We’re finally experiencing some semblance of a scorching summer in London.  Which means in my current child-carrying state, I’m approximately ten degrees hotter than everyone else.  On the tube, whilst I’m desperate to spread my legs wide and fan my nether regions with a giant palm frond, I’m refraining because of this little thing called modesty loitering in the back of my mind. 

childmeFavouring all things buttoned-up right from the get-go

Incidentally the word modesty has been making headlines, primarily instigated by the furore that has erupted in France over the regional banning of “ostentatiously religious dress” to avoid “trouble to public order”.  The wording in the original bylaw is not in reference to a Catholic nun’s habit or an Orthodox Jewish woman’s four piece swimsuit (who else think this is kind of chic?).  There goes the French principle of supposed laïcité (secularism).  It’s pointedly targeted at the burqini, created in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti to enable her niece to play netball.  In an opinion piece for the Guardian, she has responded to the bans vehemently.  You’ve taken a product that symbolised happiness and joyfulness and fitness, and turned it into a product of hatred.”

IMG_8241In We are Handsome in Yosemite

It’s an ideological battleground that has piqued my interest because pregnancy-induced sweaty spells aside, I’m personally an advocate of keeping public flesh exposure to the minimum.  Not because of religion.  Not because of a stern patriarchal overlord policing my attire.  Simply because of choice.  Ever since I could remember, I’ve been TeamSwimsuit vs. TeamBikini.  What began as a teenage embarrassment over what I perceived to be a soft rice pillow, non-worked out belly, eventually developed into a present day acceptance that I generally feel more comfortable and jollier in a garment that isn’t precariously held together with spaghetti straps.  Burqini critics have pointed out the practicality of a garment that physically makes you hot in the sun, and adds drag in the sea.  Speaking as someone who regularly dons, leggings and long sleeved swim tops on the beach, mental comfort easily overrides this argument.  FEELing comfortable often has nothing to do with body temperatures or physical coverage of the skin. 

usopensurfIn amongst the beach bods back in 2011 on Huntington Beach

Early Style Bubble readers might remember this one hilarious shot of me descending into California for the first time, clothed in not one but three layers, looking decidedly out of place at the US Open of Surf on Huntington Beach.  A few stares came my way from the bronzed young things in their tie- dye bikinis, denim cut-offs and body painted booty calls.  Sure,  I was a few degrees hotter but also felt free to wander without the feeling that eyes are prying into my prickly-heat-rashed skin.   

bigsurMinus the hood, this Lesia Paramonova printed leggings and bodysuit plus Nike x Sacai skirt could be an elaborate burqini ensemble

What I’m trying to say is that modesty, isn’t a concept purely restricted to a single religion, or sex for that matter.  And it’s not necessarily invoked by the need to subjugate to a male cleric either.  It’s a sunburn prone man feeling like he doesn’t want to end up lobster red, with a long sleeved tee over his swim trunks.  It’s women like my mother, who after her mastectomy, didn’t have the confidence to wear a regular swimsuit and actually investigated the option of buying a burqini (in the end on our Californian trip, she wore a long-sleeved swim top and a DIY swim suit, padded out on one side of the chest).  It’s people like me who can’t shake the feeling that a bikini immediately puts your body centre stage in an appearance-conscious world in a way that I’m personally not comfortable with.  This summer, a banned campaign demanding women to be “beach-ready” is just one example of the flip side to this coin, where women routinely face societal pressures to look a certain way, and the volume of fabric worn somehow determines whether you’re “beach-ready” in the eyes of others.  And it goes without saying that I have much love for the bikini in all its forms worn by others.  To each their own, that’s the question at hand here.  

palmspringsTried and tested vintage Vivienne Westwood swimsuit

That’s perhaps an internalised demon that points to my own body-related insecurities, but to witness the asserted removal of something as innocent as a long sleeved top, is to needlessly eliminate an alternative approach towards beach attire that mentally enables more women to enjoy the beach at their leisure.  It’s the loss of autonomy over what we wear that irks me. 

The counter argument goes that it’s rich to talk of autonomy where Islam women are concerned, given that modesty is foisted and forced upon them.  To that I would say that it is simply impossible to assume that EVERY woman that dons a burqini is wearing one under duress.  If anything, a ban pushes women previously unable to enjoy pools and the beach, back under the shade of a male-dominated umbrella.  By the same logic, you could question the bikini as a symbol of female oppression.   Can we 100% guarantee that every single woman wearing a bikini isn’t under some sort of pressure to do so to gain the material approval of their peers or the opposite sex.  Both are implausible assumptions to immediately deduce on first appearances. 

vantagenewsFrom VantageNews.com

The language employed by French politicians is also disconcerting.  The burkini has the same logic as the burqa: hide women’s bodies in order to control them, “ said Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for women’s rights.  “The burkina is not compatible with the values of the French republic,” says prime minister Manuel Valls.  “We don’t imprison women behind fabric,” says president hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy.  There’s a narrative emerging that to uphold Western, or specifically French notions of freedom is to place the female body on show – forcibly, in the case of the woman who was photographed on the beach removing her top (not a burqini) to prove she was wearing a swimsuit underneath.  That’s a dodgy line pursue once you peer into the wormhole of the murky world of female sexploitation. 

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By the French politicians’ black-and-white assertions, both my mother and I should be freeing our flesh, shaking off those fabric-based shackles.  But of course, down in Nice, Cannes or any number of those towns, no police officer would bother us.  I could well have purchased a burqini for my mum and she’d be free to bathe away, in her lycra-covered limbs.  And I too can wear my Marc by Marc Jacobs long sleeved swim top with a pair of Nike skirted leggings with a floppy sunhat.  Our ethnicity frees us from suspicions.  And so the garment in question is merely a smokescreen for latent Islamaphobia.  It’s not the actual fabric that is the problem, but the visual signals that a headscarf + long-sleeved garments and covered legs on a visibly Muslim person sends out to the casual onlooker.  We can’t prevent extremists from ploughing through promenades with trucks, but we can keep any visible signifiers of Islam out of the public eye, lest they provoke their ire in what is a tension-filled atmosphere.  The Conseil D’Etat has overturned the ban on Friday but Sarkozy and the rightwing like continue to campaign for a nationwide ban and no doubt as France’s presidential campaign picks up pace, it’s an issue that won’t die down just yet.  Funny how it’s fallen upon an innocuous seamed wetsuit – a garment that in itself is fit for purpose across all religions and ethnicities –  to hash out the weight of this political tumult. 

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>> Seeing as I’ve been away for so long, I’m now hell bent on colouring in this homepage to the max.  If Port Eliot was the weekend-length dose of a creative ideas haven, then God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow is the convenient neighbourhood (well, within a ten mile vicinity of my house) happy place, where you can’t help but reverberate off of good vibes in amongst the neon light installations of artist Chris Bracey.  Where else to take the similarly bright neon components of Swatch’s latest POP collection as I was tasked to create a set of imagery to match up with a “watch that POPS!” with a pop-out watch face.  Alongside a group of talented digi creators, we all attempted our own spin on our favoured POP watch.  Naturally I veered towards the hues that dominate a segment in my wardrobe.   

Neon watch, neon outfit components, neon lights… it’s almost like a not-so-clever lightbulb has switched on inside my nugget-sized noggin.  Still, any excuse to head up to Bracey’s lit-up land is fine by me, especially as we arrived for the shoot saw the lights get switched on in the morning.  If you’re in London, do go and bask away. 

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0E5A0972Wearing DI$COUNT studded biker jacket, Molly Goddard dress, Christopher Kane trainers and my own shoes designed with Six London with Swatch Popover neon Watch and Beads

Resuscitating blog in action.  Pump.  Pump.  Pump.  The faintest of heartbeats can just about be detected.  It just might make it past this restful summer…

On the subject of life resuscitation, some of you might know that the reason why the blog has gone into a coma-like state for the past month or so.  I now have two heartbeats coursing through my body – my own plodding one, and a much faster pulse drumming away in my lower belly.  Steve, my partner and I were surprised and excited to find out that we’re going to be expecting a young arrival sometime in next January.  To say that it has made me rethink work, home and life in general is an understatement.  As a result, since the haute couture shows in July, I’ve given myself some time off to take my family to California in keeping with my annual love affair with the Golden State, gorge on a combination of Monster Munch, hash browns and Marmite on toast and most importantly give my brain a bit of space to process the fact that there’s a little being growing inside of me.

August has of course brought about its own inevitable slowdown but it’s also time to ease back into things.  And ease, is exactly what comes to mind when Port Eliot comes around.  This year marks my fourth time at the festival in Cornwall.  It felt like the “biggest” in terms of attendance and the “star” power of speakers.  Gloria Steinem!  Noel Fielding!  Kim Gordon!  Dawn French!  They were the buzz talks of the festival that had the tents all packed out.  It was a little surreal to see for instance Steinem, speak about how wonderful it felt to be a Port Eliot.  She too was probably seduced by the idealised bubble that the festival has come to be known as.

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And fortunately, you lost none of that free-spirited intimacy that has come to define this annual gathering of ideas.  Especially where the Wardrobe Department was concerned.  This has come to be the domain of Sarah Mower, contributing editor of American Vogue and all-round champion of British fashion, tucked away in the Walled Garden of the Port Eliot house.  The number of talks and ‘happenings’ here have slowly been on the increase since my first time at the fest, and although it’s still dedicate to the best of London’s grassroots fashion, this year French house Chloé ended up being this year’s official fashion sponsor at Port Eliot.

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Port-Eliot-35Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaking with Cathy St Germans

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IMG_8066Inside Piers Atkinson’s flower headgear workshop

Hashtag Chloé Girls in their wafting white dresses and flowing tresses of course fit right into the festival’s lush surroundings of woods, riverbanks and rolling hills.  The house’s signature ease-led white dresses, spanning over four decades of the house’s history, sat pretty in the duck egg blue Drawing Room of the house, remodelled by Sir John Soane, next to vitrines of antique lace.

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My own attempt to channel the spirit of a Chloé Girl was aided by this floaty number from their S/S 16 collection complete with daintily dyed tassels, as well as my abode for the weekend, the tried-and-tested Yurtel yurt.  On the day that creative director of Chloé Claire Waight Keller came to do her talk in the Wardrobe Department, the house’s oversized Carlina sunglasses could be seen dotted everywhere.  All the better to go all hazy eyed as we lay around on hay bales, sipping gin (or a delicious frozen Rocktail in my case) and listen to Waight Keller talk creative freedom, the fluidity of a house like Chloé and festival antics with Mower.  Their talk was brought to life of course by the faces of Port Eliot – Bea, Imogen, Aggie, Lulu and Octavia Warren wearing the festival-inspired S/S 16 collection where 90s hoodies collide with ditzy florals and vibrantly dyed chiffon.  Musician Flo Morrissey was Chloé’s choice of artist, who gave both a poetry reading a musical performance.  A mega brand zooming in on a festival can often feel like an overly orchestrated endeavour.  Chloé’s involvement felt… natural… precisely because their clothes fit the meandering-in-the-meadow bill.  At least that’s what I thought as I tumbled about in a Chloé peasant tunic.

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IMG_8286Octavia, Lulu, Imogen, Aggie and Bea Warren

Port-Eliot-52Sarah Mower and Claire Waight Keller

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Port-Eliot-75Flo Morrissey

Their involvement was a contrasting foil to what was going in the rest of the Wardrobe Department, as thematically we were submerged into the eighties.  That’s the !!!Eighties Now!!! collaged in newspaper font and printed on neon poster paper.  The broader umbrella though was London’s youngest generation of riotous creativity.  First of all, roll up, roll up for recent CSM MA graduates Luke Brooks and James Theseus Buck’s new collective project, the Rottingdean Bazaar, launched during LC:M in June.  They were selling temporary tattoos and badges that celebrate the amazingly ordinary.  A Nokia 3210 tattoo?  A balloon badge that looks vaguely like a nipple?  It’s your local high street market coming alive on your body.  By the end of the weekend, I had a Colgate toothpaste, a counterfeit handbag, a broken doll and a pair of false teeth adorning my arms.  Their “bazaar” is definitely a sign of things to come from the duo as they continue to think up ways of elevating the mundane.

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IMG_8073Designer Claire Barrow getting dolphin happy

In the Special Special tent, Mower has gathered up trinkets and lovable clutter from young designers to sell to festival goers, with all sales going to the British Fashion Council Education Foundation (you know, for those ever-spiking uni fees).  Highlights included Ed Marler’s bungee cord handled carpet purses, Sadie Williams’ lurex patches, Claire Barrow’s ghoulish charm bracelets and the most awesome neon jewellery by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum.

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IMG_8030Jewellery made jointly by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum

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IMG_8036Claire Barrow’s bracelets

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Returning to Port Eliot with M.A.C. were drag group DENIM – this time not only to entertain the Port Eliot crowd but also to talk about the act of transformation.  How for instance, Amrou becomes Glamrou or how Tom becomes into Shirley.  Their backstory incites interest primarily because the group formed when they were undergraduates at Cambridge, creating the first drag night at this unlikely institution.  Their act is more than just comic relief but rather a representation of a beacon of inclusivity and open-mindedness.  Seeing them speak about their experiences definitely gave DENIM a more shades of depth.

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The riot of colour carried on into the introduction of Michael Halpern’s Central Saint Martins MA collection at Port Eliot.  Halpern was one of my personal favourites from this year’s crop of MA graduates and it was interesting to discover the backstory behind the asymmetric assemblages of glitz.  I’d never heard of the spectacle of horse-diving, a now illegal spectacle that involved horses diving off of into piers, that was popular in America in the 1880’s.  Halpern’s collection was inspired by the elaborate costumes worn by the female riders that performed these dangerous stunts.   What appeared to be surface-driven disco dollies on the runway were in fact daredevil women in carefully contoured ensembles, involving hours of handworked sequins.  His collection has landed Halpern a gig at Versace, working on the couture Atelier line but he’s also in the process of launching his own line in London.  A new kid on the sequinned block is born.

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In stark contrast to Halpern, was John Alexander Skelton, another standout MA graduate from Central Saint Martins, who was in conversation with Alex Fury to talk about the “Mass Observation” survey of Bolton in the 1930s, which formed the roots of Skelton’s collection and the North/South class divide that is still very much at play today.  Upon discovering that only 3% of so-called British woven wool is actually made out of British fleece, Skelton’s collection also utilised yarns from British sheep.  Skelton is part of the newest wave of sustainable designers that are seeking new methods of working and creating and as he begins to start his own label, I’ll be looking forward to seeing how his trajectory continues.

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It ain’t Port Eliot without something elaborate going on, on top of people’s heads.  This year, we got not one but two milliners displaying their wares.  Piers Atkinson talked us through his iconic pieces, which have graced many a celebrity head.

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Then the inimitable Stephen Jones entertained a crowd with his hat-led rundown of the eighties, aided by hair support from Bumble & Bumble.  Jones of course knows a thing or two about the subcultural havens that remain for me, the most interesting facets of the eighties as a stylistic period.  New Romantics.  The Face.  The Blitz kids.  “Boy George” was undoubtedly the star of Jones’ show.  I was chuffed to be a part of this eighties cavalcade, by throwing my best Wuthering Heights moves and attempting to channel Kate Bush, with thanks to a voluminously crimped up mane, conjured up by Sven Bayerbach from Bumble & Bumble, a gothic visage by Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at M.A.C and a crowning crescent of silver courtesy of Jones.  My Stars in Their Eyes was complete.

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IMG_8332Spot the icons

IMG_8319Siouxsie Sioux, is that you?

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IMG_8365The Lady Di demure smile

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IMG_8375Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

In the Wardrobe Department’s most ambitious show yet, Mower had gathered up a treasure chest of fashionz to bring the Eighties Now theme to life, in a show-and-talk, styled by Matthew Josephs and Ed Marler and explained by Alex Fury, Sandy Powell and Terry Barber.  The theme was prompted by J.W. Anderson’s AW15-6 collection and the sheer chutzpah of those giant leg of mutton sleeves and Sprouse-esque squiggles.  Calling in the latest Kenzo collection, a feathered frock from Gucci, some Sloane-appropriate archive Roksanda as well as a few pieces of vintage Zandra Rhodes and Bodymap, the best of the decade was refracted into the here and now.  Fury and Mower prompted some intriguing questions in the accompanying talk.  What does it mean when fashion is looking back at a decade that saw the rise of excess and wealth, and the political stranglehold of Thatcherism in the UK?  In our post-Brexit state, is it about escapism to a no-holds-barred era of sartorial expression or a darker reflection of the poor-rich wealth gap, with the positive outcome being that from crisis comes a creative upsurge, as evidenced by the participating young designers in this year’s Port Eliot line-up.

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One of them in particular is partying like it’s 1980 in Billy’s nightclub.  Charles Jeffrey‘s work and regular party nights Loverboy, represents the newest gen of London’s out-there club scenes.  On Saturday night, we got ready for weekend revelry by ransacking the M.A.C. tent in an unprecedented fashion.  Pots of glitter and smears of bright pigment went everywhere.  Evidently I went overboard by diving in with with turquoise and orange combo, partly inspired by extreme Japanese ganguro girl make-up.  Jeffrey went one step further by diving into the muddy banks of the on-site estuary to go full on Cornish native.  Sadly he didn’t factor in the freezing state that the mud would leave him in, so he washed it all off and emerged kabuki faced for his DJ set in the Ace of Clubs tent later.

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The next morning, the M.A.C. tent underwent another transformation with Matty Bovan‘s artwork adorning the exterior.  Bovan has just been announced as the newest addition to the Fashion East S/S 17 line-up for London Fashion Week, which comes off the back of Bovan spreading his rambunctious energy through his work on the mannequins at the Miu Miu resort presentation last month in Paris.  A fearless approach towards colour and bold strokes define both his aesthetic and his own personal styling.  We were given the opportunity to strike a Bovan pose with some cleverly drawn perspex sheets and mirrors.

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Before we departed Port Eliot land to head back into the real world, we caught the beginnings of Molly Goddard‘s second life drawing lesson, giving everyone the opportunity to observe and sketch out a selection of her frocks from past and present collections.  It was the final component to Mower’s well-curated snapshot of fashion now in London and for me, perhaps a due reminder that fashion month isn’t far.  From the dreamscape of Port Eliot, it’s back to reality for me, my bump and I.

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