Friday, 9 October 2015

The Ceremony Of Separation

"L'Énigme Rei"
October 2015
Photographer: Paolo Roversi
Hair: Julien d'Ys

Rei Kawakubo's Autumn/Winter 2015 collection explored the theme of loss, serving as an emotional counterpoint to the almost violent reds of her Spring/Summer 2015 collection. Models walked down the catwalk with pale white faces obscured by lace veils emerging out of their hair like a cross between a heartbroken Miss Havisham and a grief-stricken funerary procession. We had the funerary white of Eastern tradition, the black of Western tradition (with a heavy use of lace bringing to mind Victorian era mourning), and the heavily embroidered gold and cream dress that reminded me of Medieval royal or ecclesiastical burial garb. Whilst I am sure these dresses will be available to try on and buy (and indeed every time I have been to Dover Street Market there always seems to be someone in the process of buying what most seem to dismiss as an "unwearable" mainline piece), I think the past few seasons have most definitely been more of a conceptual pursuit even by Rei's standards. I think of these dresses as functional sculpture, enveloping the body, and with exaggerated shapes that add a sense of space around the body that one would otherwise never encounter. Needless to say it is a collection made for photographing.

I found this editorial by Paolo Roversi interesting because I feel that it plays on the theme of mourning that the collection encompassed without feeling too literal in its interpretation. Unusually the looks are all straight from the catwalk, down to the shoes and hair (crafted so beautifully by Julien d'Ys), which just goes to show how strong the show styling was. The setting is such that the camera captures all walls, ceiling and floor, giving us the sense that we are looking into a stable and confined space. The models do not feel backed into a corner, as they stand central in the room, but there is definitely no sense of escape unless they come out of the image towards us. Draped with white sheets the backdrop could be taken as alluding to the bedroom, but instead we get the feeling of the eternal bed - a coffin. Combine this with full body portraits, the majority of which are statically posed, a desaturated look reminiscent of daguerreotypes and what we have is an editorial highly evocative of Victorian post-mortem photography.

The earliest examples of post-mortem photography did not usually include coffins, but the body of the deceased dressed up and posed, often alongside living family members. Devices were actually created to help hold up and pose the deceased, with the photographers sometimes even painting the eyes open so that the deceased could look out to their loved ones. It all sounds rather macabre, but it served an important emotional purpose. Given the high pricing of painted portraits, these photographs were highly cherished, and often one of the only photographs families would have of their loved ones. It provided a huge sense of comfort for those families, allowing them to deal with the memories of their loved ones in a more direct way than ever before. And that is exactly what I think this collection was about for Rei - dealing with the emotions of loss, and hopefully finding some sense of comfort. Collections so full of emotion are few and far between, but when they do come, it is as if the designer has found their own unique way of expressing something truly universal.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Still Standing

Autumn/Winter 2015

How do we define quality where clothing is concerned? Long lasting, careful construction, and use of nice fabrics? Assuming that definition covers some of the major bases, are we actually educated enough as consumers to recognise quality or do we buy into the perception of quality? Question the buying habits of most people, whether it comes to food, clothing, furniture, or even healthcare, and the automatic (and unfortunately, usually erroneous) assumption is that price is an indicator of quality. "If it costs more and looks more polished, it must be better quality". That goes for everything from the packaging of the product, the products that surround it, and the store environment as a whole (one of the reasons Louis Vuitton has never released a perfume is that they are militant about brand control and hate the idea of their products being sold in any old boutique, especially on shelves next to 'lesser' brands of perfume). It is not just in fashion where the idea sells more than the actual product itself, but fashion is perhaps one of the best examples of this trend.

For myself, I think the level of quality I look for is dependent on the specific garment and intended use - there is no fixed ideal, but I think some sense of quality obviously has to be considered alongside aesthetics. I am one of those rather pedantic shoppers that will inspect seams, turning garments inside out in the changing room, and really trying to get a feel for the garment before I even try it on. Quality is to me a fluid concept, but I do expect a minimum standard of workmanship for whatever I intend to buy - if it does not function in the manner I intend to use it, regardless of how beautiful it is, I would rather look elsewhere. That is not to say there is no room for beautiful fragile garments, but even so, I would rather not buy something with glaring issues (there have been a few Rick Owens pieces I have seen in the past that looked like they were made by a drunk bandicoot with a point to prove, given that shoulder seams were almost guaranteed to pop on first wear...and one rather terrifying experience where I actually tore a garment when trying it on).

The cut and construction of a garment actually interests me far more than the colour and pattern - how it fits the body, how it moves with the body, how it comes to life when worn. Clothes are meant to be worn, and the body is a dynamic setting, so for me the most interesting garments are those cut and constructed with this reality in mind. We all know what something as simple as a white shirt is meant to look like, but there is something magical about finding a designer who cuts a white shirt that feels right on your body. On the hanger two different white shirts may look roughly the same, but try them on and the difference can be night and day. It is the reason I love Yohji's work as much as I do, because the cut is so wonderfully clever in just about any garment you happen to pick up, let alone wear. On the hanger, or in front and back runway images, you only ever get a basic idea of how the garment looks. The magic is in the way the garment fits and moves, and for that, the pattern cutting is where the secret lies.

Social media is a wonderful thing, as is Instagram (heck, I have posted an image every single day this year), but it has certainly highlighted the trend towards mobile phone friendly collections - clothes that look good on Instagram and in front-on catwalk images. Rei took this phenomenon to its comical conclusion with her Autumn/Winter 2012 superflat collection, but the trend continues with no signs of abating. You only need to look at contemporary streetwear trends with basic garments dolled up with random text selling like hotcakes and filling up your social media feeds. I have nothing against text or images on clothing, but I do believe the garment itself has to be good enough for you to want to buy without the text or image in the first place (same thing with colour and pattern actually). This is where quality comes into play, and not quality in terms of the garment being indestructible or made of baby cashmere, but a garment that is interesting and well made before you even come to the bonus of an added decorative element (of course at its best the decorative elements are not an additional bonus, but an integral part of the garment's design).

For me Yohji's Autumn/Winter 2015 collection was a defiant return to classic Yohji. After a few seasons of more colourful and laid back looks, Yohji suddenly emerged as Dr Frankenstein. Here he was energetically tearing up and sewing together images from his past, but instead of some exhumed monster, what he revealed was something thoroughly suited for the present. Out of the embers of the past something beautiful can arise, and Yohji knows that more than most. After all, this is the designer whose approach is to walk backwards into the future with an eye turned to the past. But what stands out most to me about this collection is how thoroughly inadequate catwalk images are. These are clothes that deserve to be seen in person, on the body, and in movement. The quality of the clothing is in the construction, and that is something difficult to convey in flat images, especially given how complex these garments are. If anything I think of these runway images as teaser images, something to whet the appetite and draw the eye before you go and actually see and try on the clothes in person.

I can see these, I can try these on, but fully understanding the technical brilliance of these garments eludes me. As much as I have tried to read up on pattern cutting, drapery, and the technical side of making clothes, there is only so much books and video can teach you. I fully intend to take some classes on pattern making and basic clothing construction as soon as I am able to. Not necessarily so I can make clothes, although that could be fun to try, but more as a means of gaining a greater appreciation and understanding for what I am actually seeing and trying on. If you are interested in something you should try to understand all aspects, allowing you to cultivate a more in-depth awareness of the subject at hand. And, to be honest, I think it will definitely help in my search for understanding what quality actually means to me.


Thursday, 24 September 2015


Autumn/Winter 2015

Fun fact: my favourite colour is red. That being said, I do not really own anything red, apart from a pair of red socks and some red plant pots (I also have my eye on a rather spectacular blood red rex begonia). Bright red in particular does no favours for my complexion, but I would not rule out a darker red making its way into my wardrobe in the future (thanks Haider). Needless to say I smiled when I saw Boris' Autumn/Winter 2015 collection with that exceptionally vivid red, standing out so beautifully against his usual black. Or at least, what I thought was his usual black, but then looking back, Boris is no stranger to pops of colour - we have the electric blues of the latest Spring/Summer 2016 collection and those golden oranges of Spring/Summer 2014. What I enjoy about his use of colour is that he approaches it in very much the same way that Ann Demeulemeester used to - these bold rays of light that stood their ground against the totality of black and white, without fading into the background or playing second fiddle. It is a very hard balance to reach, because of how visually domineering black and white can be, so you need to really punch the colour. Done wrong it can look gimmicky, but here I think Boris gets it totally right. I might not rush out to buy a red leather jacket or red t-shirt this season, but maybe a pair of red leather shoes might be worth looking into (although I do really want to try on that red apron too).


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Stay Strong

The triumphant counterpart to "u". 

The moment I feel a sense of anonymity is not when I take my clothes off to put on a hospital gown, but the moment I then have to take off my jewellery. There is something there that needs exploring I think. 

Those of you who have been following this blog over the years will no doubt know that I suffer from long term health issues, however it is not something I have ever directly addressed here. In truth it is not something I have ever really talked about with anybody close to me, but it feels right to address some issues here and now, however difficult that is for me. You go through pain you would not wish upon your worst enemy, but I think pain is what allows us to feel greater compassion. I reach out in the hope that sharing part of my story can help someone else in whatever way. It is a curious thing to share something online for anybody to read that you have never spoken about with the people in your life, but this blog has always been a personal project, and this is very much part of my life and my journey. If nothing else, hopefully it helps people who are going through something similar, and you can know that you are not alone.

I have been dealing with physical health issues for the majority of my life, and over the past few years I have dealt with severe anxiety issues related to that. The past year has seen those physical issues at the worst they have been in a number of years, which, alongside quite a few other painful things going on in my life right now, mean that in the past few months I have been battling something for the very first time in my life -  depression and suicidal thoughts. Right away I want to say that for anybody going through anything even vaguely similar, please do try to get professional help right away. Please do not suffer in silence. 

I know depression and anxiety, let alone suicidal thoughts, are not things most men feel like we can talk about with our friends, but your health is the most precious thing you have. One of the bravest things in the world is to admit that you need help and to ask for that help. Similarly I know when you have people relying on you that it can feel like it is a self-indulgence to seek help, or as if it is not a major issue, but if you do not look after yourself and your health, you really have nothing to offer or help the people in your life. You think you are helping others by keeping it inside, but that is actually the very opposite of what you are doing. 

For my part I have to admit that depression took me entirely by surprise. I am by nature a very optimistic person (heck, I have literally been lying on a hospital bed, with tubes coming out of me, still cracking jokes with the nurses), but you never really know what might happen once you are backed into a corner. I have been able to take some comfort in the fact that my doctors were fully expecting such issues. I have had mental health reviews on a yearly basis for some time now, as depression is incredibly common for those dealing with long term physical health issues, but in the past year I was suddenly having very real conversations with doctors who asked me what my action plan was if I woke up one day and was in serious danger of harming myself. At first I found it rather shocking, because I had never had suicidal thoughts before, and assumed I never would. But like I have already said, you never know how you will react until you are put under extreme conditions. Even the strongest can crack, but it is how we deal when we are at our lowest that defines our character. 

One thing I have learnt about myself as of late is that no matter how hard things get, and there have been times where I have come dangerously close to giving up, I keep going. People can give up on me, doctors can give up on me, but I refuse to give up on myself. Call that strength, call that stubbornness, but what I have learnt about myself is that even at times when doctors feel like I am in a position where they would not be surprised if I tried to kill myself, I keep going. That pain, that suffering, that loneliness - it makes you stronger if you can learn to use it in the right way. You don't have to believe that, and I will admit there are a lot of times when I don't, but you carry on anyway, because eventually experience will prove it.   

To build muscle you lift weights, tearing and breaking down your muscles so they can be repaired and grow back stronger. In much the same way I think physical pain and emotional pain can provide you with an opportunity to grow back stronger, even though it is an incredibly difficult process. Rather than ignoring pain or just trying to avoid pain, I now know I need to embrace it, to allow it to be, and to know that I can continue regardless. Yes, there are days when I don't believe that, but I don't need to, I just need to keep going, day by day, and I know I will come back stronger than before. The people who know me know that I would do anything to make those around me smile and laugh. It is a trait that comes from a very serious place. When you have known true loneliness and pain, you would do anything you could to make sure nobody else ever has to go through that.

There are two times during the day that I come closest to feeling at peace - when I am meditating, and when I get dressed in the morning. Mindful meditation gives me the opportunity to allow my pain to be, to allow my thoughts to be, and to allow me to experience how I feel right here, right now. Without judgement. Without expectation. Without trying to force anything. It allows me to cultivate a sense of self-compassion that I find incredibly important when dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. How I feel right here and right now is ok. I am complete, I am whole, and I can dance with my pain rather than trying to push it away or ignore it. I can allow myself to have those dark thoughts and know, however real they may seem, that they are just thoughts. They will come, they will go.

My body has been ravaged by illness and strong medication, to the point that these days I sometimes look in the mirror and don't even recognise the person staring back at me, let alone come close to feeling attractive. But it is not necessarily about how I look, but how I feel in my own skin. You go through sustained pain, both physical and emotional, and you feel like you want to escape your own body. Couple that with the fact that you feel like have no control over your body, it has become your prison, and there are days when you can barely walk from the bed to the bathroom. You lose your sense of self-control, self-confidence, self-reliance, and even your very self, and that can understandably be very difficult to deal with. 

But each and every morning I get dressed and spray myself with perfume. It is for me a mindful process, where I face my feelings and my body. Dressing means I have to deal with my body as it is right now, not how I would like it to be (and thankfully, given my predominantly Yohji wardrobe, the clothes tend to fit regardless of how extreme those bodily changes are). I pull my clothes onto my body and I feel each and every sensation, I feel each and every curve and bump and surface of my body. In that moment I am no longer ignoring my body or trying to forget feeling, but am actively aware of how it feels and how it changes on a day to day basis. I am whole, complete and present, and it is through the act of dressing that I find that awareness. 

A few years ago I used to think of dressing as a way to transform myself, as if these clothes would turn me into the person I wanted to be rather than the person I was. I have no hesitation in admitting that I was utterly wrong. If you want transformation, don a costume (and I did for years in the past). I already am the person I want to be and clothing just helps me accentuate that. You should always be trying to improve yourself, to learn more, to become fitter, to become the best you can be, but that is the ongoing journey of life. Who you are right now is already damn amazing, and you should never forget that.

I know how much the feeling of loneliness can break you, usually even more than the health issues, so for anybody out there who feels alone, please know that you can email me at any time. No judgement. Whatever you are going though, if you feel like you need an impartial ear to listen, I am here for you. And if you are dealing with mental health issues of any kind, please do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. However bad things may seem right now, you are stronger than you will ever know. You may not believe that, but I will believe it for you until you do. For myself, things are actually going to get a lot more painful and dangerous over the next few months before they can get better. I have to face that fact by myself head on, but I know I can handle it, and you better believe I will be well dressed as I do.  

Never give up, you are too good for that.

All my love,



Saturday, 12 September 2015

Using Colour

"Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On"
October 2015
Photographer: Erik Madigan Heck
Model: Audrey Marnay
Stylist: Leith Clark

I love colour, but my wardrobe is black and white. That probably sounds odd, but it feels natural for me. I have nothing against adding colour to my wardrobe, but as of yet, it has not felt quite right. The way I would describe it is that I would only wear colour if it felt like the colour itself had meaning, rather than wearing colour for colour's sake. You look at the photography of someone like Erik Madigan Heck, or Sarah Moon, and the use of colour is beautifully deliberate. Here he is not using colour to create his images because it is the norm, but because he actively wants to explore the use of colour. That conscious choice is how I approach colour in clothing - if I wear it, it is because I want to explore the idea, but I am not there yet. Then again, I may never be, and that's ok too because it all helps me better understand my own relationship with clothing.