Hello, is that summer on the line?  Are you on your way or just taking your good sweet time, hidden behind foreboding clouds and laughing skies?

I know it’s somehow ingrained within British DNA to mandatorily talk about the weather come rain or shine but we’re nearing July and our patience is really beginning to wear thin now.  My patently overgrown (and therefore soon to be overhauled) garden has been loving the showers but sad face me below has clearly not.  This compounded with Brexit blues, which I won’t dwell on until something… nay, anything concrete emerges (apparently that will take some years so don’t hold me to that thought).  Rain-drenched Union jacks and England footie flags up and down the country are blowing limply in the wind.

There’s a silver lining somewhere.  If I find it in amongst the political rubble, I’ll be sure to let you know.  In the meantime, I’m keeping things simple.  Or simple in my head.  I’m chucking a vaguely wintry/early spring coat or jacket over a summer dress.  Two layers, no more and definitely no less if I’m to keep warm and some sort of no-nonsense sanity.  The top layers come courtesy of Coach pre-fall, which is beginning to drip into stores and somehow making seasonal sense in this confused climate.  The bottom layers are light airy things I’ve been accumulating in the hope that days of bare arms and hot hair are just around the corner.  This is me keeping warm just after the summer solstice.  This is England 2016.

IMG_3589Coach Rogue bag hanging with ‘Rexy’ bag charms and fall 2016 dress worn with Celine slip-ons

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0E5A9341Coach faux leopard coat worn with xxx dress 

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0E5A9372Coach souvenir jacket and prairie patchwork minidress worn with Maison Michel hat

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0E5A9445Coach shearling hoodie worn with Molly Goddard tartan dress

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0E5A9475Coach patchwork shearling vest worn with Mame dress

Coach turnlock creeper slides worn throughout

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>> The title of the post sounds ludicrously simple. Just… say something nice!

It apparently doesn’t happen enough according to the stats above.  I’ve experienced a decade of having my style judged through the lens of the internet.  Actually, “judged” would be the wrong world when talking about fashion blogging 1.0 or even 0.5.  Back in those mid 2000 years, we’d go on sites like Style Diary or on the What Are You Wearing thread on The Fashion Spot and we’d post our outfits  and words of encouragement and compliments would ensue.  The old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…” was well observed and adhered to.

Then somewhere down the fashion blogger 2.0/3.0 line, something happened.  Audiences got bigger.  Blog comments got vicious.  Then came social media.  First Twitter, then Instagram and now SnapChat where seemingly your life is out there 24/7, warts and all.  That’s opened up a vastly different can of worms, where profiles are icon-less and Instagram accounts can be private/bots, giving license to well, say whatever you feel like.  When it comes to style critique, I’ve had it dished out to me in spades over the years.  “You dress like a clown.”  “You’d benefit more from wearing less.”  “You’re too fat for that outfit.”  Clown or pig seem to be recurring insults, especially when you count the comments expressed through Emojis.

On the flip side, whilst I’ve never been guilty of leaving a similar comment on other people’s blogs/social media accounts that hasn’t stopped me from airing judgement in my head.  It’s a dichotomy you grapple with because as you rail against judgement of your own style, you have to be careful to check your own judgement of others.  Even innocuous things like Grazia’s Fashion Jury is something I feel uncomfortable about taking part in because it can feel a bit like, a pot calling the kettle black.

Therefore I applaud Amazon Fashion for launching their #SaySomethingNice campaign.  With myself and other fashion bloggers/influencers Camille Charrière, Gala Gonzalez, Hana Tajima, Freddie Harrel, Clementine Desseau, Samar Seraqui de Butafoco and Masha Sedgwick, we have collectively fessed up about how our style has been judged in the past and also how we judge others.  The point is to encourage unique and personal style and the first step towards that is to try and eliminate quickfire judgement, particularly on social media.  And so we’re urging people to say something nice – which I should add, does happen frequently on my largely positive social channels – but even stray barbed comments can still do their damage.  For those that receive negative judgement on a regular basis have to learn to tune them out like white noise or grow a skin so thick because we just accept that “this is the internet and this is how it is.”

My feeling has and always been thus: if you saw said about-to-be-judged person in real life, would you go up to them face to face and voice your opinion about their their outfit?  And whilst it’s easy to dismiss, negative judgements as part of being on “the internetz”, how can we ascertain the exact effect of what these sort of comments have on the confidence of a person’s personal style?  And so we come back to the simple title of this campaign. Just #SaySomethingNice – and I, along with the other peeps featured in the Amazon Fashion video will be pledging to do the same.

And this is the longer version where I get to ramble even more about being judged, judging people and promising to #SaySomethingNice on social media….

P.S. I realise that this post goes live on the day that the UK has chosen to leave the EU. I’m naturally bereft and disappointed but onwards and upwards – my views are being strongly expressed on my Twitter should you wish to continue the EU chat there.

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Two of my tweets last Thursday afternoon might seem completely unrelated to some but in my head, I’ve since been trying to connect them.  I congratulated Grace Wales Bonner upon winning the LVMH Prize, marking the third successive British-based winner of this prestigious and necessary funding. Two minutes later upon reading about the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire, and about the possibility (now all but affirmed…) that the shooting was in any way politically-motivated in amidst the debate about Brexit, I tweeted that this wasn’t a Great Britain I recognised anymore. It scaled from elation about a deserved designer – a rising star in the London fashion industry, to utter despair about a side to Britain that I won’t/don’t connect with.

It’s difficult to wade into politics on a fashion blog without being told that you’re not qualified to speak or you don’t have your facts straight.  Or indeed, that your privilege makes your voice less valid. Framing the EU debate within a fashion context might not seem immediately obvious either but the fashion industry has clearly made a stand.  Key players have made their position on the debate clear by standing by Remain, with the likes of Alexandra Shulman of Vogue UK, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Imran Amed of Business of Fashion having signed a letter to keep Britain in the EU.  The argument?  “Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs.  Britain remaining in the EU would mean the opposite – more certainty, more trade and more jobs.  EU membership is good for business and good for British jobs.”  The economic uncertainties post potential Brexit is the main thrust being put forward.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301450Steve Salter (aka my other half)

But we all know that the EU referendum goes far beyond facts, figures and statistics.  When experts are being “dismissed” and emotions are riding high, threats of imminent recession, loss of jobs and a plummeting £ all seem to be falling upon deaf ears. People are going to vote with an idealised vision of this country in their head and sadly many have built a battleline in their head where they are “us” and everyone else is the “other” or “them”.  And so it is with ideology that I vote for Remain at the polling booth tomorrow morning. Because the Great Britain of my reality is one where we celebrate and cooperate with the “other”, not merely tolerate it.

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IMG_3421Wales Bonner S/S 17 

When it was announced that Wales-Bonner had won the coveted EUR300,000, prize I thought about her eye-opening, mind-expanding ideas that have led to us to ponder the idea of black male sexuality and masculinity.  Her borders span far and wide as for her S/S 17 collection, she was looking at the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930.  Her influences have long been concerned with the black male diaspora, spread across expanses of Africa, the Caribbean, India and Europe.  They’re both real and imagined journeys, resulting in clothes that whilst rooted to certain geographies and histories, are also original in its inspired ceremonial pomp for the 21st century.  As a British-born half English, half Jamaican designer, Wales-Bonner isn’t necessarily directly related to the EU conversation, but the fluidity of borders expounded in her work, feels pertinent somehow.  That Britain can foster designers like her make you somehow hopeful that fashion as a creative outlet still is an outward-looking and progressive beacon.

And then those thoughts were quashed by a disturbed man who reportedly yelled “Britain First” or “Put Britain first!” before firing shots at a woman, who had spent her entire working life thinking about the bigger picture – one filled with compassion.  The horror.  The despair.  At the time, I was preparing to go out and see the Raf Simons show in Florence but found myself crying uncontrollably in my hotel room.  This quote from Cox’s maiden speech, has since taken on a memorable significance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  Then why is it that within communities, we’re finding ourselves with self-imposing divides placed in amongst us.

As the rolling news played out, I then thought about fashion as a facilitator of open-mindedness and freethinking creativity.  At least, that’s the fashion that I fell in love with as a young teenager, when hemmed in by pressures to perform well academically and to be “normal” or “attractive” by society.  I thought about free movement being more than just people moving from one country to another for economic and benefits gain (although whilst we’re at it, it bears repeating that immigrants to the UK put in more than they take out).  It’s also about a movement and exposure to cultures, ideas and ways of thinking.

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If Brexiters can deduce immigration to “those bloody Polish shelves in Tesco’s” then I am free to equate Remain with values of openness, tolerance and partnership.  When applied to fashion, this is in evidence not just in the designers that we have come to call our own, whose origins are in the EU – Mary Katrantzou, Marios Schwab, Faustine Steinmetz, Astrid Andersen, Marques Almeida, Marta Jakubowski and Peter Jensen to name but a few, but also in the countless graduates, stylists, photographers and make-up and hair artists that benefit from free movement and ability to ply their much-needed trade in this country.  The result?  A richer, more diverse and creative industry that thrives on collaboration.  The flow of ideas in the British fashion industry has never been so vibrant, even amidst talk of a tumultuous industry in flux or a shrinking social mobility in fashion education impeded not by the EU… but by our own government.

And that’s just the peeps from the EU contingent. London’s fashion community has of course become home to many from outside of Europe and that’s where it becomes scarily problematic. Who’s to say that Leave voters’ fear about immigration doesn’t just stop at the borders of the EU. That they want England for English people only (people polled through various BBC Breakfast/Today programmes – their words, not mine), defined in the only way they see fit. Leavers will say they are not tainted by racism and xenophobia, but why is it that the rhetoric being heard on the streets, on social media and even from the official Leave camp people (*cough* Nigel Farage), is dangerously designed to inspire hate and ire against “them foreigners”.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301502Stephen Isaac-Wilson

I echo Polly Toynbee’s thoughts as she gives her final boost of belief towards Remain. “I don’t believe those politics of isolation will win on Thursday. I can’t and won’t believe it – and if I’m wrong then being wrong is the least of the despair I shall feel.”  Because say what you want, a post-Brexit Britain will inevitably project the idea to the world, that British people are inward-looking self-interested little Englanders, even if that isn’t necessarily the case.  That creative to-and-fro flow, a bi-directional conversation between Great Britain and continental Europe, that we have taken for granted for the last forty years, will stutter, splutter and maybe even slowly ebb away, as students from the EU are deterred from studying in the UK and visa impositions will make working/living here much more difficult.

This will inevitably read like wishy washy twaddle spewed by a media “luvvy” but it’s an opinion that’s no less valid than the woman in Solihull telling foreigners to get out, as she drags her shopping trolley on the high street.  The so-called “Project Fear” levied at the Remain camp isn’t just about economic-based projections, but it’s the fear of a country slipping into an abyss of no return.

All EU Remain Straight Ups photographed by Holly Falconer for i-D

The excitement in the run-up to this particular edition of Pitti Uomo was palpable.  The line-up of designer projects at Pitti have always been impressive but perhaps it was the combination of a) one of the most significant menswear designers to have emerged in the last twenty years and b) potentially one that will follow in the former’s path to become significant in the next twenty years, both announcing that they would reveal their S/S17 collections in Florence, which caused a somewhat feverish enthusiasm.  The crowd was certainly beefed up and the mood more giddy.  Gosha Rubchinskiy on one day?  Raf Simons the next?  Fashion ‘fuccbois’ the world over were most definitely salivating.

Ok, I jest.  Gosha Rubchinskiy and Raf Simons are of course on higher planes than the normal fucc’boi streetwear staples like Supreme or Palace, but the sort of geeky anticipation for their product often feels like it’s borne out of the same place, especially when you look at how men specifically buy clothes.  I’ve seen young lads – maybe 15, or 16 years old – emerge out of Soho multi-brand store Machine-A, excitedly asking each other “Did you get the Raf?” “Nah, I got the Gosha instead… might save up and get the Raf next month.”  (this is a verbatim convo I might add).  They talk about Raf and Gosha t-shirts like they’re collecting Premiere League football stickers or new editions of trainers.  Their design and referencing spheres are of course worlds apart but it’s testament to the way progressive and forward-thinking menswear has been embraced, that people buy both these labels in similar ways.

Gosha and Raf’s shows also formed a contrasting foil to what Pitti Uomo is generally about on first appearances – dandy suits, traditional tailoring and a contentious attitude towards what is “proper” menswear attire.  That’s precisely what makes these special projects at Pitti feel… well, special.  They’re given ample space and time for both the designer and the on-looking audience to create and see something memorable.

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Rubchinskiy rebuffed the platter of palazzos on offer in Florence and instead took us to a Fascist-era tobacco factory.  So very Russian, you might say but what actually ensued was perhaps Rubchinskiy’s most outward looking collection yet.  I have sometimes found it troubling that the fascination with his work often stems from the exoticising of his Russian roots and that his clothes are constantly seen through this lens of “post Soviet youth”, precisely because the West have never experienced communism.  That can feel like a narrow sphere to frame Rubchinskiy’s work.  Therefore, it was pleasing to see him take a leap from Russia to Italy, beginning with the ‘Gosha’ take on tailoring (slouchy, relaxed and incredibly appealing) and ending with a heartfelt resurrection of much-loved, slightly-forgotten Italian sportswear brands like Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini.  Rubchinskiy has of course dabbled with logo plays before but here, these garments were official collaborations pitted with his logo in Russian.  This was Gosha in Italy, marking a more internationally minded stylistic shift for the brand that steps outside of the underground skate parks and nightclubs of Moscow.  And yet, his nods to Italian culture didn’t feel parochial.  Fila and Kappa in particular resonated everywhere and will regale

It’s odd that as the tragically killed Labour MP Jo Cox’s words from her maiden speech have been ringing around my head (“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”), that Rubchinskiy, a Russian, should come to Europe and echo those thoughts.  “This is the time when people need to collaborate and connect with each other, because we have the internet – everyone knows what’s happening around the world so it’s stupid to be isolated. Let’s try to find words and ways to speak and live with each other.”

That spirit of collaboration extended to the film and accompanying book and exhibition entitled “The Day of My Death” directed by cult Russian director Renata Litvinova.  This odd surreal neo-nbir, filmed in the same tobacco factory where the show took place is dedicated to the famed Italian author, poet and director Pier Paolo Pasolini and the strange circumstances around his death.  Rubchinskiy has always shown more strings to his bow than just designing clothes.  In fact, arguably, his clothes are anchored to a spirit expressed through exhibitions, films and imagery that means taking it all in makes the end product more meaningful.

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I never saw Simons’ collaborative exhibition with Francesco Bonami or his 10 year anniversary show in 2005, both staged as part of past editions of Pitti Uomo.  I did get to see his Jil Sander show up in the Tuscan Hills in 2010, where rain dramatically fell as the last model took his exit.  That was a shiver-inducing moment in my years of show-going.  I highly doubt anyone who did experience of all four of Simons’ shows in Florence, would have felt deja vu on Thursday, as we stood outside the Stazione Leopolda, excited to see what lay inside.  Mannequins perched on the roof of the building loomed over us.  Like Greek statues communicating power, they set the tone for what would be an all-encompassing celebration of Simons’ work – past, current and future.  At 8.30pm, the doors were flung open and we were plunged into red-tinged darkness.  A throbbing maze of mannequins, scaffolding bars, sound equipment, where Soft Cell and New Order would soundtrack our feasting of Simons’ vast body of work.  Curiously, his seminal menswear were displayed on mostly female mannequins (reportedly from his own personal collection), painted and customised in some way or another.  That seemed to reflect the fluidity of Simons’ work appreciated and worn by both men and women.  The mark of a strong designer is when you can do away with museum-standard labels and captions.  You could easily point out the Sterling Ruby’s.  The Peter Saville’s.  The Manic Street Preacher patches.  Or the period in time when his non-conventional tailoring and repurposing of bomber jackets and wide legged combat trousers came to fruition. 0E5A00630E5A0072

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Once again, the audience were asked to stand or sit where they like, choosing their own view of Simons S/S 17 collection.  The choice of view would be crucial in this instance as Simons unveiled a fully fleshed out collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, choosing, placing and recontextualising a vast array of the photographer’s images.  Both familiar and unfamiliar squares of Mapplethorpe’s work hit you as they emerged printed on the chest, hems and backs of oversized shirts.  They were like billowing vehicles to Mapplethorpe’s portraits, still lives and graphic work.  Faces both famous and otherwise, bored their eyes into you.  Flower still lives made their impression.  Photographs of erect phallus peeked from beneath layers of slouchy sweaters and outerwear.

It was a fully fleshed out collaboration instigated by the foundation and so it was that Simons ensured the collection wasn’t going to just slap-dash place a few images here and there on some lazy tees.  Simons turned his garments into a gallery, positioning each one with precision and also printing the images with care.  The nods Mapplethorpe’s own personal style gave the collection more credence as skinny leather belts around the neck, skinny trousers and leather bar hats gave a newfound sensuality to this collection.  Still, what struck me about the collection was Simons’ ability to interact with the art.  There’s no shortage of examples where artwork has been placed cynically into a fashion context.  Simons’ collection felt like it was borne out of a genuine fascination and respect.  And beyond the fashion show, Simons has created a clever conduit to further disseminate these images that might well be unknown to a younger generation.

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What ties the two collections together is the panache of recognisability – Rubchinskiy with his revival of old-school Italian sportswear and Simons with his reframing of Mapplethorpe’s most famous imagery. Once again, I’m thinking of those lads going into stores like Machine-A six months down the line, eager to snap things up. Good for them. They deserve snapping up. Despite, the generation gap between the two, both have managed to tap into that intangible quality of collectible permanence in their work that resonates with an audience of all ages.  Pitti Uomo bagged themselves a triumphant edition that is unlikely to diminish quickly in people’s minds.