Thursday, 26 December 2019

Christmas won't be Christmas: Little Women

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents": thus begins Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, now turned into a  stylish film by Greta Gerwig, with the four March sisters played by Emma Watson (Meg), Saorsie Ronan (Jo), Eliza Scanlen (Beth) and Florence Pugh (Amy).  This 2019 version is definitely very classy and it captures Alcott's feminist message more explicitly than the 1994 movie, the one with Wynona Ryder as Jo and the wonderful Susan Sarandon as Marmee.
I went to see Gerwig's Little Women this afternoon,  on the day of its UK release - it is a bit of a tradition for me to go to the pictures on Boxing Day, my mother always used to take us when my sister and I were little and I did that with my son too, when he was a child.
Little Women is a much-cherished coming-of-age novel and writer Louisa May Alcott was a feminist and a libertarian. She wrote swashbuckling stories which did not sell particularly well.  Little Women was more or less commissioned and she really wrote it to get out of debt. It brought her fame and financial stability but she did not care much for the novel and used to grow impatient with fans, who demanded sequels.
The interpretation given by Gerwig to this American classic is quite compelling. In the film, Alcott and Jo at some point merge and it seems only natural that Alcott should become a character in her own novel, as the film reaches its conclusion. I will not introduce spoilers, you will have to see the film yourselves to find out.
Gerwig's movie captures all the most important moments of the novel, with reference to both Little Women and its sequel Good Wives.  It does not hold back on the theme of sibling rivalry, definitely present in the book but suitably chastised by Alcott.  Gerwig leaves out all sermonizing and moralising and this makes the movie relevant and contemporary.
The casting was good; I particularly liked Emma Watson's Meg, it was a bit of a surprise to see her in that role but Watson is a very good actor and delivered well. Saoirse Ronan as Jo was just perfect.

As a book, Little Women is part of our childhood; for so many women around the world, the vicissitudes of the March girls, their joys and sorrows, have acquired the status of personal memory.  Alcott's book has a very clear message about women, and financial freedom, which the movie does not fail to convey.  A nineteenth-century woman could only find fulfilment in marriage, hoping to marry money; in one of the best scenes of the movie, an adult Amy tells wealthy childhood friend Laurie (whom she later marries) that as a woman of 'middling talent' she has to consider marriage as an economic proposition.  Women like Aunt March, played in the movie by Meryl Streep, a grand old lady of means, a status conferred to her by birth, were few and far between and the price they paid for their independence was spinsterhood. Thus, despite all their wealth, they were regarded as social misfits.
In our times,  things are better, but only just. As Gerwig said in an interview:
"One of the fascinating undercurrents of the book, to me, is this interplay between art and money. So much of this book is about lack of money and resources, how if you are a woman there is no clear path for how to get them”. I can think of countless times, throughout my life, when I had to contend with my desire to work creatively and my inability to secure resources and I know that being female did not help my endeavours.

I definitely recommend the movie. I also recommend reading the book again. Louisa May Alcott said that Little Women was just some 'rubbish' she 'scribbled' on-demand,  there is in it much preaching, which can be very off-putting - fortunately, the movie avoids it. But Little Women is primarily about these vibrant young women, full of life and resourceful, quite extraordinary in their ordinariness. They are the protagonists of this novel, all four of them: the male characters seem to be there only in a supporting role.
This alone makes Little Women such a wonderful and enduring tale, one which can be revisited again and again. It is meant for women, but it is not only for women.
Last but not least, the book has a message about thriftiness and simplicity, which Gerwig's movie readily picks up and renders beautifully through costumes and domestic interiors. Somehow, this resonates with our contemporary concern with sustainability and upcycling and a desire for a simpler life.

But I shall have to expand on this in a different post.

*** Should you wish to compare the different versions of Little Women made over the decades I strongly recommend this video

Monday, 16 December 2019

Counterfeit cosmetics

If you have not watched the documentary 'Broken', available on Netflix,  I would advise you to do so immediately. Watch especially the segment about counterfeit make-up. It made me think long and hard about what I put on my face and I spent the morning throwing away old foundations and anything I thought might be contaminated or of dubious provenance.
With Christmas coming up, you will probably buy cosmetics as gifts and you may be tempted to buy discounted kits online from Amazon or eBay. Please check everything very carefully and do not be taken in by offers of huge discounts on known brands. Many of these cosmetics are counterfeit, made in China and elsewhere, wherever cheap labour and manufacturing are available. Buying counterfeit cosmetics or buying cheap ones from a brand you have never heard of,  is not on the same level as buying a counterfeit bag. These cosmetics are poisonous.
They are made in appalling conditions, they may contain urine and faeces, as well as poisons like arsenic.  Would you really want to put this stuff on your face?
Thanks to highly irresponsible influencers, many of these counterfeit or little known brands manage to make profits out of your skin. Dermatologists have seen a rise of certain epidermic conditions, caused by products made in unhygienic surroundings.

Image from BBC

Few among us have the necessary knowledge to understand chemical formulas and chemical reactions. Although there are mechanisms in place to check on what is being imported, it is very difficult to monitor online purchases. In the documentary, a young woman tells you about the time she bought a lip gloss and her lips got stuck because it contained the same chemicals used for superglue! She ended up with wounds on her lips, in the attempt to separate them.
When you buy something that has to be used on your skin, be sensible. Google the ingredients and if the packaging does not convince you, send it back. Amazon has a service to monitor counterfeit goods, although, in truth, it is in Amazon's interest to sell stuff, regardless of provenance. It's what Amazon does: it sells third party goods and they always have a disclaimer.
And please do not rely on reviews! They can be fake and can be bought, just like followers on social media can be bought.
If your cosmetics are over 18 months old, dispose of them. They are liable to contain bacteria.
You would not eat in a dirty place, overrun by rats. Many of these cosmetics are made in places where rats and animal droppings are the norm. Why would you want to put dirty, poisonous stuff on your skin?
I love make-up like many other women and men too. But I love my skin more and I want it to be disease-free.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Once upon a time: the transformation of the fairy Carabosse

Victoria Marr as Carabosse, Birmingham Royal Ballet 2017. Photo by Bill Cooper

Most people have heard of   - though they may not necessarily have seen it -  the classical ballet Sleeping Beauty. A more significant number of people around the world know and have seen Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) and the more recent, supposedly feminist take on the story, Maleficent (2014).
Carabosse in the ballet and Maleficent in the Disney story are one and the same character: they are the wicked fairy who curses Princess Aurora. I will not engage with Maleficent in this post, there have been many articles written about her and the significance of the movie. I particularly appreciated reading the piece by  Samantha Abramovitz, most relevant in that it reminds people of the forthcoming sequel and warns them not to fall for the progressivism of Disney's movies and take it for authentic feminism. 
The retelling of Sleeping Beauty by the French Charles Perrault constituted the narrative upon which Petipa's ballet is based (with music by Tchaikovsky).  Perrault never named his wicked fairy. However,  there is another retelling of this old fairy tale in which the name Carabosse first appears, that of Madame d'Aulnoy, entitled The Princess Mayblossom (La Princesse Printanière).  In this version, she is an ugly former nurse of the king, on whom the king had played a prank when a child. She now turns up at court, uninvited, to exact her revenge - she is endowed with magical powers. The story of Princess Mayblossom somewhat differs from La Princesse au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty). The point here is that until Madame d'Aulnoy took the initiative, wicked fairies were not named at all.  By the time Tchaikovsky composed the music for the ballet in the 19th century, the name Carabosse had taken root. It may have been because the Russian great witch par excellence (note that she is powerful, not necessarily wicked) was known by her name, Baba Yaga, and her fame had travelled from Russia to Western Europe.  
Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault were contemporaries, both active at the end of the 17th century, straddling into the 18th. Madame d'Aulnoy, even though she enjoyed popularity in her time,  has been totally eclipsed by Perrault and it is only in more recent years that several studies have reconsidered her writing and highlighted her differences from Perrault. Not only did she use sources from the Italian and Spanish tradition, but Madame d'Aulnoy also often turned her heroines into more active ones, occasionally questioning social norms in ways Perrault never felt the need to do.  Another post will dwell on Madame d'Aulnoy as a writer, for indeed, she is most intriguing. 
When it comes to 'wicked fairies' Madame d'Aulnoy concedes that they can be either good or bad (Baba Yaga style, except that Baba Yaga was unknown to her) depending on their mood. But even in Madame's enlightened retelling, Carabosse is as ugly as can be, continuing that tradition of portraying ugliness as the outer form of evil, which has given rise to the abundance of misogynistic portrayals of witches. The  Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition held a few years ago at the British Museum aptly conveyed it. The catalogue by Deanna Petherbridge is still available, and one can access a podcast by Petherbridge here.
Where am I going with all this? I am saying that in ballet, Carabosse has been redefined, updated and given psychological depth by contemporary ballet choreographers. It is more usual to have the role performed by women, rather than men, which was the tradition, though the at-times-over-the -top portrayals of many male performers are still relatively common.

When female ballerinas dance Carabosse, the mime is still the same as in the original ballet (this is a 19th-century ballet with old fashioned mime), but the character becomes tragic rather than the object of derision.  Carabosse has dignity, is majestic. Yes, she indulges in revenge, but one can feel for her.
Who has not ever experienced rage like Carabosse?  Deeply affronted, she decides to take action and confront those who have insulted her.  I love watching how Carabosse appears calm and courteous - her entrance and her bowing to the Queen is very elaborate - while inwardly seething,  giving vent to uncontrollable rage, then composing herself and outlining her revenge plan with glee, only to be defeated by the changes which the Lilac Fairy makes to it - Aurora will not die, she will sleep.  It is not a behaviour I recommend,  but it is so cathartic to watch; it must be a wonderful experience to perform this role - I have found this video of dancer Erica Cornejo (Boston Ballet) talking about how she feels when performing Carabosse. It is worth watching.
Carabosse is the fairy who harks back to mythical characters such as Medea, she who sacrificed her children for revenge - not nice, quite frightening in fact, but then Greek mythology is full of violence and gore and Medea is one of its most tragic figures, at least in the retelling of her story by Euripides.
Carabosse is not just an ugly and wicked fairy to poke fun at, she is an outraged queen.  She deserves some much-needed respect.
 I cannot help having a soft spot for her. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Obsessing over longevity

Jeanne Clement Photo: The Guardian Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Over the weekend an article published by The Guardian about a (pseudo)scientific row over Jeanne Clement, the woman from Arles who supposedly lived to 122, set me thinking about the fascination so many of us have with longevity. It seems Clement could have been a fraud, with her daughter impersonating her, soon after she died, to evade taxation. Yvonne, Jeanne's daughter would have died at age 99. The camps are divided, Jeanne is a cherished national treasure and admitting fraud is difficult in the circumstances.

Jeanne and Yvonne Clement aside, people, in general, are positively captivated with the idea of living a very long life. But why? Would it not be a bit boring to live for well over a century?

Apparently, not. People want to live forever, if only they could.  According to this article, "funded by Silicon Valley elites, researchers believe they are closer than ever to tweaking the human body so that we can finally live forever (or quite a bit longer), even as some worry about pseudoscience in the sector."

The idea is dystopian, frankly repulsive. The complex technology behind such experiments makes this quest for longevity extremely costly and any of its results inaccessible to those who are not super-rich. It is, in many ways, profoundly unjust. Why don't we try, instead, to make the world a better place for the young, who are faced with terrible ecological threats and many of whom live in abject poverty, with very few prospects? A recent science fiction series Ad Vitam (2018) depicts a future world in which giving birth is outlawed, as everyone over the age of thirty can be regenerated. It's chilling.

Longevity and quality of life are intertwined. An often-overlooked side of longevity is illness. people imagine a state of eternal youth, but that is very far from the truth. There is no fun in a life ridden with ailments yet prolonging the life of a very ill person is regarded as mandatory. It is often cruel to do so but this is what those of us who belong to the baby boomer generation are forced (or have been forced) to do with our ill, ageing parents.

Mary Beth Bowen Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

Michael Wolff wrote in 2012, inspired by watching the steady decline of his elderly mother, a poignant piece about the growing ageing population in the US alone: "by promoting longevity and technologically inhibiting death, we  have  created a new biological status held by an ever-growing part of the nation, a no-exit state that persists longer and longer, one that is nearly as remote from life as death, but which, unlike death, requires vast service, indentured servitude  really, and resources.
This is not anomalous; this is the norm."  Strong words, yet they resonate.

We don't allow, by and large, assisted suicide, it is regarded as immoral. I passionately believe we should have a choice. The only one available is VSED, the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking. But that requires an iron will and the death it brings is very slow. It is a wholly inhumane process. I read with great interest about the film made by Mary Beth Bowen about her mother Rosemary's decision to end her life by VSED. I salute Rosemary for her bravery and Mary Beth for having the courage to film her (with Rosemary's consent), at one of the most distressing moments of their lives. VSED is not prohibited by any law but it is inconceivable that this should be the only way to stage one's exit, short of resorting to violent suicide.

I may be in a minority but I do not want to live to a hundred.  Having reached my sixth decade, I want to be able to die when , objectively,  it feels like the only available option (for whatever reason),  and I want this to be as dignitous and pain-free as possible. I might need a friendly medical hand to achieve it. For now, it will remain wishful thinking.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Vainglorious or body positive?

The Countess of Castiglione has always intrigued me.  Her decision to ban and /or cover with a black cloth all mirrors in her home in order not to see herself grow old, having been feted as one of the most beautiful women of the 19th century, always struck me as rather peculiar. She died at age 62, which was old in those days, in Paris, where she had established herself permanently after scandalously leaving her husband. She is buried at Père Lachaise cemetery.
Mostly remembered for being, albeit briefly,  the mistress of Napoleon III, she was dismissed as a vain, capricious, but stunning woman of the 19th century. She was apparently encouraged to be close to the Emperor by her cousin and statesman, the Count of Cavour, who wanted an alliance with Napoleon to further his project of unifying Italy under Vittorio Emanuele,  the Savoia king of Piedmont.  It seems that the Countess often undertook, for Cavour,  to approach influential people, to ensure political gains, using her seductive arts: a Mata Hari, in other words.
Sadly, the Countess for a long time did not receive the attention and respect she deserved as one of the first photographic models and muses. She often directed her photographers to create portraits of herself that firmly situate her as one of the very first artists of the nascent medium of photography. Recognition came rather late after she had been long dead and buried.
Virginia Oldoini had a highly developed aesthetic sense and understood the potential of photography to make high-quality portraiture. Had she lived in our times, she would have probably been active in self-portraiture, and she would have definitely been a model, as she knew instantly how to pose.
She was very comfortable in her own skin, and on various occasions, she revealed that she found herself beautiful. It did not go down very well with her contemporaries, who thought she was immodest and continually bragging about her appearance. Today she would probably be an ambassador for body acceptance, even though many people continue to believe, to this day,  she was most vain.

I particularly love this quote of hers:
"Io sono io, e me ne vanto; non voglio niente dalle altre e per le altre. Io valgo molto più di loro. Riconosco che posso non sembrare buona, dato il mio carattere fiero, franco e libero, che mi fa essere talvolta cruda e dura. Così qualcuno mi detesta; ma ciò non mi importa, non ci tengo a piacere a tutti".
"I am who I am and am proud of it; I seek nothing from other women and for other women [who criticize me]. I am more worthy than they are.  I admit I may not always come across as kind, given my proud, free, and straightforward disposition, which at times makes me seem sharp and cold-hearted. Thus some find me detestable, but it does not bother me; I do not care about pleasing everyone".  Words I could have uttered myself!
The Countess has been rediscovered in more recent times, see, for example, Rosalind Jana's appraisal for Vice (2016) and the book by Nicole G. Albert (in French) of 2011 La Castiglione which discusses her as muse de la melancolie. 
Not much has however been written about her role in the Italian Risorgimento, people seem to have been swayed by her negative image and tend to underestimate her contribution. Writing for the Enciclopedia delle Donne,  Virginia Lalli says: 
"Gli storici negano qualunque influenza della Contessa di Castiglione nelle questioni dell’indipendenza italiana. Mancano infatti protocolli, carte, documenti, che non si sono mai trovati. Subito dopo la sua morte polizia, autorità e servizi segreti bruciarono tutte le lettere e i documenti a lei inviati dalle massime personalità del tempo con le quali era entrata in contatto, re, politici e banchieri." 
"Historians deny any influence of the Countess of Castiglione on Italian independence. In fact, there are no existing protocols, papers, documents, they have never been found. Immediately after her death, police, authorities, and secret services burned all the letters and documents sent to her by the great personages of her time with whom she had come in contact, kings, politicians, and bankers."

It is sad that the Countess should have received such bad press and that her commitment to the Risorgimento should have been doubted. At least her role as an artist and performer - for performing is what she did in front of the camera - is now being acknowledged in what Albert calls 'the apotheosis of the ephemeral'.  

(Images from Google images)

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

An ending that is not an ending

I am a Jane Austen fan,I love all her books. I also greatly enjoyed the Pride and Prejudice adaptation for BBC  made by Andrew Davies in the 1990s -  such great moments, how can one forget the Colin-Firth-out-of-the-pond scene?
So when it was announced that Davies would turn Sanditon into a drama for ITV, I was very excited.  Sanditon was the very last novel JA wrote and unfortunately never finished because death came in the way.  But she did manage to write enough as to have all the characters in place, the background clearly laid out and one or two storylines already clearly discernible.
Let us be clear on one thing:  JA wrote happy endings. Her heroines might have gone through plenty of trials and tribulations but in the end, all is well, and they marry their man.
But not in this ITV Sanditon.  It ended so badly, I was absolutely devastated. What? Charlotte Heywood does not get to marry Sidney Parker? Why on earth does he decide -  less than ten minutes to the end!!! - that the only way to help his brother is to marry that horrendously stuck up Eliza? What makes him so sure anyway that Eliza will allow him to get his hands on her considerable fortune? After all Lady Denham never did permit Lord Denham to scoop up hers!
It all happened - or did not happen - in the last 10 mins of the final episode, and we, the viewers, were left wondering whether we were being hastily set up for a possible Season 2. So much was left unresolved!
After a day or so of despondency, I pulled myself together. Not JA's fault, clearly. I have her unfinished Sanditon which ends with a description of Lady Denham's grand house, where her second husband's portrait, Lord Denham, is fully visible, hanging over the fireplace, whereas her poor first husband, who had owned Sanditon House, can be barely seen in a miniature facing the large portrait - JA always peppered her narratives with shrewd observations of this sort.

A bit of serious googling alerted me to the highly recommended 'continuation' by "Another Lady" which is, apparently, excellent and I ordered it from my library. "Another Lady" is the talented Australian writer Marie Dobbs, who used that nom-de-plume in response to 'A Lady', aka JA herself who began publishing anonymously.

I will return to the merits of Sanditon in another post , once I have read the 'continuation'. As for the ITV series, the acting was good (not always) but the adaptation very bad indeed, a patchwork of everything JA wrote, mixed with ridiculously gratuitous sex scenes and then no resolution at all.

But what is it about happy endings? Why do we want them? And is it a sign of inferior taste to crave them? I can only speak for myself here: it's not so much that the ending has to be happy but there has to be some resolution. A bit of escapism does not hurt but, the main point is that the ending no matter what has to be good, fit for the narrative. Does the author wish to punish her/his characters? Fine, but let it be done elegantly. You cannot end by simply cutting off and leaving everything hanging there. I know Sanditon was never finished, but there are other ways to match its fragmentary existence - and by the way, I do not think this was at one of Davies' concerns...

Picture: ITV

If one intends fleshing out the story it should not be done as clumsily as Davies' Sanditon,there should be some proper build-up, and an ending suggesting a forthcoming denouement.

So, are we to expect a Season 2? Maybe. If there is a Season 2, I know I will watch, if only to moan about it.

What can I say? I am hooked...


Friday, 4 October 2019

Body Beautiful: Diversity on the catwalk

I was in Edinburgh for a day for the exhibition Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk, on at the National Museum of Scotland until 20th October and for the round table discussion which took place last night with a host of activists and educators, among whom Sinead Burke.
She has carved a niche for herself as a high profile advocate of 'little people' in fashion and has lent her face and body to the poster created to advertise the exhibition, turning herself into a model.
I really wanted to meet her and this was why I decided to go - besides it's always nice to be in Edinburgh, even though yesterday was a rainy day. But Edinburgh is beautiful, and its greyness is part of its charm. 
Sinead Burke is very inspiring: what she has achieved for herself is not easy to match. She is a known face, a star in the firmament of fashion, always invited at fashion shows sitting Front Row, photographed by the very best photographers, Lindbergh among them, on the cover of British Vogue and of the BoF (alongside Kim Kadarshian). She has, however,  not yet appeared on the runway.
I asked her why. She feels that it is not the right time, it would mislead people into thinking that fashion has really become totally inclusive when, in reality,  it has not - and  'little people' would be duped into believing they can finally find commercially available fashionable clothes, suited to their body shape, when in fact there are none.  It would be tokenistic, she said.

I cannot disagree - but sometimes tokenism is a start. Winnie Harlow made vitiligo acceptable, and it could be argued that when she began, she was a token. But on reflection, apart from her complexion marked by vitiligo, Winnie Harlow conformed to all expectations of what a model should look like - tall and leggy, with perfectly symmetrical facial features.
Sinead Burke 's physique challenges those expectations completely - which is why, in my view, she or someone like her, should be seen not just sitting front row, not just in photoshoots about advocating diversity, but also on the runway,  modeling clothes. It would send a clear message of acceptance.

Sinead Burke's lack of height is the result of a disability, I am fully aware of it, whereas being short is not a disability at all, just a physical characteristic.
But fashion seems to have a major problem with a lack of height, so much so that shorter models, both male and female,  will do everything to appear taller, including fibbing about their height. It is something of a 'problem' for people outside the fashion industry too. Indeed there is a thriving industry sector, that of the elevator shoes, and many people around the world make use of them.
If someone as little as Sinead were to be seen on the runway it would seriously question the dominance of the height stereotype which is the most entrenched of all, hardly ever discussed.

My book Contemporary Indonesian fashion: through the looking glass is out on 31st October, published by Bloomsbury.
Order form Bloomsbury or Amazon

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Celebrating rather than mourning: RIP London Fashion Week

Extinction Rebellion at LFW SS20 Photo: Photo Henry Nicholls/Reuters, reblogged.

On the last day of London Fashion Week SS20, Extinction Rebellion staged its funeral, the culmination of a march which began in Trafalgar Square and ended at 180 The Strand, where fashion week shows had been taking place.
Theirs was a protest against fast fashion, in the wake of its ominous effects on the planet's climate. I  read about it in the news and I also read a very thoughtful article in The Guardian penned by Jess Carter-Morley on the role of fashion week in the age of late capitalism.
I was tempted to join the march but:
1. I agree with Extinction Rebellion that fast fashion is among the culprits; however, I am not totally sold on ER's methods and
2. I took part in London Fashion Week, although the show I was in was not among the mainstream ones staged by the British Fashion Council, but a complementary one staged by Fashion Scout ( I was also in two other ones which simply took place during fashion week, but had no connection with it). Joining the march would have been, for me, a case of cognitive dissonance.
As a model, I am caught up in the mystique of fashion week: I want to be on the runway, modelling for fashion week is regarded as a plum job, not because of the money, but because of the status it confers. Fashion Week, the Musical of Late Stage Capitalism, as Carter-Morley calls it, holds such an allure that even casting directors have been known to work for free on behalf of designers, to cast their models.

Modelling for IA London, Fashion Scout, LFW SS20. Photo: Olivia Ferrara-Forbes

To me, at my age and with my height,  below the standard 5'10 now demanded for the runway, and also my size, over the 'runway standard' UK 6,  being cast for London Fashion Week  (or any other fashion week) matters. The presence of someone like me, one would argue, contributes to the diversity of representation. But I know it is only tokenistic and diverse casting is as perfunctory as can be. Tokenism does not bring change, it appeases and gives a 'feel-good factor' but does not change the status quo.  I had the wonderful experience of being called 'fat' and 'short' at a fitting by a much fatter and shorter female designer who was shocked I would not get into her size 2 gowns (American size). 'My clothes must be worn by tall and very slim models' she said, with conviction.
The gowns were pretty awful and I was glad I was spared, but the pitiful look she gave me, wondering why someone like me would even dare come near her clothes, made me realise that despite all the noise, the policy of positive representation is still, by and large,  pretty meaningless.
When I stop regarding the issue from my narrow model's perspective (I often wonder why I am still doing it, but that's another story), I know there is a real problem with the system and that the fashion week, with or without diverse representation in model casting, should go. This season  LFW was about #Positive Fashion, but as Maeve Campbell writes, only six events were part of PF.  It was by and large just a buzzword...

My book

 I do discuss such issues in my forthcoming book, Contemporary Indonesian Fashion. Through the Looking Glass, officially out on 31st October. Indonesian fashion is my case study but the discussion I offer involves fashion globally. I do talk about the exploitation of young designers, especially those from developing countries, willing to pay through their nose to dubious fashion event organisers in London or New York to have the privilege of doing a fashion show in these 'major fashion capitals'. I discuss how diversity becomes a meaningless keyword, just a hashtag because having one 'different' body among the models on the runway does not change anything. Actually, right now, transgenders are being coopted: with their natural height and very narrow hips, they are everything an old school designer wants (earlier it was very tall androgynous girls, perforce very young, with no hips and no breasts) and they add 'diversity' to the casting!  Who needs to have fat women, old or young, who will never do justice to the clothes...
But the point is that we do not need new clothes, we need a new way of wearing clothes, avoiding waste, avoiding exploitation at all levels. We need fashion for real bodies. Thus we do not need expensive fashion week shows. Surely, there are other ways for designers to engage with their prospective buyers and show their work. As a consumer (I cannot help being one, it is part and parcel of our capitalist society) I want to know that what I am wearing is durable and it has not been made by a woman or child paid a pittance somewhere in Asia, North Africa or even Eastern Europe. I want greater agency in the way I style myself, I do not need fashion trends. I want real diversity of representation in fashion as well as in life.
If we do away with the Fashion Week as such, it will not spell the end of fashion, only the demise of exploitative fashion. Extinction Rebellion has buried it. Let's join in a celebration. There is a 'hereafter' for fashion, now that the Fashion Week  has been buried.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

SecondHandSeptember and Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman as flapper

SecondHandSeptember and Cindy Sherman: what's the connection? None. Except that I finally went to see Cindy Sherman's exhibition at National Portrait Gallery on 1st September - it ends on 15th - and September is the month declared by Oxfam to be #secondhandseptember.
Let's start with Cindy Sherman. I have long admired this unique and extraordinary artist and her mastery over self-portraiture.
Indeed I was inspired to take up the camera and do some self-portraits, but I abandoned the idea when I realised I was repeating myself. That is certainly not Cindy Sherman's problem. Her creativity is boundless and the way she uses the camera for self-expression and social commentary is unparalleled.
I was particularly drawn to her commentary on fashion. In 1984 Sherman did a shoot for Vogue Paris, appearing depressed and dishevelled. her outfits were in utter contrast with the mood of the photos. Sherman is all set about exploding fashion as a myth and revealing it as illusionary. Paradoxically, this has gone down well with the purveyors of fashion, who have continued to commission Sherman.
After visiting the National Portrait Gallery I met with a dear friend and she reminded me that September is the month when people pledge not to buy new clothes: #secondhandseptember.
I totally agree with this and I like the fact that as the circus of fashion weeks begins, people are being reminded of how wasteful the fashion industry is.

Parodying Vogue 

I have taken this pledge a bit further: I have shopped in charity shops for years but now I have also taken up dressmaking and I use charity shops to source fabric and old clothes which I then alter.  Dressmaking is my new hobby. No, I am not a designer - I am just a humble dressmaker. But I love my sewing machine and am teaching myself to stitch. I have even joined a FB group about sewing 19th-century costumes. I am quite ambitious, clearly, but sewing is such a wonderful past time.
And in a world in which fast fashion dominates and destroys our environment, let's pay some attention to clothes and what /how we wish to wear.
There is nothing more satisfying than wearing something you have made yourself. OK, I make mistakes, but this is how we learn. So far I have just been altering: turning trousers into skirts, long dresses into tunics, making a pinafore and all these simple things.

Wearing my hand made skirt in Trafalgar Square on 1st September 

I have in mind to stitch something nice for my grandchild, due in December - I am still thinking about it, have not yet decided.  A blanket maybe? Or a christening gown?  I am carefully considering options.
Meanwhile, rest assured. I am not going to buy new clothes for at least a month. It is #secondhandseptember.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

'Be true to yourself' and other exhortations

Social media is awash with hashtags such as 'be true to yourself', 'embrace yourself', 'worthy of love' and so on.
You know when you get too much of a good thing, yes? Every time I check my Instagram or Facebook feed and see these words dancing before my eyes, I feel physically sick. How many more times do I have to read this? What exactly are people saying?
I resent being continuously told to be true to myself. Remember when you were little, and you were asked all the time whether you had brushed your teeth? I could not bear it, even though it was my mother who asked, lovingly - and she certainly meant well.
Those who are telling me to be true to myself are perfect strangers who belong to a very fake virtual community. The hashtag often appears under a carefully airbrushed picture of a woman engaged in some activity or even unabashedly endorsing a product.
There are days when I honestly do not know myself at all. Do you?
Our identities are complex, and they are not fixed in time. Who we are is also determined by our social and cultural context. So 'being true to oneself' turns into a mere platitude, there is no 'authentic self', it is a construct.
It is a point that is well made in issue eight of the online journal Vestoj, a publication that discusses fashion in a critical mode.  In a very thoughtful piece, the journal's editors discuss authenticity and the self, with reference to fashion, asking whether it is possible to be authentic in fashion. I was struck by the sentence "Only by overcoming the accepted norms imposed on us by our social institutions – family, education, religion, government – can an individual begin to live a truly authentic life". And dress accordingly.

Our 'being true to ourselves' often becomes, predictably,  jumping on the latest bandwagon, with little or no reflection. The constant exhortations to be authentic turn into empty words, just fashionable slogans.
So next time you come across that laudable exhortation, 'Be true to yourself', you may want to dig a little to find out what this self might actually be. It might surprise you to find that, just like when you peel an onion, you are actually left with nothing - your 'selves' are all there, in those layers you have peeled off.  To which one of these are you being true?

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Weavers of the Clouds

I came to it rather late, as it has been going on since 21st June, but the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge, is fabulous.
Weavers of the Clouds is an introduction to the textile arts of Peru, and it includes an overview of contemporary fashion inspired by Peruvian textiles as also contemporary Peruvian art.
The Fashion and Textile Museum is "small but perfectly formed" as the saying goes. It is not as grand as the V&A and it probably works on a fraction of the V&A budget, but the exhibitions held at the museum are always a lovely experience for the visitor.
This one on Peruvian textiles is visually exciting and very informative. A small catalogue is given out to all the visitors thus it is easy to navigate the galleries. There are no labels, so the catalogue is a constant reference point.
The display is very good. I felt I could immerse myself in Peruvian textile art and really appreciated the references to contemporary fashion.

A collaboration between Chelsea College of Art and KUNA, Incalpaca, who produce and manufacture garments made from alpaca and vicuña resulted in a series of well thought out designs executed by the students. Two prizewinners were selected, Naphat Sintrirat and Ella Wall and works by eleven students were displayed in the exhibition.
The sheer colours of the weave and fabrics are enough to brighten up a gloomy day. I spent nearly two hours there and plan to visit again. I dabble in dressmaking and feel inspired to try out a few things!

What we learn from such an exhibition is the importance of finding out about, and collaborating with skilled craftsmen, creating a fashion that is durable and sustainable and which is respectful of a community's identity.   A fashion for the 21st century, drawing on age-old traditions and techniques.
I definitely go along with that.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Fashion shows at archaeological sites: private money for public spaces

Dolce and Gabbana at Agrigento

Fashion shows are performances; as such, they need pleasant surroundings and good mis-en-scène. The conventional runway show held at some typical exhibition or conference centre does not seem to work anymore; designers are always on the lookout for exciting locations where they can hold their show.
Back in 1998, Calvin Klein requested permission from the Greek Archaeological Council to hold a show at the Acropolis in Athens. The application was rejected. More recently, Gucci tried in 2017, and that application too was rejected. The Acropolis is far too precious to the Greeks, and the fear of damaging it rules out such interventions. It is also likely that the Greeks would prefer, for political reasons, a homegrown designer/brand to hold such a show in what is the pride and glory of Greek culture.
This year there were two events that linked fashion directly to archaeological sites: the Dolce and Gabbana show at the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, Sicily,  and Fendi's show in Rome at the Temple of Venus, a celebration of 'Romanity', with the splendour of the Colosseum in the background. Both shows took place in July and were spectacular.
Such events at archaeological sites can be quite beneficial to the sites: Dolce and Gabbana built a platform inside the Temple of Concordia, and as a result, visitors are now allowed to go inside the temple, whereas earlier they would have to limit themselves to going round it. Fendi, on the other hand, has pledged £2.2 for the restoration and cleaning of the majestic Temple of Venus. Archaeological sites are fragile and need constant attention; their upkeep is costly and not necessarily fully covered by state support. Not in Italy, not elsewhere, though some places may have better budgets.

An event such as a fashion show enables a renewed engagement with such sites which are part of a community and need to be seen not merely as monuments of a gone past, but still enmeshed in the present, alive and thriving.
Most of the main sites in Rome have received patronage from the fashion industry, specifically luxury brands. Rome is enveloped in its rich history which seamlessly merges with the present. Rome thrives on the income provided by tourism; it is only predictable that attractions should be well kept. It would be foolish to turn down the money offered by interested private companies, in this case,  luxury brands, although everything comes at a price.
Writing for The Guardian in 2016, in the wake of  the cleaning and restoration of the Trevi fountain achieved through another spectacular Fendi's fashion show, Eva Wiseman commented that  "it seems apt that this city, its story so tightly wound with ideas of luxury and taste, can be propped up by fashion brands in a way that, say, London can’t. The idea of Topshop sponsoring a clean-up of Nelson’s Column is almost unthinkable."   Fendi and Topshop are not quite in the same league, it must be said.
But do I detect here a sour grape sentiment in Wiseman's subsequent comments, when she wonders whether accepting money from fashion brands might eventually lead to the introduction of VIP only areas?
Fashion brands in the UK do not act as sponsors of known sites - I would love to see Victoria Beckham stepping up to the plate and investing into a British site (there are several that are languishing and desperately need to be renovated) but private money poured in the upkeep of places such as Kew Gardens is old news.  So why feel somewhat outraged? It's called capitalism, and we live in a largely capitalist world.

Chihuly at Kew
I go to Kew Gardens regularly, as I am a member. It is a great place to visit, but it is not easily accessible to everyone. London parks are usually free and especially when it is sweltering, they are places where everyone tries to spend time. And not just in hot weather. Parks and green spaces are the lungs of this sprawled out metropolis.
Kew, however,  is not free; getting in is a steep £16.50 per person, a little less with various concessions.  A membership 'plus guest' is the best option if you really are committed to visiting regularly, as indeed I am.
A family outing to Kew is expensive and not for everyone.  Who goes to Kew? By definition, Kew visitors are some kind of VIPs, in that they are people who can afford to pay to get in.
Within Kew there are many places sponsored by the companies that give money for the upkeep of the site, starting with the rather expensive cafes and ice-cream parlours (I went last Sunday with a friend and was shocked at the cost of a cone with a flake, a fiver for two).  Then there are shops where merchandise is sold, and it is not cheap either.

One of the ponds at Kew

Other places in London are also not free, Hampton Court for example.
So why would Fendi and Bulgari offering money for the upkeep of Roman sites be seen as more threatening than say, Sackler, or any private company offering money to hire a venue within Kew for a corporate event?
As a fashion lover, I delight in fashion shows and would be thrilled to see them at beautiful venues. And if I walk in one myself, which I occasionally do, I would be thrilled to do it at the Valley of Temples or anywhere as grand as that. I love history too, what an excellent way to bring my two passions together!

Friday, 12 July 2019

StyleLikeU and Korean older models

I have been a little negative in my past posts, giving vent to my mistrust of femvertising and pro-age. I was feeling dissatisfied and quite unhappy at what seemed the commercialisation of a good idea. I feel a bit more relieved, it's not all gloomy. There are also those who are genuine and are trying to make a significant political point; they are not in it just for the money or self-aggrandizement. 
Are you aware of StyleLikeU?
Founded by Elisa Goodkind and  Lily Mandelbaum, who are mother and daughter, StyleLikeU is meant to empower women. I loved their series of short videos for The What's Underneath Project, in which women discuss themselves while stripping down to their underwear.
You have to see the videos, saying it like that may give the wrong impression. Actually, the stripping is important, it suggests getting down to the essence. It's a brave act and it leads to self -acceptance.
It's hard to indicate a favourite, as there are so many videos that truly speak to me; but the first one I saw was the one with Jackie O' Shaughnessy, the former American Apparel model, interviewed at age 62 - my age now - about five or six years ago.
What she said totally resonated. She talked about the invisibility of older women, the 'epidemic of poor body image for women, especially at my age'.
I could never understand who would be so foolish as to call her names and say she is ugly. Six foot tall and never-ending legs, surely Jackie embodies our contemporary beauty ideal,  which privileges slim bodies and height, only she is in the older age group. But clearly, the stigma of being old/older affects everyone, no matter their body shape.
It is with immense joy and pride  I can announce my collaboration with StyleLikeU - all will be revealed in due course, all I will say for now is that I am really looking forward to it.
StyleLikeU is also currently casting; the casting call is on Instagram, see below.

Still in the context of age and age divide, I saw an article the other day about senior models in South Korea and I was stuck by it.  Older people modelling are becoming more visible in this part of the world and the Koreans have implemented a systematic approach to it, with catwalk training offered at welfare centres. According to official sources, almost half of South Korean baby boomers live in poverty - the highest number among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Korean ageing population is growing at a very fast pace. Modelling has proved lucrative for a handful of senior Koreans, many of whom are forced by unfavourable economic circumstances to take up more unusual work. 

AFP/Jung Yeon-je

The age divide in Korea is felt a lot more than elsewhere. There is a generational conflict. The baby boomers are not as affluent as elsewhere. Ageism is rampant and extremely ugly in its manifestation, with derogatory terms used by young people to refer to seniors, such as teulttakchung, a "denture-wearing insect" and yeongeumchung, a "pensioner insect".
An intergenerational divideis also apparent in the UK, in relation to Brexit, but many social commentators have been quick to point out that it is more of a class issue, rather that one related to age. It is also significant that the ageing population in a country such a Britain tends to be middle class and relatively affluent, unlike Korea.
It brings me back to the point I made in an earlier post: when we talk about age and ageism an intersectional approach is necessary.
Meanwhile let's celebrate the greater visibility of older women and men in fashion and advertising, beyond stereotypical representation.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

AltaRoma 2019: a reflection on trends

Logo designed by Anastasia Chernyavska

I have just returned from a few days in Rome, where I attended AltaRoma 2019, otherwise known as Rome Fashion Week. I saw several shows, though not all of them, it was physically impossible to do so, the heat soon became unbearable, and it affected mobility, at least for me.
The highlight of the event was the show put on the last evening, as a grand finale, by Accademia Koefia, a renowned institution which trains its students in the art of couture, passing on age-old techniques to newer generations of designers. Koefia graduates join well-established couture fashion houses, from Dolce&Gabbana to Valentino and  Balenciaga,  and have done so for decades;  their unique skills are much sought after, and they are trained to think about what they are making.  They are not merely dressmakers, of whom there is an abundance; they are true designers. Koefia closed AltaRoma 2019 with a magnificent show, sleek, professional and carefully conceptualised.
Their project this  year was an attempt to marry 'Made in Italy' with 'Made in Indonesia', highlighting the connection and synergy between two approaches to fashion and dress which are rooted in artisanal traditions, yet carefully avoiding cultural appropriation, the bane of much contemporary fashion in the Western world (think of the recent controversy concerning Kim Kardashian, Carolina Herrera and now Louis Vuitton).  Koefia has an ongoing relationship with Indonesian fashion designers and Indonesian textile makers, facilitated by the Indonesian embassy in Rome. Bianca Cimiotta Lami, on behalf of  Koefia, has worked on building up this relationship through regular visits to Indonesia since 2013, regularly participating in Indonesia Fashion Week and selecting young Indonesian designers who would benefit from training at Koefia, to broaden their skills. The Koefia short term scholarships are now a  feature of Indonesia Fashion Week and are linked to the annual Young Designer competition.
This year Koefia's international graduates presented around 50 pieces. They worked with Indonesian textiles such as batik and tenun, sourced in Indonesia with the help of the embassy, and were inspired by clothing memorabilia of the 1980s. They took on the role of  'curators', referencing the performance by Tilda Swinton in The Impossible Wardrobe, held at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2012. In that show, Swinton, dressed as a museum curator in a white overall (but in heels) would 'reanimate' the clothes in the collection of the Musée Galliera, which would thus come to life through Swinton's dynamic and imaginative interaction with them.
The show by Koefia was a dive in our collective cultural memory, citing 1980s subcultures. It was also an acknowledgement of the cross-cultural nature of much fashion design, but as I said earlier, carefully eschewing appropriation.
My own involvement with Indonesian fashion is no secret, I have just completed a book to be published in the autumn by Bloomsbury, which discusses Indonesian fashion in a global context. I actually met Bianca Lami in Jakarta and was really keen to see her project come to fruition, I went to Rome especially. I was not disappointed.

As for the other shows of AltaRoma 2019 - I successfully obtained accreditation as 'blogger' to view as many as I could - they were interesting, though predictably, a mixed bag. Unlike the Koefia show, there was an overall lack of serious conceptualisation, resulting in a uniform blandness. What has now become an abundance of keywords in fashion, such as 'sustainability', was bandied around with great nonchalance. The workmanship was definitely there, especially in the fashioning of accessories - Italians always make good shoes and bags; however, the ability to present a coherent design project was often a hit and miss affair, not sufficiently thought through.
I did not attend all the shows; thus, my observations are based solely on what I saw - I would love to be challenged on this! Nor did I attend the exclusive, by invitation only, Fendi show which took place at the Temple of Venus, with the Colosseum as backdrop, on July 5th.
One of the shows I saw,  part of Rome is my runway 2,  struck me as being a possible commentary on the pollution and dirt of Roman streets, where garbage is not collected often enough and, with the summer heat, it rots, giving out a nauseating stench. I am pretty sure this was my own reading of it, I doubt it the designer conceived it to be so.  His (male) models wore masks, but possibly this was meant as something decorative. I sent a short video of the collection to a friend, and we laughed - what else can you do? -  about the state of Roman garbage collection.

Blowing the cover off fashion and tv. StyleLikeU.

As a Grey model and a fashion activist, involved in campaigning for inclusion - I am delighted to announce that I will soon be working with StyleLikeU, the US-based platform "for role models who stand outside of norms" -  I have a particular bone to pick with the organisers of AltaRoma.  I was struck by the total lack of inclusion and diversity in the model selection.  It seemed to me that the designers  (and I am not talking of students, some of them are already established, though perhaps not as world-famous as, say, Dolce and Gabbana or Fendi, the latter a patron of AltaRoma) were operating in a vacuum, disregarding and showing a lack of awareness  of the body positivity movement and the changes this has engendered. Even when they positioned themselves, in their press releases, as focussing on the core value of diversity, on feminist attitudes, on the fluidity of gender, this was not seen on the runway. Where were the curvy models, the trans-models, the older models, the disabled models? Even in terms of ethnicity, apart from a couple of young models of colour, the runway was dominated by young,  thin, tall  Caucasian girls and equally homogeneous looking young Caucasian men.  I am here discounting Koefia's models who were students of its modelling and deportment course - students tend to be young. But what about the others?

A show part of AltaRoma 2019 which presented fashion looks and models, a regular feature of all AltaRoma editions

Diversity is not to be confined to a few well-selected words in a press release. Inclusive representation is crucial, and unfortunately, I saw little of it. The clothes themselves are insufficient as a commentary on diversity. They are worn by bodies and it is through the bodies of the wearers that diversity is represented.
I found this lack of diversity on the catwalk rather shocking and somewhat behind the times.
Designers might be able to excuse themselves by saying that they do not select the models, hired directly by the organisers; they can only choose from a pool of girls and boys.  It is something I hear all the time in London, where, come Fashion Week, a few designers begin to phone up agencies, even a day before the show, in a panic, realising that the LFW models are not diverse enough. They absolutely need to have at least one older model, one curvy model and ideally, a disabled one and a couple of black models, because a lack of inclusive representation will be noticed. London Fashion Week has come a long way, yet it remains tokenistic. Rome Fashion Week is not even that!
 I would invite AltaRoma organisers to view Timeless Beauty, the highly acclaimed documentary film made in 2018 by Deyan Parouchev, a Franco-Chinese coproduction focused on an exploration of atypical beauty in fashion and advertising. It might help to put things in perspective.
Who knows, AltaRoma 2020 might surprise us, in more than one way.

See the article of 11th July in  The Jakarta Post by Josa Lukman for a more detailed account of the Koefia show.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Art and ethics

Michelangelo Caravaggio Self Portrait. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Should we separate artworks from the artists who made them and ignore the artists'  ethics, even though they might have been sexist or racist or abusive people in their private life?
It is an interesting question, which has been widely debated from different perspectives. What triggered it for me was Naomi Campbell posting on Instagram a video clip of her music video with Michael Jackson, directed by Herb Ritts, with the caption "We miss you #legend".   Miss Campbell has been careful to never comment on Jackson's alleged paedophilia. She never severed her friendship, on the contrary.  As far as she is concerned, the making and screening of Leaving Neverland, the explosive documentary which details the sexual abuse to which Jackson subjected the (then) children who worked closely with him, never even happened.
I do not personally think that Michael Jackson was a genius, nor a legend and I would barely regard his work as art, even though his music played a major part in defining the popular culture of the 1980s and early 1990s. Nor do I particularly care for  Miss Campbell's opinions.
We have recently had a Naomi Campbell overload in the news and her philanthropy has been rammed down our throats. I shall gladly leave her to her commendable humanitarianism,  I am not going to discuss her at all in this post, her actions have been, as I said, just a trigger. Another person who never believed in Jackson's paedophilia and strongly defended him is none other than Donald Trump, who also calls himself "an ardent philanthropist".  Naomi Campbell is definitely in excellent company.

Oprah on Leaving Neverland
But I am digressing. The idea that people should dissociate themselves from Jackson's music is intriguing. It is definitely not a straightforward matter. Again, I was never a great fan, so I can live with a radio/TV ban on his music - apparently in place in New Zealand, following the paedophilia allegations. I never owned one of Jackson's albums, I preferred other musicians. But what of it?
Let's look at other instances.  Woody Allen, for example. It was never proven, but there were allegations of sexual abuse in connection with one of his adopted daughters. I confess I like his films, even though when I now think of him, the idea of his abuse puts me off. Roman Polanski too was involved in a 'relationship' with a barely teen girl, legally only a child. In his case, the fact that his wife was butchered by the Manson family is often seen as warranting leniency for his 'unorthodox behaviour'.  For me that's no excuse, sex with a minor, regardless of issues of consent, is still a crime. A responsible adult should know better than engaging in sexual behaviour with any child.
Anti-semitism seemed to have been an indulgence of many 20th century artists, from Wagner to T.S. Eliot. Picasso was violent to women; going further back in time, Caravaggio was a murderer. The list goes on. How should we regard the work of these artists?
The view that art is separate from and above the people who make it is but a way of regarding art as disconnected from its context. Also, the idea that the artist is a 'genius',  hence above reproach, is open to question.  I do not buy it,  the personal circumstances of the artist become relevant because an individual is still connected to his/her social environment.

Artemisia Gentileschi. Susanna and the Elders Image from Wikimedia Commons

 I can think here of Artemisia Gentileschi who in the 17th century, at the age of sixteen, had the daring to denounce her rapist, undergoing torture during the trial to prove her innocence and nearly lost two fingers as a result. Knowing such circumstances makes me look at her work with different eyes. She was a female painter who excelled at her art in a world that was so much anti-women. Her subjects were drawn from the Bible but she infused them with her own sensibility and turned them into a  subtle commentary on her own experience. Gentileschi is a positive example, for whom we are ready to acknowledge that her personal circumstances and the violence she experienced because of her gender made her into the superb artist that she was.
Why then, at the other end of the spectrum, are we so willing to dissociate mostly male artists with the violence of their actions and their crimes? Can we really say that Wagner's music does not have a note of anti-semitism in it? Perhaps not his 'pure music' but his operas, well, they do.
I cannot be prescriptive. At the end of the day, it is also, very much so, a matter of personal choice. Banning art is not desirable. But I would spend some time learning about who made a particular work and then decide whether I can live with their sins or not.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The age cage #1

Preparing for the IA London shoot

How important is age?
From the number of articles discussing age which one comes across every day, it would seem that age is very important. The emphasis on youth and the ageism that seems to pervade the fashion industry: these are being constantly debated.
There is no way around it, age matters.
Age has acquired greater visibility than it ever did and though this is not a bad thing at all - let's talk about age, why not, and let's represent older people in the media - more worryingly it has also turned into an excellent money-making proposition.  From books full of exhortations to defy style rules and follow one's inklings of what a personal style is, subtly recycling, excuse the pun, age-old advice, to encouraging older women, in particular, to be eccentrically dressed, to apps for mature dating, to the grey-hair-dont-care movement and its spinoffs: you can take your pick. I shall return to this in a different post, as in my view what is really lacking here is a proper intersectional approach to age. We all age but ageing does not make us equal. Some of us can afford to age better than others.
I recently did a shoot for IA London, the designer for whom I walked at LFW19. It has been published by Huf Magazine, issue 86, out this week.  It was quite an experience for me, different from more commercial takes on age.  I was able to render, visually, through movement and with the help of the magnificent clothes designed by Ira, the idea that age is indeed a cage. By that, I particularly mean the negativity attached to age and the ageing process and all its contemporary accoutrements.

A preview of the article in Huf Magazine

It was actually refreshing for me when I went again to the Dior exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum to find on display an old magazine of the 1950s, possibly Woman's Illustrated, for which Dior had penned an article on style. I did not make a note of what issue it was (I will do so when I go there again), but I took some photos.

What did the great couturier say?
There are no old women, only women who accept old age: being old or being too old for anything is really all in the mind. His concluding paragraph is also rather contemporary: everything you see in fashion magazines is good for you.

My point precisely, as I wrote in an earlier post. Clothes are neither pro-age nor anti-age. It is up to the individual to create a style that suits her/him. And you do not need anyone to tell you what goes or does not go. There is agency in styling, only you know how to style yourself.
Other things Dior wrote in that article are not so consonant with the our contemporary times. But those two lines:  they are indeed words of wisdom.

Dior : Designer of Dreams continues until 1st September 2019. It is sadly sold out.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Femvertising and such like

From a recent shoot for @socratesint #ladefenselatitude

We are all familiar with 'femvertising', the type of advertising which supposedly empowers women. It's been around for some years, and there are even awards given for the best ads.
There is merchandise that has grown around the idea of being pro-women, with an abundance of feminist-logo-carrying t-shirts.
I take it for what it is, a marketing strategy. Women want to feel empowered; embracing feminism on paper helps to sell.  But it will not change the reality of unequal pay, and loss of choice over one's own body, which we, as women, have to contend with. Nevertheless,  it feels good to walk around in a t-shirt that affirms individuality and is pro-women.
Alongside femvertising, there is now a plethora of pro-age products. Again, I do not think it does any harm, but it does not do much in terms of improving perceptions of older people.
Ok, your beauty brand now sells a pro-age cream rather than an anti-age one - in all likelihood, it is the same cream now marketed with a brand new name. Big brands seem to have embraced diversity and it is clearly done to help them flog their products.
There are endless podcasts and talks given at various fashion events, sometimes by people with little or no experience of the industry. Feeling enraged about your grandmother being treated condescendingly in a clothes shop is perfectly legitimate but this does not mean you can set yourself up as an expert on age-related issues in the fashion industry!
Clothes can be adapted to suit an individual style, and age, therefore, becomes immaterial in that context.  To claim that one is selling pro-age clothes is a non-sequitur. All clothes are intrinsically pro-age. It is the way they are worn that, if at all, makes them suitable for a particular age. and ois there such a thing as 'suitable for a particular age'? Do we need to be prescriptive?

I do agree that the representation of older women and men in fashion and advertising is unsatisfactory. But I also believe that denying older women and men are grandparents or have physical ailments is unrealistic. Nor am I convinced that older women and men have more disposable income because that is not necessarily the case, certainly not in the current political and economic climate, in a Britain that is so divided. It depends very much on class. Middle and upper-middle classes may have more disposable income, but not lower-middle and working-class women and men.
Age is real, denying its relevance does not make any sense, we all agree on that. What we should be against is discrimination on the basis of age or representation of ageing based on a few stereotypes. Thus the article by RBH Creative Agency "How do older generations feel about marketing?" makes some excellent points but when they write "Stop showing women over 50 as grannies knitting in a chair, stop showing women over 50 as elegant cruise-taking cougars and stop showing women over 50 as poor pensioners opening their purse to see it empty" I think we are not quite there yet, these suggestions need to be further nuanced. Instagram is awash with over-50 influencers representing themselves as elegant, cruise-taking cougars and it is worrying to see how the stereotypes are embraced and perpetuated by the older generations themselves.
And now the industry seems to have taken a liking to the 'greyhairdontcare' movement, many years after it started, so much so that we are inundated with models sporting long silver tresses. It makes me feel like colouring my hair pink and indigo or chop it all off. I am happy with my hair, but I do not wish to be defined by it!

The bottom line is: no one has got it right yet!