meeting new people and broadening options outside increasingly tight-knit ‘urban families’. Dating sites have become a viable, practical and fun option for those looking for love: according to match.com, one in five relationships now start online. While dating giants like Match claim to have generated 5% of all US marriages, other websites have more specialist goals: Tastebuds matches people based on their music taste; TrekPassions helps Captain Kirks find their Uhura; AdopteUneCougar helps young bucks find older women; Cupidsplay unites casual gamers looking for love. Services such as ExRated let users offer reviews of previous dates: ‘You wouldn’t go to a restaurant that hasn’t been reviewed,’ says ExRated founder Tom Padazana. ‘ The site’s motto is ‘forewarned is forearmed’.
Smartphones are an increasingly important weapon in the romance arsenal, with location technology and social networks helping to bring people together. Lovestruck aims to help urban professionals find interested parties nearby, so that they can fit quick dates into hectic schedules, while users of French app ShakeCoeur simply shake their phone to generate a list of their Facebook friends’ most eligible friends.
It’s not just the way people meet that’s changing, it’s also the way relationships unfold. According to researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, ‘stayover’ couples are a growing phenomenon: couples who stay over at their partner’s house, but retain their own home to stay independent. ‘Stayovers served as a stop-gap measure between casual dating and making more formal commitments,’ finds the study. Cohabitation remains an acceptable alternative to marriage. Julia Scirrotto, senior writer at You & Your Wedding magazine, says, ‘Couples are increasingly buying a house and maybe even starting a family before walking down the aisle.’
There’s no doubt that relationships and romance are on changeable ground and the institution of marriage is adapting accordingly. Future brides and grooms are increasingly keen to safeguard their finances and their futures through prenuptial agreements. According to a survey by British law firm Mishcon de Reya, 17% of men under 45 earning over £100,000 have a prenuptial agreement, compared with only 5% of those over 45. In the US, 52% of divorce attorneys reported an increase in women seeking prenups.
UK luxury department store Harvey Nichols has even introduced a ‘prenup package’ for brides-to-be. Along with personal shopping and beauty treatments, the package also includes advice on prenuptial agreements from Dennison Greer Solicitors. But, as many celebrity divorce cases have proved, prenups do not always secure divorcers’ wealth. Mishcon de Reya has introduced Protect Pre-Nup, insurance to cover any problems arising from a poorly drafted prenuptial contract.
For those who would rather have a bit on the side than get a divorce, there are a number of services that encourage – or at least facilitate – infidelity. In the US, Ashley Madison, ‘the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters’, created controversy when its Super Bowl ad was banned. European dating service for married people Victoria Milan claims that 30% of members registered on dating sites for singles are not telling the truth about whether or not they are married or in a relationship: so why not ‘Relive your passion. Have an affair!’?
The intertwined nature of urban families seems to be another risk factor for married couples. According to a study by academics at leading American universities Harvard, Brown and the University of California, the divorce of one couple in a close social circle increases the risk of divorce among other couples in the group by 75%. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘divorce clustering’.
With every aspect of relationships now analysed, apped and commercialised, it is no wonder that many are sounding the death knell of romance. But perhaps the advent of practicality is in fact a testament to the age-old pursuit of love. The boom in dating sites shows that there are as many people who believe in finding ‘the one’ as there ever have been, but with the benefit of matching algorithms, dating services for every taste and even the targeted ability to find a quick encounter in the meantime, people are better able to find what they really need. No longer forced to settle, practical lovers are creating a new definition of romance, whether fleeting, illicit or super-niche.

Image by Brian Rea, from the New York Times’ excellent Modern Love column

Brills, Skills, Thrills: International Women’s Day edition

As it’s International Women’s Day today, I thought I’d offer a little vignette of news, debate and discussion around women from the week. From the clever (Marie’s  and Emma’s excellent blogs) to the patronising (Coors and an unnamed jeans brand) to the rather disheartening (Spanx billions), I think these headlines give interesting insight into the role of women today, how we see ourselves, and how much is still to be done.

Why women are writing about sex – without shame

The PANK [Professional Aunt No Kids] pound?

Spanx inventor squeezes on to billionaires’ list

Breweries target women with new tastes

‘Sexist trousers’ are below the belt

Behind Clore doors: different for girls

Chinese Lady Billionaires Are Doing Great; Other Women, Not So Much

I Am Gal, Hear Me Roar

In short, we’re still squeezing ourselves into roles and clothes that don’t necessarily fit us, and fighting to find ways to be heard with equanimity, while brands still only recognise the most one-dimensional version of what a woman can be. But, there are signs of greater personal, societal and financial freedoms. So that’s nice…

The seductions of Mr Selfridge

They don’t make entrepreneurs like Mr Selfridge any more. Harry Gordon Selfridge, the man behind one of the world’s best department stores, and pretty much the inventor of “retail theatre” and “experience retail”, was also a bit of a goer, creating scandals left, right and centre. And now, his story is to be made into an ITV series, trailed as the next Downton Abbey. Under the working title Mr Selfridge, it’s based on the excellent Shopping Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead.

self2500

While Downton has floundered rather in its over-stuffed and unnecessarily twisty second season, the life of “mile-a-minute Harry” has more than enough to keep viewers enthralled. The series promises to cover the excesses of his life (profligate spending, global adventure, store rooftop parties, the menage-a-trois with flapper twins the Dolly Sisters) and hopefully the innovations too (big in-store events, modern attitudes to service, new technologies).

ITV are pitching it as a story of the emancipation of women, but although that was kicking in at the same time as Selfridges’ boom in the at the beginning of the 20th Century, I’m not sure creating a palace of luxury consumption is exactly emancipating. But what the hell do I know? Anyways, if it’s anywhere near as lushly (and slightly vacuously) done as Downton, the Americans will bloody love it, and I for one intend to watch the hell out of it.

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Spitalfields Life

In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London…So begins the blog of Spitalfields Life, written by the aptly-titled Gentle Author, and now being launched as a book.

For locals like me, or Eastenders of any persuasion, the Spitalfields Life blog offers insight into the extraordinary history of the area, the people and skills it has fostered, and how modernity and tradition sit cheek-by-jowl here.  Stories range from the maverick backstreet tailors that circle the old Spitalfields market, to the guy who handpaints all the shop signs round here, the life of the cats of Dennis Severs’ house, and the diverse histories behind all those Huguenot doors.

The blog’ posts have a Dickensian tone, highlighting the oddities and normalities of East end living, such as the arriviste style set clashing with the born-and-bred types. Some of the characters profiled are pure bonkers, while others are trying to build small businesses or protect ancient skills, in an area that seems to be abandoning its history while simultaneously capitalising on it. The Gentle Author captures all of the East End’s contradictions warmly and wistfully. And now in book form, beautifully designed by David Pearson, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

As befits the heritage hyper-local tone of Spitalfields Life, the launch party is being held tonight (3rd March) at Hawksmoor’s beautiful Christ Church Spitalfields, with Eccles cakes made by the master bakers at St John.  All locals welcome, obvs.