In Good Company

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>> I've always lamented and secretly wished that a British version of Teen Vogue existed.  There's no use wrinkling your nose at me.  You can say "But we have i-D, Dazed and Lula and any one at any age can pick up Elle or Vogue and still get a decent fashion fix?"  Whilst I'm grateful to those first two titles for shaping part of what I love about fashion when I was growing up and yes, Elle/Vogue do a fine job of serving women, there still really isn't that instantly-recognisable paper-based teenage fix that is ultra specific to the fashion climate and environment of the UK (well, London…) as well as to the weird whimsies of a teenager finding/discovering style.  Yes, it is a little strange that aged 28, I'm still grasping at this non-existent magazine that isn't even targeted at my age group.  Then again, I'm also curiously fascinated by young adult fiction or the reaction to programmes like Skins or Misfits. This confirms my fate as a hoary anthropologist, who can never tear her eyes away from what's going on in teen-dom.  I once even begged Teen Voguer Andrew Bevan to get him to fight for the cause.  He tells me it's a no go though. 

You could also argue that with sites like the excellent Rookie, the increasing numbers of blogs, Tumblrs and the fact that fashion mad teens here probably pick up the American Teen Vogue anyway, teens are actually very well served.  Still, Company's recent makeover, which has seen its size reduced to exactly that of Teen Vogue, has reignited my preposterous secret wish that will probably remain unfulfilled, the way print land is going. 

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Company has done a decent job of sort of plugging that mainstream teen media hole even though they don't specifically focus their stories on teens.  Gone are the "My mum's drinking left her hours from death" and "Have sex, look skinny" headlines and instead snazzy fonts, illustrations and a much heavier fashion and beauty focus have been ushered in.  The emphasis is also on high street clothing which ups the accessibility factor.  The styling is evidently less "Phooooaaar" and more preppy.  I'd liken it to ASOS's make-under from As Seen On Screen to its current on-point incarnation.  I do find it interesting that those slightly saucy reads that I bought as a curious teen to find out about sex- More, 19, Company – have either floundered or changed tact.  I'm reminded once again of Kevin Braddock's analysis of men's magazine culture and the pending death of lad mags and likewise, the language of sex as well as the idea that women are dressing with the sole purpose of "going out on the pull" in women's media, has also become muted.  

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By all means, it's not the finished product for me and my lofty ideas for a teen mag that would probably sell less than 100 copies.  Maybe it'll kick start me into putting some money where my mouth is.  Nonetheless I quite like the shift.  One less magazine proclaiming "How to make your G-string work for you and your man" is fine by me.  

Where’s the fun?

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Back in July-August, you may recall I did a spot of guest blogging for Galeries Lafayette to create their La Modes C'est Vous microsite where the capitals of fashion – New York, London, Milan and Paris were represented.  The final fruition of this was a big extravaganza event in Paris where over 700 people chosen through the site were invited to come representing the style of one particular city and walk a red carpeted runway that was erected just outside the Opera building to break the record of  

I'll show no fear of potentially getting bollocked for this but in my head, I did think it would be cheesy as hell.  I arrived at the rehearsals at Bourse that day where there was an army of make-up and hair artists liberally dousing the participants with eye shadow and hairspray, confirming my petty fears of naffness.

Then I started walking around with my camera and ended up hanging around there for an hour or two.  I was struck by the effort, the array of styles and the diversity of people that had shown up, shrieking with excitement in the cases of the younger ones.  It dawned on me how misplaced my initial fears/jibes were and I did feel slightly ashamed.  Yes, it was a bit cheesy.  Yes, it was silly.  The event wasn't for my pompous little eyes though.  These people were genuinely psyched to participate in a runway show and they had expressed their style with maximum effort.  For some, it was about expressing their particular sub cultural style preferences – neon goth?  toy punk?  – correct me on the specifics.  Some had created a specific costume for the event and had even practised a routine for the walk.  Some came as they were, and as they were was inspiring for me, as I rarely get to see a real variety and plethora in Parisian style.  There were a few lone "characters" who I got really fascinated with – the guy in the cable knit jumper and the purple kilt who didn't crack one single smile, a family who had turned up looking like a 90s Benetton window display, a teensy tiny man in a silver dinner jacket who danced down the runway with a walking stick.  Above all, you saw diversity in race, age and sometimes size, something that wasn't a political correctness box to tick by Galeries Lafayette seeing as the participants were picked by public vote.

You're probably wondering why I'm randomly dwelling on an event that happened back in September, that in the scheme of FASHION doesn't bear much consequence at all.  It did make me think about the times when the scheme of FASHION didn't matter so much.  When the most important thing to me was that fun and expressive element of personal style.  I got a little angry at myself for even judging the whole affair as 'naff'.  In the six years of blogging, slowly being integrated into the fashion industry and working within its structure, whilst being silently annoyed by its hypocrisies and misgivings has been a strange experience.  People often ask me about the blog's tagline of being an "outsider of fashion" when clearly I'm not, but at a tented show of 700 people or in amongst a crowd of champagne and canapes, you can still feel like an isolated fraud and being on the periphery and looking in can be disconcerting. 

I don't often vent/rant anymore because I haven't figured out how to action change after the venting/ranting.  The industry's love of token diversity in race and size, its fetishisation of youth (something Tavi so eloquently called out), its love of latching on to the digital bandwagon without really thinking about what that actually means, the single-minded promotion of certain designers above others and the constant 'glossing' over of details and specifics – pointing that all out doesn't serve any real purpose.  And that's only half the niggles that I have.  I'm painting a bleak picture here because clearly I enjoy embracing everything that is good, exciting, silly, fun and awesome in the industry.

What I'm saying however, is that I have to check myself constantly and events like this did surprisingly make me do just that.  I rewound and thought about WHY I started Style Bubble in the first place.  I reminisced about those early years of discovering and experimenting and holding on to that will be the challenge.  

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On a lighter and less dramatic note, the winner that I chose to come to Paris from London to also partake in the show turned out to be really lovely.  Alice Price-Styles is a hip hop obsessed and works at Mixcloud and she did a fine job of walking the walk… 

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Merchant Archive Move

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>>I‚Äôm one of those really unhelpful bloggers who tell you things when everybody is already clued up.  I am however making up the fact that I made the mistake of selecting a few of my favourite vintage spots for the November issue of Vogue China with this bit of address mis-information.  Therefore I thought I should let it be known that Merchant Archive, has now moved from its slightly out-of-the-way-but-oh-so-charming location of Kensal Green to the more-convenient-but-ever-so-slightly-obvious Notting Hill.  The move came up quite suddenly for Sophie Merchant and so she left the Lipton general store interior where these photos for Vogue China were taken and has upped her treasure trove of vintage to a new two-floor shop on 19 Kensington Park Road.

I have to stress the success browse-to-buy ratio of Merchant Archive.  Everyt time I turn up to hassle Sophie to let me shoot her place for such and such a magazine, I manage to come away with a real ‚Äòpiece‚Äô.  Not some random filler skirt, jumper or top but a thing of beauty that deserves not the crappy Ikea plastic hangers but the nice Morplan sturdy wooden ones where I don't hang multiple items on. 

In this picture, I‚Äôm wearing a 1930s tea dress that came back with me on the Vogue China shoot at the old address.  The green kimono finally made the trek home when I saw it for a second time at the new store.  I think Merchant Archive is the only place where ripped-up and falling apart is actually an admirable quality.

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This neon pink and green dress that blinded a few people outside Jil Sander last season was another one I saw, wore and pawed at the Vogue China shoot. 

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Both portraits photographed by Kate Cox

The new store is a lot airier and together with a new logo and window storefront decal, Merchant Archive has been given a bit of a facelift.  Still, Sophie still managed to dig up some original features in the store.  Just as she left the black and white tiling and the beautiful cornicing in the old store, here, she discovered a bricked-up fireplace on one wall.  Not surprisingly business has been brisk.  Notting Hill is not short of vintage stores but it‚Äôs also not short of the customer who appreciates premium vintage.  As always, the likes of Florence Welch has been a regular customer at Merchant Archive, not that it‚Äôs the sort of place that needs celebrity endorsement to get people appreciating the period, whimsicality and quality of vintage that Sophie goes for.

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Here are a few more reminders of the things that I‚Äôve gotten from Merchant Archive.  The black mini dress with pearl beaded sleeves even has its own special box.  Never thought that I'd be the sort of person to have 'special boxes' for one item of clothing.   Then again, I also never thought I'd have categories of hangers either.   

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(Left: Black mini dress with pearl beading.  Right: Panther printed silk top and matching skirt.  Both from Merchant Archive)

Itty Bitty Pitti A/W 13-12

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Prioritising workload a, b and c has meant that the blog has been relegated to… workload z?  With January, a new season beckons and there is a botch load of upcoming projects, deadlines and weirdly, I find myself flying to Florence once again today for a meeting.  Sounds like the high life?  Not when you're wiping sleep out of your eyes and turning up to airports with static hair stuck to a Sarah Lund-esque jumper.

Rewind back a week and it was a slightly rosier picture.  This is me scarfed and skirted ready to take on the delights of Pitti Uomo 81.  Why is it that I insist on invading this hallowed menswear territory?  In a small and very wee voice, and I may find myself faced with dissenting voices but *menswear just might be getting more interesting than womenswear*?  For shame on me for the generalisation there.  I'm only suggesting the notion, not proclaiming it by the way.  The truth will out I guess when the A/W 12-3 shows come rolling but for me, there's a heft of innovation, genuinely interesting design synthesis and aesthetic shifts going on in menswear.  Pitti Uomo had a wealth of tidbits that would be interesting to design aficionados period, regardless of gender.

On an outfit note, you may have seen that the Aldo Rise shoes from the likes of Preen, J.W. Anderson and Mark Fast have just launched in Selfridges in a pop-up store and online.  Sadly these J.W. Anderson loakers are not part of the mix because of a production glitch which is a crying shame because as I was walking around, I got constantly stopped by men and women folk enquiring about their origins.  The hybrid shoe as exemplified by a few specimens in this post is clearly getting people excited.  Hey Aldo, let's try and make the loaker happen sometime soon, yeah?

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(Vintage Celine cardigan, J.W. Anderson paisley shirt, Comme des Garcons Tricot scarf print kilt, black opaque tights, J.W. Anderson x Aldo shoes)

bStore came to Pitti Uomo for the first time in a long while and were welcome with open arms.  Here's one for the girls AND boys as they have collaborated with Underground Creepers to bring us houndstooth, navy/cream and forest green and mustard combo styles, available in both mens and womens' sizes.  The creeper train does seem to be lingering longer than one might expect but for me they're counter-cultural/design constant, much like a Dr Marten shoe and I don't mind the constant updates, especially if it involves a cheeky houndstooth and dalmation print.

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A/W 12-3 bStore meets Liberty again for more print-based collaboration.  Instead of going for the obvious flora, bStore have unearthed a leopard print to clash with a pixelated paisley.  Expect the same prints for womenswear.

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I've yet to conquer the bow tie for woman but there are so many stellar examples and labels prompting me to do so.  Another one to add to that list is Jupe, designed by Jackie who is based in Amsterdam.  Jackie here wears hers well.  Jupe's bow ties are expertly embroidered by craftsmen in India, carefully sourced by Jackie, and they immediately catch the eye as you walk past the stand.  They come in the traditional bow tie form for the more seasoned bow-tie wearer as well as the elastic band cheat's version.

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I got a slice of Tokyo Redux at Pitti as a group of designers who showed during Tokyo Fashion Week as part of the Versus event made their way over to Florence for a group installation that showcases the best of innovative menswear design.  Phenomenon, one of Tokyo's most cult-garnering menswear brands that could potentially make it overseas , made its presence known with a rainbow interpretation of its MA-1 bomber jacket complete with a zippered grid on the back.

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I'm going to sound like a broken record as I recount my bomber jacket memories and nobody around me seems to get it.  I excitedly asked Steve "Don't you remember when we were ten, EVERYONE was into bomber jackets with orange linings and everyone also wore theirs with these gold heart brooches that we bought from the Variety charity?"  "Errr‚Ķ NO!," came the reply.  Ok, this may have just been a very specific trend isolated to Finchley/North London.  I daringly wore my black one inside out once, which made me feel like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

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More jacket frenzy as we entered the Facetasm room.  The question of "Do these come in girls' sizes?" doesn't even enter my mind as this is the sort of design I'd wear oversized or otherwise.  Yes, they are yet ANOTHER aberration on the varsity jackets and yes, I realise American jocks might sneer at these bastardised FASH-WAN versions but when Facetasm designer Hiromichi Ochiai takes a reference such as tacky souvenir items, you have to at least be slightly amused.  Here, Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper, which in reality probably gets its fair share of tacky souvenir tributes, is transplanted to the jacket in carpet tapestry form.  You could see these jackets as defilement of the artwork in much the same way as when you see a cheesy mug or a badly reproduced print but I guess it just shows the number of ways iconic imagery can permeate product.

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Facetasm's match match take on furniture is also making me think I might need to give Hiromichi a call when I come to decorating my house.  Who wants a real Persian rug when I can get a nylon printed one instead?

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The man skirt gets proposed every once in a while as a catwalk statement, only to fall upon deaf ears when the trickle down to mass retail and high street fails to see the sellability of a skirt for guys.  Will this change?  Perhaps not but at least designers are proposing it in realistic ways.  These knitted kilts that come attached to tweed shorts in Discovered's new A/W 12-3 collection seem like a fairly plausible solution, taking the grungey thing of tying shirts/jumeprs around the waist another step forward.

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Why are most trades hows formulaic and stale?  Because they don't normally have the kind of space that Pitti Uomo gets to cover at the Fortezza de Basso, where in open space, designers can just set up a guerilla installation in an instant.  Camo's very elegant gamblers started a game of poker at sunset.  Steve will be dissecting all the details of the label's A/W 13-12 collection in the next few days.

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Long johns get colourful with the strangely named Chic Appeal collection by the traditional Italian sock company DePio.  The name does induce the cringe, but the socks are beautiful and I'm definitely convinced by the layers of warming knitted leggings, shorts and socks.

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A visit to Pitti isn't complete without a hello to the smiliest exhibitor ever.  Shoe maker Eiichi Katsukawa of the label H? Katsukawa from Tokyo, quite literally gives us the most enthusiastic hand wave whenever we see him.  Steve has already enthused about the collection of Nibe leather brogues (his signature of brushed/texturised leather) and a new addition of the loafer/desert boot/bowling shoe hybrid.  I don't even know how to come up with an appropriate name for such a shoe.  We'll be calling on Katsukawa on our next trip to Tokyo for sure.

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Andrea Pompilio perhaps summed up the sort of style mixing that is so indicative of contemporary menswear, that is really quite attractive to someone like me, who doesn't like rigid style categories.  Military, workwear, traditional tailoring, sportswear and streetcar all get a look in with a smattering of eye-grabbing motifs.  Planet of the Apes monkey won't be new to those that were bamboozled by gorillas back in Christopher Kane's S/S 09 collection but the imagery still maganges to grab your attention.  On the accessories front, the lumberjacket essential of a trapper hat gets updated with a decorative pom pom and the flaps firmly upturned and the treads of a hiking boot get merged with a tasseled loafer.

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There is a point where this can all read like a predictable formula.  Take a classic, give it a twist, add an eye-catching print, inject some stellar craftsmanship into it all – bobs yer' uncle – you've got yourself a bunch of guys clamouring for your wares.  Thankfully, there's a heartbeat throbbing through most of these designs and there's an affability to it all that hopefully will prevent it all from becoming hackneyed fare.