Life in Squares




charleston4Interiors of Charleston

I have a few places on my list to day trip whilst August limps by.  High on this list is Charleston in Sussex, the bucolic getaway of the Bloomsbury set in the 1960s, conjured and nurtured by painter Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf and kindred spirited artist Duncan Grant.  I doubt I’ll be the only one as the house is expected to be flooded with tourists following the airing of three part BBC drama about the Bloomsbury group, Life in Squares, which just concluded on Monday.  Like most of the reviews, I found the aesthetics more enthralling than the actual storyline and dialogue.  The series itself is an indulgent escapist pleasure, much like Charleston was for the likes of Woolf, her husband Leonard, authors E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and artist Roger Fry.  Director Simon Kaijser did a fine job at placing all those muted tones of forest green, duck egg blue, dusky pink and burnished yellow into soft focus and painting every surface with the correct post impressionistic brushstroke that Bell and Grant frequently put to canvases, walls, furniture and crockery.  It’s hard not to allow style to win you over, despite the fact that Life in Squares continues to peddle the cliche that the Bloomsbury Group did nothing more but romp, swoon over how “ex-quisitely civilized” everything was and swaddled themselves in an aesthete’s cocoon.  But hey, why bother with substance when that dining room wallpaper is so covetable and the faux-shabby table setting is just so.  














lis14Screenshots from Life in Squares

And so it is that I’m luxuriating in those bohemian painted surfaces in the series and hopefully in Charleston, when I make it down there.  Unsurprisingly they make for rich fodder for fash-y types to prey upon.  Christopher Bailey has already dedicated an entire collection to the “Bloomsbury girls” with Burberry’s A/W 14-5 collection painted in much the same manner as the interiors of Charleston.  But it’s the subtle resonance of the Bloomsbury aesthetic with younger designers that I find more interesting.  I was instantly reminded of Charleston’s colour palette, rich and varied surfaces and textural eclectica, when I happed upon Sophie Cull-Candy‘s A/W 15 collection.  Lo and behold, her Instagram cites a picture of Charleston’s interior as a direct reference for her upcoming S/S 16 collection.  Cull-Candy graduated from fashion textiles at LCF in 2014 and has carried on forging her own mix of knit, print and embroidery, with a particular focus on British crafted textiles.  Her A/W 15-6 collection “Into the Wild” was inspired by photographs of Scotland, which she and her family had taken, with the colours and light inflecting in the tactile heavy collection.  Apologies if the word grates but I do see a Bloomsbury-tinged type of bohemia in Cull-Candy’s work in the way that the clothes look almost haphazard and well-worn.  Comely tweeds and chunky woolens  jostle with raw silk and crushed velvet, culminating in a mad patchwork hat.  Cull-Candy’s collection almost demands a setting as beautifully ramshackle as Charleston’s.   With Cull-Candy’s photocopied taped up photo background, the collection has license to roam free in a less-than-pastoral setting. 























I’ve been meaning to talk up Bruta for a while now ever since I saw its debut at Shoreditch boutique Celestine Eleven.  Designer Arthur Yates has no formal fashion background but instead hails from the art world.  Bruta’s customers are “a community of aloof and individualistic people who celebrate the charms and absurdities of art, culture and humanity.”  So far, so very Bloomsbury.  Bruta has begun with a collection of ten unisex shirts printed and painted with patterns found on traditional Tahitian loincloths, inspired by one of Bell and Grant’s post impressionist heroes Paul Gauguin.  These patterns find their way on to pots that could well sit pretty in the sitting room of Charleston.  Go Gauguin go, declares Bruta.  Yates even conducted a life drawing class in the basement of Celestine Eleven using its shirts as canvases, to make its connection with art a more concrete one.   I myself have one of Bruta’s “Jazz” shirt (bought oversized on purpose) and love the softness of the cotton, similar to a much-loved artist’s smock.  I like this small but significant beginning that Bruta has started up.  Its almost childish lack of ambition is precisely what’s charming about it.brutai1















brutalifeBruta shirts used as canvases in a life drawing class held in Celestine Eleven

The I Word


 "Who is your style icon?"  Cue *Heavy groan and eyes rolling back into the head*  I always feel like I'm being deliberately difficult when I answer that question by saying that I think the words 'icon' and 'iconic' are carelessly overused and that in a fashion context so often the same tried and tested answers are hauled out.  Yes we all absolutely must swoon at every image of Audrey Hepburn/Jackie Onassis/Grace Kelly and study their past attire as though it were an act of worship. 

When pressed by the wonderful folks at Barney's though I decided to give the question more thought and less derision.  I do look up to people's style but for some reason, I find it intrinsically difficult to look "up" to women as style role models.  Rather it's easier for me to think of people's specific attitude and actions, which is far more interesting than simply seeing them as mere images of style idolatry.  They don't necessarily even need to be 'real' as is the case with two of my 'icons' when they manage to spark imagination in their sartorial prowess and possibilities. 

Therefore I went ahead and chose the always-awesome Claudia Kishi from The Babysitter's Club books, the deliciously witty author Nancy Mitford and the shrill and strange presence of Bubble (played by Jane Horrocks) in Ab Fab for reasons stated below alongside some supporting quotes/clips and product selections using Barney's vast array of product.  I'm never going to be truly into the act of idolising icons but at least I can definitely acknowledge at lease attribute some roots as to why my wardrobe is the eclectic explosion that it is.

Claudia-kishi-styleCollage from Ironing Board Collective


Love this cartoon strip on Sadie Magazine in homage to Claudia Kishi.

Claudia Kishi was one of the first style heroines, which I physically remember reading about, folding down every page that mentioned her outfits in those Babysitter‚Äôs Club books. I blame Claudia for all my failed DIY attempts at tie-dyed t-shirts and patchwork overalls. I also hold her responsible for my obsession with all things neon, very high and lopsided ponytails and strange silhouette combinations. I feel like Claudia would appreciate the fact that I managed to combine Lahssan x Fa√ßonnable stripes, Marc Jacobs florals and a whimsical Current/Elliottcloud print all into one outfit. Claudia normally rocks a side ponytail with a neon scrunch but she‚Äôd probably appreciate the Kenzo x New Era baseball cap, turned to the side. She‚Äôs also in some comfy and practical Stella McCartney neon espadrilles and socks for her art assignments. And of course, she has enough ear holes to accommodate both the Loren Stewartsafety pin earrings in one ear and the Jennifer Meyer ‚ÄúC‚Äù stud in the other.

A quote from The Babysitter's Club: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls:

“I think clothes make a statement about the person inside them. Also, since you have to get dressed every day, why not at least make it fun? Traditional clothes look boring and are boring to put on. So I never wear them. I like bright colors and big patterns and funny touches, such as earrings made from feathers. Maybe this is because I’m an artist. I don’t know. Today, for instance, I’m wearing purple pants that stop just below my knees and are held up with suspenders, whit tights with clocks on them, a purple-plaid shirt with a matching hat, my high-top sneakers, and lobster earrings. Clothes like these are my trademark."





On rainy days, I like to whizz through all of Nancy Mitford‚Äôs deliciously witty, guilty pleasure novels. I‚Äôm really drawn to her matter-of-fact haughtiness and her wry sense of humour. She peppered her letters and novels with references to Dior and the wonders of the New Look so I‚Äôve given her something equally elegant to entertain her marvellous ‚Äúset‚Äù in the shape of aBalenciaga ruffled skirt and a Lanvin vest with a Haider Ackermann shirt. I feel like she might have thought jewelry needed to be either really, really ostentatious or quite discreet, so I‚Äôve gone for the latter with a pair of Finn diamond studs and a Cathy Waterman collar. Naturally she has a Smythson bag and notebook. I also like the idea of the pair of delicate Manolo Blahnik lace flats. All the better to help her run like her flighty ‚ÄúBolter‚Äù character.

A quote from Nancy Mitford's letter to her sister Diana, written from Paris on 4th September 1947:

"Yesterday I stood at Dior for two hours while they moulded me with great wadges of cotton wool & built a coat over the result. I look exactlylike Queen Mary — think how warm though! Ad [a cousin of the Mitfords] says all the English newspapers are on to the long skirts, & sneer. They may, but all I can think of now one will be able to have knickers over the knee. Now I'm nearly fifty I've decided to choose a style & stick to it, & I choose Dior's present collection [Christian Dior's second collection, which kept the nipped waist of the New Look, but had longer and fuller skirts.] Simply, to my mind, perfect…"





No, my nickname Susie Bubble was not in fact derived from Ab Fab‚Äôs character by the same name although I can see why people think that. That said, it doesn‚Äôt stop me from naturally gravitating towards the zany Bubble, played so brilliantly by Jane Horrocks. Nu-rave pixie, Napoleonic chic and errr‚Ķ Teletubbies‚Äîshe‚Äôs tackled a plethora of themes making her the ultimate fashion schizophrenic. I‚Äôve put her in her natural candy floss palette with a Rhi√©daisy print jacket, a bit of wafty white Comme des Gar√ßons, a swingy Antipodium silver skirt and a ditzy Marni top. I thought she might appreciate the poodles on the Adidas x Jeremy Scott shoes or the flat bow Pradas, worn with silver socks of course. Eddy keeps Bubble mostly locked away in her Holland Park basement but should she venture out, she might want to pop on the Karen Walker sunnies and take with her the pearlised Edie Parker clutch. Pink tutu optional.


All products shoppable on Barney's

Look at Life

Look at Life was a regular British series of quirky and short documentary films produced by Rank Organisation, which informed and educated cinema going audiences between 1959 and 1968 in the UK, preceding the main feature film and providing insight into the advances of technology, the changing tastes and trends of the tumultous decade of the sixties.

Even if your part of rural England wasn't swinging, at least you could see it on your cinema screen and now we're getting slices of Look at Life as BBC4 have been showing selected footage, packaged up into themed programmes called Britain on Film (they're also available on DVD if you're interested).  The latest one to be broadcasted happens to be on the subject of fashion and I couldn't help but upload extra various clips here (I am already anticipating that these video rips will be shut down within a day or two so watch them fast!!).      

It races through some of the developments of fashion in sixties Britain, which began with the genteel overhang from the 1950s, with fashion shows at the Royal Opera House and Norman Hartnell sketching and draping away for high society.  The beginnings of fast fashion are upon us as the likes of Marks & Spencer start churning out clothes for the other end of the buying public, using the latest synthetic fabrics.  At the time apparently "Britain's mass production of fashion is establishing a reputation on the continent for good workmanship and value." 

"No matter how big or small you are, there's a skin somewhere to fit you!"  Furs and leathers are big and highly prized in sixties Britain.  The footage below takes a laughably careless approach towards the hunting of animals.  "Most are trapped in the wild.  On the whole there are so many available that trapping is no threat to the species."  

Coiffure of the sixties is discussed at length too with the introduction of Raymond Bessone aka Mr Teasy Weasy, the celebrity hairdresser who straddled film cameos and buffants.  We also see Vidal Sassoon rapidly brushing and cutting away at some seriously precise haircuts .  I'm convinced that a young Grace Coddington (who famously had her hair cut by Sassoon into his five-point style) features in this video but do correct me if I'm wrong.  I'm about 95% sure it is her as she gets her hair cut and is seen swaying about at a swinging party towards the end of the clip.  

"For anyone who thinks that the catwalk is a shortcut to a rich marriage had better forget it and stick to typing," says Penny Cotton of Penny Personal Management as get an insight into the tough business of modelling in the sixties.  

Finally, we get a fine send-up of the King's Road set, contradicting the image of a swinging London.  Just take in the hilariously sarcastic voiceover as well as the groovy/hip/way out clothes from Granny Takes a Trip as well as the Carnaby shop empire of one time-fashion entrepeneur John Stephen.   

"World's End means where the King's Road ends, which shows what the King's Roaders think of themselves.  Granny Takes a Trip, the shop behind the face calls itself, and it's typical of the non-typical.  Conforming to the non-conforist image of the 'in'.  What they used to call 'way out', and before that 'with it', and before that 'groovy' and before that 'hip', and what granny herself would have called 'The very latest thing, my dear.'"

21st Century Arale


>> A few months ago I got a strange interview request asking me – a non Korean, never-been-to-Korea, in no way an expert on anything Korean person – about whether I thought Korean fashion was making serious international waves following Gangnam Style mania or as part of a broader "Korean Wave" cultural movement.  The simplistic answer for me is no, not yet but I sure as hell wish it would happen judging by the number of Korean gems that seem to come through my inbox.  Now I fear though any plan I make to get onboard the Seoul Train will be tainted with knowing judgement.  Oh, NOW you think it's "cool" to go to Seoul.  It's that PSY isn't it?  It's all this K-pop guff, right?  It's HALLYU madness!

In truth, the trip has been thwarted on so many occasions, dating back to just over three years ago when I was invited out to Seoul Fashion Week but couldn't make the timing work with my then full-time job.  Nobody will believe me though so I'll just go along with the make believe line.  "Yeah, it's the horse-cantering dance moves.  And all those beguiling lyrics about coffee drinking.  That's why I want to go to the land of kimchee."  

In all seriousness though, what I have noticed is a growing willingness of Korean designers to get in touch with me.  Or the simple fact that the Korean fashion industry itself has burgeoned, with the majority of labels having only had lifespans of less than five years or so.  Either way, I'm getting Seoul vibes in my emails and I'm frankly loving it.  The latest one to come in is Lucky Chouette, a diffusion line of the infinitely more ladylike and grown-up label Jardin de Chouette.  They must have known what my speed was because Lucky Chouette's collection of endearing logo-ed hoodies, varsity jackets, caps and emoticon graphics reminds me of the type of clothes I wore as a five to seven year old and wish I had in adult size.  In fact, looking at this overload of anime bright colours, sailor collars, dungarees and chunky sneakers… why, this is in fact what my childhood heroine Arale Norimaki would wear, were she to suddenly reappear today in all her purple haired glory and impossibly happy disposition.  For those not familiar with the early 80s Japanese manga Dr. Slump, Arale was basically everything I wanted to be.  A tomboy robot with severe shortsightedness (our only common trait), she bounced around in winged caps, chunky sneaks and baseball tees causing mischief and occasionally freaking people out with a stick of candy floss coloured poop poop (don't ask – just find out for yourself if you can).  



"Street elements and graphics, playful and humorous arty work through a variety of cultural and Style propose a new character brand" is the translated sentence that I get from Lucky Chouette's About page and that's basically all you need to know.  Play.  Street.  Graphics.  Those elements are combined with a girly sensibility that so often eludes traditional streetwear brands for women.  Chuck a bit of trend-driven sass (not a bad thing when used correctly) into the silhouettes and choice of fabrics and you get clothes that aren't just for weirdos like me that immediately think of eighties manga characters.  

As with all Korean labels though, the final thudding question is always "Where can I get my hands on this stuff?"  I have no finite answer but I'm guessing Lucky Chouette are keen to get their wares out into the wide open world, beyond Seoul.  I'll try and get the ball rolling here then and badger them about international shipping seeing as they do have a domestic-shipping e-store.  Come on now, Seoul.  You can export a popstar or two but not a sweatshirt in a post pack envelope?  I suspect this will change in the coming months.  Oh well, maybe that interviewer was on the money after all.