New Beginnings: The Move To Manc

The summer celebrations are coming to an end. Among other important jobs like sobering up and trying to make an appropriately sized bowl of pasta, the last few weeks have consisted of preparing for the move to Manchester. Once all of the cardboard gets slung out the flat will be a cosy little Bohemia, with a bay window overlooking the local park and a few too many boxes of flavored tea scattered across the counter – exciting times ahead.

To add to this all new flower-child existence, I have finally fixed my sewing machine. After eventually recovering from the 2 year headache that fashion design brought upon me, this year’s work placement has given me the much needed opportunity to get back into the world of sewing. Truth be told, I’m really looking forward to rediscovering my passion – nothing beats the rewarding buzz you get from making something from scratch and seeing it being put to good use. Who knows, maybe this new version of myself might be the final evolution.

Alongside the sewing aspect of the work placement, there is also the chance to use other creative mediums. Getting stuck into some painting and photography has been on my to-do list for a while, but other commitments have meant that it’s been months since I’ve even picked up a brush. Being able to explore a new city and find the time to be creative is the absolute dream.

So in the light of this brand new chapter, this blog will be re-purposed for a year. Instead of documenting my university progress and the occasional brain fart, its new function will be to record everything that happens to me whilst on my placement. I hope any readers will enjoy this journey as much as I’m going to – let the mini adventure begin!

Manchester

 

 

 

The Jacket Doesn’t Fit

It now grinds against me when my clothes don’t speak. And it scratches the back of my head when my buzz cut is complimented. A haircut that would be standard and unremarkable on anyone else is apparently such a brave look on me. They say that I’ve sacrificed such an important part of my femininity. Fuck that! But then I succumb to nausea when a nodding, ‘understanding’ person admires my courage for daring to wear a metallic sports jacket, a leopard print jumpsuit or a pair of thigh high PVC boots in public.

The jacket doesn’t fit.

It grips on my Play-doh shoulders, clenches my squelchy waist, stops short above the hips. HIPS! It clings, accentuating a frame that I previously tried to conceal. I can’t possibly carry the burden of this jacket’s spiky, leather collar. Avant-garde design? Maybe I should give up and go to M&S?

The jacket doesn’t fit because there is a young girl displayed wearing it above my head, the Perspex protective covering glinting over the model’s airbrushed skin. I can feel the condescending stares of the 18-year-old sales associate burning into my back. So I reach for a pair of loose fitting linen pants, having to hike them way up and belt them around my waist, the wide hip requirement causing the legs to scrape on the floor to compensate. The sales assistant is preoccupied with her phone. I wonder if she’s making fun of me?

Nothing seems to fit these days, least of all clothing. “Elderly”, said accidentally in some cases and insistently in others (as if attempting to convince me of its correctness), will usually cause me to turn away; shrug. Getting older is a difficult adjustment for everyone even if it’s written in the stars. YOU’RE ALL GOING TO GET OLD, YOU KNOW!

I can’t expect too much but on some days the worrying about other people’s attitude to aging has the potential to unsettle everything. I close myself away, poring over imagined flaws that betray undeniable ‘elderly-ness’ to the baffled offender. My age allows strangers to automatically make assumptions about my identity, as if I even want to be part of your bitch fest. I’m too busy…

‘Ageless’ is a popular description of the self, a humble brag, the assertion that you “don’t see age, you see people”. But I saw age. I stopped bleeding every month, I had hot flushes. Arthritis began to take hold of my fingers and I had to take anti-inflammatories. Inconveniences.

You folk talk about ‘ageless’ but there’s no such thing: WE ALL HAVE AGE. And they talk about ‘ageless style’ as if nobody ever took into account their age when they went out to buy a new frock. Let me squeeze into one of Kim Kardashian’s skin tight dresses and I will kill off any chatter of ‘ageless’. The truth of the matter is that you see an old lady crossing the road, and you never imagine that’s going to be you. It’s a shock the first time that the phrase: “Eee duck, I don’t have the legs for that skirt anymore!” whispers angrily in your skull, but it’s something that happens to all of us. Even men. There were pictures of men wearing little black dresses on the catwalks of Paris and Milan in The Guardian the other day. I found myself cheering aloud and celebrating with an extra morning cigarette. If lads can be that radical, why can’t I be? Find me the Little Black Dress that a 60-year-old can wear that says Fuck You! I’ll wear it with pride, even to the bingo hall!

It gets me thinking, during the 1960s we took to the streets with a new and delicious sense of freedom, with the longing to become adults and not look like younger versions of our parents. Change was in the air; in our blood. We had different clothes and different scents and colours, a myriad of vermilions, greens and pinks. We had different social mannerisms and musical tastes that drew distinct lines between the various camps. I was a Hendrix girl all the way; I wouldn’t be seen dead with the mods! We had a voice.

But is there a price to be paid? Younger generations became associated with the new, the innovative, the daring. Older generations became linked to obsolescence and irrelevance. And isn’t this my problem? But I’ll be damned if some ignorant, spoilt, tracksuit-wearing little lout is going to write me off. The global population of people aged 80 and older is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. We’ve got all the money to spend and they aren’t going to keep us down without a fight.

It’s a common retort that elderly literally means the opposite of youthful in the English language. As if that argument alone proves some inherent ridiculousness of dysphoria that we’re just not seeing. With brutal honesty, I never thought I’d be one of “those people”. But now I am the person to be sweating over a job application, considering taking a few years off my age to be the more capable and reliable employee. But here we are – box left unfilled, the form is incomplete and cannot be submitted. Suzie, the animated manager smiling serenely at me through the PC screen, simply MUST KNOW my date of birth if I am to apply for a job that I have been doing for decades before she was even thought of.

Internalised fear of “being difficult”, or being a radical social justice stereotype, conflicts directly with the unexplained discomfort when zipping up a mini skirt or crop top. It conflicts with the love of the stage of my life that I am at, but the misery of it being associated with ‘OAP’. It’s only being able to slip into the most traditional and conservative styles of the Little Black Dress, in order to feel acceptable. It feels like another one of those things that ‘normal’ people are meant to see and roll their eyes at, chuckling at the absurdity of 2017. Perhaps mutter something about “Whatever happened to accepting reality?” But Chanel herself was radical in her time with a lot of criticism thrown her way – now 90 years later, her designs are a classic that everyone refers and aspires to all over the world.

There will always be negativity. Rejection or deviation from the norm is something that invites outright mockery, stemming from fear and dislike. When new experiences are processed, the mind can skip and corrupt, causing a variety of reactions. Error 404. Page Not Found. Data inconclusive. That is true of red hair, freckles, of braces, a lisp, a lazy eye, gender criticisms – age is no different. An outburst from those whose only satisfaction comes from the diminishing of others. Actions and comments that come from a place of instinctive recoiling from things that aren’t understood. In the play park that is the world, people clamber over the obstacles and fight and scream and laugh and play. The outcasts sit on the bench with a book, only occasionally looking up to show the others that they’re definitely still watching them on the monkey bars, very good, wow, great, that looks fun, no, of course I’m looking whilst you do the no hands thing (that I totally don’t understand or particularly want to try)!

At the risk of invoking cliché, I am simply myself, nothing more complex. And for me, it is something to celebrate rather than be ashamed of. I adjust, I endure, I quizzically raise an eyebrow when people are hesitant to sell me a boob tube because “it’s not for women like me” – and my friends love me as much as they loved the younger me, with the added benefit of seeing me happy. Now it is simply a case of moving out of beta and going live. Maybe I’ll even use the Topshop changing rooms.

Unless they’re as filthy as nightclub toilets nowadays, then I’ll be walking home to try things on. You animals. How do you young ‘uns even manage to get it on the ceiling?

Zofia

Tale of a TV Screen

God. If the reflections bouncing off of this blank TV screen were an actual show, I would have changed channels long ago. Staring at my expressionless, painfully average features against the white wall behind me, tinted grey against the cold black glass – it makes me realise how much editing must go into a shot before it is worthy of the big screen.

But then again, I’ve had a very similar reaction when I‘ve watched episodes of Geordie Shore or Big Brother. For me, it was a struggle to watch for more than a minute. Watching people go about their day to day business with almost obsessive interest, picking at the very fabric of their being like a starving vulture. Not really my cup of tea to be honest – I’ve got better things to do than watch So-and-So off of that reality TV program go for their morning poo.

But having said all of this, maybe there is something beautiful in studying the mundane? The more I stare at this reflection in the TV screen, I start to notice minuscule and interesting details: The way the light radiates gently from the florescent lights above, the fact that the wires holding them to the ceiling are invisible in the reflection, the way that all of the hues and colours of everyday life are transformed into an array of monochromatic shadows through the black glass. With no airbrushed augmented reality to compare it to, it looks kind of pretty.

Maybe it’s all right to turn off the TV and be okay with the image that is still sitting on the screen? It’s kind of sad that my first thought was that the unedited version of my face wasn’t good enough to be there. I bet people all over the world feel exactly the same way. Taking a million snaps and only putting 1 of them on social media is daily practice, because nobody will love us if we put that one up where we look like we’re trying too hard.

Also reflected in the TV screen is the window to my right. It’s pouring with rain outside, tinting the scenery grey, just like the black glass of the TV. I remember walking through the sleet this morning, agitated at the fact that my hood wouldn’t cover my entire head. My mood worsened when I finally reached shelter and had to wipe mascara from my cheeks, which I had so carefully applied an hour earlier.

Having taken the time to stare at this TV screen, I’ve made a promise to myself. I will walk home today with my hood down. I will jump in every puddle I see and let the icy wind blow my hair back into its natural, chaotic state. I’ll get home, pour a cup of tea and settle down to some rubbish TV. Only this time, I’ll remember to see the bigger picture – in full colour.

dress

Fashion & Freedom

Fashion & Freedom, an exhibition displayed at Manchester Art Gallery, explores the profound effect that the First World War had on women. The onset of war in 1914 brought many significant cultural and social changes across British society. As men left home to fight on the frontline, the women of Britain joined the industrial workforce, taking on jobs as bus conductors, ambulance drivers and window cleaners, as well as in offices and factories. New responsibility gave women new freedom and led to new ways of dressing, as silhouettes and social codes changed. Spanish director Rei Nadal unites with designer Phoebe English, to explore ‘The Fall of the Corset.’

As the film begins, we are greeted with a slow and harmonious orchestral melody – the music instantly struck me with sad undertones that made my soul sting. As the motion picture progresses and the music continues, we are introduced to a young girl who is wearing little else but a corset, being tugged and pulled into it by several men. A lot of the threads are bright red in colour and very frayed, instantly conjuring the subconscious image of lacerations. The makeup choice is also very poignant, the pale complexion and red-rimmed eyes tell the tale of a woman who is tired and in pain.

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The girl’s expression is world-weary throughout the film, portraying a character who has been in pain for a long time and is too tired to fight what she is being subjected to. Once the corset has been tied, the men tie strings to the girl’s limbs. They begin to pull and manipulate her, as if they are puppeteers and she is a puppet, further conveying the girl’s lack of power over herself. Scenes of the girl sat on a child’s rocking horse and a swing are pictured, all the while the men are still acting as puppeteers and the girl is still looking weary. By this point, the robbery of the character’s innocence and lack of her control is so hard hitting that I have to wipe tears away.

Despite the character’s obvious fatigue, she eventually pulls the threads from the puppeteers’ grasp and begins the arduous process of removing the corset, concluding with her exhausted naked body sprawled across the floor. I love how this part of the video is choreographed. To me, it reads as a metaphor for the women of the war who began their journey to freedom and independence. Although the act of removing a corset may seem like a simple task on paper, it is portrayed as a long and soul wrenching process that is a great struggle for the already drained young woman. For me, this is an accurate and respectful demonstration of what the women’s suffrage had to endure – a lonely, gruelling battle that wasn’t always appreciated for the heroic act that it was, to get to the point at which we are at today.

 

Discount Creatures

When the price is a crucial distinguishing factor among products, competition doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation of better products or to a stronger, more highly evolved industry. Price wars too often lead to a decline in the status and power of craftsmen and creativity ends up taking a back seat. Emily Cheetham explores Rita Britton’s stance on discount culture and what Nomad Atelier’s practices are as a result.

Technology-powered globalisation has made bargain hunters of us all. This means cheap labour and cheap materials are repeatedly turned to, so that customers can be offered the lowest prices. Neither of these tactics are innovative or sustainable and they certainly don’t contribute to long term growth. One result is the cheap materials get thrown away. In the UK alone, 1.8 million tonnes of textile waste are produced each year. If companies are looking to produce more clothing for less money, this figure will only increase. Another result is low-wage workers end up with an erosion of income, which leads to debt and decrease in spending – a vicious and ultimately destructive cycle.

It is also not unheard of for companies to factor in discount prices before the garment has even reached the shelves: “I’ve got 50 years of experience in the fashion industry and never have I seen [discount culture] as bad as it is today” says Rita. “Companies will now put prices up. For example, if your coat was meant to be £100, it will be sold for £120 instead, so that it can be discounted at its original price.”

Joshua Ellis & Co Ltd, located in the heart of West Yorkshire, supplies cashmere for Nomad Atelier and the company can trace the origin of their raw materials right back to individual herds. “Some people think about clothes in the way they think about food” says Rita. “They think they can only afford a MacDonald’s for tea. But it is entirely possible to make an affordable meal from fresh, locally sourced food. The same goes for clothes.” Processes centred around heritage and sustainability are fine examples of how to breathe new life into a stretched and creativity-starved market – by producing clothes of premium quality that will remain at the forefront of the wardrobe for decades to come. By extending the life of clothing by just an extra nine months, our carbon, waste and water footprints would be reduced by around 20-30% each.

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Joshua Ellis – preserving skills and specific craftsmanship is a main priority

 

Also, the shortage of passion and creativity that comes with discount culture can make a store feel lacklustre: “Discount culture has led to the dumbing down of designs” says Rita. “Young people can’t advertise anymore, because only the big boys have enough money to do it.” When put next to a genuine desire to give customers the best possible experience, discount culture really pales into insignificance. A genuine love for what you do can be infinitely rewarding and in-house design teams can often be the answer to adding a sprinkle of passion and personality to each stitch. If customers are worked with closely, designers can produce new and wonderful things that contain a warm authenticity and a sense of pride.

With garments that are made with so much devotion and commitment, it would be a sin to cheapen the craftsmanship. Nomad Atelier has belief in its ethos and its clothing – this, to me, is priceless. Discount culture may make us part with our money, but belief in your product and craft simply can’t be bought.

Celebrity Endorsement: Good or Bad?

It would be a lie to say that I have always understood celebrity endorsement. It can sometimes feel like paying to have people show up to your own party – if it was really that good, then surely people would want to show up anyway, even without being paid? It’s sometimes difficult to get the stench of ingenuity out of your nose whenever you come across a celebrity endorsed product.

Having said this, the university project I’ve recently undertaken required me to research a selection of celebrity endorsements and analyse whether they were successful or not and why. I have to say, I have learnt a lot and I can see that celebrity endorsement can sometimes be a necessary part of an advertising campaign.

A good fit between a brand and a celebrity spokesperson or endorser can add to the persuasiveness of any advertising campaign. Choice of celebrity is important, as their face becomes associated with the brand and any publicity they receive (good or bad) may directly influence the opinion and sales of the product they are endorsing.

An endorser or spokesperson’s characteristics influence how persuasive they will appear to the target audience. Shimp created a model that organises these characteristics into two categories – credibility and attractiveness. These consist of further sub-attributes: trustworthiness and expertise are two dimensions of credibility, whereas physical attractiveness, respect and similarity (to the target audience) are components of attractiveness. All of these categories are brought together to form the acronym TEARS.

T – Trustworthiness is measured by how deserving the spokesperson is of confidence – is what they say likely to be truthful and can they be depended upon?

E – Expertise refers to how much knowledge, experience, and skill the endorser has with regard to the brand in question. For example, athletes are considered to be experts when it comes to endorsing sports-related products and models are perceived as experts on beauty-enhancing products.

A – Attractiveness includes any traits that the target audience may find aspirational or desirable. This could include; intellectual skills, lifestyle characteristics or trendy physical features.

R – Respect refers to whether or not the endorser has managed to build a good reputation and create a strong relationship with the public. Are the target audience and brand in question fond of them?

S – Similarity refers to whether the values and characteristics of the endorser match that of the target audience. Are they both interested in the same things?

In conclusion, celebrities do it for some people and they don’t do it for others – and sometimes people like celebrities that other people don’t. The only right answer is to make sure each individual brand thoroughly understands their target customers. This way, each company will find a spokesperson that fits into the TEARS model and connects with their own individual brand image and target audience.

 

Arena – Screen Goddesses

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the women of the 1930s and 1940s who would be interested in Piguet’s glamorous Hollywood-inspired pieces, I decided to watch Arena – Screen Goddesses. This is a documentary put together by the BBC, all about early Hollywood and its female movie stars. I’ll be creating a list of bullet points, to remind me of all the juicy, concise titbits that I gathered whilst watching the program:

  • Movie stars became an “ideal of beauty” during the 1920s and 1930s.
  • MGM controlled how stars were portrayed by magazines in the 1930s.
  • In cinema, intimacy was often portrayed by the exchange of a cigarette. The striking of a match conveyed overwhelming desire, as seen in Queen Christina (1933) starring Greta Garbo.
  • Clara Bow possessed “a magnetism that attracted both sexes” and her taste for men was voracious both on and off screen.
  • Rita Hayworth was described as: “a figure of sexual supremacy.”
  • Ingrid Bergman felt that: “Her only image was herself and grew tired of the Hollywood dream factory.”
  • Barbara Stanwyck was known for her “glamour and fast wit.”
  • Mae West was known for her “verbal playfulness.” One of her most famous quotes is: “I do most of my writing in bed; everyone knows I do my best work there.”
  • In Shanghai Express (1932), Shanghai Lily played by Marlene Dietrich is described as a “user of men.” Also, in The Blue Angel (1930) her character Lola Lola says: “I live for sex, it’s the way I’m made.”

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After reading through all of the notes I wrote after watching this documentary, I came to the conclusion that women who admired Hollywood stars in these decades would want to appear as sultry, confident powerful goddesses. This is the way that Piguet consumers of the 21st century will want to feel too, albeit with a lot of cultural updates. It is the brand’s responsibility to make sure its new products and identity makes its customers feel this way.