Wednesday, 29 May 2013

White Hot Hair

This post is a follow up to last week's.
It's rare for me to rave about a brand I model for but this one is different. White Hot Hair is a new range of hair care products created by a grey haired woman, Jayne Mayled, for grey haired women who embrace their grey. It launches on June 3rd, but the website is already up and there is a Facebook page and also Twitter. I meant to wait until Monday to write this post but when I got the brochure yesterday followed by  complimentary samples today - I wonder why they were sent separately? - I just could not wait any longer.
You may wonder whether I have been hired to push the product. No, I have not. I have modelled for it and it has been the most satisfying and fulfilling modelling job ever: as a grey haired woman, it touched me deeply at a personal level. I wanted to have access to products I could trust to work on my long grey hair and this one is the right one, at last. It is a range, as opposed to just one product which you need to match with another one from a completely different range and not specifically devised for grey hair.  I occasionally use platinum blonde ranges, such as John Frieda.
Don't get me wrong, products for grey haired women are already available, such as various silver shampoos, from Aveda to Touch of Silver - the latter is a mini range. But funnily enough they are not routinely stocked by normal stores, and some are only available from specialist, professional hair care shops or online.

It is liberating to embrace grey and throw away the dye bottle. But grey hair comes in different shades, some darker, some much whiter, and needs a lot of attention. I love my hair long - thus I defied the taboo on having long tresses at my age, as well as that of not colouring - and I love it shiny and white, perfectly clean. How can that be achieved? With hard work.
I am into swimming and swimming is bad for your hair, regardless of your colour, because of the chlorine in the pool. So I have devised a whole routine of caring for my colour - I regard grey as a colour - using argan oil when I swim and when I am out in the sun I revert to using head scarves, 1950s style, tying the scarf under the chin and back, on the nape - think Grace Kelly! I hate the yellow streaks of discolouration and if necessary I am happy to use a silver toner, to tone the discolouration down (had to do that when an inexperienced hair stylist used cheap straighteners, burning the ends of my hair. I was fuming!).
So when I was asked to model for White Hot Hair I was delighted. I tried the products in the range and found them absolutely right. I love the smell, love the texture. There is everything in there, apart from hairspray - I use it frequently.
Another necessary item to care for grey hair is a deep cleansing shampoo, but that does not need to be just for grey hair- or does it? I would have also liked a silver toner, to help with disasters such as burning by straighteners or discolouration by the sun, as an emergency remedy. Wella Colour Fresh has some good ones.

As Jayne points out, grey hair is like a magic key that opens new doors. You bond with women over their grey. I was at my GP today trying to make an appointment to have my knee seen by a physiotherapist - I am getting some weird pain when I climb stairs. One of the doctors was sporting a headful of white hair. I looked at her and she smiled. She knew exactly why I was looking at her and at that moment we bonded, without even speaking.
Grey hair is a lifestyle. I am grateful to Jayne Mayled for bringing out these products and I hope that for once blonde haired women might try them out too, just as we silver foxes do with the platinum blonde ranges. And who knows, it might encourage women who hang on to their dye bottle to take the plunge. Colouring is a bit like smoking: you give it up when you are ready. And you do not have to, if you do not want to, but if you do, there is no need to regard it as giving up on beauty and style. On the contrary.

(All photos modelled by Alex B. and taken by Daniel Ward for White Hot Hair)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The real secret to ageing gracefully is a dye job...or is it?

I have been going grey since I was twenty four. I chose not to colour my hair after years of dying when I was forty because it felt unnatural and my hair was falling off in handfuls. My hair has always been very thick and luxuriant, so after I got used to my new natural colour I thought that the rules about not having long hair after 'a certain age' were mere bullshit  and let my hair grow. And it did grow, thick and luxuriant, only grey in colour. I happen to be a model and my long silver hair has helped me to get a distinctive look - some love it,  some hate it, that's normal, but my hair makes a statement.
I don't go round preaching that grey IS the look. I don't think that women who dye their hair let anyone down or that dying one's hair is wrong. It's a choice. But I hate the self righteous tone of those who claim that colouring one's hair is a passport to young looks, because it is not. I meet many women of my age with coloured hair who simply look like middle aged women with coloured hair. Looking young is not a point. Looking good is. I mean, at my age, why would I want to look twenty? What for? I want to look good but I have no wish whatsoever to compete with women who are younger than me.

Photographer: Nagib El-Desouky

I am taking exception to an article published by Harper's and Bazaar and signed by Julia Reed. Girl, you really need some help!
I shared the article with some of my friends from the Gray and Proud group on Facebook,  to which I belong. They did tear the article apart. 
Here are some of the comments: 
'I seriously suspect it is a commercial but even if not I choose my sources for advice, her view is as far from mine as can be'
'Im fuming! Ive looked up the dates for Charles Lamb ( 1775-1834) and Edward G Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), and even Downton Abbey since Dame Maggie Smith gets a mention also ( post Edwardian  1910). How in hells name are comments made from these dates relevant today ??? Poor poor journalism and thrown in to try and add weight to a feeble argument. We might as well have a chat about smallpox and the invention of the motorcar while we are at it!'
'Here are a couple of dates for Ms Reed. 1829 American W. A .Burt invents the typewriter. 1837 Rowland Hill invents the first postage stamp. Now put those two together and re-write a sensible article!! Now im counting to 10 and getting on with my day'
'She misues the quote by E. G. Bulwer-Lytton. She cites him as say'ng that 'it is NOT by the graying of the hair that one knows the age of the heart'. This, she uses as a reason to dye? He was saying the opposite, the color of hair does not matter, your heart does!!! You CAN have gray hair and be young at heart. Is she that dumb or am I missing something?'

Photographer: Nagib El-Desouky

I invite you to read this piece and comment further. We are planning a joint reply to Harper's and Bazaar. We think grey is beautiful!

(Photos modelled by Alex B)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Faith and fashion

Photographer: Nadia Lee Cohen
I was most intrigued to learn of a research project at the London School of Fashion about Fashion and Faith led by Professor Reina Lewis, looking at how religion and faith influence fashion, that is, what  people choose to wear to express their religious or spiritual identity.
That fashion is worth of academic scrutiny is something we have all known for quite a longtime. From  Baudrillard, who identified fashion as fetishistic (i.e. fashion itself is a fetish), onwards, fashion has been scrutinised by cultural theorists. (Incidentally, I titled this blog after Baudrillard, I am sure you guessed it).
Why so? Because in our society we are meant to wear clothing and the clothes we wear have a lot to do with how we project ourselves, with our identity . Even those of us who say that fashion means nothing to them, still wear clothes, and make a statement through their being 'anti-fashion'. As an art model, I go as far as saying that I 'wear' my nudity and make a statement through it - I am not a naturist.  But now I am digressing.
Professor Lewis has examined 'modest fashion', the kind of clothing that (mostly) women wear to show their religious affiliation to Islam or Christianity or Judaism. I would like to direct you to a very illuminating podcast of a recent event where Reina Lewis and invited guests discussed "why and how fashion has become central to the expression of personal faith, spirituality, and ethics for women from many different faiths and for women who see themselves as secular".
 I would like to respond to Reina's challenging question by drawing on my personal memories and experience.

Photo taken at Coworth Hotel Fashion show
The expression of how one situates oneself with regard to faith or spirituality, through clothing, has  been a concern of mine, as indeed of everyone else.  Back in my twenties I became enamoured of Indian spirituality and embraced it, in an inevitably diluted form. I wore long skirts 'made in India', let my hair grow long and wild, used no make up, and my love of colour was expressed through scarves, of which I would wear a different one everyday. My attire, to me, was indicative of living an alternative lifestyle in which yoga, listening to Indian music and discussing the nature of the self were of great relevance. Through my clothing I articulated my preferences and when encountering people with a similar attire it would work as a signal that we might be on the same wavelength. Sometimes this was true, some other times it was not. But the clothing acted as and was a signifier.

Photo taken at Coworth Hotel fashion show
Much later, the alternative look packed well away, I happened to travel in Southeast Asia. Wandering through the department stores in Indonesian cities revealed to me the existence of a specific fashion for Indonesian women who cared about making a statement about their Islamic faith. It was a revelation to me. Elegant hijabs, of different materials, different daytime and evening attires, all modest in terms of being able to cover up the body and yet expressing  playfulness in the way fabrics were combined.
Indeed fashion is a way to express how one positions oneself in relation to faith, ethics and secularism.
Take ethics: the fabrics we wear, where the clothes were made, do matter. Organic cotton is a choice for some. Not shopping at Primark is another choice. Why? Because the clothes are cheap due to the fact they rely on children and women to make them, at less than a dollar a day.
There is more that can be said, this is only a start. Thank you Reina for raising the issue.

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The body as site of discourse

Photographer: Vaida Kaklauskaite. Model: Alex B

 Models of Diversity (MoD) the organisation founded by former model Angel Sinclair to campaign for greater diversity in the fashion industry, on the catwalk and off the catwalk, is putting together a major event, a fashion show where the models will all be over 40. Mature Couture will take place on 6th September 2013 at a select London venue and it will showcase classy designs and accessories modelled by beautiful mature models, specially chosen for the occasion.
MoD has been active since 2009 and it has already had an impact on public opinion, through making disabled models more visible. Disability and inclusion have been a top priority for MoD and their campaign was particularly successful in the wake of the Paralympic games, challenging beauty stereotypes.
Now MoD has turned its attention to age, extending a warm welcome to mature models and sending out the message that fashion is not only for the young.  MoD has also questioned 'maturity' as a blanket term: mature women (therefore mature models) also come in all shapes and sizes, in all ethnicities and with a varying level of ability/disability. Age is a leveller, to some extent, but older people still have individuality, just like their younger counterpart.
Another organization that has campaigned for diversity is All Walks, founded by Caryn Franklin. It was thanks to Caryn and to Jane Galpin that the much talked about Diversity Shoot for high street retailer Debenhams took place, showcasing a range of beautiful and diverse models. I applaud and support all such initiatives.

Models: Kelly Knox and Philomena Kwao. Photographer: Chris Floyd

There has been much discussion of such issues in the media. I have noticed shifts. A new generation of fashion designers and photographers, through their training at top institutions such as the London College of Fashion, where Caryn occasionally lectures, is more aware of identity discourses and is ready to embrace diversity in their work, as future professionals. It is no chance that several LCF students have, over the past few years, sought out me and other mature models, such as Valerie Pain, for their portfolio projects, which were a response to their reflection upon the issues of age and identity debated in the classroom as part of their study programme, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

An important milestone has been the Fashion for All Ages feature in the lifestyle pages of The Guardian saturday supplement.  I am not sure how long it has been going for, my online searches show that it does not go further back than 2009, please correct me if I am wrong. I have been very fortunate to model in a few of those shoots, together with fellow mature models Valerie Pain and Pam Lucas - I am the new kid on the block, so to speak. A feature such as this has done much to publicise the fact that fashion is still relevant to older men and women.  True, The Guardian has a progressive, largely middle class readership and the message needs to be embraced more widely. But it is a step forward.
More recently there has been a series of interesting research projects about fashion and age, such as the one undertaken by Professor Julia Twigg of the University of Kent which  "addresses the ways in which identities are constructed through clothing choices, and the responses of the Fashion/Clothing system to this".

Model Alex B, LCF Student Project 2007

Fashion has an important role in the construction of an embodied identity, hence the interest in it among sociologists such as Julia Twigg. As Roland Barthes wrote:
"Clothing concerns all of the human person, all of the body, all the relationships of man to body as well as relationships of the body to society."
Clothed or unclothed, the body is a site of discourse.