>> The thing I really miss about working at a publication like Dazed & Confused is the feeling that you're constantly in with photographers, set designers and all the other behind the scenes creatives that really bring magazines to life (and should be valued as fashion print's trump card in contrast to us webbie lifeforms who wouldn't even dream of asking say Ryan McGinley to shoot a 10-look editorial for a paltry blog – will that ever change? I doubt it…). Just for old time's sake I'll go on agency websites and have a random perusal at agency websites and online portfolios, just to feel like I'm feeding my brain image-wise, even if it serves zero purpose for the blog.
I came across Lacey's work on CLM's well-updated and comprehensive agency website (how an online portfolio should be really) and thought I'd dish up a bit of Easter Sunday image indulgence. Lacey, who has taken on a singular mono-name a la Horst, studied graphic design at London College of Printing and then went on to assist Tim Walker, becoming his righ hand for five years. That formative experience gave her the confidence to develop her own unique language in fashion and beauty still life, bringing in elements of pop-fused trompe l'oeil, plays on perspective and imaginative set design. She's mostly been shooting still-life editorials and campaigns for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Uniqlo and Vogue UK but in a recent kapow-tastic spread for Vogue Nippon Beauty, her highly graphic photography style comes together on a model with Craig and Karl's illustrations, Andrew Gallimore's make-up and Beth Fenton's styling. As much as I love her exciting still lifes, where she manages to make even a bottle of facial cleanser look dynamic, I'm eager to see Lacey work with more on-figure shoots, bringing out even more surreal qualities in her work. It's clear that Lacey's work is dependent on the collaborative efforts of set designers such as Gary Card and Amy Henry (also represented by CLM) but it's the overall vision and being able to get the best out of those collaborators, which makes these final images so successful and direct in their impact.
"The milkman always delivers." That was Steve's sagely reply, when I was trying to explain to him why it felt odd to put Dries van Noten's S/S 13 and his most recent A/W 13-4 collections up there in my own personal top of the collection charts as it were. The thing is, van Noten does exactly that. Delivers. Always. There's no angst-ridden pre-show anticipation or critical divisive battles post show with his collections. He just always seems to get it spot on from inspiration source to catching the tide of a mood current to the final execution of garments, which is ultimately what matters. To compare van Noten with a milkman though does this quiet Belgian no justice though. An experimental head chef might be a better comparison as he mixes up genres in his pot each season, coming up with contrasts that might well have been explored before, but emerge on to the plate in their most potent and appetising form, ready to delight us diners. I might be taking that analogy too far but you get the idea.
Take a quick gander at his grunge-fuelled, floral-fettered S/S 13 collection for instance. We bewailed Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent this season for diving head-first into grunge. The season before though, van Noten merely dipped his hand into grunge, and lifted out traces and whispers of plaids, sifted through the washed out florals that once graced Kurt Cobain and his followers and derived a finely attuned palette of sludgy pastels from faded record covers and banged up floral Dr Martens boots. By carefully selecting and sifting though, he came up trumps with his take on grunge that feels refreshed, rather than rehashed. Another style chapter can be added to this short-lived yet storied musical genre, but it's one that van Noten can call his own. Six months on from the show and I'm still sort of flummoxed by how he though to render plaids in chiffons, in metallic silver and in satins. Or how he made a kimono robe look like they might pop up on the Tube on yer' everyday commuter. Or how he made me want to run around in the summer summer wearing only his sort of mumsy Argos catalogue bedspread florals. After ingesting all of what S/S 13 had to offer, it came down to a lasting desire to inhabit these clothes.
Just as i thought S/S 13 couldn't be a more perfect contrast-fuelled and nuanced Dries van Noten collection, then came A/W 13-4. Night and day. Fred and Ginger. Man and woman. Come on! Hasn't the masculine feminine contradiction thing been done over and over again? Haven't we eked out everything we can do from that contrast? It seems not. In a season when menswear codes and fabrics were repurposed a great deal throughout the collections, van Noten offered up one of the most tangible solutions. Collegiate stripes would fray into decadent fringing. Crombie coats with the collars up would come embroidered with paisley swirls. Ostrich feathers fit for ballroom boas would come bouncing off off of Duke of Windsor-appropriate grey check or bustle around in a frou frou skirt but paired with a crisp white shirt. Sharon Stone's Oscars Gap shirt avec Vera Wang lilac satin skirt moment comes to mind. Delicate and furry mohair socks. Mannish brogues and trousers with a splay of feathers. The clash mashes go on and on in this deliciously rich collection. I've never twinkle toed my way around a ballroom before but this collection with its many hybrid odes to the great dancing partners of yesteryear certainly put me in the mood for a spot of two step.
I've just finished reading Amanda Mackenzie Stuart's biography of Diana Vreeland (upon Justine Picardie's recommendation), a far more complete and astute rendering of Vreeland's career, attitude and life, than Vreeland's own self-voiced D.V. or Allure. There's so much forward-before-her-time thinking that can be deduced from Vreeland's career, all of which feels so pertinent now when we're faced with a seemingly barren or static moment in fashion. One such innovation was getting the "eye to travel", commissioning the most fantastical and far-flung shoots during her tenure as editor-in-chief at Vogue between 1963 and 1971, where money was no object and jet travel was beginning to open up to the public. These were shoots from Vreeland's dreams though, where she saw no need for reflecting hardlined cultural accuracy but instead fantasised about the most positive, wondrous and adventurous elements of her locations from Ayers Rock in Australia to Hokkaido in Japan, and married them up with fashion to present something conjured up in her head.
Boring geographical borders and dull historical facts were not the point when it came to the wilder shores of the East. What Diana wanted on the pages of Vogue was the Orient of her inner eye, an Orientalist fantasy.
Coincidentally, I've just received the A/W 13-4 lookbook from pyjama darling Olivia von Halle, presenting a highly stylised and lavish Shanghai setting (it was shot in the iconic Peace Hotel) that would perhaps have pleased Vreeland. What we take for granted now as de rigeur in editorial and lookbook shoots now seem like a pastiche and warrants querying and questioning. Remember when I investigated the idea of high fashion Chinoiserie after the Rodarte and Louis Vuitton collections of S/S 11? My stance since then has mellowed somewhat into a relaxed acceptance that every culture, ethnicity and locale has been appropriated and re-interpreted so that the eye now travels constantly. Every cliche has been explored.
And sometimes that visual language is rich enough to support the idea of hauling out those cultural cliches in fashion in the context of a harmless image, one that we, the reader is unlikely to take literally. And so we have a pair of China Dolls hamming it up by lounging on lacquer furniture, mixing silk PJ's and robes with Prada and Marni, crystals with jade, Aperlai shoes with Guizhou embroidery and fans with furs. The styling is conceived by none other than my other doppelganger Leaf Greener, fashion editor of Elle (I don't mind getting mixed up with this style maven though who I invariably get outfit envy over), whose own Chinese background somewhat gives sanction to this sumptuous mix. Try as you might to bring in misdemeanous of colonialism, Orientalism and cultural stereptyping but what remains is an image that endurses, inspires and ultimately can intelligently be taken with a pinch of salt. Huffy over analysis when it comes to political correctness in fashion is something of a fruitless task. That same probing analysis also gave way to Vreeland's own supposedly out-of-step downfall when the 1970s feminist dialogue permeated and critiqued her view on fashion, when she was actually ahead of her time and advocating a "Do whatever" attitude in fashion in the late 1960s, which dictates the landscape again today as the onset of the internet has partially facilitated that freedom. On Vreeland's departure from Vogue, Mackenzie Stuart addresses the mistiming of her ideal.
As feminism took hold, Vogue's readers began to think differently about identity, Diana's attachment to her romantic ideal of female power made her inflexible. A view of fashion as a means of self-expression, as ludic, creative and empowering, would, of course, eventually resurface strongly alongside other late twentieth-century ideas about female identity, but that time was some way off. For the time being Diana and the Girl were in Vogue's way; and a short time later they were both gone.
P.S. I happen to be bunged-up and flu-ridden today and the idea of lounging around in silk crepe de chine PJ's in jewel tones is an infinitely more appealing alternative to sneezing in my grotty t-shirts and Steve's flannel bottoms.
>> In a Time Out London article last week about tweed, I was mentioned in passing in a paragraph about Steve, my boyfriend. Or rather, it was my doppelganger "Sophie Bubble off those satchel adverts." Let's forget about the fact that they got my name wrong and look at the latter part of that faux-pas. I'm guessing the writer was referencing the Google Chrome advert, centred around Julie Deane's Cambridge Satchel Company start-up business, in which a fellow British born-Chinese (I think…) female "blogger" is seen raving about the satchels in a YouTube haul video-esque set-up. That's where I find myself perplexed. The girl looks nothing like me, save for a swathe of black fringe and a teethy smile. This writer couldn't be bothered to quickly Google "Steve Salter's girlfriend" and find a) a different name and b) a different Chinese girl.
I seemingly have doppelgangers running all over town. Every week, someone will say "Oh I saw you on the 52 bus!" or "I saw you at Birthdays!" to which I say "Nope, that was some other Chinese girl…" It doesn't really bother me most of the time and normally I sardonically reply, "Yeah, yeah, all Chinese girls look the same – har-di-har-har!" which then normally incites an uncomfortable flustered protest of "Erm… no! I didn't mean that at all!" I'm well aware that it's a little facetious to answer back with that jerk-reponse but it's almost become an automatic reflex, as though I want to enforce feelings of guilt on their part for getting me mixed up with some other Chinese girl. Maybe I should take a leaf out of Xiao Wen Ju's book. In Paris, I was following the pixie-faced model around for a day and backstage at a show, photographers were snapping her picture, mistakenly calling her "Fei Fei!" to get her attention, despite the fact that Xiao and Fei Fei look COMPLETELY different. Does Xiao mind that she gets confused with the other Chinese model biggies? She shrugs. She says she used to get Caucasian people mixed up all the time. Tit for tat, I guess.
But you know what? I remember all y'all faces and would never make a piss-poor gaffe like that. Once in a while, I think I'm allowed to play the race card and get a little bit pissed off. There really aren't that many of us (meaning Chinese/Japanese/Korean in origin) in the fashion industry in London. More so perhaps on the designer and production side, a handful in fashion PR, but definitely scarce in the fashion media/journalist front. I remember an editor from a Chinese magazine pointing out that she found it funny that in amongst the British press block at Paris shows, I did sort of look like I've been seated in the wrong block because I was the odd one out. Therefore, when there are incidents where we (as in us scant East Asians, a definite minority in London's fashion industry) are confused, merged and painted into one single Chinese/Japanese/Korean generic persona and reduced to being say, that girl from the Cambridge Satchel ads, I can't help but feel miffed. Only slightly though. Before I then laugh it off, put it down to human mistake or sheer coincidence and go about my day.
For a rare spot of cultural assertiveness, I thought I'd pull up some of my YouTube Chinese femme heroines, who have probably never experienced a "Sophie Bubble" esque typo in their shining starry lives.
Ruan Lingyu was a brilliant Chinese silent actress in 1930s, most famous for role in The Goddess (1934 – which you can watch in its entirity online), who sadly killed herself aged only 24. Despite her short life, she built up a fantastic film repetoire to mesmerising effect, haunting you with her eyes, without a word of dialogue.
I've been having a bit of a Ge Lan aka Grace Chang moment as I vaguely remember some of her songs from her best known films such as "Mambo Girl" and "The Wild Wild Rose". It's her musical turns in these films that really hook you in, particularly her Chinese rendition of Georges Bizet's Carmen score.
I grew up thinking Anita Mui was a little like a Chinese version of Madonna with her sensual performances and wild costumes. Her uncharacteristically (for Chinese female singers) deep voice really was the soundtrack of my house, when my mum would "jive" around the kitchen and even as a seven year old, I would cringe thinking "No, mum don't dance along!"
I listened to Faye Wong's "Scenic Tour" album constantly when I was 16, despite the fact that I wasn't really that into Canto-pop. She's probably one of the few Chinese singers, who I'd actually rate as a credible artist, who encouraged any iota of individualism and authenticity, in both her image and her music.