‘Cover Girl’: A lesson in fashion history

Everyone has seen this by now, how could you miss Lena Dunham, of Girls fame, and fashion legend Hamish Bowles vogueing? The short clip is excellently done, with Dunham in classic Hannah-mode (and some rather delightful silk pyjamas – Olivia von Halle perhaps), being outshone by Hamish’s effortless elegance and grace when posing. Yes, it’s very entertaining, but it is also an important lesson in fashion history, featuring some very iconic images, albeit from only one side of the pond. One would imagine that Hamish had to do very little research for the piece, as he appears to have a wealth of knowledge, casually throwing names into the mix, and if asked, he would probably have no issue telling us the photographer, who the model’s wearing, and even the location and issue. That is so important, and all too rare. These days, so many people claim to love fashion, but have no concept of the basic history. Being able to identify references is so very important and, due to its rarity, impressive. So, watch the video, have a giggle, but then watch it again and again until you can see any of the images shown and know the information behind its creation, and then some. Powerful photographs don’t come out of thin air, they have the past behind them, pushing them into the future.

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100 Years of Style in East London…or not

Upon first viewing this clip, for approximately 82 seconds I was charmed and delighted. The video, actually a couple of years old now, is an advertisement for the opening of Westfield Stratford in London’s East End. It is a flirtatious 100 seconds of history, charting the change in British (more specifically East London) style from 1911 to 2011, using music and dance from the various eras to cleverly cut between the decades. A great idea, demonstrating the importance of clothes through history, and how a changing social and political background leads to a change in opinion and thus style, the most accessible form of expressing one’s point of view.

However, the smile faded at 82 seconds, as the horror of the modern day depiction of our style unfurled on the screen before me. Thank you very much, but you will never have seen this blogger, or the vast majority of other sartorially minded women out there, sporting a huge doughnut bun and patent platform heels. If that is how modern day style will be remembered, (fashion) God, help us all. To make matters worse, this is a video about East London, that veritable breeding ground of quirky British style – not always a good thing – and individual looks. No hipster, male or female, would ever don the latter three outfits in this video.

Britain is, and has always been, home to the most diverse, daring and exciting range of styles, looks which across both Channel and Pond are viewed with both fear and delight, but most importantly, respect. This video does not portray that. Forgotten are the likes of (East End-born) designer Alexander McQueen, Shoreditch favourite Meadham Kirchoff, or elegant-with-a-twist J.W. Anderson. No, we shall be remembered by badly made, ill-fitting, nondescript outfits.

If nothing else, enjoy the first minute or so, but then shut your eyes so as not to be offended by how Westfield perceives the sartorial richness of our fair Isle. If I don’t post for a while, it’ll be because I’m busy remaking this video, and doing British Fashion justice.

Sample sales and vintage victories

Paris has started with a bang. A buying bang. That is, once all the bureaucratic faffing was out the way and access to a functioning French bank account with money in it was gained. Then there was a bang. Think of it like a firework and you’re waiting for it to explode but there’s some technical hitch which Dad is trying to sort out; he’s wading through paperwork, waiting on letters, setting up transfers, waiting on transfers to take effect and then BANG, we’re off!

So, once said access was gained, I entered the world of Parisian journalist perks and the treasure trove of vintage wonders that the city of lights has to offer. First up, Sonia Rykiel sample sale. Sonia Rykiel is not a brand that has ever popped up on my radar too much (aside from her gorgeous Poor Boy sweaters, featured in British Vogue when I was working there), and so it was without much expectation that I went along to the sale with my colleague. What was the lesson learnt? Do not ignore Sonia Rykiel. Beautiful coats, butter soft leather bags, and a pair of maribou feather heels which in fact feature on a picture which I’m looking at hanging on my wall as I write this (thanks to my lovely ex-boss). It was a dream, and quiet to boot meaning ample touching and feeling time before leaving  with a gorgeous necklace, having been my most restrained self. I could have left with a navy blue ponyskin bag – too impractical – or a gorgeous, minimalistic camel coat – waiting until I can afford a cashmere one – not to mention a wealth of other beauties, but control was exercised. Needless to say the prices were fantastic, and my colleague nabbed herself a ball gown and left feeling like a thief for having paid such a good price.

Saturday brought with it more bargain promise, and it dealt up the goods. First up, a “vide-robe”, literal translation a “wardrobe empty”. People registered to come along and set up a stall where they sold their unwanted clothes. Simple. Being Paris, this wasn’t unwanted Primark and Topshop (although there was a lot of Zara on offer), no, clothes ranged from two season-old YSL blazers, to €1000 vintage Hermès bags, with a lot of Maje and Sandro on the way. I won the shopping award, scooping up a delicious military green Equipment blouse for just €40, a bargain seeing as they can cost up to €400 and mine is unworn. Equipment is a French brand, run by the husband of Carine Roitfeld, ex-Editor-in-Chief of my current employer, Vogue Paris. They specialise in silk blouses and are, in my humble opinion, the leader in this particular niche of the fashion world.

Rubbing my hands with glee, I headed further into the Marais under the guidance of my lovely colleague Holly, to explore what ancient treasures lay in the many vintage shops. The discovery was not what I expected. Spoiler alert: vintage shops in Paris are amazing, and cheap. The layout is generally hectic and you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some digging, but, my friends, the rewards will be plentiful. If you’re in the market for any type of sheepskin or shearling jacket, the Parisian vintage world is your oyster. Unfortunately, this savvy shopper saw the shearling jacket of her dreams on the back of someone as they walked out the shop having purchased it. Not one to dwell on what might have been, I quickly snaffled up a very loud, printed shirt, an oversized men’s navy corduroy shirt (new favourite item) and a top so Nineties, only Buffy (the Vampire slayer) would wear it.

So there you have it, the first forays into the Parisian shopping scene for Fashion(Ed) in London. I wonder how many people have read to the end of this and not given up, wondering why there are no photos…

The Return of the Blog

An apology is in order to anyone who enjoys reading this blog (and a massive thank you too!). Some readers may have noticed a distinct lack of posts in the past weeks, and for that I am sorry. The Russian posts stopped as I was mysteriously unable to access WordPress for the last 10 days of my visit. This is a real shame, and a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, as there were many more posts I was planning on writing. Maybe I shall still write and post them, though the moment does seem to have passed. After Russia followed a hectic two weeks in London, Edinburgh and Hereford, catching up with various family and friends whilst frantically searching the internet for a Parisian place to rest my head. I then arrived here in Paris and set about running around the city from flat to flat in an attempt to find my home here. It was a stressful but hilarious experience which gave me a glimpse into all, and I mean all, aspects of Parisian life. To be expanded upon…In the end, I was very lucky and quickly found a great flat in the chic 16th, which I share with two lovely Frenchmen and soon a French girl too.

Finally settled in Paris, with two weeks of my internship at Vogue Paris under my belt, I plan on resurrecting the blog and will be posting from here on in.

Life in Front of the Lens

Russian ladies have truly, utterly perfected the art of posing. They have it down to an absolute t and are not afraid to whip it out in public. The poses are intimidating and immaculate, taken to look natural yet ultimately painstakingly thought through. However it is second nature to the women, and a snap takes seconds. Sit, pose, done, over.

When at the ballet the other day, I got a first hand experience of just how serious Russian women are about the perfect picture. Take for example the 7-year-old girl who was having the tantrum to end all tantrums. She was not a happy girl, crying, screaming, stomping, shouting. However, as soon as her mother grabbed her and shoved her in front of a lovely view of the stage, for the 3 seconds it took to capture the image, the waterworks were capped and a shining smile was pulled out. Picture taken, all hell broke loose again and said madam stormed off. Remarkable. Even aged 7, the Russian girls can turn it all on for the camera.

In the foyer of the very same theatre stood a shiny grand piano. It was not played, but it received a lot of attention as a procession of dolled up girls each sat upon the stool, arched their backs with precision, tossed their heads over their shoulders and dazzled. Snapped, they tottered off to the next location to repeat the process. I had been wondering why the girls were all so dressed up for an 11am matinée, and it all became clear. They were dolled up for the obligatory ‘look at me at the Mariinsky’ photoshoot.

Whilst browsing the Museum of Russian Political History, by far one of the best museums I’ve been to here, I was distracted and bothered by two women scurrying around ensuring they had each taken a photo of the other in front of every artefact and snippet of information. In actual fact I don’t think they knew or cared where they were, just so long as they had documented that they had been there.

The ‘selfie’ craze has been going for a while now, but it’s a whole other ball game in Russia. Perusing VKontakte (pretty much Facebook but in Russian) you will come across image after image of perfectly made up girls popping a hip in various locations. There are also hundreds of photos of girls in bikinis on holiday, proudly showing the world what their mothers gave them. As one friend put it, these mothers are most likely the ones behind the camera, instructing their daughters on the optimum way to display their assets for the world of VK to see.

This all fits with the mentality seen here of why have something which costs money, if no one knows that it cost money. For example, if you’re going to buy a designer item, ensure it has a label on show so that everyone knows that you paid big. An expensive car is not enough unless it is gold or how about matte black? It seems that people buy things and visit places simply to show the world that they have these things and that they can afford to have them, rather than to enjoy the experience or gain something. I only hope that in between all this posing and showiness, they’re taking time to stop, watch the ballet, listen to the music and enjoy living life for themselves, not for the sake of a photo.

Dead Souls

Disclaimer -This post has nothing to do with Gogol

Yesterday two friends from school and I decided to take advantage of the incredible sunshine and wandered our way to Alexander Nevksy Monastery, simply to see what we might find. Having done little to no research, we were not expecting to enjoy ourselves quite so much as we did, stumbling upon easily one of my favourite places in St Petersburg. This may sound morose seeing as the highlight of the Monastery is by far the Tikhvin Cemetery where many famous literary, musical and political figures are buried; Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Lomonosov. The tombs and headstones are remarkable works of sculpture in themselves, and like many things in this country, they are over the top. There was of course one which featured a ridiculous amount of gold leaf for a graveyard. In Russia, or at the very least in The Northern Capital, you will never find yourself far from some building or other adorned in gold.

The monastery itself is of course astonishing, incredibly ornate and, like all churches here, intimidating. I always feel guilty as a mere spectator in holy places here, as they are Orthodox and take their religion more seriously than I have seen elsewhere. Before entering a church, people will cross themselves and bow once, twice, sometimes three times. This is then followed by more crossing as you pass by the multiple icons within the church/cathedral/monastery, and there are those who go round and kiss every single icon. The whole process takes a very long time and there is a serious atmosphere. Women must have their heads covered at all times. When leaving the church, there is more crossing and bowing at the door, and once outside the church, they turn and cross themselves and bow again. A lot of crossing, a lot of bowing, a lot of kissing, a lot of respect and reverence for the many saints.

Of course, it is forbidden to photograph the inside of the Church of the Annunciation. Picture monks in black gowns, gold, icons, gold icons, statues, mosaics, colours, gold, tiles, gold and gold and you might get near to understanding what it looks like. Did I mention the gold?

On a side note, whilst on the topic of monks, I saw two nuns smoking today. Welcome to Russia.

My few Instagram followers received a spamming yesterday – blame the weather and beautiful graves. Here are some snaps of my new favourite graveyard, not a phrase I ever thought I’d say.

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Vitali – Sculptor
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Avilov
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Tchaikovsky
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Rubinstein
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Dostoevsky
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Having wandered and wondered among the cemetery, we headed to the bridge just next door and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Neva. Everyone else may be bored of seeing pictures of rivers, but I love them.

IMG_1511From Russia with love.

Hipster Home

St Petersburg is the place for all those British hipsters back home. We should pack them up and ship them here to free ourselves of them (sorry Hipster friends) and let them run wild in the various hipster-friendly spaces in this city. I have stumbled upon so many places here with a very laid-back, cool atmosphere; the kinds of places which back home would be overrun with annoying, pretentious ‘cool-kids’ but here, they are populated by students and lovely, friendly young Russians.

The first of these is Clockface, or Tsiferblat, an anti-cafe in the city, where you pay by time, not by what you have. For 2 roubles a minute for the first hour, and a rouble a minute thereafter, you can enjoy as much tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits, toast, porridge and cereal as you can manage. My friends and I take full advantage and compete to see who can eat the most for the least amount of money. I believe I win for having devoured countless biscuits, 2 slices of toast with jam, a pot of tea, a hot chocolate and then another cup of tea in the space of 2 hours, for a mere 180 roubles (roughly £3.40). There are 2 Tsiferblats in the city, both on Nevsky. One is situated opposite Gostinyy Dvor, on the 3rd floor of Passage; it is a bright, large room with high ceilings and an eclectic mix of furniture. There is tape of the floor, dividing the space into separate rooms to give the feel of a house. You can sit on Victorian style chairs around a mahogany table, recline on a bed or even lounge in a bath. The second is up by Ploschad Vostaniya and is made up of 3 rooms. Both have pianos and anyone is welcome to play and sing along. There is a real homely feeling to both, and truly, anything goes in Clockface.

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The second hipster haven is off the beaten track, a small vintage shop called Aloe. It is run by the absolutely charming Yana, who lives and works in the shop. She gave us her mobile number so that we could call her next time we want to visit as she said she’s not always there because she’s jetting off to Copenhagen or Berlin in search of more wares. The stock is relatively small but nice and reasonable quality. The prices are slightly higher than London vintage shops such as Beyond Retro as I suppose Yana has to cover her trips around the vintage world. I picked up a beautiful book of Russian Poetry, as well as some prints of Yana’s photos. The shop is on Moskovsky Prospekt, by Nab Obvodnogo Kanala. If you pop in, get chatting to Yana and she’ll make you a cup of tea.

Finally, we have Etaji, the biggest and probably most well-known hipster hangout in St Petersburg. Etaji means floors, and that’s exactly what this space is. The building is 4 storeys high and there are many different things on each floor, including exhibition spaces, talks, workshops, a barber, a hostel, a restaurant, and best of all right now, a pop up burger joint called Bro Burgers. For a mere £4, you can grab a delicious burger from a choice of 5 and it comes with a side of home-made chips. Fan-bloody-tastic. We inhaled ours in record speeds and the most unattractive fashion, but it was worth it. There are different things going on in Etaji all the time; it is a sea of change so always good to pop by for something new and cultural. Most of the exhibitions are talks are free, what more could you ask for? Etaji is on Ligovskiy Prospekt, hidden behind big metal gates covered in posters for the various events. In the summer, there is also a deck and rooftop space so that they can really make the most of the few short summer months and soak up enough Vitamin D to get through the winter.

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The young Russians are on to something, don’t try hard and these spaces will be organically inviting, unlike in Britain where most people steer clear for fear of mixing with hipsters who think they are just too cool to function. There’s a way to do it properly and the St Petersburgians have found it.

Anecdote 2: I’m crying 420 roubles

Today provided another painful reminder of the pitfalls of the Russian accent. Whilst in a cafe, paying for my delicious (and vegetable orientated – shock horror!) lunch, I told the waitress “I’m crying 420 roubles” rather than paying 420. This is due to the fact that in this language which is forever tripping me up, “I cry” is pronounced “Ya plachoo” and “I pay” is “Ya platyoo”. The difference is minimal, and as every teacher I’ve had has told me, my stress on words is horrific, meaning I constantly tell people something different from what I want to say, even though I’m saying the right words. Nightmare. The worst difference, and this is a mistake I’ve yet to make, is the very very miniscule difference in pronouncing “to write” and “to pee”.

What made my little mishap whilst trying to pay even more hysterical to my friend and I, was that I then hit myself in the eye and it proceeded to water profusely, thus giving the impression to the already unimpressed waitress that I was indeed now crying. All this after my friend told them their cake was stale.

From Russia with love.

Blinis With Bab

What we in England consider a ‘blini’, is not actually a true Russian blini. A blini is little more than what we think of as a pancake, or crepe, and as I found out on Sunday, they are cooked the exact same way. The exciting master class in Russian blinis turned out to be little more than recreating Pancake Day in September. It was a lovely experience cooking with my Babushka, if not quite the new recipe I had prepared for. So forget the little canapé type blinis you are imagining, the real deal are bigger, and thinner.

The history of the blini: before they became Orthodox, as most of Russia is now, the Russian people used to worship the elements and had many Gods, such as the God of Wind, the God of Rain and the God of Sun. The blini was made originally as a symbol of the sun and thus, it is a religious recipe. Quite a simple history for quite a simple dish.

Just like on Pancake Day, take 2 eggs, a litre of milk, salt and sugar to taste and mix. We did this in a bowl with a hand blender. Next, add flour. I believe my Babushka said 300g, but I don’t remember, I didn’t write it down and she didn’t measure it out. A seasoned pro at making blinis, Sonia cooks by feel, much like my own Grandmother. The consistency (again, very detailed) should be not too watery but not too thick, It should coat a spoon and be silky smooth, so blend well.

Now the difference: we add butter to the pan to avoid sticking. Russians add a tiny bit of oil, and then a glug of oil into the mixture. This does not get mixed in, but instead sits on the top of the mixture and you get a little with every ladleful, ensuring that these tasty offerings to the sun don’t stick in the pan.

Take a ladle of mixture and put it in the pan, being sure to tilt the pan straight away and evenly coat the surface so that you have a perfectly round blini of even thickness. Then just cook like a pancake, flipping when the colour on top is slightly darker and all the same. Voilà – blinis à la Russe!IMG_1247IMG_1243

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We had ours as delicious parcels of flavour, filled with cabbage, rice, mince and carrots. They were simply wonderful.

If you find yourself in Russia, head to their version of MacDonald’s/Starbucks – Chainaya Lozhka (Чайная Ложка – teaspoon). It’s fast food the Russian way – blinis and borscht.

From Russia with Love.

P.S. Tonight – Opera at the Mikhailovsky theatre, darling. We’re off to see Verdi’s “Un Ballo I Maschera”. When in Rome…