It has been bubbling up to a boil in industry circles for a while now.  When will a Weinstein-gate equivalent for the fashion industry burst forward, implicating photography greats Bruce Weber and Mario Testino in allegations of sexual abuse on shoots towards male models.   It was in the pipeline for so long that at one point, Steve, (my partner who works at i-D) and I would ask each other casually at dinnertime, when this NY Times story was going to break, along with when the council tax bill was going to arrive.  It’s finally out there and the darker underbelly of this in-depth exposé is, I’m afraid to say, a discernible lack of surprise within the industry over what they’re reading.  More robes, more hotel rooms, more awkward and harrowing exchanges.  And what?

The story broke earlier today and Condé Nast responded with a pre-prepped release of their editorial Code of Conduct to defend the tidal waves of a would-be backlash.  Except maybe not.  A quick search on Twitter and the response is thus far, no where near as incensed or inflamed as when the Weinstein story broke.  The consensus on my WhatsApp group convos with friends in the industry is a “Meh” or an apologetic defence of the accused (the allegations against Weber and Testino have been fiercely denied).

But let’s not kid ourselves.  We – and I use a collective “we” here – may not have known the particulars and specifics of how Weber or Testino supposedly treated their photographic subjects but the rumours and gossip of this sort of behaviour does the rounds regularly, and often gets treated with a lack of gravity.  And despite the persistent (and consistent) accusations against Terry Richardson and the combative voices of industry greats like Caryn Franklin and the outpourings of abused models, spurred by Cameron Russell, the attitude towards sexual abuse in fashion hasn’t engulfed the industry in the same way that Weinstein and his merry band of bathrobed men has in Hollywood.  Yet like Hollywood’s casting couch culture, there are too many that are involved in the complicity of guilty parties, tied to a career ladder power struggle, where people lower down on the fashion food chain are pressurised into keeping it all hush-hush, lest they lose a gig in a highly competitive environment.

Mario Testino’s ad campaign for Gucci S/S 2003 under the direction of Tom Ford

There is a machination of keeping the status quo that goes deeper than what’s in the story.  The “sex sells” operating benchmark is so ingrained within fashion that it ties itself into all kinds of knots with the general modus operandi of the industry.  For want of a better word, it pays to be “on” in this business.  By “on”, I mean out there, on the scene, having a jolly.  Can you down a bottle of champagne at a party and still have the ability to make it to a 6am shoot call-time the next day or a 9am show at fashion week, looking nonchalantly fabulous?  As I have spent the year making a half-assed return to life B.B. (before baby), I’ve felt that pressure to switch back “on”.  Going out, getting shit faced, filing copy early next morning and taking a Nurofen/Berocca cocktail at an early show as proof.  Of course, I’m a consenting adult in these decisions.  As ridiculous as it sounds, being “on” subtly gives people the impression that you’re free spirited and most importantly, FUN!  And fun along with sex, are important cogs in fashion.   They’re the aspects that the fashion world has sold through imagery and branding in the last century to fuel this multi-billion dollar industry.

To be clear, I’m obviously not conflating going hard on the champers and partying hard at Le Bain with the sort of abuse that is being alleged in this report, but I do think it can be difficult to compartmentalise and separate the blurred lines that occur on a “fun” shoot littered with drinks and recreational drugs, producing images that reflect far-fetched fantasies, that then leads on to the specific point where someone is having their penis touched against their will.  There’s a vague link somewhere along that very VERY broad spectrum of what’s considered to be “a bit of fun”, all in the name of “fashion”.  Somewhere along that creative process of image creation, subjects will find it difficult to differentiate between what’s above board bordering on the unorthodox and what is clearly past the acceptable line.  When David Hemmings’ fashion photographer character (inspired by David Bailey and the like) commands the model Verushka to “Give it up!” and “Make it come!” in a shoot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, we chortle at the supposed stereotype.  But if you were realistically in Verushka’s position, feeling scared and a pressure to be “on” and go along with the wishes of a powerful person who can make or break your career, is it really a laughing matter?

We laud and consume provocative subject matter that have become standard fashion fodder – bared breasts under a submerged wet gown, performing fellatio on a handbag or a shoe, accessories artfully placed on genitalia –  but mostly ignore what may or may not have gone on behind the scenes in the making of these images.    There’s almost a so-what shoulder shrug tone in Tom Ford’s comments in the NY Times article: “We sell sex” he says, and in defence of Testino, purportedly locking a male model inside a hotel room on a shoot and climbing on top of him, he says there are only a few ways you can get the right shot of a model’s face on a bed.  Well DUH!  That’s FASH-UN!

So, should we just shrug, accept this “sex sells” standard, and carry on as before?  There will be murmurings for sure, coursing through the industry that mirror Catherine Deneuve’s open letter defence of flirtation and sexual advances in Le Monde – those that decry a “puritanism” washing over our woke-on-the-surface industry.  This NY Times story may not be a watershed moment.  We may not even raise our eyebrows enough to try and out other offenders (suffice to say, Weber and Testino AREN’T exceptions).  And of course, it’s not a case of erasing a culture that has given us so many potent moments of creative artistry in fashion and provocateurs, whose images aren’t tainted with wrongdoing.  Guy Bourdin.  Helmut Newton.  Corrine Day.  You could go on…

Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein

Just as the film industry needs a significant amount of time to enact real concerted change, so too does the fashion world.   Change also depends on legions of editors, photographers, stylists, designers and those in charge of brand image and marketing collectively changing attitudes that don’t treat these sorts of allegations and rumours as light fodder.  The question is, is it the sort of change that might be asking too much of an industry predicated on provocation and boundary pushing?  Isn’t it all too seductive, deliciously decadent and yes, just a bit of fun?  Furthermore, it’s still difficult to untie all those knots of a hierarchical industry, where getting ahead is ranked ahead of acknowledgement of any possibility of foul play.  And even if the industry adopts Condé Nast’s Code of Conduct as standard working practise, how will it realistically be enforced in a transparent manner?  Are all parties involved willing enough to play by the rules and whistle blow where necessary?  It’s been less than a day and these are just some thoughts that have been percolating in a mind reacting to a story that was sadly so inevitable, it became part of day-to-day chitter chatter in our house.

N.B. I know the blog has been so dormant, it’s hard to remember the last time I even posted.  I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to take my mind off mopping up baby vom/phlegm/food to sit down and properly write.  But…in other news, I’m relaunching/redesigning the blog so that I don’t just pop up once in a blue blue moon to bang out 1,000 words.  New year, new me, new yadda yadda… I’m just sorry I had to begin 2018 with thoughts as muddied and murky as these.

There’s something grossly uncomfortable about this interview that Ed Meadham did with Anders Christian Madsen for i-D.  Over tea, Meadham opens up about the demise of the almost-cult label Meadham Kirchhoff, one of the saddest and in my mind, completely preventable losses of the fashion world.  The interview touches on the label’s insolvency, Meadham winding up in a coma, an unsanctioned sample sale of the brand’s precious archive as a result of a cruel case of profiteering and a personal isolation that left Meadham practically jobless for two years.  It makes for a tortured and bittersweet read because it brought up the waves of anger that I’ve touched upon time and time again about the fit-in-or-die mentality of the most cut throat parts of the fashion industry.  How genuine talent isn’t always necessarily rewarded.  How waves of press hype often malign the designers that deserve it.  How retailers are often restrained in their financial and sales-driven ability to buy as creatively as one might hope.

Certainly in the case of Meadham Kirchhoff, it was never the case that the public didn’t want what they were serving (which is the stark and plain truth behind many labels’ downfall).  The love was strong.  It was a rainbow outpouring of unicorn, heart and sparkle emojis from all over the world, reblogged and liked on Tumblr and championed by maverick-minded figures such as Tavi Gevinson and Ione Gable of Polyester Zine.  The mainstream press of course chimed in and celebrated the label’s high points as well when it suited them, but as Meadham recalls being blanked by certain people in the industry at a recent RCA show, it exposes the cruel fickleness of the industry.  Meadham ponders this volte-face: “It was like, ‘Are you not allowed to speak to failures?'”

There is of course no point in praising talent to the high hills if there’s no work to show for it.  So in an act of cathartic defiance and to trial a new way of channelling Meadham’s ideas, energy and yes, talent, Ronnie Newhouse of fashion agency House + Holme and Adrian Joffe of Dover Street Market invited Meadham to create a new brand for the store.  That warms the heart.  Two people with means, power and influence creating alternative paths for a designer that was always destined for alternative ways of working.

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br2The Blue Roses space at Dover Street Market replete with Meadham’s collages and scribblings

And so on Thursday on the ground floor of Dover Street Market London, a heart-shaped chocolate box opens up to the debut of Blue Roses, named in reference to the famous line in Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  With the support of DSM, Meadham has created a line of affordable tees, hoods, stockings and pretty pieces of frippery such as a Victorian velvet collar and matching sleeves.  Glitter encrusted sweatshirts are perhaps the only direct flashbacks to Meadham Kirchhoff’s early past but it’s an idea that still stands solid (literally) today.  The texture makes for a nice onomatopoeia and leaves its sparkly fairy dust all over my coffee table when I try it on at home.  It’s not really a regurgitation of greatest hits but rather essences of Meadham’s oeuvre and aesthetic that come with pleasingly and comparatively purse-friendly prices (starting at £58 for a tee and rising up to the £200s for the velvet and glitter stuff).  Former MK-heads were already enthusiastically rifling through the rails when I popped in to delve into the Blue Roses corner on Friday morning.  Some of the pieces are available on the DSM site but the best selection remains in-store.

Where does this leave Meadham then today?  It’s not quite a full on resurrection, nor would you expect a shouty comeback from Meadham.  The i-D interview ends with “I always wanted to put some beauty into the world. I tried very hard.”  The past tense tinged with sadness, in that last sentence seemingly comes with a hardened sigh of despondency over his output and achievements.  No, Ed.  You DID create beauty and it DID spread far and wide in the world.  With Blue Roses, there are signs of a beginning that could indeed flourish with the correct modifications that such a floral genus requires.  I, along with countless others will be sitting here willing it to happen.

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img_3033Blue Roses velvet frilly collar and sleeves worn with vintage dress

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img_3075Blue Roses long-sleeved tee worn with Sacai shirt, navy tulle skirt and Marques Almeida furry trainers

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img_3082Blue Roses pink glitter top worn with Minki Cheng skirt

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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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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