Lena Dunham in conversation with Caitlin Moran

On Friday night instead of donning garb and heading out to party, I went to the Southbank Centre to hear two feminist icons in conversation. Asking the questions: celebrated Times columnist Caitlin Moran; promoting her new book Not That Kind Of Girl, prolific polymath Lena Dunham.

not that kind of girl

Tickets reportedly sold out in 12 hours. “Even Stephen Fry couldn’t do that,” quipped the Southbank Centre’s artistic director in her intro.

Summarising Lena’s successes, Caitlin spoke of her “sheer fucking ladyballs” and her prodigious effect as a writer, actor and producer on the show Girls, which internationally made girls feel that they are normal – “I can see me!” Caitlin emphasises.

8x Emmy nominated and 2x Golden Globe winner Lena wrote her book in antidotal chapters and on Friday night she read from the chapter about her mother / selfies / nudity. Perhaps most revealingly, she explains in response to critic’s exclamation at her bravery at stripping off (she half-jokes – I bet Blake Lively doesn’t come under this questioning) “it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you.”

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There were a lot of nodding & smiling & clapping moments, but here are a few more of my favourite soundbites from the evening:

Caitlin asks Lena “when was the last time you were anxious?” “About 10-15min ago,” Lena replies. The Call The Midwife crew is in the audience thanks to Lena’s tweeted special request. Miranda Hart waves in a queenly manner towards the stage. “What if they don’t feel the magnitude of my gratitude?” Lena asks sincerely.

Continuing on the anxiety theme, Caitlin asks “if we were calm, would we create as much?” An oft-pondered question, Lena quotes her father in response – “Fear isn’t what keeps the plane in the air.” Her Dad said that by worrying we can’t prevent what’s challenging in life. In fact, Lena explains, the things that threw her weren’t what she would have thought to worry about at all.

On the criticism Lena received when the sum she received for her book deal was announced: There’s a moral dimension to earning so much money and entertainers are paid unfairly when you consider doctors and nurses and teachers. But being questioned for how much you earn is a feminist issue – guys don’t have to deal with this. She gets anxious “lest I be seen buying shoes I don’t deserve.” Recalling how she once saw a male celebrity who she won’t name “wasted in the airport on a golf cart” she deadpans – “that must be a fucking pleasure.”

Discussing food and appearances and women’s complicity, Lena laughingly brings up the Daily Mail article that recently came out: “The Daily Mail said I had debuted a noticeably slimmer face. I was enraged from a feminist point of view, and also like thank you. [...] Every time I’m cat-called – it’s horrible and it’s validating and that combination is super dark.”

Caitlin asks, to the audience’s delight,”is being friends with Taylor Swift as much fun as it looks?” “I want to tell you guys it’s not,” Lena pauses, “but it really is. She’s so rad. She has an amazing amount of control over her business. I can’t say enough good things about her… She smells amazing.”

Taylor Swift 1989

Lastly, towards the end of the evening an audience member poses the question about the lack of diversity in Girls.  Lena answers “there’s a lot of criticism I don’t are about (being called fat, etc.) but I do care when women say they feel excluded.” She goes on to explain how she didn’t feel capable of representing everyone’s experience. “The problem of representation in TV is people need to see themselves on television, but more women need to be in positions of power in the industry to bring their story to television.”

Caitlin then jumps in to defend Lena: “You have to look at who’s commissioning. It’s a predominantly straight, white male industry. [...] To be racist by omission? That’s a big word we use for serious things. Can you call a person who’s written something semi-autobiographical about their experiences racist?” Getting the final word, Lena says “this is a conversation we need to have and if I’m the one that has to take one for the team to start the conversation I’m all in.”

I can’t sufficiently express how much the evening got the brain juices flowing and all done with wit and poise. It’s kind of cringe to think I’m just another person in the 2000 strong audience from one event on the book tour, but what can I say – girl crush to the max.

New in Denim: Ashley Williams x Selfridges

Newbie designer and all-round brills person Ashley Williams has collaborated with Selfridges. The launch of this fun link-up, planned around the Denim Studio’s 1st anniversary, is taking place tonight and I’ll be there to see it up close.

This range is a clever way of a retailer and a designer working together to test the waters – here’s why.

The capsule comprises eight Autumn/Winter 2014 designs, but each given a denim spin. So there’s the amazing leather horse jacket and dress, re-imagined in denim, an exclusive motif of western style dancers on a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans and the cat print on a white tee that’s perfect for pairing with true blues. Easier & cheaper to buy into than leather, no?

Instead of buying Ashley’s mainline collection, Selfridges have been clever in setting themselves apart from their competitors and dipping their toe into the Ashley pool at the same time. They have been able to work with an emerging designer on their terms, collaborating on the product itself – utilising the designer’s nous and the retailer’s rep as a denim destination. With a prestigious launch event and the press-worthy story backing the partnership up, Selfridges is able to see how the goods perform in store and test Ashley product on their customer to see if she’s a worthwhile investment for future seasons (if you ask me – duh.)

I’d like to see more of this in the future. Sure, I’ve heard plenty of stores asking for an exclusive on a style or a colour way to give them the edge over other retailers, but why not ask for specific tweaks, or plan product with the designer personally to utilise the retailer’s large-scale production knowledge/expert contacts and the designer’s idiosyncratic vision? After all, if there’s one thing that designers could use a leg up with it’s getting their garments made by the right factories to achieve the right price, and then ultimately achieve the right sell-through. It’s all good for everyone.

Read more and see the pics on Dazed Digital & i-D.

Posted: August 14th, 2014
Categories: Fashion
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Where The Heart Is

Big news – S. and I are buying a flat.

I’ve always been more a fantasist of a dream home than a fairytale wedding. I was even obsessive as a child about rearranging the furniture in my bedroom and plastered the walls floor to ceiling with a faux wallpaper made up of magazine tears. Summer-y #FBF moment for effect..

Katie FBF

So, buying a place is pretty exciting and it’s letting me release all my latent passion for interior design. The trouble is, where to start? Yesterday I went to Heal’s AW14 press show, which was as good a place as any.

As I walked around the gloriously sunny 5th floor of Heal’s TCR store, a lot of the lights captured my attention. These lamps are pleasingly minimal.

Heals's press day - lamps

This lamp has been up-cycled from chicken wire. Below it sat a fantastic wooden patterned table – a chic dining room pairing.

Heals's press day - chicken wire lamp

Heals's press day - table

The designers at Heal’s have spent some time looking back through the archives and were heavily inspired by their wrought iron bedsteads from 1905 (v. Bedknobs and Broomsticks!) Their modern version, below, the Abacus is available as a standard or four-poster. The oak abacus detailing and thin satin black powder-coated steel make modern bedfellows (excuse the pun..). The addition of the hanging three bulb lamp really added to the look and made me want to jump in.

Heals's press day - four poster

Outside on the terrace, Heal’s Discovers was celebrating its 10th anniversary with five talented designers. Below, Ester Comunello’s coffee table and light which clamps onto this or any piece of furniture. This was sadly the best pic I got of these bright new designers, as the sun was so blinding I couldn’t see my iPhone screen!

Heals's press day - Ester Comunello's Turn Collection

My absolute favourite, though, was the Rickard Stool by up-and-coming designers Philip Luscombe and Josh South. The stool cum kitchen step makes use of contrasting natural and fumed oak and has an ergonomic curve on the top, suitable for bums! At £295, it might well make it onto my wedding list.

Posted: July 4th, 2014
Categories: Home
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Commercialising Creativity

A number of months ago I took part in an informal interview with an MBA student from London Business School who was writing a report commissioned by the British Fashion Council about the state of the industry and designer practice. Little did I know then that my involvement, sitting on a bench in the sun outside the Truman Brewery, would mean a credit in the acknowledgements of the report alongside the likes of Sian Westerman of Rothschild, Marigay McKee from Saks Fifth Avenue and Andrea O’Donnell from Lane Crawford.

And as for the report itself? Titled ‘Commercialising Creativity‘, the findings make for a compelling read. I’m sure many of the industry’s stalwarts will think these obvious and unnecessary to repeat, but for designers, especially those in the early stages of their businesses, the report will be invaluable not only as advice for best practice, but as a guideline to follow to keep them on the straight and narrow towards commercial success.

With that in mind, now feels like an apt time to quietly announce the arrival of my new project, The Bridge Club. Too often I have seen designers with inimitable potential yet little to no business acumen or infrastructure. I’d like to change that. I’ll be working with a select number of exciting London designer brands offering a 360 degree view and tailored strategies to help them grow, form meaningful partnerships and become self-sustaining. Watch this space for its official launch post-LFW and keep an eye on Twitter/Instagram @TheBridgeClub_

Exploring Lincoln

I felt like I was doing Wallace & Gromit proud when last weekend I set off for a mini break in Lincoln. It’s so lovely being able to explore England in a way that is usually reserved for European jaunts.

The reason for the trip was that 4 Uni friends, myself included, were long overdue a catch-up, especially considering we are now spread about the country. Lincoln was a totally arbitrary pick save it being more or less a half way meeting point, but when we arrived and took the 20min walk to our BnB we discovered that we’d struck gold – mini break heaven!

Lincoln town is split into the modern, flat part – the high street, the wharf and its stretch of restaurants (chains, pubs, the Odeon); the second half feels like another world – ascending up Steep Hill (it ain’t called that for nothing!) the modern shops dissipate in favour of antique shops, tea rooms, independent homeware boutiques and art galleries. The Cathedral and castle sit atop this part of the town and make for a gloriously scenic stay.

We stayed at the Goodlane BNB which I can’t recommend highly enough. Situated just outside of the Newport Arch (the old city wall) its proprietor Sue and dog Jack were incredibly welcoming, and it felt just like staying in a home rather than a hotel.

We could barely tear ourselves away – fave haunts included Bells tea room (Bunty’s is also highly recommended), Browns pie shop,  Roly’s Fudge Pantry, Lincoln castle (currently undergoing huge regeneration but still open in part), the square that connects the Cathedral & Castle (the Magna Carta pub looked popular, but we also liked the Wig & Mitre) and Shambles antiques centre where I fell in love with a £5 1930’s butter dish.

Berlin: Highlights 3

The food!!

Il Casolare, Grimmstr 30 10967

Cafe Einstein, Kurfürstenstraße 58, 10785

Posted: April 18th, 2014
Categories: Food, Travel
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Beauty Bible x Aromatherapy Associates

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a special beauty evening at the Heals store on Tottenham Court Road. The Sleeping Beauty event saw speakers Sarah Stacey and Jo Fairley, of Beauty Bible, joined by Geraldine Howard of Aromatherapy Associates. Between them, they discussed the link between a good night’s sleep and good skin. They illustrated how, aided by AA’s cult Deep Relax products (‘knock out drops’, according to Jo) and the best apps, it’s possible to ‘sleep clever’ – blocking out the day’s stresses and sleeping deeper, resulting in better looking, younger skin.

One of Jo’s favourite apps is the Brainwave Dream Inducer by Banzai Labs (69p on the App store). With this app you can set your own music or listen to pre-programmed soothing sounds, while the app sends gentle pulses to your brain to help you relax and enjoy a deep sleep and vivid dreams. Definitely want to try that one out!

Unlike so many press events, I really felt that the evening struck the right chord. The speakers were witty and friendly – and quite importantly succinct so the evening didn’t drag on. We were free to stay and chat as long as we wanted, have hand massages courtesy of Aromatherapy Associates using their heavenly rose scented serum & lotion and peruse products. During my massage I got talking to one of the AA beauty girls about aromatherapy, which honestly I’ve never really considered an essential in my beauty arsenal. She explained how simply sniffing pure frankincense oil can interrupt nervous anxiety or even a panic attack. Suffice to say, I bought a bottle!

One of the most interesting and ‘aha’ moments I had during the evening though was when talking to Sarah about my skin concerns. Thinking she was going to recommend me a cleanser, she in fact explained how the skin is simply the gut on the outside and if I don’t take care of that then I can’t expect my skin to improve. Showing me a green juice recipe from one of the Beauty Bible books it was clear that these women live ‘wellness’ and it made me stop and think about what I’m doing to my body and how to take better care of it. Easier said than done, but definitely worth investing in.

Posted: April 17th, 2014
Categories: Beauty, Event
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Berlin: highlights 2

Considering I studied Kulturwissenschaften / Kunst (Culture/Art) in Berlin in 2008-9 I never actually came across the Berlinische Galerie. Similarly, I was not familiar with Dorothy Iannone (b. 1933). But upon reading an overview of her oeuvre and concerns I felt compelled to go check out the retrospective exhibit on her at BG, dragging S. in tow when we were there in March.

What I discovered was that she was unashamed about her depiction of female sexuality and her style is vividly graphic and colourful – an absolute feast for the eye. This is the kind of thing that’s right up my street.

She actually pasted fragments of stories within a lot of her mosaic-style paintings and even wrote an autobiographical narrative, albeit in 3rd person, about her meeting Dieter Roth, who she went on to leave her husband for (both the men were also artists). These she illustrated with graphic novel-style drawings on individual sheets. One (below) talks about how her art makes her immortal, which warms me.

In her later works she played with video, sound and life-size installation paintings and her style became more graphic, almost comic-book in style. But it’s the colour and pattern clash of her early works that I found so mesmerising. I highly recommend seeing them in the flesh.

Posted: April 16th, 2014
Categories: Art, Travel
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Phoebe at Vogue

For the first time ever I attended the Vogue festival this year, mainly to see it for myself but also because Phoebe Philo was speaking. I attended the talk, Phoebe in conversation with Alexandra Shulman, and below are my favourite notes from the hour. (N.B. As I was furiously scribbling a lot of these are in note-form/paraphrased.)

P: Céline didn’t have a historical designer. It was liberating, I could do what I wanted to do. What it did stand for was quality. I never looked at the archives.

A: Did you talk to a lot of people, friends, about what was missing in fashion? Because Céline has added to the offering out there.
P: I didn’t look around, it came from within. It’s what I really believe. I don’t put it out there unless I stand behind it.

A: Can you define the things you believe in? It seems you really feel pained by compromise?
P: I find mediocrity hard. I am a passionate person. I believe I give it a lot, so if it’s not good what’s the point?

Talking about the new Céline flagship store on Mount Street:
P: I think [the stores] should stand for something. I just wanted it to be strong. There are lots of shops around that are quite bland. I wanted to do something different and new. I worked with FOS, an artist on the interior. A completely absurd, wonderful guy. Very into function. He knew nothing about luxury goods.

A: What attracted you to fashion?
P: It was a bit of a calling. I feel somehow it was always in me. Using clothes to say something. When I was little I was very clear about what I wanted to wear. My mother dressed me in good, tasteful clothes and I wanted to wear things that were a bit sparkly, spangly and trashy.

A: How do you feel about being copied?
P: Mostly it’s flattering and exciting. Coco Chanel said ‘so long as you’re copied you’re relevant.’ Occasionally it’s too close to the bone but the details, the fabrics, the craftsmanship is hard to copy.

A: How much do you feel you personally have to exemplify the brand?
P: I don’t really think about it. I don’t find it useful to me getting on with what I do to think about it. I just do what I do.

A: You’ve said you dislike the cult of the designer. You’re always in strong control of your image.
P: I’ve just done what I was comfortable doing. I have an innate fear of fame. It doesn’t look like a good place to be. I like being incognito, I value that freedom.

A: Women aren’t usually at the top, running businesses. Do you think it would be different if they did?
P: I don’t think gender is relevant. I see men struggling as much as women within fashion. I think it’s more to do with individuals, personality. It’s a high pressure job. The bigger question is why aren’t there more women generally running companies? It should change. It is changing.
A: Would it make working practices different if women were running them?
P: Not particularly, I don’t see it like that. We should spend more time just getting on with it, not talking about the difference. But – somehow, somewhere girls are getting the message that they’re not good enough. I think clothes can make a political statement. When you wear Céline you should feel confident and strong. We should be teaching young girls to feel good. I don’t think young boys necessarily feel good either, maybe it’s our culture.. But there are so many more men in powerful positions. I think it’s motherhood. There’s a breaking point where people have left to bring up children and when they come back they miss the stage at which they would have gone right up. For the average person I think it’s very complicated. I’m very privileged and fortunate. It’s tough.

On the fashion industry’s unrealistic perspective on women’s bodies.
P: It’s complex. It’s good to talk about it. It’s unrealistic to think the fashion/film/sex industries won’t have an extreme ideal of beauty as a way of selling themselves. Let’s talk about it though. I don’t have the answers. I really do believe anybody can be seductive and sexy and gorgeous and beautiful. We use an extreme idea of beauty as a way of showing Céline but I don’t believe it should be like that outside of the show.

A: The role of the show? The point?
P: It’s a concentrated way of getting the message across. They last 8 minutes. Our moment. Everyone stops talking, they listen and watch. Been very happy showing in that format but Rick Owens’ show [with the dancers] got me thinking I’ve got to think about another format sometime.
A: But there’s still that moment.
P: It’s that created environment. Every detail of that is yours. Some sense of live performance. I’m moved by it. It takes effort.

Question from the audience: How did you decide what to wear to collect your MBE?
P: I just did it. I went with my family. They were all very proud of me, it was a wonderful moment. I just did it. I just got dressed that morning.

Question from the audience: What element of clothes do you think are emancipating for women?
P: Women should have choices. I’m not a fan of women being sexualised through clothes. As long as she’s chosen to wear it, it’s different. You should dress for yourself. Don’t dress for other people. There are too many images of women that are sexualised. It’s disempowering. I would prefer if we didn’t behave like that.

Question from the audience: Why haven’t you got your own company? The ‘Phoebe Philo’ brand?
P: It hasn’t happened so far. Maybe it will. I feel very fortunate so far.

Question from the audience: Any ambitions you would still like to fulfil?
P: I would like to create a foundation while at Céline helping people on some level. I’d like to spend some time working with less fortunate people than myself.

Question from the audience: Why don’t you sell Céline online?
P: I strongly believe you should experience Céline clothes, ultimately in the Céline store. Get a sense of the store, the materials, the world the clothes are set in. Or you go to a department store. But there you can still touch them, feel them, see how they’re constructed, look at the lining.. I feel that that process of buying clothes is important.

Posted: April 3rd, 2014
Categories: Event, Fashion
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Berlin: highlights 1

I lived in Berlin from 2008-9 so going back is a bit like going home. This time round I wanted to do stuff I’d never done before as well as re-visit my favourite haunts. The first highlight of the trip has to be the serendipitous decision to check out the inside of the Berliner Dom (cathedral).

Located a short hop from Alexanderplatz and right on top of Museuminsel it’s a central, charming area – when we arrived there was a Sunday market right outside. Entrance normally costs €7 to explore all corners of this historical building, but as there was a service taking place we paid a reduced admission of €4 to go up to the museum and dome.

The museum exhibited drawings and mock-ups of the cathedral via its various architects – well worth a visit for architect buffs, but the real show happened further upstairs. Getting narrower and narrower as we ascended higher and higher, there was an opportunity to look over into the cathedral and see the service, as well as peek out at the view that awaited us.

The top, the dome itself, was terrifying and amazing (I’m afraid of heights) but I think that’s what it all the more worthwhile. When you’re up there you have to walk the entire circumference to reach the exit and go back down so you get a 360 degree view walking round. We timed it so well that we only had to wait ten minutes to see the sun setting. Glorious.

Posted: March 16th, 2014
Categories: Travel
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