Friday, 23 December 2016

Paintings and carpets

My pretty hatbox

Christmas is round the corner, in only two days,  and this means I need to do quite a bit of tidying up and sorting, as I will have (unexpected) guests.  I live in a very tiny flat and tend to store in boxes what I do not immediately need, promptly forgetting the content of each box. And so it was that I found, under a pile of other boxes,  my long lost hat box which is however quite impractical as it does not hold that many hats at all, but it is very  pretty. It's back in use, now, with only one hat in it.
And then I found the catalogue of an exhibition I went to see in 1997 at the Queen's Galleries, of the beautiful Padshahnama (Chronicle of the King of the World), now in the Royal Collection Trust. The Chronicle  narrates events related to the reign of the emperor Shah Jahan, who lived in the late 17th century. He is the one who built the Taj Mahal at Agra as a tomb for his beautiful wife Mumtaz. The Chronicle  includes forty four splendid miniature paintings, made by the very skilled and talented artists employed at the court of the emperor.
The paintings went on display in a special exhibition in 1997 and I was one of the thousands that queued up to see it.  They were breathtaking, with their vivid colours, richness of detail, all executed by true masters.
Padshahnamah
These days some people carry such a negative view of Islam as to forget all the wonderful things that the Muslim world has given us by way of art (as also science, but that's a topic to be explored in  another post). Mughal painting from India is one of such gifts. The Mughals were enlightened rulers and great patrons of the arts. During their time painting flourished as also architecture and the art of carpet making - South Asian carpets of the Mughal era are  distinct from those of Persia and equally beautiful.
I am a great carpet lover, a passion I inherited from my father who was a collector. I do not own any antique carpet but I do have one of my  father's, which used to be in my bedroom when I was a girl and  is now in my flat. It is an Ardabil style carpet, a distant and poorer relation of the superb Ardabil currently housed at the V&A.
Finding the catalogue of the Padshahnamah exhibition was such a wonderful moment. I began to leaf through it and marvelled again at the sheer beauty of the illustrations. There are portraits - the Mughals were fond of them, having learnt to appreciate European portraiture which had been introduced to them by the Christian missionaries. There are court scenes with the women delicately drawn in all their finery. There are images of animals and flowers, executed with great precision.
I think I know what I will do over the long Christmas vacation,  I shall visit the London museums where I can view some of these wonderful miniatures.
And I shall go to the V&A to admire the Ardabil.
Meanwhile I take the opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Beauty standards can be challenged

From a recent editorial in  Fashion Magazine photo: Christopher Luk

I was really intrigued to read Jane Gordon's article for The Daily Mail published on 8th February 2016.  It's not recent, I know, but then I am not a Mail reader at all, it is not my kind of paper. I was actually Googling some information about beauty standards and this came up. It got me thinking.
Ms Gordon, was 58 years old at the time of writing and 5'4.5" tall. She tried to become a model. She was taken on the books of an agency that specialises in older models - 'classic' and 'retro' look - and was then sent to a casting for a runway show which would feature only older models. Ms Gordon felt intimidated by the fact that most of the women she met at the casting were 5'8" and over in flats and gave up, without even going through with it.  I suspect that she was not really interested in modelling since she already had another job, she was researching her article.  It was brave of her to have a go, however, and castings can be quite nerve racking.
But even though Ms Gordon is rightly lamenting the fact that there is a certain uniformity among 'classic' models, a tendency to be slim and tall (many of them have been modelling all their lives) and that she does not feel represented, because she is shorter, her argument is somewhat disingenuous and it certainly indicates a plus ça change attitude. Apart from the fact that not all model agencies are the same and there are some agencies for older models that are trying to go beyond the notion of a 'classic' model, as for example Grey Model Agency.

Behind the scenes at the Chelsea Enchanted Wedding Fair

Jane Gordon writes nothing to challenge a stereotype of the industry and thus underwrites a sense of  inevitability as well as endorsing  a defeatist attitude. This is precisely what one should not do. We would not have had someone like Ashley Graham on the cover of Vogue UK this month representing  plus-size women, for whom being accepted as beautiful has been an uphill struggle.
Let's go back to the point that Ms Gordon is making about being short. I sympathise. I stand 172.5 cm (over 5'7 and slightly below 5'8, the 3/4 thing). On the runway, when appearing with younger models, I have often felt very short even though I would not be classed  as short in relation to the standard height of women in many European countries, Britain included.
I'd say it's all quite relative and the height thingie is a bit of a smokescreen. Back in the 1960s Tippi Hedren was a fashion model in NYC before becoming famous for her films with Alfred Hitchcock and she was  5'5, she may be slightly shorter now that she is 86 years old.
There are many petite models around, young and old, famous and less famous. Petite models are currently a new trend, across all ages, and even American Next Top Model has a petite category for contestants. For years there have been petite fitting models anyway, because brands do need them in order to get the right size and right length of clothes, since they know that their customers are not all runway model tall.

Diversity on the runway. London Ethnic at Houses of Parliament

Even on the runway one often finds smaller models. Granted, they tend to be famous faces, but they are definitely working as models. Georgia May Jagger is only 5'7 and Alice Dellal is shorter. If you have a famous shorter model in a runway show, it is likely that a couple of less famous shorter models might also appear in the same show, otherwise the lack of height in the shorter model will be more noticeable in relation to the others.
Model agencies look at the whole package when selecting a model. Not everyone, even if they are good looking, is model material.
As for older models, they come in all shapes and sizes too and that's the beauty of it.  Precisely because they are older they might all be slightly shorter than young models, because height has increased over the generations  and as people get to their 70s and 80s they tend to lose height anyway.  Daphne Selfe is now 5'5 down a couple of  inches from the 5'7 of her youth  and even  Veroushka who started the trend of the very tall and lean model has lost an inch or so from her original 6'1.   She says she is now 179 cm.
Beauty standards are not immutable and can be challenged.  It is worth remembering this.



Sunday, 4 December 2016

Quaintrelle

With Ruth Woldeselasie of UrbanRootsEco at the House of Lords

The women of the world today all dress alike. They are like so many loaves of bread. To be beautiful one must be unhurried. Personality is needed. There is too much sameness. The world seems to have only a desire for more of this sameness. To be different is to be alone. I do not like what is average. So I am alone. 
Luisa Casati Stampa

I have been busy putting together my talk for 6th December, when I will don once again my academic hat and do a seminar presentation at SOAS, University of London, where I hold a non-teaching position as Research Associate of the Centre for Media Studies (everyone is welcome, by the way, details in the link above). I will be discussing my research on fashion in Indonesia, where I was last year for three months, and in particular, I will talk about fashion presentation, through shows and installations. I am a member of the NWFashion Conference forum which brings together scholars and professionals with the aim of exploring a wide variety of fashion systems throughout the world. It is important, I think, not to fall into the trap of believing that fashion is only relevant to the Western world and that there is no creative talent beyond the major fashion capitals (London, Paris, New York and Milan). It is also because of this commitment to divesting fashion of ethnocentrism that as a model I participate in shows and events which promote 'ethnic' designers, such as UrbanRootsEco, founded by Ethiopian  designer and former model Ruth Woldeselasie and represented by London Ethnic.  It is actually less than two weeks since I participated in the Fashion and Politics event organised by London Ethnic at the House of Lords, in Westmister and where I walked for UrbanRootsEco.

Fashion show at House of Lords, London Ethnic

I have a lot of material from the time I was in Jakarta but ahead of Tuesday I needed to check information and find out about further developments. A year in fashion is a long time!
And so it was that I discovered that designer Sebastian Gunawan, in tandem with his Italian designer wife Cristina Panarese, presented last week a 91 pieces couture collection for spring/summer 2017 (Gunawan does very limited ready-to-wear and was crowned Asian couturier in 2015).
The collection bore the title 'La Divina Marchesa' (amusingly translated by the JakartaGlobe as the Diving Marquise. Wrong gender and wrong meaning for 'divina' which is 'divine' in English but I do think that actually she did have a 'diving' approach to life). I am talking about Luisa Casati Stampa, an Italian marchioness who turned  herself and her life into a work of art, muse to Salvador Dali, patron of the Ballet Russes and a whole host of artists,  close friend of designers such as Poiret, whose clothes she wore.  She was photographed by Adolph de Meyer and lived in Venice in a palace later acquired by Peggy Guggenheim and which currently houses the Guggenheim collection.  Luisa Casati was immensely wealthy, one of the richest women in Europe at the start of the 20th century but she squandered her wealth to support her lavish lifestyle and to give generously as a patron   - it is said she had debts of US $25 million when she died a pauper in London in 1957.  She is buried at the Brompton cemetery, I will go and visit her grave one of these days.

A portrait of Marchesa Casati by Jean de Gaigneron  Photo: COLLEZIONE LUCILE AUDOUY

Luisa Casati was indeed most eccentric. Unusually tall and 'cadaverously' thin, always with heavily kohled eyes, she definitely stood out. She also had cheetah on a leash as pets and wore a live snake as a necklace, so there was no chance of not noticing her! Her clothes were magnificent and beautifully styled by herself, for she was the one that added the finishing touches to her mise.  She also had a penchant for nudity and would often disrobe or walk around wearing only a fur coat. She loved men and also women, a true free spirit.
Gunawan, like other designers before him, such as John Galliano  in 1998, Tom Ford in 2004 and Karl Lagerfeld in 2010, to name only the most recent ones,  were all enticed by this incredible woman, who continues to be a muse beyond the grave. That is not to say that Gunawan copied anyone. His collection is stunning, with delicate lace and beautiful silks. The clothes are well structured and are accompanied by jewellery designed by the inimitable Rinaldy Yunardi.
But it is not Gunawan's collection I wish to discuss here - you can see a video  of his collection and read about it in the JakartaGlobe.


As I was reading up about Luisa Casati I came across a wonderful word which is not used much. This is 'quaintrelle', the female couterpart of 'dandy' but, as a quick Google search yielded, a lot more. A quaintrelle is 
"a woman who emphasises a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life’s pleasures."
I could live with that, in fact I can be that.
Luisa Casati,  you are my spiritual mother! And though I may not walk about with a snake coiled around my neck, I have held snakes and found them quite enticing, only a little cold at the touch.



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

What is missing from GuardianJakartaWeek and similar

Kemang Apartments, The rooftop pool, South Jakarta

If you are a Guardian reader you will probably know about  Guardian Cities and the fact that this week from 21st to 25th the chosen city is Jakarta.  Opening with  a few engaging articles on the megalopolis and with an invitation extended to readers  to contribute images, I got really excited and then regretted I was no longer in Jakarta, where in 2015 I spent three months, from September to December, researching Indonesian fashion - not my first visit to Indonesia, I should add, but definitely my longest stay in Jakarta. But the disappointment did not last long  because I  decided to contribute to the instagrammed flow of images anyway and retrieved some of my pictures from last year, making it clear I was no longer a temporary resident of Jakarta but I still wanted to share my love/hate relationship with this city which I now miss terribly, but whose horrendous traffic drove me totally mad, please excuse the pun. And Guardian Cities  liked one of my images on Instagram!
In case you have not seen the call to contribute here it is:

"Jakarta is quite a flat city: there aren’t steep streets or hillside neighbourhoods. So where do you go to get a great view over the city? Share your photos of your favourite views in Jakarta and where you can see them from. You can share pictures on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #GuardianJakarta or Whatsapp us on +447881337758."
Me at JWF 2016

I interpret 'view' quite broadly and among my pictures there are some to do with fashion as well as some taken on the rooftop of  buildings in Kemang, where I was based.  What is, after all, a view?

Inside the Batavia Cafe, Old Batavia
I enjoyed reading the Guardian articles, especially the one by Elizabeth Pisani, author of the excellent  Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation. Yet Pisani  was apparently annoyed by the Guardian headline given to her article by the editors which she thought was a mismatch with the content of her piece. Thus she immediately wrote another article  and swiftly published it online, What you can't say in the Guardian . She is at pain to clarify that - I quote -
"the world can continue to ignore Indonesia because, despite the screeching of para-religious “mass organisations” and the machinations of their political puppeteers, the country’s leaders and most of its citizens understand the art of compromise. I believe that the nation will continue to manage the balancing act of democracy successfully. Thus, no major meltdown. Thus, no headlines in the global media, and no great demands on international attention. Sometimes, (other people’s) ignorance really is bliss".
Maybe I am dim, but I can't see why the Guardian headline is so offensive.  For one thing the world had better not ignore Indonesia because of its important role as a business partner - a country with so many million people, how could it be ignored?
Am I being too simple?
Pisani's point was political and she somewhat resented the attention the Guardian is giving to Indonesia for reasons that are not immediately apparent. I have been wondering why now, I must confess. But truly I don't think the headline was particularly offensive nor did it sound sinister. It said - again I quote -
"the world can’t afford to ignore this diverse archipelago any longer – its eager and savvy democracy, big workforce and brightening outlook demand attention".
I  don't get Pisani's point. It's not as if she has been censored by the paper. As she says herself the article is just as she wrote it. So what, then? This whole controversy will remain a storm in a teacup, for me. Maybe Pisani wanted to write the headline herself, but it is a well known fact that the editors of a paper advocate to themselves the privilege of writing headlines.  They are paid to do it.
Fashion Show, Jakarta, Dec 2015

Anyway, Pisani's views and the Guardian's ulterior motives aside, I think that even though right now everyone is quite worried about the outcome of the Ahok's blasphemy case to the point that it is even thought there might be a coup when the planned mass protests take place on Friday - but I believe this is mere  alarmism -  I also  think that there is something in particular from Indonesia that ought to be paid attention to.  That something is  fashion.  Here I do not necessarily mean 'hijab' fashion which seems to have become the only fashion made in Indonesia that is worthy of overseas attention, as the acclaim won by Anniesa Hasibuan  at the recent New York Fashion Week seems to demonstrate (and, equally,  the questions it raised).
As I have said elsewhere, Indonesian contemporary fashion design is dynamic and aimed at a global urban wearer. With  its roots in the textile tradition of batik, ikat and songket making, and the attempt of a great many Indonesian designers to integrate sustainability, through making clothes that eschew fast fashion production and consumption, the designs are aimed at  women and men whose ethnicities, ages, and cultures are as diverse as could be,
 In other words, hijab fashion is but one of its expressions.

The designs rely on sartorial skills imbibed from the Italian, French and British ‘schools’ of fashion design, combining classicism with avant-garde married to a distinctly Indonesian aesthetics, with fabrics sourced from the time honoured tradition(s) of artisanal textile production, in combination with other contemporary materials, mixed in innovative and surprising ways.
Yet not much is known about Indonesian fashion, apart from a (politically motivated) overly attention to hijab fashion.
The fashion world is extremely ethnocentric. This is why the NWFC (Non Western Fashion Conference) came into existence in 2012 "with the goal of disrupting the persistent euro- and ethnocentricity in fashion studies. NWFC operates within a new fashion paradigm".
I cannot but welcome initiatives such as this.
As for the interest of Global Cities in Jakarta, I do hope it will go beyond predictable views of Betawi folklore, dukun (already featured) and maddening traffic jams. How about viewing the  creativity in design and fashion that is concentrated in Jakarta, from initiatives ranging from  Fashion First to other fashion displays?
That too is a 'view'.

Fashion installation at Fashion First, Dec 2015

(If you search in the archive you will find the entries in this blog entitled From Jakarta #1 to #12  narrating my experience of the city and its fashion)



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Monday, 14 November 2016

No Body's Perfect...but everyone is unique

Photo:BBC4
No Body's Perfect is a documentary recently screened by BBC4, with acclaimed photographer Rankin and artist Alison Lapper, whose nude, pregnant, limbless body was sculpted by  Marc Quinn and displayed in Trafalgar Square until 2007, becoming a famous and for some, controversial, landmark.
The documentary follows four people who have great problems in accepting themselves  and in seeing themselves as unique individuals, all  because of some physical condition that modifies their appearance, in the case of  three of them,  and in the case of the fourth one,  because of her body dysmorphia which compels her to see herself as ugly and repulsive, a totally unrealistic self image.
Rankin has the task of  taking  photos of these four people, in his London studio. The idea is for them to see themselves with fresh eyes and discover their inner beauty and character.  Lapper is there to provide moral support, as someone who has had to fight her own battles to come to terms with her difference.  She is a most inspiring role model.
Rankin is  a gifted portraitist, a modern Rembrandt, perhaps. His moments of reflection in the documentary reveal great  honesty.  The unease felt by most people when confronted  by the artfully photoshopped  images of high fashion models and celebrities in the media is to an extent also due to him and other people in his profession.  Rankin is aware of being 'part of the problem' in his role as  photographer of those very people whose flawless images exacerbate the extreme sense of inadequacy experienced by the likes of Alana, the teenager affected by body dysmorphia.  Taking part in this project thus has a redemptive quality for  Rankin who is able to tap into the healing property that  photography, as an art form, can definitely have, bringing out the uniqueness and the beauty of each individual subject, through striking, well lit, well composed, portraits.
Rankin talks about  the selfie culture emphasising  the sense of sameness and artificiality that it engenders. Selfies and portraits could not be further removed from one another.  A portrait is an honest representation of yourself in your uniqueness, a selfie is often so doctored through filters and almost codified body poses, that it is rarely an honest portrayal of an individual, it is instead an attempt at making oneself the same as all others.

self portrait AlexB
I, for one, really dislike taking selfies, even though in my work as a model I am often asked to cast through selfies and velfies (video-selfies), which I dislike even more. I used to take self portraits and that was a completely different thing. I might begin again.
I watched the documentary with great interest and found young Alana's plight quite heart rending. I felt extremely sorry for her and even more for her mother yet I could not help feeling somewhat irritated. Honestly, in a world in which so many people struggle to survive why is this girl spending all her time looking at herself in the mirror? Something is seriously wrong here and I cannot put my finger on it, I realise body dysmorphia is a mental  illness, but are we turning it into something bigger than it is?
I am also confused by this idea of body perfection, as this has changed over the centuries, perfection  seems to have different meanings to different people. For me a perfect body is the trained body of an athlete or of a dancer, with well developed muscles and, particularly in the case of dancers,  the ability to move gracefully and with ease. It's a body one achieves through hard work, often overcoming physical imperfections. I  remember reading an interview with the sublime ballerina  Natalia Osipova who confessed that  when she first started at the Bolshoi she could not jump. “I was not very tall, and not perfectly proportioned – not the prettiest body.  If I wanted to achieve something, I had to improve my technique, and she [Marina Kondriatieva] forced me to work on it.’
This is so inspiring, truly. She did not beat herself up for not being tall and with the longest legs. She worked on what she had and developed an ability to almost fly.

Natalia Osopova as Giselle. Photo: Alistair Muir. Reblogged

No body is perfect but you can certainly work on yours and achieve 'perfection' if you work at developing its potential. Were I a teenager I'd rather focus my energy on developing the ability to jump with the ease of  Natalia Osipova then try at all cost to turn myself into a copy of the latest celeb in the news.
It is a matter of balance.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Here comes Rasputin

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden , London
I went to see Anastasia, the ballet by Kenneth MacMillan at the Royal Opera House, on a very cold Guy Fawkes night, when people were out and about to watch firework displays and to take part in the Million Mask march. In other words, bad traffic in Central London.
I went specially to see Eric Underwood in the role of Rasputin, I am a fan of the Royal Ballet soloist turned part time model (elsewhere I wrote he was a principal, but the programme I bought lists him as a soloist, ballet has a rigid hierarchical structure).
I was not the only one there to see Underwood, the woman sitting next to me had come for the same reason. Underwood, a phenomenal dancer,  is making ballet more accessible to communities that would not usually engage with it, deeming it as a wholly white upper middle class art form. As a ballet lover, I feel ballet ought to be appreciated by all, thus I applaud Underwood for being a fantastic dancer and for being a role model (no pun intended). I was also keen to see Federico Bonelli, he is another talented ballet dancer hailing from Turin, Italy, like Roberto Bolle. In fact, Bonelli substituted Steven McRae who was indisposed. Some audience members were disappointed at this last minute change.
We had  stalls circle right seats, which was not as bad as I initially thought, though being on one side meant that occasionally we would not be able to see the action on upstage left (and we could not see the black and white film that was projected during act III, footage of the Romanov).
I had never seen Anastasia before. It is a ballet based on the story of Anna Anderson who spent her entire adult life purporting to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of the last Tzar of Imperial Russia. She claimed she had survived the summary execution by the Soviet soldiers through the help of a faithful officer and had escaped to Germany where she was found wandering the streets of Berlin in a state of confusion. She was then admitted to an asylum. After a rather eventful life which brought her fame (or infamy, depending on how you view it), she was finally proved to be an impostor in 1984, following a DNA test, which some discredited as having been tampered with.

Grand Duchess Anastasia circa 1908, photo Library of Congress as reproduced in the programme, ROH
Anna Anderson/Anastasia had many supporters  but many more enemies. Not everyone believed her and many were keen to unmask her as a fraud. She was not a fraud as such, she was a woman affected by mental illness. One feels sorry for her and her mental confusion. Anna Anderson genuinely believed she was the Grand Duchess.
MacMillan was inspired by her story, after seeing the film starring Ingrid Bergman and went on to create the ballet. I always feel ambivalent about MacMillan, his ballets have wonderful moments and then there is much which leaves me rather mystified.  I love The Prince of the Pagodas for example, even though it is far too lengthy and could have done with a cut or two. Anastasia is frankly two ballets into one, and there are very long intervals too - good for the bar, someone said, and in the last act a few people in the audience were, shock horror, as act III is the most dramatic one, nodding off, having had a glass too many.  Which makes me wonder why some people bother to go to the ballet and spend £ 60 on a seat when they could drink somewhere else.
But yes, Anastasia could have been condensed into a long one act ballet giving much greater prominence to act III which is about the confusion experienced by Anastasia and which was so superbly danced by Lauren Cuthbertson as Anna Anderson, Eric Underwood as Rasputin and Thomas Whitehead in the role of Anna Anderson's peasant husband.

Rasputin circa 1910, Photo Library of Congress as reproduced in the programme, ROH.
Rasputin is a key character in MacMillan's ballet. MacMillan turns him into a haunting figure, a symbol of decadent Imperial Russia, a devilish schemer. It is as if the confusion that tears Anastasia/Anna apart in her reimaginings, is caused by him, he becomes her mental illness. Underwood is superb as Rasputin, even though physically he is much taller and imposing than Rasputin ever was. According to those who met him, Rasputin was a scrawny, somewhat ugly man whose power was in his eyes and the way he held his gaze, as well as in his hypnotic voice, something which is lost in the ballet for the audience cannot see  the dancer's eyes nor hear the dancer's voice, but Underwood has such a presence, through sheer stillness and through his tall figure he can convey the essence of Rasputin. For two long acts he simply stands, occasionally lifting a few ballerinas - my companion and I were a little disappointed, we wanted to see Underwood  break into a dance even though we fully understood that this was the interpretation he had to give to the character to bring it to life.  Then in act III he dances and in his movements, deliberate and intense, he becomes  the haunting figure that exacerbates Anastasia's mental confusion.  He is the darkness of Anastasia's mind.
I loved act III and all the performers were absolutely amazing, throughout the whole ballet, the dancers of the Royal are such wonderful professionals, they never disappoint. Young Rory Toms in the role of the hemophiliac Tzarevitch Alexei was absolutely charming.

St Petersburg in winter. Photo by me

But Anastasia as a ballet does not do it for me. I find Rasputin is a fascinating, most intriguing and very complex character and I am not entirely happy at the way MacMillan somewhat stereotypes him. Mystic, faith healer, charlatan, womaniser, drunkard, sharp, astute, power hungry, adored and also despised by women and men, Rasputin remains one of the most enigmatic figures in history, a Siberian peasant who established an intimate connection with the Tzar's family, especially the Tzarina and the Tzarevitch and was then brutally assassinated. Underwood through his stillness and the intensity of his performance is able to inject a little of Rasputin's mystery into MacMillan's annoying eminence grise in act I and II, not to mention the sheer power of his dancing in act III and this is quite an achievement.
Rasputin's story, however, remains untold.


Monday, 24 October 2016

Models and real women


Modelling for Metropolitan magazine 
There has been much talk about the November issue of Vogue, now out since October 3rd, as it is a 'model-free zone', in other words, the clothes rather than being featured by professional models are featured by other professional women, in the public eye. In the words of Alexandra Shulman, chief editor of Vogue UK  “In this country, there is still a stigma attached to clearly enjoying how you look and experimenting with it if you are a woman in the public eye and not in the fashion or entertainment business".
Like several others have commented, I too take the 'model-free zone' claim with a grain of salt as all the various ads still feature professional models -and there is page upon page of them. The 'real women' issue is actually nothing new, except in its naming, as Vogue has always been about featuring famous women, in contemporary times increasingly women  at the top of their career as opposed to women married to powerful men, always professionally styled for a photoshoot. Apart from the countless actresses (there being, today,  a very fine line between model and actress in that many brands rely on actresses to represent them) that have appeared in the pages of Vogue and on covers, there are also people like, say, Victoria Beckham, who was in fact on the cover of the October 2016 issue of Vogue. She is now a successful designer, earlier she was famous for being a Spice Girl  and then the wife of David Beckham, the quintessential WAG. She was never a professional model, in the sense of being exclusively a model,  not as far as I know, but this did not stop her from being sought after as a model.
There is much confusion over modelling.  Many catwalk models for example are far too young to be officially professional, as they are still in school (at least one would hope so). Many professional models have other jobs too,  as there is not that much money to be made out of modelling, which remains fiercely competitive, unless you are one of the very few top models.  Many 'real people' are in fact models, model agencies have divisions of them, some agencies specialise in 'real people' and now there are online  networks with  casting calls for 'real people' eg Total Talent, Casting Networks, Starnow and so on.

Modelling for Pylot magazine, september 2016

Most newspapers, either tabloid or broadsheet,  carry a fashion and beauty section where they feature  celebrities or , very frequently,  'real women'. The latter are often referred to as  'non-models' - a term that probably only started as  a shorthand for non-runway model and was then given an entirely new meaning . They  are sourced the usual way, through casting calls or through a quick look at the 'real people' section of agencies to get the right looking ones to a casting.
Hadley Freeman, from The Guardian, has written her opinion piece on the 'real women' issue of Vogue. I love Hadley Freeman's column, it is always very stimulating and entertaining - I particularly enjoyed her piece on why Brexit is bad for fashion.  In her response to Vogue  she certainly raises a number of excellent points but altogether she seems to miss a most important fact: that models do come in all shapes, sizes and ages and that there are many types of modelling.  So she lashes out at a stereotype of a model which has in fact been superseded by current developments.
Who is a model and who is not one? Let's say that models are professionals who can work in front of the camera and hopefully make a living out of it. They are definitely real women and/or real men - funny that the question is always about real women and never about real men. Models tend to be defined as aspirational, however the idea of a very thin, very young, unusually tall model as being aspirational has now been  dramatically challenged.
It follows that non-models are those people, women and men, who may occasionally model but for whom by and large modelling is not their exclusive career. The boundary is very porous here, however, as many models have to make ends meet and may take up other jobs, just like actors do when 'resting'.  But let's leave it at that, for now.
The point I am making is that the sooner we stop thinking in terms of 'real women' and 'non-real women' aka 'models'  the better. It all sounds a bit surreal, if you ask me. We need to reframe this narrative.

Photographer: Christopher Luk

 For example, tabloids (or 'real life' weeklies) often carry features addressed at their female readership, who either want to know as much as possible about the latest celeb or would like to see 'women like themselves' (whatever that is, it is open to interpretation) strutting their stuff. They are articles meant to be confidence boosting, yet there is always a nuance of sensationalism.  The paper for which Ms Hadley writes is a broadsheet and  pays a pittance or does not pay at all for the various opinion, points of view, experiences or real life features which it also carries, in the 'lifestyle' section,  and which are contributed by freelancers or readers. The assumption is that being featured in such a paper is a tremendous honour. Tabloids on the other hand understand that money is a commodity, hence they do pay. The rule however is that if one is selected to appear in one of their features one should always say to have a 'real' job,  so that the feature is 'real'.

Modelling for Alisa Ernst
The tabloid papers always arrange a photoshoot with a professional photographer in connection with such features. It is easier for the paper, in that professional images are needed and the paper does not get into copyright wrangles. Of the women I met on such occasions (I have had opportunities to witness a couple of such shoots) I could always tell those who were pretending not to be models  and having a 'real' job, from those who had genuinely never done a shoot before. The models pretending to be non- models  knew what to do and were the ones most concerned about getting on with it and finishing bang on time. Everyone, from photographer to make up artist and stylist, knew the truth about them to the point of exchanging gossip, but the fiction of being 'real women', in other words women who do not model, was maintained.
When there are commercials that feature 'average looking people', who do you think those people are? They are models (another word for it is 'talent').  What defines them is their specific look, as close as possible to the character they are meant to portray and their ability to be in front of the camera. And no, they are not necessarily actors, for those are non-speaking roles and actors by definition speak lines (to be a member of Spotlight, for example, you must have had at least four professional credits in featured speaking roles otherwise you are not regarded as an actor).
So please let's stop believing these stereotypes about models and 'real women'. Modelling  is not about beauty standards - not exclusively, anyway. Modelling is first and foremost a job, done by real women and real men.
And somewhat off topic, my favourite model of the moment is Eric Underwood, Royal Ballet Principal and also 'talent' with Premier Management, featured on the cover of Vogue Italia with Kate Moss (which definitely makes him a model).  He will be dancing Rasputin in the Anastasia ballet at ROH. Must get my ticket at once!



Saturday, 22 October 2016

Time for a challenge: sleektechnique and sleeksweat

Flik Swan and Victoria Marr

I like a good challenge, be it intellectual or physical.  Challenges help you to refocus and break bad habits. Obviously you need to consider the challenge very carefully and be sure that it is right for you, assessing the nature of the challenge and your own limitations. Once you know it is feasible all you need to do is stick to it and the best way to do so is to tell as many people as possible that you are doing a challenge. It works for me, and once I take on something I have to take it to completion, and not 'losing face' becomes a further incentive.
The last time I seriously challenged myself was when I was a Bikram yoga 'devotee', around 2009, and did the thirty day challenge, one 90 mins class a day - I still have the tshirt I was given when I got to the end!
The downside of that challenge was the fact I had to plan my day so that I would be at the studio by the appointed time. Easier said than done. I did it in summer during a long holiday because I needed a lot of time, travelling around London is very time consuming.
But the actual challenge was wonderful, it did wonders for my well being.
Now I have the opportunity to take on another challenge and I have already begun.
I have been doing, for my fitness,  Sleektechnique since the spring of 2014 and loved it from day one. It is ballet based, it combines cardio with stretches and a great ballet barre routine. The most wonderful thing is that it can be done at home, or anywhere else, using streaming workouts and participating in real time classes through Vidyo.  All you need is an internet connection and a device, laptop, iPad, phone.
Though I continue to go to dance classes when I can  Sleek is part of my daily routine and since classes are max 45 minutes each and there is a choice of morning and evening classes  I often do two classes a day.

The enCore workout
 Sleek founders Victoria Marr and Flik Swan  have worked together with Sweaty Betty and have devised a new streaming workout called enCore, which is available from the Sweaty Betty website. After teaching it live at Sweaty Betty they issued a challenge starting from this week for anyone to do one enCore routine coupled with a barre workout three times a week for six weeks and post about it on Twitter, Facebook or  Instagram using hashtags #sleektechnique and #sleekandsweaty and picture of themselves striking a Sleek pose.
I was told about the challenge last week during one of the live classes, by one of the trainers. It really is a challenge aimed  at newcomers, people who have never 'sleeked' before (we have a verb for it!). But I felt I also had to do it, the moment I heard the word challenge I could not stop thinking about it. However cutting down my daily routine did not seem the right thing to do. So I have adapted the challenge to suit my needs. I am still doing my regular live classes (minimum one a day, depending on my time commitments, sometimes I even squeeze in three) and my regular streaming workouts when my body needs them - I often throw in a Stretch and Flex quick workout because my body clearly demands it. But I have added the enCore workout and one of the barre routines three times a week.
Week one is nearly over for me, I have already done two days, Sunday will round up the week.
Why do this challenge? It is purely for the joy of taking on something for a while and really give it my best. Winter is coming, the time of the year when you may begin to feel sluggish. Knowing I have to do my workout helps me to focus, be alert and I learn about my body and its needs. I pay attention to my hydration a lot more, for example, and have learnt to tell good pain from bad pain. The most wonderful thing is that I am in absolute control and I can stop any time if I find it is taking too much out of me. No one is forcing me. But so far I am enjoying it.
The enCore work out is tough but then it is meant to be all about strengthening your core.
I am not doing this to lose weight, I am fine with my current weight but  I aim for tone and long muscles. I also find that when I am in this challenge mode I eat all the right things and naturally discard unhealthy food. I also become more efficient in the way I go about my tasks. I am writing more for example, working on my book based on my research on fashion  in Indonesia and sitting at my computer all day long is not good, I need to move.
The real challenge for me will be to keep this up when I travel at the end of the month, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Meanwhile if anyone is inspired by the idea of a sleek challenge, do join us for some happy sleeking!
Off topic, below is one of my latest images taken by Christopher Luk from Hong Kong while he was in London for Fashion Week. More on my Instagram.


(I nearly titled this post 'Challenging Times' in an attempt to be playful then I immediately changed my mind, feeling it might be seen a tad inappropriate. We do indeed live in extremely challenging times, the world around us seems to be swept by a wave of violence and disrespect for our fellow human beings).

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A history of the world in 100 objects


I don't lecture very often these days. I quit my job as a lecturer a few years ago and found myself doing more work as a model, I just slipped into it. But being an academic is for life, it is a mind set, you don't forget what you know and can always brush up on a topic and update it.
So when I was asked by the curators  of the British Museum, who knew me in my previous incarnation as art and performance historian, whether I wanted to give a gallery talk in connection with their new exhibition on the shadow theatre of Southeast Asia, at first I dithered, then I said yes, why not? It was only a gallery talk, after all, not a research seminar. I did not wish to give a guided tour of the exhibition, that would have been redundant. I chose to talk about the interconnection between shadow theatre and the visual arts. I focused mostly on Indonesia as this was my stomping ground when I was a researcher, my specialty used to be the arts of classical Java. I went back to Indonesia last year, incidentally, donning again my academic hat and doing research on Indonesian fashion, for which I was awarded a fellowship.
Inevitably in my talk I ended up discussing fashion. Some Indonesian designers, like Ghea Panggabean, have created whole collections inspired by the shadow puppets, known in Indonesia as wayang and the gallery talk seemed the right context  to mention it.


I enjoyed giving that talk. I was worried at first but once I began everything was fine. I had a very keen group with me and I almost went overtime. Almost.
In preparation for the talk I went to see the exhibition twice and discovered  some newer books that helped me in the task. One of them was  A history of the world in 100 objects by Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum. There is in the book an entry on the character Bimo, one of the puppets used in the shadow theatre and I referred to it, even brought the book along to show it to my audience.
The book
The 100 objects
Finding this book was one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. I love it. It is what you should keep by your bedside and dip into whenever you fancy. Accessible yet scholarly,   the descriptions of the objects are accurate and engaging, and clear even though there are few visuals (I was told once that the best art historians are those who do not need images to capture your attention) and with each entry there are also stories and anecdotes that bring to life the object descriptions. The book is based entirely on the British Museum's collections and it covers the history of mankind because in their totality that's what the collections of the museum do.
This morning I read about Shiva and Parvati from Orissa. I know that sculptural composition very well, I have been to see it many times. It's a shame it cannot be viewed at the moment as the South and Southeast Asian galleries are being renovated and will open again to the public only in November 2017, a year from now.
It is an image showing the divine couple in a moment of affection, charged with eroticism. For Hindus god is both male and female and, as MacGregor says, one of the central  insights of Hinduism  is that "God may best be conceived not as a single isolated spirit but as a joyous loving couple and that physical love is not evidence of fallen humanity but an essential part of the divine".

Holding a luxury accessory. Photo: Rankin for Hunger 11. Hand model: me
I will continue to read the book and find out more about the objects. It also means I will probably stop by the Museum very soon once again to go and view these wonderful objects from up close and do my own tour of the history of mankind following MacGregor's selection.
Meanwhile I am proud to announce that my hand can be seen in Hunger 11 holding a luxury accessory in the photo taken by Rankin, who is also interviewed in the piece "Outside In" pp. 468

A history of the world in 100 objects


I don't lecture very often these days. I quit my job as a lecturer a few years ago and found myself doing more work as a model, I just slipped into it. But being an academic is for life, it is a mind set, you don't forget what you know and can always brush up on a topic and update it.
So when I was asked by the curators  of the British Museum, who knew me in my previous incarnation as art and performance historian, whether I wanted to give a gallery talk in connection with their new exhibition on the shadow theatre of Southeast Asia, at first I dithered, then I said yes, why not? It was only a gallery talk, after all, not a research seminar. I did not wish to give a guided tour of the exhibition, that would have been redundant. I chose to talk about the interconnection between shadow theatre and the visual arts. I focused mostly on Indonesia as this was my stomping ground when I was a researcher, my specialty used to be the arts of classical Java. I went back to Indonesia last year, incidentally, donning again my academic hat and doing research on Indonesian fashion, for which I was awarded a fellowship.
Inevitably in my talk I ended up discussing fashion. Some Indonesian designers, like Ghea Panggabean, have created whole collections inspired by the shadow puppets, known in Indonesia as wayang and the gallery talk seemed the right context  to mention it.


I enjoyed giving that talk. I was worried at first but once I began everything was fine. I had a very keen group with me and I almost went overtime. Almost.
In preparation for the talk I went to see the exhibition twice and discovered  some newer books that helped me in the task. One of them was  A history of the world in 100 objects by Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum. There is in the book an entry on the character Bimo, one of the puppets used in the shadow theatre and I referred to it, even brought the book along to show it to my audience.
The book
The 100 objects
Finding this book was one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. I love it. It is what you should keep by your bedside and dip into whenever you fancy. Accessible yet scholarly,   the descriptions of the objects are accurate and engaging, and clear even though there are few visuals (I was told once that the best art historians are those who do not need images to capture your attention) and with each entry there are also stories and anecdotes that bring to life the object descriptions. The book is based entirely on the British Museum's collections and it covers the history of mankind because in their totality that's what the collections of the museum do.
This morning I read about Shiva and Parvati from Orissa. I know that sculptural composition very well, I have been to see it many times. It's a shame it cannot be viewed at the moment as the South and Southeast Asian galleries are being renovated and will open again to the public only in November 2017, a year from now.
It is an image showing the divine couple in a moment of affection, charged with eroticism. For Hindus god is both male and female and, as MacGregor says, one of the central  insights of Hinduism  is that "God may best be conceived not as a single isolated spirit but as a joyous loving couple and that physical love is not evidence of fallen humanity but an essential part of the divine".

Holding a luxury accessory. Photo: Rankin for Hunger 11. Hand model: me
I will continue to read the book and find out more about the objects. It also means I will probably stop by the Museum very soon once again to go and view these wonderful objects from up close and do my own tour of the history of mankind following MacGregor's selection.
Meanwhile I am proud to announce that my hand can be seen in Hunger 11 holding a luxury accessory in the photo taken by Rankin, who is also interviewed in the piece "Outside In" pp. 468

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A mixed bag: Age of No Retirement, Velvet, Pablo Bronstein and Turner Prize


It's been hectic over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Age of No Retirement festival and on its last day, October 1st, I took part in one of the conversation labs led by Caryn Franklin MBE and Professor of Diversity at Kingston University. With a number of highly committed speakers and a public that showed equal commitment to the idea of disrupting current narratives around age and ageing it was indeed a memorable day. More about it here, in a piece I wrote for HuffPostUk.
Then I worked on revamping my website which was a little outdated, it's looking much  better now. I am getting more adept at creating websites, it cannot be a bad skill to have! Always striving to improve...
And now the GREAT news. Last night I finally found a way of watching Velvet the Spanish telenovela to which I have become hopelessly addicted after discovering it on Netflix. Season 4 is only just being shown on Spanish TV and will not be available on Netflix until next year but  I can watch it every week here and it is a genuine site, one where you do not have to give your details and one which is not virus bearing. Of course I have to watch it in Spanish, but I can understand it. Mind you,  I have become pretty addicted to The Collection too, now shown on Amazon Instant Videos. The first couple of episodes was not so good but now the clothes have taken centre stage, which is what interests me. And they are gorgeous.  I will discuss The Collection in a forthcoming post.




Finally, after reading Alyson Walsh's post about giving your brain a  rest, I went first to a salsa class (I am into Ballroom and Latin at the moment),  as I don't believe in body and mind being separate, so I always have to do something physical in order to relax, then off to Tate Britain. It was the last day of the Pablo Bronstein's dance installation in the Duveen gallery and am so glad I caught it. It was quite breathtaking. And since I was at it I even went to have a peek at the Turner Prize nominees. I will go back, I need more time to take it all in. It is at times like this I am really happy to be a member of the Tate, I know I can go whenever I want at no extra charge. I found the works very interesting. One by Michael Dean was reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower seeds  except that it was smaller and rather than seeds  there were coins. It consisted of £ 20,436 in pennies, the amount that the goverment states is the minimum two adults and two children need to survive on for a year. Wishful thinking! But the work was striking.

Michael Dean's installation 

I have a friend who is very unmoved by modern/ contemporary art. I keep on telling him it is not about beauty,  it is about challenging the viewers and their preconceptions. But some people  will keep on asking the question 'is it art' expecting some reassurance on 'eternal and classical values'. 
Did the 20th century never happen? It would seem so...
Micheal Dean's work was very moving, I totally got it. Let's hope the judges will get it too. 

A mixed bag: Age of No Retirement, Velvet, Pablo Bronstein and Turner Prize


It's been hectic over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Age of No Retirement festival and on its last day, October 1st, I took part in one of the conversation labs led by Caryn Franklin MBE and Professor of Diversity at Kingston University. With a number of highly committed speakers and a public that showed equal commitment to the idea of disrupting current narratives around age and ageing it was indeed a memorable day. More about it here, in a piece I wrote for HuffPostUk.
Then I worked on revamping my website which was a little outdated, it's looking much  better now. I am getting more adept at creating websites, it cannot be a bad skill to have! Always striving to improve...
And now the GREAT news. Last night I finally found a way of watching Velvet the Spanish telenovela to which I have become hopelessly addicted after discovering it on Netflix. Season 4 is only just being shown on Spanish TV and will not be available on Netflix until next year but  I can watch it every week here and it is a genuine site, one where you do not have to give your details and one which is not virus bearing. Of course I have to watch it in Spanish, but I can understand it. Mind you,  I have become pretty addicted to The Collection too, now shown on Amazon Instant Videos. The first couple of episodes was not so good but now the clothes have taken centre stage, which is what interests me. And they are gorgeous.  I will discuss The Collection in a forthcoming post.




Finally, after reading Alyson Walsh's post about giving your brain a  rest, I went first to a salsa class (I am into Ballroom and Latin at the moment),  as I don't believe in body and mind being separate, so I always have to do something physical in order to relax, then off to Tate Britain. It was the last day of the Pablo Bronstein's dance installation in the Duveen gallery and am so glad I caught it. It was quite breathtaking. And since I was at it I even went to have a peek at the Turner Prize nominees. I will go back, I need more time to take it all in. It is at times like this I am really happy to be a member of the Tate, I know I can go whenever I want at no extra charge. I found the works very interesting. One by Michael Dean was reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower seeds  except that it was smaller and rather than seeds  there were coins. It consisted of £ 20,436 in pennies, the amount that the goverment states is the minimum two adults and two children need to survive on for a year. Wishful thinking! But the work was striking.

Michael Dean's installation 

I have a friend who is very unmoved by modern/ contemporary art. I keep on telling him it is not about beauty,  it is about challenging the viewers and their preconceptions. But some people  will keep on asking the question 'is it art' expecting some reassurance on 'eternal and classical values'. 
Did the 20th century never happen? It would seem so...
Micheal Dean's work was very moving, I totally got it. Let's hope the judges will get it too. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Anti-fashion, anti-modelling: the future belongs to the discerning consumer

A year ago Lidewij Edelkoort, a trend forecaster, published a ten page manifesto in which she declared that the fashion industry was more or less finished. The fashion industry still works in a 20th century mode, says Edelkoort. There are problems with fashion education, which is rather superficial, with marketing, with the display and the presentation of fashion. There is repetition, lack of true creativity, and lack of real support for emerging new talent.
Edelkoort's most scathing remarks were about contemporary fashion journalism, which she deemed to be of a ridiculously low standard, suffocated by the rise of sponsored blogging, by definition of dubious quality. In her assessment, the only type of fashion that has been successful and shows real promise is menswear.
The good news amidst all this negativity is that couture will be back, just as a new sustainable agenda becomes mandatory for we cannot keep on feeding the monstrous greed of global capitalism, buying clothes that are cheaper than a sandwich. Harsh though it may sound, Edelkoort's assessment, here barely summarised, definitely resonates. I am interested in her critique of presentation.
I agree that Fashion Weeks are boring and most models are treated as no more than clothes horses. Not long ago, the anti-agency was set up to represent models that are different in look from the mainstream - many sporting tattoos, and no longer selected on the basis of height but only on their personality.

Getting ready for a runway show. Model: Alex B.
 Similarly, with regard to age, even though we are quite deluged with classic models, in an attempt to respond to the demand of the high street, age is being 'beautified' and classic models have worryingly begun to resemble each other, thus subtly going against the valorisation of age, by definition diverse, expected by a growing cohort of older consumers. Even when meant to be celebratory, the attention given to some of the more successful older models is ambiguously underpinned by a logic of 'othering' which is unhelpful.
 The whole modelling industry needs an overhaul, being closely allied to marketing. In the words of Edelkoort "without doubt the perversion of marketing ultimately has helped kill the fashion industries."

An interview with Edelkoort, en français

The future belongs to the consumer, but a discerning one. As she says,"the consumers of today and tomorrow are going to choose for themselves, creating and designing their own wardrobes...they will share clothes amongst each other since ownership doesn't mean a thing anymore. They will rent clothes, lend clothes, transform clothes and find clothes on the streets."

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Velvet and vintage fashion

All about Urban Root Eco 

(If you are a fan of the Spanish soap Velvet eagerly awaiting season four please do not read. This post contains spoilers)

I have been watching the Spanish soap Velvet, one of the great TV successes of the last couple of years. I chanced upon it in a moment of boredom, it's available on Netflix with English subtitles and other sites too, without subtitles, and I was immediately hooked.
Velvet is a telenovela, set in 1950s Madrid, the main storyline being that of the love of Alberto, son of the owner of Galerias Velvet, an exclusive store selling fashion and luxury accessories to the wealthy ladies of Madrid, and Ana, a seamstress working at the store who later blossoms into a star designer. They are childhood sweethearts but their love, predictably, does not run a smooth course. Around Alberto and Ana there is a whole range of secondary characters and storylines that give life to the soap.
The soap has already reached season three, with Alberto allegedly dead following a plane crash and Ana giving birth to Alberto's baby, whom she nearly lost when Alberto's enraged former wife Cristina - former wife not through divorce, which did not exist in 1950s Spain, but through annulment - had tried to kill her.
ATTENTION: SPOILER! 
SKIP THIS NEXT PARA IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW
Season four, the final temporada, is now being shown on Spanish TV and it is believed that Netflix will bring it out on 22nd September.  Unable to contain my curiosity to know how this long drawn love story  will be resolved I did my research, went through all the interviews with the actors and the press releases for season four as also the photographs of the new series published by Antena 3, the Spanish TV channel that broadcasts Velvet and I can confidently say that there will be a very happy ending. This research had the bonus of  improving my fluency in Spanish, it was a bit like doing an immersion course in Spanish listening and reading comprehension. Anyway, if you want to see the happy ending have a look at these images and draw your own conclusions.
END OF SPOILER
Velvet is unusual among soap operas in that the background and the clothes are truly showcased, they are what makes Velvet . Sure, the series The Collection , set in post-war Paris and focusing on the shady goings on behind the glamorous façade of a rising fashion house, also exhibits fashion but not with the same care and attention to details devoted by the stylists of the Spanish soap, nor is the process of making  the clothes truly at the centre. I would say that fashion is the real protagonist of the Spanish soap. Velvet also focuses on that moment of transition from the made to measure to ready to wear, which Ana introduces - this will be seen in temporada four. Season four is set in the 1960s so we also see the beginnings of menswear in Spain. The soap does not discuss the political situation of the time but it highlights the socio-cultural background and the ferocious gender inequality of Francoist Spain, where abortion and divorce were not legal, and homosexuality could lead to imprisonment.
A lot of research has gone into making the soap. Here is an interview (in Spanish) with Helena Sanchìs, one of the stylists.  I am giving below a gist of the description published on youtube:
Galerias Velvet are a benchmark of fashion, and of course, costumes are paramount in the series. In this video Helena Sanchìs tells us about the designs worn by the actors. They are based on the  documentation  and research compiled about  the time in which the series is set , but trying to give the costumes some  uniqueness, without sticking rigidly to the historical fashion. Many of the dresses were designed and made anew, others are vintage wear  bought and adapted to suit the characters. Helena here also talks  about the famous red dress Alberto gives to Ana, and discusses the period lingerie worn by the girls in the series. You can also see more images and read more about Sanchìs here 


Velvet  also  clearly outlines the politics of the workshop, the tension between innovative designers and the conservativeness of the technicians of fashion, such as seamstresses and cutters, used to working in specific ways: the dynamics of the team working under a designer are exemplified by Raul's relationship to his equipe.
Fashion has changed tremendously, haute couture and ready to wear  are no longer so clearly demarcated, most fashion weeks lean heavily on the ready to wear. Haute couture is now for the Oscars and such events, completely out of reach. Yet I still remember when as a young child I accompanied my mother to the Luisa Spagnoli boutique in my hometown where she would be measured and the clothes altered to fit her. It was already a time of transition but something of the older made to measure style was retained, as sizes were not standardised.
Sanchìs talks about vintage clothes and this is very relevant, in that fashion now is attempting to free itself of mass production and a new awareness is spreading among fashion consumers and fashion designers. Many emerging designers are reinterpreting fashion as being about valorising the old and renewing it and using ecological fibres, as Auguste Soesastro, whom I met in Jakarta,  does.
I had the good fortune to model for one such designers for this current fashion week, Ruth Woldeselasie of Urban Roots Eco. I wore a 1920s bridal outfit, which for me was quite amazing, as I do not normally model bridal wear, due to the age imperative (as if older women did not marry!). Below is a snap taken prior to the catwalk, better pictures will follow.



In sum: if you are interested in fashion, Velvet will not disappoint. And don't forget, if you are trying to learn Spanish, this is exactly what you need to practise your language skills!