Monday, 15 August 2016

Talking To Myself Podcast - Episode 02

Start your week off in the best way by listening to the latest episode of my podcast Talking To Myself! With this episode I thought it would be fun to talk about Gosha Rubchinskiy, skateboarding and fashion. As always do feel free to get in touch and let me know what you think or what you would like me to cover in a future episode, I would love to start a discussion with you.

Hope you enjoy the episode, and please do remember to share it!

Love you all,



Sunday, 31 July 2016

Al Rehab Perfumes: A Quick Sniff

Al-Rehab is one of the largest perfume manufacturers in Saudi Arabia and has become a mainstay across the Middle East with their incredibly large range of perfumed products, from solid perfumes to room sprays. They are also incredibly cheap. And by cheap, I mean that you can get 6ml roll-on bottles and 35ml spray bottles for around the same price as, and often cheaper than, a standard perfume sample. Each of these 6ml perfume oil roll-ons cost me £1.99 delivered to my door (check eBay or Amazon), and if you are able to find them at a physical location, usually Islamic bookstores and the like, you can usually find multibuy offers (I have seen 5 for £5). While many may scoff at the ridiculously cheap price and walk away, there are actually quite a number of gems to be found if you have the patience to wade through the rubbish (as with most of life really). To save you some of the hassle I thought that I would give a quick overview of those within my immediate reach, the majority of which are most certainly worth seeking out if you have the time and inclination.

Please note that these reviews are all for the 6ml oils, however many do also come in alcohol spray form. Perfume oils tend to have a deeper and richer fragrance, and also lose a lot of the lighter top notes due to their condensed nature, so the spray bottles do have minor differences. My preferred application for these is a dab on each wrist and to the pulse points at my neck. And by dab, I really do mean a dab, the sillage on these is absurd, so you can easily overdo it.

Oh, and just in case - I am not being paid to write this, so all opinions, as always, are my own.

L to R: Aseel, Choco Musk, Cobra & Crystal

L to R: Dakar, Dehn Al Oud & Soft

Aseel - 4/10

Green rose and oud. Aseel holds no punches with the opening, hitting you with a metallic saffron and a very green rose. That green rose is the beating heart of the composition, with the saffron soon dialling down to leave room for a backbone of medicinal oud and a surprisingly nice minty vanilla that helps smooth things over. The oud here is not the dark urinous oud of Dehn Al Oud, but a slightly medicinal and ‘clean’ version that one finds in most Arabian perfumes where oud is not the main focus. Overall this smells clean cut to me, with a nice big green rose, but it never quite shakes that metallic hint that I find a bit too sharp for my liking. Be especially careful with over-applying this one because it is incredibly strong.

Choco Musk - 7.5/10

Do you want to smell like chocolate? Then Choco Musk is for you. I do find the name rather misleading though, because I struggle to detect any musk - I think that Choco Vanilla would be a better title. The opening is a slightly powdery dark cocoa, which is tempered with something akin to white sugar crystals to avoid it becoming too bitter. It quickly mellows into a warming milk chocolate and a vanilla that is reminiscent of heated marshmallows. Think of the comforting smell of hot chocolate, with those tiny white marshmallows bobbing around in the froth, and you get an idea of whether you would enjoy this perfume or not. I use this to unwind - something to enjoy after a hot bath as you curl up at home, but not really an ‘outdoors’ fragrance. I do not even eat chocolate, but I love how this smells.

Cobra - 9/10

A true 80s-style floral powerhouse, and most certainly the most complex scent out of this bunch. The dominant tuberose note in this perfume means that it gets a lot of comparisons made to Dior’s Poison, but think Poison long before its limpid reformulations, because this is a truly rich and seductive blend. The opening for me is a wonderfully spicy combination of clove and anise layered over a citrus zest, rich berries and that beautiful syrupy tuberose from the get go. The clove and anise soon dry down to a reveal a more nuanced blend of spices (cinnamon, cumin, pepper, I get hints of everything), as the fruitier notes give way to a creamy sandalwood, amber and a heavy dose of incense. But running throughout is that glorious tuberose, which is soon met by a rather indolic jasmine, that works wonders with what I am convinced is an animalic musk hiding away in there, and some lighter white florals mixing in nicely with that amber (and maybe some vanilla?). This is an incredibly heady concoction that is a delight to smell unfold and easily lasts all day and well into the night.

Crystal - 9/10

Rich chocolate, red roses, earthy patchouli and a warm musk. Think of this as a smoother and richer version of Mugler’s Angel. This is something I could easily envision people choosing as their signature scent, because it is complex enough to remain interesting throughout the day, works well across the year, and is distinct enough not to be mistaken for something anyone else is wearing. Dark chocolate blends cleverly with rose and a wonderfully earthy and rich patchouli, that helps it avoid entering gourmand ground. Yes it has chocolate, but it never feels edible in the way that Choco Musk does, mainly because of the lack of any vanilla or sugary sweetness. The dry down brings out a woody spiciness that really helps veer this firmly away from dessert territory, and I really do enjoy the complexity of what I had initially thought would be a relatively linear fragrance. I actually find myself reaching for this the most out of all the Al Rehab perfumes I have tried so far because it is so versatile. Definitely worth trying out if you get the chance.

Dakar - 5/10

An interesting enough riff off the original formulation of Drakkar Noir. A herbaceous and slightly soapy oakmoss-based fragrance. The opening is surprisingly dark and spicy with hints of tobacco smoke, resinous woods and oud. Unfortunately for me that darkness is fleeting, slipping away before you really get to enjoy it, to be replaced by a more traditional oakmoss, lavender and pine combination. Anyone who finds contemporary Drakkar Noir lacking in power and depth will enjoy this. I just wish that opening lasted longer.

Dehn Al Oud - 10/10

Dirty, animalic, sweaty, fecal, urinous, and utterly beautiful. Oud is slowly but surely gaining popularity in European fragrances (it is unfortunately still too dirty for the soapy clean arena of American perfumery, which mostly seems to think that humans in their natural state smell of white musk and baby powder), but no one does oud like the Middle East. I was surprised at just how deep and rich this synthetic oud was given its ridiculously cheap price. Bear in mind that actual oud oil, distilled from the resin of the mould-infected heartwood of Aquilaria trees, is one of the priciest raw materials in the world. I have only ever had the privilege of smelling true oud oil a few times in my life, and while my bank balance does not yet stretch far enough for me to wear it when I am in the mood, this will most certainly do for now.

The opening is not for the faint of heart, with a rich urinous streak and a background of stale tobacco smoke, sweat (perhaps cumin?), and a beautifully dirty animalic leather. The heart of the perfume is a luscious honeyed oud, coupled with a slightly lighter medicinal wood that really helps to give the fragrance dimension. Over time the honeyed note turns waxy, which works wonderfully alongside a strong civet-like raunch. I can imagine quite a lot of people not wanting to touch this with a barge pole, but for those daring few, you really are in for a treat.

Soft - 8/10

A creamy lemon sugar musk. The opening is a strong lemon and sugary vanilla, almost like a lemon drizzle cake, which playfully balances tartness and sweetness. The lemon moves from a fresh citrus to a candied peel, that I think works well with the creamier vanilla that develops in the base. That vanilla is joined by a light caramel and clean musk that blooms slowly over time, giving this a beautifully cosy warmth. The spray seems to rely more on white sugar than the creaminess of the perfume oil, so decide accordingly. Overall a very comforting scent and easily something I could wear alone throughout Spring.


Friday, 15 July 2016

The Colours of Summer

No Photos Please (Volume 01)
Photography by Erik Madigan Heck

At this time of year the world is colourful enough without my wardrobe having to be.
I do love Summer.
Still sorting out hospital stuff.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

For The Art

Aitor Throup
Spring/Summer 2017
(images via WWD)

Spring/Summer 2017
(images via WWD)

Apologies for the delay in getting the next episode of the podcast out, I have been running back and forth to hospital over the past few weeks getting adjusted to a new course of treatment and it has really been giving me a kicking. I am hopeful that things will smooth out soon however, so look out for the podcast - notes are done, I just need to sit down to record and edit!

Given that the men's collections are now over, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of my personal highlights starting with London. Regular readers will no doubt know of my ambivalence towards London Fashion Week, and as much as I think that the majority of the collections are a thorough waste of time, there are usually a few jewels that really are worth celebrating. Right off the bat I might as well say that I was not overly excited by Craig Green this season, it seemed almost lazy. As much as I enjoyed the colour work, I do not think that there was much else new going for the collection, and to be honest it felt almost like a pre-collection you would see in the showroom. That is actually close to how I felt about Aitor Throup's collection, were it not for the amazing theatricality of the show. The puppetry was absolutely spectacular, and I really am impressed by the work that went into getting them made and move so well - the puppeteers did an incredible job for the catwalk. I would highly recommend you watch a video of the show here on YouTube if you get the chance. However I must say that although the catwalk show was undeniably great, the clothes themselves were a little bit of a let down. I guess we might just have to wait for next season or the season after, but part of me was hoping for some newer ideas.  

My personal highlight for London Fashion Week was most definitely Kiko Kostadinov's collection. It spoke elegantly to me of the London I know and grew up in. I have never felt quite comfortable with the sportswear aesthetic promoted by the likes of Nasir Mazhar or Cottweiler, because while it is very much based on the type of clothing I grew up surrounded by, that source material never really had a romantic dimension for us - it was our reality. I grew up surrounded by snapback caps, tracksuits and Air Max 95s. I grew up surrounded by colourful weaves, intricate fake nails and skyscraper heels. It is an aesthetic world I know intimately, it is one that I appreciate fully, and one that I understand better than most. But it is not one that I have ever felt the need to seek out as high fashion. If I want to wear it, I would rather go with the real thing. I can rock it with greater authenticity when using the original pieces and styling that I know, rather than some sanitised version made for the fashion audience.

But there is another style I remember. One that was far more functional and practical, but no less codified with individual quirks and personal styling choices. The uniforms of the adult world and the uniforms of the other kids' parents as they came to pick them up from school. I remember looking at the uniforms of bus drivers, builders, painters, even policemen, and being utterly fascinated. Work wear and uniforms have always held importance for me, because not only did I wear school uniform throughout my childhood, but I remember looking up to adults in uniform - there they were, working hard, taking pride in their work, neat and orderly. Those uniforms meant adulthood to me just as much as owning a car or having a wallet with credit cards in it. There was a secure sense of identity, that I think as a child is always attractive. So I suppose the collection evokes some sense of childhood nostalgia for me that is almost aspirational in quality, and for that reason I think I am drawn to it far more than I am to the London sportswear crowd of designers.

And given the political climate in the UK as it currently is, what with the anxiety and uncertainty of Brexit crushing down on us, I think that this collection takes on an even greater resonance. Kiko described his man as "in his mid or late 20s and working and has a Belgian or French sensibility. These clothes help him dress functionally for the city." With the status of Europeans working in London (and the UK in general) under scrutiny as Britain seeks to enjoy the fruits of the single market unashamedly without free movement, there is something celebratory to such a cosmopolitan inspiration that feels so thoroughly London. The city I know is multicultural and inviting to anyone and everyone, and seeing that engaged with alongside such clean workwear uniforms was a joy. I really am looking forward to trying out the Ventile suiting once it hits Dover Street Market. Considering this was Kiko's first collection after his MA show, I am excited to see what is to come - this collection was a home run as far as I am concerned.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

A '90s Revival

Helmut Lang
Spring/Summer 1998

I often think of fashion as a curious embodiment of mindfulness, in that it is a purely present-focused discipline. It is by definition creating something of the moment by building upon what went before (from the beginning of time until what came just before the immediate past, which is by now passé). The past is a repository for inspiration, with the designer often picking references from a diverse array of periods and locations to form a historical and cultural pastiche framed and presented for the current moment. Everything that came before is fair game to be inspired by, because all that matters is the here and now. The present moment is everything. The past is used as a vehicle to inspire the present, and by extension, the designer hopes to inspire the future as well. As such fashion has always had an odd relationship with time, seeking to exist in the moment, whilst framing itself against a past that exists purely as a memory to be reinterpreted for the present.

I find it interesting to see so many young designers now, who grew up in the '90s, now referencing that decade for their collections. Such is the flow of fashion, that as each generation comes of age, there is an inevitable revival of the decade of their formative years, albeit one thoroughly coloured by the tint of nostalgia and memory. History in general is thought of and written about in defined periods, with icons and iconography of design, or music, or literature, becoming shorthand for each period, whether or not they were actually all that widespread or not. Whether it be miniskirts, mods, flairs, flappers, Cubism or Constructivism, the words and images can conjure up ideas that have come to represent quite a specific time period in our collective memory. Think of any film you have seen set in the past, and they only really need a few select pieces to situate the audience. Fashion is obviously a great visual shorthand for this periodisation in film, because by now audiences have become accustomed to thinking about periods of the past as having been dressed in quite a recognisable, and usually very specific, manner.

And yet for the most parts, we usually get the period rather wrong, or inflate the influence of something we now think of as iconic far beyond anything that existed at the time. That is simply the way our memory works, both on an individual basis and a collective basis - we build icons and stereotypes and use them to convey the entirety of what was obviously a period just as complex as our own. Think back to our childhoods and we are met with a collection of memories that for the most parts ignore the mundane everyday activities that made up the most of that time. Not to mention the continual flux of minor trends in fashion or music or film. But we remember icons, we remember that favourite television show, we remember that favourite candy, we remember that holiday, we remember the smell of that perfume. There is a bricolage of sensory information that we can think back to in order to inspire us. The past existed, but we all experienced it in our own ways, and we all have different memories of it. They are all as true as each other, but there are usually connective threads where we are able to see trends and discern what was popular at the time. As such I always find it interesting to see how fashion treats the past, because it can often look towards a far more recent past than other art forms, and thus is able to find those icons and iconography that so strongly reference our nostalgia and memory.

I grew up in the '90s, but had no understanding of the fashion at that time (I knew Naomi Campbell was from around the corner, and remember her coming to my school once, but did not really know what a supermodel was then, so thought nothing of it). So I am always interested in looking back at '90s collections and comparing them to my memories of the decade. In much the same way I find it interesting to look at current collections that are labelled as '90s inspired, and then look at actual fashion shows from the period. Of course the two rarely align all that much, because current collections inspired by the '90s will be done so from the vantage point of nostalgia and memory, referencing the period at large rather than fashion shows at the time. Even so, I often find myself looking back at old collections and finding myself taken by just how relevant and present they still seem. Take for example the Helmut Lang collection above from Spring/Summer 1998. I have actually been on the hunt for one of the padded "bulletproof" vests from this collection for some time now, and could easily see myself wearing most of this collection right here and now for Spring/Summer 2016. I sometimes find myself wondering what collections from right now I will find myself looking back to in the years to come and feel the same way about. I guess time will tell.