Saturday, 25 January 2020

Becoming a grandmother

Not my granddaughter: this is a baby model wearing a cute deer set available here

My life has changed, I am now a grandmother, my son's daughter was born on 17th December and since then I have basically become a different person. I am not allowed to put up any picture of her, her parents would rather not, so I won't (I wish I could, she is absolutely gorgeous). In any case, I am wise enough to realise that unless you are a close family member,  all bent on spotting resemblances, all newborn babies tend to look quite the same!   But if it is your own child or your grandchild, they are just special and of course, the most beautiful baby ever. and whatever they do is of the utmost importance!
I only met my granddaughter last week, she was born in Paris, whereas I live in London. It was not feasible for me to go to Paris straight away so I had to wait for the three of them to come back, and they finally did, travelling on the Eurostar.
Until then it had been a flurry of WhatsApp messages and pictures of my lovely granddaughter- sleeping, mostly, but there is an adorable video of her turning her head towards her dad as soon as she hears his voice - newborn cannot focus very well, but have a fine ear for voices. My favourite is of her resting on her dad's chest, a few hours after she was born (by c-section), her mother still groggy from the anaesthetic. Livia (my grandaughter) looks so tiny! Suddenly she gives out a sigh; she is so vulnerable in that little video, and yet so strong.
I said I had become a different person and indeed I think and feel differently. Livia has turned me into an avid crocheter and knitter  - I have already made her two baby dresses,  a baby jacket a  nappy cover and more to come, as I get increasingly confident with my crochet and knitting. I never did anything of the sort for my son when he was a baby, but those were different times. I must admit I am extremely happy to have a granddaughter rather than a grandson, if only because I never had a daughter. It makes a change.
Having a grandchild has made me more aware of my mortality; I am fortunate she was born while I am still alive.  I never met any of my grandparents, they died long before I was born. I did however have a granny substitute,  she was a distant relative.

Another baby model wearing a lovely outfit available here

It' s intriguing to see little Livia adjusting to the world around her. Birth must be extremely traumatic as an experience and it is a good thing that we do not remember anything of those moments and the first year(s) of our life. Livia sleeps a lot, eats and poos and then starts all over again. But all the time she is getting used to her new environment and there is a lot for her to process.
I occasionally wonder whether we will bond. I was bowled over when I held her; she knew I was a new person, someone she had not yet met and was intrigued. I sang to her, bounced her a little and just loved looking at her. She fills me with joy.
 There are many things I would like to tell her and show her. She is fortunate to have loving parents who will take care of her and bring her up to be a strong and independent woman. At the same time, I cannot help fearing for the challenges ahead. Our world is not getting any better...
Being a paternal grandmother also inevitably puts you in a secondary position. Most women tend to be closer to their mother, thus maternal grandmothers are around a lot more. Not to worry.
Nothing more to say or report except that I am very happy with my new status.
The novelty will wear off but not the love.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Fashion illustration and sustainability: Vogue Italia stirs up controversy

Have you noticed that when someone does something intrinsically good, many people are ready to slam the action as being motivated by greed, or as being a  publicity stunt,  and the usual  "it is not enough?" is pronounced, implying that they should not have bothered to do it.

I am talking about Vogue Italia and its January 2020 issue without photoshoots, featuring instead covers and fashion features by fashion illustrators and artists, for whom models have posed (all the models are named). The money saved from photoshoots will be donated to Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus in Venice, recently damaged by the severe floods that have hit the city (onlus in Italy denotes a charitable organization).

There has been a flurry of articles pointing out that this is a one-off initiative, it does not mean much in terms of supporting sustainability, a single charitable act is not a commitment on behalf of Condé Nast, it does not help photographers and so on and so forth. 

I support the photoshoot-free issue for a number of reasons. Let's review them:

1. The magazine issue is beautifully illustrated. Fashion illustration is an art and is not a mainstream one, these days. I would like to see more of it and would like a greater appreciation to be given to illustrators. I have often modelled for illustrators - I will be modelling for a class tonight, as a matter of fact. I have found it most enjoyable.  I love photography and I love fashion illustration, it is not an either /or matter, there is definitely room for both.

2. Fashion editorials are expensive and involve much waste and damage to the environment. Farneti has highlighted how much they have managed to save. The saved money will go to support a worthy cause. Farneti has also said that there are no plans for another issue like this.  What's wrong with it? It is not solely a Condé Nast's responsibility to give to charities, we need a more concerted effort, the damage caused by flooding will need governmental measures that are more wide-ranging but I am not prepared to say that it is wrong to give money as a one-off.  It is certainly not enough, but not wrong. To give an example closer home. I see every day in London homeless people begging, sometimes on the tube. When I can,  I  give them a few pennies. It is only a drop in the ocean and you need more than that to combat the problem, I wholly agree. But my giving to them is not wrong. I often think - what if it were me having to beg like that?

3. Vogue Italia and Vogue, in general, is a very high profile fashion publication, seen by millions and widely imitated. Even if Vogue never again has a photoshoot-free issue, it has nevertheless set a precedent. Other magazines might decide to follow suit. This alone would be a welcome development and it could be incorporated in an ongoing plan promoting sustainability at all levels.

4. Vogue Italia has always been ahead of its time in promoting initiatives that, when they appeared, caused an uproar. This became the norm under the leadership of the late Franca Sozzani who was the first to put models of colour on a cover, as well as being the first to promote curvy models. Sozzani also did a photoshoot in 2010 with Steven Meisel, modelled by Kristen Mcmenamy as a commentary on the ecological disaster that hit the Gulf of Mexico at the time. Typically, it was slammed as a publicity stunt. But it left a mark and it began a conversation about such issues. The rest is history.  It is encouraging to see Farneti continuing Sozzani's legacy and inaugurating a new decade of intense discussion on those issues that currently matter to our quality of life.

So people, let's give Emanuele Farneti a break, please. Let's think instead of ways in which this unique issue of Vogue Italia can pave the way to change.

 With Australia burning, America and Iran on a warpath,  Brexit, which many of us never wanted, looming large, the mass displacement of people across the globe,  we have much to ponder concerning our environment and the political decisions that affect our life.  Let's celebrate whatever positivity there is around us.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Fashion and migrants: exchanging embroidery skills

Britain does not have a good track record when it comes to refugees and migrants - Younis calls it a 'toxic attitude' and brands it as hypocritical, in view of Britain's colonial history. Horrendously xenophobic comments about refugees abound on social media. Only this morning I found in my Twitter feed the following;

"Mountains of recycling and waste pile up on roadsides across Britain - as homeowners dump trash at local tips due to cancelled bin collections Get the pretend refugees to help clear it, once word gets about they've got to work, they will stop coming".

I felt disgusted by such callousness, but it is not so uncommon to hear/read such comments.

EU countries are not doing so well either in terms of their policies about refugees, even though they take in way more than the UK does. Take post-Salvini Italy (far-right former Interior minister Matteo Salvini closed ports and refugee camps and is known for saying, with utter contempt, that the whole of Italy had become a refugee camp). Italy has a huge problem in terms of its attitude to refugees and migrants (I know that the two terms are different, but in common parlance, they tend to be conflated).

Hadim Nyassi, 21, from the Gambia sums it as follows: "Italy is not open. They don't want us here. I went to the Netherlands, and then Germany. But then I was sent back here. We can't work. We can't live anywhere. But we also can't leave."

People don't want to be refugees, no more than they want to be victims of fire or any other calamity. It seems counterintuitive to blame them for wanting to live.

So I felt quite elated when I read about the project by FOO Italy (Fondation Orient- Occident) Migrants du Monde in the city of Lecce, in the beautiful Salento region, a place to which I have a connection. FOO, founded in Morocco by Yasmina Filali, has partnered with ARCI to set up an atelier, where migrant women with embroidery and sewing skills exchange knowledge with local women, with expertise in local traditions of embroidery and sewing.

It is a wonderful project that opens up many possibilities and focusses on cooperation. For one whole year, the project will be housed in the splendid Palazzo Turrisi, one of the best examples of the baroque architecture for which Lecce is so well known.

There are precedents to the project. In September 2019 Migrant du Monde presented a contemporary collection, also the result of a collaborative effort with migrant women involving local Italian designer Bruna Pizzichini and French designer Isabelle Camard, at the local Museo Castromediano.

Fashion and refugees: we know only too well of Syrian child refugees being exploited in Turkish sweatshops, as the BBC uncovered in 2016.

But there are, fortunately, other initiatives too, even in the UK, which are aimed at promoting skills and fostering equality, as Melissa Chaplin writes in her op-ed for Fashion Roundtable.

The Lecce project is however quite unique in that it focuses on skills exchange, drawing on different yet complementary embroidery traditions. I am familiar with the crafts of the Salento region and I know of the beautiful lace made by the Salentine women, an art that is passed on from generation to generation.

Traditional Salento embroidery (from mangiabeneblog)

Moroccan embroidery is equally beautiful. The migrant women are not just from Morocco but also from other African and Middle Eastern countries where there are strong embroidery traditions. The results of this experiment promise to be quite spectacular.

I don't think there could be a better way to start the decade, through collaborative work, and making beautiful, wearable, artistic creations.

(All photos, unless otherwise stated, are from FOO Italy)