Category Archives: Brills

How a feminist smells

With her nose, I imagine?

I don’t often link to stuff about myself, but the excellent new blog and webshop We Wear Perfume was nice enough to ask me to talk about my life in perfume – including the clean version of how Frederic Malle saved me from getting imprisoned by the staff at Helene Darroze

Check it out here.

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See how they colour-co-ordinated my perfumes with my books? Nice, innit.

I love space

I’m really obsessed with space, partly through years of sci-fi immersion (of both the classy and trashy types), but mainly because of the incredible size and scope and possibilities that are out there. I’d love to go to space more than anything, but i fear civilian space travel is unlikely in my lifetime, even if i could afford it, and i’m definitely not clever or fit enough to be an astronaut. So instead, I love out the fantasy with grand space operas like Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity and Star Wars or the (modern) Star Trek films, and thanks to NASA’s incredible Instagram feed, which captures the greatness, terror and opportunity of space in bite-size snaps, for the contemporary astrophile. The video above and pictures below are just some of the nuggets of amazement that these pioneers and loons have created to help us understand space a tiny bit better.

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Fashion x Feminism

Fashion and feminism are two of the subjects closest to my heart, but they often seem in conflict, with fashion brands and media refusing to offer anything but derogatory or unrealistic images of women, and academic feminists disdaining any woman who works in fashion (I’ve experienced this first-hand, and it was deeply disappointing).

In the last year or so, fashion brands have begun to catch on to the growing wave of popular feminism, with varying results. I feel deeply ambivalent about this. Originally, I thought it was great that one of the most visibly “female” industries was starting to behave in a slightly less misogynist way, but when feminism becomes a trend like any other, there’s the danger that it gets taken up quickly and then is discarded like last winter’s pink coat. Anyway, I tried to put some of my research on this into some kind of useful form for a report on Stylus, a brief excerpt of which is below…

Feminism sells

One of the most-debated words over the last year, it seems that feminism has gone mainstream, with brands and celebrities co-opting feminism to gain greater traction with female consumers. Elle UK recently devoted its entire November issue to feminism, as well as launching a controversial “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt in conjunction with Whistles, while the magazine’s parent company, Hearst, has launched a website that aims to empower women.

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“Are you a feminist?” has become a regular question in celebrity interviews, while a growing number of celebrities, from Miley Cyrus to Benedict Cumberbatch, have “come out” as feminist. Stars expressing support for equality have proved hugely popular with fans, and raised the profile of feminism, but they are also held to a higher standard of body-positivity, sisterhood and social awareness as a result. Those celebrities who don’t always reach that standard risk accusations of inauthenticity, such as Beyonce, whose single Pretty Hurts promotes self-empowerment, yet she has been accused of regularly airbrushing her supposedly candid Instagram images.

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Fashion brands are increasingly aligning themselves with feminism too: Chanel recently made noise with its protest-themed catwalk show, where models carried placards bearing slogans such as “Women’s Rights are More than Alright”, “Ladies First”, “History is Her Story” and “We Can Match the Machos”. The show inspired a phalanx of think pieces about whether the brand was satirising, co-opting or promoting feminism, showing that the relationship between brands and feminism is a challenging one.

Body beautiful

In fashion imagery, stylish plus-size women are finally coming to the fore: For the first time, the 2015 Pirelli calendar features a size 16 model, Candice Huffine, and glossy plus-size magazine SLiNK, now available in 15 countries, aims to show that “beauty and style doesn’t stop at a size 8”. Actress Melissa McCarthy certainly agrees, recently announcing her own plus-size clothing line, due to launch in 2015. A Mintel study found that 34% of women want to see more clothing photographed on larger models.o-DEAR-KATE-570

Those brands that are behind the body-positive curve risk censure from consumers,as Victoria’s Secret found with its “The Perfect Body” shapewear campaign. Consumers objected to the ads, which featured universally slim models, and the brand was forced to change its strapline to “A body for every body”.

But it’s not just about body size – beauty brand MAC has launched its MACnificentMe campaign to promote “being creative, being confident, having fun and most of all, being true to yourself”, by asking women to share their mantras about what makes them unique.

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The new superheroines

X-Women have now got their own comic book

X-Women have now got their own comic book

Comic-Con, the major sci-fi and comic event, was held in San Diego last week, showcasing the biggest and newest brands in the sci-fi, comic and entertainment worlds. As geek culture has been male-dominated for many years, it was great to see a new generation of superheroines coming to the forefront. These superhuman, kick-ass mutants are inspiring us for SS16…

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The new Thor

The newest iteration of Thor (the super-strong Norse god) is female in the new series of Marvel comic books. Series writer Jason Aaron said: “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is THE Thor.”

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

After much hype, Wonder Woman‘s new look was revealed at Comic-Con. With a more warrior princess vibe than Wonder Woman’s usual patriotic scanties, she’ll be appearing in the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman movie. DC Comics describe her as “The full package of beauty, brains, and brawn, she’s been a feminist icon since her star-spangled intro in 1941”.

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New iteration of Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel has this year been rebooted as a Muslim teenager from New Jersey, gaining new sensibilities and much less saucy outfits.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past

More of a villain than a heroine, X-Men‘s Mystique is unapologetic about her mutant status, revelling in her abilities to change form and kick ass.

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The Wasp, in giant mode

We’re also looking forward to Rashida Jones’ take on The Wasp in upcoming blockbuster Ant-Man. The character can shrink to insect size. grow giant, fly on insect-like wings and shoot energy blasts.

I originally wrote this post for uniquestyleplatform.com

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The path not taken

Automated systems pretty much run our lives at this point, removing much of the need  – and the ability – to choose. They may make our lives easier, but are we increasingly offshoring our own choices? Algorithms define our Google searches, our Amazon purchases and the ads we see online, as well as things in the real world: they can create museum displays, design products and publish newspapers. They’re very clever, sure. But they increasingly define our interactions with, and understanding of, the world.

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Chairs designed by algorithm, by Autodesk

Amazon’s algorithm notices that I bought some children’s books, and then endlessly suggests kids’ products and parenting stuff as a result, in spite of the fact that they were a one-off purchase. Netflix notes that I watched some superhero film, then endlessly brings up all kinds of crappy sci-fi, in spite of the fact that the superhero film was a hungover choice that i’d be unlikely to make again. The basic premise of each of these services – If you liked that, you’ll like this –  funnels my choices into an increasingly narrow focus.

TV channels and movie studios are just as bad – if that one film was popular, lets make a bunch of sequels and prequels. If people watched that crime show, let’s make loads more like it.  What about surprise, choice, the shock of the new? And of course FOMO – what are we missing out on if we just follow the route created for us?

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Scene from the rejected pilot for Wonder Woman

A handful of innovators are looking to escape from the world of automated choices and explore the path not taken. Streaming service Screenhits is launching a Pilot Showcase, which aims to give airtime to TV shows that were rejected by studio executives. The site will offer 50 pilot shows for streaming for six months,allowing show-makers to recoup their costs, but also allowing advertisers and other studios to take on the projects and develop them into whole series.

Viewers can watch the shows for free, supported by advertising, and can pre-order any pilots that end up getting made. Shows that have been closed down by networks – such as Arrested Development and Community – have been revitalised online, so perhaps this service can lead viewers to discover new and interesting content that they actually want to support, rather than just absorbing the choices made for them.

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Flawless strength

Amidst all the noise about Beyonce’s new “surprise album” is a seeming shift in policy from Queen Bey. After sidestepping the inevitable “are you a feminist” question for a good few years — disappointing cultural commentators and fans alike — she’s now smartly aligning herself with feminism without actually answering the question, by sampling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s great TEDTalk on new track Flawless.

I’m ashamed to say i hadn’t watched Adichie’s talk before (there’s really a lot of TEDTalks and only so much time in the day!), but, led by Bey, i was captivated by it (as I’m sure many more fans will be). Powerful, thoughtful, touching and funny, the author talks about how women make themselves smaller to be less threatening to men, pretending to be less than they are and turning that pretence into an art form.

She also raises the excellent point that many of the characteristics that led men to be more prominent (such as physical strength) are decreasingly important in modern business, which instead prizes intelligence, creativity and innovation. Many writers and commentators say that these are “feminine” qualities, but I rather disagree (not least because it seems a conciliatory gesture  – “Men may rule the world, but women are creative, nurturing” etc.) Like Adichie, I believe that neither gender owns these talents or skills – they are up to an individual to cultivate and explore. Ascribing certain values to one gender or another – no matter if they are positive or not – keeps people in gender boxes, dictating who we should be rather than who we are. And while physical strength may have lost its prominence, the strength we gain — men or women — from being ourselves is an increasingly important currency. 

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Peggy’s progress

Check out this great supercut from New York Magazine celebrating the rise of one of the most nuanced characters (and my favourite) on Mad Men, Peggy Olson. She works her way up from a secretary to chief copywriter, with plenty of battles and some triumphs along the way – she’s a rare character, not just for the 60s but any old time.

As m’regular readers may know, I’m always interested in screen representations of women in the workplace, and the progress of Peggy in the testosterone- and Jim Beam-fuelled days of early Madison Avenue is a simultaneously inspiring and frustrating journey. In spite of the heartbreaks and late nights and sidelining, Peggy’s a secret badass and she gets through things the hard way, which makes her story far more powerful than some Pollyanna media-dream-career-romcom nonsense.

The sixth series of Mad Men has just finished, so i’ll be spending the “summer” working my way back through the show from series 1, to prevent withdrawal.

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Dressing for the gaze

This is too cool for school. These dresses are gaze-activated, moving or lighting up when someone stares at them.

(no)where(now)here : 2 gaze-activated dresses by ying gao from ying gao on Vimeo.

The designer, Ying Gao, describes the project thus:

“Absence often occurs at breakfast time – the tea cup dropped, then spilled on the table being one of its most common consequences. Absence lasts but a few seconds, its beginning and end are sudden. However closed to outside impressions, the senses are awake. The return is as immediate as the departure, the suspended word or movement is picked up where it was left off as conscious time automatically reconstructs itself, thus becoming continuous and free of any apparent interruption.”

The movement is certainly mesmerising – and uncanny – but the science behind these dresses is the real amazement. Each dress is made of photoluminescent thread and organza, which is embedded with eye-tracking technology that is activated by a spectators’ gaze. As people’s gazes are constantly shifting, so the surface of the dress keeps moving. The idea of transience is really firing up my synapses right now (not least because of elusive communication forms like Snapchat!), but this is a really beautiful way to demonstrate transience as a positive thing, not a throwaway one.

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Dress up or down

tumblr_mj13irinvy1rf2j88o2_250The ability to dress an outfit up or down is rather a fash-mag cliché, as well as my half-serious enabling rule for pretty much any purchase: “you can dress it up or down, day-to-evening, it’s an interseasonal classic!”. But now the endlessly inventive Hussein Chalayan has turned “dress up or down” into an actual thing, with his recent  A/W 13 show in Paris. By just pulling at the collar, models could transform neat shifts into dramatic long dresses, offering a far more impactful (and slightly sci-fi) option for day-to-evening dressing than putting a spangly cardi on. Useful fashion innovation – who knew?

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Immortalised in footwear

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I had kind of forgotten, but I have a shoe named after me. A couple of years go, on my birthday, kickass British shoe designer Kat Maconie tweeted an offer to name shoes from her next collection after people who responded quickest to the tweet. I was among those lucky few (I guess it’s one of the benefits of having a distinctive but unspellable/unpronounceable name), and lo, the Gwyneth shoe was born! Although I didn’t keep up with the previous iteration, in mink or mossy velvet, black or fuchsia metallic leather, it seems they’re still going strong for this season too. How’s that for style validation?!

They’ve done the style in a new summery nude palette, plus a black “synleather” version. You can check them out here, if you fancy wearing me on your feet?!

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